Tales from the Darkside – Final Episode
As the dusk of the late winter afternoon turned to darkness, my heavy left foot let up only for the sharp curves along the road home.
After steering through every bend, I was still looking in my rear view mirror to see if I was being followed.
"What have I gotten myself into?" I asked myself.
There I was invited to a meeting where three men sitting in the shadows of a dark room attempted to shake me down … adjust my memory as to whom I was really dealing with in a land development brokerage deal.
Now it seemed that all that boldness and bravery that I had shown in tagging a crook was peeling off the core of my 28 year body. I tried to do the right thing by calling the authorities on a shady looking character who was out to scoff up a brokerage fee on a revoked license.
It was as much a game of wits when I made calls to test the downright stupidity of this man who called himself Kelley, then displayed a business card being a person by the name of Burke.
And, yes, it was more than a thrill to be part of a sting operation that nailed that man of dual identities in the act of brokering. Having the feeling of "We got 'em!" was electrifying when the cops pounced upon the culprit with handcuffs.
But now I had received more than an idle threat in a darkroom, suggesting that it was in my best interest to change my story before the case went to trial. Hey, I have a wife and newborn at home in a basement apartment … now all the fun and games flipped on me as I thought about the safety of my family. I was scared!
Were they following me, or were they waiting until I got home to break in after midnight with those guns I imagined were under their jackets? Easy enough to find me, I thought … my name and address are in the phonebook (this is something, boys and girls, that the Urban Dictionary defines as "An ancient device used to find a person/business' phone number. Scientists have recently discovered a link between these and a phone booth")!
I arrived home in a near panic – parked the car behind the building and once inside locked the door and pulled the shades. Once she got a good look at my state, the face of my 23-year-old wife went from a welcoming smile to a fearful surprise. While she didn't greet me with the familiar "How was your day, dear?" that is pretty much what she wanted to know.
It is said that stress can cause the mind to distort reality to the point of absurdity. And when two people stress over the same fear, things grew exponentially into a state of ludicrous hysteria.
Well … it didn’t get that bad, but only because I called my broker Rick Wolfe (that guy who was at the time Chairman of the Maryland Real Estate Commission and encouraged me to play that game of To Catch a Thief in the first place). Rick calmed me down as I told the tale of my darkest experience thus far. After asking if I needed police protection, he once again reminded me that these are nonviolent people, who were more than likely just trying to scare me. Well, they sure did!
It took a few days before we both began to feel like Rick was right in his assessment. It was only a few weeks later that a non-eventful settlement took place in Rockville, Maryland. Joining me in attendance was my client Mr. Sugar, the settlement attorney … and the buyer Mark, who acted as if that meeting among him, his two cohorts and me never happened. Neither Mr. Kelley nor Mr. Burke made an appearance and never a peep was made about them during the gathering.
After closing handshakes, everyone walked away with big smiles on their faces. As agreed, the brokerage fee was held in escrow.
The next challenging hurdle in this Tale from the Darkside of Commercial Real Estate was, of course the trial of Mr. Kelley. Held in District Court in Rockville, my instructions as the star witness were plain and simple: recite the interactions I had with Mr. Kelley leading up to his arrest, and nothing more. Huh?
"Why can't I tell the darkest part of my tale," I asked. I was told that it will just complicate the matter at hand.
So the big day arrived and there I was in the courtroom. The lawyer for the Real Estate Commission was a very dapper and sharp individual with a clear mission: prove that Mr. Kelley had attempted to earn a brokerage fee without an active real estate license. His witnesses included yours truly, Rick Wolfe and the arresting police officer.
With a shoddy, clearly two-bit defense attorney, there sat Mr. Kelley. Sitting behind him in the gallery was my friend Mr. Burke, the real estate broker from Prince George’s County, who in my one and only encounter had suggested that it was not Mr. Kelley with whom I had dealt, but he himself.
It was odd, almost humorous, that as I sat in the courtroom and gazed upon the two men, all that fear that consumed me that evening was nowhere to be found.
When I was asked to take the stand, the prosecuting attorney asked me to recite my story, which I did, just as instructed.
Then the schleppy defense attorney took his shot at me. As I looked into his eyes, my confidence grew. His appearance matched his performance. After a couple of what seemed random questions, I could almost hear the drum roll, as he pointed toward Mr. Burke in the near empty courtroom and asked: "The man with whom you dealt was that man, Mr. Burke, wasn't it?"
My answer, as scripted was a simple "No, sir."
Before I knew the non-eventful trial was over and Kelley was found guilty … his sentencing would come later.
Case closed. A few weeks later I got two big pieces of – news: Mr. Wolfe's company had been awarded the full commission for the transaction, of which I received a just reward.
But on a disappointing note I was also informed that while Mr. Kelley was sentenced to six months behind bars, his sentence was suspended for being a nonviolent criminal.
After all those years, my guess is that Kelley is sitting in some county subsidized nursing home starring across a stark room … or, well, residing in his eternal resting place wondering if all that conniving worth the effort?
So ends this series of posts of Tales from the Darkside of Commercial Real Estate.
Do you have any Dark Tales of your own to tell? Let me know.
Mr. Mackintosh is president of MacRo, Ltd., a Land and Commercial Real Estate firm based in Frederick, Maryland. He also writes for his blog MacRo Report.