Spade met his lawyer through the television. Staring at his town’s Community Bulletin Board (Channel 76), Spade was re-living his six month old divorce, the loss of his job right after, and the last conversation with a creditor in which Spade said if the bank did not leave him the hell alone, he would send every last dollar he owed them – in pennies. As if the television were listening to Spade’s reminiscences, a message flicked across the screen: “Reasonably priced state-funded legal aid for those with marginal income.” Well, his income certainly was marginal. In fact, he didn’t have an income at the moment. So he called the 800 number, told the operator he wanted to claim bankruptcy, and set up an appointment with Attorney Meyer, a man whose last name made Spade think of hot-dogs, and whose voice reminded him of Vincent Price. Not a winning combination, but Spade had nothing left to lose.
He thought about the ensuing visit with the lawyer. At Meyer’s request, they met at a place called GiGi’s. A bit unusual, Spade thought, but all right. He assumed the place was a bar, but when he pulled into the driveway to check the address against the one he had written on an old credit card receipt, he realized that GiGi’s was a hair salon. Spade gathered his papers and, staring at the fuchsia neon sign, clicked the door of his Chevy Nova shut, and slowly headed for the entrance. This has got to be a scam, he thought.
A customer stood speaking with the only hairdresser in the place, a smiling Asian girl with long, penny-colored fingernails and a designer business suit. It took her ten minutes to realize someone else had walked in. “Can I help you?” she asked. She had a bit of an accent, Spade noticed. But nicely dressed for a hair stylist.
“Uh, I don’t know if I’m in the right place,” Spade said. “I’m supposed to meet an Attorney Meyer here?”
“Oh yes. You have the right place. Have a seat. He’s on his way. He just called. He’s a little late and says he is sorry.” Spade nodded. He glanced around the shop. It was apparently new – the white tile floors shone, the stucco mauve walls smelled like fresh paint. The girl bid her departing customer good-bye and came around the counter. She offered Spade her hand. “I am GiGi. Mr. Meyer is my boyfriend. He uses this place as office sometimes.” He nodded and picked up a copy of her flyer from a pile nearby. “You like my flyer?” she asked. “Take a few. Give them to friends. I can always use business.” She smiled, and sweeping her full hair from her face, went off to sweep invisible hairs from the immaculate floor.
The door opened, and in hustled a man who looked like he had been electrocuted. His thin, long, mousy hair stood on its ends, complementing a sparse, scraggly beard. The man sported a dusty black trench coat, a wrinkled white shirt, and an untied-tie. His face, square and pale, reminded Spade instantly of Frankenstein. Suit jacket crushed under his elbow, the man nodded towards Spade, headed towards GiGi, and grabbed her arm. “I want to talk to you,” he said. The couple entered a back room and Spade heard a door slam. Muffled baritones and hushed whimpers told Spade that a dispute was in progress.
He sighed. He couldn’t believe this. Apparently, this was his lawyer, and his lawyer was a mess. An ironic metaphor for his life. Here he was, thirty-five years old, unemployed, divorced, waiting around for what turned out to be a scary looking state-funded lawyer at a hair dresser’s. He looked in a nearby mirror. His own hair was a mess. So was his face. He hadn’t had a date since the divorce, hadn’t even had the energy to leave the couch, never mind desire or money to meet and romance a woman. All day long, he sat in front of the television, flipping through channels with a remote. Mostly, he watched the Cartoon Network. Or the Sci-Fi station. In fact, it was virtually supernatural that he’d even spotted the ad for a lawyer on the Community Bulletin Board. He could barely cajole himself to get dressed in the morning. Shaving had become a lost art for him. This was not what he needed.
Fifteen minutes later, the lawyer re-appeared, re-tying his tie. GiGi scampered out of the salon. Spade heard a car start and take off immediately. The ensuing silence told him they were alone. “Okay,” said the lawyer. “So, you want to claim bankruptcy. Let’s see what you’ve got…”
One month later, Spade threw himself out of bed and rushed to the federal building. He had to meet his lawyer two hours before the case began. But an hour before his case, Spade paced in front of the reception area, still awaiting the arrival of Attorney Meyer. No one resembling the disheveled lawyer appeared. Spade turned to the receptionist, a woman about thirty, a brunette with lots of fillings, no jewelry, and orange lipstick. “Ma’am, have any lawyers called to cancel this morning?” he asked. She shook her head and took a bite out of a sandwich. The pickle wedge on her plate looked pale and limp. Spade shuddered and began to pace again. Where was his lawyer? He returned to the court room.
Spade crossed his legs and half listened to the current case being tried. A divorced woman in her early forties wearing a mini-skirt and a low-cut blouse wanted to declare chapter seven even though she had over sixty thousand dollars in stock. The Trustee said she could claim bankruptcy only if she were willing to relinquish her stocks. She frowned. Behind him, three creditors dressed in pastel colored polyester suites awaited their turn to question the woman. Their murmurs half annoyed him, half soothed him. He looked nervously at his watch. Damn that lawyer.
A rustle at the back of the room drew Spade’s attention away from his own troubles and the now weeping lady being interrogated by creditors. A couple in their seventies stood haltingly at the entrance, arms wrapped around each other. The woman wore a dusty faux mink, the man an old rain coat. As they shuffled in, Spade noticed the gleam of the old man’s bald head, and then something else. Protruding from the man’s skull was the roundest, shiniest growth Spade had ever seen on a human being. It shone like a crystal ball, reflecting the light from the harsh fluorescent bulbs in the ceiling. The man seemed oblivious to his own ugliness; he was completely absorbed in comforting his wife and leading her to a chair towards the front of the room. They sat down, still holding hands.
Spade wondered what it must be like to be a woman married to so ugly a man. Then he wondered what it was like to be married to an old, frumpy woman. Then he wondered what it was like to be married at all – in only six months, he had almost forgotten. Except he still used the thumb on his left hand to finger his ring finger, a habit he picked up from wearing a wedding band. In the early days of nuptial bliss, he always used to check to see if the ring was still there. Spade looked at the old man’s growth again. A few white hairs grew sparsely from the edges and drooped down towards the man’s natural skull. Spade shuddered and was once again reminded by the tick of his watch that he had no lawyer and only fifteen minutes before his time was up. He got up and walked back to the reception area.
“Excuse me,” Spade said to the receptionist who was chatting with a security guard. “May I use your phone for a minute?”
“Huh?” she said, obviously upset at having her conversation interrupted. “What for?”
“To call my lawyer.”
“Who’s your lawyer?” she asked.
“Ha! Ha! That’s a good one,” she responded. “That’s the best one I heard all day.”
“What are you talking about?” he asked. God, this woman…
“I mean he’s dead.”
“What do you mean he’s dead?” he shouted.
“I mean he was shot last night. Some client’s ex-husband who lost his shirt in a divorce. Didn’t you hear anything about it?” she asked. Spade shook his head. “I thought everyone knew about it. It was all over the news last night, every station practically, this morning, too,” she continued, chewing the limp pickle. She turned towards the security guard. “Hal, you heard about it, didn’t you? Yeah, you heard about it, I know you did. You’re always well informed.” Hal nodded and smiled smugly at him. “What’s with you?” she asked Spade. “Don’t you read the paper or anything?”
He shook his head hard to clear his thoughts. This could not be happening. No. Impossible. But no matter how hard he tried to deny it, the fact of the matter was that his lawyer was dead. Dead dead. Not a little dead, or deceased, or merely “passed away.” Dead. Killed. Gunned down by his client’s unhappy ex-husband, a dumped fellow with a long pistol that held enough shots for him, his ex-wife, and the lawyer. A fine howdy-do for everyone except Spade, who had sat nervously forever in the back of the Trustee’s room waiting for his name to be called.
Spade’s lips parted, but the woman continued. “See – that’s what happens when you represent divorcees. They’re nuts. You never know who you’ll piss off.” She giggled lightly, then choking on pickle juice, began to cough. Quickly, she picked up her can of soda and downed a few swallows. “Anyway,” she finished, “if I was you, I wouldn’t expect him to show.”
Spade walked slowly back to the court room. He didn’t worry anymore about his name being called. Instead, he studied the décor of the federal building. Dark paneled hall walls with wood grain patterns that reminded him of spider webs. Industrial gray carpeting minus the white specks – they had turned gray with the passing of so many dirty feet. He watched the feet pass in front of him now. People’s feet dressed in boots, clogs, sneakers, platform shoes, and…stiletto black heals? He looked up suddenly to see who was attached to those pretty feet and black-nylon legs. They stopped a couple of yards past him and turned into the receptionist’s office. His curiosity piqued, Spade casually strode in the same direction.
The woman, an Asian girl dressed in a clingy black cashmere dress, was handing a stack of papers to the receptionist. “…cases of the late Attorney Meyer,” she said. “If I find more, I will bring them to you.” The receptionist nodded, and the girl turned to leave, running straight into Spade.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he muttered, then glancing up, realized he recognized the woman. “Um, don’t I know you? It’s GiGi, right? GiGi from the salon. I’m Spade. We met before I think, when I met with Attorney Meyer.”
“Yes, I think I remember,” she said.
She thought she remembered him! “Uh, uh, are you all right? I mean, is everyone o.k.? I mean, I’m sorry about…”
“It is o.k.,” she said. Her nail color had changed to a deep burgundy that matched her lips. Spade could feel his scalp sweating. He played with his fingers. “I did not know if clients would come,” she said. “I did not know if you knew about Mr. Meyer.”
“Actually, I didn’t,” Spade admitted. “It was uh, a shock.”
“Yes, a shock. I do not know what you want to do about your case. Mr. Meyer has a list of other lawyers you can call, but I cannot find it right now. It is very hard, going through all his things.”
“I’m sorry,” said Spade again. “But I guess you could think of it this way – you’re available now, right?” She looked at him in contemptible silence. “I mean, I’m sorry. I guess it must be difficult going through his stuff, considering how you felt about him and all.”
“It is hard. And he was a very messy person. His papers are not organized. I will call his mother and see if she knows where he keeps such things.”
“Oh, he was close to his mother?” Spade asked.
“Yes, yes. He lived with her.”
“Well,” he chuckled, “I guess his mother will have more room in her house now, huh?”
“Uh huh,” she said flatly, emphasizing the “uh.”
“I mean, there are up sides to these things, I guess. We just don’t always see them at first, right? Take my divorce for instance.” He continued with false bravado, “For awhile, I’m totally devastated. She wakes up one morning and tells me she’s been seeing someone for a year and wants to split with me. It almost kills me – no not kills, literally – I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to use that word, kills. Boy, that was dumb. Ha. But anyway, I’m here now. And I’m free.”
Spade cleared his throat. “So, uh, I imagine you don’t have anyone else in your life right now? I mean, of course you don’t. Unless you were cheating on him. But probably not. Ha. Ha. What am I saying? What I mean is, would you like to go out tonight? Maybe to a movie or something?”
“Well, ah, will you be opening your shop later on today? I really could use a haircut. Then maybe you can see how I look usually. See, I haven’t gotten my hair cut in so long because I’ve had the damnedest time finding a good hairdresser and I have this funny feeling you’d be great.”
“No Mr. Spade.”
“Um, Spade is my first name.” She walked to the elevator and pushed the button.
“Well, maybe some other time. Maybe we could go get flavored coffee somewhere. Isn’t that the popular thing to do lately? You see it on the soaps all the time. Someone’s always going for cappuccino or espresso…”
At the ring of the bell, she was gone. He sighed and thought it about time for him to go into the court room.
Sitting in back, Spade surveyed the room. The old man and woman were still there. He stared at the old man’s growth. He couldn’t believe how big it was. Did it hurt, he wondered? What would it look like under a knit hat? Did his wife ever touch it? Maybe she did. Maybe she even caressed it. Now that would be so disgusting, it would be funny. He would have pondered that scenario more, but he heard his name called. Finally! Slowly he got up and made his way to the front.
“I heard about your lawyer. So you still want to claim bankruptcy?” the Trustee asked. Spade nodded. “O.k. Let’s see what you’ve got. Please raise your right hand.”
Spade raised his hand and blinked, startled by his large, naked fingers. A ring of light colored skin still replaced the gold ring he had almost expected to see there. “Sir…your right hand,” the Trustee said. Apologizing, Spade raised his right hand, and representing himself, swore to tell nothing but the truth.