“Bill, this is Martin. I have some ideas about negotiations with Elizabeth and her attorney.” There was a long silence on then the other end of the phone. Bill finally spoke.
“Martin, can’t this wait until I actually get into my office?”
“Well, yes, it could. But I just thought that since it was fresh on my mind, I’d give you a call.”
“Martin,” Bill sighed, “tell you what, meet me at my office at 11:30. We’re going to have lunch, and I’m going to tell you what you’re going to do.” With that said, Bill hung up.
Martin stood there with the phone to his ear for a few seconds before taking it away and looking at it in surprise. Bill had hung up on him? How dare he! Not only had they been friends for nearly 20 years but also Bill had been handling his financial affairs since the very first days of his water business.
Martin hung up the phone. Okay. If that’s the way he wanted the play it, he would wait until 11:30, go to his office and he would talk to Bill then. In the meantime, he would make a list of all the things he thought should be done during the negotiations that were soon to follow. They had ninety days to get this straight, and Martin was determined that he was not going to lose anything more than what they had already bargained away.
At just before 11:30, Martin arrived at his attorney’s office, took the elevator to the second floor, and walked straight through the front door. Janet was at her desk, and he gave her only a cursory glance as he strolled confidently straight towards Bill Matthews’ inner-office door.
“Um, just a minute, Mr. Shaw,” Janet said. “You can’t go in there. Just…”
Martin ignored her, turned the knob to the door, open it, and walked in.
Bill Matthews looked up. He was sitting behind his desk and had a client, a middle-aged woman, across from him. Martin stood there looking at Bill. Bill sat at his desk looking at Martin. And the client, not knowing whom to look at, simply alternated between the both of them. Bill finally broke the silence.
“Martin, what are you doing? You can’t just walk in here…” Martin shifted nervously on his feet, looked at the woman sitting in the chair and then back to Bill Matthews.
“Well, I’m sorry, Bill. I didn’t know that you had anyone in your office.”
“Why don’t you just have a seat in the vestibule with Janet, and I’ll be with you in a few minutes.” Bill said dourly.
Martin spun on his heels, opened the door, stepped through it and pulled it closed gently. He scowled at Janet and then moved to the side of the room and sat in one of the chairs, picked up a magazine and began to flip absentmindedly through it.
A full ten minutes passed before the middle-aged woman stepped out of Bill Matthews’ office. The two exchanged a few final words. Bill gave her some cursory instructions and said something about a contract that he would send to her the following week and then instructed Janet to set up an appointment with her for the week after that.
He then turned back to Martin and motioned him to come into his office. Both men walked through the door and Martin closed it behind him. Once inside, Bill took off his jacket, hung it on the coat rack, rolled up his shirtsleeves and sat down behind his desk. Martin was left standing.
Bill looked at him for a moment, smiled and then said,
“Sit down, Martin.”
Martin quickly sat down, shifted his weight, crossed his legs and then began.
“I’m sorry, Bill. Janet told me not to come in. It wasn’t her fault. But you know me. I’m used to just walking straight in, and I never pay attention to your secretary anyway.”
“I know you don’t, Martin, and that’s part of the problem.”
“You mean that I ignore your secretary?” Martin asked.
“No, not that specifically. Martin, you’re slipping over the edge, and I think it’s time you got away for a while.”
Martin rolled his eyes.
“Get away? You mean like a vacation? Oh, sure. As if I have time for that!”
“That’s precisely what I mean, Martin. I told you more than a month ago that you needed to get some perspective. I had hoped that you would, but you haven’t. Martin, I’m your best friend, and yes, I am your attorney but you can’t keep calling me every hour on the hour giving me instruction on the divorce proceedings. Now, I know you’re concerned. I know you’re worried. I’ve been there. But this isn’t going to work. I suppose.” He sighed, “that if, after the first couple of suggestions you were actually covering any new ground, I would find it useful. But Martin, you’ve been telling me the same things over and over. I’m not stupid, and I’m not deaf. I got it, okay?”
“Okay, okay… I’ll stop calling.”
Bill was going to have to spell it out point blank for his friend.
“No, Martin. You don’t understand. I’ve made several mistakes, and I’m going to rectify them here and now. My first mistake was to represent you in your divorce proceedings. I’m not a divorce attorney. I’m your business attorney. But you came and asked me to do it to you as a favor. Okay, I’m charging you, you’re paying me, but it’s not my area of expertise and you saw what happened. I’ll fix it. But that was mistake number one.
Mistake number two was, I got caught up in your obsession. One of the things that they teach us in law school is not to get involved with clients. I always took that to mean sexual involvement. I’ve since come to realize that that means any personal involvement. Martin, when you came to me and asked me to represent your divorce, I should have told you no. As your business attorney, we function as a fine team because you and I, in this office or when we’re in your office, are all business but somehow when it came to something as personal and intimate as divorce, the lines got blurred and we stopped functioning on that professional level. The fact remains; I got caught up in your obsession with Crystal Springs Water and your desire to keep it entire and intact for yourself. We got to court and Landiss caught us both on an end run. That was my fault, pure and simple, my fault. Had I been focused and paying attention, it wouldn’t have happened.”
“So what are you saying, Bill? You’re not going to continue to represent me? Hell man, you can’t bail on me now!”
“That’s what I should do, Martin. I should say, at this point, I’m not going to represent you anymore and refer you to one my colleagues, but I’ll be damned if I’m going dig us both into a hole and then beg somebody else to get us out. But I’m only going to continue to represent you beyond this point on two conditions. One, stop phoning me! Stop. I know what’s at stake. I know what you want. Don’t tell me anymore!”
“And the second?” Martin asked.
“The second is that you go on vacation.”
“Vacation! Are you kidding me? I don’t have time for vacation!”
“Yes, Martin. You do. The judge gave us plenty of time to straighten this out and I can wrap this whole thing up nice and neat if I don’t have you constantly breathing down my neck. It may surprise you to know, Martin, but you are not my only client. You’re probably my biggest client, but you’re not my only one. I do have other obligations and I can’t meet those if I’m having to answer the phone every hour because you’ve called me yet again to tell me something that you told me an hour before! And I certainly can’t meet those responsibilities if I have you just walking into my office interrupting business meetings. This is my office, remember? Not yours. You come to my office and you wait in the foyer with Janet just like everyone else until I come out to get you. So, you’re going to go on vacation. You’re going to stay gone at least three weeks, twenty-one days. At the end of that time, I will have this entire pain-in-the-ass procedure concluded and then you can get on with your life. So I want you to go somewhere. I want you to go somewhere far. I want it to be far enough so that it will be long distance for you to call me, and then I want you to remember something very important.”
“What’s that?” Martin asks sarcastically.
Martin couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Was Bill Matthews, his friend and attorney, actually telling him at one of the most crucial moments in his life to simply walk away? Or worse yet, tuck his tail between his legs and run away? He could call it whatever he wanted, vacation, surrender; it was all the same as far as Martin was concerned. Martin wasn’t going on vacation. He wasn’t going anywhere. He would concede that he had called Bill too many times and reminded him of the same things repeatedly. He would promise to stop. He wouldn’t call anymore, but vacation? No. That was out.
Martin looked across the desk at Bill and said,
“Okay, Bill. You’re right. I won’t call anymore.”
“Martin, you’ve got two choices,” Bill said seriously. “Go on vacation, get out, get lost, get gone, or get a new attorney.”
Bill was serious. This couldn’t be happening!
“Bill, I’m sorry, okay? I am sorry! I overdid it. You’re right. I lost my focus, just like you said. I lost my concentration. I got wrapped up in it. I promise you I won’t call anymore, but I’m not going on vacation. I can’t!” Martin pleaded
“It’s either that, or I’m not your attorney anymore.” Bill said flatly. “I know you Martin. You’ll be good for a couple days and then we’ll be right back where we started. Take three weeks or,” he snatched a business card from his Rolodex, “here is your new attorney.”
Each man looked at the other and Martin knew that his friend and attorney was serious. Vacation. The word was foreign, as foreign as any place he may have chosen to go for vacation, as foreign as he would be in any place while on vacation.
“Martin, I know this is hard but as I’ve said several times before, you need to get some perspective and the only way you’re going to do that is to get away for awhile. If I thought you would go or that it would do any good, I’d tell you to go to an AA meeting, either that or call your sponsor. God knows somebody needs to be the voice of reason in your life because right now you’re not capable of it. Barring that and since I can’t be the voice of reason, because I don’t think you’re in any mood to listen, you need to go away. Now then, Janet is quite an accomplished tourist and world traveler and there just happens to be a travel agent right here in this very building on the third floor. I want you to go out and I want you to talk to Janet. I want you to ask her where she’s been, where are some of the places she’d had the best time and then I want you to go out my office door, get in the elevator, go upstairs, go to the travel agent’s office and I want you to book yourself for three weeks somewhere. And while we’re at it, make that somewhere at least one time zone away and it would be better if it were several time zones away from here! When you get back, tanned and rested or whatever, I promise you, your divorce will be settled or close enough to it and though it may not be everything you wanted it to be, you will have a life left to live, and it will be reasonably comfortable. That’s your choice. Make it now.”
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson
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