Still trying to keep his options open, Jonathan found himself a dogsbody for the partners of the Manhattan firm he joined after graduation and admittance to the Bar. Lipsky, Lipsky and Flynn handled everything from labor union problems to civil rights to divorce cases, providing variety to the forty young lawyers, associates, and the legal assistants who had to do the grit work.
Jonathan had settled into his new apartment, his “Attorney at Law” identity and his new job easily, feeling he could survey future possibilities from a position of relative security. He was sure none of this would be permanent. Certainly not the furnished apartment on East 99th St. he shared with countless cockroaches. Like most New York City apartments, it was infested.
If it had not been for the old roll top desk squeezed into the front room he would never have taken the railroad flat. It was basically too far away from his downtown office despite the IRT express stop at 86th. The roll top desk (who knew what epoch-making briefs had been written on it?) and the very low rent had convinced him to take it anyway. He soon got used to the penetrating smell of fermenting hops from the nearby brewery. He had his own technique with the roaches. Before turning on the kitchen light he would clap his hands twice and call “Everybody out!” then watch as they scurried for the corners when the light came on.
No, he felt, he would not stay here long. It was a start and he was grateful to Uncle Dimitri for telling him about the vacant apartment after one of the regular waitresses had died. He met Xenia about once a week for lunch at the diner. She was still commuting from Staten Island but had taken a job in the city’s judicial system. They traded gossip about their colleagues and bosses. The courts were part of a huge bureaucracy. Xenia said it would take her a year just to find out who did what and where their offices were. Jonathan described the partners – Sam Lipsky, round and jovial, Ben Lipsky, thin and suspicious, Billy Flynn, mostly absent. He did the divorces. Like Xenia, Jonathan was the low man on the totem pole.
It was not customary for a newcomer to be summoned by a partner, so Jonathan was surprised when he was called into Billy Flynn’s office one morning. He hoped he would not be asked to assist on a divorce case, a part of the law he disliked – too personal, too much private linen washed in public. He was wary. Flynn, a tall wiry man of about sixty with the lined face of an inveterate smoker leaned back in his leather desk chair. Squinting through the smoke of the cigarette in the corner of his mouth, he examined this newest edition to the firm. Jonathan remained standing in front of the desk, feeling like a beetle pinned on a collector’s board. He had to resist an urge to cough in the smoky air. After a long moment, Flynn brought his desk chair back to straight and reached across the desk.
“Jonathan Bleeman.” They shook hands
“Sit down, sit down.” Flynn gestured to the visitor’s chair beside Jonathan.
“So, Jonathan. I can call you Jonathan?”
“Yes, of course.”
“You’re new here, right. From Westchester, wasn’t it?”
“Your father an attorney out there?”
“No sir. He’s an accountant.” Jonathan answered, wondering where all this was going.
“Nothing to do with unions?”
“No sir. Mainly small businesses.”
Flynn tipped back in his chair, swiveled to look out the window then turned back to Jonathan. “How are you with traveling – for the firm, I mean.”
“That’s not generally a problem but it would depend on the details.”
“Ah, very lawyerly, very careful. That’s good. Here’s the thing – a good friend of mine – friend of the family so to speak – has a problem out on the West Coast. He’s a very busy man and can’t go out there himself. He needs someone trustworthy, a stranger, not known as a friend of his or employee to – ah – to take an affidavit of sorts from someone, a verbal statement. This person out there will only speak to an authorized representative of this busy man.”
Jonathan must have looked doubtful.
“You would only have to record the information from this person.” He paused then added. “Sam Lipsky said you’d be perfect.” Another pause. “Of course we’ll pay your expenses.”
Jonathan looked over Billy Flynn’s head at the skyscrapers across the street. This sounded strange, mysterious. But a trip to the West Coast – how bad could it be? On the other hand he wondered what an “affidavit of sorts” could be. That had never been mentioned in law school.
“How long would I be out there?” he asked finally.
“Probably about a week, starting right away. It’s really a simple thing – mainly a matter of trust.”
“Then can you tell me something about the background, just so I can be sure.”
Billy Flynn planted both elbows on his desk. “Look, either you can help us out here – the firm I mean – or not. As I said it’s a matter of trust.” He broke off, lowered his chin, peered at Jonathan, one eyebrow lifted.
Jonathan suddenly knew how an adulterer might feel, badgered by Flynn in a divorce case. He tried one more question. “Perhaps I should at least know who I’m representing – the very busy man?”
Flynn stood and paced slowly around his large desk, completing a circle before facing Jonathan again. “He’s from a well-known family, outside New York, politically involved, upper crust and definitely on the side of the angels. That’s all you need to know.”
Jonathan took a breath and decided to take a leap of faith. “Yes, sir, I’ll be glad to do my part to help the firm.” ‘What choice do I have?’ he thought.
Billy took Jonathan’s elbow and steered him toward the door.
“Good. You fly out on Tuesday. I’ll get the flight reservation and other details to you by Monday close of business.” He stopped before opening the door. “By the way, Jonathan, I’d appreciate a level of discretion. Sam and Ben, fine, but not your younger colleagues. Understood?” The door opened. He was more or less pushed out. The door closed behind him leaving Jonathan beached in front of a secretary’s desk.
When Jonathan arrived at the diner the next day, Xenia was nowhere to be seen. Dimitri shrugged his shoulders. He hadn’t seen her. Jonathan had just ordered the Blue Plate Special when Xenia showed up. “So sorry.” She said breathlessly slipping onto the stool beside him. ‘They sent me way up to the North Bronx. The trains! Forget it! Had to deliver a subpoena. I’m starved.” Xenia examined the menu. “I’m having the Blue Plate.” Jonathan offered.
“Oh good. I’ll have that too.” She said to the waitress
While they waited for their lunch Jonathan told Xenia about his coming trip to the West Coast. She was surprised, asked him what it was all about.
“Well, I was told to be discreet – in the firm. But you’re outside, so you don’t count really.” “Really!” she said combatively. Just then their food came. Between bites Jonathan told Xenia about the mysterious stranger who needed a ”sort of affidavit” taken so far away.
“But what’s it about?” Xenia asked.
“I’ll find out when I’m there.” Xenia frowned and shook her head. Jonathan shrugged.
When he finally got Billy Flynn’s letter of instruction on Monday, Jonathan found it gave him all the travel information he needed but not much else. Reading the letter again on the flight west his initial excitement – he had never been in Seattle before – vanished. The whole thing sounded like a chapter out of a Sam Spade mystery novel: meeting a man named Ed Goodman in a hotel bar who would ask if he was from New York. His big city skepticism was aroused. On the other hand, he had accepted the job and had to finish it. Maybe by the time he flew home he would know the answers to some of his many questions.
It was raining when he arrived. The taxi skidded on the hills. “Yeah, a bit wet.” The driver said. An understatement Jonathan thought as he scurried from the cab into his hotel. That night and the next he sat in the hotel bar as instructed, waiting for someone to ask him if he was from New York – and feeling foolish with it.
On Thursday evening a young man in a baggy sport coat and misshapen slacks, slid onto the stool next to Jonathan and asked him if he was from New York. The stranger introduced himself. He was just the middleman, Ed Goodman explained in a quiet voice. The man Jonathan was here to see, the driver, as Ed called him, would meet them nearby. As they walked through the quiet streets Ed asked Jonathan how much he knew about West Coast politics. Jonathan admitted he knew practically nothing. “Maybe that’s just as well.” Ed muttered.
They entered the side door of a large, empty church. A man in a worn leather jacket and work pants, nervously clutching a cap, stood in the shadows. “That’s him, the driver,” whispered Ed.
“Does he have a name?” asked Jonathan.
“He’ll tell you.” And with that Ed sat in a nearby pew, barely visible in the dark church.
For the next half hour Jonathan listened to complaints of suspected theft, malfeasance, bribery and extortion by a very powerful man at the top of the driver’s local union. Finally Jonathan said “You’re willing to sign a formal list?”
“Absolutely not. That was never part of the deal. Ed said the guy in New England could do something about this. No Names.”
Jonathan looked over at the shadowy pew. Ed nodded. Jonathan thought for a long minute. No way was this an affidavit, or any kind of real evidence. Why had Flynn sent him all the way out here to listen to some anonymous complaints by a driver? What was going on? Who was the guy in New England? Ed, suddenly standing beside him, thanked the young man, said he’d be in touch. The interview was over. “Come on. I’ll walk you back.”
As they walked back to the hotel, Jonathan, feeling like a pawn in a chess game with new rules, waited for Ed to explain. Bewildered and even angry he finally asked “So, that’s it?”
Ed said. “Listen, this is just the beginning. We – my paper – can’t do anything about these gangsters out here, the president of the Teamsters Union is too big, too politically powerful, but if someone could make some noise in DC, maybe someone would listen. It’s gotta be national, not local, otherwise it’ll get throttled – the story – and maybe some people too.”
Jonathan was shocked. The Teamsters – weren’t they linked up with the mafia? What kind of game was Billy Flynn playing? He’d thought this was his first big chance but it was turning out to be dangerous and possibly even illegal. He couldn’t resist the feeling he’d been played, especially by Billy Flynn. If all the partners were involved where did that leave him? Maybe in the wrong law firm, a wrong choice at the very beginning of his career.
The list that Jonathan wrote from his memory of the conversation in the church was a long one. There had been violence around contracts, drivers had been coerced into joining the union, complaints about mismanagement of the pension fund had been squashed with threats or with actual violence, the union president’s rent-free home on a lake was being paid for out of union funds. When he finished he looked at the list again – a list, hearsay. Right now it was a piece of paper, nothing more. Who was the magician in New England who could turn it into a powerful tool?
On the flight back to New York Jonathan reviewed his situation. He was being used, that was obvious. And he resented it. Thrown into a foreign environment with no brief, no aim, no reason he could see, he was just an errand boy, one with a law degree – but why, why him? He remembered Billy Flynn had said it had to be someone no one could connect to the “very busy man”. Jonathan had no connections, certainly not to D.C. He didn’t even know who his own congress-men were.
Jonathan tried to look at it from a different perspective. Considered from the “busy man’s” viewpoint, why would a list of grievances from Seattle be important to someone in New England, to someone who could ‘do something’ in Washington, D.C.? It was confusing. He knew so little of politics. He fell asleep to the hum of the big plane’s motors.
On the bus back from Idlewild he finally relaxed. The driver’s accent, the sounds of impatient honking on the expressway, the lights and smells of the city felt like home. But Seattle had shaken his confidence. How much did he know of New York, what made it run, who was really in charge.
The next day he went to Flynn’s office. Flynn was out of town, the secretary said. “When will he be back?”
“He didn’t say.”
Jonathan hesitated then handed the manila envelope with his notes to the secretary. “Please give this to him when he’s back.” That quick and easy he thought. Maybe Billy Flynn just likes drama, made a fuss about sending me, then decided it was nothing. And I got a trip to Seattle out of it. Not so bad, he thought, and put it out of his mind.
The next time he managed to meet Xenia was months later and this time not at the diner. She’d called him at the office and said she was very busy, had no time to go up to the diner, but had some news for him. They met at a sandwich place closer to the court, grabbed their sandwiches and went to a nearby park for lunch. It was crowded with office workers out to enjoy the spring air. They found some free space and settled down with their paper bags.
“So. What’s the big news?” Then he saw her left hand. The diamond glittered on her finger. “Wow! What is this?”
“Exactly what it looks like, Counselor.”
“It looks like an engagement ring, but is it? When did this happen, and with whom?
“Why are you so surprised? I do have a life, you know. It’s someone I’ve known forever. He’s in med school so it will be a while until we can actually marry.”
“So, he’s from Staten Island?”
“ Yeah, and Greek too and from my neighborhood.”
Jonathan took a minute to digest all this. He had been convinced that Xenia would turn out to be a real career woman, not a housewife. Why had he assumed that? Because he saw her that way or wanted to? Because it was easier for him?
He pulled his thoughts back. “That’s great. I hope he’s worth it. I mean, I hope he knows he’s getting a diamond too.”
“Well, that’s debatable. But everyone is very happy, including me.”
“Will you go on working?”
“Absolutely. And he’s fine with that.” Jonathan nodded. “There’s something else. I was curious about your trip to Seattle last fall and did a little research. The president of the Teamsters out there is Dave Beck and there’s a young lawyer attached to a Senate committee who’s very curious about the Teamsters. His name is Robert Kennedy. His brother is Senator John Kennedy.” She looked at Jonathan. “You follow?” Jonathan frowned.
“Senator Kennedy from Massachusetts.” She prodded. Jonathan looked bewildered.
“The guy who sent you out there was Flynn, right? A good Irish name, right?
Flynn to Kennedy, see? ‘A friend of the family’ he said, didn’t he? All these Irish Catholics stick together, like the Greeks on Staten Island, like the Jews in New Rochelle. At least that’s what you said. It’s what you used to complain about.”
Jonathan sat back on the bench, his half-eaten sandwich forgotten, his mind working double time.
Xenia smiled. “You get it now. I gotta run. Listen, be careful. I don’t know about the Irish but the Teamsters…” she shook head. “Just be careful.” And she was gone.
Jonathan sat for a long time. He had to admit he was shocked by Xenia’s engagement – but why should he be? He’d never made a move on her, not since that first day, considered her more a colleague, a friend, someone much smarter than he was. And she was smarter- otherwise how could she have guessed about Billy Flynn’s connection to the Kennedys? Of course everyone knew about the Kennedy family, even Jonathan. But he never dreamed Billy Flynn had such high-flying connections. As he made his way back to his office he thought he would have to be more careful in the future. Life –even for a lawyer -was not as cut and dried as he had thought.
TO BE CONTINUED