After reading a witness deposition about a construction accident, I closed my eyes and leaned back in my swivel chair. It wasn’t the kind of statement a corporate defense attorney likes to see. I was mentally piecing together a sharp rebuttal when I was distracted by voices outside my office door.
Andrea, my assistant, got louder and more forceful.
“Mr. Bongorelli cannot be disturbed but I am happy to schedule an appointment.”
“Don’t worry, Babe, he’ll see me. You tell him it’s Squeezer Markham. He’ll know …”
I flew out of my chair and yanked the door open. His dark hair was streaked with gray and drawn back in an untidy ponytail. Typical jock, he wore his green and blue high school football jacket no matter it was decades old.
I grabbed his arm and dragged him into my office.
“What the hell do you want?”
He brushed my hand away. “Don’t be like that. I’m in a jam. First person I thought of, my old buddy Bongo.”
“Buddy? When were we buddies? I can’t even count the times you pushed my head into a locker and pressed the door hard on my neck, trying to squeeze me unconscious. And not only me. You bullied everyone and then …” I pointed to the nickname stitched above the Roosevelt High logo on his jacket, “… you wore the name ‘Squeezer’ like an outlaw’s coat of arms. News flash, we meant it as a pejorative.”
Squeezer knitted his eyebrows together, as he so frequently did in high school right before he went off on some poor kid. Then he relaxed. “All in fun, Bongo, all in fun.”
Fun for him, maybe. Not so much for the rest of us. I shot the cuffs of my light blue Brioni dress shirt, flashing my Tiffany cuff links. Take that, Squeezer, you loser.
“Listen, whatever it is, I can refer you to a top-flight attorney.”
Squeezer grimaced. “No dice, Bongo. This is way too serious for someone I don’t know. If I don’t know ’em, I don’t trust ’em.”
“You must know other lawyers. Why come to me?”
“Because I didn’t do it. And if anyone would love to see me rot in jail, it’s you, so I figure if you work for me you’ll have to uphold that lawyer’s oath, like I saw on TV. ‘First do no harm.’ ”
“That’s the doctor’s oath. Lawyers pledge to give the best possible representation.”
“Yeah, that. You have to give me that kinda representation. And if I can convince you …” He pulled a pack of Marlboros from his sleeve. “Yo, got a light?”
I saw a way to get him out of my office. He’d be hard to explain as a potential client in our upscale corporate tax and liability firm. “You can’t smoke here. Let’s go across to the park.”
We sat on a bench under a widespread poplar that lost most of its leaves in an early frost.
Squeezer lit a cigarette and took a deep drag. As he exhaled, he said, “You know I married Lisa Gaspar, right?”
I nodded. I’d heard that somewhere.
“Didn’t work out so good. Lisa got tired of my crap and took a walk. Can’t say I blame her. I’m a real party boy.” He puffed out his chest, proud he still had cool dude standing.
I’d been a lawyer long enough to know that people tell their stories in their own sweet time. I said nothing, waiting for him to continue.
“After a while, partying was no fun without Lisa to come home to, so I asked her if we could patch things up. She said she’d think about it.” Squeezer gave a sheepish grin, a side of him I’d never seen before.
I motioned for him to keep going.
He flicked his cigarette butt across the sidewalk and changed topics. “You know I’m a garbage man, right? They call us trash haulers but, like my old man before me, I wear the green uniform.”
I slued my eyes toward my gold Ferragamo watch. If he started segueing here and there, the story could go on forever.
Squeezer caught my glance and said, “Okay, I’ll cut to the chase. It all happened this morning …