CHAPTER 8: CONSIDERATION
Come to my office. We need to talk.
This was the sum total of the message I discovered in my voicemail. No hello. No goodbye. No identification. None of these things were necessary for Sam Aiello, attorney-at-law. Sam went through life ordering the world around according to his whims, and the world largely obeyed.
I hated the feeling of being summoned, but I obeyed too. If Sam was commanding my presence, then it was important. Time was money and both were too precious to Sam to waste. He charged by the minute.
The corporate law offices of Aiello, Crowe, Eldritch and Fay occupied an entire upper floor of the Lyric Opera house: a throne-shaped office building overlooking the river. Sam’s office commanded the southwest corner of the building, overlooking the Madison Avenue bridge where a tide of commuters made their daily procession into the Loop from the city’s two train stations.
Sam kept no obvious personal effects. There were no photos on his desk and no diplomas on his wall even though I knew he’d gone to Princeton and was proud of it. Instead, his life was notched out in trophies—some given as gifts, some taken as spoils of war: a bottle of impossibly old Scotch, a stained-glass window from a burnt-out Church, an enormous poster of Erte’s Salome dancing the dance of seven veils in a gilt frame.
“So, you’re back.”
Sam contrived to sound glad to see me. He appeared in the room as if he’d always been there, looking like he might have just stepped off the front cover of a men’s magazine. He was impeccably tailored, every inch of him rendered in high gloss. A man of wealth and taste. He moved like he smelled blood in the water, confident that if he couldn’t find it then he could sure as hell spill it. It was a kind of charisma you could only be born with.
“Have a seat,” he made himself comfortable in the chair behind his battleship of a desk. The sunlight glinted off the lenses of his glasses blanking out his eyes from view. “Espresso?” he asked, but it wasn’t a question. Like magic, a junior associate appeared with two espressos in tiny china cups.
“Thanks,” I said. Steam rose off a fat, golden layer of crema. I dumped in two spoonfuls of sugar, but Sam drank his black.
“Have you been to see your mother?” Sam asked, like always. Mom and Sam treated one another like strangers, but Mom would always ask about Sam if she knew I’d been to see him. And Sam always asked about Mom. Every time. Without fail.
“Only briefly, she was…herself.”
“La Belle Dame sans Merci.” Sam looked nostalgic.
I was ninety-percent certain Sam was my father.
“You’re my father, aren’t you?” I’d asked once when I was thirteen and I knew everything.
“What makes you say that?”
“You used to date my mom before I was born.”
“What does she say about it?”
“She says Michael is my dad. He’s not.”
“There’s a big difference between someone being your dad and someone being your father. You’ll learn this.”
“I’m not stupid,” I could see the obvious similarities: the color of his skin, the shape of his eyes. Something about the way he moved, something about the way he smelled. “I have black hair. No one else in the family has black hair.”
“And you’re sure you got it from me? A lot of people have black hair,” Sam had said, but he had seemed pleased too. “So, you don’t like the father you’ve got, and you want a new one, is that it? Someone to play ball with? Take you to Boy Scouts? Tell you how to talk to girls?”
I hadn’t been sure what I’d wanted, but I wasn’t about to admit it.
“I just…” I fumbled. “I want a confidante.” I pronounced it conFYEdant.
“A confidante,” Sam repeated, pronouncing it correctly without correcting me. “Someone who can give you advice. Who you can call if you need help?”
I didn’t know what that was, but I nodded.
“Do you have any money?”
I emptied my pockets and produced a single, rumpled dollar bill and put it down on his desk. Sam pointed to it without touching it.
“This is called ‘consideration’. If I take this, you become my client,” he said. “Our conversations become con-FYE-dential.” He was teasing me now. “Is that what you want?”
The rest, as they say, is history.
“So, what’s this all about?” I wanted to know, snapping back into the present.
Sam rocked forward in his chair and set his cup and saucer down on the leather surface of a blotter, suddenly all business.
“I’ve looked into this…Hex…My resources tell me he’s likely in Mexico but if he sets foot back in the US, we’ll press criminal charges.”
“He straight up stole our money.”
“Yes. Apparently trying to cover losses from a bad investment. As long as you stayed on the road your appearance fees disguised the loss. We’ve filed against the management company—now bankrupt and defunct, of course.”
“Of course,” I put the heels of my hands over my eyes. “So, we’re broke.”
“For the time being, yes.”
“Fuuuuuuck,” I breathed. Sam scowled at the curse, but I didn’t care. If there was any time when swearing was warranted, this was it.
“In the meantime,” Sam picked the sheaf of paperwork up off his desk and flipped through the pages without really looking at them. “This contract: Lollapalooza—you signed it without asking me first.”
“I didn’t know I needed your permission.”
“My opinion, not my permission,” Sam glanced at me over the top of his glasses.
“Why? What?” I demanded, suddenly nervous. I trusted Sam. If he said there was a problem, then he knew what he was talking about. “I thought the money was good.”
“The fee is very generous for a standby act.”
“So, what’s the—”
Sam held up a hand to stop me. “But it comes at a price.”
“What kind of price?” I didn’t need any more bad news.
“Are you familiar with the concept of a Radius Clause?”
“I already don’t like the sound of it.”
“You shouldn’t.” Sam flipped over the page of the contract and held it out to me with his finger marking the place he wanted my eye to see. “It says you agree to refrain from performing any shows within a ninety-mile radius of the festival site. For one full year.”
I stared at the words on the page, speechless.
“A year?” I managed at last.
“That’s what you agreed to.”
“Can they do that?”
“I understand it’s quite common,” Sam said. “To prevent artists from undercutting festival ticket sales with shows of their own.”
“But that’s…” I searched my mental geography, “the entire Chicagoland fu—effing area.” I managed to catch the curse in my teeth just in time. “They’re gonna try to tell us we can’t do any shows in our own city for a year?”
“There’s no try,” Sam said. “It is done. You already agreed to it.”
Sign it, hate me later.
Sign it or don’t sign it, I don’t care. Have a nice fucking life.
Let’s play Lolla every year!
I’d been so relieved the day our laminates had arrived in the mail as proof that the gig was real. Really real. I’d taken to carrying it around in my pocket as proof that it all wasn’t some kind of elaborate joke at my expense. Now I wasn’t so sure. Somewhere out there, some evil fucking force was just sitting around thinking of ways to make my life difficult.
“What are my options?” I asked.
Sam flipped the contract closed and folded his hands on top of it. “First of all, you run your legal decisions by me before you sign the paperwork from now on.”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it. I’m a moron.”
“I will reach out to C3. See if I can renegotiate. I suspect this clause is the reason why you were even hired to begin with.”
He was right. I could see it now: one of the other bands in the official lineup realized what losing the Chicago market for a year would do and threatened to walk, so the promoters threatened to replace them with a group of suckers too desperate to ask questions. Us. And we’d been so eager we’d bent right over and thanked them while they fucked us.
We were fucking scabs.
“I’ll deal with the legalities,” Sam said. “You prepare yourself to perform. I’ll—”
The phone on Sam’s desk buzzed discreetly.
“Yes?” he listened for a moment and then glanced at me. “Michael’s here?”
I flinched without meaning to, rattling the cup against the saucer. I forced myself to put it down.
“Tell him not now, I’m with—” Sam held out a hand; don’t go yet. I nodded. “No, very well, let him come in.” Sam hung up the phone and reclined in his chair behind the desk, the picture of ease. I tried and failed to do the same as Michael appeared in the doorway. He looked the same as ever: tall and broad as a mountain, dressed in a suit in spite of the heat and leaning on his silver-topped cane. He looked older and thinner than I remembered, but otherwise exactly the same. The ex-cop. The former Marine. Mr. Chairman-of-the-Board.
“We need to talk—” he was saying as he entered. He stopped short when he saw me. “Damen?” For just a moment his face registered surprise, then disgust; as if he had walked into a room that smelled rotten. He quickly suppressed it, but it was too late. I’d already seen it and it had gone straight through me. I bristled.
“Yeah, that’s me,” I said, heart racing. Everything about him got under my skin: the suit, the cane, the self-assured calm like he was king of anyplace he chose to set foot.
“When did you get into town?”
“A couple of weeks ago,” I said. “Didn’t Mom tell you?”
I caught a glint in Sam’s eye—a small, gloating victory as he realized Michael was caught off-guard. I recognized a feud when I saw one.
“Well, here I am.”
“Welcome back.” Michael cast around for something else to say and finally landed on: “How was your tour?”
“We got kicked off. Our label dropped us. And our manager stole all our money.”
Michael absorbed this without reacting.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Was he holding his breath? “Do you need money?”
“I don’t need anything from you—” I snapped, surging to my feet before I could stop myself.
“Don’t call me ‘son.’”
“Gentlemen. Sit. Please.” Sam’s voice was low, but it cut through our argument with a razor edge. Michael and I both fell silent, staring at one another. I could see a muscle working in Michael’s jaw as he bit back whatever he’d been about to say.
Sam gestured to a chair. Michael sat.
“I think coffee,” Sam said.
“That’s not necessary—”
But Sam was already on the phone: “Three coffees, Lillian, if you please.”
He was still in perfect control. His turf, his rules. Too perfect, I realized. He was compensating. Michael had taken him by surprise by showing up at his office. I settled into the chair, interested to see how it would play out.
Lillian came in with fresh cups of espresso which she distributed around the room. With a wave of his hand, Sam gestured for Michael to speak.
“So, what’s all this about?”
“We should speak in private,” Michael’s eyes flickered toward me, then toward the door expectantly. “Damen, give us the room.”
“I was here first.”
“Damen, please. It’s time for you to go.” The grown-ups are talking now. I could hear the condescension in his voice and felt my neck get hot.
“Just try and make me.”
“That’s enough, Damen,” Sam said, then to Michael: “He was here first, after all. If you’d like a private discussion, we can always make an appointment.”
Michael weighed his options.
“It’s about…my mother,” he said at last with a sideways glance at me. I straightened at the mention of my grandmother with interest.
“How is Dear Grandmother?” I asked, trying to sound casual.
“I understand she came to see you,” Michael continued to Sam, ignoring me.
“Yes, a week or two ago.”
“What did you discuss?”
“You know I can’t comment on that, client confidentiality,” Sam flickered a wink in my direction. ConFYEdant. “Surely you know better than that.”
Michael had to know Sam wouldn’t tell him anything, but here he was, in cop-mode, fishing for evidence. Of what?
“So, it wasn’t about Metron, then,” Michael said. “I sit in her place on the board. Your confidence extends to me as much as to her. It must have been something personal. You were her personal legal counsel before Metron retained you.” He was good. He wasn’t asking questions; he was making statements: seeing how they landed. “She came to you in person. Well before work hours. It was something personal.” Michael watched Sam intently, gauging his reactions. “Something to do with her estate…”
Not quite a question. I felt a prickle of dread.
“Why would Dearie need to talk about her estate?” I asked.
Michael looked at me, then back at Sam.
“That’s the question, isn’t it?”
Sam shifted inside his clothes. “Surely this is a conversation which could have taken place by telephone?”
“It could have, yes. If you had taken any of my calls.”
“I’m not at liberty to comment on your mother’s health or personal estate,” Sam said, flatly. No more winking for my benefit. No more sly humor at Michael’s expense. The truth was too close to the surface.
“Is something wrong with Dearie?” I asked. No one responded. I looked to Sam for support, but he avoided my gaze. He hated Michael, but he wasn’t going to discuss anything private in front of him. Or me.
“Damen, it’s time for you to go,” Sam said at last.
I stared at him in silence for a long moment, trying to determine if he was serious.
“Fuck you, too,” I said, and walked out, letting the door slam behind me.
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