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
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.
Fred didn’t leave the
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
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
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
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
Fred cracked himself up, scratched
himself raw. He had track-marks on
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?
“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
“She could bring
suit,” I said. “But I wouldn’t handle
Jason blew a crooked smoke ring.
“Conflict of interest,”
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
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
“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
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
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
“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
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.
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
I wrote for the comic papers.