The day started badly and went downhill from there
(Written for Round 2 of #nycmidnight #flashfictionchallenge2022 – submitted August 2022)
‘You’re a saint, Shirley.’
Michael looked terrible. I’d known he was sick before I entered Michael Roche, Lawyers. We’d spoken earlier and the husky voice and wet hacking cough were solid clues. Now faced with the fug of germ-infested air, deeply sunken eyes, lank hair and BO strong enough to ward off zombies it was clear that today illness was the MVP.
He’d pulled an all-nighter, weighed down by his fever. There was no rest when dealing with the wicked and our criminal client list was long and scary. There’d be no patience with postponement. Michael had to pull it together, and fast.
I’d come prepared with freshly dry cleaned shirt and suit, mentholated ointment, paracetamol and homemade broth. I’d also brought in a ring burner to keep it warm through the day.
‘Boss, you smell disgusting and look worse.’ I opened windows. An avalanche of tissues had hidden his desk. ‘Do you have shares in Kleenex? That’s a lotta landfill.
‘Give me a break, I’ve never been so ill. I’m secreting green globs. I can hear the ocean and we’re 200 miles from water. My head is killing me, and Ma Jenkins is due any minute.’
‘Followed by Mo the Beast, Curly the Butcher and Samantha the Striptease. It’s a full schedule, boss. A dangerous mix’
‘You’ve brought food?’
‘Yeah. My grandmother swore by this meat bone tea. Pork ribs and Chinese herbs combined. It is guaranteed to pick you up, expunge ill humour and spit you back out bouncing and raring to go.’
‘I’m sure it’s delicious, but I can’t smell a thing. Don’t think I’ll be able to taste it either.’ He sighed. ‘I don’t know if I can get through the day.’
‘Get this inside you.’
I handed him a steaming bowl of broth, some paracetamol and cleared away the tissues.
After a moment, I saw he was slumped over the empty bowl, almost asleep. I roused him to standing and herded him toward his private bathroom.
‘Is he alright?’ Ma Jenkins, diminutive but deadly mob matriarch and mourning mother of Johnny Jenkins, drug dealer. Michael’s failed defence left Johnny languishing in Long Bay prison on a 10-year stretch. Always, anger blazed behind her pale eyes.
Michael appeared and took Ma’s limp hand. He appeared in better health, a real improvement.
‘Good morning, Mrs J.’ He gestured at me to leave. As I pulled the door closed, I saw Ma Jenkins peering into the herbal broth.
Ma was keeping her cool. It wasn’t always the way. She was a powder keg waiting to blow and it was a lottery which version we’d get on any given day. But as Michael guided her to the lift after their meeting, she was crying softly.
‘She was quite maternal,’ he whispered. ‘She asked after my health, told me I should be home in bed and topped up my empty bowl. Forced another couple of tablets on me too.’
‘A bit soon, boss.’ And very suspicious behaviour, I thought. ‘Do you know your skin is yellow?’
‘She seemed resigned to Johnny’s fate. We won’t see her again.’
‘Mo is up next,’ I reminded him. ‘We’ll need to hurry him along, don’t want him here when Curly and Sam arrive.’
Mo the Beast was a local enforcer. As a favour to Ma, we’d taken his case of assault with deadly force a year ago, thinking him innocent. We should have known better. He treated me well, but he was brutal with the working girls under his sway. And he had history with Samantha.
I sensed Mo’s arrival before he’d stepped through the door. The air stilled, dust motes held in stasis, traffic noise abated. Then the tattooed bulk of Mo the Beast blasted into the room.
‘Morning, Shirley,’ he rumbled.
‘He’s waiting,’ I said. I treated our clients as naughty children, while braced to defend. They needed to know who was boss. I was not submissive but also careful to not poke the bear. We had cops on speed dial.
On parole, Mo had ‘allegedly’ roughed up a punter at the club where he ‘bounced’. Mo was desperate, disappointed, scared even. Michael couldn’t fix it.
My heart melted when I saw Michael had an arm across Mo’s shoulder as they exited his office. He could be so gentle with them. He’d removed his suit jacket and his tie was loose, he’d relaxed. Mo appeared subdued and defeated.
Then, catastrophe. A picture of dejection came face to face with the epitome of arrogant confidence in the form of Curly the Butcher, with Samantha on his arm. They were stylish, dashing and debonair – and deadly killers. They entered laughing, then stopped dead.
Sam sidled into Michael’s office, while Mo and Curly faced off. She had good defensive instincts.
‘Let’s take it down, gentleman,’ suggested Michael. Neither man was prepared to give. They were deadlocked.
Suddenly, Ma Jenkins rocked up. Great. The full circus was in town.
‘Boys,’ she said.
Immediately the tension released. Mo nodded to Ma, who inclined her head toward the lift. Curly swaggered into Michael’s office, reunited with Sam who was lazily stirring the hot broth. Ma joined them, whispered something to Samantha, patted Curly’s shoulder then floated back out.
Michael sighed deeply and broke into another wet cough. He was beginning to fade.
‘Boss, you should call it a day,’ I said. Curly and Sam lurched away from the broth. They seemed guiltily relieved.
‘We can come back,’ Curly said. ‘No problem. Get better, slick.’
Michael slumped into his chair, slurped fresh broth, shook pills into his hand and waved us away.
He was sleeping when I checked back. He’d tipped his bowl. Broth spilled across his desk and dripped to the floor.
I closed the blinds, mopped up the spill with remaining tissues, and turned off the burner ring.
‘Time to go, boss’.
He didn’t move.