My friend Alan asked me to kill his father. He was joking, sort of. There’s 200,000 already in an offshore account, he told me. He was smiling. Laughing. Joking, clearly. His father was a bad man. The rest of the family had been in litigation against him for a long time. Legal fees were running out of control. The old man just wouldn’t give it up. They begged him to settle, to compromise, so that something would remain of the family estate. They were rich, but every month that went by cost them thousands. They were bleeding money.

My teeth hurt. All the time. At first it was cold. They were sensitive to cold. Then it was heat. Then it was air. Breathing made my teeth hurt. I needed money to get them fixed. I was broke. I was going to a distant cousin, Neil, who was a fancy Beverly Hills dentist. He was the only one in the family who was a Republican. He’d get my mouth open and filled with dentistry implements and then start in on some right- wing rant. Affirmative action this, Hillary Clinton that. What could I say? My mouth was stuffed full of metal. And anyway, he was giving me a big break on the fee, and I already owed him a couple grand. Don’t worry about it, Neil told me, but his receptionist glared at me every time I walked into the office, and made a point, with a spiteful, sugary smile, of asking “how much would I like to remit this time?”

It was intolerable. It had to stop. But the work wasn’t near finished, and my teeth hurt, all of the time. I needed money. Money to pay off my cousin, money to pay my bills, money to buy a new pair of shoes, money to replace the stolen radio in my battered little car, money to eat. The fancy advanced degree I had ditched everything to get wasn’t working out so well, so far. All I had from it was an enormous, crushing, all devouring student loan to pay off, and a part-time job teaching a couple of classes at a local junior college. It barely covered the rent. Every month I sank deeper into debt. My life was killing me. I needed money.

Alan was an old friend from undergraduate days. Among other holdings, his family owned a big old building in downtown San Francisco. He always complained that they weren’t getting the true value from the property. His father had run it to the ground, bad maintenance, bad tenants, bad karma. I had first met his father years ago. He was a scary dude. Old, square headed, smart, cold, European accent and manners, he closely resembled Henry Kissinger, down to the hubris and the paranoia. I had had dinner at the Pearle residence several times back in college. The live-in help cooked and served. Dr. Pearle—he had gotten a medical degree in his youth, and although he had never actually been in practice, he still went by “Doctor”—grilled Alan and me about our studies. It wasn’t friendly, or pleasant. The underlying message was, what do you idiots know? You know nothing, and you are soft, not like me, who escaped Russia and made a life for myself in the new land. He never quite mentioned that the life he made rested largely on the fact that he had found money to marry into. Alan’s Mom was a sweet old lady. A little dotty. As far as I could tell, she had always been a little dotty. Dr. Kissinger and Miriam, his sweet, dotty wife, whom he doted on. The Doctor had gotten his hands on her money, then for years had used his position to write prescriptions for various pharmaceuticals that he force-fed his sweet, dotty wife. Every time she began to realize what an insane prick he really was and started to rebel, he would pump her full of drugs and institutionalize her for a while. When she was properly comatose she would come home and he would be hailed by one and all as the savior, he had come through again. I got to know Mrs. Pearle pretty well later on, and she turned out to be thoroughly lovely person, funny, observant, poetic. Her body had been totally ravaged by years of this abuse by the evil Doctor. He had ruined her life, made her a wreck of an old person, shambling, mumbling, prone to horrific panic attacks that left her gasping for breath. Often you could hear her in the next room, wheezing horribly. It was horrible. He was a horrible man. At the age of seventy, during a rare moment of clarity, Miriam had obtained a divorce, and came to live with Alan. The family finances became hopelessly tangled. Litigation ensued. Money was evaporating.

[Continued in Confrontation 110]