Bob Soffit was an executive officer of the Central Bank in Beverley Hills. As a cocky MBA out of USC in the early ’70s, he had amassed a fortune in an audacious business deal that ultimately folded one of the industry’s primary competitors. Now he was one of the high-powered regulars of boards, wealth management teams and political committees. His position afforded him every extravagance. He drove vintage race cars. Vacationed in Costa Rica. Collected blood diamonds. Black pearls. Women.
At 52, Soffit was legendary for his crass misogyny, regularly gracing the social rags with his latest acquisition of starlet, artist, or model. Shortly after their glittering debut, the women would appear in their own mascara-streaked break-up story, while two-pages away, in paparazzi pose, Soffit dangled another splendid nymph from his arm.
One morning, as Soffit strode through the expansive atrium inside the Executive Suites, early to a meeting rumored to be attended by the governor and a standing senator, he noticed a tiny cigar shop off to the side. Inside, the shop was dark and rich with the spicy ferment of tobacco. There was a single register and shelves decorated with antique cigar boxes and a stuffed red fox posed in hunt, as if it would, at any moment, spring forward on its unsuspecting prey. Soffit requested an uncommon Cohiba and was mildly surprised when the black woman opened the humidor and produced the cigar without comment. He paid her with a $100 bill, brazenly staring at her full breasts while she counted out his change.
“I’m surprised,” he said. “You do not have a very big humidor.”
“It’s big enough,” she said.
Soffit leered. “’That’s what she said.’” He slapped the counter, pleased with his crude innuendo.
The woman grasped his wrist with a firm hand, turned his palm up for his change.
“Thank you for your business, Mr. Soffit,” she said. Her eyes were a flat black with no light.
He stepped out of the shop and was standing in front of the atrium fountain before he realized he held in his palm a downy, yellow chick. Its pulse fluttered in his fingers. He held it up, and it made a cheeping noise like a cricket. Dazed, Soffit held the chick protectively against his Armani jacket. Taken with a sudden obsession as inexplicable as the white whale that drove the fated Captain Ahab, he turned and crossed a little footbridge over the rush that swirled from the fountain, falling water noise blocking all other sounds.
Soffit didn’t make the meeting with the governor. Nor did he go to any meetings for several weeks. He wasn’t seen at his office. His voicemail filled until no one could leave a message. The doorman at his penthouse suite could only shrug without excuse at visitors in power suits as the buzzer went unanswered. The only sign of life was the regular delivery of Chinese food—Szechuan Beef, Moo Shu Pork and Dou Ban Yu. Never anything with chicken.
Months later, the paparazzi photo was a shot of a furtive Soffit in a long Ralph Lauren coat and dark glasses, a black and white speckled chicken tucked under his arm.
The partners at his firm held closed-door meetings. They assigned a man to get to Soffit at all costs. They sent registered mail to the penthouse, ordering him to return to work.
When he finally did show up at the office, it was early, before anyone but the cleaning ladies. He generated all his regular paperwork digitally, delivered by a new staff of secretaries and errand boys that received their orders by texts and e-mails on their new Blackberries and i-Phones. No one in the office ever saw him come or go, his office door always closed behind which there was always the flurry of keyboard, phone and fax machine, Soffit’s voice in telephone and Skype conferences, and the occasional bawk-bawk squawk.
Social headlines went crazy. Bob Soffit Off the Block? Billionaire Playboy Snared by a Bird. Soffit’s Sex Pot—Tastes Like Chicken.
Gradually the public attention waned. They wrote him off as cracked. Occasional rumors of Soffit’s reclusive antics floated up from limousine drivers and cleaning women: private beach rentals in Cyprus, complete with protection from all predators; exclusive closed movie premiers in the Grand Theater, his own red carpet, Brioni tuxedo, the speckled hen draped in diamonds.
When Soffit’s attorney received news of his client’s untimely death, he went straight to the penthouse with pre-ordained orders as per the recently deceased. The entire estate and all its holdings were assigned to the chicken, in care of a woman, Aba Nelson.
The attorney was escorted by security into the extravagant penthouse, elegant with original art and custom designed furniture. A grand piano once owned by Frank Sinatra graced the living room with a view of the Pacific Ocean over Santa Monica. As baffled as ever, he shooed the docile hen into its animal carrier and proceeded to the Executive Suites.
The attorney squinted into the dark cigar shop. A woman with a red-and-gold head wrap extended her hand for the carrier as if she was expecting it. The attorney took a handkerchief from his pocket to mop his brow. On a shelf above the register, the stuffed red fox seemed to grin down at him, its yellow canines exposed over the shiny gums.
“He left everything to…” He shuffled through the pages of the will. “This animal. Its name escapes me. You are named as its caretaker.” He stacked the ream of papers and put them in a manila folder next to the register. “Well,” he said, “good luck.”
The woman nodded. A single flicker of light crossed her black eyes.
“Thank you for your business,” she said. She did not shake the attorney’s hand.