“All you can do right now is give.”
Thursday, 10 September 2015
GM: After Emmett is cleaned and changed, he is interviewed by no less than three further police detectives who question him extensively about his recent conversation with Richard Gettis. They record the conversation. They talk to Villars, and growl this “isn’t the time” to be “playing your usual games.” Two of the detectives exit the room without even asking about anything related to his Em’s arrest.
“He’s gone off the fucking deep end!” one of the cops exclaims as he leaves. “Can’t believe that crack is still arresting people.”
“Makes our job easier.”
“Still fucking insane.”
“Whatever the fuck lets us bring him in.”
The remaining detective asks Em to repeat the same story he told Gettis.
It is not long afterwards that the police obtain an arrest warrant from Judge Carson Malveaux of the Orleans Parish Criminal Court. Dr. Brown does not believe it medically advisable for Emmett to be moved to Orleans Parish Prison in his current condition, so two police officers are assigned to guard his now-private room around the clock. He is to be denied all visitors except for his lawyer. He will be allowed other visitors when he is brought into conventional custody or if a judge releases him under bail. His guards are present to watch whenever a nurse feeds him, sponge-baths him, or assists his bowel movements. They laugh at him and crack lewd jokes every time.
Emmett is formally booked. Police ask him for basic personal information, including his address and birth date. Fingerprints and DNA samples are taken. He is photographed. His photographer remarks that Em’s mugshot is without doubt the “ugliest goddamn one I’ve ever taken.” He is needlessly and embarrassingly strip-searched for any contraband (somehow) on his person. Police gawk at his bruised, flaccid manhood and compare it to a variety of decomposing vegetables.
Emmett is told that he will be bought before his arraignment when he is well enough to leave the hospital, or after 72 hours have elapsed, whichever duration expires first. If the newly-crippled grifter is unable to be transported to court after 72 hours, the arraignment will occur bedside with the judge and other necessary parties traveling to Tulane Medical Center.
Bert Villars is not present for the whole process, but snaps at Emmett to shut up and not say anything to the police except for direct answers to questions he is legally required to answer, such as his birth date. He is being charged with assaulting a police officer, soliciting prostitution, drug possession, obstruction of justice, and, because DAs in Louisiana evidently have a sense of humor, false impersonation. The prosecutor’s office, Villars adds, is not bound by this initial charge decision and can later change the crimes charged once and if more evidence is obtained.
“But you have something much more pressing to worry about than what you’re being charged with right now,” the grimebag lawyer remarks when the two of them are alone. Conversations between Emmett and his attorney remain private, with the guards waiting outside.
“Namely, how you’re going to afford my fees.”
Caveat’s ears perk.
“And pay my outstanding ones.”
Emmett: Em glances up at him. “Depends on what I’m allowed to liquidate.” He shrugs. “You tell me. If that’s not feasible, I’ll…” He pauses. “Think of something.” He’s too tired to lie. Too tired to even feel scared.
GM: Villars bares another cobra hood-flaring grin. “Mmm. And what do you own in property? Cars? Other assets of comparable value?”
Emmett: Em goes over what he can remember. The feeling is surreal.
GM: “Mmm. Not good. Not good at all. Rented apartment, no car, no insurance…”
Emmett: “Well. Worse for me than for you.”
GM: Villars strolls up to the bed and leans his elbow by Em’s head. “And these medical bills…”
Emmett: “Costing me an arm and a leg. Oh, wait.”
GM: “All those days in ICU. The surgery. The amputation. Antiobiotics for all those diseases. Being waited on hand and foot by your nurses. You know how much hospitals charge just for toilet paper, mmm? They mark up everything.” The grimebag lawyer makes a tsking noise and shakes his head. “And no insurance…”
Emmett: He closes his eyes. “I get the picture. You have your phone on you?”
GM: Villars gives a phlegmy, choking laugh that makes his dog’s ears go flat. “Emmett, you aren’t allowed phones when visiting jail inmates. Your officers took mine at the door.”
Emmett: His eyes are still shut. “Okay. I’m going to give you a number.” He promised himself he would never do this. He had meant it, too. But why should he keep this one?
GM: Villars’ bared yellow teeth loom all-too close to Emmett’s face. He can smell the man’s nicotine-scented breath. “All you can do right now is give.”
Emmett: Em ignores the taunt. He speaks slowly. Makes sure Villars repeats it. “Call that. They have money. And they might care enough to pay. If I were you, I’d play up how sorry I am. How I tried to play it straight, and this is all one big misunderstanding. Appeal to their better nature. They always loved that.”
GM: “Ah. Family.” The thing that passes for a grin on Villars’ face spreads like a tarantula splaying its legs. “But, you know, Caveat gets so tense whenever he hears the words ‘might’ and ‘maybe’ in the same sentence as money.”
His grin seemingly too wide to spread any further, Villars runs a tongue over his yellowed teeth. Emmett is reminded of a jackal staring at fresh carrion. “Fortunately for us both, I have another way out.”
Villars pats his dog’s head. “Caveat. Spit.”
The dobberman starts making some whoof-like wheezing noises. Then louder coughs and hacks. Drool flecks from the canine’s open mouth.
Emmett: Em frowns. “What are you doing?”
GM: The dog makes a choking, retch-like noise. Villars sticks a latex-gloved hand under its mouth. A drool- and vomit-spattered plastic case plops into the grimebag lawyer’s palm.
GM: Villars sets the case on Em’s bedside table, opens it with his gloved hand, and pulls out a cellphone with his bare hand. “I’m going to put you in touch with someone who can make all of our financial problems go away.”
Emmett: Em sucks in a long, pained breath. “Why would you do that?” You bloodsucking snake?
GM: The still-wheezing dog’s ears perk. “Well, our legal financial problems,” Villars cautions with another tarantula-like grin. “You’re still fucked when it comes to these medical bills. But I’ll finally get paid, and you’ll have legal counsel to represent you.”
Emmett: “Who is this?”
Emmett: “Little girl on his lap guy?”
GM: The tarantula on Villars’ face twitches its eight hairy legs. “The very same. He and his… friends make a business of providing loans to high-risk borrowers such as yourself. You’ll take out one from him, pay my fees, and your legal troubles will be over.”
Emmett: “What happens when I can’t pay him back?”
GM: “You’ll be able to.” The tarantula on Villars’ face swallows a fly. “They’re very good at squeezing blood from stones.”
Emmett: Em bites his lip. “I don’t really have a choice. Do I.”
GM: “Not if you want to continue enjoying my… services. I will be suing you, as well, if you can’t pay my outstanding fees.” He shrugs. “Well, probably not suing. But you can be assured that I will still collect.”
Emmett: He snorts. “Why? I’d be in prison. Or dead, probably, knowing Mouton. You might as well buy flowers for my funeral instead of waste the legal fees.”
GM: “Oh, Emmett.” Villars turns away from his client’s bed and runs a gloveless hand over his hooked-up IV fluid bag. “I’m very good at squeezing blood from stones too.”
The grimebag lawyer abruptly seizes the transparent bag and squeezes it hard. A fresh spike of agony shoots through the vein in Emmett’s arm, turning the needle stabbing through it into a pinprick-shaped fire.
“You’ve been digging your own grave these past few days, you legless fuckwit,” Villars snarls, his face as black as the sunglasses hiding his sightless eyes. “You can dig it all the way to China for all I care, but I’m not breaking my back and shoveling dirt for free.”
“You’ve made a lot of enemies lately, Emmett,” he whispers. “You don’t want me as one of them too.”
Emmett: It hurts, it hurts, it hurts. It’s also not that new, and it still hurts. He hears himself speak through fog and from the forever ago that he started down this road. “Point… made.”
GM: Villars’ fist unclenches. Fire drains back out of Em’s artery.
“Finally, he listens to his counsel’s advice.”
Villars picks the phone back up, holds it up to his face and squints closely, and eventually manages to dial a number. He presses the phone to Em’s face. Several rings sound.
“Bud,” grinds out a low bovine voice.
Emmett: “Delacroix,” mutters Em. “Client of Villars.”
GM: “Ya been fucked real hard, Delcroy,” drawls the voice. It’s slow and lazy, like molasses being poured on a hot summer day.
Emmett can hear the man’s smile. There’s nothing sweet to it.
“We’ll fuck you nice an’ gentle.”
Emmett: “Afraid I won’t be fucking anybody for a long, long time, Bud. What exactly is the offer, here?”
GM: “Sue wants to say hi.”
There’s a brief silence.
“Hi!” pipes a small-sounding girl’s voice.
Emmett: “Hi, Sue.”
GM: Another brief silence.
“Yer lawyer’s taken care o’ it all,” drawls Bud’s deeper voice.
Emmett: Em’s eyes slide towards the attorney. “Oh. That’s… good.”
GM: “We loan you the money. He gets his fees. You getcher lawyer. Then you pay us back.”
Emmett: “And we are talking about how much, exactly?”
GM: “Ten grand.”
Emmett: “I’d make a joke about crippling debt. But. You know.”
GM: Emmett can hear the grin spread on the other end of the line. It’s not like Bert Villars’, though. Slower. Fiercer. Hungrier.
“Say we done got a deal.”
Emmett: He’s already got one foot in the grave—well, both of them—but even so, he pauses. His entire life these past few days has been one losing deal after another. Is it really worth all this? Is he really going to make another decision without—
GM: “Thas’ gooood,” Bud drawls. Long and slow, like a man taking a savored drag from a hand-rolled cigar. “Yer interest’s 10% a week, compounded weekly.”
“Short any payments an’ we’ll kill yer family.”
GM: “Bye!” pipes Sue’s voice.
The line clicks.
Emmett: “You son of a bitch.”
GM: Villars drops the phone back into its plastic case, snaps it shut, and holds it out for Caveat. The dobberman snarfs it up like a dog biscuit. There’s even a few loud cracks from his teeth.
Emmett: “What happens to you if I can’t make the payment? You’re ripping them off just as much as I am. More.”
GM: “Nothing at all, Emmett. The debt’s yours. Not mine. Besides.” Villars bares another cobra-like grin. “I bring them a lot of repeat business.”
Emmett: “Yeah, but you purposefully referred them somebody who probably won’t make it worth their while for your short-term gain. That seems like it would piss them off.” He coughs. “Though I will, obviously. Pay.”
GM: Villars drops the soiled glove into a trash bin and pats his dog’s head. “Emmett, don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re, well, an idiot. You don’t have enough brainpower leftover to spend it pondering how the Dixies do business.” His grin widens. “But your concern for my welfare is… touching.”
Emmett: “Oh, trust me. One day I’ll think back on this and be very, very angry, and I’ll spend hours thinking of a way to fuck you under the bus. But for now, just take the money and shut up, please.”
GM: “And maybe one day you’ll grow a new pair of legs and not be crushed under a mountain of debt. But I suppose we can hope, now can’t we?” Villars’ leer twitches in place.
“Now yes, the money. That’s being taken care of. Bud’s sending it directly to me. You won’t see anything in your bank account—as it’s a no-no for you to be performing those sorts of financial transactions right now, not to mention it’s the first place your creditors are going to ransack—so make sure you remember all the sums.”
Emmett: “Oh, yes.”
GM: “This isn’t strictly legal advice, but now that you’ve paid me for my services, I am feeling generous. That medical debt’s going to crush you like a sack of bricks. If you think my fees are expensive, you should see what an extended ICU stay without insurance adds up to.”
“Most likely Tulane’s going to sell your debt to a third party collection agency. They’re nicer than the Dixies, though not by much. You do look young enough to still be covered under the Affordable Care Act, though. So if I were you, I’d start practicing how to ask Mommy and Daddy extra nice for an advance on your allowance.”
Emmett: “A cripple can make bank in this city. Any city, really. At least, a cripple with a tongue.” Em shrugs. Then he winces, because it still hurts.
GM: A familiar slimy grin spreads over the grimebag lawyer’s face. “Of course, I could make another call to Bud.”
Emmett: “Let’s not.”
GM: Villars shrugs. “Some last food for thought, Emmett. Many of those agencies collect their money by garnishing debtors’ wages. Those who don’t have a legal source of employment, however…”
Emmett: “Well. Not your problem until I pay you to fix it, is it?”
GM: Villars looks almost wounded. “Why, Emmett. As your attorney, it’s my ethical duty to look out for your interests. In this case, how failure to repay your medical debts could still get your family killed.”
Emmett: “I’m telling them to poison your dog if I go down,” he mutters, but his heart isn’t in it.
GM: “Caveat’s cheaper than he looks,” Villars grins. “In any case, you need a valid—that is, taxable—source of income for the collection agency to dock your wages from. If you don’t have one, you’ll go to jail. They don’t call them ’debtor’s prisons’ anymore, of course, and you won’t actually be jailed for failure to repay debts—but the collection agency can sue you, a judge can hit you with even more court fees, and you can be jailed for failure to pay those.”
“Bud, of course, could care less if his debtors are in prison. So if you want to make good on your off-the-books payments to him, you’ll need a source of income that exists on someone’s books.”
Emmett: “That’s… actually good to know, yeah. Thanks.”
GM: Another yellow-toothed grin. “You’re very welcome.”
Emmett: “I didn’t mean that thing about Caveat. For what it’s worth.”
GM: “Well, I did. But I’m sure he’s grateful for it.” Villars scratches the dobberman’s ears.
Emmett: “Just to be clear. When he says my family-”
GM: Villars gives the crippled young man an almost pitying look.
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