Jefferson’s Ocean: Aged at Sea Bourbon
I count sixteen ships-in-bottles in the lawyer’s waiting area. Two dozen pictures of yachts and harbors. A seemingly endless string of nautical paraphernalia.
Two near-identical paintings depict the height of a storm at sea, a ship cresting an insurmountable wave. By all accounts, it seems on the verge of capsizing, but the artist’s not-so-subtly added a few rays of sunlight in the distance. An apt title for such art hanging in a law office might be On The Nose #1 and #2. The reality’s worse: The Moment God Acted #29 and #51. Retaking my seat, I cannot help but wonder if the lawyer considers himself to be God in this scenario.
The big-haired woman in reception leads me through a series of archways, down a corridor, past a glass conference room, to a thick wooden door. She raps twice and pushes it open. The occupant rises from behind his stained mahogany desk and approaches me with a toothy grin.
“Lee Winchester,” he says, gripping my hand. “You’re a friend of Mr. Fidelity’s.”
“He’s my boss, actually.”
“And you’re getting divorced?”
“Call me Lee,” he says, blinding me with his teeth. He waves me into a chair, then stands over me. “Has she filed yet?”
I unfold the papers from my jacket.
“Take a second,” he says, leaning against his desk and scanning the document. With his slicked hair, tanned skin, and curious lack of wrinkles, Lee Winchester resembles the upper crust equivalent of the lawyers who put their faces on bus stops. When he glances up, he looks puzzled. “Did my assistant get your message right? Your soon-to-be ex-wife committed adultery?”
“No, yeah,” I say. “That conversation was pretty awkward by the way.”
“Awkwardness aside, that’s the situation, is it not?”
“Again, call me Lee.” He holds up the papers as though presenting evidence. “Mr. Buckle, she’s seeking alimony here, a buyout from your apartment, sole custody of Spud, is it?, and for you to relinquish any and all claims in perpetuity to her business.”
“That’s what it looked like.”
“What is her business?”
“She’s half-owner of a vet clinic?” I shift in my seat. “Her partner is actually the one who, um, that she… moved in with.”
“Forgive me,” says the lawyer, “but is your ex-wife a little dense?”
With effort, I walk him through the situation, more or less, start to finish. As I dismally wind to a close, he emits what can only be described as a chortle, then pulls two glasses and a bottle of bourbon from a side cabinet.
“Mr. Buckle,” he says, pouring a carefully measured shot, “she doesn’t have a leg to stand on.”
“Even with what I said at her office?”
“Outting her misdeeds to the staff? That works in your favor.”
“Witnesses,” he says, handing me my glass. “Her affair’s on the record.”
I ask what happens next, and his face assumes the look of a shark smelling blood in the water.
“You have 90 days to respond, these are dated last week, so consider today T minus 83 days. That response can take three forms.” He counts my options on three manicured fingers. “Self-representation, mediation, or litigation. For obvious reasons, I advise against the first option.”
“Obvious reasons?” I ask.
“Without legal representation, you’re going to want to give her every last thing her cheating heart desires. Not your fault. We’re men, and the women we love will never miss an opportunity to work us.”
He sips from his glass and sighs a happy sigh.
“Mediation is going to be your best bet,” he continues. “We can really grind her down based on what you’ve told me. Shoot. With an overreach like this, it’ll be fun.”
He swills the liquor in its glass while his legislative gears continue to churn.
“Or, we litigate. If negotiations fail, we go to court and rely on a judge for the verdict. You’re the primary household earner, correct?”
“And did you or did you not provide her with financial support while she pursued her license and established her business?”
I nod again.
“Then it’s my recommendation that we take the bitch for all she’s worth.” He glances back at the papers, finishes his drink. “Alimony. I never get tired of the entitled. You like this bourbon?” he asks, moving to pour another. “It’s aged at sea. They load the barrels into ship hulls and sail them all over the world.”
I ask him why, eager to focus on anything other than what we’re discussing.
“I imagine they started doing it on a whim,” he says, “but soon discovered that with the salt air and the constant motion, the bourbon ages faster and gets a pretty nice taste. First batch, in fact, half the barrels exploded. Ended up blacker than a 30 year old whiskey in less than four.” He gestures with his glass. “I bought the bottle you’re tasting at auction for a thousand flat. Now they’re manufactured, industrialized. What you’re tasting, though, is as virgin a voyage you can find.”
I sip again. This thousand dollar bottle is simply bourbon masquerading as dark rum. One can taste the salt air, the honey, the sugarcane. One envisions sunlight sifting through wood slats. Sand and dirt and fleeting afternoon rain. Nevertheless, the expectations set by such an inflated price tag are much, much too high. Each sip vanishes without so much as a whimper, let alone a bite. I ask, “Don’t sailors call it the maiden voyage?”
“Same difference,” he says. “Point is, we tasted her first.”
“My wife isn’t entitled,” I say into my glass. “And she’s not a bitch.”
“Forgive me. I’m sure that she’s a lovely person when she’s not sleeping with other men.” He takes the seat beside me and crosses his legs, toe of his Oxford scraping my ankle. “Mr. Buckle,” he says. “Today, you’re getting divorced. Tomorrow, it’ll be a lawsuit. Do you know how the powerful stay powerful?” He pauses for effect. “They protect themselves. They build walls around what’s most precious to them so that down the line, should anyone try to take advantage, they have no reason to worry.”
“And that’s where you come in,” I say, beginning to feel seasick.
“Precisely,” he says, leaning onto my armrest. “She broke the contract you had together. Now, you have the right to claim what’s lawfully yours.”
I write out the check for his retainer and sail through the doors, unsure which is the more terrifying — the amount he charges, or the fact that my new position allows me to afford it.
The elevator drops like an anvil. I stumble outside. My lawyer’s painted the brave new world in sunlight.