As I slipped under the awning bearing my great grandfather’s name, dressed in local business formal, an Aloha shirt and khakis, I smiled as Rebecca met me in the expanse of the greeting area. It’s easy for me to recall my father meeting his secretary Corallee the exact same way, all smiles and warmth. Except I rather doubt dad was screwing Corallee. She was sixty at the time. A post-war battle-axe, and built like a modern parking meter. Weird angles and a curiously flat head. She was, however, very efficient, and as kind and supportive to the entire family as any person I’ve ever known, including my ex-wives Mrs. Keates II and III. When dad left the firm, Corallee left with him. According to her Christmas cards, she’s now living quite comfortably in a retirement home in the state of Washington on the US mainland. Apparently she’s taken a lover, but I digress.
I chose to follow my father in this profession on account of my sharp wit, practical mind and lack of drive. It didn’t hurt that my last name is above the office door. My great-grandfather’s firm has had an office in these islands since before this chain was even a protectorate. His arrival to these balmy, palm-laced shores as the child of a missionary family predates the colonization of the islands. I often wonder if he’d recognize its current harbors brimming with gunboats and installations of well-dressed, well-armed, yet courteous troops, all lying in wait for an insurrection that the native islanders have grown too complacent and racially diverse to put into play.
Rebecca bought me a few minutes to sit, review her phone notes and find my ground as she got both Mr. Nicholson and his decidedly mop-headed boy a water and a parking voucher. Upon my arrival she’d also given me a tape to listen to. It was this morning’s recorded conversation with Doc Nicholson taken over the V-REC the firm had installed after the Paniolo Pines money mismanagement case. For a scholar of finances, the mild, bespectacled Bill Nicholson had a mouth on him like an enraged barrister. I listened to his clamor on a headset. I could hear Rebecca trying to guide his derailed train of conversation back on track. His rampant curse ladenned, stuttered and slurred diatribes against the school and the constant belittling of his son did little to inspire me to help him. Despite this, I eventually gave Rebecca the green light to let the two of them in.
The two Nicholsons entered the office quietly; the anxiety and anger of the long 15-minute drive of shamed arguing from their valley home to the office still lingered between the two of them. Young Mark Nicholson’s eyes were red and moist from rubbing and emotion. Both looked completely fatigued. They were frazzled to the point where comprehension was losing ground to either complete rage or, in Mark’s case, near exhaustion due to fear. I looked at the lad sitting rigidly upright across from me while quietly reaching into my desk for the pack of Rothmann’s I’d borrowed off Rebecca’s fridge. As I went to light up, Mark Nicholson’s eyes followed my hands. He didn’t fidget. He didn’t pose. He just sat as a witness to something out of his control. His brown Hang Ten tee hung from his snot and saline covered shoulders. The short sleeves stretched from use as a tissue. The shirt looked like a brown cotton sack on a scarecrow. He watched my fingers tap the Rothmann on my inkpad and then roll over the Zippo.
Details of this new case were blurred at first, but, apparently, the heat from the school administration was on young master Nicholson, and the school wanted blood for the wellbeing of their donors and reputation. There was mention of cannabis, the well-known ‘gateway’ drug, and the school just couldn’t be party to such things. The snips for cutting mediocre grapes out of The Goode School vineyard was being sharpened, and Mark Nicholson’s scholastic standing, as meager as it was, was on the block.
Bill Nicholson was a tenured professor of international banking at the university, and he was frantic when my secretary Rebecca had taken his call. He was circling the wagons in order to ensure that nobody got wind of the situation. He wanted this issue resolved as quickly and painlessly as possible, and he was doing his utmost to ensure that his scrawny son didn’t end up in a public school amongst the GP.
The islands were renowned for few things beyond beautiful, coral white beaches, good surfing, sugar cane production and unspoken racial tension. The public schools were a sad display of the populous’ despair over the country’s inability to provide for its people. Mark Nicholson’s release into this despair would surely drop him from the ranks of his well-heeled peers forever, and with him in this fall would be his father’s reputation at the commonwealth’s university. With little effort, and in her skilled, professional manner, Rebecca was able to get the very excited Mr. Nicholson calmed down by the time she had set up my appointment.
Coming up… the crime explained.
Many thanks to my client John Swanson at MANVIL, who allows me to use this space in order to lance my soul’s blisters of the injustices I have seen.