A Country for Old Men

By on Apr 22, 2018 in Fiction

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“Anyway, they’re working you too hard for what they pay you at Donovan. Does anyone in that office work as late as you do?” Her tone was unmistakably suspicious. She knew there was something I wasn’t telling her. I don’t think she suspected I was having an affair or anything that stupid and dramatic, but she clearly sensed there was something going on. I felt that I was at the point where I would need to tell her about my favors for Silverberg, or else start down the road of actually lying to her.

“Hayley, what if I told you that I might have an unusual opportunity in Palm Beach?”

“It depends on the opportunity,” she responded flatly. I wondered if Jacob had already told her something.

“Well, what if I told you that Morty Silverberg has gotten me involved in one of his projects.”

“Involved? How would you be involved? You haven’t invested anything with him, have you?”

“No, of course not. But since after I met him at Josh’s Bar Mitzvah, he’s asked me to help him with a few things. Well, he hasn’t asked me directly – all the requests come through Hank Himmelfarb, who’s sort of his…”

“Himmelfarb? Oh, I know that old hypochondriac. When were you planning on telling me about this?”

“I don’t know. I wanted to wait until I knew a little more about it. Obviously, if they asked me to do anything shady or illegal I wouldn’t do it, and if they asked me to put in a bunch of money or something like that, I would talk to you first. But right now, I’m still feeling things out. I want to play it out for at a little longer before thinking about moving to Miami and walking away from all of this. I mean, think about it. Silverberg has seen the future before. He may be seeing it again now.”

Friday after the election, I went to work as usual. I could see the Gore protesters and Bush counter-protesters from my window but felt oddly distant from the affair: I was at work. The sale of a prime commercial property in Boca was closing on Monday, which meant that all the documents had to be finalized by this evening. I pulled down the shade and started working through the pile of documents that had been assigned to me; I reviewed the final revisions and confirmed the various signatures were in place. At ten, I had to throw all of this out and start again; the buyer’s lender had requested some additional revisions that now had to be incorporated into everything. I was making good progress throughout the morning, and then at noon I received a call. This time it wasn’t Himmelfarb.

“Alterman,” began a gruff, unmistakable voice on the other end, “this is Silverberg. I need your help with something right now.”

I shut the door. “Okay, Mr. Silverberg. What do you need? I have a closing today so can’t step away very long but will try to help out.”

“You won’t have to go far. I need you to close a deal for me on Palm Beach. Himmelfarb prepared all of the documents. You just need to go over there and sign them.”

“I need to sign them?”

“Yes. You’ve been appointed as Manager of Victoria Holdings II, LLC. Victoria Holdings II, LLC is buying a 100% interest in Victoria Partners LP. Victoria Partners LP owns a controlling interest in Victoria Gardens, LLC. And Victoria Gardens, LLC holds an important tract of real estate in the western part of the county. You need to go to the law offices of Graaf & Graaf, where the closing is being held. Sign the documents and bring the copies to me.”

The streets around my office were at a standstill on account of the crowds of protesters; an overweight police officer was trying to direct traffic while an irate middle-aged man waved a handmade poster in her face, as if she, as the closest thing to an authority figure around, had the power to correct his ballot. It took me twenty excruciating minutes to go the three blocks to the bridge. But once I got across the Intracoastal, the mood completely changed. The island of Palm Beach had the eerie peacefulness of a normal fall weekday. Nobody was on the streets, except for a few women in pastel dresses passing between the boutiques and restaurants. You would never have guessed that the presidency was being fought over just a couple of miles away.

The law offices of Graaf & Graaf were in a pale yellow one-story Mediterranean building just off of Worth Avenue, flanked by two royal palm trees. It seemed too calm for a place of business — it projected an air of being above the fray, not in it. I entered the office and was greeted by two tall, featureless gentlemen. These, then, were Graaf and Graaf. “Thank you for coming on such short notice,” the elder Graaf said as he shook my hand. “I realize this must be a chaotic day in West Palm, but our client was set on getting this closed today.”

I nodded politely and told them it wasn’t a problem.

“It’s a shame about that butterfly ballot mess,” commented the younger Graaf. “Still, it’s hard to believe that so many people filled it out incorrectly. I thought it was clear enough when I voted.”

“Yes, well, Palm Beach County is the most visually impaired county in the United States,” I replied, “by some measures.”

They showed me to a beige-walled conference room and presented me the papers to sign, while the secretary brought me a cup of coffee. Included with the legal documents was a check for me to sign on behalf of Victoria Holdings II, LLC, for more money than I had ever seen in my life. The signature pages all listed me as manager. I dutifully signed them all, and the secretary disappeared into the next room to make copies for my records. The whole affair took three minutes.

“Now that the deal’s done,” spoke the elder Graaf, closing the door, “I must say, I’m curious as to your interest in this property.”

“How so?”

“Well, it’s small and oddly-shaped.” He brought out a map of the county and ran his finger down the longitude and latitude to a precise point, and traced an oblong figure, scratching the paper with his effeminately manicured fingernail. “Here it is, like a gerrymandered congressional district. My client inherited it when his father’s property was divided up in a very irrational way. Obviously, we had nothing to do with that piece of succession planning. The parcel is undeveloped, not much use for anyone, unless they owned all of the adjacent properties. Of course, I had the county records checked to see if any of them had been purchased recently, but no transactions came up, so it doesn’t appear they have…”

The younger Graaf continued his sentence, “unless they were purchased at the holding company level, like this one.” They looked at me curiously.

“Well, I can’t really disclose my business partners’ other transactions.”

“Of course you can’t,” replied the elder Graaf. “We did look you up when we learned you’d be signing for Victoria Holdings. Didn’t find that much; obviously, you’re an associate over at Donovan & Woods, but they weren’t representing anyone in this deal, so that was a dead end. Your name did come up in a permit filing for a project over on Datura Avenue,” he struck his finger on the table, miles south of the edge of the map, “but that seems unrelated.”

“Again,” I repeated, more confused than ever about Silverberg’s plans, “I’m really not at liberty to discuss anything.”

“So you’re not,” the younger Graaf responded, “just our curiosity. In the meantime, our client’s happy to be rid of this albatross.”

The secretary came in with my copies, ending this strange encounter. I took them into my envelope and bid farewell to the Graafs.

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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.