John parked in his garage and went around to the end of his driveway and the mailbox there after closing the door. What a weird day it had been. He'd never in a million years expected Claire to show up at his studio. It meant she'd actually had to look in the Yellow Pages to find his studio address because he certainly hadn't given it to her.
"Way to be observant," he muttered to himself at the sight of someone sitting on the steps leading to his porch. He wasn't looking for it when he pulled onto the driveway, but he'd walked right by him when he walked from his garage to the mailbox.
He assessed the guy as he stood, evidently he'd been waiting a while judging by the way he was rubbing his hands together. He had gloves on, sure, but they weren't practical gloves. They were of the thin leather, expensive variety that were more for show than to supply any real warmth. At least the guy's overcoat was appropriate for a February evening. Supposedly, tomorrow was going to be above freezing, but still winter weather.
"Can I help you?" he asked, sounding as suspicious as he was. People just weren't sitting at his house waiting for him very often. Men in expensive clothes and nice hats in particular. Sure, he could see his friend Charlie or Glen sitting on the steps waiting for him, but he didn't know this guy from Adam.
"I'm Alistair McMillan of McMillan, Hardy, and Rowe."
"Okay," he said with a frown as he took the business card the guy offered him. "If you're looking for my dad I don't know where he is if he's not at his house. I haven't seen him in years so I can't help you. Sorry."
"You are John Bender?"
"Yeah, but so is my dad."
The man, a lawyer, frowned. "You are familiar with Claire Standish."
"Yeah, sure, who isn't?"
That was a ridiculous question. Someone would have to be living under a rock not to know who she was if they lived in the Chicago area.
"Her father sent me to speak with you."
He pulled an envelope out of his inner suit coat pocket and handed it to John. John opened the envelope because clearly the guy was expecting him to. His eyes widened a bit when he saw that it was a check. And a very large check at that.
"I'm sorry. What's this for?"
"Mr. Standish wanted to be sure his gratitude for intervening in a potentially embarrassing situation is relayed properly."
"Uh, okay," he said. "You think I did what I did for money?"
He frowned as he slid the check back into the envelope. He ran the back of his hand over his lip certain that between the cold and talking to this guy it was cracking again. Stupid thing was going to take forever to heal. At least the cut above his cheek didn't keep opening up like this one did. That one, though, was going to take a while to heal regardless. Claire had been right, he should've gotten stitches for it.
"Of course not."
"Obviously, her dad did if this is his way of showing gratitude. You know, a simple thank you would work just fine. I don't want Mr. Standish's money," he said, handing the envelope back to Mr. Whoever He Was. "Do you pay everyone off who does Claire favors?"
"I honestly haven't encountered it until now."
"No shit," John said, surprised. "Sorry," he added, realizing swearing in front of someone who was a pretty prominent attorney if the Standish's used his services probably wasn't wise.
"No, Mr. Bender. I can't recall it ever happening before."
"You've paid off people the other way, I imagine. To shut them up. Like the guy who tried to sell me the pictures."
"Yeah, I know, privilege or something like that. I can figure it out. I'm sure money changed hands with ol' Pete if her dad's sending you over here to give me money for simply doing the right thing."
He tried handing John the envelope again.
"I really don't want it. I'd feel like shit for taking her dad's money, they'd think that's why I did it. I may not be the nicest guy out there but I couldn't just stand back and let someone publish those pictures of her. Use it to go after the guy who was trying to sell pictures of her. Chances are if he was trying to sell them of Claire he's done it before to someone else. He obviously has access to equipment from somewhere because those pictures were fairly convincing. That suggests he's done it before and will again. Have her dad stop him from doing it again because I can assure you he won't be calling me again to try and sell the next set. Claire or not."
"You're sure," the guy said. He was clearly surprised, and maybe a little impressed. It probably wasn't every day someone walked away from a check with five zeroes in it before the decimal point.
"Pretty sure, yeah," he said. "Tell him thanks but no thanks."
"Good night then, Mr. Bender. I'm sorry to have bothered you."
"No problem," John said, going up the couple of steps that led to the screened-in porch. "You know," he said.
"I saw her today," he said.
He should shut up. He should shut the screened door, go inside to his nice, warm house, light a fire in his fireplace, have a beer, watch some TV, and forget all about the lawyer, the check he'd just tried to give him for doing the right thing, and Claire Standish in general. His life hadn't been harmed or short changed from not having her in it the past four years. Oh, sure he'd paid attention to her comings and goings the same as probably everyone from Shermer had.
"Yes. She mentioned to me that she volunteers and stuff. You know, does good deeds, pay things back. Whatever you people call it."
"Yes, of course she does," the lawyer said. He sounded insulted that John might think she didn't do these things. He supposed for someone like her it was a given, part of being in the public eye. The thing was, though, none of that stuff – those good deeds – ever made the papers.
"You know, you – her dad – whoever, let those vultures take her picture getting out of her car when she's obviously sick and print that she was out all night partying and probably driving drunk. Maybe you should think about giving her some good press, too. Maybe catch her giving a little girl a balloon or something."
"Are you volunteering for the job?"
"Would that interest you? You're a photographer."
"Yeah," he said, cautiously. This wasn't exactly where he'd seen this conversation going, but he'd be crazy not to at least hear the guy out.
"You know her."
"I went to high school with her, can't really say I know her well."
"You knew her well enough to call her to bail you out of jail."
"I knew her phone number." That was skirting the issue and John knew it as well as Mr. McLawyer knew it. John obviously knew her well enough to know her phone number by heart. Of course, he'd never called a girl with any frequency in his life except her. The calls had ended almost as quickly as they'd started, but for a couple of weeks he'd tried. Tried what, he wasn't sure at the time, and that had been his downfall and his undoing.
"Would you be interested?" he asked again.
John sighed softly. He should say no. He really should go inside now, shut the door, and forget about Claire and the rest of the Standish's. On the other hand, he didn't believe she liked the image she had gotten over the years. She didn't hate it, true, but he knew it bothered her that people saw her as this generation's party-girl who had no thought or concern for anyone but herself and her next diamond clutch bag that she'd use once and forget about. There was more to her than that. It was easy for him to forget that sometimes and think of her the way the papers painted her, but she wasn't as shallow and vapid as she seemed underneath it all. Well, until it came to touching a guy like him anyway then it seemed that's where daringness stopped.
"You come up with some sort of plan, details, and I'll look it over. I make no promises. I do have a business to run."
"Which would certainly benefit from the publicity of getting pictures of her."
"Yeah," he said. The lawyer was right. Business would not be hurt by his company being behind some pictures of her. "I wouldn't work for you, or her dad. Whoever. I'm not signing or agreeing to anything like that. I'd own the pictures. If you want to see them before I put them out there, I could agree to that."
"I'm sure we can come up with something."
"Because I think her father would like to see something good being written about her after those pictures."
"They weren't even her," John said.
The lawyer smiled a little at that, and John realized he'd just let on to the fact he knew Claire better than he wanted to admit.
"Good night then, Mr. Bender," he said, offering John his hand.
"Yeah," he said, taking it. "Cut the Mr. Bender stuff, though, please."
"Of course. I'll be in touch."
"Is her dad going to know about this? Is she?"
"I don't think so. It'd be better that way, don't you think? More sincere. I can get her schedule and we can go from there."
"She provides you a schedule?"
"Of her daytime activities when she's not in school and has appointments, of course. I have to keep track of what she's doing."
"I suppose," he said.
He didn't understand why, but he supposed whatever worked. He wondered, too, if that was this guy's job, to keep track of Claire. The law firm had his name as part of it, though, so something told John he had more important things to deal with than just Claire.
He watched the guy leave, wondering what in the hell he'd just got himself involved with. Claire was going to freak out if he just happened to show up some place she was. He should probably tell her, but he'd wait until the guy contacted him again to do that. For all John knew he'd go back to his office with the very generous check John just said no to and forget all about him.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com