Solomon sat at the family dining table, half listening to the banter between his brother and parents, wondering if he was planning the right thing for tomorrow.
Mom touched his arm. “Sol, you’re not eating. Don’t you like what I’ve made?” Sol took in her concerned look while he worried about them. Mom and dad put on weight and let their health suffer the last two years over the financial and emotional stresses of dad losing his job. Mom shortened her hair so it was easier to care for and less money to spend at the hairdresser. She learned how to use barber’s clippers and did dad’s hair. It had been a while since they went to a movie or had a vacation or bought new clothes.
Solomon sighed and then smirked. “Mom, your cooking always tasted like crap, and I just ate it the last thirty-five years to be polite.”
She clutched her chest at his wise-assed jest. “You’ll give me a heart attack someday.” She waved her hand at dad. “David, spank your son. He disrespected my cooking.”
Dad shook his head. “And I remember all of his friends that we fed over the years, including from law school. They always wanted to come here to eat, and he bragged about your cooking.” Everyone laughed, including Solomon’s younger brother Brian. Dad took his belt off, laid it on the table, and smiled. “Apologize to your mother, son.”
“Why? She knows I was joking.”
“Because in the middle of the night she’ll wake up worried and say, ‘There’s an old saying that in jest there is much truth. Was Solomon saying my cooking is bad?’ And then I’ll have to reassure her.”
Solomon took his mom’s hand and kissed it. “Mom, you’re a great, wonderful, fantastic and stellar cook. I’ve always loved your culinary escapades, and so did my friends, and I mean that from every square inch of my legal heart.”
She kissed his hand. “I love that word—stellar.”
Solomon smirked. “I learned it in law school.” He shook his head. “I regret going.”
Mom defended him. “I thought it was the right thing to do. Since you were ten you loved to play with words and language, and defend your brother and yourself. You’re intelligent and gifted and were always guided by the right and just thing to do.” Her lips again passed at his hand. “You had a bad experience, but things will come around, they always do.”
Dad cut in. “And he came face-to-face with reality. We all did. Thirty-two years with that bastard company and they laid me off. How in the hell will a fifty-nine-year-old man find work?”
Brian tried to soothe him. “Dad, they shut down your manufacturing facility and laid off a lot of people.”
“The bastards.” Dad clenched his jaw.
Mom, the peacemaker, touched dad’s arm. “At least we have my income from the grocery store and we’re all healthy. Health is wealth!” Her disarming smile settled the room.
Dad refocused on Solomon. “Mom’s right. Sol, I think you’re making a mistake negotiating on your own. You need a lawyer.”
“I am a lawyer.”
“Your old firm hired another firm to represent them.”
“I just want to put it behind me.”
Brian handed a newspaper across the table to Solomon. “Not that I’m trying to change the subject, but here’s a law firm looking for a lawyer.”
Solomon took the paper and swatted Brian with it. “You’re the baby of the family; children should be seen and not heard.” He winked at his bro, who was five years younger than himself.
Brian teased back. “At least I didn’t prostitute myself to society by becoming a lawyer and besides, out of the mouth of babes—” He grabbed the paper back and hit Solomon.
Dad joined the boys’ put-down fray. “What did I do to deserve such trauma to the family? One son is gay and the other is a lawyer. Why can’t you boys be normal?”
Brian cawed, “I’m sorry, dad. I’ll stop being gay, marry twice, divorce twice, and struggle to pay child support. That’s normal!” He held his hands in the air and bowed his head like an actor waiting for applause.
Mom cut in. “You boys know I don’t like you insulting each other, even in jest. We should show love.” She slapped dad’s arm. “You’re supposed to set the example, but you’re acting sixteen like they are.” She pecked dad’s cheek. “I love all of the men in the family.”
Dad sighed. “Who knows where life will lead us, huh? I have to get to work to find a job.” He faced Solomon. “You need a lawyer.”
“Dad, we’ve verbally agreed to the settlement. Tomorrow I sign off and get a check. I want to move on with my life.”
Dad clenched his jaw. “You always had good instincts and senses. I’m proud of you for standing up to them and blowing the whistle, but will any firm in this town hire you?”
“There are a lot of honest lawyers, and those are the ones I want to work with. The ones who won’t hire me are the crooks with things to hide.” Solomon stood. “I need a walk after dinner. Who’s with me?”
Dad moaned and served himself more food that he didn’t need, but Sol understood his stress: out of work for two years, savings gone, and on the verge of foreclosure. Mom’s job at the grocery store wasn’t enough. Sol hadn’t worked in a while and Brian’s job at the gallery paid on commission.
Mom waved him off. “I have to clean up.” She knew dad would get sadder if he was alone.
Brian bounced out of his chair. “I’ll go with you.”
They ran to get their coats, pushing each other like when they were kids until they were walking in the nearby park. Brian put his arm around Solomon. “Dad’s right. You should have a lawyer.”
“Too late, and I want it over and done. I don’t want the FBI, district attorney, or the Securities and Exchange Commission calling me anymore.”
“I understand, but you need to accept that you’re a hero who took on a giant all by yourself. Text me tomorrow if things get bad.”
“Thanks, Brian.” Sol thought for a moment, then brightened. “Hey, how about we take a road trip sometime and see about getting your work in other galleries so you’ll have more exposure? We can say I’m your lawyer. Brian, I truly mean, from deep in my heart, what I’m about to say. You have great artistic talent and will be renowned someday.”
Brian’s voice softened, and a gentle smile grew on his lips. “Thanks, bro, and I’d like a road trip. It’ll be like the old days.”
Sol smirked. “Except that time dad had to bail us out of jail. My ass still hurts from that whipping.”
Brian play-punched him again. “But you deserved it.”
“So did you!”
“No, I didn’t. Being the youngest, I was the victim. You led me astray.”
Sol play-punched him back. “That’s your story, and you’re sticking to it.” They laughed.
* * *
The next morning, Sol showered, dressed, and wandered to the kitchen. His parents were reading the morning paper over oatmeal and coffee.
Mom smiled. “Like the old days. I like having my boys under one roof.”
Solomon smiled. “It is nice.”
Dad groaned as he slapped the paper to the table. “The damn world is going to pieces.”
Mom and Sol ignored the outburst.
Dad slurped some coffee. “Never let the bastards see you sweat, Sol.”
Solomon smiled at his dad’s improving mood. “Dad, I want to mention something.”
“I raised you boys to know you can always come to me with things.”
“Brian thinks you’re ashamed of him for having an art degree.”
Dad drained his coffee cup. “I’m not ashamed, I just think it’s not a degree that gets jobs. Damn, okay… I’ll apologize to him.”
Solomon was relieved at how well the conversation had gone. “Okay, but if you do, he’ll know I spoke to you.” He took a bit of the oatmeal his mom had served him. His parents went back to reading the paper. Sol smirked to himself. “How about this. The next time you have coffee and donuts with your buddies, take them to the art studio and show off Brian’s drawings and paintings.”
Dad slapped the table. “I’m not eating donuts, just having coffee.”
Mom giggled. “Yes, you are. When you come home and kiss me I taste them on your lips.”
Mom held his hand. “As long as that’s all you lie to me about, it’s okay, and Solomon’s idea about taking your friends to the gallery sounds good to me.”
Solomon finished his breakfast, bid his goodbyes, and drove to the Stewart Law Firm in downtown San Jose, where one must sell one’s soul to be part of high-end law. He strode to the receptionist in the elegant office. “I’m Solomon Thornton, here for my meeting.”
The older, impeccably dressed receptionist, with an emotionless face, glanced at him for a millisecond and called someone on the phone. She seemed drained of human concepts although her jewelry was elegant. With a corpse-like voice, she said, “Mr. Thornton is here.” She nodded at Sol. “Down the hall to the conference room. Someone will meet you.”
“Thank you so much; you’re very kind,” she responded with a stony countenance. He shook his head at how the law business sucked personality from people, just as medical school siphons compassion from students.
Solomon trekked down the hall until he came across a tall and slender man, about Sol’s age, wearing what must have been a two-thousand–dollar suit. “Good morning, Mr. Thornton, I’m Ryan Pauling, Mr. Silverman’s assistant.” He cut short a budding smile and motioned toward an open door leading to a small meeting room. The décor was to die for.
Mr. Pauling laid out a short contract before Solomon and pushed two checks forward. “Please review and sign the areas designated by the stick-on arrows. I’ll make a copy for you—”
“I know; I’m an attorney.”
Sol shook his head. “What pathetic drones we become to be part of the elite firms, eh?”
“Sir?” His eyes fell to the table.
“Are you happy here?”
“Sir, I just need you to sign—”
Sol knew he was wasting his breath.
The other man stayed silent, seeming to be weighing his options. “My father is one of the founding partners.” A hint of a smile began. “I’ve read your file. At least you got out. May I ask, it’s none of my business, how this unusual settlement figure came about?”
Sol smiled, signed, and pushed the document across. “Easy. The payoff for my parents’ mortgage is $207,188.52, plus I want them to have two hundred thousand to rebuild savings and to play with. They deserve it.”
“Nothing for yourself?”
“I just want it behind me.”
The attorney rushed off and soon returned with a photocopy of the agreement. He softly closed the door and stepped close to Sol. “My card is attached. If you have any questions you’ll have to go through me and I’ll field your issue to Mr. Silverman.” He hesitated. “It was courageous to do what you did. So many talk about you in a good way.”
Sol bowed his head for a moment in thanks. “I noticed once we had a verbal agreement, Mr. Silverman jettisoned any contact with me.”
“That’s how it is; you know that better than I do,” the attorney smiled. They shook. “Good luck.”
“You, too,” Solomon said. He took the elevator to the first floor and the Mission Valley Savings and Loan, strolling to a well-dressed woman at a service desk.
She gave a warm smile that crinkled her eyes. “May I help you?”
“Good morning, glorious day, isn’t it? I’m the family attorney for David and Kelli Thornton. They’d like to pay off their mortgage.”
“Oh, we’re sorry to see them go as customers, but it’s always special to pay it off. I hope they’re well, I mean, that you came in—”
“I’ve known them forever and am doing it as a favor. They’re well, but it’s nice of you to ask.” He presented the check made out to the bank for the payoff amount.
She examined it, checked the computer, and smiled. “The exact amount.” She printed a receipt. “We’ll process this and send final documents to your clients.”
“Great.” He handed another check to her. “This $200,000 is to be deposited into their checking account. The number is written on the back.”
“Yes, sir.” She printed another receipt.
“Thank you.” Solomon smiled, with a deed-well-done sensation surging within him. He allowed himself the fantasy to wonder if a knight felt this way after successfully completing a quest.
The woman gave a deep smile that dimpled her aged face. “Thank you for bringing these in, and have a good week.”
He waved and walked away.