Sitting back from the road in the old part of town among some birch and oak sat a small ugly yellow cape cod with a sign stuck in the front yard which read: James J. Digby, Attorney-at-Law. With sweaty hands and a sudden urge to urinate, Howard stepped onto the sidewalk and walked to the front door. He knocked, then realizing this was a place of business, let himself in.
He was immediately greeted with the sound of jingling bells on the doorknob and the pungence of something that smelled like old wet dirty laundry. Once inside, and without a front desk or window to greet him, he continued down the hall until a voice yelled out.
“On back here.”
Howard looked to his right inside a small room and saw a large man with his back turned standing on an office chair in the corner. He was holding what looked to be a paint roller and he seemed to be pulling at the white ceiling tile. On the floor pieces of tile large and small lay scattered about.
The man turned, looked at Howard, and said, “How do you do? Jim Digby. You here for the roof?”
“No. I’m here about my son.”
“Oh, in that case sorry about the mess.” Digby carefully stepped off his chair and sat, his bulk overtaking the armrests. “Storm last week took a toll on my roof and...well what can I do for you?” He motioned Howard to the faux leather chair across from his desk.
“I'm Howard Moreland.”
“Sounds familiar.” Digby squinted a bit. Tiny white specks of ceiling glistened in the sweaty creases of the man’s flabby folds of his face. “Do I know you?”
“You have a--pardon me--had a friend. Myra Stevens. Just passed away.”
“Howard? Howard. Okay. Hmm...wow, interesting. Well now, aren’t you a day late and a dollar short.” This wasn’t a question.
“Well what can I do for you Mr., what was it?”
“Mr. Moreland, how may I help you?”
“I would like to know if you have any information on where my son is?”
“No, I don’t, though we could probably find out where he is easily enough. Child Protection Services probably has him right now if they haven’t yet farmed him out. Coupla phone calls to the right people and we could get you connected, though you’d first need more stability than what I’m guessing you currently have. But may I ask you a question? Why did you change your mind?”
Howard dropped his head down then lifted it back up. He looked up into the dark hole in the corner of the ceiling where the tile had been removed. Blushing, he kept his eyes fixed on the hole and said, “Have you ever wanted something more than life itself? And then you suddenly get it and you just freeze, not knowing what to do with it? Then confusion sets in and the only rational thing to do seems to be to find that familiar ground you’ve been walking on and run back to it as quickly as you can. You run until you're safe and back into that hole you just came from so you can curl up and die. And you do this because you’re not willing to face the truth--the truth that maybe you just can’t handle what you had so badly wanted.”
Digby cut in. “I don’t care why you left. What I wanna know is why you’re back.”
“I’ve quit too damn much. When a person quits, that’s it. He’s done. I’m tired of that fashion. It no longer fits me.”
“Okay. So you’re a changed man, huh? That it?”
Howard stood up and turned but stopped short of leaving. “I’ll get help from you or someone else. It doesn’t matter. But one thing’s for sure--I’m gonna find my son.”
“Ease up there partner,” said Digby. “Just one more question.”
“When can you pay?”
“Soon as I get a job.”
“Not that there’s a whole lot that can be done about your son anyway til you’ve had steady work and a place to live. How’s your prospects?”
“Seeing you is the first thing I’ve done.”
“Well today just might be your lucky day. Gimme a sec.” Just as Digby reached for the handset, it began to ring. He picked it up. “James Digby, Attorney.”
He listened a few seconds, then said, “No thanks,” placed the phone back in its cradle, then immediately lifting it again, dialed a number and placed the phone to his ear.
“Hey Jimmy, you son of a bitch!” A pause. “What do you mean who? It’s Digby....What? You’re kidding me right? Digby...No I’m not gonna to spell it for you...Your best man, remember? Yes, me. I’m great. So tell me is it the bottle or your wife’s cooking?...Nevermind, nevermind.” Digby looked at Howard and rolled his eyes. He leaned back in his chair and put a meaty shoeless foot on his desk. “So hey, I’m a man in need, right? You’ve got openings?” He waited. “Great...Uh-huh...Right...No problems there...Wonderful...Muchos gracias, senor. No, it’s Spanish, my friend, Spanish. Yep, by three. Hug your wife for me. Alright, many paybacks.”
Digby hung up the phone. To Howard, he said, “as of tomorrow, my friend, you will be the newest night stocker at Crider’s Grocery. Know where they are?”
After a brief explanation of the logistics and a question or two about Howard’s ability to comply with what Digby knew were Crider’s basic requirements, Digby said, “Just so you know, I’m not doing anything here to be nice. Not that I’m not a nice fellow or anything. I can be. But this, this is for Myra. If I felt she’d be against me helping you out, then I’d respect that, too. But you seem okay. You seem decent. Just a body with a need for a hand up, know what I’m saying? And I think Myra would still want me to try to help you. Which leads to the next big issue: finding you a place to stay. That may prove a sight more challenging as I’ve not greased many wheels in that sector, but in a day or two rest assured I’ll have something figured out.”
Howard was amused by the overall confidence and joviality of this man whom he did not know til today and who for no apparent reason had decided to help him. Howard didn’t know what to chalk this up to but was nevertheless grateful that the Gods of Fortune had decided to smile down upon him. Then he heard James J. Digby III, Esquire say--
“There is a condition I almost forgot to mention. I want you to see a shrink. A psychiatrist. And a therapist, too. I’ll have the names by the next time you come. I just think you never know. It might help. No offence intended. And one other thing, too,” said the lawyer. “I’m just curious. How did you wind up on the street?”
“How much time do you have?”
Digby flicked his hands out to his sides. “How long could it take?”
Howard thought a moment. “You’re right. Basically, in this order: my ex-wife--”
The front door opened and a voice yelled hello.
“Come on back,” yelled Digby.
A slim, tall man appeared outside the room. He wore rugged boots, the leather ripped, showing off steeltoes. His Wranglers had just as many holes it seemed as threads, and his wife beater clung to his torso. The man’s dark brown curly hair hung down out of the grasp of his sweat-stained ball cap. “Your roof?”