Monday, February 13, 2012

Flash fiction: The life and times of Maxwell Sheffield

    Maxwell Sheffield was a lucky bastard, if he didn't say so himself.
    He was the sole benefactor of the Sheffield International hotel chain.  His late father had sold the hospitality empire before he died, only requesting that the Sheffield name remain on every building, and that his only child be allowed to stay at any of the 2,000 hotels within the chain, free of charge.  (Maxwell's favorite place of residence was, of course, in New York City.)
    The group of Jewish investors who agreed to this deal resented that condition, but this was an offer they simply couldn't refuse. Maxwell didn't give a shit either way; his lifestyle was the same, except he would never have to worry about sales, accounting, or any of the other bullshit business owners have to think about.
    In the outside world, the recession raged on. Families were at their breaking point, with husbands and wives screaming at each other over finances, and companies laying people off in droves. Suicides were on the rise.
    But none of this existed in Maxwell's world. He had never known these troubles, nor would he. He was completely sheltered, always given whatever his pampered heart desired. He went to school with fellow children of privilege, but he was by far the most wealthy.
    He was, however, neither smart nor talented. He was rude and arrogant, and bullied everyone within a 5-mile radius.  Beyond his looks, he was rotten to the core.  He was the product of a weekend fling his father had with a ditsy, but beautiful, secretary.  His biological mother was paid a generous sum to quietly disappear, and his father's wife was willing to look the other way as long as she was kept spoiled and happy.
    At 29, Maxwell couldn't fault his late father for all the times he cheated on his wife. After all, Maxwell was no stranger to indiscretions himself.  Without his father's money and influence, Maxwell would have served time for his DWI arrests, assault cases and more. Already being a textbook narcissist, Maxwell was done no favors by getting everything he ever wanted while seldom paying consequences; it simply set the groundwork for his expectations later in life.
    Growing up, his teachers were terrified of him. If they dared to give him a grade lower than a B, his powerful father would personally pay a visit to the school principal, and the grave mistake would be corrected.  If little Maxwell wanted to throw spitballs at another student, the teacher would turn her head the other way, then punish the spitball target if he opened his mouth in protest.
    On top of it all, Maxwell got his pick of the litter when it came to the girls.  They all were willing to overlook his bad boy reputation and that he, in fact, had never kept a girlfriend any longer than two weeks.  Just like all the expensive toys he played with as a kid, he would toss them aside as soon as he lost interest. 
    These days, Maxwell just did what he did best: Going to the gym to perfect his figure, shopping for clothes on Fifth Avenue, and partying.  Like many of his friends, Maxwell was incredibly vain.  He shuddered to think of his impending birthday -- he was about to hit the big three-oh. This compelled him to spend extra time at the gym, as if an extra set of bicep curls would turn back the clock.
    "It's just a number, Max, it doesn't mean anything!"
    Gregory, Maxwell's personal trainer and drinking buddy, spotted him while he bench pressed the 300-pound barbell.  Personally, Gregory couldn't stand the jerk, but membership in Maxwell's inner circle had its privileges.  Gregory wasn't rich like Maxwell, but the chicks who flocked around didn't know that.
    "C'mon, man up! Give me five more and I'll buy you a round at happy hour!"
     That got Maxwell moving.  He completed the set, and headed for the locker room.  On the way, a couple of stone-cold foxes came out of spin class and smiled at them.  Not one to miss an opportunity, Gregory came up and introduced himself, then invited the ladies to happy hour.
    That evening was a blur of drugs, vodka, and sex.  Maxwell wasn't sure when he left Pacha and wound up Cielo. All he knew in his cocaine-addled mind was that midnight was approaching, and he might as well be dead.  In fact, he used to tell his friends that he would rather die than age past 30.
    Well, as luck would have it -- and Maxwell was very lucky -- his wish was about to come true. His lifestyle rarely made room for visits to the doctor.  Had Maxwell gone in for regular checkups, he might have learned what fate had in store for him.
    And had the late Mr. Sheffield given Maxwell's real mom the opportunity to be part of her son's life in some way, shape or form, he might have learned about the disease the boy stood a strong chance of developing.
    It didn't help that with Maxwell's lifestyle, symptoms in recent months such as chronic insomnia, mood swings, blurred vision and impaired thinking went by unnoticed.
    Right before midnight, the same extremely rare strain of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease that had killed his mother before her 31st birthday took its toll on Maxwell.  Gregory, alternately making out with the two girls he picked up from the gym, looked over to see a body on the ground. At first, Gregory thought his friend had passed out, but even a hard slap to the face didn't phase the guy.  Maxwell Sheffield died of heart failure just minutes before his 30th birthday.
    He had no children, no siblings, no spouse and no will.  It had never occurred to him to leave his money to anyone.  His estate went to the state of New York, and funded rather lavish holiday bonuses for some very lucky bastards that the citizens of New York elected into office.