Monday, March 25, 2013

How It Came To Be - Chapter Four

Erin and her mother drove through the shopping district of the city. Erin was still agitated over Ronnie selling her car and didn't notice where they were going until they pulled up in front of the store for Colleen's cell phone carrier.

“Is there a lawyer's office in this shopping center?” Erin asked as she looked around. “I don't know how good a storefront lawyer would be.”

“We'll go look for a lawyer after this,” Colleen replied, “but let's get you a cell phone first.”

“Screw the cell phone!” Erin exclaimed, still agitated. “I want to get a lawyer first!”

Colleen slipped into her “mother” voice as she said, “Now, Erin dear, would you want to give the lawyer your home phone number, which Ronnie could check at any time; or would you rather give them a phone number that Ronnie doesn't even know you have, much less have access to?”

Erin slumped back in her seat, beaten by her mother's logic. “Alright, we'll get a cell phone first,” she pouted. The two women got out of the car and entered the store. The sight of two women who resembled each other, one with auburn hair and the other with coppery red hair, attracted almost every male employee in the place. They all hustled over to them, vying for their attention.

One salesperson addressed Erin, “Good morning, Miss. Are you here to help your mother pick out a cell phone?” Erin just glared at him.

Actually, I'm here to help my daughter pick out a phone,” Colleen said, amused at all the fuss the men were making over her daughter. “I'll be adding her phone to my account.”

“Mom!” Erin protested, now both upset and embarrassed.

By now, the store manager had come out to see what the commotion was about. He saw the two women and immediately headed for them. “Ah, Mrs. McDermott, I'm glad your here,” he said as he walked up to the women.

“Good morning, Henry,” Colleen replied. “We're looking for a phone for my daughter, Erin.”

Yes, you said that when you called yesterday,” Henry recalled. He looked around, then pointed to one salesperson in particular and said, “Eddie, why don't you show the McDermotts our latest phones?” The young man, who had been hanging back, stepped forward hesitantly as the others returned to their places, disappointed. He looked a bit uncomfortable and was red cheeked.

“How... How... How may I help you?” he stammered. Colleen smiled at the young man and Erin calmed down, realizing that Eddie was probably new and still learning.

“I find myself in need of a cellphone, Eddie,” Erin explained, “but I don't know what would be the best for me?”

“Well, um, now... We have some nice smartphones over here,” Eddie said as he guided Erin over to the display of phones. Henry had returned to the back of the store but kept an eye on the new salesman.

“This is our latest Android phone,” Eddie told Erin as he picked up a phone to show her, “It has a 4.5 in screen, an 800 MHz processor...” As he continued to explain all of the features of the phone, he talked faster and the two women got lost in all the numbers and details.

Colleen reached out and touched Eddie's arm. “You're losing us a bit, here, Eddie,” she warned him. “Just let us know what it can do. We don't need to know how it was built.” She smiled politely at the salesman.

Eddie blushed again. “I'm... I'm...” he stammered, obviously embarrassed.

Erin smiled at him and said, “You're doing fine, Eddie. That one looks like a little too much for me, however. What does this one do?” she asked as she pointed at a lower priced phone on display.

Eddie looked at the cell phone. “Well, that's not a smartphone, so it won't do as much,” he explained. “With the smartphone, you'll be able to web surf, listen to MP3s, play games, take photos and record videos...”

“It records video?” Erin inquired, suddenly intrigued.

“In high definition,” Eddie replied proudly.

“Can it also record just the voice?” Erin asked.

“Well, it doesn't have that capability built in,” he explained, “but you can download a voice recorder app that will let you use it as a voice recorder-and some of the apps are free!”

Erin was beginning to see how the phone could be useful. “Is it hard to learn to operate?” she asked.

“Actually, once you get used to it, it's pretty intuitive,” Eddie assured her.

Erin looked at the display tag. “But it costs so much...”

“Don't worry about that,” Eddied assured her. “With your mother adding it to her contract, the phone is actually free. You just have to keep it for two years.”

“You know, Erin dear,” Colleen offered, “that phone would be great for taking photos and videos of the twins.” At the mention of the twins, Erin's eyes lit up.

Eddie noticed her sudden interest and added, “you can even use a picture of your twins as wallpaper!”

“Wallpaper?” Erin asked, confused.

“It replaces the background with any picture in your phone,” Eddie proudly stated.

Erin thought a moment, then looked at Colleen. She smiled at her daughter and nodded. Erin broke into a big grin as she turned to Eddie and proclaimed, “Sold!” Eddie's eyes lit up at the word.

Erin was playing with her newly activated phone as Colleen pulled the car out of the parking lot. “You certainly did a quick turn around in there. What made you change your mind?”

Balancing the instruction manual on one knee as she paged through the phone's menus, Erin said, “Well, having a camera on me all the time is a benefit, but what really sold me was that I can use this as a voice recorder.”

Colleen smiled as she said, “That's my Erin! Already seeing the tactical advantages!”

The two women arrived at a fancy office building downtown. Pulling into the underground parking lot, they got out of the car and headed for an elevator. “Mom, are you sure you can afford this lawyer?” Erin asked as she looked around the gleaming elevator taking them to the fifth floor.

“Well, one of my friends said this was the top law firm for divorces in the state,” Colleen replied as the elevator doors opened up to reveal a waiting room paneled in dark wood with overstuffed leather chairs lined up against the walls. A receptionist sat at a desk that looked like it taken out of an office designer's brochure. She was dressed in a conservative but stylish dress, had her brown hair cut in a flattering pixie cut and looked as if she needed no makeup at all.

As the two women walked out of the elevator and approached the receptionist, she looked up from her papers and smiled. She greeted them with, “Welcome to Babbitt, Ashford and Messina, ladies. Do you have an appointment with one of our attorneys?”

Colleen smiled while Erin looked around nervously. “No, we are looking to retain an attorney but we do not have an appointment.” she informed the receptionist.

May I ask what is your concern?” she continued.

“My daughter is looking to file for divorce.”

The receptionist looked the two women over critically. Erin felt like she was being evaluated... no, judged as to her “worthiness,” which made her feel uncomfortable. She glanced at her mother. Colleen's face was unreadable. At least Erin couldn't read it. “If David was here, he'd know what she's thinking,” she said to herself. That fleeting thought brought a pang of sadness that he wasn't standing next to her right now.

“Please have a seat over there. I'll have someone come out to speak with you presently,” the receptionist said, gesturing towards the chairs to her right. Colleen and Erin sat down in the chairs as the receptionist dialed a number and spoke for a minute or so. As they waited, Erin noted the exotic plants and fine art that decorated the waiting room. She suddenly felt so out of place.

A woman came through the door behind and to the left of the receptionist. She surveyed the room, spying the two women. Walking over to them, she said, “Hello, I am Amanda, the office manager. I understand you're looking for an attorney.”

“That's right,” Colleen replied. “I'm sorry we couldn't call ahead but the need arose suddenly.”

“That's fine,” Amanda assured them, “we'll be happy to accommodate you. Please, follow me.”

Amanda led the two women through the door, down the hall and into a conference room. Erin continued to note the plush facilities and impeccably tailored outfits of all the people in the office. The conference room was like the waiting room, all walnut paneling, leather chairs around a massive table and more expensive artwork on the walls.

Let me see who's available to conduct an interview,” Amanda said as she headed for the door. “Would either of you ladies live something to drink? Coffee, tea, juice, water?”

Colleen looked at Erin, who shook her head. “Thank you, but no,” she informed the office manager. Amanda walked out, closing the door.

“Mom,” Erin said in a hushed voice, “are you really sure you can afford this?”

“Since we're here, let's see what they offer,” she replied. “I felt it would be rude to just turn around and leave.”

“I almost got the impression that the receptionist was hoping we'd do that,” Erin commented. “I felt like I was having my wealth calculated by her as we stood there.”

The door opened and Amanda walked back in, carrying a legal pad in a leather holder. “I apologize, but we're a little short handed right now,” she explained. “Between court appearances, business trips and an illness, we have no attorneys available to speak with you today. I'd like to ask some questions so we can find the right person and arrange for an appointment for you.”

“Thank you for your consideration,” Colleen said, smiling.

“What is the nature of your requirement for an attorney?” Amanda began.

“My daughter wishes to file for divorce,” Colleen replied.

“And what would be the grounds for this action?”

“Adultery,” Erin interjected.

“I see,” Amanda said, taking notes on the pad. “Do you have proof at this time of your husband's infidelity?”

“Yes,” Colleen said. “We have hired a private investigator and he has delivered his report. He witnessed my daughter's husband entering and exiting the residences of at least three women over the last two weeks.”

Mm...” Amanda continued to write. “Are there any children of this marriage?”

“Yes,” Erin said. “We have twin boys.”

“How old are they?”

Erin quickly calculated in her head before saying, “They're about seven months old.”

“I see,” the office manager replied. “I think I have enough information to allow us to select an attorney to assist you.”

“There's one piece of information that you don't have,” Erin countered.

Amanda looked at her notes. “What would that be?”

“My name,” Erin said flatly.

Amanda's cheeks turned pink. “Ah, yes. I was just about to ask for your contact information, Mrs.?”

“Donnelly. Erin Donnelly,” she said.

“I see,” Amanda said, writing the name down. “And what would be a good contact number?”

“Please use my cell phone to contact me,” Erin insisted. “The number is 999-555-8874. When should I expect a call?”

Amanda thought for a minute. “With the workload we have right now, and having one of the associates out sick, I would estimate we could get back to you in two to three weeks.”

Erin bristled inside but held her tongue. “Also, could you give us an estimate of the cost?”

“It's hard for me to do at this time,” she replied, “but just going on similar cases we have handled, I believe the retainer would be $20,000, payable in advance.”

Erin nodded. As she did, she glanced at her mother. The color was slowly draining out of her face as she sat there, stunned. “Is... does it all have to be paid up front?” Colleen asked. “Is there a way to break up the payments?”

Amanda frowned. “We don't usually allow the retainer to be paid in installments but I can ask our billing department if there is anything we might be able to do for you.”

Erin stood up and said to Amanda, “Then, I'll be waiting for your phone call. Thank you for your time.” Looking over to her mother, who was still a bit stunned, she said, “Come on, Mother, we'll be leaving now.” Colleen stood up mechanically and followed her daughter out of the conference room.

They walked in silence all the way to the elevator. When the doors opened, there were people in the elevator. The two women got in and stood there quietly as the car stopped at every floor to let people off and on. By the time they finally arrived at the garage level, they were the only ones in the elevator.

“I can't believe...” Erin started, but she stopped as a second elevator opened its doors. It was marked “Private” and apparently was dedicated to the law office as the two women saw Amanda and the receptionist walk out and head for a car. They were chatting as they did.

“...and then she said, “There's one piece of information you don't have”!” Amanda said derisively. “Like I don't know how to do my own job.”

“I know,” the receptionist replied. “They were so “fish out of water” it hurt to look at them...” They both got in a Cadillac, with Amanda driving, and they headed away from Erin ans Colleen as they left.

“Let's go, Mom!” Erin said emphatically as she grabber Colleen's hand. The two of them walked to the car and got in. When they closed the doors, Erin said, “Well, cross them off the list! If the staff is that bitchy, I wonder how the lawyers are!”

They drove out of the garage and headed away from downtown. “What's next, Mom?” Erin asked.

“The next law office I heard about is Barnstable and Associates,” Colleen replied. They drove a few miles and then turned onto a quiet street that was on the edge of a residential section. There were small offices and storefronts on the side of the road opposite the houses. Connie told her daughter, “Look out for 2245 Commercial Avenue. It should be up here a few blocks.”

When the arrived at the offices of Barnstable and Associates, there was no mistaking where they were. The “offices” were in an old storefront that appeared to have been a showroom for construction equipment like ditch diggers, generators, fork lifts and other such items. The showroom window had been painted over or replaced and “BARNSTABLE & ASSOCIATES” was plastered all over where the window had been.

They pulled up to the building and parked right in front. Colleen and Erin got out, and as Erin took in the gaudy signage, Colleen remarked, “I've got a bad feeling about this.” They walked in the door to find the waiting area looked like one for a quick lube shop or a hair salon. A sign on the wall by where you walked through to get to the back said, “No Entry Without An Escort Past This Point”.

There were about a dozen or so plastic chairs, all facing a widescreen TV that was playing a loop of commercials for, of course, Barnstable and Associates. The picture was stretched so the people in the commercials looked fatter than they were. There was a half height wall separating the waiting area from the “offices,” a number of cubicles from which came the near constant ringing of phones.

Erin noticed a brochure on the top of the wall. It talked of the various services of the law firm. In addition to divorces, they did injury accident lawsuits, class action suits and even debt collection, all for “a reasonable fee.” Erin wrinkled her nose as she read it, then picked it up and gave it to Colleen. Just as Colleen started reading the front of the flyer, a heavyset, balding man with an ill-fitting suit came running... if you could call it running... from a private office in the back.

As he approached the two women, he finished wiping his hands on a paper towel and threw it away as he walked past a trashcan. “Sorry you had to wait!” he said, wheezing a bit as he came up to them, “our receptionist is at lunch and I didn't see you at first. I'm Jerry Barnstable, Esquire. What can I do for you?” He held out his hand to shake theirs. He still had grease on his fingertips, and he smelled of cheap fried chicken and cigarettes.

Erin stood there with her mouth open, stunned at what she was witnessing. Pulling herself together, she said, “Thank you, but I believe we're in the wrong place.” She grabbed her mother's hand and half dragged her out of the building, pursued by a sputtering “Jerry Barnstable, Esquire.” They just about ran to their car as the perplexed lawyer stood in the doorway and called out, “I guarantee we're the cheapest lawyers in the city!”

They slammed the doors as they got in. “PEEL OUT, MOM!” Erin barked, but Colleen had already thrown the car in reverse. When they peeled out of the parking lot, they looked like Luke and Bo giving Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane the slip once again in the General Lee.

“OH. MY. GOD!” Erin exclaimed as they hit the street.

“I'd swear I heard banjos playing,” Colleen replied. The two women had to pull over, they were laughing so hard.

“One lawyer was too snooty and expensive,” Erin chortled, “and the other was too sleazy and way too cheap! I hope the next one is just right!”

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