The Squeeze.

Agua was deathly quiet. After five years in the country, no one could understand why he was still illegal. He seemed to know everybody: lawyers, police, even judges, all the right people to nudge him along in a place where it was who you knew that meant all the difference, but it had been the delicate details that had alluded him, the paperwork that had terrified him and this made him bull-headed. And then there was the money: if he had any, Agua could always find a better way of spending it.

When I demanded a breakdown of the costs, the lawyer argued that it was not necessary. When I held fast, her face which was cut with sharp flattering angles, flattened into an unbecoming frown. She pressed her dress down as she stood, massaging out the creases, and left in a huff — but not before reluctantly promising to send a detailed costing.

Later, I received an email: her fee came to seven hundred dollars, no explanation about the efforts she planned to put in on Agua’s behalf — the other 1,300 dollars were for his fine and Panama citizenship papers. I checked with Jaime who consulted his colleagues, the Coca Cola table lawyers. An especially short fat one, younger than the others, quicker with figures and facts, the ‘go to’ man, arrogant — as far as one could be when you lawyered out of a café to people poor as church mice, came up with the answer. Her fee should have been four hundred dollars. There were clearly defined rates for these things. I sent an email telling her I had hired someone else.