CONDUCT IN QUESTION
Several days after Crawford’s funeral, Harry strolled down the corridor to his office, lost in his study of the newspaper. The Florist had carved again. This time he had left an intricate scroll of stems and thorns on his victim. For Harry, the artistry only highlighted the grotesqueness of the act.
He opened the door. Good Lord! Frank Sasso, a friend of Suzannah Deighton, Marjorie Deighton’s niece, was sprawled in a chair.
Heaving himself to his feet, Frank Sasso demanded, “Where’s the check from Suzannah’s trust, Jenkins?”
Frank was back at the trough. He was a lout and a bully, intent on stripping Deighton funds.
Another man rose silently behind Frank. He was at least a head taller than Harry. Muscles rippled everywhere.
Harry swallowed hard. “What are you talking about, Frank? You know any application for money has to go through Gideon Trust.”
“Listen, Jenkins. That partner of yours said the check was gonna be ready this morning.”
“Mr. Crawford’s dead, Frank. You’ll have to go back to Gideon Trust Company. It makes the decisions.” He tried to shoulder past the men.
“Now, let’s sit down and talk this over,” said the other man, adjusting his sunglasses. He touched Harry’s arm. Every gesture contained an unspoken threat.
Harry led them into his office and reached for the Deighton file. He saw the trickles of sweat on Frank’s cheek and the sickening fear and pleading in his eyes.
Harry’s gut contracted and bile rose to his throat. Hurriedly, he began shuffling papers.
“Everyone, just be reasonable,” the man said quietly.
“I’ll call the trust company today,” Harry replied.
“Do it now,” the man said. “We’ll wait.”
Harry called the trust officer, Cameron McCrea, only to encounter the maze of an automated telephone system . He left a message.
The man nodded and rose. “We’ll be back, Mr. Jenkins.” Grasping Frank’s elbow, he propelled him out the door, saying, “You better pray you get that money back, Frank. They don’t like it when money goes missing.”
Harry exhaled. He would have promised them anything just to get them out. Thank God Frank Sasso was no client of his. He closed his eyes against visions of Frank being led to some deserted spot and then…what? He waited until the churning in his stomach died down.
The firm prided itself on attending to the legal affairs of Toronto’s well-off families. Frank’s very presence grated. What a great beginning to Harry’s solo practice of law!
He called Miss Giveny into his office.
“Yes, Mr. Jenkins?” she said, grimacing.
Harry strove to catch a suitable note of regret. “Even though Richard’s passed away, we still have to carry on.”
She stared back at him. At last, she spoke. “That’s what Mr. Crawford would want.” She snapped open her steno pad. “Do you have some dictation for me?”
Briefly, he contemplated life with a new secretary. A pleasant and attractive helper,
or at least one who would not bristle when spoken to. But Miss Giveny was, at least for now, indispensable. She knew the ship would founder without her.
He stretched back in his chair. “Not at the moment. But I’d like to talk to you about the future of the firm.” With one glance at her narrow face, he saw a thousand doors closing. She did not and could not understand the new Toronto. The old, established families were dying out and in their place was a younger breed of new-moneyed clients less attuned to courtly ways and much more demanding. For her, Harry would always be Crawford’s junior.
“Bring me all the Deighton files, please,” said Harry. She nodded and left the office without further comment. Annoyed, he tossed down his pen. Although Miss Giveny brought continuity, her loyalty to Richard’s ghost could cause untold problems.
For years, Crawford had played front man and rainmaker. Kept in the back room, Harry had prepared the legal work. No one would believe that such a miserly soul existed within the warm, magnanimous personage of Richard Crawford. The clients loved and trusted him; the profession revered him. Harry knew that the man’s gracious and regal exterior hid a shameless, pinched soul. Although many clients had never met Harry, Marjorie was an exception, fortunately.
His secretary returned with a stack of Deighton files.
“Thank you, Miss Giveny.” Harry extracted the will file and spread it on the desk. To banish the image of Richard sprawled at his feet, he determined to sort out the business of the will and the secret trust.
According to Crawford’s disjointed memos, Marjorie Deighton had changed her will again. In the prior one, Suzannah, her niece, received the valuable Deighton residence. At the epicenter of Toronto’s real-estate boom, the property would be held in trust for her until she was thirty, and then it would be hers outright. But she had to be well over thirty by now. Along with Katharine, the other niece, and Gerry, the nephew, she had a one-third interest in the cash and other assets, estimated at about three million dollars.
Under the newly executed will, Suzannah lost sole entitlement to the house. Everything would be sold and the proceeds divided equally among the three of them.
But the memo had called for a secret trust for Suzannah to be attached to the will. Crawford had scrawled at the foot of the memo: Be sure to get the secret trust right! So where were the damned notes? Harry drummed his fingers on the desk. He would have to call Marjorie as soon as possible.
In his will, Sir William Mortimer Deighton, father of Marjorie, had set up trusts for each of his three grandchildren. Regular monthly income and generous access to capital had always cushioned the lives of Suzannah, Gerry, and Katharine. Fortunately, neither Harry nor Crawford was the sole arbiter of the trust: Toronto’s Gideon Trust Company had the final say most of the time. They also had the pleasure of dealing directly with Frank Sasso in his efforts to deplete Suzannah’s trust.
Miss Giveny bellowed from the outer office, “Marjorie Deighton on line two!”
Harry winced. Despite his frequent attempts to educate her on the new phone system, she studiously refused to master the intricacies of the hold and intercom buttons.
He strove to hit the right note of graciousness and formality. “Miss Deighton, how are you today? It was good to see you at Richard’s funeral. Such a shock for us all,” he murmured.
“It’s so terribly sad.” Harry heard sniffles. Once she had collected herself, her voice became soft, sibilant, and rapid, with an underlying note of distraction. “Now that Richard’s gone, you’re the only one I can turn to for advice. I do have a problem.” She paused ominously. “I want to make some changes to my will. Could you come to the house this afternoon?”
“Would four o’clock be all right?”
“Yes, and thank you, Harry, for coming on such short notice. I’m seeing someone at two and will need your advice afterwards about certain matters.” Miss Deighton paused as if debating whether to explain further. “Also, I’m terribly worried about two people who mean a great deal to me.”
“Yes?” Harry picked up his pen.
“My niece, Suzannah, with that man Sasso…” She paused. “And, of course, Donald, my great nephew. He’s a fine youngster, you know, but his parents seem determined to misunderstand him.” Marjorie sighed deeply. “There’s simply too much pressure on the child.”
“How old is he?”
“Donnie’s only fifteen—just at the very beginning of his life. I’m letting Rosie go early today. I’ll leave the door unlocked, so just let yourself in. I’ll be in the front parlor.”
“Should I bring Miss Giveny with me?”
“Yes, please. I’m afraid I may have rather lengthy instructions. But perhaps we’ll still have time for a sherry.”
Harry leaned back in his chair and stretched. He hoped to get the business of the secret trust straightened out at last. She had mentioned Donnie only once or twice before. Gerry’s son, he recalled. He smiled to himself. Many times he had seen love and concern uniting the eldest and the youngest generations. As far as he knew, Suzannah and Katharine had no children.
“Mr. Jenkins!” Miss Giveny called out. “Someone on the line. Won’t say what he wants. Calls himself…Chin.” Upon hearing a different accent, Miss Giveny’s drawbridge slammed shut and her suspicious tone reflected her narrow world.
Harry reached for the phone. “Jenkins here.”
“Mr. Jenkins, my name is Albert Chin. I require the services of a lawyer to transact certain land purchases. There may be some rezoning applications and offshore interests to consider as well. You have been highly recommended to me.”
“Certainly, Mr. Chin.” Harry sat up straighter in his chair and glanced at his appointment book. He could not miss the urgency in his caller’s voice. Obviously, it was very lucrative work.
“Would it be possible to come to your office at two o’clock today? These matters are most pressing.”
“Yes. That would be fine,” Harry said slowly, wondering about the traffic on the way to Marjorie’s house.
Albert Chin murmured his gratitude.
“May I ask who recommended me?” asked Harry. But Mr. Chin had hung up.
Although cautious, Harry was elated. Hong Kong money had been swamping Toronto for years and had funded a massive construction boom. Sadly, none of it had drifted his way. With his elderly client base dying off, it was only good business sense to crack new markets.
Since Harry’s childhood, the city had changed beyond recognition. He had grown up on the southerly face of Hoggs Hollow, at the city limits. Near his house, the streetcar line ended. Looking north, he could see Yonge Street, just a strip of pavement, cutting a narrow swath through the waving treetops, underbrush, and river lands until it reached the far side of the valley. Today, he faced a brand-new city of gleaming office towers and condominiums on the far hill.
When he came home from school, the streetcar would let Harry off at the loop under a red-tiled shelter, reminiscent of rooftops in exotic lands. The afternoon sun slanted sharply, illuminating the row of houses. His home was there: neat, square, and ordinary.
Most of all, he remembered Sunday afternoons when his father would take the family for drives around the city. Dad would go to any part of town, and there seemed to be a message in every trip. Often, they would start down Mount Pleasant Road, which wound its way through the ravines. Queasy with the smell of sun on the fabric-covered seats, Harry would try to hold his breath. His sister Anna, always with a book, sat beside him. He would keep the window rolled down until the green of the ravines gave way to the shops on Bloor Street. Sometimes he would grab her book and tussle in the back seat, until they started down Jarvis Street. Then they rolled up the windows and stared out.
In front of the old sunlit housing and the vast shadowy churches and parks lay a world unknown to them. Men, the kind they never saw uptown, stumbled drunkenly along the sidewalks. Noisy scuffles broke out, and lonely cries echoed up and down the empty street.
In Sunday school, the virtue of hard work—mingled with compassion for those less fortunate—had been drilled into them. Girls in prettily smocked dresses and boys in starched white shirts and gray flannels learned to count their blessings. “Be honest, truthful, and kind. Work hard, and you will be rewarded,” the teachers would always say, and then they’d warn, “Jesus is watching you.”
Harry had learned his lessons well. He had kept his part of the bargain. But where was his reward? Flashy cars and grandiose houses were the supposed perks of his profession. His Ford was surrounded by Audis. Playing by the rules had not gotten him far. Of course, he wasn’t poor. Laura and he were comfortable. Yet, there was a yearning, a sense that the time for making real money was passing. But it wasn’t just the money. A dull emptiness nagged at his spirit.
Reaching to the back of his desk drawer, he fumbled for a pack of cigarettes. He took one and opened the window to the fire escape. With any luck, the breeze would dissipate the evidence. Closing his eyes, he drew deeply on the cigarette.
If you played by the rules and did not stray, your reward would come. It was ridiculous to be still burdened by Sunday school lessons at the age of forty-two! By now, he should have developed some personal moral code, suitable for most occasions. Spots of sunlight permeated the gloom of the alleyway. He watched as a few people walked between the buildings far below.
Laura and he had argued a few weeks ago about money—a topic fraught with land mines. Her hardened face floated up in his mind.
“Law practice is more than just making money,” Harry had insisted.
“Of course!” she said in wearily impatient tones. “But it certainly doesn’t hurt to set the right value on your services.”
“So I’m not making enough. Is that it?”
“No. But if you didn’t get so personally involved with your clients, maybe you’d do better.”
Harry was astonished. “So I care too much about them? I care about what I’m doing?”
She glared at him. “Why do you practice law, Harry?”
“Maybe you should have been a social worker.” She was goading him. She knew he hated that mentality. “Always holding the client’s hand.”
“Clients trust me! I’ve earned that. I can’t turn around and fleece them.”
She smiled up at him. “Harry, you’re a true knight in shining armor.”
She was laughing at him. Locked in a futile dance, neither of them had heard nor understood the other.
Harry realized he had been gripping the window ledge. Maybe more money would help, but he yearned for something more. He flicked his cigarette out the window and watched it twirl into the abyss.