Jacob Morgendorffer, Esq.
Lawndale, Maryland/Mossy Creek, Virginia
"Okay, Daddy," Helen laughed into the telephone. "Oh, here's Jake now if you want to talk to him. Okay, I love you, too."
"It's Daddy," she said extending the telephone to Jake as she stood.
Jake nodded wearily then pecked her on the cheek before taking the telephone. With an inaudible sigh, he sat down in the overstuffed chair that his wife vacated.
"Hi, Dad," he said. "How are you?"
"Oh, tolerable, tolerable," Porky drawled. "Helen filled me in on the swimming exploits of my granddaughters and the neighbor kids you two have taken under your wings."
"Yeah, all four are part of the local AAU swim club," Jake answered. "They had a meet over in Annapolis today."
"That Trent boy sounds like another Mark Spitz," said Porky.
Jake chuckled. "Helen tends to exaggerate just a little when it comes to the kids but Trent is good. It's hard to believe he couldn't swim a stoke last summer."
"He couldn't?" Porky asked.
"No." Jake replied. "He admitted that after I signed everyone up for lessons at the "Y" but he took to it like a dolphin. He won all three of the events he was in today which is great but the important thing is that it's a healthy activity."
"Provides some structure too," Porky said. "And from what Helen said, it is something the boy and his sister need."
Jake paused for a moment. "Parenting is no cakewalk," he quietly said. "I don't agree with Vincent's and Amanda's style but I'd hesitate to criticize them too much."
"I don't have to look any further than your own two girls to know that you have good instincts, Jake," Porky replied. "If you think they're wrong, likely they are."
"Thanks, Dad," Jake replied. "Although I don't know how much credit I can claim for Daria and Quinn. I sometimes think I'm just guessing about what to do most of the time especially with the girls being so different from each other."
Porky laughed heartily. "Welcome to the club," he said. "My three could not have had more diverse personalities if you had designed them. They were like morning, noon, and night."
Jake laughed in return. "I suppose Helen was a handful."
It was several moments before Porky spoke. "Taking in account the decade she spent putting as much distance as she could between us, you would think so," he finally said in a faraway voice. "But looking back on it, Helen really was the easiest of the three to deal with. She was as stubborn as a Missouri mule from the get go but whereas Amy was a contrarian for the sake of it, I could almost always reason with Helen and she was so damn smart she more than once changed my mind with her arguments."
Jake laughed with his father-in-law before speaking. "If I'm wrong about that I guess I'm wrong in thinking that Rita was the one that gave you the fewest headaches," he said.
Porky nodded although Jake could not see the gesture. "Yes and no, really. Rita was such a happy, outgoing, polite child everyone thought that she must be every parent's dream but," he replied than paused for a trice seeking words for his thoughts. "I worried myself sick for years over Rita. She was always so obedient, and eager to please, far too eager. I tried to get her to be more self-assertive but my wife lapped up such blind compliance like a kitten with cream. I feared, justifiably so as it turned out, that she would do anything to fulfill her mother expectations."
"Marrying Jim was a perfect example of that. He was everything my wife wanted in a son-in-law, the right background, a correct profession, a handsome, sparkling presence at cotillions and the like. I really don't know if Rita actually loved him or the ideal that was instilled in her."
"She and Rafe are happy," Jake said.
"Rafe's the kind of man she needs," Porky chuckled. "It took my better half the better part of five years to finally warm to him. Trading a proper southern descendant of Revolutionary War and CSA generals for the Yankee son of an Ohio coal miner was in the same league as the Cubs trading Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio in her mind but she loves their two boys to death and is tickled pink that they named the eldest after me so she accepts Rafe as part of the deal."
"I think that she has yet to warm up to me," Jake said with no small amount of regret. However, than again he thought Helen and my mom do not exactly sit around the kitchen together laughing as they bake cookies.
Porky sighed deeply. "Son," he sadly replied. "I'm not going to lie to you; she hasn't but it's less about you and more about the strain between her and Helen. Those two have butted heads from the time that Helen was knee high to a grasshopper and after all these years the best I can do is to get them to be civil to each other for a few hours at a time."
Well," Jake mused. "You and Rita like me so I got half of the Barksdales in my corner anyway."
"Amy likes you too but won't admit that to save her life," Porky replied. "Anyway, other than successfully raising a pod of porpoises I understand that further congratulations are due you. Helen said that you kept nearly every one of the firm's clients."
"Yeah," Jake replied. "I was...very surprised. I thought most would walk."
Porky chuckled. "They know that you been doing most of the work since you've been there. Clearly, they liked what they saw."
"I was gonna go with most of them are too lazy to look for another lawyer," Jake quipped. "But I like your interpretation."
"Now, Jake," Porky began. "I don't want to hear that kind of fool talk from you. You've earned the trust and confidence that your clients have shown in you in the wake of Von Rheinbaben's death. Don't insult them by believing otherwise."
"Yes, sir," Jake firmly replied.
"That's more like it, son," Porky said.
"I guess...I dunno," Jake said. "I suppose that I still find it hard to believe in myself sometimes."
Porky exhaled audibly. "Yeah," he began. "It's hard to overcome a bad raising but from where I sit you have more than done so."
"Thank you," Jake humbly replied picturing in his mind's eye his father-in-law relaxing in his favorite recliner.
"When do you officially hang out your shingle?" Porky asked.
"Officially?" Jake asked rhetorically. "Probably in a couple of weeks. I have to file some paperwork with the state and since the heirs want to sell the office property I need to find suitable space and hire an associate and a legal secretary also since Mrs. Camphausen is retiring."
"Well, take your time on all of them," Porky advised casting his eyes about the den. He paused as a sudden thought came to him. "Can I do something for you?"
"No," Jake replied. "I'm on top of everything but thank you anyway."
"Sorry, I wasn't very clear," Porky chuckled. "What I mean is I'd like for you to have my desk. It's been used by five generations of Barksdale men."
At his end of the line, Jake blinked several times before clearing his throat. "Thanks, Dad," he croaked. "I appreciate it but don't you think you should be give it to Helen instead?"
"No," Porky replied, the sharp forcefulness of his retort tempered by light laughter. "She would see it as an antique. She'd want to have it appraised and insured and stuck in some corner where it could only be reverently approached for the weekly dusting." Finding the sudden image of Helen genuflecting before the desk funny, he laughed again before continuing. "Well, it followed me to Richmond and to Washington but now that I'm retired it is pretty much just gathering dust and that's a disgrace. Casting modesty aside for a moment, over the nearly two centuries that desk has been around a lot of folks have been helped by the work done on it. I reckon you would carry on that tradition."
"Thanks, Dad," Jake repeated warmly repeated.
"You're welcome, son," Porky replied. "I look forward to seeing it in the office of Jacob Morgendorffer, Esquire."
"Before the dogwoods bloom," responded Jake.
"Speaking of trees blooming," Porky said. "The Twins are going to be in Baltimore for three games in early April, a weekend series. I'm thinking about getting tickets for the Saturday game. To my surprise Amy said she'd come down from New York and Rita's crew is on board so how about it? Fourteen tickets are as easy to get as eight."
"Count us in," Jake chuckled. "Are you going to wear your old Washington Senators cap?"
"Of course," Porky joked back. "Can't let those Minnesota boys forget where they came from. Did I ever tell you about me seeing the Senators win game seven of the 1924 World Series?"
"Once or twice," Jake replied thinking about the photograph that hung in Porky's den. Ambrose Junior snapped a picture of his young son with the Senators' second baseman Bucky Harris. Jake knew that the photograph meant more to his father-in-law than all the medals the army showered on him during the war. "But I wouldn't mind hearing about it again."
"Well, I wasn't quite five years old yet," Porky began expansively. "But already crazy about baseball. You know, I was Washington & Lafayette's starting catcher for three years. I was better at football really but my love was baseball. Anyway, the great Walter Johnson was pitching that day."
"Jacob Morgendorffer, Attorney at Law. Lauren Brahms speaking. How may we help you? I am sorry, sir, but we don't handle divorces."
Jake smiled wanly. Jacob Morgendorffer, Attorney at Law. The novelty of hearing his secretary say that yet had to wear away. Like his name on the door or on the embossed business cards, he so proudly sent to his mother, sister, and a few of his acquaintances from Middleton or the short-lived commune, it was another symbol of his climb from the pit of his childhood.
The cards even allowed him to put another demon to rest. He sent one by registered mail to his old instructor at Buxton Ridge, Corporal Ellenbogen. The spitefulness Jake felt when he mailed the card to him turned to embarrassment when the old man wrote him back congratulating Jake on his success and asking him to help prepare his will. Jake made a quick trip to Pennsylvania and did the job pro bono.
The Morgendorffer law firm occupied a three-room suite on the Schaffer Building's sixth floor. The building was the second tallest in town and most of Lawndale could be seen spreading out below. Light from the row of windows flooded a room filled with dark, heavy furniture and wood paneling. Dark, leafy plants dotted the space. In front of the windows, a low slung coffee table sat in the midst of a sofa and two high back chairs all upholstered with forest green leather. Bookshelves filled with legal tomes all but hid the two perpendicular walls. Along the far wall from the windows, an old-fashioned wheeled, swivel chair that Jake was sitting on stood before an even older roll top desk. Across the top of the desk were photographs of Jake's family. One had a brand-new replica Washington Senators cap hung over one corner. From its frame, Porky, Rafe, and Jake beamed at the world. The scoreboard in the background showing Minnesota's six to five victory over Baltimore scarcely month ago.
Jake reached over and powered down the computer and printer. He gently lowered the desktop but did not bother to lock it. Instead, he ran his fingers deliberately across the front of it. With a deep sigh, he grabbed his briefcase and the baseball cap before leaving his office.
Jake knocked on the suite's other office door before walking in. "I'm leaving now, Mr. Gupty," he said. Jake retained the marked formality of Von Rheinbaben's office.
"Yes, sir," he nervously stammered. "Anything I should do?"
"Just hold down the fort," Jake replied.
"What if...," the associate began.
"Whatever what if is you can handle it," Jake interrupted. "I would not have hired you otherwise."
"Thank you, sir," Lester Gupty said gratefully.
"Good bye, Mr. Gupty," Jake replied.
"Good bye, Mr. Morgendorffer," his associate said.
"Good bye, Captain Morgendorffer," Jake's secretary echoed when he turned from around.
"Good bye, Miss Brahms," Jake replied to the skinny twenty year old. "I should be back by Wednesday. If not, I'll let you know."
"Yes, sir," she replied with a nod. "Sir, please accept my condolences once again. I could tell how close the two of you were when your father-in-law was up here last week."
"Thank you," Jake replied sadly. "But he wasn't my father-in-law. He was my father really. The only father I had. I just wish...never mind."
"There's never enough time, is there, Captain," Miss Brahms kindly said thinking of her own grandmother who died shortly after Christmas.
"No," Jake quietly replied as he absently rubbed a thumb across the bill of the cap that Porky forgot in the office when he left eight days earlier. "There isn't."