Creative Writing – The Dark-side of Pet Adoption (2)

THE DARK SIDE OF PET ADOPTION – Chapter 2 – On to Chicago

W. James Jonas III

February 2006

It was not hard to agree to travel with Paul to Chicago.  I really like the pizza, and I really thought the trip would be short.

As I began packing the few items for my brief trip, it was almost amusing to reflect on this very strange client and some of our first meetings.

“They say I tried to steal a car, but I can explain.  How much is this going to cost me?”  I take a breath and confirm that he generally recalled the rates, and our policy of recording all conversations and activities, being outlined before he left a phone message and before he gained entrance into the client center (it is always easier to collect bills from folks who acknowledge that the information was provided); then, I tell him it will be a pleasure to review that information again.  “No, he quickly states.  I meant to say how long.  I have a customer to meet at the Downtown Fitness Center at 10:30am.”  This guy is going to be a challenge; maybe he should just go back the to dorm, but I am still a capitalist.  “Well, I really do not know anything about you or your particular situation.”  His next question is a real laugh, “Don’t you read the papers?”  There is really no point in responding; this guy is a fool, and I am not going to explain to him that the local paper is a lousy source of information to include sports scores and otherwise a total insult to the literate world.  However, I do advertise in it quite heavily, and have been pleased with the proven results – limited coverage of my more public clients.  My silence seems to be all the response he needs; “well, you are the only S.O.B. in San Antonio that hasn’t read the paper today.  I have to go.  I need your help, and I will be back tomorrow morning.  Read the paper and tell me what to do.”

Some of my more unstable clients have sessions like this where they pay to leave a message, pay to wait in the client center, and then rush through their initial meeting with me, but this was a new record for brevity.

As I return to my desk, Paul’s invoice is ready for my editing and approval before being issued and electronically billed to his credit card before noon.

It is time for a Starbuck’s break, and I decide to pick up a paper in case Paul decides to show up again tomorrow.  Besides, it is always nice to find a client service oriented way to bill that morning coffee break.  I found the article Paul mentioned.  It was in the Food & Fitness section – “CLUB TRAINER CHARGED WITH CRIMINAL TRESPASS.”  Paul Douglas is a fitness trainer (I knew it) at the Alamo Country Club (if that is his only job, his credit card will be maxed out soon.) and was arrested and charged with criminal trespass.  The rest of the article reflected the business policy of the pitiful publication to allow high school interns (unsupervised by an editor) to write “news articles.”  The facts were random and gave me little reason to believe that this guy needed a professional of stature and rate structure.

From what I could gather, it was the typical story of the “towel boy” having an affair with a female patron of the club; my guess was that the “work-out sessions” re-located to the member’s residence, and he decided that access to the house, during a time when his client was away, might allow him to procure a new car or two for resale.  A little seedy, boring, and not my stuff; the kid might need to find a new club, but his tan was dark and his build made him the buff looking youth that would never find it hard to find a job where middle aged men and women were spending money to sweat under the instruction of young adults.

I was anxious to see if Paul would show-up the next morning, but my arrival time was no earlier than the day before as the crowd at the homeless shelter was unusually large making breakfast duty a bit longer task than was the norm.  My first come first served client scheduling protocol eliminated any economic reason to rush to the office, but the visual of my obituary reading “on the day he died, he skipped his scheduled time to help the homeless to be on time for a meeting with a personal trainer who had turned to auto theft…” was too great a risk for me.

When I walked in, the message light was on, and Paul was waiting.  This time we had a much longer and productive visit.

“I started making money as a personal trainer in high school.  My size kept me from having a chance on the football team and other sports seemed to offer no great thrill.  Because I was still in high school, most of the clients I could service were early risers – folks that get up damn early and are ready to begin their work outs by 5am; most of these folks either go to sleep very early or sleep very little.  However, all of them seem to be very jealous of the hours of sleep they get and anything that gets in their way is a problem.  That is where I got my first opportunity.”

“Your opportunity as what?”

“I won’t tell you; you will have to figure that out, but the reason I need your help is to keep it quiet.  I do not want the world to know what I do.  So, will you help me?”

“I will represent you in the case you request.  Are there any other charges other than criminal trespass?”

“I’m not sure; can you please figure that out?  I have to go.”

The criminal charges were easy to assess.  The interesting piece was that there was a fairly clear understanding that a civil case would follow and the plaintiff was not the cuckold I had assumed – it was the wife.

Morning three finally brought a set of facts I could work with.  Paul’s client had been the man of the house, an independent businessman, that slept four hours every night with wife number two in a 5,000 square foot home they shared with a cat, that came with the second wife and was nearly killed in a recent accident, that lead to Paul’s current problems.

Two years earlier, the dog of the house had died when he wandered on to the range of the local gun club.

“Look, people tell me their problems, and that includes what bugs them in their own house.  The theme of “that darn dog kept me awake” kept coming up during Mr. Walker’s early morning sessions.  When I asked him (or any other person like him) if their spouse understood how the animal was a nuisance or if they would consider beginning such a discussion, I noticed a pattern.  Rich people will not confront each other on the topic of pets; it is simply not done.  It is my opinion that part of it is that the animals place in the relationship is the more certain than the annoyed spouse.  This did not mean tolerance and understanding; it merely meant there was a need for a service.  That is where my new business came to be.”

“I started with referrals from the old guys at the club.  A decent number of them had younger wives with obnoxious pets; the guys wanted to be rid of the pets.  Local “business” had pretty much dropped off until the new Mayor began promoting pet adoption.”

Our Mayor had recognized a real city problem and source of waste in the fact that countless numbers of stray animals populated the community and were subsequently rounded up and killed by animal control.  Part of his comprehensive solution was to promote pet adoption at every possible opportunity.  The city council meetings began with a pet adoption report; all of the Mayor’s public events included an opportunity to adopt a pet, and it was not only stylish, and community spirited, but a political necessity in some circles to add a little furry beast to your house.  The trend was a great catalyst for finding thousands of caring loving owners for homeless pets.  But, every happy trend has its darker side.

More than a few pet agnostic spouses were coming home to the unexpected patter of four little feet (and did not care for the change).  Local business for Paul had a resulting spike.

Satisfied clients tend to talk, especially in the company of their own gender after a couple of drinks at the hunting lodge or some other setting for the corporate elite with more money than problems.

No one questions Personal Trainers making house calls.  No one expects them to stay long.  All it took was a key to the house, code to the security system, a time when the loving pet owner was gone, a selected method of demise, and pre-payment of a fee (expenses included but not itemized – I knew there would be something I liked about this guy) for the project to be accomplished.

Well, those days were in the past, Paul had hired me as business counsel on a fixed fee retainer.  The retainer was large and his travel agent was making, and paying for, all of the expenses, so my only decision was whether to where a suit or a sport coat and slacks.  I decided for the suit; it was time to play corporate counsel, and that suggested a more formal theme.  Besides, the car to take me to the airport was coming in 30 minutes and my pace of packing had to pick up.

When I agreed to represent Paul in this new phase, I thought my work would include educating him on basic business principles.  Those thoughts disappeared not when he wrote me the retainer check but when he presented me with a non-disclosure agreement prepared by his previous counsel. About two hours before calling me, he had instructed his counsel to prepare to documents, a non-disclosure agreement for his new counsel and a settlement agreement with a generous termination clause for the author of these documents.  That lawyer, by Paul’s account, was more than happy to conclude his representation because it included a termination bonus.  I had to admit, Paul was always thinking about how to get people to do what he wanted and do it happily.

We got to Chicago, and the initial meeting began that afternoon.  The understanding was that he would be retaining separate counsel in each area of needed expertise, and that these lawyers or firms would report to me.

I began to wonder how Paul was financing his start-up, so my question about his choice of lenders, if any, gave me opportunity to learn more.  This was important to me for a number of reasons including the fact that I totally misread him on first meeting.  When my instincts have been that off, in the past, the likelihood that there is a sinister element is always high.  “No counselor, I will not need to borrow any money from banks.  This effort is being funded by many happy customers of the past.”

Paul’s description of happy customers had all the subtlety of a knee to the groin, but I could not find any overt extortion.

My role in Paul’s business was becoming less clear.  He had money.  He seemed to have a plan.  He had already conducted more than a few complex business transactions.  With all of those elements, it was not clear to me what I was going to do for him other than baby-sit other lawyers.  Then he told me.  “I want you to be the public face of this secret company.”

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