House of Titans

Written for Mel Favara's wonderful 1000 Words PDX.



Part One.

Former CEO Donald Einhorn had decided there was nothing about his crumbling empire twelve or thirteen scotches couldn't fix. Over the third, he castigated his visionless board of directors. He toasted number five to greasy VP Skip Chestersonberryfield, which good look filling old Donald's Farragamos, kid. He celebrated his tenth by writing a check to himself in the amount of "Golden Parachute", including the phrase "cunning linguist" in the memo line. By the time he took his final swallow, Donald had achieved military-grade intoxication. He lurched through his spinning home, shoulder-checking walls and fumbling with doorknobs, unable to locate any of the estate's reputed fourteen bedrooms. With his last conscious thought, Donald cursed the general practice of architecture and passed out in a hallway.

He woke to the discovery that the seed of a giant redwood tree had taken root between the lobes of his brain and erupted overnight to towering maturity. A truly majestic headache. A survey of further damage included: icepick pain in back and shoulders; a split in his trouser's crotch; and, he realized, unease with his surroundings. On rare visits to a room that wasn't his study, Donald sometimes registered a manner of faint surprise, a "who put this here?" kind of feeling. But the vaulted ceilings, artwork, even paint color in this particular hallway seemed totally unfamiliar. Maybe he was somewhere in the northeast wing. Lined with doors, the hallway seemed to stretch for miles, even to have a perceptible bend along the curvature of the earth.


Part Two.

Donald's money had always been a faithful friend. Always told him how valuable he was, always complimented his skill prognosticating the markets that made other men jump out of high windows. And, despite Donald's portly frame and face that looked like an exit wound, his money had always brought beautiful companions to his side. But it also bought this house, where each door opened into a room with three more doors, or into another interminable hallway. Donald wandered through anonymous bedrooms, libraries, four different kitchens, but couldn't find so much as a throw pillow he recognized. He passed the same Victorian fainting couch three times in an hour, and started leaving a Hansel and Gretel trail behind him of the items in his pockets: cash, keys, coins and cards.

The final nail in the coffin of Donald's composure was his discovery of the trophy room. The son and stepson of two veterans, Donald had never hunted in his life, in fact had always been fearful of nature's ability, with a frightened animal or slight tectonic shift, to swiftly and permanently erase all a man's achievements. Yet here was a room, in his own home, filled with glass-eyed animals frozen in various stages of roaring or flight. Eagles, cheetahs, gorillas, groundhogs. Mounted on the farthest wall was a handsome flintlock rifle with a solid silver butt into which was engraved in swirling, ostentatious typeface: "To Richard- Keep showing 'em who's boss. Love, Charlton Heston."


Part Three.

In being forcibly unburdened of the weight of his (and his shareholder's) expectations, Richard Halifax had found freedom. In the decade since being bounced from the corporate garden, he'd built a comfortable routine of untied bathrobes and lunchtime scotch. On the occasions when he needed to feel strong and useful again, he put on one of his fraying Savile Row suits, propped his feet up on the desk, and dictated letters to the obediently silent animals mounted in his trophy room. Any nagging psychospiritual stuff about loneliness or personal value to society he'd learned to smother or drink away. Or else he filled the hole inside with a white truffle and mayonnaise sandwich, which was the method he'd chosen today. Richard cut it into 16 bite-sized cubelets, arranging them into a smiling face.

He gathered his happy plate and happy glass of Bushmills and tottered off toward the study, singing "Peter and the Wolf" and marching in time, when something small and green registered at the edge of his vision. A crisp ten, right there on the floor. And ten steps later, a dollar. Ten more, an AMEX card. Richard had a wispy memory of a cartoon rabbit being lured into a trap by a trail of carrots. The trail ended at Richard's trophy room where, inside, he found a disheveled man admiring the antique monkey rifle Chuck Heston had given him in Botswana. Richard set his smiling plate on the oak cabinet by the door. The disheveled man turned. "What are you doing in my house?" they asked each other.


Part Four.


Donald and Richard greeted the discovery that they'd lived in the same mansion for thirteen years with trademark bottom-line clarity. They determined the fiscally responsible thing was to keep living together as mansion-mates, and the arrangement pleased them far more than either could have predicted. It wasn't like living with a family to which they felt no real connection; unbridgeable division was replaced by mutual empathy of the struggles of rich white men. The drone of Donald's snores proved a comfort Richard hadn't known he'd needed.

They started a business. Based on the truth that everyone loves puppies but far fewer people like dogs, they conceived a subscription service by which customers could purchase a puppy, return it when it got too old to love, and receive a new one. Donald convinced an overseas vendor to sell bulk-rate puppies for pennies on the dollar. As co-CEOs of PuppyLease, LLC, they became like paternal twins, finishing each other's sentences, sensing when the other was in danger.

Hundreds of billions in revenue later, Richard Halifax developed Alzheimer's. Richard's acumen drained until he became a well-tailored husk of undefinable antiquity. He started believing Donald was his ex-wife, forcing Donald to make the most heart-wrenching power-grab of his life.

"Richard, the board has decided to buy you out."

"But Sally, no, why?"

"They just… I just believe you're no longer mentally capable of the job. I'm sorry."

"Whether my head is good or bad, Sally, only it can save us now."

Richard Halifax leaned in to kiss the old billionaire he believed was his ex-wife, and Donald Einhorn, his friend, couldn't bring himself to pull away.

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