The calendar on the waiting room wall is stuck on December. Given it’s 10th January it tells me client attention is not the priority. My eyes stick on the calendar reflecting on where I was on odd December days. Useful distraction against the more pressing matters of divorce.
I am waiting.
Most of December was spent waiting for the kids in the car outside random houses then dropping them back off with Gabby or her mothers. Spousal conversations focused purely on the safe topics of kids homework or clothing requirements.
My solicitor has gone to get some papers. Adam is his name. Smart charcoal slim suit, white shirt and blue tie. Some pattern on it but not a clue what it signified. It’s the kind of detail that registers when I seem to spend hours mulling over what they hell I am going to do.
The door opens and I sit back up.
‘Sorry Oliver, let’s start again,’ Adam says. He doesn’t look up to me, rather talking to the papers but his voice is loud and clear so the message suffers less.
Adam is pleased with himself. He has a certain presence like an arrogant doctor telling you what’s good for you. I refuse to be railroaded. I’m not known for being anything but passive but like to think I’ve got a stubborn streak that kicks in when faced with smug men who don’t like being told no.
‘I know what I said earlier,’ I say, before he can start, ‘but I can’t do this. I earn more money than Gabby. She works regular hours; it makes no sense for me to have full custody of the kids. Frankly, she does everything, shopping, washing… the lot. I don’t want all of that. Let her have the kids. I will do the other bits, you know.’
He lifts his head…smiles. The speech is coming.
‘Oliver, you don’t get it I know. But trust me, your wife wants the coat off your back. The story is on repeat in every court I’ve been in.’ He takes a breath for effect. ‘Let me paint a picture. She’s got her phone, Ipad whatever. She’s checked the bank three times for the money I told you to withdraw last week. Next, she is on speed dial to the bank and then her solicitor complaining about you. After that she will be ringing her new lover and seeing how much he’s good for.’
I get the point but then I am also me. I’m not malicious and I’m not a twat. Gabby doesn’t have any money of her own. Probably the new boyfriend, Mike is his name, has something but she is in a mess. She’s divorcing me and that’s her own fault; she wanted to go down this road. She had a fling at work but then so did I. Actually I had a few but no need for me to share this. She confessed which was her mistake and I was not going to confess my misdemeanours to make her feel better. Having secrets is one of the things that make us human. Sadly for people like Gabby they have the need for confession, cleansed by her honesty. I am more the cake and eat it type.
‘She’s desperate,’ Adam says, when I don’t respond. He’s leant back in his chair, tightening his tie to show his assurance that he is right. ‘That means she wants as much of yours as she can get. The new man? You say he works at same place. He probably has issues as well. Money is the key Oliver. Money is a finite tangible thing. I am afraid this is a winner and loser game not a win/win. 50/50 gets you both to the workhouse because lets’ be frank. You are not in possession of a millions of pounds sat in the bank, a series of properties and a suite of Rolls Royce’s with which to pay her off quickly without touching the small change in your pocket.’ Adam likes his metaphors. I expect he polishes them each morning, ready to show off to losers like me.
‘Oliver, when we discount your many debts all you have is small change and that salary you cling onto to service those debts sufficiently. Losing this case means you are back here begging the judge for one of those bankruptcy write offs. You will be on your knees with your poor begging bowl and a sign saying victim. Absolutely no one will feel sorry for you. Especially as you gave it to your desperate wife with the loose zip on her pants. Winning is all and that means you need the kids. You have to be the best father in the world, the glue that holds your life together. Am I making sense?’
‘I hate the bloody kids,’ I mutter, but not audible. I don’t hate the kids but I do. Alfie is 14 switching between a 5 year old with a sulking lower lip to a mirror obsessed pop band hanger on. I swear soon the make-up will be on like a 70’s Bowie reject. Jenny, the 10 year old will speak only if the conversation relates to dragons and trolls or something. She reads a lot is what I remember when she chooses to engage with me. Gabby deals with everything else. I should take more interest and I want them to do well. …But I am more than happy to do the easy bits. Pick-ups, take them places. Even talk to them. But hard stuff. That’s Gabby’s department. I figured divorce as a bit of free ride. Give me a lot more free time, part time everything. Not a full time parent.
‘I don’t see it like this,’ I say more firmly. ‘I want everything to be amicable.’
‘Then it’s a good job you came to Carling and Edward and have me in the room. Because this is what I am good at. Amicable wives are ladies who lunch. Amicable husbands are in a studio bedsit picking through the leftovers from the chicken shop below. What’s it going to be? Kebab for one, extra chilli or the T-Bone steak at the Ritz Grill.’
And so it goes on. I find this too hard. Money and I have always had a loose relationship. I never understood saving. People who save have the smugness of the first in line at communion when the only reward is dry bread. If I want something, I get it and work out to pay for it long after the joy of owning has flittered away. Admittedly, it comes with some credit card ping-pong work but at least I never feel denied or poor. Gabby would sound off about it and I would say sorry and like everything else, the carpet would be lifted and all concerns swept neatly underneath.
Why did Gabby have to do the confession thing? Seems to me the only person going to be happy after this exercise will be Adam and his favourite steakhouse.
The pizza looked less attractive than the cardboard on an amazon delivery box. I wonder why I am here. I am not hungry and I don’t feel like eating. I shove the plate away and sit back.
‘Fuck my life,’ I mutter. I take a glug of gin and feel the need to grab the glass and throw it across the floor. A second glug follows. The ice limits the amount I can take in my mouth at the same time, which is probably good thing or would be on the next double already.
‘Fuck Mike, as well.’ Bastard had better things to with the rest of his life. Me being freely available ticked the meter over the red line on his commitment scale. Now I’m dumped and broke.
‘Fuck Oliver and his bastard lawyer.’ I take another drink and look again at the pizza. It still hasn’t got any more attractive to eat so I decide I’m going home once the drink is done. I can mope in the privacy of my home, drinking a far cheaper bottle of Taste No Difference Gin.
A movement behind distracts me and I turn. Immediately I sit up straight recognising who it is.
‘Hi,’ he says, ‘thought I recognised you.’
Adam is his name. Bastard solicitor for Oliver. ‘Hi,’ I reply. I’m not overly sure what to say as we are not supposed to meet.
He sits down, uninvited.
‘Hope you don’t’ mind,’ Adam says, like it makes a difference.
‘I was just leaving,’ I say, looking for a helpful waiter who might rescue me with the bill.
‘Still not finished your food?’
‘You don’t miss much,’ I say, ‘but frankly I already wasn’t hungry but I’ve decided even if was hungry, I’d be checking the exits right now.’
He pauses before speaking, watching me. Making me feel a little creepy but at least I sense my directness unsettled him a little. I’m already pissed off and I don’t see there is reason I need to play nice.
‘Bit rude,’ he says. ‘Especially as I thought I might do you a favour.’
‘Last time I checked you were my husband’s lawyer. Means pretty much guaranteed you are not here to do me any favours. Now you’ve got sixty seconds to tell me what you want or I’m going to stand up, scream as loud as I can that you are a rapist and I’m calling the police.’
‘You’re not going to do that.’ The smug smile is back. He had the same look in the courtroom when my solicitor spoke….like it’s all entertainment to him.
‘Don’t dare me. You and your flash bastard company are all but robbing me. I am already devoid of any dignity. A scene in a restaurant won’t even register.’
He eyes dart around but the smile stays. My threats are pointless.
‘Look Gabby, quit the histrionics and hear me out.’
I decide to say nothing as I try to anticipate what he wants.
‘You’re not going to win, Gabby. Let’s get that clear. Let me guess, you were counting on the new guy to be a knight in shining armour and it’s not working out. Not surprised, bet he thought you would be cashing in on Oliver’s pension. Oliver’s the aggrieved party and he will take the house and the kids if you don’t start letting it go. Don’t spend another penny on this case. You will only lose more.’
I’m stunned. Is this even legal? And then he’s portraying Oliver as a saint.
‘Oliver’s been at it for years, he thinks I don’t know, but I’m not stupid. Women know, we always know.’ I curse at revealing this titbit. I was saving it up for a tactical opportunity but seemed pointless now with this Rottweiler barring his teeth.
‘You are more stupid than I thought if you think that makes a difference.’
Smart arse. I’m burning inside but can’t let him get the better of me.
‘I’m entitled to half of everything he has. I brought up his children.’
‘Oops I didn’t bring my pocket violin. Save the outrage. You are still looking good for your forties. You can still find a sugar daddy, might be a bit geriatric but the pharmacists can help with these things.’
I stand up. I cannot listen to this anymore.
‘Last offer,’ he says, ‘I’m a generous man and you are a good looking woman. I could definitely do worse. What about a regular arrangement… you and me. I could get my client to accept a bit less if I get a bit more. What about it?’
‘Is this a joke to you,’ I am shaking with fury, I should get up and storm out but I decide to finish the conversation. Walking out wins his game.
‘Can I take that as a yes?’ He smirks.
‘Do you do this to every client?’
‘To be fair, you’re a cut above most of my client’s wives. You know there’s a reason most of my clients are looking for a better offer.’
I want to slap his face but again I figure this is part of whatever sick game he’s playing.
‘It’s true, isn’t it? You like to put pressure on women. You manipulative bastard. Why aren’t you struck off?
‘Because I always win. It’s what I’m good at. Carling and Edward like winners, that’s why we have a queue of clients all demanding the same outcome. Go ahead. Complain. Even if they swapped me out, there would be another one in my place.’
I’ve had enough now and get up to leave.
‘Give it up Gabby,’ he says. ‘You’ll be happier in the long run.’
I grab the glass of water on the table and fling it at him. He laughs as the water splashes over his face.
A few minutes later I am sat in the car. Furious, humiliated, astonished. I can’t work out which is worse. I take a deep breath and decide to get out the car and walk a few minutes. I can’t drive like this. I’m likely to drive into the wall.
I’m not sure what his game is, but one thing I know for sure; he will not get away with it.
Satisfaction comes where I can get it. Listening to moaning spouses might be profitable but it is boring. It’s why I like to go for broke. To be frank, these couples get themselves into a mess, it’s not my job to clean it up. Sympathy is only necessary for the losing side and losing is not my game. I try to explain it to the men who I represent. The old football analogy, giving away team a two nil lead at half time. One side can only hold the trophy. Being nice is there to make us feel better but more often than not the wife has just added to sugar to her poison chalice and the husband realises at the precise moment they are choking over their bank balance.
Occasionally I get the aggressive types. I might be tempted to say we are on the same page with this lot, but there is still tactics to sort. Mostly I need them to refrain from battering the wife during the divorce process. The other side like to take advantage of the visible bruises.
Mostly they come with the guilt bug so I need to stir the pot, break a few eggs.
The last thing I need is the couple playing nice. Hate it in fact. Nice is expensive for the husband and I am precious about my holiday bonus fund. We need an angry wife desperate for her pound of flesh waking up guilt-filled hubby into a tactical titan as the walls close in.
Oliver has been one of the more difficult cases. Largely because he doesn’t seem to care enough about himself. Oliver is the archetypal doing just enough to get to the next day. Never do anything today that can be done tomorrow. Definitely more stick than carrot and that’s why an angry Gabby is useful. After last week’s wind up, she’s been complaining to Oliver. I know because he’s been complaining to me as well.
Jan, the young receptionist comes over to my desk.
‘Your client’s waiting,’ she says.
I pick the files on my desk and walk to the meeting room. A smile on my face. The final consultation before settlement court session. By now he should be primed and ready to listen.
‘Morning Oliver,’ I say, as the door swings shut behind me. He’s sat with arms folded. At least we are going to have a robust session. Exactly as I like it.
‘She’s complained about you to the court, you know. I’ve got no chance now.’
‘Calm down,’ I say, ‘it’s sorted. Had a chat with the court office. Squared it off. Told them it was a complete misunderstanding. Which it was of course. She is a bit sensitive isn’t she?’
‘You really are pushing your luck. You offered her a shag, so she could get a better settlement. You’re off the scale. How can I trust you?’
‘Because Oliver, when this is all over just like Gabby, I will be a mere blott on your distant memory. When you are sipping cocktails in the virtual balcony of your new pad with whoever your new love is, you will be celebrating the not so insignificant fact that you have money in your pocket. I am not the issue, I am simply agent provocateur if you like.’
‘You mean, you meant this all along,’ he says, ‘you’ve done it before? This is not a legal practice; it’s more like cowboy debt collectors. Next, you will be sending a few lads round to do her over, just so you can chalk a success on your board. Is there a scoreboard in the office or something? Do you ring a bell every time you screw someone over?’
I let him calm down a moment. No point in responding to the rant. It’s about results.
‘Finished?’ I ask after a few seconds.
‘We’re are going to mediation,’ he says quickly.
‘No no no, that would be unwise.’ I knew this one would be slippery and there it is. I wonder why I bother.
‘You told me right at the start that mediation is the cheaper way to do this. And there is only a finite amount of cash and either way we are going to have to agree.’
I sigh and interject.
‘You only go to mediation when one of you is broken. Ready to concede, sign it all away. When they see everything going up in smoke and it’s the only option. When you know you are going to lose.’
I speak with a degree of passion and not a little frustration that my efforts are not working.
‘In the meantime, we deny. We accuse, we bluster and we argue over every last penny. Let her be the one who concedes.’
‘I think we are done here,’ he replies, standing up.
I fear we are done, but I can’t help throwing out my last roll of the dice, my Magnum Opus.
‘One thing, I did learn in our chance encounter that I felt I ought not to say too much. A little sensitive I guess.’
‘Go on,’ he says, still standing.
‘I think you should know, the wife you think you want to help, the one you want to look after.’ I frame the lie had firmly as I can. I need the shock value. ‘She made it very clear that not only was she going to take you for every penny you have, it’s all going on a deposit for a new place with her new partner. You are not giving her anything, it’s all going to him.’
‘You’re serious aren’t you?’ he says.
‘I know, I have a tendency for sarcasm and a modicum of embellishment but it is the sworn truth’
‘No it damn well isn’t!’
I hear the words from a phone speak and realise I’ve been had. Oliver pulls the phone from his pocket and lays it on the table.
‘I’m going to sue your arse,’ Gabby shouts from the phone. Oliver cuts the call and sits down again.
My heart is beating and I can feel my face reddening. This I didn’t expect. I’ve had so many different outcomes but never the fool colluding with his wife.
‘I represent you, Oliver not Gabby,’ I say, unmistakably angry. ‘My job is to get the best outcome for you, not her.’
‘You represent me, you’re supposed to represent my wishes not yours.’
‘Any solicitor would tell you the same as me.’
‘I guess, that is something I will discover relatively soon.’
There is a knock at the door and Jan appears.
‘Mr Carling would like a word.’
I look at Oliver and then back to Jan. I try to speak but words don’t’ come. The door opens wider and I see Gabby standing behind Jan. The set up complete.
I get up and leave the room in silence. I have no words for the stupidity of Oliver. He might think he’s paid me back but all he has done is fire us both into the trash can and hand the money to his cheating wife.