A Country for Old Men

By on Apr 22, 2018 in Featured, Fiction

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With that, he was out of my office, and my workload for the week had evaporated. The pile of records in the box next to my desk was now strangely irrelevant. I looked up at the clock. It was barely eleven in the morning. I briefly considered going home early, as there was nothing else for me to do at the moment, but felt that this might look bad, so I sat at my desk for another hour or so, alternately reading the newspaper and a treatise on Florida land use statutes that Clyde had recommended.

The phone rang. I couldn’t remember the last time this happened; no clients ever called for me directly, and the partners generally came by my office when they had something for me to do.

“Nathan Alterman, please.” The voice on the other end was pinched, like the speaker was getting over a cold.

“Speaking.”

“This is Hank Himmelfarb, I’m calling on behalf of Mort Silverberg. Mr. Silverberg would like you to assist him with something.”

I was startled. Had I somehow landed him as a client? “Yes, of course,” I stammered. “What does he need help with?”

“At the moment, we just need you to file the articles of formation for a limited liability company.”

“We can certainly do that. Let me go have my secretary get you an engagement letter…” I didn’t actually have a secretary.

“Mr. Silverberg does not want to become a client of the firm. He has personal reasons for that. He would like you to do this for him as a personal favor.” I was silent for a moment. “Do you have any objection to this?”

I felt some unease doing random favors outside of my normal work but was afraid to turn down Silverberg. “Not at all.”

“Good. Now, please understand, this is very discreet, and you cannot involve your firm in any way. I don’t want you giving this to some paralegal to file.”

“Understood, Mr. Himmelfarb. You know, I actually worked as a paralegal for a couple of years before law school, so I know all about doing these kinds of filings.”

“Mm-hmm.” He coughed slightly. “Well, the name of the company is Boardwalk Holdings III, LLC. Call me at this number when it’s filed.”

I told him I would, and that was the end of the conversation. I prepared the articles as he requested – it was a simple one-page document, I just had to fill in a couple of blanks on a standard template. After filling out the template by hand, I went downstairs and over to the post office a few blocks away, I didn’t want to use the office email or fax machine. On the way over, I saw Clyde walking down the other side of the street. I don’t think he saw me. I was tense as I waited in line, wanting this whole uncomfortable episode to be over with. To my frustration, the woman in front of me got into a friendly conversation with the clerk. She was mailing a package to her son in college and was delighted to learn that the clerk had a son the same age. Watching from my point in line, I learned that their sons went to the same high school but didn’t know each other. One was on the track team; the other was on the wrestling team. They had heard some worrying things about the new principal, which was particularly concerning to the clerk because her daughter would be starting there next year. Each time they found new common ground, I felt a little pang of agony, knowing another burst of chatter would have to run its course before I got this envelope out of my hands. My hopes were raised when another clerk emerged from the back room, but she just passed behind the row of empty registers without making eye contact with me or anyone else, and returned to the back room through a different door. After every conceivable subject of conversation was apparently raised and resolved, the woman in front of me apologetically told the clerk she was in a hurry and excused herself, and I was called to the front of the line. The clerk took the envelope, and the formation process of Boardwalk Holdings III, LLC was now irreversibly set in motion. I stepped out of the post office, back into the bright, balmy day, certified mailing receipt in hand. When I called Himmelfarb to tell him it was filed, he gave a brief thanks and then dismissed me in seconds.

That night in the shower, Hayley asked me about my day. I told her about the Royal Palm deal being on hold. I told her about the weird flavored coffee in the break room, but I didn’t tell her about the favor for Silverberg. I tried to tell myself that I wasn’t really hiding anything; it was such an unimportant, trivial episode it didn’t merit discussion. The truth was that I knew it might be significant but couldn’t articulate how. She would disapprove because she disapproved of Silverberg, and the whole arrangement seemed somewhat dubious and likely to get me in trouble, and I didn’t know enough yet to be able to defend or justify it.

On Wednesday morning I arrived late, following a slow Tuesday, to find an overstuffed file box on my desk. There was a note on top, scrawled in Clyde’s handwriting, “Royal Palm is back on. Additional title docs to review. Thx.” Realizing I was already behind, I started reviewing immediately. The harder I tried to focus, the more my mind seemed to drift. While I applied as much of my brain as I could to extracting the relevant information and locating any inconsistencies or sources of liability in these title documents, my mind hopped from one distant memory to another, like a stone skipping over an ocean before ultimately sinking.

Having trudged slowly and distractedly through two hours of document review, I went downstairs to get a sandwich to take back to my desk. The phone rang. I gulped down a mouthful of ham on rye and answered it, knowing full well who it would be.

“Alterman, this is Himmelfarb.” His cold had gotten worse. “We need to get rid of Boardwalk Holdings III. It has to go.”

“Did I do something wrong?” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I realized how unintentionally childish that sounded.

“No, you didn’t do anything wrong,” replied Himmelfarb in an exasperated tone. “Circumstances have changed. You need to file articles of dissolution this afternoon.”

I stared at the piles of documents on and around my desk, unread. I knew I was further behind in my review than I had any right to be, but at the same time I felt that these enigmatic requests on Silverberg’s behalf were somehow more important that anything I would be asked to do by my actual employer. I cleared a stack of papers from my desk and drew up the articles of dissolution.

I didn’t go home from the office until midnight, exhausted yet anxious, having only gotten a third of the way through my review. When I arrived home, Hayley was asleep, a copy of her latest book club assignment, The Great Gatsby, open upside-down on the coffee table. Still anxious, I poured myself a glass of bourbon and read a few pages. It was sadder than I remembered. It also frustrated me that Nick was so reflexively uninterested in going into business with Gatsby and Wolfsheim, as if bond trading were so much more inherently noble than bootlegging. I brushed my teeth, the tastes of toothpaste and whiskey mixing disgustingly in my mouth,  changed into my boxer shorts and my I was shaken, not stirred, at Adam’s Bar Mitzvah t-shirt, and went to bed.


4

The next call from Himmelfarb came two weeks later. He needed to see me, at his office. I drove through the old part of West Palm, which lay well outside the area of the concentrated renewal efforts, and so had instead become a corridor of slow urban deterioration. On the south side of the street I passed an abandoned stadium, its bright blue and white paint now faded, with a massive yellow wooden sign out front still brightly displaying the spring training schedule for 1997.  On the north side, behind a row of unassuming office buildings, was Lakefront Woods, one of Silverberg’s country clubs, whose membership had been in decline for decades by now. Hayley’s late grandfather had been a member there until he became too frail even for golf.

His law office was in a one-story plaza, between a notary and a pet shop. There was a receptionist’s desk with nobody sitting at it, and a small bench with some old copies of Palm Beach magazine on the end table. There was a smell that immediately recalled my grandparents’ house, which I only remember having visited once before they died. In the back office sat Himmelfarb, in glasses and a two-toned shirt, who motioned for me to come inside. I was immediately surprised by his height – even seated, he seemed to tower over me.

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About

Aaron Sokoloff is an attorney in San Diego. His short story "The Red Panda" was published in Wild Violet in July 2017. He was the editor of The Brown Jug humor magazine, and his ranking of the entire Pink Floyd discography was published in Nerve.com under his pen name, "Aaron Sokolof." He wasn't just trying to be controversial by listing Atom Heart Mother at #3; that is actually his opinion. He is currently working on a biography of his brother entitled Other Peoples' Cars: The Life and Times of G-ron Sokoloff.

3 Comments

  1. You are so very talented. You must have very talented and amazing parents.

  2. I know for a fact that he does.

  3. I knew it was a fungal ear infection.