‘Lone Dude’ by Henry Simpson

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One afternoon in late February, Walt and I were out at our favorite taqueria.

“I need your help,” Walt said.

“What?” I said, surprised to hear him request something from me. He usually told me what he wanted as if I had no choice.

“It’s a matter of the heart.”

“Be more specific.”

“A friend of a friend got this girl preggo.”

“That’s a common occurrence, Walt. It’s how the human species survives. What’s the problem?”

“She’s seventeen years old.”

“That could be a problem. Anything else?”

“She wants to marry him.”

“Did your friend of a friend have sex with this underage mother to be?”

“Sure . . . uh . . . . like, make that maybe. These girls come and go. He’s not even sure it’s his. I mean, do you remember how crazy it was, Christmas to New Year’s Eve? He’s worried, like, what should he do?”

“Who else slept with her?”

“I . . . I mean he, my friend of a friend, doesn’t know. The girl’s popular. She gets around.”

“I’d say there are three possibilities. The first is to marry the girl.”

“Aagh!” Walt groaned, dropping his taco. “He can’t do that. That would be a death sentence. What’s number two?”

“Say no to the girl and face the music. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance he’d go to prison for statutory rape.”

“That’s worse than a death sentence. Keep going.”

“Negotiate a cash settlement and offer to pay for an abortion or to support the kid until it’s eighteen.”

“How much would it cost?”

“You pedophile.”

“I wasn’t talking about me, man.”

“No, of course not.”

“What should I do?”

“It’s pretty simple, Walt. If you don’t want to marry the girl or go to prison, talk to the mother and negotiate a settlement.”

“Will you do that for me? It would be a good test of your lawyerly skills.”

“How much money do you have?”

“For you?”

“No, to pay off mother and daughter.”

“I have $10,000 in a savings account.”

“That’s probably not enough.”

“How do you know?”

“Intuition—call it my sense of proportionality, what’s right.”

“I can get more if I have to, borrow from my father. I could tell him I have some extra expenses for the apartment house, something like that.”

“Okay, what’s the girl’s name?”

Walt looked away from me, took an enormous bite out of a fiery hot pepper taco—rather to suffer than tell me her name. Tears filled his eyes, the heat—he grabbed his Pacifico to clear his palate. “Ula,” he said, barely audible.

“Ula, that lovely young surfer girl. You dirty dog. Jesus, Walt. Have you no shame? You’ve slept with her mother on multiple occasions, pounding the floorboards next door.”

“Don’t judge me, Joey. I’m an attractive young man in the prime of my life.”

“You’re a privileged horn dog is what you are.”

“Ula’s no innocent Gidget.”

“The problem with that defense is that we can’t establish she’s promiscuous without naming other suitors. Anyone named would be guilty of the same offense you are.”

“So I’m screwed?”

“Don’t lose heart, Walt. I’ll see what I can do. Keep your checkbook handy.”

#

The next afternoon, I waited until I saw Ula carry her surfboard past on her way to the beach before going to the upstairs apartment she shared with her Oona, her mom. The screen door was closed but the door to the apartment was open and Oona was sitting on the couch watching TV.

“Hey, Oona,” I said through the screen door.

Oona got up and came to the door. “Hi, Joe. I’m all out of flour if you came to borrow a cup but I’ve got plenty of rum.”

“Thanks, but I’m not making a cake and I don’t need a drink. Can we talk?”

“Sure, come inside.”

We sat together on the couch. “Walt sent me over to talk to you, Oona.”

“About what?”

“Ula.”

“Jesus, what’s she done now?”

“She told Walt she’s pregnant and wants him to marry her.”

Oona giggled hysterically for a moment then grew serious. “Jesus Christ, oh my god almighty. She’s mature for her years, but that’s ridiculous.”

“Do you know if she’s . . .”

“I suppose it’s possible. She has birth control pills. If she’s off of them . . .”

“She’s a minor. If she and Walt had intercourse, he can be prosecuted for statutory rape.”

“Look, Joe, Ula’s mature for her age, and I don’t want to prosecute Walt for anything. He’s been a friend, but I sure as hell don’t want her marrying him, a guy I’ve slept with. It would be like marrying her stepfather. What a revolting thought. It’s like incest.”

“Good, Oona. I’m glad you feel that way—not prosecuting him, I mean. I wonder if we can resolve this, between you and me.”

“Why am I talking to you instead of Walt?”

“Walt felt uncomfortable, so he asked me to talk to you.”

“He’s a coward, you mean.”

“That’s one way to put it.”

“Are you a lawyer?”

“I’m studying law.”

“Good for you,” she said angrily. “Maybe you can put this deal on your resume. I think you had this conversation plotted out before you came here.”

“I thought it over.”

“You’ll make a great lawyer, Joe. Tell me where it all goes and how it ends.”

“How about this, Oona? Walt will give you $5,000 to sign a note absolving him of any responsibility for Ula’s pregnancy.”

“What if she’s not pregnant?”

“Then the $5,000 is a gift. If she is, he’ll arrange and pay for an abortion.”

“What a mess this is.”

I held out a $5,000 check in one hand and the note in the other. “Sign this and the money’s yours.”

She signed and took the check.

#

I handed Walt the note. “Take this. Put it in a safe place in case she changes her mind.”

Walt took the note and studied it. “How was Oona?”

“Incredibly understanding considering you fucked her underage daughter. I recommend that you not socialize with her for a while, and avoid all contact with Ula, at least until she reaches age eighteen.”

“Is Ula pregnant?”

“Only she knows. Oona was surprised when I mentioned it. Ula’s supposed to be taking birth control pills, but it’s possible she stopped.”

“I wonder if . . .”

“Stop thinking about it, Walt. I paid Oona $5,000 to sign that note. If she needs an abortion, you’ll also have to arrange for it and pay whatever it costs.”

“So, you don’t know anything—whether or not she’s pregnant or whether I might be a father. God, it bothers me.”

“I’m amazed, Walt. You have a conscience after all.”

“Huh? At my stupidity, I mean. That’s what bothers me.”

“So, no conscience?”

“What?”

“Never mind.”

“He picked up the note. Guess I’ll put this in my safe for safe-keeping.”

“That’s was safes are for.”

“Are you mocking me?”

“You mock yourself.”

He took the note into his bedroom. I heard the sound of a dial turning, the safe door opening, the safe door closing. He soon returned. “Let’s get wasted, Joe. I feel like getting wasted.”

“I have to study.”

“I’ll call some friends and we’ll have a party. Don’t mention Oona or Ula.”

“I won’t be there, Walt.”

“If you change your mind, feel free to join us.”

“Oona lives upstairs. She’ll hear your celebration.”

“Oh, yeah. Good point. Maybe I’ll walk up the boardwalk, hit a few high spots alone—unless you change your mind.”

“Party hearty, lone dude.”

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