As protector and pal to a Hollywood VIP, he did everything the boss asked. Everything. 3,470 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
If you look at any photo of the famous media mogul Magnus Byers taken over the past thirty years, chances are I’m in it. Not my face. No, never my face. But my arm, my shoulder or my flank. Right there next to the boss (I always call him boss, never Mr. Byers, and for sure not Magnus).
I’m there but at the same time invisible. And indispensable.
I’m not tooting my horn here. Just stating the facts. I contributed to his success from the very start and in ways that only he can appreciate. I know the boss better than anybody, better than my parents – and they gave birth to me. I know the good stuff and the bad stuff and he knows I know. But he trusts me. And I never gave him reason not to.
Hardly anybody outside Magnus Byers’ close circle knows my name or exactly what my responsibilities are. Most of them think I’m his bodyguard, just some big tough who doesn’t say much probably because I’m a little soft in the head. And that suits me fine. Keeps them from asking questions. Annoying questions. Awkward questions.
I don’t like being asked questions.
Except for some hoax kidnapping threat about twenty years ago, keeping people out of the boss’s face is the least of my duties. I just step out front, fold my arms and give them the old stare down. They back off pretty quick. Just the same, I always keep a sidearm handy. Perfectly legit. Got a permit and everything. Practice firing it every week at the Beverly Hills Gun Club. My aim is still dead-on, even after all these years. Yeah, I’d take a bullet for him. What of it?
The boss created, bought and sold newspapers, TV and radio stations, movie theaters, casinos, resorts, satellite and internet. His finger in every pie and made more dough out of it than any of his competitors. Men looked up to him, wanted to be him. Women were impressed by him, even the ones who eventually tried to suck him dry. He was feared and respected but rarely loved. Even by his own kids. Especially by his own kids. Five of them. By three different wives. They barely tolerated each other. Their only common goal was waiting for him to kick the bucket and destroying everything he built. Talk about a lack of respect.
I’m not taking sides here just cause he pays me. For one thing he ain’t is Santa Claus. He didn’t get to where he is by giving handouts. Or looking the other way when people mess up. That’s not how business works. He didn’t go from being an average everyday millionaire to being on the list of richest men in the world by accident. He had a plan and stuck to it. Some bones were bound to get broken along the way. Can’t be helped.
Every once in a while, I’ve had to take care of a situation that wasn’t going his way, even though he threw lawyers and money at the problem. Sure, he’s got assistants and housekeepers and gardeners and thousands of employees at his media empire. But most of them wind up causing him trouble at some point. And then it’s my job to squeeze them out nice and easy. A couple of times, a more permanent solution was required. But, hey, accidents happen every day.
The boss would be the first to tell you that he’d be lost without me. Which is not to say that he doesn’t chew me out occasionally. The boss is not a patient man. Never has been. I don’t take it personally. When he yells. it’s not because of what I did. It’s usually cause somebody else pissed him off and I’m just the one there. Or I’m making him do something he doesn’t want to do, like take his meds or get some rest. If I let it ride, later he yells at me even more.
But it’s okay. Getting reamed for no good reason is part of my job description. This line of work ain’t for sensitive types.
When I say I do everything for the boss, it’s no exaggeration. If what his personal chef made him don’t suit his fancy, I pick up the phone so a five-star meal is on the dinner table within the hour. If he’s lonely, I make sure he has entertainment, whether it’s a comedian who does twenty minutes for him, or a lovely lady who treats him like the king he is. When he throws parties, I’m on top of the caterers every step of the way. If they ask who I am, I just tell them, “Never mind who I am, just do what I say.”
When I say the boss is never out of my sight, I mean exactly that. Every room in the house is monitored, including the inner sanctum. Cameras hidden everywhere. The boss is a very private man, but that don’t include me. I’m his second set of eyes. I destroy most of the tapes after a few weeks. Only save the ones that might come in handy if I need to confront a sticky-fingered housekeeper, or one of his ex-wives screaming for more alimony, or his kids back when they still lived at home.
My own private life is nonexistent. I don’t fool around because it’s not my nature. I don’t have the time. All my energy goes into my work. A few times, when the boss has been in a generous mood, he’s offered to send one of his ladies up to my suite on the third floor after he’s done with her. Once he even said that, if I swung the other way, it was okay by him. Which is saying something, since he’s not exactly open-minded in that department. I know this because one of his sons was drifting in that direction. But after I showed the boss the tapes, he threatened to cut the kid out of the business, which would have been a shame since he’s the smartest one of the bunch. The son soon saw reason. Got married and had a couple of kids. So what if he’s got a guy on the side, as long as he keeps it on the sly. He’d hardly be the first.
The boss once let slip that he felt closer to me than all his wives, girlfriends and kids put together. Said he was grateful that whatever he asked me to do, I never questioned or second-guessed him. Said that even when I badgered him, he knew I did it because I cared about him.
And I told him, “All of that is true, boss. Every single last word.”
Why am I telling you all this? Well, first off, if you’re reading this, it means both me and the boss are gone. Everything up to this point, I wrote while the boss was still kicking. Now I’m going to tell you the rest. I think it’ll clear up a lot of the nonsense that’s been written about the boss and me in the books, the documentaries, the feature film.
Watching the boss go downhill was the toughest thing I ever had to do. Broke my heart.
If only they’d behaved themselves. If only they’d waited. But as soon as he started getting sick, his kids went on the attack. Said he was too weak to manage his empire. That it was time for them to take over. Mind you, all of them already had plum positions in his companies. For all their differences, the boss was a loyal family man, though he wasn’t above pitting them against each other. He said he only did it to sharpen them, to make them more competitive. God knows they needed a push. They were soft and pampered. Didn’t have half his smarts or drive. But, like the ex-wives, nothing he did ever did satisfied them.
The lawsuits began when the boss was probably at this worst. He’d had a stroke one night in his bedroom, right after I’d fallen asleep at the monitor. Luckily, no sooner had he collapsed on the floor than I woke up, saw what was happening and called a private ambulance. I’d learned about strokes and heart attacks in my off hours, so while I waited for the EMTs to arrive, I did all the things to minimize the damage.
It was a bad stroke. But it didn’t kill him. Eventually, he recovered. Better than eighty percent of other people who’ve had a similar episode.
And what did the kids do while he was flat on his back and fighting for his life? They moved in for the kill. They argued that the company should be broken up. Immediately. Here he’d spent decades of hard work to build one of the world’s great media empires and they wanted to break it into chunks. And since only one of the sons had any common sense, the rest would wind up selling their shares to one of his competitors for pennies on the dollar and then sit on their fat asses for the rest of their lives.
For the next two years, his lawyers and their lawyers batted it out. In the meantime, the boss got back on his feet and went on the offensive. So the kids started saying that he was losing his marbles. Dementia. Alzheimer’s. None of it provable. I mean at eighty-two, who isn’t a little fuzzy? But he was still on top of things most of the time.
The fight between the lawyers got so nasty that soon the whole world was keeping tabs. The kids made sure that all the ugly details got out, sending in pictures to the papers of him laid up and half-drugged after the triple bypass. Nasty stuff. And, of course, his media rivals ate it up.
Just when the whole mess was coming to a boil, the boss announced that he’s throwing a major blow-out at the Bel Air house. Two hundred and fifty of the biggest names in entertainment, tech and business. None of the kids was invited. And when they got wind of it and asked if they could come, he said absolutely not and that they would be escorted off the premises by armed guards if they dared show up.
It would be the last party he ever gave and we both knew why. But that’s only part of the story. I like to think that I’ve been around long enough that very little surprises me. But when the boss told me his plan, my jaw hit the ground. It was completely rational and insane at the same time.
And I was the person in charge of executing it.
When he was finished laying out the details, the boss looked up at me with those baby blues and said, “So, are you with me?” And I told him that while I wished there was another way, I had never questioned his decisions and I wasn’t about to start now.
Then for the first time ever, I asked the boss for a favor in return. A big favor. When I told him what I wanted, he said he’d keep his end of the bargain as long as I kept mine. I was flattered and moved. At the same time, I was sadder than I’d ever been in my whole life.
Because everything was about to change.
The party. What a bash. No expense was spared. For entertainment: Beyonce and Jay Z, Adele, Mumford & Sons and Andrea Bocelli. The food: giant tanks filled with live lobsters, crabs and shrimp. Prepared any way requested. Steaks and racks of lamb and chicken and even quail and moose. Again, cooked to taste. For the vegan types, gourmet dishes barely cooked at all. Different strokes.
Champagne fountains and twenty bartenders to make any cocktail your heart desired. A variety of aged Scotch single malts and exotic rums and artisan tequilas. Even me who never touches the stuff was tempted.
Getting ready for the event took every last ounce of strength the boss had. Since he hadn’t been out of his wheelchair in weeks, he got his doctor to shoot him up with painkillers and, by the time he was ready to make his entrance, he was back to his old self. Debonair. Smart. Witty. I was there next to him, invisible, the whole time while he was wheeled around charming pants off celebs and politicians and moguls.
More than once, though, I could feel him giving me the stink eye that night. It was my own fault. Usually I wouldn’t show emotion even if I was in a plane crash. But tonight was different. What I was being asked to do made me queasy and he could sense it. Tonight was no time to let my guard down. I had a part to play. It was my duty. To my friend.
At around eleven, I could see he was fading. That’s when he told me it was time to go upstairs to his third-story balcony, which overlooked the back patio and swimming pools. Before we got into the elevator, I told the party planners to move everyone outside. Fireworks would start in five minutes. Then the boss would make a big announcement.
The speech was deliberately short but still he needed to stop for an oxygen refill halfway through. He thanked them all for coming. Told them how much each and every one of them meant to him and what a privilege it had been knowing them. They had all crossed paths with him at some point and sometimes even crossed swords. But tonight they were all his friends, he said. “This is goodbye.” While they were trying to figure out what he meant, the boss gave me the sign. I took a deep breath and handed him a glass of water and the pill. He swallowed it in one gulp. “Goodbye,” he said again.
“Bye boss,” I replied with a whisper. “It’s been a blast.”
He looked up at me with those trusting eyes and, as he started to drift off, he shook my hand for the first time since he hired me.
His last words to me were, “Now do it.”
I lifted the can of kerosene and doused him with it. Then I struck the match.
He went quickly. I don’t believe he suffered. The pill was laced with cyanide, so he was probably comatose before the flames ignited. As the boss said when he told me about the plan, he was “going out in a blaze of glory.” All that was left of one of the great media moguls of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries was smoke and ash.
Like I said, completely rational and also batshit crazy.
My getaway was smooth. Only the valets noticed the black Mercedes with the tinted windows pulling away with me in it. Or at least that’s what I wanted them believe.
I cried that night. And I’m not ashamed to admit it. Cried because, already, I missed the boss. He was the center of my life. But in a strange way I was proud. To the very end, the boss had lived life on his own terms. Let me backtrack. A month earlier, while he was recuperating from open heart surgery, he told me that he was dying. The doctors had found cancer in his pancreas. Untreatable. Four to six months at the most. No one but me and the doctors knew. One of the reasons he came up with this exit plan was because, like all powerful men, he was afraid of losing control at the end. To great men, control is everything.
By the following morning, I’d pulled myself together. I still had one more important duty to fulfill. And whether I went through with it or not depended entirely on his kids and how they behaved. This was their chance to prove themselves. But, true to form, he wasn’t dead two days before they were tearing at each other like wolves. In public. Just as he had predicted.
A week after the funeral, which I watched on TV, the boss’s lawyers called a meeting at the house with the five children. No spouses. No grandchildren. For the official reading of the will.
For once in their lives, they were on time. They barely spoke to one another and, though the temperature outside was in the high nineties, the living room was in the low thirties. The lawyers were seated at a long table at the far end of the room. A light breakfast was served.
As the lawyers read out the terms of the will, the wrangling began. The boss had divided up his empire, not equally but according to the best person for the job. The will stipulated that the different heads cooperate with one another and keep the company intact.
But the kids balked and vowed all-out war. They would destroy the empire in order to save it.
While the lawyers were trying to calm them down, I slipped out of my room and into the elevator.
You see, I never left the house. A colleague drove the getaway Mercedes, which was later found submerged below a cliff in Malibu. My body was never recovered.
I’d spent the past few weeks in hiding. The boss not only had a safe room built, he had a safe room for the safe room. Completely isolated. Disguised as an air shaft. Designed to withstand a nuclear explosion and any disaster Mother Nature could cook up. The room was fully functional and stocked. Food. Entertainment. Exercise equipment. Running water and a full kitchen. Also, it was tied into the main security hookup, so I could continue to monitor every inch of the estate.
The kids were so busy screaming at each other that none of them heard me get out of the elevator and walk into the living room. For a big guy, I’m pretty light on my feet. My gun had a silencer, so it wasn’t until the second body dropped that anyone noticed what was happening.
By then it was too late.
Screaming. Pandemonium. I ordered the lawyers and any house staff to exit quietly. They didn’t have to be asked twice. Then I went around to the kids and put a bullet in each of their heads. Just to make sure.
I returned to my safe room and stayed there for four months. The house was scoured from top to bottom by the cops and even the FBI. I watched the whole thing. They found nothing.
Years later, a workman for the house’s new owners stumbled on it. By then, I was long gone.
In those four months, I had plenty of time to prepare for my new life and even to catch up on my reading. The boss had given me a biography of King Louis XIV of France. He said it would explain his remark to me, “Après moi, le deluge.” Good one, boss.
Doesn’t matter where I was all those years, but I will say it was a small town in the middle of nowhere. The reason I was never found was because I no longer existed. Which brings me to the favor I asked the boss at the end.
I told the boss I wanted to transition. It was something I’d been wanting to do for a long time but put it off so as long as the boss was alive and needed me. He didn’t bat an eye. Said, “Good for you, kid,” and immediately arranged for me to get the medication I needed to start the change. He also gave me enough cash to have the operation, should I so choose, and still have money left over to start my new life. What a stand-up guy he was.
I always had a little pony tail. I let it grow out to shoulder length. After wearing the same big and tall men’s clothes every day for thirty years, I took to going out in knee-length print dresses. (I don’t have good legs). I started wearing makeup. Occasionally, a hat. A big floppy hat.
Becoming a woman wasn’t much of an adjustment, maybe because I was finally myself and content. But here’s the part that threw me: I was no longer invisible. Even though I was a big guy, I was usually in the shadows. I thought that being a woman of a certain age, and a not very attractive one, was a surefire way to be invisible. No such luck. People noticed. They were curious. Heads turned.
Nobody made the connection. But, just the same, it took some getting used to.