Wednesday, October 5, 2016
THE UPPER CLASS
THE UPPER CLASS
By Daniel Skye
The self-proclaimed “Prince of Westlake” was being pulled over for the third time in one week.
First, it was a traffic violation. Then, the cops pulled him over for a tiny crack in his windshield. The crack was on the passenger side and did not obscure his vision of the road, but the cops didn’t care. They were looking for any excuse to give him a ticket.
And now he was being stopped for driving in the rain without his headlights on. It was daylight and the rain wasn’t heavy; more of a light drizzle. But again, the cops would take any excuse they could get.
This sort of thing happens when you brag to the papers that you’re, “Above the law.”
Chaz Larkin’s navy blue Maserati was parked on the shoulder of Route 27. He sat with his window rolled down and his hands wrapped around the steering wheel, waiting for the officer to approach.
The officer was taking his time, making Chaz wait, making him sweat. He was starting to lose his patience, but he wasn’t going to let it break his calm, cool façade. He wouldn’t give the cops that satisfaction.
Chaz glared at the flashing lights in his rearview mirror and watched as not one, but two officers, exited the patrol car and approached his vehicle.
The first officer–a short but stocky man in his late-thirties with a crewcut–requested his license and registration. Though it sounded more like a demand than a request. Chaz nodded and complied, slowly producing his license and registration. The officer took it and handed it off to his partner–tall, lanky fella–who walked back to the patrol car to run Chaz’s license.
Everyone in town knew who Chaz was, including the police. But this process was merely a formality. They had to make it look like they were doing their jobs, as opposed to the truth. They were clearly targeting Chaz over a petty grudge. Chaz had made them look bad in his interview, and they were out to prove every citizen of Westlake wrong.
The first officer stood by Chaz’s window, waiting for his partner to return. Chaz could see his reflection in the officer’s sunglasses and he could see he was starting to sweat a bit.
Chaz had tossed the joint as soon as the cops started tailing him. They hadn’t seen him do it, but Chaz was worried the officer would smell it on him if he got close enough.
Chaz’s weakness was his vanity, hence the Maserati. He only wore designer clothes like Gucci and Armani and Calvin Klein. And when it came to cologne, his motto was, “There’s no such thing as too much.” His house, his clothes, even his car, reeked like a Drakkar Noir factory.
But as strong as his choice of cologne was, it wasn’t powerful enough to mask the lingering scent of marijuana. As soon as the second officer returned with his license, registration, and a citation for driving without his headlights on, he picked up on the smell and whispered something to his partner.
“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to exit the vehicle,” the first officer said with a firm, sharp tone.
“What for?” Chaz asked, trying to remain polite. He had to choose every word carefully. He was fighting the urge to blurt out, I make more money in a month than you do in a year! How does it feel to know my hard work pays your annual salary?
“We have reason to believe you’re driving under the influence. Please step out of the vehicle. And don’t make me ask again.”
Chaz opened the door, stepped out slowly. The tall, lanky officer grabbed him by the wrist and led him away from his car like he was leading a child across the street.
Chaz stood embarrassed on the side of the road with his hands in his pockets as the first officer tossed his car. He looked disappointed when he found nothing, not even an empty baggie. But the obvious smell, combined with Chaz’s glassy red eyes, was enough to take him in on suspicion alone.
The tall, lanky officer caught a whiff of Chaz's cologne while he was standing beside him. “You smell like a French whorehouse with that perfume.”
“Actually, it’s cologne,” he muttered. “Drakkar Noir.”
“I think you should double-check the bottle,” the officer said, cracking himself up. The first officer didn’t find the situation nearly as amusing as his partner.
“I could haul your ass in right now and charge you with driving under the influence,” the first officer told him. “You’re lucky your father is who he is. If it wasn’t for him, you’d be in handcuffs right now. I want you to drive straight home. You shouldn’t even be on the road right now.”
“Yes, sir,” Chaz nodded, ashamed.
* * *
But Chaz didn’t go straight home. He was already thirty minutes late for work. He may have strutted around like he owned the place, but he didn’t call the shots around the office. Even though his name was on the building, Andrew Larkin, Chaz’s father, ran Larkin Real Estate.
And he was waiting to speak with Chaz as soon as he arrived. Chaz stepped quietly into his father’s office. He was sitting behind his polished oak desk that seemed to glow under the fluorescent ceiling lights. He was on the phone, as he usually was at this time of day.
Chaz stood in the threshold of the door with his arms folded over his chest. His father ended the call after a minute and waved for his son to come in.
Chaz walked over to his desk and Andrew stood up, sniffed the air.
“It smells like a French whorehouse in here,” was the first thing he said.
“It’s my cologne.”
“You sure you’re wearing cologne?” he asked. Chaz sighed, rolled his eyes. His arms were still folded over his chest.
“You’re late, by the way,” Andrew pointed out.
“The cops pulled me over again,” Chaz moaned.
“Again? Three times in one week? That must be a record. Well, give me the ticket and I’ll take care of it.”
“That’s not the point. The point is the cops are intentionally targeting me. It’s blatant harassment.”
“Let’s face it, your car has a bullseye painted on it. And that bullseye is named Chaz Larkin. I got to know, what were you thinking during that interview? Were you thinking at all? Was that the problem? You made me look bad and you made this office look bad. But you’re going to start making it up to me today.”
“That’s why I’m here, dad. I’m ready to do whatever it takes to redeem myself. You know me. I’m your man. I’m the goose that laid the golden egg. I can sell any house in Westlake.”
“So prove it. Bill Hawkins is looking to sell his estate. All you have to do is convince him that you’re the man for the job.” The interview had done tremendous damage to Chaz’s reputation. Convincing Bill Hawkins was going to take every ounce of charisma Chaz possessed.
“The Bill Hawkins?” He asked.
“Do you know of any other Bill Hawkins residing in Westlake?” Andrew replied. “Look, his estate is twenty-seven acres. I don’t think I need to tell you how valuable that property can be. So don’t screw it up. I’m counting on you.”
“I won’t let you down,” Chaz assured him.
“And do me one favor…”
“Try not to get pulled over on the way.”
* * *
Chaz hadn’t made too many friends in Westlake since the interview had been published.
“I’m the Prince of Westlake,” Chaz had boasted during an interview with the Daily Buzz. “I’m the king of the real estate business. I’m the goose that laid the golden egg. I make more money in a month than most people do in a year.”
He went on to brazenly state that he was, “Above the law.”
“The cops don’t hassle me. I’m untouchable. I do what I want, when I want.”
If that wasn’t bad enough, he went on to say, “Everyone in town knows me because I’ve either sold them a house or slept with their daughter.” And that one careless remark pretty much cemented his douchebag status among the community.
By now, everyone in Westlake had read the interview. Chaz knew it would all blow over when they found something better to gossip about. But Westlake was a relatively small town. People didn’t just forget about things overnight.
And now, with his reputation hanging on by a frayed thread, he had pull off the act of a lifetime. Bill Hawkins had an excellent reputation. He was the author of more than twenty novels, mostly horror and science fiction. Not exactly Chaz’s cup of tea. But more than half his books had reached the top of the New York Times bestsellers list. And this intimidating fact only added to Chaz’s mounting anxiety.
His Maserati pulled up to the wrought iron gates of Hawkins’ estate. There were cameras outside the gate, and Hawkins must have seen him pull up because Chaz heard a buzzing noise and the electronic gates opened up.
Chaz drove up the long, narrow driveway to the front of the house. He glanced back briefly and saw the gates snap shut behind him.
Bill Hawkins was there to greet him at the door with a firm handshake and a benevolent smile. “Mr. Hawkins, first let me say what a huge fan I am of your work. I mean, Give up the Ghost was the scariest book I’ve ever read. Couldn’t sleep a wink that night.”
Chaz had actually never read the book. He just Googled it on his phone so he’d have some way to break the ice.
Hawkins chuckled. “Call me Bill, please. And do come in.”
Chaz followed Bill inside. The front door led into a vestibule-like structure with stained glass on both sides. The vestibule took them through a second door, into the massive foyer, adorned with various antiques.
“The antiques don’t come with the house, I’m afraid,” Bill told him.
“That’s quite alright. I’m sure any potential buyers would understand. If there’s one thing people understand, it’s sentimental value.”
Bill led him down the hall, which opened up into two separate living rooms on the left and right. Though Bill had turned the room on the left into more of a studio for his writing.
“So you’re thinking about leaving Westlake?” Chaz inquired.
“I was thinking about a change of scenery. But to be honest, I’m having second thoughts.”
Oh no, Chaz thought. Don’t let him slip through your fingers. You can’t let the old man down. He’s counting on you.
“I mean, it is a wonderful place,” Chaz said in that sycophantic tone he was famous for. “It’s quiet and peaceful and the area is very safe. But now is the perfect time to sell. The market has never been better. And with twenty-seven acres of land, I bet I could find a buyer in a couple of weeks.”
“Is that you talking, or the sales commission?” Bill chuckled and Chaz nervously chuckled along with him.
“What can I say?” Chaz shrugged. “I’m a businessman. It’s what I do. I’m sure a man of your stature can appreciate that.”
“Oh, but I do. That’s precisely why you’ve been summoned here, my boy.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand.”
“Of course you don’t. And I know what you’re thinking. If you don’t sell this place, your father will be let down. Trust me, he’ll understand. What I’m about to show you is more important than money.”
“What is it you want to show me?” he asked, clearly puzzled. He felt like this was all a big joke he clearly wasn’t in on. He was just waiting for the punchline.
* * *
The truth waited for Chaz on the second floor, in Hawkins’ parlor. The room had a high ceiling, and tall windows covered up with red velvet curtains. The floor had been stripped of its carpeting and replaced with a long plastic tarp.
There was a circle of chairs with two empty seats reserved for Bill and Chaz. The other seats had already been claimed by Doris and Martin Duvall, Brent James, Terry and Nicholas Vaughn, and Andrew Larkin.
“Dad?” Chaz said, bemused. “I just saw you at the office half an hour ago.”
“I know. I had to race around town to beat you here. Sit down, son. We need to talk to you.”
Chaz took his seat beside Bill and looked around the room, raising one eyebrow in a quizzical fashion.
“What do you see, son?”
“People,” he mumbled, not quite sure how else to answer the question.
“Not just any people. We are the elite. The upper class. We’re the ones that run this town. We’ve got more money than those peasants out there could ever dream of having. We weren’t sure if you were truly ready to become one of us, until we read the interview. You’re brash and arrogant. You walk around like you've got the world in the palm of your hand. Like you're superior. You have no respect for the lower class, no respect for the common man. And that makes you ready to see the truth.”
“Bring her in!” Hawkins shouted, so loud and so sudden he almost jolted Chaz out of his seat.
A short and stocky man entered the room. It took Chaz a moment to recognize him without his uniform and sunglasses. But the crewcut give him away.
The officer was not alone. The young woman kicked and screamed as the officer dragged her along by the back of her hair and pulled her into the circle.
“Thank you, officer,” Bill said. “That will be all. Your envelope is waiting for you downstairs.”
Chaz turned his attention to the young woman, mid-twenties with shoulder-length blonde hair and blue eyes that darted around the room with fright and bewilderment.
He took one look at her thrift store clothing and cheap rubber armbands, and he could tell she was not who his father considered to be part of the elite.
“I’m sorry you had to find out this way, son,” Andrew said. “But better soon than later. This is how the elite survive. The rich feed on the poor.”
They all rose from their seats and formed a tight circle around the girl. Quiet whimpers turned to high-pitched screams as the girl saw the transformation in their eyes. When they blinked, they did not blink horizontally, up and down. They blinked sideways, back and forth.
Their heads tilted back, pointed up at the high ceiling. Their mouths stretched wide open, wider than humanly possible. And inside their mouths, a long, narrow appendage, similar to the proboscis of an insect. Chaz clasped one hand over his own mouth to stifle a scream.
The proboscis slid from their mouths, revealing a mouth of its own, lined with sharp, razor-like teeth. These new, strange, elongated appendages whipped through the air. With no eyes, they seemed to move on instinct. Unless his father and others had complete control of these appendages. He didn’t know. He didn’t want to know.
The girl’s screams echoed through the parlor. He looked down and saw that these snake-like appendages had descended on her, and the mouths had begun to feast.
This can’t be happening, Chaz thought. Brent James is a freaking movie star. The guy has been on the cover of every magazine, worked alongside some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Doris and Martin Duvall are filthy rich. They own half the stores in town. And Terry and Nicholas Vaughn run the biggest law firm on Long Island.
“It’s okay, son,” Andrew broke away from the circle to speak directly to him. “The girl is a drifter. She has no money. No family. No one to grieve her loss. I told you, this is how we survive. The rich feed off the poor. Now please, join us.”
“What are you?” He asked, his voice cracking, hands trembling. “Are you aliens? Mutants?”
“We are a new phase in evolution. A scientific anomaly. But we are not human. We are far superior. That’s what makes us the upper class. It’s not just about money. This is what separates us from the rest. This is what makes us the elite.”
“I won’t be like you!” Chaz said vehemently. “I can’t be like you!”
“I’m afraid you already are. You’re my son, Chaz. You were born just like me. Just like the rest of us. Now join us.”
Their mouths–or rather, the mouths within their mouths–had turned the girl into a buffet. The girl was barely alive, gurgling as she choked on a mouthful of her own blood, taking sharp, jagged breaths as she struggled to take in the air.
“Finish her off,” the others encouraged him.
“Yes, finish her off,” Andrew Larkin repeated. “Join us, or join the lower class. And if you choose the latter…well, I don’t have to tell you what that means.”
When he blinked, he felt it for the first time; his eyelids moving side to side. It made his entire body shudder. But it didn’t feel like a shudder. It felt like a rush, a surge of adrenaline and endorphins.
A sharp pang formed in his gut; wrenching, stabbing, twisting like a knife. Something was moving, shifting around inside his stomach.
The proboscis rose up like a snake, shooting up from his throat and tasting the air around it. It descended upon the girl, ripping into her throat, finishing the job.
The proboscis retracted and traveled down his throat, back into the pit of his stomach. He turned to his father, who gave him a nod of approval.
Chaz had redeemed himself in the eyes of his father. But at what price? This was not a financial matter. This was not a price you could put a number on. The price he paid was his humanity. He was now part of the elite. He was part of the upper class, forever.
“Welcome to the club,” Bill Hawkins said, putting one arm around Chaz’s shoulder. “This is the way the world works. The rich get richer, and the poor get deader.”