Winning short story: 'The Attorney Helped Clean Up The Blood'

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Illustration of man looking on the horizon

Illustration by David Owens

The boy was wearing a long, black trenchcoat and a big, black wide-brimmed hat. He looked like a combination of an Australian outdoorsman and a 1999 Columbine kid. He had the biggest grin Neil had ever seen—at least here on Orchard Road, where you mostly noticed grim-faced farmers and apple pickers.

“Hey,” said the kid. “My name’s Tim.”

He confidently stuck out his hand, and Neil took it. Shook it. The boy wore some silver rings, sharp and hard against Neil’s palm.

“I’m Neil. Neil Blastman.”

“Nice to meet you, sir.”

The boy was a good-looking guy: nice dark curls and sparkly brown eyes. He had a vibe that said I know who I am, and I’m good in this skin, and I don’t really care what anybody else thinks.

“Likewise,” Neil said. “Great to meet you.” Kids with manners were rare finds these days.

“Where do you live?” he asked the kid.

“Right over there, up that lane.” The boy pointed, rings flashing in the sunlight. “With my mom. Well, really she’s my grandma but she adopted me.”


“Not really. She doesn’t like me.”

Neil couldn’t figure out if this was a joke, so he just slightly snickered. Most teenagers thought their parents didn’t like them.

“I’m serious. She eats dinner alone, in her room, door locked.”

Neil shook his head, shrugged.

“To each his own,” he said. “Maybe she just needs some peace and quiet.”

“No,” the kid Tim said. “She afraid of these.”

He reached inside of that trench coat and he whipped out a knife: long and sharp and curved. It glinted threateningly in the light.

“Whoa,” Neil said. He took a step back. He’d defended a guy who killed somebody with a knife. The man had mental illness; that was the defense. Neil won.

“You don’t like knives?” asked the kid.

“Not by surprise,” said Neil.

And so it began. Neil befriended the boy. Sometimes he fed him. Sometimes he hired him to help with the lawn. Sometimes he gave advice. Neil learned not to mind the knives. He knew this kid would never hurt him.

“So what do you want to do, Tim?” Neil asked him one day when the boy was 19.

Tim shrugged.

“I don’t know. I did want to enlist in the Army but they won’t let me. On account of my Asperger’s. And all I wanted to do was serve my country. Help people.”

“Well,” said Neil, “there are other ways to help. For example, maybe you could be an attorney. Like me.”

Tim laughed, in that great way he had of throwing back his head, eyes slanted, mouth wide open as the sound rolled out.

“I could never be a lawyer,” he said. “I’m not smart enough.”

“No,” said Neil. “I think you’re too smart. Too smart for your own good, sometimes.”

Tim slid those sparkly, dark eyes at him, shook his headful of curly hair.

“I got a new knife,” he said. “Want to see?”

The kid helped Neil to redesign his website. Like all the young people, Tim was quite a techie, knew how to do everything on the computer.

Tim moved photos and words and captions and titles, and before you knew it was a brand-new beast.

Featured on the home page was a great picture of Neil, one that Tim actually took for him, in which Blastman leaned against a tree, looking casual and relaxed in a denim shirt and jeans, one Vans sneaker up against the trunk of the tree. He never wanted to be one of “the suits,” intimidating common people with jackets and ties.

Also on the home page was the fact that Neil specialized in Second Amendment rights, highlighted by tiny, electronically flapping American flags.

“Great job!” Neil said to Tim. He slapped him on the back. “I’ll pay you some cash.”

“Forget that,” Tim said with a grin. “I want a hug.”

And so Neil wrapped the boy in an embrace, feeling his face against all that hair.

After the Second Amendment/gun rights addition to his website, Neil did start getting a few harassing emails on occasion. He didn’t care. He deleted, ignored, let it roll off his back.

Like the kid Tim, Neil was comfortable in his own skin. He liked what he did, and he knew he did a good job. A darn good job.

Neil was going into the jail one day, to have a consultation with a guy who’d gone on a little drug-dealing spree when he lost his job. Lancaster County Prison looked like a castle from the outside, a medieval fortress built in 1851 in a Lancashire, England, design.

“Oh, man!” said Tim, when he stopped by as Neil was getting into his car, a 2008 PT Cruiser he’d named Berry Blue. “I always wanted to go inside of that place! Can I go to the jail with you?”

Neil laughed, not taking the request as one that was made in earnest.

“I’m serious,” Tim insisted. “I’d like to get inside one of those turrets and pretend to be a knight. It looks amazing.”

“That’s from the outside looking in,” replied Neil. “Believe me, Lancaster County Prison is not any place you want to be.”

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