Chapter 1: Closing Time

I’d never cared for elevators or masks, but there I was, standing in one wearing the other, three more people standing uncomfortably around me, all sporting masks as well. Our breathing sounded like a squad of Darth Vaders. The elevator stopped on the second floor and the guy next to me practically scrambled out into the atrium without a word. I watched him, an able-bodied man wearing khakis and a golf shirt, carrying a backpack on one shoulder like a college student.

It was all I could do to refrain from reminding him, if you’re worried about elevators what’s wrong with the stairs? I mean the second floor? Really?

But the doors slid closed and my mouth stayed closed as well, and the next stop was my floor so I stepped out of the elevator breathing an involuntary sigh of relief. I could see Mike sitting in the conference room through the window, staring at my partner Braden who was telling him something from the doorway. It looked like Braden had been telling him whatever he was telling him for quite a while now, and like Mike had been wearing the same expression in response the whole time.

The new normal for the office was quiet. Not quiet like a church, but quiet beneath the background noise of copiers and shuffling paper. Even when Meredith spoke into her headset as I walked through the door, the quiet still hung around in between her words. Braden was just disappearing around the corner as I took his previous spot in the conference room door, which Mike was still staring at.

Mike wasn’t wearing a mask, but he was twelve feet across the conference room. I glanced back at Meredith and thought the distance was probably close to that, so I pulled off my own mask and asked, “Do I want to know?”

“The O’Halloran closing,” he told me. “Something’s wrong with the funding, some kind of lender requirement got missed.”

I’d once owned a title company that Mike had run for me, until the real estate crash of ’08 soured me on it. We were both familiar with last minute funding problems. The closing was the last step in resolving a bitter probate litigation case that I’d referred to Braden a few months back. Our client’s name was Finn O’Halloran, the youngest of three siblings who’d lived abroad for several years. His father Graham had made his first million in the early eighties, and died a widower.

Finn had a vast array of letters and emails showing a warm and loving relationship with his father, though their correspondence did die down in the last year of Graham’s life, as his faculties faded. Finn was doing well as a surfing instructor on the other side of the world in New Zealand, and he’d meant to make the long journey home, had even bought tickets for a few months from now in late October. But when Graham’s health declined, it did so very quickly, and when he suffered a massive stroke back in January, he never even made it to the hospital.

So Finn flew home early, where he was stunned to learn that he’d been cut out of the will. His siblings Mike and Melinda told a much different story about his relationship with his father, claiming that Finn had been an addict and manipulated his father into giving him money hand over fist, until they had no choice but to cut him off.

The rest was all as starkly unpleasant as one would imagine, but Braden made fairly short work of it and Finn was happy with the share of the estate he’d now be receiving. The last important thing to do before closing out the estate was to sell Graham’s massive Muirfield residence.

“Who’s handling the financing?”

“Tim Hatch. You remember Tim?”

“I remember him. I assume you’ve spoken to him?”

Mike shrugged, tossing his arms out and letting them drop back to the arm rests of his conference room chair. “He says everything’s going to be fine. Says the underwriter is a buddy of his from third grade.”

“That guy must have had a massive third grade classroom. Like a football field or something.”

I checked the time on my phone and said, “The closing’s this afternoon, right?”

“The closing is right now. It’s not actually scheduled til a half hour from now, but everybody’s early, and they’re all over there glaring at each other.”

“Where’s Tim? Is he handling it?”

“No, it’s eight thirty in the morning. He’s over at the Ruckmoor having a bloody mary.”

The office was about half-staffed after closing the doors entirely for over two months. We had two paralegals working entirely remotely, and two more with small children who needed to be in the office to get anything done. But, half the staff meant everyone got their own office, so people tended to get into them and close the doors.

Then of course there was Tom, who showed up to a Monday management meeting in early March wearing a full Apollo Mission-style astronaut suit, sounding like some kind of hydraulic metalworking machine clomping around the office. He seemed eerily calm as he walked past the blinking staff members, picked up a box of copier paper, and dumped it onto the floor by the copier. Then he took the empty box into his office and began singing Ozzie Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” as he tucked his various lunch-and-workout personal items from the shelves above his desk into the box. When he showed up in the conference room for the meeting, people out in the atrium stopped in their tracks to stare at him through the window.

He said, “Welp, society’s collapsing. I’m going to go ahead and skedaddle. I’ll see you guys in like 2023.”

I didn’t know what to say to that, so I just said the first thing on my mind. “Where’d you get that astronaut suit, Tom?”

“Well, you know. Astronauts play cards just like anyone else.” He pointed to the big screen on the wall and said, “I’m going to start showing up on that screen from now on and you guys can pretend I’m Doctor Claw from Inspector Gadget.”

“All right, buddy, you take it easy.”

We all watched with quiet unease as he hissed and bumped his way out into the atrium to call the elevator. A woman in a maintenance outfit with a vacuum cleaner didn’t so much as blink at him as he stepped in next to her, and they both waited for a minute before Tom reached out to press the Door Close button right as it finally closed on its own.

A strange bird, that one. He did indeed show up on the screen every Monday, and though we could never see his feet, Mike firmly believed he was wearing empty Kleenex boxes on them.

I made myself some coffee and then retreated to my office. I was about to close the door behind me when I noticed Amanda from the potted plant service we used, over in the corner with her cart watering the plants by the window. I popped my mask back on as she apologized through her own, and left the door open, patting the air in front of me as I backed out, as a sort of silent “excuse me.”

Amanda had long, curly hair that she tied back in a bandana, and wore a sort of apron over her clothing, and light cloth gloves. She said, “I’m heading over to Williams Title if you want me to crack some heads. I heard there’s trouble with one of your closings.”

She’d been referred to us by my friend Kathy Williams, who owned the title company handling the closing, back when we moved into the new office. Until then, I hadn’t realized that there were whole companies that handled office greenery, but it was certainly worth it. In the old days, Mike and I – and especially Tom – had killed so many plants I’m surprised they let us keep buying them. I was in her office for a client’s closing one day, and looking at the health and array of beautiful plants decorating the title company, I had to ask her the secret to not killing plants.

“Amanda Davenport,” she’d said, and given me her card. Five years later, I was ready to do free commercials for her. The only plants that had died had been in Tom’s office back in 2016.

He’s a Democrat. It was a dark time for him, and I think the plants felt it.

I laughed and said, “No, no, don’t crack any skulls, Amanda, I’m giving Kathy a call right now to see what’s going on. Besides, if you go to jail all these plants will die within a couple of weeks.”

She clipped something off the plant by the window and then dropped the clippers into the cart. “No promises,” she said as she wheeled the cart out of the office. “Tell Kathy to text me if she wants a McMuffin or something.”

There truly was no reason to spend a lot of energy wringing my hands about the closing. The funding problem would either get resolved or it would not. Still, my client was over there and I knew all about the stress he’d been experiencing. I was just reaching out my hand to give Kathy Williams a call when Meredith clicked onto the intercom and told me my nine o’clock telephone consultation was early.I looked at the clock on my computer screen and shrugged. “Send it through.”

The phone call lasted a half an hour, followed by ten minutes or so of notes and computer work. I noticed my coffee sitting there, cold and untouched. I frowned and headed out to the coffee machine to dump it out and make another. We have a microwave, but I was a bit of a snob about my coffee. I hit the button to start the new cup brewing, and then headed back into the litigation department while the beans started grinding. I could hear Braden in his office, talking on the phone, his door closed.

Walking back to my office with the steaming cup couple minutes later, I noticed Mike in his office, also on the phone. He snapped his fingers at me to stop me, something he almost never does, and I didn’t stop because why encourage the snapping? I went into my office, putting my coffee down where I’d forgotten it last time, making a firm mental note to get back here and drink it before it got cold like the last one. I snagged my mask from the desk and went back to Mike’s doorway.

“I just talked to him,” Mike was telling someone, his expression baffled and horrified as if the person on the phone were screaming at him in Klingon. “Literally six or seven minutes ago, he was pulling up in your parking lot.”

A woman’s voice on the other end really did sound like it was screaming at him, a blustering sound like sobbing. I mouthed the words, “Who is that?”

He covered the phone with the palm of his hand and whispered, “Kathy Williams. You better talk to her.”

I nodded and pointed to his phone, then all the way into my office at mine. “Kathy? Hold on, I’m going to… Kathy? I’m going to put Greg on, just tell him what’s going on.”

I closed the door behind me and went to my desk, my hand hovering over the phone waiting for the button to light up. Through the wall I heard Mike talking some more but couldn’t make out the words. I took a drink of coffee and burned the roof of my mouth.

The button lit up. I pecked at it with my finger and snatched up the receiver. “Kathy? What’s going on, I take it the closing’s not happening?”

“Greg, you need to get over here,” she said. I’d never heard her voice in such a state before. And I really felt for her, but I had five appointments that day, and there wasn’t much I could do about a funding problem.

I said, “Is the loan officer there? Tim Hatch? I could speak with him over the phone if you want, maybe I can at least get an understanding of what the funding problem is so I can advise my client.”

“There’s no funding problem anymore. The wire hit a half an hour ago. The seller’s side documents are executed, we were just waiting on the O’Hallorans. They all went out to breakfast thinking the funding problem would take longer.”

“They all went to breakfast? Together?”

“No, just at the same time. Two different places, maybe three. I don’t know.”

“Okay so then what’s the problem?”

“Greg it’s Tim Hatch. The loan officer. The police are pulling up in the parking lot right now. I have to get out there.”

“The police?”

“He’s dead, Greg. Someone stabbed him. He was alone in the conference room, and someone went in there and stabbed him.”

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