The Smell

Another tale of client meetings and woe, aka a Smell named Arthur.

I get an intake sheet from the intake department, and was told by the intake partner that it was “a good case, and a hot one- need to make contact asap.” I’m nothing if not a team player, so to the batphone I go.

I call the prospective client, and she sounds intoxicated. She says that she doesn’t drive, and can’t take the bus to our office. (of course not). She tells me a bit about the case, and I agree, against my better judgment, to visit her at her home in what can only be described as a “festive” neighborhood in the fair city of Detroit. Note- I confirm her phone number, and address during this call. She sounds kinda drunk, but it’s 11:00 am on a Thursday, so who isn’t?

So, I go to the address that is given, turn right at the wig shop, then left at the other wig shop, and then right down the road in question. There are no houses on this road. None. Like, it’s an alley on steroids- there are houses, or burned out hulks on the cross streets, but here? Nada. So, I look around, drive around the block (all the while I’ve got my head on a fucking swivel- blanx no want carjacking), and figure that it was just a crank call.

I call my office, and ask them to call her to confirm where she lives (I do not want to call her directly, because I do not want her to have my cell phone number).

So, I call my office, and ask them to call the client. I’m driving back towards the office, to get stuff done. My assistant manages to conference in the client, who says, my address is XXXX Street- the same street that I was on, with no houses. I ask her to spell the name of the street, she spells that same street.

Now, being not a rookie to the city of Detroit, I ask her what the crossroads are. She says, between Couzens and Livernois (two roads that don’t really cross- I mean, they do, kinda, but those directions didn’t make sense.) She then says, and I shit you not: “I’m right across the street from the Uptown BBQ”. What I should do is go back to the office and reschedule, but that ain’t what I’m going to do. I’m on a mission, and I’m curious (two traits what will kill me, eventually). I google the Uptown BBQ, and find that it’s not terribly far from where I was, but that it’s across the street from a similarly named street to the one she gave me previously. Let’s say- Brown St, vs. Braun St. (not actual streets, but you get the idea.)

So, I go back to this area, and find Braun St. Sure as shit, it’s right across from the Uptown BBQ.

I roll up to the house. It’s a dilapidated Detroit house- there’s a blue tarp on the roof, and the spitting image of Zelda Rubinstein in the doorway, waiting for me to come up. I email my staff that I made it (mostly to let them know to contact the authorities if I don’t check in in an hour).

Zelda waves at me, and I exit my car, walk up the steps (dodging the loose boards), and open the door.

I am greeted by a smell. I am greeted by THE Smell. All other smells pale in comparison to the Smell. All of a sudden, I looked like the Nazi who opened the Ark of the Covenant in Indiana Jones.  This guy- giphy

the Smell staggered me backwards.

This Smell has heft. It has weight. It smells like someone had taken the oldest, nastiest kitty litter box imaginable, and then made it into Latakia pipe tobacco. It smelled like someone was smoking the tiger cage at the zoo on a hookah. The Smell’s name was Arthur. Why Arthur? Because that’s what the Smell told me its name was.

Blinking my eyes, I looked around the front room. The couch (please, please don’t make me sit on the couch) was full of Kewpie dolls, all staring at me while I adjusted to the Smell.

I then fully see my client. She’s in her late 50’s, white, under 4 foot tall, and her eyebrows are shaved in an inexplicable pattern. They’re mesmerizing- they kinda look like someone’s shaved out the inside of her eyebrows, and has let a ring around the outside grow. She is clearly mentally challenged, which is fine- I’ve represented the mentally challenged before, everyone needs access to lawyers.

I’m directed to take a seat at the table.

From the “kitchen” area, comes a dude. Dude’s in his 40’s, average height/build, and looks like a gainfully employable member of society.  Your absolutely average looking white dude. He introduces himself as my putative client’s fiance. I’m flabbergasted. My gast is truly flabbered. There are questions, and concerns roiling in my mind, along with the experience of my brain processing the Smell. Then I start to look around the dining room, and that’s where things get weird.

You know how you can adjust to smells? Like, they’re still bad, but your brain gets accustomed to them? I’m not sure that was what was happening here, precisely, but I’m starting to be able to allow my senses to perceive things other than the Smell. F’rinstance, I notice that I’m sitting on just the edge of a chair, praying that whatever’s on the cushion is confined merely to my overcoat. (I’ve given up on the overcoat).

I also start to take in the decor- there’s an ironing board to my left, that has 5 or 6 plastic mechanized fountains on it, all of which have no water, and are coated in a thick layer of dust. There’s a set of weights on the floor by my left foot, covered in cobwebs and rust, that haven’t been moved in months. Across the room from me is a velvet picture of the crucified Jesus, and what I can only describe as a mechanical Taiwanese cuckoo clock- it has dolphins, and whales on it. The clock is not plugged in, and currently reports that it’s 6:34 am. It is not 6:34 am.

There’s an enormous cobweb dangling down from the light fixture, almost touching the top of the table I’m seated at. As we talk, the cobweb sways in the breezes.

On another wall, there’s a cabinet, which ought to be used for storing dishes. It was not. On top, there were a host of woodworking tools, which was, shall we say, worrisome. Inside the cabinet, there were 25 or 30 different figurines from the He-Man Universe, all posed in a neat row, silently observing the proceedings and silently judging me with their plastic eyes. From the corner of my eye, I can see the bathroom. The less said about what I see there, the better.  I still can’t talk about what I can see of the bathroom.

I can see the kitchen door, leading outside, with the rusty scratch marks from some long- forgotten dog. Finally, I can see a cardboard sign indicating that we’re at the North Pole, and that this is Santa’s workshop.

Christmas is now dead to me.

The first thing that the dude says to me after introducing himself as [Zelda’s] fiance is “we want justice for [dead sister]. She was the only source of income for all three of us.”


They then want to sue the city because there were no streetlights where the hit and run occurred. I explain to them that there’s no liability for this, based upon case law.

I ask [Zelda] to tell me about her sister, and she said “we were twins. She lived alone, and was on disability. She had mental problems.”


So, we discuss the facts of the hit and run, all the while I know that the Smell is permeating deeper and deeper into my very soul. I’ve written off my overcoat, and am wondering where I can get a Karen Silkwood shower.

The dude brings up the streetlights again, and asks me “Isn’t there some other angle you got to get us some money?” I got nothing, other than the desire to flee.

At this point, [Zelda] offers me something to drink. Yeah, no. I’m good.

I answer their other questions, and get ready to leave.

I stand, and pass back by the gauntlet of Kewpie dolls, and head for the freedom of the open air.

When I get outside, I take off my overcoat, and put it in the trunk. I don’t want the Smell anywhere near me. I pull away from the house, roll the windows down, and open the moonroof, hoping to air out the car. The Smell is still in my mouth, and nose, and mouth, and hair.

I call my staff, and report that I’m still alive, for certain values of alive, but that I’m not going to be coming back to the office, as I must go shower. I head home, leave my overcoat in the garage, change clothes, and shower.

While I’m in the shower, it hits me. When the water hits my hair, the Smell is revived. I almost retch, and shampooed 2 times, to get the smell out.

As I’m drying off, one thing occurs to me.

I know what the smell of cat urine is like. Part of the Smell was the odor of cat urine. For a smell this strong, there should be cats. Lots of cats.


Even though I could see into multiple rooms, I NEVER SAW ANY CATS. EVER.


I returned to my office a few days later, and my assistant said that the paperwork we filled out still stank of the Smell.


2 thoughts on “The Smell

  1. OMG I’m only halfway through and here is the scene: I’m on the couch in my t-shirt and boxers that I slept in (it’s 12:30, yes, but let’s don’t judge) and I am laughing so hard that I am crying. One of the Cats just ran from the room and the other is staring at me, wondering if he pounces on my windpipe, will I die immediately or will it take a minute. Ken is going to come home at any given moment and just…wonder.


  2. The tears are still fresh in my eyes but I will type through them. This was the sure fire hit case that your boss told you to pursue? I’d hate to see the ones he was on the fence about.

    Btw, in my angry lawyer book that I wrote, I had a character who smelled of Cat. She would go to Wayne County Probate Court and make up fake cases to give to the analysts. She had a plastic bag in which she carried snacks and sat around the probate court holding pen all day, talking to herself. There was also a fat guard who ate Cheetos. It was a really, really good scene.


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