Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Curious Case of Young Mister Tee


For James

They say that you see your entire life passing by before your mind's eye the moment you die, but this was definitely not the case with the young Mr. Tee. 

One year has passed and I am still horrified to look back to that ominous All Hallows' Eve dinner in upper Manhattan. None of us has ever mentioned what happened that evening and we quickly went back to our busy lives avoiding each other as much as we possibly could. But time heals all the horrors and you eventually have to move on, or so they say.

We were a really crazy bunch. Freshly out of Harvard, four of us moved to New York to make big money and live the high life one could only see in Hollywood movies. In the 1980s they would have called us "yuppies," but we were much more sophisticated. We ate less sushi, listened to better music, traveled more, collected better art, and with legends like the Lehman Brothers gone, we were less arrogant and understood the value of money better than anyone before us.

Mr. Tee, as we called Twardowski, was a very clever guy with enormous energy and incredible talent. He made his name on the trading floor very quickly and established his own firm less than six month after graduating summa cum laude. We all knew that he would succeed, but his stardom came somewhat too quickly and there was a lot of gossip.

See, Mr. Tee sold his soul to the devil. No, really. I mean, really. He was not only the most talented of the four of us, he was very greedy and probably the most ambitious. He wanted things to happen fast and did not care how.

One morning a few years ago, the story goes, he looked in the mirror and summoned the devil. Just like in a cheap off Broadway production, the bathroom darkened and amid a hellish swishing and dust swirls, the devil showed up and introduced himself: "You called me and here I am, Master. How can I be of help?"

I would have lost my cool in a wink of an eye, but not Mr. Tee. Oh, no! He was too determined to get rich very quickly and told the devil half jokingly that he needed his help. The devil smiled deceptively and suggested, that Mr. Tee already had a lot of money and with talent such as his he did not need any supernatural help. All that was true, but Mr. Tee wanted some special powers and agreed to a deal that looked like a bargain: He would become the most successful finance expert ever and everything he touched would turn into big money. All he had to do was to agree that the devil took his soul when time was ripe.

The deal was good. Money, fame, power, freedom! What else could one ask for? And all the devil wanted was his tiny soul. Tee wasn't even sure that he had one.

Mr. Tee saw no problem here, but clever as he was, he inserted a clause into the contract. "OK, OK! You can have my soul when we meet in Rome, or no deal at all. And you will have it in writing." Scratching his head the devil had no choice, but to accept and put his seal on the parchment.

As months went by, everybody wondered about Mr. Tee's fortune. He was one of the very few people who made big money and never lost a penny amid deep financial crisis that span across the globe. Everything he touched turned into gold. He was the modern alchemist par excellence.

People were jealous, of course, and there was even an investigation, but since there was no sign of any wrongdoing, Mr. Tee was exonerated. Those, however, who accused him of dark machinations went out of business as quickly as they pointed their fingers at our friend. Everybody wondered. Nobody said another word.

To celebrate his success, we decided to have a dinner together. Like in old times. Our friendship was as strong as ever and we missed our nightly escapades. Maybe because the three of us simply had to work a bit harder to keep up with the pace dictated by Mr. Tee. I was getting older and had very little energy left for Tee's noisy parties. I preferred to go to bed alone than end up drinking too much champagne after a tough day. I became a bore, he said to me one day, and both of us wondered what happened to that carefree cheerleader that I once was. Life caught up with me, I guessed correctly.

To repair the damage in my reputation I booked a table for a Halloween dinner in a very famous Italian restaurant. Their Halloween menu was spectacular with black colored pasta and other creepy things. They also scheduled a spooky horror show for that night and invited a prominent magician. The guests were to dress up in Halloween costumes. This sounded like real fun.

We decided to meet for a before dinner drink in the upscale Death & Company bar. Mr. Tee arrived dressed up as a 16th century Polish nobleman. He said something about his family history, but I did not pay much attention to it. I had a tough day and after my second Sweet Hereafter cocktail I felt that freshly made squid ink pasta was exactly what I needed if I wanted to keep my witch's hat on my head for the rest of the evening.  Someone paid for the drinks while I held on to my broomstick and hailed a cab. A smiling Jamaican driver with a diamond in his tooth pulled over. "You look cool, maaan" he said, and as soon as we all settled comfortably in his cab, he drove off with a hellish squeak.

The place looked great! Decorations were spooky and everybody, including the patron and the waiters, wore a Halloween costume. Our Extremely Bloody Mary apéritifs arrived promptly together with the almost black Beluga caviar canapés.

Before we could even say a word about the menu or the ambience, a character dressed up like a devil, horns and all, appeared at our table and introduced himself to Mr. Tee as "his faithful servant." I did not know that Tee had a servant. He always looked like someone who could manage everything by himself, but I figured that Tee's fortune and newly acquired social standing demanded some decorum. That sinister guy was probably his butler, or so, I thought.

Mr. Tee invited his servant to take a seat and offered him a drink. I got chills when that creepy guy with eyes like glowing coals refused the drink and went straight to business: "I came here for your soul Master Tee," he said. We started laughing. What a great entertainer! My tiredness disappeared and I truly started enjoying that evening. Tee stretched his arm majestically as if to brush off a speck of dust and, laughing loudly, told the man to get lost. It wasn't his time to go, he said. But the man in a devil costume became very serious and produced a piece of paper that looked like a parchment with an ancient looking seal affixed to it. Spreading the paper on the table he pointed his skinny finger at a passage in the text. "Here it is, my dear Master! I will come for your soul when you go to Rome!"

We burst out laughing. This was better than anything I have seen before. Mr. Tee raised his hand and spoke like a Polish noble: "My dear Mr. Devil, I understand your urgency, but we are here, in Manhattan. Look around and tell me what you see." The man looked around and laughed. "Your time is up, my dear Master. You might be in Manhattan, but this fine establishment is called 'Bella Roma' or Beautiful Rome, if you prefer. You are in Rome, Master! Your soul is mine and I came here to collect it!" Before anyone of us could utter a word, the devil character snatched Mr. Tee and carried him away leaving behind Tee's ancient feathered hat and a burning smell of sulfur. I recall hearing a laud scream. They were arguing, I think, but all that noise seemed to have come from very far away.

No one in the restaurant have noticed what transpired only an instant earlier. The music was a bit too laud, people laughed or chattered wildly, waiters were busy, and the spooky magic show was about to begin.

For a minute or two the three of us still thought that we had just witnessed one of Tee's extravagant spectacles, but when he did not come back to enjoy the rest of our Halloween dinner party, we became a bit worried. Only a bit. After a very short deliberation we decided to finish the meal without our Mr. Tee and even managed to enjoy the show. It was such a fun to be together again. We agreed to call Mr. Tee in the morning and arranged to meet for lunch. We deserved some explanation, Halloween or not.

I got back to my condo, but could not wait till the morning. I called Tee right away. There was no answer. There was no answer in the morning either. He did not show up in his office, missed his meetings, and left his business affairs unattended. This was highly unusual. Someone had to notify the police.

Weeks have passed, but there was no demand for ransom. And there was no body. Nothing. Not a trace! The investigating officer, Inspector O'Sullivan, told me later that they found a journal of sorts in Tee's bedroom. On one page covered with occult symbols Mr. Tee wrote about his meeting with the devil and his skepticism about the existence of human soul. The opposite page was adorned with a darkly beautiful drawing of a horned man who looked just like the guy that appeared in "Bella Roma." At the bottom of the page Tee wrote: "I tricked the devil today. If I have a soul, it will be mine forever since I do not intend to travel to Rome. Ever!"

Who knew that a dinner in a trendy Italian restaurant in upper Manhattan would mean Mr. Tee's tragic  unmaking...

~ Wishing everybody a very spooky Halloween ~ Dominique

Dominique Allmon©2016