Close To Even by Edward N. McConnell

A close up of a man's hand placed on top of a skull
Image Source: Snappa

John Halston watched as the man counted out the bills and laid them on his desk.

“You’re short. That’s two thousand five hundred. The retainer is three thousand,” he said.

“I can get more but, right now, it’s all I got. My boy’s in trouble. Only you can help.”

His son was busted for selling weed. A serious charge but one Halston called, “the quick and cash type”. The kid, being a first timer, would most likely get probation. Halston could plead this one out quickly. Easy money or not, though, he never took a case on the promise to pay. “It’s not easy money if you don’t get it.” He once told a colleague.

“You knew the amount before you came here. I told you three thousand. You’re wasting my time.”

“Sir, please, we need you.”

“What you need is more money. Come back when you have it all. Now, we’re done.” Halston stood up. The man picked up the cash, saying nothing further and left the office. As he was leaving, Halston thought, “The nerve of this prick to waste my time like this.”

Halston was the easiest lawyer in the county to find. His business was good but he always wanted the next paying case. The parade of pimps, perverts, peepers, dealers, dopers, gunmen, killers, thieves, whores, bent politicians, you name it, was never ending. He would defend anyone, but only if they could pay; no pro bono, no court appointments. His motto was “No money; no lawyer; no exceptions.”

As a case moved forward, if he wanted or needed more money, you paid. If you didn’t, he dropped you. It didn’t matter how close to trial or a plea you might be. While he was always able to walk away, the same was not true for his clients.

He was the lawyer you hired when you “did it” and were sure you’d end up in jail. He cost a lot, but good lawyers always do. Halston was “good” because he was “clever”. Confusing juries was his strength. If the prosecutor’s deal wasn’t right, Halston went to trial. They knew that. He knew they wanted “easy” convictions. Trials are work, prosecutors are overworked. They also hated to lose and they lost a lot when facing Halston.

For all his notoriety, Halston wasn’t flashy. His storefront office on Niagara Street was a former neighborhood family market, the type that used to dot street corners in every neighborhood in town. The front part of the first floor, where the shelves once displayed dry goods and sundries, was now his reception area and conference room. The original wood floors, after years of wear and tear, creaked under foot traffic. In the back corner were the old meat display cases and cold storage locker. No longer performing their original functions, Halston left the cases in place, they were a curiosity. The cold storage locker was now an office supply storage room.

Image Source: Snappa

He worked out of the office in the rear of the building. It was reached from the front by a long, narrow hallway. A glass faced back door at the end of the hallway led to the parking lot behind the building. Locked from the outside, only Halston had a key. A street lamp stood near the corner of the lot on the grass parking strip next to the alley. After dark, it cast its dim yellow light into Halston’s office through the back door windows. The building had no security system or cameras. Given the clientele; it would have been a worthwhile investment.

Currently, the biggest splash on the local crime scene was an armored car robbery. Halston heard all about it from his contacts at the police department. Sammy Riecks, a local thug with a long rap sheet and sour demeanor, was implicated in the heist during which a guard was murdered. The haul was a large one, the money was still missing. Everyone thought, including Riecks, that he was likely to be indicted very soon; he needed a lawyer, a “good” one. 

On a burner phone, Riecks called Halston to set a meeting. For him, Halston’s fit the bill, an outsider, like himself, who saw the system as no more than a game to be played and won. Beating the rap was all that mattered. No one played the game better than Halston and Riecks was in a “must win” situation. Halston was the “player” he needed.

 For his part, Halston thought Riecks was a street punk but knew he had that heist money and he wanted a piece of it. Halston thought, “This case would be no harder than the run of the mill felony. He needs me more than I need him.” Their first conversation was short. Halston tested Riecks to see how serious he was.

“It’s a hundred grand cash retainer.” Halston said.

“No problem. When do you need it?” Riecks said.

“Tonight, can you get it that fast?”

“Yeah,” Riecks said.

“Good, meet me tonight in my office at eleven. Come alone.”

“See you then but don’t write anything down about us meeting,” Riecks said. He then hung up.

There had been no discussion of the facts of the case. Halston would get those when they met again, “Money first, facts later. Why waste time with some sad story, probably peppered with lies, if he didn’t show up with the cash?”


It was just before eleven o’clock. Halston hurried to get out of the rain and into his office. He parked on the street and came in through the front door. Once inside, he removed his overcoat, shaking off the rain. He walked through the reception area, then down the hall to his office. The lights were out except for the reflected light coming in from the street lamp behind the building. When he got closer to his office door, he noticed it was ajar. He opened it slowly.

“Come in,” said a voice out the darkness. Halston recognize it as Riecks’.

“How’d you get in? Halston asked.

Without answering the question, Riecks said, “I was eager to get this over. We need to talk.”

Although relieved it was Riecks, a quick series of thoughts flashed through Halston’s mind, “How’d he get in?” Maybe he doesn’t have the money. This might be a big waste of time.” His gut tightening, Halston said, “Before we talk, you got the money?”

Holding up a large bag, Riecks said, “Yeah, right here. You didn’t write down we are having this meeting, did you?

“No. Just you and I know we’re here.” Halston said.

“Good. Leave the lights off. We’ve got enough light from the street lamp. I don’t want anyone to see us talking”.

Image Source: Snappa

Halston walked around and sat behind his desk, facing Riecks. The way he was seated, the dim light coming in through the window was on Halston. The lawyer found himself talking to a dark outline. A voice in his head said, “This staging is wrong. I can’t see his eyes”. Ignoring his misgivings, he reasoned, “Bad staging or not, he has the money”.

Before Halston could say anything, Riecks spoke. “I picked you because you’re a lot like me. You only care about money and winning. We had a mutual acquaintance, Terry Stamos, remember him? You took his car theft case, got the retainer and then, when his money ran out, you dumped the case on a public defender.” Riecks continued in a calm voice, “If you’d of stayed on he could have beaten that rap, but you didn’t. He couldn’t make bail. He had to wait in jail until his sentencing.”

Halston had no memory of Stamos and said, “So what, everybody knows the rules. I don’t work for free. Even if he got jail time, it would have only been a short sentence anyway. For Christ’s sake, it was just car theft. He’s probably out by now.”

“I want you to understand, there’ll be no quittin’.” If you take this money, you’re in till the end. I got the money and more where that came from.”

Riecks then reached into his bag and put two thick stacks of one hundred dollar bills on the desk. Halston looked pleased. Expecting more stacks of hundreds to be set before him, he leaned forward, looking at the bag, awaiting his next move. Riecks again reached into the bag, pulling out what Halston anticipated was the next stack of hundreds. Instead, what he saw was a white flash; the area behind his desk exploded into a red mist. He never heard a thing.

A faint yellow glow from the street lamp cast itself through the window and into the open bag. Face up, on the remaining stacks of hundreds was a folded newspaper; the headline read, ‘Inmate Shanked Awaiting Sentencing’. Terry Stamos was Riecks’ lover; he died in jail because of Halston’s greed.

Checking Halston’s desk, brief case and pockets to make sure there was no note about their meeting, he picked up the stacks of hundreds from the desk, and stuck them back into the bag along with his Glock. He pulled the zipper shut, then wiped down everything he had touched. Looking around the office one more time, he nodded, then put up the hood on his jacket, left the office by the back door and disappeared into the rainy night. For Riecks, this was as close to even as he could get.

Edward N. McConnell

Edward N. McConnell is a happily retired trial lawyer, a former adjunct professor of trial advocacy and a former State Archivist of Iowa. He started writing flash fiction and short stories in 2020. He enjoys a good story with a twist and tries to write one every once in a while. His flash fiction and short stories have appeared in Literally Stories and, soon, in Drunk Monkeys, Terror House, and Down in the Dirt and MasticadoresIndia. He lives in West Des Moines, Iowa with his wife.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Terveen Gill says:

    This short story is upfront with a no-nonsense attitude. The main character, Halston, is the guy you love to hate but whose power and authority you wouldn’t mind having.
    Edward’s writing is gripping and to the point. He takes the reader for a ride and the ending is a surprise. It leaves much to think about. There will always be repercussions for every decision made.
    Congratulations on a superb story!


  2. Welcome Edward to the Masticadores spirit. Greetings Juan Link to Colaboradores/Escritores

    Liked by 2 people

  3. jonicaggiano says:

    Great story. I loved the ending, I could feel the tension building so I knew something was about to happen, greed is not such a pretty thing and didn’t pay off this time for Halston.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Edward N.McConnell says:

    Thank you all (belatedly) for reading my story and commenting. I really appreciate it.

    Liked by 1 person

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