A Country for Old Men

By on Apr 22, 2018 in Featured, Fiction

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Silverberg lived on Singer Island, overlooking the Intracoastal.  I was expecting a mansion befitting a rea- estate tycoon, but as I turned into the driveway I was vaguely disappointed to find a nondescript two-story house. No gates, no fountains, no private road. I knocked on the door, only half-expecting a servant.

“It’s open,” came a voice from inside the house. I let myself in, detecting a slight mildew smell. The foyer was dimly lit, as was the rest of the house, with a massive Japanese screen placed oddly in the middle of the room. “In here, Alterman,” came a voice from down the hall. I maneuvered around the screen through a hallway filled with Asian artifacts.  Himmelfarb would later tell me that Morty and Ava were great collectors of Oriental art.

When I arrived in Silverberg’s study, I could barely see the man, the piles of paper on and around his desk were so massive. I would have asked to sit in the chair facing his desk, but it was buried under a stack of documents three feet high. This paper trail of his whole career – his whole life, really – seemed to be haphazardly piled around this dank, windowless room. I idly stared at one of the towers, which stood just below eye level on a dusty bureau.  On top of the contracts and maps and title reports was a newspaper clipping. As I looked closer, I saw it was an obituary, for Isaac “Ike” Greenblatt, 1901 – December 5, 1982, of Newark. He was survived by his wife, three children and five grandchildren, and had owned a men’s clothing store. There was a yellowing picture of a smiling, spectacled old man. I pictured him alive as I stared at the obituary, and as I did so I felt as if his spirit flickered back into existence for a brief moment before returning to the eternal blackness. I wondered if Silverberg still remembered why he had cared about the passing of Ike Greenblatt.

“So, you closed the deal, Alterman?” Silverberg called.

“Yes, here are the papers…” he abruptly snatched them from my hand. He studied them intently, nodding every couple of pages.

“Good,” he muttered, “good, good… Nice work, Alterman,” he said without looking at me, as he tucked the papers about a third of the way down the pile on the chair.

“Thanks. It was nothing really, I just…”

“It’s good to have someone you can trust to handle these matters. I used to put my trust completely in Farb, but I think he’s slipping. Do you think he’s slipping?”

“I couldn’t really say, I’ve just known him a few weeks. I can’t…”

“I called him today, and he just kept going on about his ear infection, and how he was afraid he accidentally voted for Buchanan. He’s slipping. And now I hear that Friedman’s out of the deal altogether. That old codger is always so cautious. Anyhoo, have a seat, Alterman.”

I looked at the chair covered in papers. “Thanks, I’m okay to stand.”

“Of course you are; you’re young. Remind me, you’re at which firm now?”

“Donovan and Woods.”

“Yes, of course. How are things going there?”

I suddenly thought back to the office and the project I had left behind. “Not bad, I’m getting some good experience. I should probably be heading back to the office now….”

“Of course, you probably have some closing or something or other today. All right, then, Alterman, thanks for your good work once again.”

I drove back to the office, trying hard not to look at the dashboard clock. I knew I had been out for at least two hours with no explanation, the day that a massive project was finishing. I didn’t even have the wherewithal to come up with a decent excuse. I kept replaying the inevitable conversation with Clyde in my head, and the best I could do was “Something personal came up.” I was so anxious now that I had missed my turnoff to the office and had to drive two more blocks down Okeechobee before I could make a U-turn, costing me at least four minutes. How crucial these minutes all seemed, and yet only a short while ago I was in a parallel world with its own logic, where none of these deadlines mattered, where my job at the firm merely existed to pass time between mysterious errands. And for what? I had been acting out of fear. I was intimidated by Silverberg; he seemed to be of a higher stature than those I encountered in my everyday life. I was afraid of disappointing him and was also vaguely nervous about getting on his bad side. And, while all those concerns still existed, I realized I was more afraid of losing my actual job. A new idea occurred to me as I made the U-turn back towards the office: a confession. Telling them that I knew I had been neglecting my duties, I had been distracted by a side venture, but I was breaking that off now, and nothing of the sort would ever happen again. On Monday I would call up Himmelfarb and tell him I was done doing Silverberg’s errands. I felt a mix of terror and resolve as I marched through the lobby.

The office was deathly quiet. The voicemail light on my phone was off; nobody had called. I saw Clyde sitting in his office, the lights half-off, reading Golf Digest. “Alterman!” he called to me, casually. “I guess you saw the email. You just get back from lunch?”

I realized I hadn’t eaten. “Yes, sorry I was out longer than usual.”

“No big deal. I spoke with the client just now. They probably won’t resolve these new title issues until mid-next week. You might as well start your weekend early. Everyone else has.”

I told him I would stay for a few hours to take care of some less urgent items I had been postponing while focusing on this deal.

“Smart,” he replied, distractedly, and went back to his magazine.

3

On a slow Thursday morning in March I was reviewing some title documents when I saw my phone lighting up. It was Landry.

“Nathan, I need you to come into my office right now.” It was a strange request, because, being in practice groups, we never worked together. I felt like I was being called down to the principal’s office.

When I arrived, Landry was seated by his computer; an email covered the screen.

“Nathan, have you been representing Morty Silverberg?”

“Representing him?  No, I just…”

“Are you president of an entity called Datura Partners IX, LLC?” I stood for a moment, not answering. “Nathan, we’re filing motion on behalf of the county to file an injunction against Silverberg’s holding company. Right as I’m about to send it to the court, I get a call from this guy Himmelfarb, saying we can’t file it, because we’ve got a conflict of interest. Tells us Silverberg is a client of the firm.”

“I… Silverberg’s a family friend. I helped him file a couple of documents.”

“Filed documents? Was that what you were doing at the courthouse?”

“Look, I didn’t bring the firm into it. I was just helping out a family friend. I didn’t charge him anything, never signed an engagement letter.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Landry muttered, more to himself than to me. “We’re conflicted out. We’re off of this case. We may be able to patch this up with the client eventually, but this is a fuck-up of epic proportions. You’re on unpaid leave until we figure this out. My secretary Barb will escort you out of the office.”

Barb hovered over me as I collected my things from the office and showed me out past reception to the elevator. Through my panicked thoughts, I remembered, for some reason, I’d left the turkey sandwich I brought for lunch in the break room refrigerator. How long would it stay there until someone threw it out? It occurred to me that this sandwich might be the last surviving relic of my legal career.

Barb saw me to my car, which I realized I could probably no longer afford, gave me a terse goodbye, and walked back to the elevator.

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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.