Let me tell you about how mister Zuiderman made his fortune, because it’s quite the interesting tale. You might not even have known he has amassed a fortune, seeing how he has always lived modestly and still does. After all, he still works as a club bouncer in the city during weekends. Probably likes the work or something, or he thinks it’ll provide him with some kind of cover. But I happen to have worked for him, and because of this I know his secret. You being my best bud and all, I can certainly share it with you. Just promise me you’ll never let him know I told you. He can be quite the dangerous man, and you will soon learn why.
You ever read the local papers? If so, you might remember glancing over ads for “Professor Buyao”, claiming to be able to remove evil spirits and the sort from residences? Or maybe, if you lived in the eastern quarter of the city around the time, you might‘ve even gotten the little pieces of paper with his advert on it in the mail, the ones he deposited in mailboxes himself when he just started out with his business? Anyway, that’s him. Mr. Zuiderman was professor Buyao, and he did house exorcisms and related work. Now when things started rolling and he started to reel in more and more customers through word of mouth, he made a pretty dime, but that is not how he really got rich. The way he truly got the big bucks was by playing both sides of the fence. Indeed, when he found out he was pretty good at conversing with spirits and the like, he had the brilliant insight to get value from them, as well. But let me start with a little bit of background.
Mr. Zuiderman was born of Dutch parents, but he has a little bit of Chinese in him through his maternal line, I think his mother’s mother was Chinese or half Chinese, from the Dutch Indies, probably, I’m not totally sure. Not that you can really tell, he has always just looked like a firm Dutch bloke, and he was raised a Dutchman, as well. Very down-to-earth, as the Dutch are proud to say of themselves, not burdened with many superstitions, not religious at all. One little superstitious quirk had stuck in his family through the generations, however. His mother had taught him, every new house you come to live in, just to be sure, make peace with the resident spirits. Just say a little prayer, just make a little petition, let them know you come in peace and have respect and all that jazz. Can’t hurt to do it, right? And so this is what he did, every time he would move to a new room or house.
But then, one day, something quite remarkable happened. The house spirit answered him. It startled him something fierce, or at least so he told me. You know, being a Dutchman myself, I can’t help but be skeptical still, even though I’ve seen a lot of weird stuff happen. But results count, and the man’s awesomely rich now, so who am I to doubt the veracity of his claims? He made it work for him, whatever the real truth might be. Let us both suspend our disbelief for a little while then, alright?
As you might gather, being able to talk with spirits comes with some great opportunities. The most important one here being, in a business sense, finding out what the hell it actually is the spirit wants. I’m sure you’ve seen quite a few vague types on television muck about with recording gear and other gadgets trying to find out what it might be that some invisible entity is wailing around for, and then making some semi-informed guesses, or maybe you’ve seen the spirit mediums spouting vague platitudes about uncle’s spirit missing little Johnny or wanting to let everyone know that he or she is at peace now. But, as mr. Zuiderman told me, no one hangs around in this veil of tears just to let his little nephew know he is doing okay. When someone stays after dying, there is something concrete and important to him he is trying to accomplish, like for example, he didn’t get to throw away his hidden stash of weird porn mags and he is terrified some family member will find them. Worst case scenario, they are either straight crazy, or assholes that love to make other people miserable. And then there are non-human spirits, too, like sprites, kami and demons, and their requests can get pretty weird at times, if they have any to begin with. Particularly demons, too, are often just in it to make people’s life hell. But even in many of those situations, mr. Zuiderman, or should I call him prof. Buyao, found ways to get paid. Guess he truly found his calling, because he also seemed to enjoy his work a lot.
The idea to make this thing a business came to him after he had had a run in with a spirit when he was a student. He had just moved into a student home, and he had done his little prayer when he stepped into his room for the first time. The spirit, not to his surprise anymore because he was used to it by now, answered, but its words sounded like gibberish to him, so he left it at that. During the following nights, however, his sleep was disturbed multiple times by bumps in the night, windows suddenly opening to let the cold air in, and lights (in)explicably turning on. A couple of times, he tried to ask the spirit what its problem was, but every time it would respond with the strange sounds. After a week of back and forth, it suddenly struck him that the spirit’s gibberish sounded an awful lot like French, and now, after procuring a French/Dutch dictionary, he could find out what the spirit wanted. By the way, you can probably understand that Buyao naturally became a polyglot during his career.
Back to the spirit, what had happened was, the French ex-student had killed himself (prof. Buyao later corroborated the story by checking old newspaper articles), as he had been massively depressed, probably because he had done nothing but smoke marijuana during the year he had been living there as an exchange student, but he had forgotten, probably for similar reasons, to send his brother a couple of expensive first edition comics he had bought for him. Actually, just as he jumped off the balcony, it had come back to him. Buyao found the hidden magazines, sent them to the brother, and the Frenchman went on to eternal rest or where ever it is that human souls go when they die.
Sending the magazines had ran Buyao, who was living on a meager student’s budget at the time, around twenty bucks, and after all was said and done, he was left with the nagging feeling that it was not him, but the spirit that should have paid for his own stupid mistake. And I guess that that was the moment it hit him. The following year, he started helping out people who had ghost troubles at home, meanwhile formulating ways to get the spirits to pay for his services, too.
Now obviously, spirits can’t simply bring you cash. Most of the time, making things happen in the physical world is very tiring for them, so they might throw a couple of cups off the dresser when they are really mad, but they won’t be carrying large objects around or hauling hidden caches of gold to you. They do however often have knowledge of where things are hidden, and they can snoop around pretty easily, so trading for information became one of the main ways to extract value for Buyao. He would charge a flat rate of 10% for delivering hidden valuables to family members and loved ones, however he would haggle for more when getting to them proved more complicated than just cutting open a mattress or lifting a floor panel. In other cases, he would trade for juicy family details or neighborly secrets to blackmail others with, something spirits would sometimes begrudgingly agree with if they had no other way of paying, but which often was a win-win situation if the spirit didn’t like the victim to begin with. The best cases would of course be when he just had to deliver a sappy letter for the spirit, could keep all hidden valuables that by now had no value for them anymore anyway, and by granting the spirit’s last wish also removed the inconvenience of wailing sounds or smashing doors for the tenant, all in one fell swoop.
Later in his career, Buyao would even trade for spying services, which took some logistical planning and networking, as most spirits are pretty much bound to the place they hang out at, they get less and less effective as they move away from it, and you have to know people in need of information. I think he even did a few less honorable things for the local mob, and I suspect he probably enlisted some minor demons for those jobs, but these are things he never fully shared with me, and I didn’t want to pry too much. I don’t want to dwell too long on the costs that the demons might have charged him for these kind of things, either.
I myself got acquainted with Buyao at the local gym, where we got to talking one day. We definitely clicked on a personal level, and after a couple of good conversations, he offered me a job. At this time, he was pretty much drowning in work, and he needed a personal assistant that would take care of the smaller tasks and errands. Me, I needed a job, because social studies hadn’t quite worked out for me. After a couple of weeks of bringing random personal items to the bereaved and digging out hidden valuables using Buyao’s hand drawn maps, he trusted me enough to let me in on what he was actually doing. You’ll believe me if I tell you that I thought he was pulling my leg at the time, of course. But as time went on, I saw him pull off many incredible feats that simply cannot be explained in other ways.
By my rough calculations, Buyao must have cleared about five million euros (off the books), just in the five years I worked for him, aside from the five hundred thousand he made on record with his registered business. How many times I dug up jewelry valued in the tens of thousands of euros and how many stacks and rolls of large denomination bills I pulled from suspended ceilings I can’t even count, to be honest. I made a pretty dime, myself, certainly after I started getting a cut out of the blackmail letters I composed out of letters cut out of papers. It was more than enough to start my ferret farm. And I certainly feel he earned his fortune, he discovered his hidden talent and had the guts to run with it. Furthermore, the job is not without dangers. Once you catch a curse, it’s pretty much over for you. I must say he skillfully evaded that particular job risk throughout the years, although I’ve seen some unfortunate clients succumb to them in pretty horrible ways. Guess Buyao had the luxury of being able to talk himself out of these things, while his clients didn’t. He always knew when it was time to leave, proving that the best in their fields are defined not only by the projects they accept, but also by those they reject. For example, an elder God is a losing proposition no matter how you approach it. You can’t reason with them. As soon as Buyao would hear either the sound of their writhing mass or their multiple voices starting to whisper in his head, he would kindly tell the doomed resident that he couldn’t help them and leave. You can’t help everyone all the time, and most of the time those clients weren’t really living in the here and now anymore anyway, so collecting the fee from them would’ve been pretty much impossible.
Less inescapably mind twisting but still dangerous are the demons and spirits of deceased assholes, which I mentioned before. The former are always out for mischief or terror, but luckily they are invariably open to dealmaking, and so you can get out of most predicaments involving them and you by offering them something else they desire, or the blood of one or more sufficiently large animals. The latter can be more troublesome, because just as in life, some people are just insufferable jerks in death. Some stay around just to bother the living, types like parking guards that used to revel in writing just-over-time parking tickets, civil service workers that loved sending people on endless errants or cops that used to get off feeling up the innocents they pulled over during their lifetime. We spent many nights devising strategies to get these ethereal cunts off their power trips, and in the very worst of cases we would simply advise the human client to move, no cure no pay. But those were the corner cases, and as in life, for most dead people, there is a price. And Buyao over time became a master at finding out that price.
Nowadays, I don’t often see or talk to to mr. Zuiderman anymore, he stopped being prof. Buyao about nine years ago, but I know he is doing alright. Last time I met him, he told me he was into cryptocurrencies. “If only bitcoin had existed when I still worked,” he told me, “all those secret keys that people take with them into their graves, it would have been a gold mine!” And I agree. As the digital age progresses, these kind of unique skills become even more valuable. But the story is crazy enough as it is, I think. Just keep it to yourself, okay?