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Shhh...Listen to the Ekko-Fiction by Brian Fugett
Serial-Fiction by Doug Hawley
Somnium Trivium-Fiction by Michael Steven
An Arms Deal-Fiction by Matthew Licht
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In Another Waiting Room-Poem by Walter Ruhlmann
Innocent Blood-Poem by Walter Ruhlmann
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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Art by Mike Knowles 2020

An Arms Deal


By Matthew Licht


Prostitutes can say no to a john, but pimps slap fussy prostitutes. Makeup was invented to cover bruises, too.

Prostitutes don’t have to go out for drinks with their clients before or after a date.

Being a prostitute is legal. Advertising that you’re a prostitute isn’t. The charge is solicitation. I should know. I’m a lawyer.

Lawyers can, in theory, refuse a client. I’d made the mistake of soliciting clients among friends. Make that, people I knew. When a client asks you out for drinks, you’re supposed to go. Senior partners at the firm call this sort of artificial socializing client relations. The partners slap around employees in ways that no cosmetics would cover.

So I was at cocktails with two clients.

Fred was a business major in college. He thinks about money almost exclusively. He was thinking and talking about money on his cell phone when he ploughed his corporate executive car into a kid on a bicycle. The kid allegedly failed to give the prescribed hand signal. Fred was going too fast. He hit the brakes too late. He sent the kid flying. The kid died of a compressed skull fracture. No helmet. 

Fred didn’t leave the scene. 

He said his cell phone was in speaker mode, on the passenger seat. He said the kid was riding a little stunt bike, invisible from an SUV cockpit. He said the kid was hot-dogging. 

The firm doesn’t pay its associates to disbelieve clients. No eyewitnesses. Fred had no prior arrests. He was a pillar of the community. Voluntarily submitted blood and urine samples showed legal alcohol levels. No hit-and-run.

Jason was an English Lit Ph.D. He worked in publishing. His firm used poetry as a tax hedge against bestseller profits, and Jason was their poetry editor. His live-in girlfriend Laura was a poet. She was watering their marijuana plants on the fire escape when it gave way. She took a five-story spill into the cement courtyard. Garbage cans broke her fall, but she was left quadriplegic, maybe permanently so. 

Laura was in no shape to sue the landlord herself, so Jason called the only lawyer he knew personally. We were friends in college, he said. You handed me your card at a party last year.

Jason was at work on a novel. This work-in-progress had already devoured years. Laura gave him lots of encouragement, he said, and was a good proofreader. He didn’t want to talk about his new caregiver role.

Fred cracked quadriplegic jokes. He was indignant about kids’ lack of common sense, and negligent mothers who let their kids stunt-ride on heavy traffic arteries without a helmet. He cracked negligent mother jokes. 

Jason was worried he and Laura could be arrested for marijuana horticulture. His landlord’s lawyers would push the illegal drug issue. Fire escapes were for emergency use only, and there were legal precedents of stoned hippie suicide leaps. Jason’s girlfriend Laura was obese. Fire escape safety codes might not take overweight people into account.

Fred didn’t know Laura’s dimensions, or he would’ve told fat broad jokes. 

Laura had regained partial control of two fingers on her left hand and could wiggle both big toes. Doctors held out slight hope she might recover use of her limbs, but couldn’t be sure, couldn’t say when.

Doctors give up easier than lawyers, and they don’t have to go out for drinks with patients. 

The chemistry requirements for Medical School proved insuperable. Law School was a relative breeze.  The rationale is that nobody dies if you screw up a non-death penalty case. No matter how hard you wish they would. 

Sometimes I wonder whether doctors mentally urge certain patients to die, die, die.

Fred’s jokes were like a nervous tic. I considered him as a doctor might. Sometimes I look at a client and think: five-to-ten months at a minimum-security facility. Or, this guy will have to pay close to a million in damages. A doctor looks at a cancer patient across the desk and thinks: make sure the bills are paid up-front. 

Fred had dark circles around his eyes. The lips of his eyelids were like sunsets on postcards from Florida. He made faces to illustrate his jokes, but also to divert attention from his hands. Fred practically had stigmata. He scratched his way through a few dead baby jokes.

Jason got up to go to the bathroom. He didn’t like Fred, or his sense of humor. My inner doctor observed Jason on his way to the Hi-Life Bar’s head. The stoop indicated possible skeletal deterioration. There was also hair loss, and his thick eyeglasses indicated severe myopia. 

My conservative estimate was that Laura Waneright might recover 1.5-to-2 million dollars, plus extra for pain and suffering. Any drug-related counter-charges would probably be dismissed. 

Jason passed behind a man on a stool at the bar who had no arms, not even stumps. His broad shoulders went nowhere. His shirtsleeves were rolled and tucked like in a barracks. There was no straw in the pint of beer in front of him on the counter. He stared at the TV, which showed a weird boxing match in which men in padded headgear punched and kicked away at each other. I didn’t want Fred to notice the man, didn’t want to hear amputee jokes. 

The guy looked dangerous. One crack out of Fred and he’d saunter over, chew off his ears and nose like a grizzly bear.

I thought he’d hoist the glass with his mouth, somehow. 

A woman walked past the armless man, and stopped to say hello. Their chat looked friendly. She knew him, knew his story. 

One of the fighters on TV laid the other low with a knee to the solar plexus. The fight was over. Seconds stepped in to scrape the loser off the canvas. 

The guy with no arms took in the KO, but still didn’t drink. Maybe he enjoyed watching beer bubbles in motion, or got drunk by osmosis.

Jason emerged from the men’s room lost in thought. Not a glance towards the double-amputee or severe birth-defect man. Thalidomide cases yielded hefty settlements. 

Fred cracked himself up, scratched himself raw. He had track-marks on his forearms.

Jason wore weed jackets with leather patches on the elbows and cardigans for office wear. 

The armless guy, who was dressed like a skinhead, shimmied off his stool, and headed to the Hi-Life men’s room. He walked with a pronounced gimp. His right shoulder stump described wide circles in the air with each rolling step. His tough-guy boots were custom clubfoot shoes. 

He had a cartridge belt slung over his left shoulder, like someone had hung it on him, like he was a coat-rack.

He disappeared into the toilet. 

Fred wanted to score weed. He asked Jason if he set off smoke detectors in airplane bathrooms. Federal offence, but maybe I could get him off. Get off, get it? Like get high?  

Jason groaned. 

“Hey Fred,” I said. “Lay off the one-liners. I’ll get this round.”

The Hi-Life’s bartender could’ve been the armless man’s brother. I wanted to ask how he drank, but didn’t know how to phrase the question. The bartender might take such enquiries the wrong way. An offer to buy the cripple a round would seem patronizing.

“Three of the same, please,” I said. I didn’t ask, do you know what happened to that man who’s sitting? The barman might’ve said, Yeah, I do. So what?

No further questions, your honor. 

Never ask a question in court, unless you know the answer. 

You can’t lie in the court of the human body. Jury members wouldn’t like Fred. I was going to advise him not to tell jokes in court, and try to talk him into a settlement. 

Forgot to mention the kid Fred killed was a ghetto youth. Police blotter reporters live for such stories.

Please hit and run next time, Fred. Then I can refuse your case. 

After another round of drinks and another round of Thai boxing on TV, the armless man emerged the toilet, settled on his stool and resumed his meditation on a glass of beer. His cartridge belt was in place, his pants zipped, his suspenders T-square straight, his shoulders still tucked away. Maybe he asks whoever’s in the men’s room to give him a hand.

Jason took a cigarette from Fred’s pack, lit it shakily, and squirmed. He looked like a man who needs to talk.

“You know, I didn’t sign up for this,” he said. “Laura and I were just sort of hanging on together until one of us found another place to live, or someone else we wanted to live with. We had nothing left to say to each other. We weren’t together, physically, or not often. Could she sue me? Like, for abandonment? We’re not legally married or anything.”

He wanted me to say it was within his rights to walk out on a companion stricken helpless. 

“She could bring suit,” I said. “But I wouldn’t handle her case.”

Jason blew a crooked smoke ring. 

“Conflict of interest,” I said. 

Jason wanted escape clauses, ethical indulgences, or at least a pat on the back from a guy he sort of knew in college. 

“You think I’m a scumbag, fine. But you guys are worse. You don’t even see how badly you’ve whored out.”

Fred didn’t see. Of course he sold out. Selling out was the idea. Fred was in business. A kid who flew because Fred was talking business instead of driving was an unforeseen expense in terms of legal fees and damages. 

Gravity dragged Laura down because she wanted to get high. Jason wanted dope and occasional sex, not responsibility.

I needed to take a leak. “’Scuse me.” 

“The best…no, the worst minds of my generation,” Jason said, “destroyed by Law School, Business School.”

Fred said, “Fuck you, flake.” He wasn’t joking.

The armless man contemplated a glass of beer on the bar.

There was no one else in the Hi-Life’s toilet, just a condom machine, green soap in dispensers, lemon urinal cake perfume and a lugubrious light. 

Hey Fred, you’re stuck with self-mutilation nightmares and a conviction for reckless driving and vehicular homicide. Joke about that, fuck-face. 

Hey Jason, find another fat pothead who can walk, you smug little scumbag. 

Please, please, armless man. Waddle in here again to show how you can piss without assistance.

He spots me staring, approaches slowly. “What’re you looking at?”

“Huh? Oh hey, ‘scuse me, guy. Just curious, is all. I mean, were you the victim of an industrial accident? On-the-job mishap? Negligence on your employer’s part? Here, take my card. Uh, whoops, let me tuck it in your pocket. I can help you recover…”

He busts my face in with a head-butt for soliciting like a whore.


Story by Matthew Licht

Copyright 2020



Matthew Licht rocketed to world-wide obscurity with his story collections The Moose Show and Justine, Joe & the Zen Garbageman (both might still be available from Salt Pubs. UK). A pseudonymous trilogy of murder mysteries is due out this Fall from Erasmo Edizioni (Livorno, Italy), as is a yet-to-be-titled book of hard-core sockeroos from a mysterious Utah-based publisher known only by the acronym HST, and an extremely unorthodox art book, Enigma 17, from Livorno-based publisher Origini Edizioni.

Mike Knowles has spent over 40 years working mainly in comics, along with contributions to TV, Radio, animation, gonzo-style journalism for a “top-of-the-shelf” magazine and odd spells as a digital artist. Not to mention three gruesome years writing gags for comedians (even though they begged him not to. But what did THEY know about humor? 


I wrote for the comic papers.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2020