Day 11 in my novel-in-a-month effort

Chapter 11: Sun King

 The term “family farmer with regular annual income” means a family farmer whose annual income is sufficiently stable and regular to enable such family farmer to make payments under a plan under chapter 12 of this title.

—Title 11, United States Code, Bankruptcy, General Provisions, Definitions

It was early June, and Claude Dedrick found himself feeling uncharacteristically pleased with the world.

The first weeks at the Dedrick law firm had had their ups and downs, but he thought things were going smoothly, pretty smoothly indeed. He liked to think much of that was due to his superior management skills.

Those were skills that he was never able to bring to bear in his 15 years on the supreme court, where he was never tapped for the Chief Justice job. Even though he had indicated his interest, and documented his skills and vision in numerous print documents and Power Point presentations, his fellow justices never appeared interested in availing themselves of his powers. So he sat, year after year, in various leather chairs, but never the center one.

He had thought retirement would bring an end to his yearning for the ability to control the destiny of others, but his wife had different ideas. She had reacted, shall we say, poorly to his presence in the house every morning, noon and night. He could sense her displeasure when he rearranged the coffee mugs that she had already put away, or when he insisted that the morning newspaper might be easier to read if she had ironed it before setting it in front of his morning breakfast.

Still, “a cancer on this house” was putting it rather strongly, he thought. He believed that he had never seen his wife turn quite that shade of red, and he noted that her fists appeared to be clenched much more often. He suggested that her morning diet of macaroons and strong coffee might be leading her to be unable manage her stress—and her weight. But when he saw that her teeth were exposed and that she was rising from her chair, he decided to engage in some yard work.

That was something he had never done, and he had great expectations for the refreshing qualities it would yield. But after a few hours, he realized that man-handling the expensive equipment that he paid others to handle was not refreshing at all. He even cut himself.

Therefore, for the three months of his retirement, Claude Dedrick strolled his neighborhood. He especially enjoyed the early morning hours, when he might encounter neighbors engaged in their own yard work or dog walking, or power walking, or bird watching, or bicycle riding, or any of the myriad things that he had heard about over his entire life, but had never participated in. These people—these neighbors—fascinated him.

A few weeks later, he was walking down his street’s sidewalk as he approached two men standing at the end of a driveway talking – just talking! He couldn’t believe adults would pass their time in such a fashion! And he heard one say to the other “Here comes the Mayor of Walking Around.”

Claude was a difficult person, but his feelings were not immune to attack. Wounded, head held erect, he strolled past the men and continued around the block. His self esteem had suffered quite a setback, all the way until he reached the next street. But at that point, Dedrick reached down within himself and excavated the most powerful element that those with a deep well of social capital can draw upon: With ravenous and self assured arms, he gathered to himself the indomitable spirit of the truly self involved. He looked within himself to help interact with the world without. And what he saw – what he confirmed – was that he was the world. And all was right with that world.

The remaining time in his brief retirement was spent by Claude Dedrick in a state of renewed vibrancy. He suspected that greater things would be ahead – the phone call from Tom Paine was still about a month away – but for now, he plunged into the role his neighbors had convicted him of: He acted as, no, he became, the Mayor of Arcadia … or at least the Mayor of Dromedary Road.

“Planning on picking up your yard trimmings anytime soon, Mrs. Morris?”

“Kind of early to put up Independence Day decorations, isn’t it, Carl?”

“Lot of landscapers around today, Jim. Are you sure they’re all in this nation legally?”

“Darling grandkids, Mrs. Dalloway. Up kind of late last night, though, weren’t they? Heard them all the way up the block.”

Claude could see in his neighbors faces the gratitude of those set back on the path of righteousness. He smiled more than ever.

When Tom Paine called him in March offering him the managing partner position at this new firm, he accepted readily. Tom, in fact, was secretly surprised that Claude’s voice sounded as if he had anticipated this call all along, when Tom had expected complete amazement from the retired Claude.

What Tom could not have known is that Claude had indeed expected the call, or at least something like it. No, Dedrick did not predict that a former chief justice, also tired of retirement, would hatch a plan to create a new law firm – a new kind of law firm – populated by former justices. He could not have known that he would be called upon to guide a band of distinguished jurists in an entrepreneurial endeavor.

But Dedrick had the supreme confidence of the Sun that all the other planets would fall into orbit, and that some grand new venture would come his way. When the call came, saying Yes was as easy as falling out of bed – or dropping a gavel.

Now, months later, here he sat at the Dedrick law firm, a brand new adventure. And his happiness that day in June arose from a few causes.

First of all, the firm had received and continued to receive many vases of flowers. He was a great lover of flowers. The appearance of a vase of greenery and blooms had never failed to bring a smile to his face.

Oddly enough, his ardor for the floral extended only to cut flowers. In fact, he despised all living plants, whether in the ground or in pots. But inundate plants with herbicides and pesticides, sever the lifeblood from the stalks, perhaps urge them to ingest a basin of colored water so that they resembled nothing found in nature, and gather them in unlikely combinations, often attached to a Mylar balloon or stuffed animal—that was a version of nature Dedrick could get behind.

And once Dedrick had gotten a handle on the edible arrangements and made sure staff understood that they were for partners only, things had run much better.

He also found some hidden pleasures in the Facsimile Center that he had insisted the firm create.

It was common knowledge around the firm, he knew, that he had been disappointed in the low volume of faxes that the Center transmitted and received. He still could not shake the notion that Sam Adams could do more to rectify that situation. Despite that temporary setback, he had discovered that the facsimile machine was the purveyor of a remarkable printed product, of which he was heretofore largely ignorant – and that was the take out menu.

He had first seen a surfeit of the menus stacked in his in-box last week. He had immediately called his secretary to ask what all that jetsam was.

“They’re faxes, Justice Dedrick,” said Mary Franklin, his secretary.

She had learned early that using “Justice” would do her day much better than using “Mr.”

“I can see they’re faxes, Mary, but faxes of what? They look like black and white crossword puzzles.”

“They’re all different,” said Mary, “because they’re menus from area restaurants.”

“Restaurants?” asked Dedrick, beginning to take notice. “How many are there?”

“Dozens,” said Mary, “and more come in every day. Shall I throw them out for you?”

“That won’t be necessary; I’ll take care of it,” said Dedrick.

After Mary left, Dedrick took the stack and sat down in his reading area. There were so many.

And their number was matched only by their variety. Claude was astounded.

There were menus from restaurants of all kinds, offering all kinds of food, from all kinds of ethnicities.

He began to stack the menus, thinking he could dissect them into categories. There were menus advertising: pizza, Ethiopian food, Italian food, seafood, All American cuisine, falafel, hamburgers, Greek food, Lithuanian food, Chinese food, Russian food, British pub food, Japanese food, salad (just salad!), “wraps” (whatever they were), Indian food, German food, vegan food, vegetarian food, lacto organic food, Irish food, French food.

And then there were at least four places advertising yogurt (“Do people eat that much yogurt?” wondered Dedrick), and five advertising frozen yogurt.

There were two restaurants dedicated to coffee and/or dessert, three that sold only breakfast, and one that advertised a “body shampoo,” but he assumed that was not a restaurant.

Claude Dedrick had never found food very interesting. It was sustenance, fuel. But the collage of mismatched and usually poorly designed menus changes all that for him. They opened a new world for him.

Over time, the restaurant faxes became one of Dedrick’s favorite elements of his law firm day. He had Mary three hole punch and binder them. She also was required to give him a status report on new menus that had arrived, restaurants that had shuttered (necessitating disposal of the menu), and “special coupons” of which he should be aware. His Outlook calendar became populated with special offer deadlines, and he planned in advance the restaurants from which he would order “take away,” as he preferred to call it.

Things were good for Claude Dedrick. If he hadn’t found it rather inappropriate, he would have allowed a jaunt into his step as he strolled through the offices.

He also was pleased because of a news story he was reading at the moment. And it occurred to him that it might lead to some business there for him—and the firm.

A national hotel chain—the Y Hotel—was part of a developer’s conception for a grand redevelopment of a portion of downtown Phoenix. The chain, known for its sleek, understated and outré modern vision of furnishings and lifestyles, wanted to site its newest property in an urban zone better known for kokopellis and turquoise.

Frankly, Dedrick cared very little about sleek hotels or even any new vision of downtown Phoenix. And modern furniture made him slightly nauseous, though he wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was the utter lack of adornment, the utilitarian focus, that disturbed him. He preferred some flourish, even if it served no other purpose.

What did interest Dedrick about the story was that a small group of activists was opposing the incursion of the hotel. They were displeased, for some reason or other.

Reading further, he saw that the activists opposed the site for the new structure. It appeared that the developer, despite acres of empty lots in the downtown area, sought to place its 40 story building on the exact parcel where a squat brick building currently sat. Dedrick stared at a photo of the building, and was shocked anyone would care.

But the building, according to the story, was one of the last remaining sites of a once thriving Chinese American community in Phoenix. The building, a former grocery store, had once been a thriving business, selling the fruits and vegetables of farmers and others from miles around. The structure, advocates claimed, was sound, watertight and capable of reuse.

The developer (the story said) had countered that they would let the building stand—sort of. They offered to remove the brick structure’s roof, scrape out its innards like a melon baller strips a fruit, and construct the skyscraper from the ground up, all within the brick walls.

To the casual passer by, all that they would see at the first floor level would be a historic brick building. Above that would soar a gleaming steel and glass building.

The developer even offered to put up a plaque in its soon to be brick ensconced lobby indicating that a Chinese American grocery had once stood on the spot.

All that, marveled Dedrick, and the protestors still complained!

Claude Dedrick had been solely focused on firm management issues in the first month. But now he hungered to focus on law matters. And he knew that the matters had to be ones of serious import, and preferably of some renown. Not for him were uninspired contract matters, like Ted Castro’s, or some benign securities cases, like Drew Duckworth’s, or even entertainment law matters, like Tom Paine’s. No. Dedrick was expecting something with headlines, with verve. Something like a Y Hotel that would have to crush neighborhood advocates and their petty concerns.

Dedrick, the Sun, turned toward his telephone, willing it to ring.

CHAPTERS 12 and 12.1 are next.