Jacob Morgendorffer, Esq.
Lawndale, Maryland, USA
If Millie's Diner were any more crowded, feet would have been sticking out of the windows but Jake, an overcoat draped over his green U. S. Army service uniform, entered anyway. Nerves prevented him from eating anything other than a dry piece of toast that morning so he was hungry but did not feel like driving back to the house nor did any one of the several fast food places in the neighborhood tempt him. What did were the alluring odors waffling from the grill of Millie's that teased his nose all the way across the street.
A few patrons looked at him curiously. Despite the town's proximity to Washington, D.C. and the military bases that surrounded it, soldiers were not that common in Lawndale let alone one in full uniform in the middle of a weekday but, other than one police officer that nodded a friendly greeting at Jake, none paid him any mind.
"Aw, hell," a voice behind Jake muttered.
"Excuse me," Jake said.
A tall lean man with greying hair dressed in a sharp, dark blue suit that even Jake's unpracticed eye knew to be very expensive waved a dismissive hand. "Nothing," he said. "I was just forlornly hoping to get and out in a hurry. I knew that it would be packed as always but I have a craving for their country fried steak."
"Good?" Jake asked shedding his overcoat.
"Best in Maryland," the man replied.
'I'll have to try it than," Jake said. "You know, it's just me. I'm willing to share a table if you don't mind eating with a stranger."
The man smiled broadly. "Thanks, Captain," he said extending his hand. "Charles Ruttheimer."
"Jacob Morgendorffer," Jake answered as he shook hands.
A hostess in an outlandish pink uniform bustled up to them. "Table for two?" she asked.
"Yes, please," Charles responded.
"So what brings a JAG officer to Lawndale," he asked after they sat down at a booth.
"You recognize the insignia," Jake said somewhat surprised.
Charles shrugged slightly. "I did my two years right after college. Managed to achieve the exalted rank of Lance Corporal."
"Marine Corps, than."
Charles shook his head. "No," he replied. "The war hadn't heated up quite yet while I was in. Spent a year in Korea, though."
"I just got back from there," Jake said.
Charles whistled lightly. "I wasn't getting shot at there but the winters are something else, colder than a witch's tit in a brass bra."
"Oh, yeah," agreed Jake wholeheartedly.
Charles noticed the waitress walking up to them. "I don't need a menu, miss," he said politely. "I'll have the country fried steak, home-style potatoes, green beans, a roll and black coffee."
"Make that two, please," Jake added. "Except I'll have baked instead of green beans."
"I like men who know what they want," the waitress said as she placed cutlery rolled in napkins and glasses of water on the table. "Any dessert?'
Both men shook their heads.
"All righty," the waitress said. "Be out in a jiff."
"What brings a JAG officer to Lawndale?" Charles asked again.
Jake sighed. "I had a job interview across the street," he replied. "At Vitale, Horowitz, Riordan, Schrecter, Schrecter, and Schrecter."
"Vitale's a grade 'A' horse's ass," Charles said. "Riordan's about as bad. The rest I don't know although I'll go with guilt by association."
"I need a job," Jake countered. "I'm officially off active duty next week."
Charles grinned. "Do you always go to job interviews in uniform?"
Jake formed a rueful smile. "No but five minutes before I was going to leave the house my one good suit collided with a bowl of oatmeal."
Charles laughed heartily. "Been there. When my son was about a year old he threw up into my brief case," he said. "Regurgitated pears all over a several hundred thousand dollar contract. Fortunately, the client was a father and a grandfather so we just shared a good laugh and drew up another one. Still use that same briefcase. Been rather lucky for me over the last few years."
Jake nodded. "Maybe the accident will bring me the same kind of luck," he said apathetically.
Charles frowned. "I get the feeling that you really don't want the job with Vitale, Captain."
Jake leaned back. "If I had my druthers, I'd stay in the army," he said after a moment. "It's funny. I spent years avoiding the service because of some bad blood between me and my father but once I got in, I loved it."
"I knew several draftees who felt the same way," Charles replied. "So why not stay in?"
"My wife," Jake answered simply.
"Ah," Charles said in understanding.
"She wants me out so there it is," Jake replied. "But I am transferring to the active reserves. Keep a toe in the water, anyway"
"Good," Charles laughed. "We can't let the wives have their way totally."
"Just ninety-nine percent," Jake returned.
"Oh, yeah, you've been married a while, too," said Charles. "Well, I know that being a service wife can be difficult."
"Actually, she joined JAG when I did but got out as soon as her obligation was up," Jake said. "She was hired by Davis-Miller here in Lawndale."
"I know them, "Charles said. "Miller's a feminist firebrand who sees sexual harassment in every innocuous comment but Davis has her head screwed on mostly straight. So your family is already here?"
"Yeah," Jake answered. "Since last summer. Helen, my wife, bought a house and moved her and our two girls here while I was still in Korea."
The waitress scooted to a halt by their table, a laden tray in her hands. "Here you are, gentlemen," she said. "Enjoy."
Both had several mouthfuls before Jake broke the silence. "You were right, "he said. "This is very good."
"Wouldn't steer a soldier wrong, "Charles said. "If corporate law doesn't float your boat, what kind of law do you want to practice, Captain?"
Jake took a long sip of coffee as he gathered his thoughts. "What I enjoy most is helping with wills, setting up trust funds, that sort of thing," he answered.
"Estate Law," Charles said.
"Yeah," Jake replied lazily as he attacked the rest of his food.
The remainder of the meal passed in silence as both men concentrated on their plates. It was not until the bills were paid and both men found them outside in the cold January wind did either speak.
"It was a pleasure meeting you, Mister Ruttheimer," Jake said putting out his hand. "Thanks for the tip on the country fried steak. It was great. I'll have to bring Helen down here sometime."
"My pleasure was mine, Captain," Charles said shaking hands. "If you want to take the wife to some place really good for dinner, I'd suggest The Fiddling Crab or if you want to indulge in our German heritage, Café Konigsberg."
"To be honest," Jake said. "My family comes from Alsace."
"Der Deutschlandlied says that its part of Germany, too so who are we to disagree?" Charles laughed. "Hang on a second," he added as Jake turned to leave.
Jake watched inquisitively as Charles reached into his overcoat and extracted a business card on which he quickly scribbled something on its back.
"I don't know if it will amount to anything but if estate law's your preference here's a firm you can try," he said as he handed Jake the card.
"William Von Rheinbaben," Jake read aloud. "211 Oak Street."
"That's downtown near city hall," Charles clarified. "He's the estate lawyer for most of the old money families in town as well as several of the nouveau riche like me. He might be in the market for an associate. I think another one just quit on him."
"That's reassuring," Jake laughed. "But thank you," he continued. "I'll definitely go see him."
"Don't be put off by his manner," Charles said. "I think he was the man for whom they came up with the word curmudgeon but he's honest as the day is long and loyal as a beagle, traits that you have in spades unless my first impression gauge is seriously out of whack."
"Thank you," Jake repeated sincerely.
"We Germans have to stick together," Charles said as he headed into the parking lot. "Good luck, Captain."
"May I help you?"
Jake looked around spotting a woman smartly but conservatively dressed in a pale lavender blouse with a bit of ruffle at the throat and a darker violet skirt. Her hair, done up in a bun, was mostly blonde. Grey eyes stared at him but their twinkle matched the friendly smile on her lips.
"Yes, ma'am," Jake replied. "I was hoping to see Mister Von Rheinbaben."
"In regards to what?" she asked not impolitely.
"I'm an attorney," Jake told her. "I've heard that he might need an associate."
The woman gave him a long look. "You're not a spring chicken, are you, Captain?"
"A secretary who takes her gatekeeper duties seriously," Jake thought. "Well, I guess I'll have to answer the sphinx's riddle if I'm ever going to see Von Rheinbaben."
"I'm thirty-seven," he answered aloud.
"So what's the story?" she asked. "Have you been passed over by the promotion board for the third time so now the army's kicking you out?"
"You're familiar with the army I see but no," Jake replied. "I've only been in five years. I'm transferring to the reserves and looking for civilian employment."
The woman eyed him speculatively for several more moments before visibly relaxing with a deep sigh. She walked over to him with her hand extended. "I'm Mrs. Camphausen."
"Jacob Morgendorffer," he replied shaking her hand briefly.
"The truth of the matter, Captain Morgendorffer," she said quietly. "Is that we could use at least two associates."
Jake smiled. "I was told that he could be difficult."
Mrs. Camphausen smiled in return. "As the old saying goes, a lot of the bark got left on him but he is a very good man if you look past the crust. I have been his legal secretary for nearly twenty years and haven't regretted a day of it."
Jake's reply died when an office door opened and a very short, completely bald man in a rumpled tweed jacket walked through into the room. Thick glasses perched on a bulbous nose that dominated a profoundly wrinkled face.
"Who's this," he barked.
"This is Captain Jacob Morgendorffer," Mrs. Camphausen introduced. "He is inquiring about the associate's position, Mr. Von Rheinbaben."
"Dammit," Von Rheinbaben irritably snapped. "You didn't go behind my back and advertise for an associate, did you?"
"Charles Ruttheimer told me that you might need one," Jake said before Mrs. Camphausen could speak. "I took a chance and came down here because Estate Law is what I want to practice."
"Ruttheimer, eh?" Von Rheinbaben said as he scrutinized Jake closely.
"I have a resume with me," Jake said, as the silence grew uncomfortable.
The elderly attorney snorted. "Resumes," he hooted. "Might as well hand someone a copy of Huck Finn as little as most of them have to do with reality."
"There is nothing in my resume that isn't accurate," Jake snapped. "And I sure as hell resent the implication."
"You can resent it seven ways from Sunday for all I care," Von Rheinbaben loudly fired back. "I don't know you from Adam so why should I give a damn what you think?"
"Because if I walk out, a bad-tempered, pea-brained gnome like you isn't going to get anyone near as good as me to walk in," Jake retorted. "No matter how much you advertise."
After staring at Jake for several moments, Von Rheinbaben slyly grinned shoving a shar-pei pack's worth of wrinkles toward his cheekbones.
"Came into my office, Captain," he said.