The first sign of trouble was the aroma of burnt flowers. My roommate had tried to hide it by closing his door, but the scent was finding a way through the cracks.
“Pete, what’s that smell?” I called through the door.
“Just a minute,” he replied.
He opened the door and I was engulfed in floral smoke. Once I’d stopped coughing, the smoke had cleared enough to see inside. He’d transformed his room into a New Age paradise. Incense smouldered in a fancy brass burner. Silk cushions and crystals were strewn over the floor.
The room wasn’t the only transformed thing. In front of me was a much thinner, and more bearded, Pete.
“What the hell is going on?”
“Like the new look?” He tried to strike a manly pose.
I folded my arms. “The beard doesn’t suit you.”
“Some women like beards.”
“Not this one.”
He looked crestfallen. “Anyway, you’ll want to see this.”
Pete rummaged in a pile of junk on his desk. He pulled out a folder and held it up. “This is it. We’re going to make our fortunes.”
He ignored the question. “Imagine you’re fat. You hate diets. You’ll pay anything for another way. And here it is: ten easy steps and you meditate the fat away!”
“You lose fat by sitting down?”
“By getting in touch with your inner being. Speeding up your metabolism.” He started to sweat. Pete never could handle excitement.
He thrust the folder at me. I took it and flicked through. I couldn’t deny that it looked simple, but a good businesswoman sees the flaws. I don’t care when flaws can be hidden. It’s easy with a product—build the factory in a poor country and blame any deaths on them. Shifting blame isn’t so easy when you’re selling a process.
“What about the ‘accelerated hair growth issues’ on page three?” I eyed his new beard.
“That’s a minor side effect.”
“Women don’t want to shave their legs twenty times a day.”
He mopped his brow with a hankie. “Oh. I didn’t think of that.”
“You never do.”
“We don’t need to tell people.” He fiddled with his desk fan, turning it to maximum.
“I need a business manager. Fifty-fifty share of the profits.”
“No deal. You can’t hide the hair. We’ll get sued.” I tossed the folder back on the desk and turned to leave.
“I’ll solve it, I promi—”
A blast of heat hit my back. I spun round. In Pete’s place was a pile of ashes. Smoke drifted up from the pile, mingling with the incense fumes.
Stunned didn’t begin to cover it. Would people think I killed him? I had thought about it. I’d got as far as buying a knife. Now nature had beaten me to it.
I needed a plan. Pete didn’t have any family to come looking. I’d tell his friends he’d run off after his latest scheme.
My eyes settled on the folder. It’d work long enough for people to blog about it, tell their friends. And after that? Dead customers can’t sue.