Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Wrong Lawyer | a short story

"The wrong lawyer?" Jake Burton squinted. His gloved hand, that had expected to have an envelope in it by now, firmly set his empty shot glass on a coaster that was stuck to the table. "I got the wrong lawyer?"

Arnie Dill's slender eyebrows raised as he nodded.

Jake thought Arnie plucked his eyebrows into narrow lines to match his pencil-thin moustache, looking like he was straight out of an old movie with the skinny eyebrows, moustache, slick hair, and black turtleneck. Truth was, he was right out of Dundalk--high school dropout from the would-be Class of '89 who'd made some money doing things no one had put him in jail for yet. Like making book in the back of this dark, crappy bar in Locust Point.

"Wrong lawyer?" Jake Burton was a 51-year-old man with a barrel chest and bulldog face. His topcoat was of the finest cashmere.

The two men were alone at a corner table. The tavern's only other customers were a middle-age couple at the bar. The woman was attractive. The guy, though, was that a toupee?

Jake leaned forward. "I got the lawyer..." He poked the table with two gloved fingers to emphasize his point. "...you told me to get. Guy came out the building you said he was comin' out of, the time you said he was comin' out, headed in the direction you said -- "

"Jake." Arnie cut him off, not knowing how to make this any clearer. "You got the wrong lawyer. Didn't you look at the picture I faxed you?" Arnie was getting a little snippy.

"Yeah, and that's the lawyer I got. Three quiet .22's in the back of his head. Puff-puff-puff. He goes down. I leave. No witnesses. And now I'm here for my money and you're feeding me some -- "

Arnie dug impatiently into a pocket of his black blazer--J.C. Penney all the way. He pulled out two pages, unfolded them on the table. The first was a Yellow Pages ad from the lawyers section, the one with the picture of the lawyer Arnie wanted dead. "That's what I faxed you."

Jake examined it. "That ain't what he looked like coming through my fax machine."

"Who's fault is that?" Arnie started unfolding the second page. "Buy a better fax machine." He slapped a photocopied Sunpapers article on the table: the obituary of a lawyer who was survived by three ex-wives--the lawyer Jake shot in the back of the head. "That's the lawyer you got. The wrong lawyer."

Jake sat back and squinted at Arnie. "This ain't my fault."

"How you figure?"

Over at the bar, Mr. Toupee put his arm around the woman on the stool beside him. She didn't seem thrilled.

Jake said, "I followed your directions."

Arnie kept his voice down, but was getting angry. "No, what you did was screwed up."
Jake's barrel chest butted the table. "It was a blurry fax. I couldn't half see it." Spit flew out when he talked and landed on Arnie's pock-marked cheek.

Arnie grabbed a napkin and wiped his face. "So why didn't you ask me to send it again."
Jake's reply came out as quiet rumble. "What the hell, I was doing the guy in the dark. I figured that's what he'd look like in the dark. Blurry like that. And he did. Which is why I shot him."

Arnie started to say something, but stopped. He exhaled deeply. "Look, what's done is done."

"Yeah, I'll say." Jake pushed the obit back at Arnie.

"You get the right lawyer, I'll pay you."

"So you ain't payin' me..." Jake dropped his fat finger on the face of the dead lawyer in the obituary. "...for this guy."


Jake's lips moved as though his gums were brushing his front teeth. "Yeah, all right, what the hell." He sighed and eased back in his chair, making its old wooden legs creak. "I got the wrong guy. My fault. I shouldn't've taken any chances. Gotten a clearer picture. Whatever. Here..." He motioned for the yellow pages ad, wiggling his fingers toward it. "...gimme that. Make sure I get the right guy this time."

Arnie handed over the advertisement with the picture of the still-alive lawyer he wanted dead.

"This guy," Jake said, holding up the ad, "right? Not this guy." He finger-pointed the dead man's obituary again.

"You got it."

"All right. I'll see you in 24, 48 hours, tops." Jake stood.

Arnie smiled. "Good deal."

"You're still buying the shot, right?" Jake motioned toward his empty glass.

"The shot I'm paying for."

"Make sure I didn't drink the wrong drink."

Jake walked out of the bar and into the cold.

It was starting to snow. White flakes swirled along the street.

Jake stuffed his hands into the pockets of his expensive topcoat and turned down the alley.

Loiza Ely was leaning against Jake's Cadillac Eldorado, hands in the pockets of a ski parka, catching snowflakes on his tongue. "You ever do this when you were a kid, Jake?" the tall Romanian tech wizard asked.

"No. Get in the car."

"What's the matter?"

"Got the wrong lawyer."

"How's that?"

"Get in the car." Jake threw open the passenger door and thumped down. Even with the seat powered back, his chest was almost on the dash.

Loiza slid in the driver's seat. "Whaddayou mean the wrong lawyer?"

"Shot the wrong damned lawyer," he swore. "Friggin' Arnie. Who the hell faxes a picture of someone they want hit? What the hell'm I supposed to do with that? Now it's my fault?"

"So we're not getting paid?"


"And that was such a pure hit. No witnesses." Loiza stared down the alley, contemplating this latest lesson in being a killer he was learning from Jake. After half a minute, he said, 
"Now what?"

It was cold in the car without the engine running.

Jake didn't respond at first. He appeared deep in thought. "You know," he offered, "my mother wanted me to go to law school. I took the LSAT's and everything."

"Really?" Loiza didn't disbelieve Jake, it just seemed out of character.

"Got a good score, too."

The back exit to the bar opened and Arnie came out. He pulled his Penney's blazer close against the cold and blew into his hands, angling away from them across the alley, toward his Mercedes SLK.

Jake eased quiet and quick from the Cadillac and started down the alley toward Arnie, his steps light for such a heavy man

Arnie, still blowing into his hands, never heard Jake coming until he was five feet away, so by the time he turned and grunted, sensing something bad, there wasn't time to do anything about it.

Jake shot him three times in the head -- using the same .22 fitted with a silencer that had killed the wrong lawyer.

Arnie dropped dead, face up in the bricked alley, his mouth and eyes staring open into the falling snow.

Loiza came running, said, "Look, Arnie's catching snowflakes."

They dragged Arnie across the alley to the Cadillac, popped the trunk and put him in with room to spare.

"You know," Jake grunted, closing the trunk, "maybe it's not to late to do the lawyer thing."

Loiza brushed his hands down the sides of his ski jacket. "Actually, Jake, I picture you more as a judge."

They got in the car and pulled off.

Turning the corner, Jake saw the woman from the bar come out alone, leaving without the man with the bad toupee.

Jake nodded, figuring he and the woman had both made good decisions tonight.

copyright 2001, 2016, Preston Pairo III

Jake Burton also appears in Preston Pairo's legal thriller, Her Honor, available exclusively at Amazon.com.

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