When I picked up this new hobby of creative writing a few years ago it felt pretty solitary. Which makes sense – that is the nature of writing. But last year I found a wonderful group through meetup.com which has allowed me to get to know other writers and forced me to expand my own material (which is good considering I have been writing one thing for about 4 years now). It also provides a great platform for drinking beer, socializing and occasionally performing karaoke.
We meet every other week at a neighborhood bar called The Pinch where the bartender is an honorary member (though to date he has never submitted anything). The official name of the group is Write Club (yes, like Fight Club). It has stringent rules which are laid out for any new member in attendance by our fearless leader, Mike Madden. Mike is a criminal defense attorney by day, crime noir author by night whose characters often seem uncannily familiar to Mike himself. He is known to send jabbing emails to each of us in the off weeks saying things like, “the kids are sleeping, pick up that pen!” or just “write something dammit!“. We all get that one a lot.
Mike’s rules are enforced by Marla (Aka, The Sheriff) who doesn’t take crap from anybody. The most terrifying rule, at least to the one upon which it is being imposed, is rule #6. Rule #6 states that a new member to the group must write. Here and now. We sequester them in a corner with a beer and tell them to write something, anything, but it must include the hook and must be something they have never written before. And then they have to read it aloud to us. Thank god I missed this as one of the original members of the group.
But I am continually impressed with what people come up with. Maybe the spontaneity allows for a good creative flow. Or maybe they are cheating and writing from memory something they worked on for years (what do we know?). Regardless, a lot of talented people have come through Write Club. I thought it would be fun to feature some of the stories that people submit for our critique sessions on my blog. This short below is Mike’s. We always joke that he is the toughest for us to critique because his writing is so darn good. This one in particular was written as a penalty assignment, which means Mike must have broken one of his own rules…
Ain’t Nobody’s Bitch
By Michael Madden
It was a routine under-aged drinking trial notable only for the sheer stupidity of my client, Bambi, who had been flagged by a bartender at The Pinch for using a forged ID. Somewhere in the middle of the first witness, the shrooms Bambi had given me kicked in. She had warned they were potent but that psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, had a lag time of four hours.
Turned out, it wasn’t the first time the hussie had lied.
There was the auto theft case where she’d claimed the car salesman had consented to the three-day test drive, the assault case where she’d claimed her boyfriend had consented to the beating, and the ass-grab case at the Roxy Lounge where she’d claimed the male stripper had . . .
Bambi was big on the consent defense.
The witness currently on the stand was the bar manager, a lanky transplant from Pennsyltucky with a goatee and a bad attitude who was parroting back the report he had given to the police: how, through his training and experience, he’d detected the forged ID from thirty feet away in the dark and dingy bar.
Swear to God, Your Honor, he could see it as clear as day.
I ignored the halo that appeared over the bartender’s head and concentrated on taking copious notes. Trying a case hopped up on shrooms is a daunting proposition for the best of attorneys and I was pretty fucking far from the best. Four hours of intense litigation stretched out before me. Tough hours. Cross examining witnesses. Lodging objections and making motions. The situation would require the mustering of every skill, the marshalling of every talent gleaned from three pointless years of law school.
God damn it, I thought as the lights in the courtroom began shifting through the colors of the spectrum. Was I up to the task? I was sitting there, wasn’t I? All suited up, ready to wage war against the jackbooted forces of our fascist government. Would it make one iota of difference if my exquisitely guilty client were represented by another attorney? A Harvard graduate, perhaps. Or at least an attorney not suffering the throes of a panic attack brought on by psychedelic chemicals?
Never presume that anyone else is better trained, more prepared or less depraved than you.
“Your witness, Mr. Madden.”
“Thank you, Your Honor,” I said.
I took my sweet time crossing the well of the court, then leaned against the witness stand and stared deep into the bartender’s eyes. It’s important to demonstrate confidence to these Neanderthals early on. Shows them you’re not to be trifled with.
“Counselor,” said the judge. “Will there be a question?”
“Yes, Your Honor.”
I scanned my notes. Nothing but a quickly scrawled cartoon of a monkey with a goatee behind a bar, peering into the crowd with binoculars. Across the page were scrawled the words: Drag the monkey off the witness stand. Do it NOW you coward! Disembowel the lying cur then bury his entrails in the parking lot behind Landlord and Tenant.
My notes were useless.
“Good afternoon, Sir.”
“So, you could see the ID was fake? From thirty feet away? In a dark bar?”
“Explain yourself. What do you mean by, affirmative?”
He rolled his eyes at the judge. “I could see the ID, Your Honor.”
I had the bastard on the run. His halo had long since dissipated, but there was still something of a bartender smirk plastered to his face and I was tired of his word games. Perhaps it was time to remind the cretin of the sanctity of these proceedings. “You do realize this is a search for the truth, do you not?”
“Objection,” said the prosecutor halfheartedly.
“That our entire criminal justice system is a quest for veritas?”
“And that your highly implausible yarn, constructed with falsehoods and aimed to deceive such as it is, makes a mockery of the criminal justice system itself?”
“Objection, Your Honor!”
“Counsel,” said the judge through gritted teeth. “Move on.”
Always good advice.
Had I the sense to move on when Bambi first offered to sleep with me in exchange for defending her, I’d be at The Pinch right now working my way up to a healthy drunk instead of cross examining a snarky bartender. It was time for the big finish.
“Let me ask you this,” I said. “How can you be so sure my client is under age?”
“Told me she was sixteen.”
“Ah ha!” I said, catching him in a bartender lie. He had testified they’d never spoke. “You testified earlier she never spoke to you.”
“You told me she was sixteen. Last night. Drunk at the bar. Right after you slept with her. Remember?”
The prosecutor dropped her pen and glared at me. Smiling.
Dammit to hell.
She looked seventeen at least.