January 8, 2023

Double Bubble Chapter 6: Mr. Sad Sack

This entry is part 6 of 14 in the series Double Bubble

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Back on the street, I’m feeling like Dante regaining the world of light after touring the nine circles of hell. Katrina’s shop wasn’t on his tour, but it could have been.

I’m still trying to re-acclimate when my Uber arrives. I climb in, close the door, and smile politely at the driver, who nods in return. He’s not a talker, which is rare. He pulls out into traffic without a word. He has the radio on, but it’s low enough not to be annoying. It isn’t exactly a mausoleum of silence, but it will do.

My clothes are damp from the humidity of Katrina’s shop, and the air conditioning in the car quickly cools my skin. I shiver.

There is a swarm of cars on Bank Street now, inching their way downtown. I look at my watch. It’s ten to twelve. At the speed we’re moving, I’ll arrive just in time to be late.

I love this city, but it has become a mess of inefficient traffic systems that penalize anyone who chooses to leave their house, whether by foot, by bike, or by car. It doesn’t help that I’m an enthusiastic road rager and loathe being stopped or stuck in traffic. I’m like Michael Douglas in Falling Down, I just want to get out of the car and take a baseball bat to someone’s windshield.

Being stuck in traffic feels oppressive, but not like being at Katrina’s shop. I lingered there only long enough to be pleasant but not long enough for her to go crazy again. And she is crazy. And now she’s my client. What luck.

Not that I regret taking on Katrina’s case. Regrets are for losers.

But I am rattled. Rattled that I didn’t say a peep the whole time the Terror was there. Rattled that I couldn’t think on my feet. Rattled that I stood there frozen, my pants around my ankles, my putz in my hand, my mouth open, and my mind closed. Like a rookie. Worse, like a has-been.

I used to be better than that. I used to be better than him. And now I am not. Now I’m just a guy who works for crooks and crazies. And that’s not the worst of it. The worst is I can see him now, back at the office, prancing around like a show pony, telling anyone who will listen that he saw me today, a ham-and-egger slumming for crackpots. He will be dining out on this for weeks. I fucking hate him. I really fucking hate him.

And I need to beat him. And if I’m going to do that, I’m going to have to do a lot fucking better than I did today. I can’t expect my client to chase the Terror away every time we’re in a goddamn room together. I need to prepare for the next time. I need to be ready for the next round.

My phone buzzes. Only a handful of people have my cellphone number, and those who do, don’t typically text. I pull it out of my pocket, but I already know who it’s going to be. A part of me knew the second I saw Terrence. It’s part of the reason I’m so fucking rattled. And feeling self-conscious. And worthless. There’s only one person whose opinion matters to me and only one person I have tried to hide from for more than a year.

And now she’s texting me. Ashley Parker.

And here I thought tangling with the Terror was going to be the most terrifying part of my day. I unlock my phone and thumb over to my messages.

Her: Caused quite a stir this morning.

Me: Oh?

Her: TT is livid. Fit to be tied.

Me: If I only had a rope.

Her: LOL

My face flushes. I can see her sitting at her desk, smiling. I have always loved making her smile. I miss making her smile. My heart is racing. I’m thrilled she’s reached out, but I am also feeling guilty. Like I have manipulated the situation. Manipulated her back into my life. I didn’t, of course. It was Terrence and his loudmouth. But still, I knew he would talk to her about me. And I secretly hoped she would reach out after he did. And she has. And I guess I should be happy.

I resist the urge to type again. I need to play it cool. Aloof. I remind myself that she reached out to me. I’m allowed to let the conversation drift. Not that I will. Not now that she’s opened the door again. But I don’t want to seem needy. She hates that.

All I can do is stare at my phone and hope she will start typing again. But she doesn’t. And then she does. The three little dots animate and march in the bubble on my screen, and now I’m smiling. I can’t help it. My phone is silent, but I can hear the voooowhump sound in my head as her message arrives.

Her: He’s super hyped about this case…

Me: No surprise. He probably jerked off after seeing the coroner’s photos. Fucking deviant.

Her: LOL

Her: He’s definitely wound up that you were there

Me: Oh?

Her: Ya. He hasn’t shut up. He said he was surprised to see you.

Me: He wasn’t the only one. Ha.

Me: He’s a dick. I’m going to enjoy kicking his ass.

She doesn’t respond. Maybe I went too far or misjudged her loyalty. She does work with the guy. The silence is making my heart hurt. But then she starts typing again. The three little dots start. Stop. Start again.

Her: I dunno. He sounded pretty confident.

Me: So you’re taking his side?

Her: Don’t be like that. You know how I feel.

No, actually, I don’t. If I did, maybe I wouldn’t be here.

Me: Whatever. He doesn’t have a case. Just some photos. There’s no motive. He’s going to lose.

The three dots again. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. This isn’t fun anymore. I’m tense. My head is throbbing. I don’t want to be angry with her, but I am. I should have waited to respond to her texts.

Me: What?

Her: Nothing.

Me: Not nothing. What?

Her: I shouldn’t.

Me: Shouldn’t what.

Three dots. Her response is taking forever.

Her: I guess it’s not a secret.

Me: What’s not a secret?

Three dots. Fucking hell. It’s like pulling teeth.

Her: It’s just…TT spoke to the business partner.

Business partner. What business partner?

Me: Who?

Her: The dead guy’s business partner. He was crowing about it all day yesterday.

Fucking text messages. I try to check my irritation. Remind myself that this isn’t her fault. She’s in the middle. She’s always been in the middle.

Me: Who’s the business partner?

Three dots.

Her: I can’t…

Me: Can’t or won’t.

Her: Don’t do that. You know I can’t.

Me: Because it’s me?

Three dots.

Her: Not fair.

Me: It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.

Her: I’m sorry.

Me: No problem. It’s all good.

No dots, only silence this time. I think maybe she’s gone, but then she starts typing again.

Her: Sorry, gotta go.

And this time, she’s gone. I miss her already.

I’ve been on this case for all of five minutes, and I’m already drowning. Danny had a business partner? Neither Katrina nor Jean had said anything about a business partner. Not that I had asked. I don’t know how it matters except that it obviously does. Fucking hell.

I obsessively read through the texts again. Ashley only mentioned the business partner after I said Terrence couldn’t win without motive. That’s because, in an insurance case, the law presumes that people don’t kill themselves. The presumption is old and, let’s be honest, probably antiquated, but that’s how it is. That presumption is the one thing I have going for me.

Without a motive, First National can’t win. The legal burden is on them to prove Danny had a good reason to kill himself. That he wanted to die. I assume he didn’t.

And it isn’t just me. I had met the only two women in his life this morning, and neither one of them had accepted the possibility that Danny killed himself. Sure, Jean thought Katrina was a murderer, but that was altogether different than saying her son had killed himself.

And sure, Katrina hadn’t actually told me what she thought had happened, and I was so busy getting the hell out of there that I hadn’t thought to ask. Still, I have to think from the fact that she hired me that she doesn’t believe Danny killed himself either. And if they don’t think he did, odds were he hadn’t.

Granted, I didn’t know the guy very well. I certainly didn’t know he had a business partner. Or at least I didn’t know he had a business partner who wasn’t his girlfriend. But if the Terror was crowing all day yesterday about Danny’s business partner, I have to assume the news isn’t good for me or my case. Fucking hell.

I open a browser and do a quick search for Danny. The first result is his obituary.

I open it and scan it quickly. It’s with heavy hearts we mourn the passing of our dear Daniel Piggott, blah, blah, blah. He will be lovingly remembered by his mother, Jean Piggott and his friends, blah, blah, blah. There is a list of some names of people I vaguely remember from high school. And then I see it. Vivian Landers, his business partner. Hello, Vivian. The third woman in his life. Funny, the other two never mentioned her. I guess some guys have all the luck.

I search her name but get back 700,000 hits. I add Danny’s name to the search, and it immediately narrows down the results. There’s a photo of her and Danny. They are both smiling and, I’m relieved to see, both fully clothed. I click on it, and it opens a corporate site for something called the Helping Hand Sex Toy Company. I had no idea Danny owned or operated a sex toy company, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

I see a number and start to dial but stop myself. If the Terror was crowing about his call with Vivian, she may already be in his back pocket. And let’s not forget that neither Jean nor Katrina had even mentioned Vivian. Or that everyone in Danny’s life was apparently fucking crazy.

If I call her, she can just hang up and not speak to me. I’d rather not give her the chance. I’m still debating what to do when we pull up in front of my office. Time to think about that later.

I put my phone away, thank the driver, get out of the car, and head up the walkway to my office.

There’s a man standing out front. He’s leaning casually against the wall, sucking on a vape pen. He’s a shabby, stubby-looking man, not much dirtier than a newly picked farm potato. He pulls himself off the wall when he sees me. He tries to stand himself up straight but only manages to look more crooked. His brown suit is as threadbare and thin as the brown hair on his head. His face is sallow, and his eyes are sad. I don’t need an introduction to know this is Eddie’s friend and my new client, Mr. Sad Sack.

“Willy?” he says in a kind of sing-songy, made-for-TV, golly gee shucks kinda voice that was already out of fashion when my grandfather was still in diapers.

“You’re?”

“My name’s Rodney, sir. I’m a friend of Eddie’s. He told me to drop by. Said you could handle a case for me.”

I nod.

The sir is new. Eddie’s referrals are usually lowlifes he has scraped off the bottom of his shoe. Mr. Sad Sack has fallen on hard times, but not hard enough to be a lowlife. I wonder where Eddie found this guy. Not that it matters.

I move past him to unlock the door. I push it open, and he follows me inside.

My office opens into a reception area. A few couches and tables no one sits at with some old magazines no one reads. There’s a reception desk, chair, and phone, but I don’t have a receptionist.

The whole setup is a front for clients who seem to think you aren’t a real lawyer unless you have a reception area. It’s theatre. But I tried it the other way and got nothing but complaints from the few clients I actually have. All of them going on and on about what kind of lawyer I was, and what kind of message did it send, and what did it say about them that they hired a lawyer like me, and so on and so forth.

Never mind that none of them are ever in the reception area long enough to so much as break wind; it seems that having a reception area is important to their self-image and self-respect and, apparently, is the minimal viable product for someone in my industry.

We continue on to my office, Mr. Sad Sack and me.

I flick on the lights, gesture to the visitor chair on the other side of my desk and move over to sit at mine. The message light on my phone is blinking: three missed calls and two voicemails.

I ignore those for the moment and sit down. Mr. Sad Sack sits and waits.

At least he knows enough not to run his mouth. That’s what I like about Eddie. The people he refers me may be lowlifes, but they all seem to get the same briefing before they arrive — show up on time, shut your mouth, and follow instructions.

I pull open my desk drawer and haul out the bottle of Advil. I pop off the top, dump two in my mouth, and wash them down with this morning’s cold coffee. I throw the Advil back in the drawer and look over at Mr. Sad Sack. Not for the first time today, I wonder how in the hell I ended up here. He’s probably thinking the same thing about me.

“So,” I say after I take another swig of cold coffee. “Tell me about the accident.”

And like that, Rodney is off, another bad actor who can barely remember his lines. He says all the things he is supposed to say but only just. A few times, he has to check the ink stains on the palm of his hand for details — a real genius is our man Rodney — but I can work with that.

Everyone Eddie sends me is clean. No prior accidents, no prior criminal records. That doesn’t make the work any less dirty.

“Got a job Rodney,” I say.

“Ya,” he says, still working that golly gee shucks voice.

“Ya,” I say. “What is it you do, exactly?”

I can already guess the answer.

“I work as an accountant. Or at least I did, you know, until the accident.”

“Uh huh,” I say.

I should be surprised, but I’m not. I try to think whether Eddie has ever sent me an accountant before, but I think I would remember if he had. I’ve met an accountant or two in my life, and I have no hesitation in saying Rodney is not an accountant. But I don’t press him on the point because I know he’ll eventually produce the necessary papers to substantiate his claims. All of Eddie’s clients have the necessary paper to substantiate their claims.

“Can’t go back to work, huh?” I say.

“It’s the pain,” he says, trying to sound like he hadn’t rehearsed the line on the way over here.

That’s the thing about personal injury law. Everyone wants to tell you about their pain and suffering, but the fact is pain and suffering is not worth a nickel in comparison to lost wages. The first guy Eddie referred me was some old retired guy. Probably homeless. I settled the claim for what it was worth, but Eddie was not at all pleased with the result.

I pushed back and told Eddie that I wasn’t a goddamn magician and that I couldn’t make a silk purse with the dog shit he had sent me. I suggested to him that if he had any real friends with real jobs in real accidents who couldn’t go back to work, maybe the next time, I could get them some real money.

I’m not a magician, but apparently, Eddie is.

The next referral he sent over was a guy who had back pain and was employed. I think that guy was a mechanic. The next was a woman who worked as a clerk. Then a nurse. And so on. You get the point. No more bums. No more retired folk. After my conversation with Eddie, it was all salt-of-the-earth types with easily verifiable employment. I never asked Eddie about it. I never asked any of his friends about it. I didn’t want to know.

“Alright,” I say. “Sounds like you’ve got a case.”

I reach into another drawer and pull out a standard form retainer agreement. Rodney is probably illiterate, but it doesn’t matter because he’s not at all interested in reading any of the forms. He just signs where I tell him to sign and smiles stupidly at me while he’s doing it. Apparently, he thinks we’re friends. Paperwork done, I tell him I’ll be in touch. I don’t bother showing him the way out.

After he’s gone, I push his file to the side of my desk, loosen my tie, and hit play on my voicemail.

The first is a message from Jean wanting to know if I had spoken to the woman yet. Yes, Jean, I have. And I thank you for the referral. I hit the delete key. The next message is from Terrence.

“Hey buddy. Really good to see you today. Like a blast from the past. Man, I didn’t even know you were still practicing law. It’s been too long. Let’s grab a drink and catch up. Give me a ring. Ciao.”

I play it again two more times before hitting the delete key. The guy’s a prick. I really fucking hate him.

I stand up and stretch. I’m getting too old for this shit. But at least the Advil is starting to kick in.

I need a shower, a change of clothes, and a game plan. I need to get to work. I need to see a woman about a sex toy company. And I need to figure out how to tell Jean I’m working for Katrina.

That’s my life now. Suicide, sex, and psychopaths.

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