A Country for Old Men

By on Apr 22, 2018 in Fiction

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The walls of his office were covered with photos, about half black-and-white and half color, all showing Himmelfarb in groups of well-dressed gentlemen who appeared to be local business luminaries. Most were on golf courses, some were in restaurants. It had the feel of a museum commemorating a career in its twilight. While he wore a wedding ring, there were no pictures of his wife and family, nor any vacation photos: this was a place of business. It occurred to me that he would probably disdain the photo of Hayley and me in Costa Rica that sat on my desk; it would be evidence to him of the younger generation having gone soft.

“Alterman,” he began, “it’s good that you came. I trust that you didn’t have any trouble getting out of the office this afternoon?”

“No, it was fine. It’s a slow day. I doubt anyone will notice I’m gone.”

“Good. I was hoping you could help me out with a little matter for Mr. Silverberg. I would handle it myself, but I need to go home early today. I have an ear infection that’s killing me. I could have had my secretary take care of this, too, to be honest, but I’ve been so preoccupied with my ear that I forgot she was taking the day off today.” He paused, I expected him to start explaining my assignment. “I had been having this terrible pain in my right ear for days. You know, these things usually go away on their own, but this one, wasn’t going away. My wife had been telling me to see a doctor, but you know, I hate doing that – you sit in a waiting room all morning, lose the entire morning, then they look at you for five minutes. I wanted to avoid going to the doctor. But the other day, my nephew was up from Miami. He’s a gastroenterologist. He takes one look at it and tells me I need to see a doctor right away. So I did, and now they have me on these antibiotics. But it’s not getting any better. The other day I put a Q-Tip in my ear and when I took it out, it was covered in this black – well, almost like a fluid, if you can picture a thick black fluid.”

My assignment was to file a permit at the Palm Beach County Department of Planning, Zoning and Building for Datura Partners IX, LLC. It was for a small retail space they were building just off of downtown. He handed me the file in a wrinkled manila folder that had clearly been used hundreds of times.

The DPZB was back towards my office, adjacent to the courthouse on Banyan Street. In the department office there were six windows, but only one clerk on duty, and the line stretched out the door. From the conversations I overheard, most of the people there were applying for permits to build additions to their homes. One elderly lady was petitioning the county to demolish an abandoned shack on her absentee neighbor’s property, on account of a massive wasp nest on the premises. She offered everyone near her in line the opportunity to see her wasp stings, which she was planning to present as evidence. After listening to the clerk politely explain that the DPZB did not have jurisdiction over wildlife-related matters, I was called to the front of the line. Affecting the most businesslike manner possible, I pulled the ancient manila folder from my briefcase (a graduation gift from the Teitelbaums, which I hadn’t used until that day) and produced the permit.

She looked it over and responded with a bored expression. “I can’t accept this. It isn’t signed.”

She handed it back and, sure enough, there was an empty line at the bottom, awaiting the signature of the President of Datura Partners IX, LLC. Another casualty of Himmelfarb’s ear infection, no doubt.  I panicked inwardly – I knew this needed to get filed today, but there was no way I could get Himmelfarb to sign this and get back here in time to file. He probably wasn’t even in the office right now. I considered forging his signature, but that seemed like a terrible idea. If I got caught, I could get disbarred, or worse. Instead, I decided to assume the position of president, hoping that Himmelfarb would help me paper it over afterwards. I signed the permit application with the most rakish, illegible signature I could muster and strolled out of the building, with the bottomless anxiety of having done something that was possibly illegal, mixed uneasily with the swagger of the newly self-appointed President of Datura Partners IX, LLC. I tried Himmelfarb’s office from the pay phone in the lobby, but nobody picked up.

I passed through the courthouse lobby on the way out. I noticed Landry, one of the partners in the litigation group. He handled a lot of cases for the County. I tried to inconspicuously turn the other way, but he noticed me mid-turn and approached me.

“Alterman,” he half-shouted. “What brings you down to the courthouse? I thought you transactional attorneys avoided courthouses like the bubonic plague!” This was only the second time I had ever encountered Landry, who worked with the other litigators on the floor above me, and both times he had led with a joke about the differences between litigation attorneys and transactional attorneys. It worried me a little bit that, if I stayed in my career long enough, I may start to find that kind of joke funny.

“Well, we avoid it, but not quite like the plague. We avoid it like, I guess, a mild infectious disease.”

He looked at me with a puzzled expression. My attempt to return his banter and simultaneously defuse a potentially awkward encounter was not working.

“Avoiding it like a mild infectious disease. That’s very literal, Alterman. I like that. Being literal-minded will serve you well as a lawyer. You won’t be fooled by vague abstractions.” He paused. “Seriously though, what are you doing here?”

“Oh, I was just dropping something off for a family friend. They know I work by the courthouse, and I thought I’d save them the trip.”

“New addition on the house?”

“No, it’s actually an investment property.”

“Ah,” chuckled Landry. “Have they invited you to get in on it?”

“Not yet.”

“Take my advice, Alterman. Get out from under your student loans before you start throwing money around in real estate. Every doctor, lawyer, dentist, accountant and chiropractor in town has some little investment property, and they all think they’re geniuses because the market is up. Well, let me tell you something. Any clown can watch their property values rise in a hot market. The geniuses are the ones who know when to get out.” He looked at an imaginary clock on an empty wall. “I’m late.” He left. I walked an indirect route towards the parking lot, as I didn’t want him to see that I drove.

The next morning, I got a call from an exhausted-sounding Himmelfarb. “Everything filed in order?”

“Well, it’s filed, but we need to do some corporate clean-up. You see, the application you gave me wasn’t signed.”

“Are you sure?” he coughed.

“Yes, the clerk was going to reject it. So, I signed on behalf of Datura Partners as president.”

“But you’re not the president.”

“Well, I realize that, but there wasn’t any way that I could get this on file otherwise. So, I think we just need a consent of the members of the LLC, ratifying my appointment as president, just for the purposes of filing that application.”

He was silent for a few moments. “Fine. The sole member of Datura Partners IX is Datura Holdings, LP. The General Partner of Datura Holdings, LP is Lee Friedman. He lives at Evernia Gardens. I’ll tell him you’re coming. You need to draw up the consent and get him to sign it right away. We need to clean up this mess you created.”

“Mess that I created?” I cried. “What did you expect me to do?”

“Well, it’s a mess. You’re not the president of Datura Partners IX. Now you need to fix it.”

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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.


  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.