I knew he was being overly dramatic to bait me into something I wouldn’t like. Nobody earns ten thousand dollars a week. Plenty of people find a way to make it, but nobody earns it.
I had been standing since the accident with the beer can, but now I needed to sit down. I sat in the next chair in line at the conference table. Was I intentionally putting distance between us? Probably I just didn’t want to sit in the wet chair. “Ten thousand bucks is a hefty payday,” I said as smoothly as I could. “Paid weekly… pretty soon you’re talking about real money. We are talking about real money, right Moof? This isn’t more of your ‘reality equals perception’ crap?”
He smiled broadly, knowing his bait had at least been sniffed. “What’s worth doing is worth doing for money, Bud. Like nothing you’ve ever seen.”
“My first question is—“
I saw his point but ignored it. “—how legal is this?”
“Boopy. I’m insulted by your question. How legal. Oh, my.” At this, he sniffed and wiped a mock tear. “How legal? In whose eyes? Don’t get me started on the arbitrary nature of legality!”
“So I’m guessing not very legal. I’m only asking because I want to be able to bail out honestly. When I’m tied to a chair being waterboarded while someone uses a … a… a… Leatherman on my scrotum, I want to be able to honestly say I have no idea what the hell kind of scam my old friend Moof is running.”
“You should be a writer.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake.”
“A writer making almost ten grand a week,” he said, elbows on the table and chin in hands. “That’s Stephen King. That’s Carl Hiassen. That’s Harry Potter—J.K. Rowlands or whatever. That’s that reclusive dude… Salinger. That’s Salinger-level scratch.”
“No wonder he didn’t return my calls. Good thing I have you.”
Goddamn Moof Curtis. The master of charm school. Why was I even still here? How did he know how to hook me so well? Was this what a woman feels like when a man tries to get her undressed? “You’re a master baiter. I feel sorry for every woman you’ve ever been with,” I said.
He laughed. “Speaking of, do you remember in high school, when I got you to come over to Michelle’s house to help us wash her car? The five-liter Mustang?”
Yeah. Michelle had worn a bikini top. Yellow. She had big California 80s hair and firm, pert breasts. She and Moof had been dating all senior year. She always smelled like sunscreen. “Sure,” I mumbled. “So what?”
“Remember when we got you to work on the interior? You got so into detailing the car. You wanted to impress her, I think. Anyway, eventually we stopped working and went to find some beer in her dad’s house, remember? And you kept working on the car, because you didn’t like the idea of stealing beer from Michelle’s dad. We came out like a half hour later, and you were polishing the ArmorAll on the tires. We didn’t have any beer.”
“Yeah. I remember. So what?”
“Well, cowboy, actually Michelle and I spent all that time fucking. Just balls-out banging. She was a horny girl and wanted it all the time. I think the whole Beer Quest was just an excuse to get us into the house for a threesome. But you were so concerned with the legality of a couple of beers. And she was sixteen anyway, so even consensual double penetration would’ve amounted to rape. How would you have squared that with your legal code? Nope, I guess it’s best things turned out the way they did. Me slamming her on the dining room table and you on your knees, rubbin’ on tires.”
I let it sit for a minute. He was grinning like a madman.
“You’re the biggest piece of shit I’ve ever known.”
“I know, I know, I should’ve shot video. Then we could at least be reliving the moment.”
I got up to leave. “Look, in light of our friendship—“
“Let me ask you this, was the war legal?”
“In light of our friendship—“
“When we drop an artillery shell on a wedding party, is that legal?”
“When we pay the families five hundred, or a thousand dollars per dead guest, how about then, does that make it legal-ish? If the people we’re fucking don’t have any recourse, don’t have any lawyers, don’t have any humanity in our eyes, do we get to declare legality?”
“Stop it. I get it, the world is a fucked up place.”
“You want the truth? Please. You can’t handle the truth. Let’s not stop at international. How about domestic? Do I need to mention banks? Drug companies? Oil companies? Hell, how about Congress? Does legality only get defined by the people who can afford to shape the court? What about history? The French revolutionaries were the legitimate government of France, and they started lopping off heads. The Iranians. Stalin. North Korea. Legality is pretty damn subjective, don’t you think?”
“Please tell me you’re not going to go full Hitler here.”
He was in strong form now. “Here’s a little ditty I think you’ll know. It’s a little passage I got memorized. On great occasions every good officer must be ready to risk himself in going beyond the strict line of law, when the public preservation requires it.”
“We’re sitting in a country where twenty bucks a day is living large, and I’m offering you ten thousand a week. How legal? Remember the Serb? What was it you said? One, two, three, four, I declare a Thumb War? Remember the Serb? How fucking legal was that?”
I could feel the hook set in my cheek. Jefferson also said “To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the end to the means.”
But I had to look that up later, and I had forgotten that he said those words in defense of actions taken by his commanding general, who was secretly in the pay of Spain, in addition to being a first class dissembling asshole.