Sounded like dirty work to me.

I fiddled with a rubber band, twirling it around. “Still, it sounds as if you don’t need a criminal specialist, so tell me what you want and why. I’ll tell you whether I can and will help you.” I shot the rubber band. It hit the window and landed on the sill on a pile of rubber bands.

CRAIG’S FOLLY BY GUNTHER BOCCIUS 34TH PARALLEL MAGAZINE ISSUE 88

Feet up on the desk, I was munching potato chips and flipping through Sports Illustrated. Well, just like that, through the door came this barrel-chested guy with a keg stomach and bushy, blond eyebrows, a broad smile, and the largest, meaty hands I’ve ever seen. “Hi, I’m Bob Campbell,” he said. Reaching across the desk he grabbed my wiry hand in his and pumped it so hard he nearly tipped me out of my chair. “I think I need your help.” Bob said.

A little nonplussed, I put my feet on the floor. Who was this guy?

“You an attorney? I was looking for Suite 313B. Zelda gave me the number.”

“Zelda?”

“Yeah, my wife Zelda. I know, I know, it’s from the 50s, but her dad insisted. His great-aunt was named Zelda. My wife’s brother did some B&E. Says you defended him. That true?”

“Names, Mr Campbell. I need names.”

“Call me Bob. Everyone does. Zelda’s brother’s name is Zeke Broadwine.”

“Zeke? Let me see, now. Zeke Broadwine, Zeke Broadwine... yeah, I did defend him. Got him off too, as I recall. Scot-free. He’d fenced the goods and the fence wouldn’t testify. ”

“Then you must be the man I’m looking for. I’d like you to do some work for my home building company.” He gave me his card.

“But I’m a criminal attorney,” I said.

“I realize that. But didn’t you get some corporate training in law school? Zelda says you are really good.”

“I’m flattered, Bob, really I am, but corporate is not what I do for a living.”

“How about if I pay you handsomely?”

“Handsomely is good. Tell me how ugly the work will have to be.”

Bob seemed impressed with me. “You get right to the point, don’t you?”

“Saves time. Time is money. Since you would be a paying client, I figure you’d appreciate that.”

I fiddled with a rubber band, twirling it around. “Still, it sounds as if you don’t need a criminal specialist, so tell me what you want and why. I’ll tell you whether I can and will help you.” I shot the rubber band. It hit the window and landed on the sill on a pile of rubber bands.

“Standard stuff to start. Procedural documents. Policy statements. Drafting agreements and revising them during negotiations.”

Bob watched for my reaction. “Once that works for both of us, I’ve got some more delicate jobs for you.” A sly smile slid across his face. Sounded like dirty work to me.

Bob continued. “All of this for your regular rate. Say $300 an hour? More for the delicate work.”

My regular rate was nowhere near $300 an hour. “Sounds good so far. Though I haven’t done a lot of the kind of work you propose, I think I’d be up to the challenge. Tell me more about the delicate work.”

“I’m negotiating with a family over some land rights. I need some detective work.”

Yeah, sure. Get the goods on them. Bob was both forthright and circumspect at the same time. I’d only known politicians, prostitutes, and bankers pull off that double play. Now I had to include land speculators. Come to think of it, maybe they’re all one and the same. I didn’t include lawyers because we also rationalize and, by nature of the judicial system, are confrontational, so that makes us different.

“Is legwork included?” I asked. “Paperwork requires mental gymnastics. Legwork involves perspiration. Different billable rates.”

I made this distinction due to my background. Money had always been important to me. Having ethics was good, searching for the truth was better, but having money was best.

As a kid I knew poverty firsthand. I didn’t like it. My packaging plant shift foreman father who died of a heart attack at the closing whistle after 32 years on the line, had told me, “Work hard. Be a man. God will provide.” My mother, in that small, timid voice of hers, said, “Son, be a good boy and make something of yourself. Say your prayers.” She died cleaning other people’s toilets when I was 15. I finished high school with Aunt Millie who’d just as soon I wasn’t there.

As I said, poverty sucked. Impatient to make a buck, I went on to law school. A classmate, Arnold Chatham III, had just joined Chatham and Chatham, the law firm of his grandfather since deceased and his father.

The Third and I got along well. I’m not too sure why. I guess it was a Mutt and Jeff kind of thing. Or maybe he liked my devastating sense of humor. Whatever.

He persuaded his father to take me on as a paralegal. One condition, I would have to specialize in criminal law, guaranteeing me a job with the firm when I got licensed, making me of some use to The Third and Dad in the bargain, since criminal law was what Chatham and Chatham did.

I served as their slave until I passed the Bar on my third try. Barely. It took me only two more years at C&C to realize I wasn’t going to get rich unless I was still there when all the Chathams were history. Too far into the future. I split, went out on my own, taking with me those contacts I’d made at C&C who might need more than criminal work, in spite of having to sign a “non-compete” agreement foisted on me by The Second, my name for The Third’s father.

“Legwork? Yeah, from time to time you’ll do some of that,” Bob said. “You’ll be paid according to hours worked and performance.” He winked. “If you do well, you’ll do well.”

I considered this for a moment. Bob would be a big client. Hell, he would be the biggest of all my clients, the total of which did not number more than all my fingers and toes put together, as it was. My balance sheet might finally balance in this third year of my solitary professional existence. There might be ethical issues and other unknowns, but I’m quick on my feet. I’ll handle them.

It was a good deal. My kind of deal. Still, it felt a little too easy. Why did he want me instead of someone more established?

“Why me?” I asked. “Was there anyone besides Zelda who recommended me?”

Bob smiled benignly, sat back in his chair and merged his fingers in a weave, placing them on his lap. “Nope,” he answered glibly. Too glibly.

It hit me. Zelda, whom I’d met once, and her brother. Zeke had fenced some jewelry he had stolen from an antiquities show. Not all of it had gone to the fence. At the time, my suspicions were that either the fence had kept the extra pieces as a form of vigorish or some of the pieces went to Zelda, or both. I had kept quiet. Zelda seemed a couple of slices short of a loaf if part of such a sting.

I’m guessing Zelda had endorsed me more because I could keep a secret than for my legal skills. Bob wanted something done on the hush-hush and I was his man.

I heard the door open in the outer office. Elena was back from her burrito lunch. I’d originally hired her as an ornamental receptionist. Over a couple of years she gained 40 pounds on non-leafy foods but learned a damn-sight lot of secretarial know-how.

“Elena, can you come in here, please?” Elena Sanchez waltzed in, pad in hand, light as a feather on thin, bowling-pin legs with a rotund upper body, reminiscent of Babe Ruth circling the bases after one of his mammoth home runs. She kept her jet-black hair in a severe bun swept back and pulled tight to her head by barrettes. I had only seen her hair down once. It changed her to an evocative woman almost unrecognizable from her everyday self. If it were not for Mr Sanchez and two bambinos I might have made a move on her.

“Elena, this is Bob Campbell of Hearth Stone Builders,” I said. “It appears as if we’re going to do some business. Could you bring us our standard contract for Mr Campbell to look at?”

Elena swept out of the door and back in an instant, a sheath of papers in her hand. She gave one set to Bob and the other set to me, still beaming. She was obviously happy for having something of substance to do, having conquered style long ago.

Bob flipped through the pages in a cursory fashion and signed and initialed the appropriate places. People who do that are either idiots or sure that their own well-paid attorney will not split legal hairs on the contract which binds the two of them together. Bob was not an idiot, I’d wager.

We signed and exchanged the documents. I called Elena in to notarize our signatures.

Bob reached into a brown leather briefcase I hadn’t noticed, took out some thick folders and handed them to me. “Look these over, please,” he said. No further explanation.

Bob’s file tabs read “Glover”, “Heritage Oaks”, and “A Hydrology Analysis for Serendipity Canyon” by a geologist named John Henson. No firm name. Strange. Like other consultants and unlike attorneys, I imagined soil guys stuck together, rarely hanging out their own professional shingle. This guy was on his own. Bizarre.

“What do you want me to do with these?”

Bob got up and said, “They’re self-explanatory. Once you’ve looked them over, let’s talk. There’s some paperwork you’ll do first and then there’ll be legwork. I need more information on Sally Glover. She’s in the files. It should be obvious what I want you to find out about her.” Another of those damn benign smiles.

“Goodbye,” he said. His huge paw was in my face before I realized it. My hand went up more in self-defense than to shake his, though that’s what I ended up doing. Bob was out my office door as fast as he’d arrived.

I turned slowly and went to the window. My lanky frame, 170 pounds for six feet tall, all guts and elbows, drew a thin silhouette on the glass. Ichabod Crane is what I’d been called in high school, though I saw myself as a young Jimmy Stewart.

Being a worry-wart and an inconsistent diet had given me a gaunt, angular look. My mirror image seemed like someone else.

I felt like a bruiser, a handsome devil, fully capable of anything that came my way. The out-of-the-blue sale of my services for top dollar was all it took. The look of money and a gift of gab would make me into a stud. Onwards and upwards.

As I stood at the sixth floor window of this all-glass structure made popular in the 70s with its great view of the Capitol Building in the distance, I looked down at the sidewalk below. My eyes were only inches from the other side of this window. If I were out there, gravity would smash my head on the pavement in only seconds. A tingling sensation filtered through my groin and lower back.

Fear of heights? Naw! Just the same, an involuntary reflex pulled me away from the window. I sat back in my chair, a bead of sweat breaking out on my forehead.

Flying too close to the sun on wings set in wax, melting?

GUNTHER BOCCIUS

Life is simple. Right from birth my basic instinct was to survive. My DNA wanted to strive and to thrive. Life is brief but there is always time to heed Bing Crosby’s “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, don’t mess with Mister In-Between”. To do as well as possible for yourself you have to reach out to help others. I wrote my self-published first novel In Apparent Contradiction about the balance between the environment and development. My self-published second novel The Fifth Device is a story about corporate malfeasance bottling water in Northern California. I produced 10 more compelling books without being published. I grabbed a wine steward job to sustain myself and switched to writing short stories.