TBJ Short Story Contest 2019 Second Place
If Wishes Were Clients
By David Jones
Mr. Jamieson didn’t look like the most powerful person in the world
when he shuffled into my office with his wispy combover and red, watery
eyes downcast. But looks can be deceiving.
We sat in my conference room—well not really mine. It was one of the three shared conference rooms for my floor of the office park. It was small, the particleboard table barely leaving any room to get around, but it was plenty for the two of us. After the requisite pleasantries, I said, “All right, so I understand you have sort of a unique contractual issue. What’s going on?”
He snorted and said, “You could say that.” He paused then added, “Everything we talk about here is confidential, right?” He had a scratchy voice with a faint East Texas drawl.
“Of course,” I answered, a little unsettled at hearing that question for a contract negotiation. A concern for attorney-client privilege usually played in after things had already hit the fan.
“Well, all right then.” He opened his mouth then closed it, looking a little bashful. Then he steeled himself up and said, “I found a genie in a bottle and I need to make sure my wishes are done right.”
I nodded politely, waiting for more. There was none.
“OK,” I said, “What does that mean? Like, for a movie?”
“No sir,” he replied. “I found a real genie who said he’d grant some wishes and I wanted to make sure I didn’t get hoodwinked. You know, like in the movies.”
It dawned on me then why he was in my office. I rarely got cold calls—most of my work came from referrals and a few bigger, established clients. No telling how many offices he had been laughed out of before landing in mine. But a client’s a client, and if all he wanted was some advice on how to word some wishes, well . . . “My retainer is a thousand dollars. I’ll draw up a contract and we can meet back and go over what you want to accomplish.” I didn’t know how the State Bar would view my taking money from someone a few days separated from his meds, but surely they couldn’t hold it against me. It was just legal advice of a sort.
“Well, sir, I’d like to go ahead and take care of this now if that’s all right.”
“Oh,” I answered, thinking. It was getting late in the day and I wasn’t sure I had the energy for this nonsense. “I think I’d need to go ahead and get that retainer on deposit before . . .”
“I have your cash here.” He pulled a wad of folded bills from his pocket and counted out 10 hundreds. He came prepared to be doubted.
I sighed, took it, and glanced at the wall clock to mentally start my timer.
“I’ve also got some rules here that the genie gave me.” Jamieson offered me a stapled packet of letter-size papers, which I took with no small amount of skepticism.
“So, you’ve met this genie in person?” I asked him.
“Of course,” he responded with a scoffing snort. “I let him out of the bottle after all.”
Of course, I thought. “And he handed this to you?”
“Oh, no. His lawyers sent that over last week. Wilbrandt McCorsky. They’re a big downtown firm.”
I looked askance at him. “Yeah, I know Wilbrandt.” This was getting weirder by the minute. I examined the “rules” and was impressed with how carefully drawn and well worded they were—no wishing for more wishes, non-transferability, no increase or decrease in matter or energy was permitted. Hoax or not, someone had put a lot of time and money into this document. What I didn’t see in my cursory review was anything on an arbitration provision.
“All right, well the first thing you’ll need to wish for . . .”
“Wait, don’t you need to hear what I want first?”
I still didn’t take this crackpot or his genie seriously—who would? But I swallowed my flippant retort. The fact was he had paid me enough money to keep the lights on for a few weeks and that made him a client. And clients deserved professionalism. “Sure, go ahead,” I answered instead.
“Well, first I don’t want to ever worry about money again. I want to live forever, or at least as long as I want to. And I want to be better with women. Since the divorce, I haven’t exactly been lighting it up. Before the divorce either, for that matter.”
I nodded and kept scanning the document. I wasn’t interested in his relationship woes, but sometimes the “& Counselor” on my business cards meant more than legal advice. “OK, well none of that changes your first wish. Disputes regarding the interpretation of your wishes will need to be brought before a neutral and binding arbitrator. We should go ahead and pick an arbitrator in here, but if she can’t or won’t hear the case, we can have a backup submission to an association in accordance with their rules.”
Mr. Jamieson wrinkled his brow and frowned. “Wait, you’re telling me I have to use up my first wish on arbitration?”
“Right. I’ll write out exactly how to word it too.” I did so. “All you need to do is read it out loud.”
He sighed then nodded.
“All right, your next wish needs to be that you can undo and re-wish any previous wish if you are unsatisfied with the genie’s interpretation. As long as you’re undoing the previous one, it shouldn’t count as another wish. You should be able to do that until you get it right.” I looked up at his scrunched, reddening face and asked, “Is something wrong?”
“You mean I need to spend my second wish on that? That’s two wishes!”
“That only leaves me with one!”
I nodded. His math checked out. “Mr. Jamieson, you came to me and paid me a handful of cash to make sure this genie, and what is apparently a team of very capable lawyers, don’t take advantage of you. What did you think we were going to do here?”
He fumed some more. “Well, I didn’t think you’d take most of my wishes away!”
“Your wishes . . . look, you need to have a procedure baked into this that gives you the chance to undo any interpretive damage this genie might do to your wishes. What if you wish to live forever and you keep aging and never dying? In a billion years, the sun will devour the Earth and you’ll just be floating in a fiery hell until it burns out and you’re alone in the emptiness of space. You’ll need to be able to undo that, and failing that, have a neutral party determine the scope of the second two wishes and be able to bind the . . . [It felt strange to say ‘genie’] . . . genie. This is the absolute minimum protection you’ll need.”
“I just wanted you to tell me the best way to word my wishes to avoid having those types of issues. I mean if you do your job, I won’t need those first two!”
“Look, I don’t know what this is all about or why you’re willing to pay a lawyer to indulge your . . . whatever this is.” I wanted to say delusion, but caught myself. “But if you want my real advice, it would be to abandon this nonsense completely. Not make one single wish. No matter how well we paper this, the risk is too great that this ‘genie’ [I added air quotes as I said this] will find some ironic twist to punish you. But I know you won’t accept that, so I’m doing the next best thing and adding as much protection as possible.”
“But I can’t get all the things I wanted.”
I bit my lip and took a steadying breath. “You’d still have one more wish than anyone on Earth. You’d still be the most powerful human in history—”
“Well, I don’t remember him ever finding a genie.” I softened my voice. “Mr. Jamieson, I recommend spending your wish on enough money to not have to worry about money anymore. According to this,” I brandished the rules, “you can’t create new money, but we could craft your wish to accumulate all the spare change lying in the streets or sunken treasure or whatever. Stick it all in a warehouse somewhere—”
“What about living forever?” he protested.
I chuckled, but there was no mirth in it. “You really want to live forever? Have you heard the music the kids are listening to today? It’s only gonna get worse.”
“And what about the . . .” he lowered his voice as if embarrassed “. . . women.”
“The money should handle that just fine. Listen, one good wish is better than a million bad ones.”
Mr. Jamieson sighed and seemed to be looking through the table. Then he shook his head clear and stood. “Thanks for your time. I’ll think all this over and figure out what I’m gonna do.”
“I can work on those wishes for you a little more and email you some final versions tomorrow if you’d like.”
He nodded, still looking away deep in thought. “That’s fine.” Then he started for the door.
“Mr. Jamieson, I don’t know if it’s my place or not, but I think maybe you should talk to someone.” It was difficult to get the words out. “A therapist maybe.” I offered him back his retainer in full. It hadn’t been a lot of time and something in my mercenary heart still felt bad taking money from someone in his mental state. His divorce must have taken more of a toll than he realized.
The story alone was worth more than half an hour of billing.
He looked down at my hand, his eyes coming into focus as he came back to the here and now from wherever his mind had been. “No, go ahead and keep the whole thing. I appreciate you staying late and indulging me.” Then he smiled a melancholy smile and left.
* * *
I thought about Mr. Jamieson often over the following week, and that’s probably why an odd story out of Tyler caught my eye as I perused the news of the day online:
Local store manager Mark Jamieson was crushed today under what is being called a substantial quantity of gold doubloons just outside his home in Tyler. Local authorities are unaware of the source of the gold but speculate that it may have fallen from a cargo plane transferring the gold to the Federal Reserve Bank in New York City.
Jamieson is reported to have sustained life-threatening injuries and remains in a coma at CHRISTUS Mother Frances Hospital where his condition is critical.
Calls to the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Treasury Department have not been returned.
I sat back and
just stared at nothing for several minutes. “Son of a bitch,” I
whispered to the walls. “The poor bastard didn’t listen to me.”
Everything I knew about the universe was turned upside down. I hoped he
couldn’t feel anything in what was likely to remain a lengthy coma.
I wish I had asked him whether he needed any estate planning.TBJ
lives in Grapevine and is an attorney with Hesse & Hesse, where he serves as general counsel to Megatel Homes and practices all manner of real estate law.