Whatever They Like

The clerk was on his last hour of overtime before a mandatory four-hour break. Four hours wasn’t enough time to sleep off a sixteen hour workday, and this break would make him late for his next shift. He wasn’t looking forward to the abuse he’d get from Hailee Winstead for being late, again.

“By order of the state” was no excuse, even if he had LA’s top labor lawyer on retainer, which he did. He’d spent the money his dad left him on a mink coat for his then-girlfriend and funneled the rest into paying the monthly retainer fee for Weiznacki and Harmann. He’d regret buying the coat until his dying day, but the retainer fee was worth every penny. He’d never used Weiznacki’s services, but knowing these services were there gave him great peace of mind, like a gun in the nightstand. He had eleven more months of peace of mind left, then the money would be gone. What on earth would he do then? He should have quit his job and moved to Puerto Rico, like his brother. At least then he’d get laid.

The man in front of him had a black eye and red cotton in both nostrils. A string dangled from the left nostril that quivered whenever the man spoke; the clerk’s attention, or whatever scrap of it wasn’t attuned to the slow passage of time, was hypnotized by the movement of this string.

“Slow down, sir,” said the clerk. “What happened?” The man did not slow down. He launched into the same story he’d been telling for the last twenty minutes. This story, without beginning or end, involved the man’s daughter, last June, a neighbor who didn’t speak English and a purse in something called a culvert. What was a culvert? Never mind. The clerk tried to piece the man’s story together with the tiny shred of attention he had left for it. He couldn’t.

“I’m not sure how we can help you, sir,” the clerk said finally.

“You don’t see? Last night she didn’t come home!” said the man.

“People can do whatever they like, sir,” said the clerk, “So long as it doesn’t hurt anybody.”

“It hurts me.”

“You’re not anybody.”

The man started crying. The string in his nose rose and quivered mid-air with each sob. The clerk looked at the clock. Thirty-eight minutes left!


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