FREE! Here’s your chance to read a new comic novel. Scroll down this page to read the entire first chapter. This is adult material, with some comment on sexual activity. The story is about difficulties in personal relationships. The primary characters are an attorney who also teaches at a university, his new girlfriend, and his long-time male friend, a dentist. They are survivors of broken romances.
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If you need to jump to a chapter where you left off reading, you may click on any chapter from the list below. You will also find a link at the end of each chapter that will take you to the next chapter.
|chap. 2 – rooftop adventure||chap. 3 – Elaine Bettendorf & the pub board|
|chap. 4 – Mason meets Gail at a party||chap. 5 – the rodeo with Gail|
|chap. 6 – Gail’s story||chap. 7 – Mason’s law practice and an ex-wife|
|chap. 8 – mom, Gail, & artificial logs||chap. 9 – Mason & George pick up bridesmaids|
|chap. 10 – Mason’s kids, Hawaii, & Elaine||chap. 11 – mom, Gail, & baby talk|
|chap. 12 – with George & his date to a jazz club||chap. 13 – ex-wives, Elaine, & unexpected news|
|chap. 14 – the clinic||chap. 15 – Elaine visits Mason at home|
|chap. 16 – a police raid||chap. 17 – relationship failure|
|chap. 18 – Officer Borst attacks||chap. 19 – “there will always be another…”|
KEEPING THEM HAPPY
This novel is Copyright 2021 by the author, Jim Wygant. We hope you will share the location of this web site with others. The novel may be viewed in its entirety on this web site at no charge. It may not be copied from this web site or any other source and redistributed by any means without the written consent of Jim Wygant, although brief passages may be quoted in reviews of this work. This novel includes adult content that may not be appropriate for some. It is a work of fiction and is not intended to represent any real persons or events.
Imagine it is 1982. Not that long ago, but a very different world. No smart phones, no texting, no streaming movies, no pandemics, no social web sites, and no internet merchandising monolith for distribution of essential items, like vibrating self-gratification devices. And marijuana was still illegal everywhere. With so few distractions how did we manage personal relationships? This is the story of a lawyer and his friend, a dentist. They drink and carouse and meet women. Then, for the lawyer, his life begins to take an unexpected turn. Imagine…
Several drops of water landed in the small of his back and rolled around there like icy fingers urging him on. He thought that he had a smile on his face, but he wasn’t sure. His eyes were closed. He felt good. He could hear the water splashing against the hull outside. The boat creaked and rocked in sympathy to his own rhythm.
She called out, “Hey! There’s water coming in.”
He could feel her scrambling around beneath him, trying to identify the source of the distraction. He sensed that the best was already passing. In hoping to recapture the moment, he surged ahead with renewed vigor. Another big splash of water landed on his back and trickled down around his waist. She started to push on his shoulders.
“We’ve got to stop. It’s getting all wet in here.”
“It’s only water. It’s OK.” He initiated a series of subtle variations, altering the cycle of his movement, the depth, the point of contact, hoping to find something that would capture her. “Just look at the moon,” he told her. “Isn’t it beautiful?” He couldn’t remember if there had been a moon when they had gotten on board.
“I can’t see any moon. These tiny portholes don’t provide much of a view. Listen, we need to stop and do something about the water. This thing’s gonna fill up.”
She pushed harder against his shoulders until he broke contact. He got to his knees, reached up and pulled the hatch cover shut. It became much darker with the city’s nighttime illumination blocked, leaving only what came through the single portholes on either side. He felt around until he could position himself on her again.
“Why did you turn the sprinkler on anyway?” she asked, not really meaning it to be a question.
He resumed his former activity, trying to set his mind adrift in the dark. imagining he was somewhere else with some other woman. In his loins a tide was building.
“I don’t feel well,” she said.
“It’s rocking so much. I’m afraid. I think it’s going to fall off the trailer. We could be killed. Besides, it’s starting to smell funny in here and it’s getting awfully hot. I think we should go in the house.”
He stopped without extracting and supported his weight on his elbows. He didn’t want to go in the house. You could copulate in the house any time. He had done it, including with her. At the moment he wasn’t sure he could ever do it again. His mind ran, as usual to counter-offers.
“We’ll move back into the main cabin. We’re nearer the center of gravity there.” He liked the image. “It won’t rock as much. The sprinkler doesn’t reach that far, so we can open the hatch back there.” He wasn’t sure that was true, but it was the best he could come up with spontaneously.
“Do you ever sail this boat?” she asked.
He ignored the question and led her by the hand back into the main cabin, the small area adjacent to where they had been. The table there was supposed to make up into another bunk. He had gotten the use of a motor home once – he could not remember now what service he had provided for it – and he knew that there should be some way of folding the table down so that it was level with the benches on either side and the cushions could be spread across it to make a kind of bed.
He pushed down on the table. He pulled up on it. He tried to turn it. He reached underneath, groping for a pin or a latch. He remembered that he had encountered the same difficulty with the table in the motor home.
He sat back on his haunches and tried to recall how he had solved the problem that time. He smelled something like the sea and realized that in the cramped cabin they had fallen together in a manner that positioned her most sensitive region about six inches from his nose. He inhaled deeply and closed his eyes. Like a ship lost in a fog, he homed on the beacon.
“Oh, what are you doing?” she asked as he nuzzled into port. “What about the table?”
He felt her thigh muscles relax a little as her hands came to rest on the top of his head. Outside he could still hear the sprinkler making its regular passes over the bow. She arched her back a little and moaned. At that moment he remembered that the catch for the table was about halfway down the center support post. He reached back with his left arm and touched the post, then slid his hand down until he discovered the midway point where the upper section telescoped into the lower. She was moaning with greater emphasis and he knew he would have to move fast. He pushed on a button, mentally doing the boat and the woman at the same time, and the table dropped down with a loud crash, accompanied at that moment by her scream of pleasure. An empty beer bottle rolled off onto the floor but did not break.
The table crash did not seem to have caused any damage, which he regarded it as a positive sign. He re-positioned himself upward into the eager arms of his sailor girl. He could hear the trailer creaking with ever increasing intensity but thought that the boat would probably be safe. He decided that he didn’t really care if it did fall off its roost. He wouldn’t know what it was like until it happened.
When he awoke he studied the pattern of the decking overhead, wondering for a few moments where he was. Then he remembered. He turned his head and saw that he was alone. He continued to lie there for another half-hour, dozing lightly and gazing out the porthole furthest from him, having forsaken the porthole next to him because it gave too much of a view. Even the other one was not wholly satisfactory. The tops of the driveway shrubbery were visible in the early morning sun.
In time, he slipped his feet over the edge of the bunk and looked at his stomach. It was getting too big. He stood up in the slight crouch that the low ceiling demanded and he crept unsteadily back toward the rear of the boat. It too was empty. He felt relieved. His sport coat and slacks were wadded up at the foot of the forward bunk. His boxer shorts and tee shirt were soaking in a puddle on the floor. He pushed the hatch open and was temporarily blinded by the sunlight. Someone had shut off the sprinkler. He picked up his soggy underwear, wrung both pieces out together and tossed them in a hook shot out the hatch. He pulled on his pants and shirt, slipped on his shoes and carried his sport coat out with him. His socks were nowhere to be seen, but he had others.
He stood boldly on the deck, the boat twitching like a nervous horse under him. He slapped his stomach and surveyed the horizon. At least the overgrown shrubbery blocked most of his property from outside eyes. He didn’t know who his neighbors were and had never had any indication that they had any kind of regard for him at all. He believed it was desirable to maintain that arrangement.
Carefully he eased himself onto the stepladder and climbed down to the ground. At the foot of the ladder he sighed and farted loudly. He picked up an earring out of the dust and dropped it into his pants pocket. He needed to urinate and he was desperately thirsty. He walked up on the patio deck and entered the house through the back door.
The stained glass windows that he had fitted over the years inside the regular windows created a pleasant diversity of color when the sun was low. The first one had been purchased at the insistence of his second wife, who had also had a parrot. She and the parrot had left, but he had grown to like the colored glass and kept adding more, frequently getting them in lieu of payment for divorces he handled for artists, who never had any money anyway.
He poured himself a tall glass of grapefruit juice from a can in the refrigerator and took it with him to the bathroom. There was a heap under the bed covers in the room across from the bathroom, but Mason Prewitt had an almost painful need to urinate and, in fact, feeling the past night’s beer working also as a laxative, decided to completely void himself.
Sitting there with the door closed, his pants down around his ankles, his body wastes being expelled, he felt at peace and marveled at the mechanisms of flesh and blood and bone that somehow restored him each day, despite his careless management.
He cracked the door and peeked out. He had not been mistaken. There was definitely somebody or something in the spare bed. He closed the door again quietly and took an old copy of National Geographic from the top of the toilet tank. He flipped through the pages, attentive only to the ads and the colored photos, pausing briefly on the picture of an Irish girl holding a rope fastened to a cow, both situated in front of a storybook cottage. The girl appeared to be about 16. Something about her eyes caused him to conclude that she was not a virgin. He had made the same judgment about the same girl in the same photo before. It was no longer worth considering. He drank his grapefruit juice.
There were footsteps and a rustling sound on the other side of the door. He concluded that it was not likely to be his companion from the previous night, whom he assumed had departed.
“Who’s there?” Mason called out, holding a finger in his place in the National Geographic.
The door pushed open a few inches and George Shindler stood there in his shorts, his hand still on the doorknob. “It’s just me,” he said sullenly. “I let myself in.” He pulled the door shut again.
“Hello, George,” Mason said. “You moving in?” There was no answer.
He put the magazine back on top of the toilet tank, wiped himself and then took a shower. He went from the bathroom to his bedroom, dressed in the same order that he always did, fixing his tie last and carrying his sport coat with him into the kitchen. George was seated on one of the benches at the trestle table, a glass of water in front of him.
“I’m going to fix some eggs and hash browns, George. You want some?”
George thought about it. He seldom made decisions quickly. “How you gonna fix the eggs?”
“Over easy. OK. Yeah, I guess that’s OK.”
Mason reached past George and switched on the small television that sat on the table. Mason’s table top TV was supposed to be a color set, but it no longer got any picture at all. Mason had concluded that there was so much talking on TV that any picture was unnecessary. A blind person could easily imagine what was happening on the screen. Also, Mason liked the sound of the voices on the morning network show. The weatherman was telling what kind of a day it would be all over the United States.
“Diane is really pissed,” George said mournfully.
“She’ll get over it, don’t you think?”
“I don’t know. This time she put all my clothes in cardboard boxes in the garage. And she poured a bottle of crème de menthe in my saxophone. I don’t know how I’m going to get it out. All the valves are stuck shut. I think it might be ruined.”
“Oooh, yeah. That’s bad, all right,” Mason said from the stove.
“I don’t understand her sometimes. She’s so abrupt.”
“I never thought she was abrupt, but I was never married to her. Marriage always gives you a different perspective on these things. What’d you do to get her going?”
“I was away for awhile,” George said, shrugging it off.
“A couple. Big deal, huh?”
Mason placed two plates of eggs and greasy potatoes on the table and poured two more glasses of juice.
“These are scrambled,” George observed. “I thought you said over easy.”
“The yolks broke.”
They ate in silence, except for the sounds of an alleged rapist being interviewed on the blank TV. George could only wonder what he looked like.
“Was that you in the boat last night?” George asked when they had finished with the food.
“Yeah. What do you think of it? The boat.”
“It’s OK. What is it, a sailboat?”
“I shut the sprinkler off so I could get up on the porch without getting wet. I hope you don’t mind. I didn’t realize you knew how to sail.”
“Well, I’ve only had it for a couple weeks. I haven’t had a chance to go out with it yet. Maybe next weekend. You want to go? We could get a couple cases and some ladies. Or you could bring Diane. Whatever makes you happy.”
“I gotta get dressed,” George said drearily, looking down at his bare arms and legs. He pushed back from the table without getting up.
Mason loaded the dishes in the dishwasher and slipped into his sport coat.
“I have to go to my office, George. I’ll see you later. Stay as long as you want.” George was still sitting before the blank TV screen as Mason shut the door behind himself. He negotiated the treacherously uneven brick walkway that he had laid a couple years earlier and got into his fifteen-year-old Jaguar XKE. He pumped the gas several times, listened to the dying battery with full confidence that the motor would start one more time and, when it did, he backed out of the driveway in a cloud of blue oil smoke. George’s car, a navy blue Cadillac with a smashed right front fender, was parked at the curb.
Mason’s office was one small room which led directly onto a hallway in a building that had been converted from apartments. He assumed that his office had formerly been a bedroom. But Mason was not the kind to spend any time wondering about the secrets that might have been shared in what was now his space.
The university had cut his name into a plastic plaque and screwed it to the door. It said “Mr. Mason Prewitt.” Up and down the hallway, none of the other names were adorned with titles or abbreviated designations of any kind because it was understood that professors possessed doctorates. Mason had sent a memo to the administration suggesting that his Doctor of Jurisprudence degree entitled him to removal of the demeaning “Mr.” from his door plaque, but the person who made those decisions in the administration apparently felt that Mason was playing some kind of lawyer’s trick, which in fact he was.
At least his acknowledgment of their intended slight in fabricating his “Mr.” plaque had satisfied them enough that they had temporarily ceased pestering him for his specific plan to obtain a “real” doctorate. They were happy because they thought they had insulted him; he was happy because they left him alone for awhile. It was the most desirable of situations.
On the floor just inside the door were two great stacks of legal cases in file folders. They were his closed cases, for which he either had been paid or had completed some action or had not been paid and had stopped working. When the stacks got too high he loaded the oldest files into the trunk of his XKE and took them home to store in the basement. There were several tall stacks in a corner there. He did not even consider spending money on filing cabinets for cases that no longer generated revenue. He had once requisitioned some filing cabinets from the university but nothing had ever happened. They didn’t even bother to return the requisition form. They did not choose to endorse in any way his private legal work.
On one wall was an expensive antique tapestry, partially hidden by a set of metal utility shelves he had gotten on a sale and was using as a bookcase. On the opposite wall was an oil painting in a bold abstract design but done in soft earth tones. He thought it made the tiny room seem a little bigger.
The only furniture was a desk, a small oak table, a swivel chair, and two armless chairs for visitors, all of an institutional design, which was appropriate because they were what the university provided, besides the phone. It was ringing as Mason opened the door, but he ignored it and let his answering machine respond for him. He stooped to pick up the three pieces of mail that had been dropped through the slot in his door. Without looking at them, he shut and locked the door behind himself.
Mason removed his sport coat and hung it on the back of one of the visitor’s chairs before sitting down in the other one. He opened his briefcase and pulled out the bundle of tests which he had corrected over the weekend. He left them on the corner of the desk where he usually left things that he wanted to remember to take to a class with him. He dropped the briefcase on the floor, put his feet up on top of some files on the desk, tipped the chair onto its back legs and contentedly turned his forefinger around in his right ear while he gazed out the window. His building was at the edge of the campus. There was a busy street outside his window. He couldn’t see much of it because he kept his window blinds about half closed all the time.
After several minutes in a relaxed, contemplative mode, Mason put his feet down and leaned over his answering machine. The little red message light was blinking insistently. The counter indicated thirteen messages, about average.
The machine used a tape, like most other non-digital devices in that era. Mason rewound the tape and began to play back the messages. All but three were clients from his law practice. Of the clients, most wanted to know when he was going to do something on their cases. He was perhaps a little slow, partly because he did all of his own secretarial work, but the legal work was always well done and usually brought some relief to his clients and a modest fee to Mason. That was not so much an indication of his legal genius, although he did have a good measure of that, as it was of his disinclination to take frivolous cases. If he thought that a client did not have a worthwhile complaint or that, as a defendant, a client might spend less in paying off the plaintiff than in hiring legal representation, he did not hesitate to say that.
As he listened to the calls from clients inquiring about their cases, he nodded to himself. None of them required immediate attention. Their cases were all in another stack on the wooden table and he tried to work on them in a sequence roughly determined by the age of the case, and any court deadlines, and what he felt the client’s need to be. He gave no weight to phone calls.
Of the three calls that were not from clients, only one was from a student. By the second term of each year most of his students had stopped trying to contact him outside of class. He never returned their phone calls and he usually was not in his office – or at least would not answer a knock on the door – even during his posted office hours. He only posted the hours on the hallway wall next to his door because the administration required him to do so. Since the administration thought that most students were troublemakers, thieves, and vandals whose complaints were motivated by an immature compulsion to rebel against authority, they gave no heed to reports that Mason didn’t follow his schedule for office hours. The administration was happy that Mason followed their directive about posting office hours; Mason was happy that the administration left him alone; and he thought that the students might be happy later in life when they realized that he had been preparing them for even bigger disappointments.
The student call was from an Arab. At some moment before the 1980s the college had made itself available to Saudi Arabia, and to the consequent Saudi tuition fees. The Arab students who arrived had all been nourished at home in wealth and advantage. Consequently, they had expectations that Mason would not tolerate. They were also all males. Mason could tell by the caller’s accent that he was an Arab, even before he concluded his three minutes – the maximum duration tolerated by the machine – of explaining and beseeching. He gave his name and a phone number at which Mason could leave a message, followed by a threat that he might have to go the department head if he didn’t get an answer this time. Mason deleted the message without noting down the contact information. He routinely flunked Arabs. He thought they were too arrogant and vulgar and, for their own sake, needed to be brought down a little. He shuffled through the stack of test papers he had just corrected and found Mohammad’s. He had already put an “F” on it and a note saying if Mohammad was going to copy another student’s test answers he should copy from someone smarter than Fareed, to whom Mason had also given an “F”. He put the paper back in the stack.
The remaining two calls were from women. One of them was his first ex-wife, Jane Moss. “Hello, Mason. Sorry that I missed you. I just wanted to talk to you for a couple minutes. I’ll call back or maybe you could call me. Bye.” She had a sweet voice. She tended to minimize everything. She probably wanted more money.
The other female was a longtime acquaintance inviting him to a party. He wondered why she called him periodically. He had never slept with her, had never even taken her out, but she seemed to like to have him at her functions. She was attractive and he had made a couple perfunctory strikes at her, but she seemed to be content with the insipid doctor who flew her to Hawaii a couple times each year and bought her nice dinners and occasional gifts. Mason would have done the same, maybe not so ostentatiously, but he detected a slightly neurotic sexual reticence in Darlene that was probably less aggravated by a doctor whom Mason suspected was heavily into auto-eroticism. Mason wrote down the date and time of the party in his appointment book. He probably would go.
Having finished the routine of playing back his phone messages, Mason switched the machine over to “record” and spoke to it: “Hello. This is a recording of Mason Prewitt. It’s 9:15 Monday morning and I’m just leaving my office for a faculty meeting. After that I’ll be in classes until about two o’clock. I should be back here in my office between two and three, but sometimes things come up unexpectedly and I’m not able to be where I’d hoped to be. If you’d like to leave a brief message you’ll have three minutes for that after you hear the tone.” He set the switch back on “answer” and picked up the mail he had received, three pieces.
The first was a paper from a student. He checked the name in the upper right corner. It was not an Arab. Elaine Bettendorff. Bright girl, glasses, no make up, hair pulled back and done in a kind of bun usually, affected gaudy clothing, brightly embroidered peasant blouses, once wore purple suede cowgirl boots. The paper was supposed to have been turned in a week earlier. He set it on his desk blotter to be read.
The second piece was a memo from the secretary in the Journalism Department reminding him that there would be a Publications Board meeting on Tuesday. He was on the board and seldom missed the meetings because there were frequent spirited and entertaining arguments between student and faculty member of the board. He confirmed that he had already entered the time and place in his appointment book before crumpling the notice into a ball and expertly bouncing it off the wall and into the waste basket beneath the window.
The third was another memo, this one from the Dean of Faculty, Dean Farquard. It was the usual message soliciting Mason to meet with Dean Farquard so they could discuss “the allotment of time for outside activities, in a desire to avoid any potential conflicts with University policy.” The Dean did not like him practicing law, unless it was something he was doing for the University. About four years earlier Farquard had insisted that Mason remove his name from the “Attorney” listings in the Yellow Pages. Since then the Dean had continued to send notes two or three times each year. And he didn’t even know about the municipal judgeship in Acton, an incorporated commuter settlement about fifteen miles out, where Mason administered justice to traffic violators every Thursday evening for an additional income of $700 per month. Mason balled up the note and tried again to hit the basket off the wall. Another score.
He was now ready to undertake his day’s work. He got up from the visitor’s chair where he had been sitting and walked around to the business side of the desk, seating himself in the swivel chair. He opened a client’s file on top of some student papers and began making notes in preparation for drafting a legal complaint for the client. There was a knock on the door.
Mason looked at his watch, considered not responding, but got up anyway, curious to see who his visitor might be. He opened the door only the width of his face. There was a man in uniform. He had dark, curly hair. Campus security? No. Mason didn’t think they carried guns. Real police, then.
“Yes?” Mason said, cocking his head a little. The police officer was not smiling. Mason wondered if he had done anything wrong. He thought he probably had, but there was no point in trying to remember.
“I’m Raymond Borst. I want to talk to you.”
The police officer came forward, so Mason backed up until they were both inside the office. The policeman closed the door behind himself.
“What can I do for you, officer?” Mason asked, still standing, and still wondering what he might have done that had gotten the attention of the police.
“You don’t know who I am, do you?”
Mason shrugged. He didn’t know; and so far he didn’t have any reason to care. He noticed that his visitor was hostile, but the world had an abundance of anger, much of it unfocused.
Raymond Borst poked him in the chest. “I’m the Raymond Borst you filed those goddamned papers on. You’ve got the name as Borstikyan.” He said it like a curse. “That’s what it was seven years ago when I divorced that bitch. I’ve had it changed.”
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t aware of that.” Mason remembered the case now. It was a routine motion and order for Borstikyan, Borst, to appear at a hearing to show cause why he shouldn’t be held in contempt of court for failure to pay child support. He was about $5,000 in arrears. He had been cited to hearings before. This time the judge, an uppity hard-ass who didn’t like police, might give him a few days in jail.
“I’m not going to tolerate this kind of harassment.”
“That seems like an over-reaction to a simple mistake about your name.”
“I’m talking about the hearing,” Borst said, rising up a little on the balls of his feet.
“Court hearings are not a form of harassment.”
“If she’s got the money to hire some shyster like you, who doesn’t even have a regular office,” Officer Borst glanced around with contempt, “then she doesn’t need any more help from me. She takes every spare nickle I’ve got. How the hell am I supposed to live?”
Mason nodded while he considered. “I would think you might appreciate that your ex-wife hired an attorney who is obviously cheaper and less aggressive than the big guys with the smart offices downtown. But that just an opinion.”
Borst thumped on Mason’s chest again. “I’m warning you. I can only be pushed so far. I’ll give up all of this.” He flicked his gold badge with his fingertips. “None of it means a damn thing anymore. You’d better understand that, and pass it along to your client.”
Mason noticed that Borst’s hand was resting on the butt of his pistol. Mason had stashed an unloaded gun under the phone books in the bottom left hand drawer of his desk. He recognized the potential for a shootout in a faculty office building – tacky and probably painful. With great deliberateness, Mason pickup up the receiver of his telephone and began to dial numbers at random.
“What are you doing?”
“You’re threatening me. I’m calling Chief Battles.” He recalled the police chief’s name from news stories he had heard. He didn’t want to call 911, and he had no idea how to reach Police Chief Battles. He dialed random numbers slowly, trying to count so that he did not dial more than the usual seven digits. In the earpiece he heard the call begin to ring. Borst glared at him, his moment passing.
Someone answered the phone and said “A-1 Cleaners. Good morning.”
“Chief Battles, please.”
“Fuck you,” Raymond Borst said, tight-jawed. He turned, yanked open the door and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
“Who?” the A-1 Cleaners asked.
“Sorry. I must have dialed the wrong number.” Mason hung up.
Borstikyan the Armenian. Mason found the file and clipped a note to it to remind himself to call the plaintiff later in the day and warn her about her ex-husband’s temper. She had told him that Borst had beat her up once, but that was while they were still married. Now he might just shoot her.
Mason brought out a jar of dry roasted peanuts from one of his desk drawers and ate a couple. They made him feel better. He took several deep breaths, checked the lock on his door and then settled back into his swivel chair. The phone rang, the machine answered, Mason turned the volume up only long enough to be certain that it was not a call he wanted to intercept. He turned it back down and resumed work on the file he had left open on his desk.
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