Sunday, October 22, 2017
Chapter Four: The Adventures of an American Misanthrope
To paraphrase Winston Churchill, to me lawyers and what they do have always been a riddle, wrapped inside a mystery inside of an enigma. Luckily, until my divorce I never did anything stupid enough to require their services. I'm not knocking lawyers, it's just that their profession is more abstract and nuanced than my glorified bruised-knuckle mechanic mind can comprehend. Then again, no one would ever confuse me with an insightful and forward thinking person. The prime example of my inability to metaphorically see beyond the tip of my own nose being my years working at Tightlock Corporation.
So, despite my admiration of the man who helped me navigate the numerous vagaries of getting dumped and uncoupled from my now ex-wife, I still felt a pretty large level of trepidation upon arriving at the offices of the Lund Law Firm. That was party because my lawyer's office was on the second floor of an obscure building in a bad part of town with the first level housing “Raunchy Red's Tattoo Parlor.” A fine Quincy, South Carolina business, even after the county sheriff made the drug bust twelve years earlier that resulted in them carrying off three large bails of high grade Colombian marijuana, a kilo of cocaine, and enough weapons and ammo to supply an infantry platoon.
Despite the incriminating evidence, the original Raunchy Red protested his innocence even though he was found passed out of top of the three marijuana bails and using the cocaine as a pillow. Red was adamant that the National Football League, the CIA, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir had framed him because he had found the lost city of Atlantis and discovered that Elvis was not only still alive but that he had converted to Islam. The judge overseeing his case, a devout Christian and Elvis fan whose favorite vacation destination was Graceland, was highly offended at the suggestion that the King would convert to another faith. This resulted in Red's psychological examinations, which stated in no uncertain terms he was completely detached from reality, being ignored.
Raunchy Red was convicted on every count and sentenced to four life terms in one of the supermax federal prisons. After a few years' rumors started floating through Quincy saying Red did eventually get psychological help. Where things get weird though the story goes on to say that once he returned to sanity Red enrolled in one of the online colleges where it was discovered he had a talent for theoretical physics. Pure bullshit if you ask me, but somehow the local newspaper received a photograph from an antonymous source showing Red's mother, the longtime Quincy queen of quilting, giving the frail but brilliant physicist, Stephen Hawking one of her blankets.
Back in Quincy, the tattoo parlor didn't stay shuttered long, another guy quickly bought the business and in the spirit of cost saving measures started calling himself “Red” to avoid changing the signs. The new Red, went about business differently than the old, he cultivated a close relationship with the county sheriff and his department. The new Red had a standing fifty-percent discount for tattoos for all the deputies, which they took full advantage of because their patrol cars were often seen at the location. A now standard joke about the new Red and his tattoo parlor suggests he must have also started making donuts since no one had ever seen one of the deputies sporting a tattoo.
The second reason for my nervousness came from Jim Lund himself. The day my marriage officially ended Emily came home early from her job at the local hospital to tell me that I had a week to move out of the house. Emily was a nurse in the Air Force and after her discharge from the service she transitioned quite successfully to civilian life. As opposed to me who had served in the Army infantry and had to attend the local community college to gain a real skill beyond my talent for proper camouflage techniques, knowing how to dig a latrine, and field stripping a fifty caliber machine gun.
After calling in several favors, I found a really cheap but crappy trailer to move into and once that was done my next task was finding a lawyer to represent me. Lawyers get an undeserved bad rap, at the core of the profession they literally hold society together. Television audiences have been trained like salivating dogs to hate the sleazy and amoral defense attorney protecting a dastardly criminal and deny justice to some innocent victim. But if any of the wide eyed, largely overweight couch potatoes feel they have been wronged in any manner, the first thing they do is begin looking for an attorney.
That being said, the stereotype of some lawyers as cheesy ambulance chasers out to screw over their clients and insurance companies is unfortunately true. My problem back then, besides living in a twenty-year-old trailer with dubious electrical wiring and a leaky roof, was that I couldn't afford any of those of the high profile shysters.
A couple of weeks went by with my soon-to-be ex-wife, Emily, wanting to be rid of my ass so she could move on with her life. Which in hindsight I took that to mean that she and her future second husband, and my dentist, were tired of their illicit rendezvouses at the Hide Away Motel. Luckily, I was at the Quincy coin operated laundromat late one Saturday night with the other dregs of local society when I came upon a business card pin to an ancient community bulletin board.
The card declared that the Lund Law Firm could provide reliable but cut rate legal services for those in need. The services it listed included wills, powers of attorney, and no fault divorces. With that level of advertisement, I figured this Jim Lund, Esquire would be just the guy to help me. The business card did have a website address for the Jim Lund Law Firm which said he was a graduate of the New Carolina Law and Accounting School down in Charleston. While not an expert in law schools by any means, I had never heard of the place but at that moment I only cared that he was an attorney licensed to practice law in South Carolina.
When I arrived at his Jim's office there were already several preconceived notions running around my head. The first being that he was probably a bit of a loser, like myself, meaning poor social skills along with being overweight and balding. Since I also assumed his law school was at best a fly-by-night organization, I also expected him to be barely competent.
I opened the door and entered his office after knocking. “Hey Mr. Lund,” I said rather loudly since I didn't see anyone.
“Jason Lance, I presume,” was the immediate and cheerful response coming from the connecting room. “Take a seat please sir, I'm making some coffee and will bring you a cup.”
At first Lund's office reinforced every lackluster notion I had about the man. The room itself was run down and needed a cleaning, several coats of new paint on the walls, and new furniture since the desk and chairs looked like castoffs from the 1960's. The only thing that looked new and given special attention was the large framed diploma saying Jim Lund had graduated from the New Carolina Law and Accounting School.
When Jim Lund walked into the office about a minute later to say I was surprised was an understatement. Instead of the social awkward, overweight and balding guy, Jim walked in looking like a male model and Olympic athlete wearing a suit that sure as hell didn't come from a department store. After I told him my story, cool and utterly confident he proceeded to spell out the legal avenues I could take if I wanted to challenge Emily for custody of the boys. I course, I told him this was going to be an uncontested divorce since I didn't want to hurt anyone, least of all my sons.
After all the legal wizardry was complete we talked for about an hour and I came away wondering just who in the hell this guy was really. Jim Lund was the type of lawyer that should be arguing cases before the United States Supreme Court, not handling glorified white trash divorces in the middle of Nowhere, South Carolina. That his office was above a tattoo parlor that once sidelined as a drug warehouse and was probably still doing something illegal made the situation even more surreal.
What truly sent shivers down my spine was that a few months after the dust from the divorce had settled I looked up the New Carolina Law and Accounting School on the internet. Websites are ridiculously simple affairs these days and nothing about the one for New Carolina Law and Accounting School suggested anything other than the most basic of creations. I was about to close the laptop when I noticed the supposed physical address for the school. One summer during high school I worked for a company that did basic maintenance on the now closed Navy base, so I was well acquainted with the layout of the property. That's why I was dumbfounded upon realizing the address for Jim Lund's law school was an abandoned warehouse.
Now with forty-two million dollars of lottery winnings in the bank, part of my brain screamed at me to find another lawyer that at best wasn't part of the U.S. Marshal witness protection program. Then again, remembering the conversation I had with my reflection in the bathroom mirror yesterday evening Jim Lund's strange situation wasn't that weird.
Hey, Mr. Lund,” I called out the same way I did on my first visit years after finding him not at his desk. “It's Jason Lance, I left a message on your answering machine about needing to see you again.”
“Sure thing Jason, have a seat, I'll be out in a minute.” He finally called out from the other room.
Quincy, South Carolina isn't a big place but since the divorce seven years before, I could count the times I had seen Jim Lund driving around town on one hand. When he walked back into his office I was frankly shocked at how much he exactly looked the same age. He had the same athletic body along with the movie star face that would have probably cause my ex-wife to go weak in the knees and begin scouting out locations to push her current husband off a cliff. The only difference this time being he was wearing casual clothes that still probably cost more than my 1997 Ford truck was worth.
“What can I do for you today Jason?” He asked in a genuinely friendly manner taking his ancient seat behind the worn and stained desk.
Even though I was considering the possibility that he was either an alien or time traveler, I figured it was much too late to go running out the door. “Here's the deal Jim, you know the lottery winner from last week who didn't go public, it's me. I'm leaving town and need help organizing my affairs and I figure you're the best person to help me.”
Given the curiosities about Jim Lund's existence, there was a double meaning in my words I hope he didn't detect.
Jim just leaned back in his chair and smiled. “Yes, Jason,” he said “believe it or not I'm probably the best person in South Carolina that can setup your affairs and keep them protected.”
I didn't even dare ask him if his own words had a double meaning. I just listened as he laid out a plan that both secured and invested my money.
The afternoon sun was unfortunately beaming through my windshield as I sat in the Quincy Credit Union parking lot making me reconsider the idea of buying a new car or truck before I left town. While the end of summer was a month away, hot weather was sure to stay around for a considerable period no matter where I went. My truck's air conditioning was weak at best and maybe it was the money talking but as I sat waiting for Mikey, I pondered what the open road would feel like in a fine luxury sedan.
Mikey's older brother, Derrick was my best friend in high school. As graduation approached with no real prospects when we entered the adult world Derrick and I talked each other into joining the army. The original idea was that we would hinge our joining on going through basic training together as well as serving at the same permanent post, something we heard the army would allow back then. Well, five weeks into basic and Derrick decides to break his leg on the obstacle course. He had the option of being medically discharged but instead was just recycled back to the beginning of basic training once he was healed. However, his injury voided the original enlistment contract meaning the army reassigned him to a new MOS—Mission Occupational Specialty, or job once he finished basic. Whereas once we were both supposed to be infantry soldiers, Derrick wound up in a transportation unit driving what amounted to semi-trucks hauling supplies.
Then came Persian Gulf War with Saddam Hussein showing his ass by invading a smaller Arab country that in truth was led by a collection of individuals that were certified douchebags in their own right. The difference being that Saddam was a brutal tyrant that would use chemical weapons on his own people while the Kuwaiti ruling class just acted like everyone under them were slaves. I really didn't see any combat beyond a few semi-crazed and starved Iraqi soldiers firing off their AK's in an effort get the attention of the convoy I was riding in so they could surrender. The high point of my wartime experience was being a part of a detail guarding around four-hundred prisoners who truthfully were happy to have American MREs, clean water, and real toilet paper.
Derrick wasn't so lucky, he was killed one morning when the wadi embankment he was driving near collapsed overturning his truck.
When I finally returned home to Quincy after my enlistment, Mikey and I started hanging out together. Something that wouldn't last long since he had become a local high school football star and was getting a full scholarship ride to the University of South Carolina. Something that was going great until Mikey received a massive concussion during a game, which several months later because of both medical and other complications caused him to be kicked out of college.
Mikey came home but his life spiraled downhill until he met the woman who became his wife, a saint of a woman named Diane. She literally saved his life and sanity but because the birds and the bees still hold sway over people in their early twenties they were parents before they could develop a plan for a real future.
One of the worst thing I ever done was get Mikey hired on as a production worker at the Tightlock factory. But with a baby on the way the man needed a job, even if that meant a place where the age of the average worker was around forty. As the years passed, I watched Mikey die a little each day but at least I could now offer him a way out.
Just when I figured he wasn't going to show, Mikey's car finally pulled into the parking lot and I signaled him to hop into my truck.
“What's so important that I had to get up early, Jason? You know how floor supervisors act if they think someone isn't fully awake.” He said more than a little irritated.
I have never been a person who could deal with the warm fuzzy aspect of friendship, so I just laid out the fact. “Shut up for a minute and just listen. You heard about the winner for last week's lottery, well it was me.”
The look on Mikey's face after revealing that fact was actually kind of funny. Sort of like how some get when they accidentally bump into a famous person at the grocery store.
“You're a smart guy Mikey, you can probably guess why I skipped work Monday night and walked into the plant Tuesday morning looking like someone going on a cruise. But here's the thing, I've known you since the day your brother and I became friends in elementary school.. Hell, right now you're my best friend and I can't let you waste your life working in a plant that in truth probably has less than five years before it is closed.
“So here's the deal, I've setup an account at the credit union for a million dollars in both your name and Diane's. My advice is that you two figure out a plan that gets you both back into school so you guys can have a future. You're both young enough to still have one.”
Mikey was stunned to say the least. “Where will you be during this time, Jason?” He asked.
“I'm leaving town, probably forever. I'll keep in touch, of course but unless the boys take sick I can't imagine a reason why I would ever come back.”
After I gave him the paperwork concerning the account we shook hands and he left. At that moment everything I had to do was done. All that was left was to point my old truck in some direction and just drive. I felt bad about not seeing my boys, but they were out of town with Mark and I sure as hell wasn't going to stay around long enough for word about my windfall to reach Emily.
So, with all my worldly possessions stuffed into one duffel bag and one medium-sized storage box in the back of my truck, I pulled out of the parking lot and just drove.