Once upon a time in the City of Angels, just east of the river by that same name, and not long after The Year of Engineered Viruses, ordinary hardworking people lived in ignorance of the small miracle unfolding around them…

Justus reread the words, eliminated a comma, and wondered whether the draft prologue for his Great Debut Novel was incurably puerile. Then he worried about how he would fare in the culture wars raging on the Internet. Would the culture warriors force him to submit, and drag him captive to their strange new land?

“I guess war is hell,” he said to himself, shrugging. “Sherman was right, not that anyone ever doubted him.”

Reaching for his hat, he murmured, “Time for a trot.” It was a quiet September evening, the heat of summer lingering, a perfect evening for bare skin. The dusty rubber running trail around the cemetery would be busy. Gilly, his mouse companion, snoozed in her bed. She wouldn’t be joining him.

He passed the bench named the Angel of Death for the dark winged figure adorning its black iron back, assiduously looking away. A squeaky voice called his name. “Is that the famous Justus Porcius? Come, sit, have a chat!”

Piss. It was Stanley Stoat, weasel-at-law, inviting him to sit on the Angel. “Oh! I didn’t recognize you! Hi Stan!” It was strange to see a big shot weasel-at-law anywhere in his low-rent neighborhood, much more so sitting on the most ominous symbol around.

I am going to regret this, Justus thought. But refusing a direct request from Stan would be worse than sitting on the evil omen. So he brushed his superstitions aside and sat. His face managed an insincere smile in the general direction of the weasel.

Before they could get past the pleasantries, a fat raccoon waddled past, spotted Stan and approached. “Hey Stan how ya doing? Don’t see much of you around here!”

Stan was nice enough to introduce Justus as an old colleague to his client Raymond, even though Justus’s star had fallen since his time as a junior associate at Wampus and Stoat.

Shortly after the introductions, Raymond, with a conspiratorial look in his eye, leaned in and asked, “The Pleasure Fairies want to hire me and the boys for security. Ya suppose I could get them to throw in a steam and a massage every night?”

Stan just about did a backflip at Raymond’s casual shredding of his attorney-client privilege. “The negotiations are already public knowledge,” he said, to repair the damage, shooting Raymong a warning glare.

Justus furrowed his brow and touched a trotter to his chin. “I don’t represent the Pleasure Fairies, but it’d be nice to.”

“Trust me, you don’t want to. But we won’t mention anything confidential, will we, Raymond?”

“If you say so, boss. A weasel like you doesn’t come cheap.”

“It’s no secret that Wampus & Stoat will win you a better deal than a nightly massage, Raymond.” Stan turned to Justus. “You see, Justus, a winning contract is a tool of domination, to subdue the counter party and keep them in check. It must be honed to a deadly edge. I suppose you disagree.” The weasel turned back to Raymond. “My old colleague here is known for his rather unorthodox views on the law.”

“I suppose so,” Justus said. He explained that in his view, a contract should be like love poetry between equal partners working out their harmonies, and that thinking positive thoughts brought positive results. “Negotiations should wait until the prospective parties establish a basis for mutual trust,” he concluded.

Stan grinned at Raymond, and gestured at Justus. “See for yourself what a dreamer my old colleague is. You can guess he’d never amount to much as a lawyer, and you’d be right.” To Justus he asked, “Who’s your biggest client again? A local garbage hauler? Thanks for helping to keep the neighborhood clean.” Raymond and Stan started laughing.

I knew sitting on that Angel was a mistake, Justus thought. Why did I do it? He excused himself and walked on, feeling humiliated, while Stan and Raymond’s laughter faded into the background. Life’s a bitch, and then you die.

After he got home, he took off his hat, retrieved his to-do list, plopped himself down on his writing pillow, squinted at the paper, and wrote his next reminder: “Attract clients looking to transact fairly for mutual benefit.” Examining his scribbling, he wondered whether any such clients existed, and if they did, how he might go about finding them. After almost scratching out what he had written, he wrote instead underneath, “Contact the Pleasure Fairies about their security contract,” unaware that Gilly had climbed onto the table and was inspecting his list with her tiny, unblinking eyes.