A Surprise Meeting


Cover image courtesy of Nina

John Goldman was not looking forward to the rest of the afternoon. Lunch would be unpleasant, even though his family chose to eat in a nice looking establishment. They were not dressed for the occasion and their behavior was lacking couth. When John agreed to accompany them at the Stevenson Building, he was hoping that the Elegant Nibble, the restaurant located inside, was as good as its reputation. Perhaps some of the food was excellent but his mother, Rose, insisted on ordering for everyone and her choice was corned beef and cabbage without salt and mashed potatoes without butter or gravy.

When the waiter brought the food, John asked, “Is there a salt shaker I could use?”

Rose yelled, “Your uncle Harold can’t have salt because of his diabetes and you’re going to eat the same thing we all are!”

Harold said, “Salt’s not good for you, anyway.”

Harold’s wife, Thelma, said, “I hate salt.”

Harold and Thelma’s daughter, Christine, said, “And I hate butter and gravy. Thanks, Aunt Rose. You picked a great meal.”

Rose said, “My stupid son doesn’t think so. He likes spices and pepper and things that are bad for you.”

John said, “Our bodies need a certain amount of salt.”

Rose said, “We get along fine without it.”

Several cockroaches crawled on the table. Harold said, “Oh, damn! I probably should have worn my clean shirt here. But I was too tired to change my clothes.”

Thelma said, “Your pants have a large hole in the front and your shirt looks dirty.”

Harold yelled, “Shut up! I don’t want anyone to know I brought cockroaches here!”

Christine said, “They know it now. You yelled loud enough.”

Harold backed up his wheelchair. “l’m leaving. Thank you for embarrassing me.” He crashed into several tables, knocking off napkins and utensils, as he headed outside.

Rose said, “John, I want you to be quiet and eat. You upset Harold. His appointment at the hospital is in an hour and now his blood pressure might be going up and they’ll make him stay overnight. You remember the last time that happened. He panicked.”

John got up and walked out of the restaurant. He would not be able to finish eating such bland food, especially while listening to his mother complain. She wore an old dress with food stains on it. Thelma wore a trench coat buttoned and John was not sure there were clothes underneath. Christine wore a long loose sweatshirt and drawstring pants several sizes too big. She had to hold them up while walking. Even if the Goldmans’ bland taste in food and clothing choices were enough to make John irritated with them, their attitude did not help the situation. Plus, they were all over three hundred and fifty pounds. John managed to stay slim. He attributed that to his not living with his family.

He did not see his uncle outside. That was a relief. Harold would often ride around town in his wheelchair, bumping into parked cars and store fronts. Sometimes he missed his doctor appointments because he preferred to avoid hospitals. John was hoping his uncle would make it to the hospital and be kept overnight. Harold could be very annoying and deserved to feel uncomfortable.

There were other businesses inside the Stevenson Building. Some were law offices and John saw a number of well dressed people walking by as he had entered. If he could have one wish, his family would not be so awkwardly out of place with everything around them. If another wish was granted, he would know the world of good looking people. He imagined they lived in pleasant neighborhoods and relaxed when they came home. John lived a block away from his family in an area where most everyone was married and unfriendly. He had a few friends whom he knew since high school but his days were otherwise unremarkable. An exciting night for him was watching a favorite show on television.

As he stood outside, he thought about just walking. A few blocks away, across the street, was a huge building with tile designs on the front. He did not know its name but he thought he could get closer and enjoy its appearance. He decided to do so.

Suddenly, a woman approached him. She must have come from the building and was crossing the street to his side but he had not noticed her until she was close to him with her hand extended. She smiled and said, “Hello.”

He noticed she was dressed in a button blouse with rolled up sleeves, tucked into belted slacks. She dressed really well and he was amazed she wanted anything to do with him. Was this one of his wishes coming true? He extended his hand also and said, “Hello.”

She grabbed his hand and shook. Her grip was firm. She asked, “How do you do? My name is Janet.”

He said, “Hi. I’m John.”

“Nice to meet you, John. Are you doing anything special right now?”

“I’m supposed to wait for my family. They’re eating lunch. But I decided to just look at that building.” He pointed across the street.

“It is a nice building, isn’t it? I work there. I’m a lawyer. The firm is Baker, Marvin and Krantz. I’m Janet Baker.”

“Okay. How is it like working there? I’ve never met any lawyers.”

She laughed. “Well, now you get to spend time with one. I’m supposed to meet a client at the Elegant Nibble but I think I’m going to cancel the meeting. Do you want to walk there with me so I can tell him I have other plans?”

“That’s where my family is eating lunch. I hope they don’t embarrass me.”

“I’ll leave the choice up to you. We can do something else if you’d like.”

“That sounds better than anything that would have happened today. But I don’t want you to lose your client because of me.”

“It’s not him I’d be worried about losing. I’m worried about losing you.”

He noticed she was still shaking his hand. Did lawyers generally give long handshakes? He wondered why she approached him. Was he involved in a case in which he had not been informed? He tried letting go of her hand but she squeezed tighter.

She stopped the shaking motion but still held tight. She asked, “What’s going on?”

“I’m wondering when you’ll let go.”

“That’s out of the question.”

He was puzzled but intrigued. He felt like he should trust her. For someone like her to keep a tight grip on his hand must be a sign he was moving up in the world and she was doing something that needed done. If she had not approached him, he would be with his family, probably looking for Harold who could have his wheelchair stuck in a ditch or involved in another difficult situation. He much preferred the company of Janet Baker. The moment was surreal but, oddly enough, not more so than any time spent with the Goldmans. He said, “I’m sorry if I offended you. This is new for me.”

She shrugged. “You’re fine. I have a plan and I think everything will work out.”

He said, “In that case, I trust you. Would you prefer going somewhere else or meeting your client?”

“I really don’t care about him but I’m curious about your family. We don’t have to talk to them but I would like to see what they look like.”

“Well, they are unique. Okay, let’s do it.”

They walked into the Stevenson Building and entered the Elegant Nibble. The waiter nodded. He said, “Hello, Miss Baker. I remember this gentleman. He was just here with another party.”

Janet asked, “Are they still here?”

The waiter said, “They left a minute ago.”

John said, “It’s better that they left. I’m sure you’re glad too.”

The waiter laughed. “I’ve dealt with worse. Miss Baker, where would you like to sit?”

Janet said, “I’m looking for Oliver Bentley. May I see if he’s here?”

“That’s fine.”

Oliver was sitting at a table near the back of the restaurant. He was bald and wore glasses. He had on overalls and a short sleeved plaid shirt. As Janet and John approached him, he said, “I’m glad you made it. I was worried.”

Janet said, “Our appointment is for two o’clock. The time is two o’clock exactly.”

“Okay. I like to show up early because otherwise I’d show up late.”

“No problem. I thought I would need to cancel our appointment but I guess if there’s no new developments we can discuss everything briefly.”

Oliver frowned. “You’re the one who would know. What you said sounded strange. What would we need to discuss if there’s nothing new to add?”

“It’s just semantics. I mean that I wouldn’t have time to go over anything really complicated now but we can talk briefly.”

“On the contrary, I would like to hope that if there was anything complicated that needed fixing, we discuss it right now.”

“Spencer Tilden is suing you for ten thousand dollars because of that picture you took of him in his front yard.”

Oliver shook his fist. “I thought you said you’d talk him out of that. I don’t have that kind of money. I took a picture of his rose garden because I wrote a poem and the picture would fit perfectly with it. I sent it to the East Hudson Gazette, the smallest throwaway paper in town. His foot managed to be in the picture. Big deal. It’s a picture of some roses with a poem posted by it. Who does he think he is?”

Janet nodded. “His best friend is Peter Marvin, the brother of Luke Marvin of our law firm. The three of them are involved in a multi-million dollar thing and Peter convinced Luke to help Spencer.”

“That’s just great. And who’s this fellow with you? Why are you holding his hand like that? Are you secretly recording me with a microphone?”

John said, “I’m just here to listen.”

Oliver said, “That’s strange. That sounds like if you saw a stranger in your house and you asked what’s he doing there and he said he was just looking around. I’m not sure what to think.”

Janet sighed. “That’s why I didn’t want to go over anything complicated now. He and I are together and it’s a better situation than what you’re going through.”

“Now, that is crazy. You’re saying that I’m getting sued and the fellow suing me is in cahoots with your partner and, for some reason, that’s not important to me? What if I was laying on the ground, bleeding, and you saw me? Would that be not important?”

John said, “I really don’t know what I’m doing here. I’m just with Janet.”

Oliver said, “That sounds like the stranger who entered your house, saying he doesn’t know what he’s doing there. He just followed his feet.”

Janet said, “I can reimburse you for the amount you paid for this meeting.”

“I didn’t pay anything!”

“I know. That’s why I can reimburse you.” She laughed.

“Oh, what a time for jokes. Ha ha.”

Janet stood up and so did John. Janet said, “I know where we have to go.”

They walked away from the table. As they were walking out, Oliver yelled, “I guess there’s a conspiracy going on!”

They walked across the street, towards where Janet worked. She said, “I might as well go in the office and tell everybody what’s developed. What Mr. Bentley said may have some validity. There could be a conspiracy that I need to understand.”

John was not sure what she meant. Maybe the handshake was part of the plan, whatever it was. Perhaps she needed to present the appearance of someone closing a deal and the best way to make everything official was to shake hands with a person who was witnessing the event. Regardless of why she remained attached to him, he realized how lucky he was for escaping his family. She was helping him as much as he was helping her.

They walked in the office. There were a number of men and women reading files. Janet looked specifically at a man who seemed, according to John, more like an actor than a lawyer. Janet said, “Luke, we need to talk.”

Luke Marvin eyed her suspiciously. He asked, “Pertaining to what?”

Janet shook her head. “There’s a lot of things. I just saw Oliver Bentley. I told him what you said about Spencer Tilden wanting to sue. He didn’t take it well.”

Luke shrugged. “Poor baby.”

“We both know Mr. Tilden only wants to sue for ten dollars, not ten thousand. This is wrong.”

“He wants to sue because he thinks Bentley scared Tilden’s dog with the camera flash. He’s into it more for principle. I’m not. I don’t like Bentley. I want to scare him. If I can get him to shell out ten grand, I’ll give Tilden the ten and my brother and I can split the rest.”

“You know why I went into this business, correct?”

Luke grinned. “You went in because your dad, Steven Baker, put up the money.”

“That’s true but I at least stay true to protocol. You break every rule you can.”

Luke pointed at John. “Why are you gripping that man’s hand so tight?”

“I met him across the street by the Stevenson Building.”

“That would explain it.”

Janet shook her head. “There’s something I’m not being told and I’m tired of trying to figure it out.”

“That’s easy, then. Don’t try.”

“I just came in to say I’m not planning on coming back.”

“Have fun.”

Janet walked quickly, pulling John outside with her. She said, “I do consider him a friend. He’s not always this smug. There’s just something I sense about our law firm. It’s a feeling I’ve had for a while. Maybe you can understand.”

John said, “What I understand is I’ve never had a woman shake my hand while wearing a good looking outfit. None of the women I ever knew wore their shirts tucked in. They’re all older women who are friends with my mother and uncle.”

“I’ve never worn my shirt not tucked in.”

“That’s interesting. Why is that?”

“My mother dressed me when I was little and always tucked in my shirt. Then, I went to private school where that style was mandatory. Then, I worked a few jobs, one as a guidance counselor and one at a restaurant and one as a security guard, all of which had uniform shirts. Now, as a lawyer, I think it’s appropriate work attire.”

“So, you never just relaxed during the weekend wearing a loose oversized shirt?”


“Well, you’re the opposite of my family. Just getting them to wear clean clothes is a chore.”

She nodded. “As we get to know each other better, you’ll see I’m more of an idealist than a fashionista. I do pick out what I want to wear in the morning but then I don’t think about it. I’m more into deeper questions about life. I’m trying to get at the essence of things.”

“Are you creative? Do you write stories?”

“I know how to play piano and I’ve written songs. I wrote a few poems in high school.”

John nodded. “I’m a writer. I used to live with my family but then my grandfather died and left us a lot of money and I’m using my share to pay rent in my apartment. The only place really affordable was a block away from my mother’s place. My uncle lives next door to her and they bother each other. I found that, when I moved on my own, I had story ideas based on family situations.”

“That sounds interesting. I’d like to read some of your work.”

“The stories are at my house, if you would like to come over.”

“I would like that. If you don’t mind, though, I want to see Spencer Tilden. When Luke told me he wanted to gouge Oliver Bentley out of ten grand, I wondered if Mr. Tilden had any say in it and if he put Luke up to the plan.”

“Do you think Tilden really wants ten thousand dollars?”

“I want to find out.”

“Okay. Can you clue me in on why I’m involved?”

She shook her head. “You don’t have to be involved in that. You’re involved with me. We’re together for another reason and I don’t want to explain it yet.”

“Why? Is it complicated?”

“No. I don’t want to voice the reason and make it concrete.”

“Does that mean you’re questioning what you’re doing?”

“I’m not questioning it. I know we are going to stay like this. But I don’t want to put too much to the test. I need to focus on talking with Mr. Tilden before concentrating on us.”

“I’ll accept that.” John was not sure yet how he would act when they continued attached after a few more hours. Since he had not dealt with anyone of her high quality before, he figured he would have to trust that what he was experiencing, however unusual it may be, was a step up in his experience.


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