a serious joke: chapter 13

“…Wherefore, the plaintiff, Jon ___ requests damages in the amount of $1,000,000.”

-american proverb

Lugging the day’s big sack full of paper up the incline to Stratford Road, sweat grew in little tumescent beads just over Monique’s brow…inching down and over it and stinging her eyes, the incline inching a bit steeper and a bit steeper as she went. She lowered her sack slightly and fished around inside for the next delivery. Two regular business size white envelopes—a utility and a cable bill respectively—and one more thing: a rather thick manila envelope with an official seal on the back and the recipient’s name hand-written in bold cursive letters on the front.

“Mr. Mikhail Josef Batrachian,” she read aloud as the man himself appeared in a furtive dash towards the mailbox. His arms, as usual, jangled and clanked with the sound of metal on metal, all fastened and strapped and rigged one way or another across his body with straps and buckles and holsters. By now Monique had gotten used to the sight. He was shirtless today. Guns and pistols and knives strapped across his rather un-athletic physique haphazard as usual, and as if perhaps he’d simply forgotten his shirt today rather than made the conscious choice to go without. “For you, Mr. Batrachian,” Monique said, handing him the three items of mail. He had made it about three feet from the mailbox as she extended the mail to him personally; then took a sudden step backwards. “For you,” she insisted, beginning to step further towards him, then changing her mind. “For you, Mr. Batrachian,” she continued, leaning in a bit from her position with her arm fully extended now, as if trying desperately to grab something just out of reach, “…dude, it’s your mail. Nothing but bills.” She waved the mail at him, coaxing him forward with all his guns and knives and instruments of the day. “No big deal,” she added, in a deliberately softened tone. Like a skittish toy dog, Batrachian came forward slowly, his hand hovering over center mass and the big Smith & Wesson Model 10 fastened directly under it.

“Bills,” he repeated, mechanically.

“That,” Monique reaffirmed as the mail changed tentative hands, “and this…” she held the big manila envelope separately in her right hand, passed it along to him.

“What’s this,” he said, mechanically.

“Don’t know what that is, Mr. Batrachian. Heavy, though. I feel lighter already.” She canned the forced smile she’d planned to accompany that before it could appear. Batrachian was—apparently—in one of his ‘moods’ today. Figures, she thought to herself. “How about this heat?” She attempted to force a smile…canned it halfway. “Well, I gotta…” she gestured.

Batrachian had simply tossed the bills and was busily ripping open the manila envelope as Monique backed away slowly. “Wait,” he said. Mechanically.

“What?” The conversation with this man had long grown stale, way back with her second attempt at convincing him the mail was safe. She was desperate to step away, slip away in one of any number of pregnant pauses. But he’d commanded her. To wait. So she did. “Something else I can do for you,” she asked cautiously…as if tiptoeing over a sheet of cracking ice in the middle of the arctic. Tiptoeing towards firmer terrain…or an escape vessel. Batrachian, meanwhile, was reading. Eyes darting from left to right, left to right, left to right—and with ever-increasing speed. Eyes darting left to right, and down…steadily. Monique knew in her gut the man was plain nuts, and the guns were just a part of that. She knew in her gut that he was a ‘safe’ kind of nuts too, and the guns were just a part of that. As Batrachian’s eyes dimmed, and returned to her, she tried to convince herself of this at any rate.

“I’m being sued,” he said, once again mechanically. “Some guy. And some Jew.” His eyes were dark. What little life normally inhabited them had flitted away like the flame of a freshly struck match; with a flick of the wrist. Monique stood frozen. As if caught in the center of a giant spotlight during the middle of a prison break. She had to assume snipers were on the roof—ready.

“No shit,” she said finally. And the next thing she said, which only in retrospect seemed a potentially hazardous question, came naturally and out of a sincere curiosity. “For what though?”

Batrachian’s eyes were pitch black. “Murder.”

How do you sue a man for murder? This was Batrachian’s first question, as he sat across from a Jew of his own now. “Furthermore, Ken, why would you sue a man for murder? Why isn’t that man—the murdering man—arrested or murdered himself instead?” The Jew named Ken Kurtzweil, esquire, soured his face up on that note.

“First, I’m going to do you a favor, Michael…may I call you Mike?…”

“No.”

“Very well, Michael, I’m going to do you a favor—as I was saying—and ignore the fact that you have now brought up the concept of some retaliatory murder as if you…I don’t know…,” he soured up his face again, searching for just the right phrasing, “…perhaps, as if you believe that such a thing is realistic in this world, without consequence? As if murder is a thing that is done, I mean, as easily as the laundry. I wish it was, Michael, I wish it was. Believe me. But can you imagine a world without consequence…? Where murder is just…I don’t know…‘permissible’? Well, people would be murdering one another left and right. You’d have murder after murder. Murder upon murder…” Ken Kurtzweil felt it alarmingly necessary to go into just this amount of detail, as if the point of it all was not obvious and plain as day. “…why, you’d have men and women, and children even, just murdering one another all day—back and forth, up and down, never ending with the murder, Michael…that’s why, well, yes…normally, a man who does murder will end up in jail. Thou hath not do it, after all.” He paused, gesturing laconically and unsure whether his point was being made, or if he even had the necessary tools to make it. Then continued. “Normally, yes, that is so. A man who does murder normally ends up in jail. Or, he ends up—as you so eloquently put it—‘murdered himself instead’. Or,” he went on, holding up a tentative finger, “or, he just plain gets away with it. In which case, god bless, good luck with the fire and the burning and the hell and off you go.” Kurtzweil stopped. He’d completely lost his own point.

“I thought Jews don’t believe in hell,” Batrachian asked.

“Who knows what we believe, Michael? I can’t flip a lightswitch on a Saturday so I hire a gentile boy to do it for me.” Kurtzweil was momentarily out of his brain fog. The labor of explaining the cause and effect in terms of real world consequences to an act such as murder had him exhausted. “Well. Anywho. Michael.” Kurtzweil soured his face again. “Michael,” as if scolding a kindergartner who’s eaten paste, “what this complaint alleges is…well, it’s utterly heinous. I can’t think of another fitting word. Not a word more fitting.”

“I—“

Kurtzweil interrupted. “Don’t go on with that thought, Michael. I don’t deal with that. Not my business. My business is to defend you. You may as well be a sack of potatoes for all I’m concerned, doing or having done whatever it is a sack of potatoes does. The retainer is signed, we’re in business, let me give you some advice as far as making my job easier: talk less. That’s right, less than you already do. Even that amount of talking is too much. It’s not in the amount of words, it’s in the pronunciation of them.” Kurtzweil gestured laconically. And paused. “You understand, I’m sure.” He put on his reading glasses and drew a pen from his breast pocket. Hunching over a pad of paper now, he continued. “Now…to address the specifics of your very understandable question: how does a man get sued for murder rather than face the usual myriad natural and unnatural remedies to such an act.” Kurtzweil took the glasses off then, and set the pen down. “Time—Michael—is out of joint. It’s gone on the fritz. Call it what you want time ain’t making sense. You must have figured this out by now, even you Michael…tell me you’ve figured as much out on your own. You’re a smart boy.”

The pages of the big, thick civil complaint sat rustling in a stiff motion of wind. One by one, they flew up from the stack and began to tell the story. The true parts. The false parts. The mostly true parts. All in snapshots taken out of any discernible order. In fact, the order became only less orderly. Disorder. Entropy. Mikhail Batrachian watched as the entropy engulfed them.

In the Jew’s dim office, time appeared as snapshots—slides in a projector, all out of order and upside-down. And the truth no longer really mattered. It became as capricious and unreliable as a sputtering, broke-down vehicle. Engine and spark plugs and serpentine belt rusted over and cracked and jarred. Batrachian wondered just then: have I murdered? The question was open. Somehow, it was open. And with that, the truth no longer mattered. It flitted away with the pages of the tome delivered to him the day before…the truth of the matter was gone, like the wind. What does it matter, anyways? He said to himself. He fondled his cold, lifeless gun. A bullet in the chamber. Just waiting to end up in something soft…fleshy…bloody. What does it matter, anyways. Time broke down. A notable chill filled the air. Nothing was right. In fact, everything seemed wrong.

Batrachian’s Jew, however, was remarkably unaffected by the matter. He grinned. Batrachian gripped his cold, dead gun tighter. “Anyways…,” he said. And left the Jew’s dim office.

He would be out tonight. Soliciting one again the services of his right hand… the man who loved to play detective. And had a dead tooth. Throbbing with pain. Pliers ready, lying on the dashboard of his Mustang to correct the problem. Blood was expected.