فصل 04

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فصل 04

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CHAPTER FOUR

Mom and Dad

“Welcome to the world, son. You think the guys in factory jobs like what they’re doing? You’re getting rich, they aren’t. “ After I left Mordecai Greens office, I drove around and around the city while the snow fell. As a lawyer with hours to work, which my clients paid for, I couldn’t do this sort of thing - just moving with the traffic, not going anywhere. But I was doing it now.

I didn’t want to go back to the empty apartment. I didn’t want to go to a bar, either - I’d probably never leave. So I drove. I went through poor parts of the city I had never seen before.

Then I went back to Drake and Sweeney. I went up in Mister’s elevator again, walked along the hall to my office, and sat down at my desk. For the first time I wondered how much everything in my office had cost - the expensive old desk, the red leather armchairs, and the Persian carpets. Weren’t we just chasing money, here in this building? Why did we work so hard to buy a more expensive carpet or an older desk? Was that a good reason to work? Was this the life I wanted?

In my expensive room, I thought of Mordecai Green, giving his time to help people who had nothing.

I had about ten pink telephone messages from clients on my desk and none of them interested me. I didn’t like this work. My clients were big companies, and I worked on their lawsuits against other big companies. The lawsuits continued for years. Maybe a hundred lawyers worked on each one, all sending paper to each other.

Polly came in and brought me cookies. She put them on the table with a big smile before she left for home for the day. A couple of lawyers came in, said “How you doin’?” and left again. They were probably on their way home too.

Alone in the office again, I picked up one big file and then another one. Which lawsuit did I want to work on today? I didn’t want to work on any of them. I couldn’t do it. It didn’t make any sense to me now.

I went to my computer and began searching our client files. RiverOaks was started in 1977 in Hagerstown, Maryland. It was a private company, so it was difficult to get information about it.

RiverOaks was the client of a Drake and Sweeney lawyer called Braden Chance. I didn’t know the name but I looked again in our computer files. Braden Chance was a partner in real estate, on the fourth floor. He was forty-four years old, married, and went to law school at Duke.

There were forty-two files for RiverOaks. Four were about evictions. RiverOaks had bought a warehouse on Florida Avenue. On January 27, some squatters were evicted from the warehouse - one of them, as I now knew, was DeVon Hardy. The file on the eviction itself had a number next to it. The number meant that only Braden Chance could open the file. I wrote down the file’s name and number and walked down to the fourth floor.

When I got there, I saw a legal assistant and asked him where Braden Chance’s office was. He pointed to an open door across the hall. Although it was late, Chance was at his desk, looking busy. He didn’t like me just walking in from the hall. At Drake and Sweeney, you phoned first and made an appointment. But that didn’t worry me very much.

Chance didn’t ask me to sit down, but I did and he didn’t like that either.

“You were next to the guy when he got shot,” he said unpleasantly, after I said DeVon Hardy’s name.

“Yes,” I said.

“Terrible for you, huh?”

“It’s over. Mr. Hardy, who’s now dead, was evicted from a warehouse. Was it one of our evictions?”

“It was,” said Chance, but he didn’t look at me as he spoke. I guessed that Arthur Jacobs had looked at the file with him, earlier in the day. “What about it?” added Chance.

“Was he a squatter?”

“Of course he was. They’re all squatters, aren’t they? Our client just got them out of the warehouse.”

“Are you sure he was a squatter? Not a tenant?”

Chance looked angry. “What do you want?”

“Could I see the file?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I’m very busy. Will you please leave?”

“If he was a squatter, there’s no problem. Why can’t I see the file?”

“Because it’s mine, and I said no. How’s that?”

“Maybe that’s not good enough.”

He stood, his hands shaking as he pointed to the door. I smiled at him and left.

The legal assistant from the hall had heard everything and we exchanged looks and smiles as I passed his desk. “The man’s a fool,” he said, very quietly. I smiled again. “Yes.”

But what was Chance hiding? There was something wrong and it was in that file. I had to get it. I went back to my office to think. The phone rang. It was Claire.

“Why are you at the office?” She spoke very slowly and her voice was colder than the snow outside.

I looked at my watch. I remembered we had arranged to have dinner together at the apartment. “I, uh, well, a client called from the West Coast.” I had used this lie before. It didn’t matter.

“I’m waiting, Michael. Should I start to eat?”

“No, I’ll be back at the apartment as fast as I can.”

I ran from the building into the snowstorm, but I didn’t really care that another evening together had been ruined.

A few hours later, Claire and I were having our coffee by the kitchen window. The snow had finally stopped. I had an idea. “Let’s go to Florida,” I said. She gave me a cold look. “Florida?” “OK, the Bahamas. We can leave tomorrow.” “It’s impossible.”

“Not at all. I don’t have to work for a few days …” “Why not?”

“Because I’m going crazy, and at Drake and Sweeney if you go crazy, then you get a few days off.”

“You are going crazy.”

“I know. It’s fun, actually. People are nice to you. They smile. Polly brought me cookies today. I like it.”

The cold look returned and she said, “I can’t.”

And that was the end of that. I knew she couldn’t do it. She was a doctor, people had appointments with her. But also, she didn’t want to go with me.

“OK,” I said. “Then I’m going to Memphis for a couple of days to see my parents.”

“Oh really,” she said. She didn’t even sound interested. “I need to see my parents. It’s been almost a year. And this is a good time, I think. I don’t like the snow and I don’t feel like working. Like I said, I’m going crazy.”

Claire got up and went to bed. “Well, call me,” she said over her shoulder. I knew that was the end of my marriage. And I hated to have to tell my mother.


My parents were in their early sixties and trying to enjoy not working for the first time in their lives. Mom had been a bank manager. Dad had been a lawyer in Atlanta. They had worked hard, saved hard, and given the best of everything. Dad always wanted me to be a lawyer, like him.

I rented a car at Memphis airport and drove east to the rich part of the city where the white people live. The blacks had the center of the city and the whites the area outside. Sometimes the blacks moved out from the center into a white area and then the whites moved further out.

My parents lived on a golf course in a new glass house, you could see the golf course from every window. I had called from the airport, so Mom knew I was coming.

“What’s wrong?” she asked when she saw me. “Nothing. I’m fine.”

“Where’s Claire? You guys never call us, you know. I haven’t heard her voice in two months.”

“Claire’s fine, Mom. We’re both alive and healthy and working very hard.”

“Are you spending enough time together?”

“No.”

“Are you spending any time together?”

“Not much.” I saw the tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry, Mom. It’s lucky we don’t have kids.”

To talk about something else, I told her the story of Mister.

“Are you all right?” she asked, a look of shock on her face.

“Of course. I’m here, aren’t I? The company wanted me to take a couple of days’ holiday, so I came home.”

“You poor thing. Claire, and now this.”

Later that afternoon, my dad and I played golf.

“Dad, I’m not very happy at Drake and Sweeney,” I said. “I don’t like what I’m doing.”

“Welcome to the world, son. You think the guys in factory jobs like what they’re doing? You’re getting rich, they aren’t. Be happy.”

He was happy. He was winning at the golf. Ten minutes later he said, “Are you changing jobs?”

“I’m thinking about it.”

“Why don’t you just say what you’re trying to say?”

As usual, I felt weak and like I was running away from something.

“I’m thinking about working for the homeless,” I said. “As a lawyer,” I added quickly.

Dad didn’t stop playing. He hit a ball into the distance. “I’d hate to see you throw it all away, son,” he said. “You’ll be a partner in a few years.” We walked after his ball. “A street guy’s killed in front of you and you have to change the world? You just need a few days away from work.”

Is that all?

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