Contemporary Fiction Friendship

James Inglebrook glanced down at the screen of a smartphone on his desk, and frowned. His voice held just a tinge of annoyance. “You’re late, Steve.”

Puffing, and perspiring slightly, Steve Kellog plumped himself down in the stuffed-leather client-chair in front of the big executive desk. “Good to see you again too, old buddy! I know! I apologize, and it’s a long story.”

James smiled thinly, making his mien appear less severe, and more tolerant. “As I recall, it always is.”

Steve settled into the depths of the chair and gave a great sigh, as if he could now finally relax after expending a massive exertion, like running a marathon, or lifting a car off someone’s chest. “I had one helluva time to find you. I had your business card from when you handled that last thing from, what was it, three years ago? And the phone number’s the same, but you’ve moved.” This was said with just a tiny degree of pique.

“Yes, I was able to keep the same phone number, but I’ve been here going on about two years now.”

Steve looked around him and appraised the expensive leather furniture, the forty square yards of thick, plush cushioned carpeting a hamster could raise a family in without anyone finding them, and the huge mahogany desk. “Well, nice digs. Congratulations, Jimmy. You’ve moving on up. A big change from that walk-in closet of an office down on Ballantine Avenue – that’s where I went first today, by the way – and a thousand percent upscale from when we were roomies at Ohio State, back in the day.”

James appeared to relax a bit; possibly because of the blandishment, and possibly at the mention of their old college connection. No matter, there was now some of his sunshine in the room, whereas before there had been a definite layer of frost. “Well thanks, Steve. Yes, those old dorms were pretty bare bones, weren’t they? And this isn’t bad at all, is it? My name’s not on the door or the letterhead yet, but I’m working on it.”

“Top grade,” said Steve, meaning it. “Well, as I said, I am sorry I’m late. And my mind’s a muddle. I hardly know where to start.”

“Well," James mused, “As the King said, Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

Steve chuckled. “I’d forgotten that about you, from back then. The Lewis Carroll thing. A guy studying to be a lawyer who could quote Lewis Carroll.”

“He was an interesting guy, a true polymath. I admire that in a person. Always did. The law is a good career choice, but..., anyway, do carry on.”

“Right. Begin at the beginning. Why not? Well, why was I late? I slept in. Why did I sleep in? I set the alarm on my phone, but the battery died during the night. Why did the battery die? Because I hadn’t charged it. Why hadn’t I charged it? Because I loaned the charger to the girl down the hall – hers had broken and she said she only needed it for an hour – but I said, hey, no big rush. I expect that she’ll bring it back before too long.”

James, listening with his head slightly to one side, toyed absently with the pull-chain that dangled from the switch of a heavy, brass gooseneck lamp with a green metal shade, on his desk. “So, I see that you’re still doing the boy-scout routine.”

“Scouts’ law,” Steve said brightly. “Do a good deed every day.”

“That’s what I could never quite understand about you,” James mused. “An Eagle Scout who wound up majoring in computer science. You always seemed much more suited to the humanities.”

“Just following the advice of the guidance counselor, back then. It was the practical thing to do. Doesn’t mean that you turn your back on people, when they are in need.”

“I suppose," said James.

“Anyway, I don’t have wheels at the moment because my car is in the body shop. I loaned it to a colleague’s niece, who had an accident and smashed a fender. No big deal. So, my phone being dead, I went down and used my landlady’s phone to call Monica, for a ride. You remember her, right?”

“Oh yes, how is Monica?”

“OK, I guess. We’re divorced.”

“But you said…”

“We still talk.”


“Well, things were touchy for a while. But after she got out of the hospital, we put all that business behind us.”

“What business?”

“I cooked a special dish to serve for her birthday dinner. Spent half a day shopping around to buy the ingredients. How was I to remember that she had a nut allergy?”

“How, indeed. She never mentioned it?”

“Well, maybe once, back when we were dating.”

 “And that would be…?”

“Eight years ago.”

“Right. You were saying?”

“So Monica left work and came and picked me up. As I said, I had your old business card with the Ballantine address, so that’s where we went first. When I found that you had moved, we looked you up on her phone, and she drove me here. She let me off at the corner a half-block away, because this building is on a one-way street, and she had to get back to work quickly, or maybe get fired, she said. I was out of breath when I came in because I ran all the way from the corner to here, on account of being late.”

“So, then all’s well that ends well.”

“I guess. Monica got a ticket for being double-parked waiting for me at Ballantine, while I was in the building, so I’ll have to make that up to her I suppose, but yeah.”

“Got it. So why are you here, Steve? The phone message that you left with reception yesterday just said that you needed to see me on urgent business.”

“I need a lawyer. I’m being sued.”


Steve looked wounded. “You say that like it was an everyday occurrence. The last time was three years ago.”

“Yes, I know. I looked it up in the file. You were helping a woman across the street and a strap on her grocery bag broke and spilled everything out on to the pavement. She sued you for embarrassing her because, she said, and I quote: ‘There were things in that bag that I didn’t want the whole world to see.’ Unquote. And she said that the strap wouldn’t have broken, but it was you who suggested at the checkout counter that the clerk put everything in one bag, instead of two.”

“I thought it would make it easier for me to carry. Which, I had offered to do.”

“So you said at the time. What’s happened this time?”

“I hardly know where to begin,” said Steve, with a sigh that carried the weight of a blacksmith’s anvil.

“Begin at the beginning and…”

“Yes, yes,” said Steve hastily, looking around the posh office again and remembering that his friend billed out at three-hundred an hour. “I gave a guy a ride to a wedding, Jimmy, and because of that, I’m now being sued.”

James looked across the desk knowingly at his former college roommate. “You’re going to have to give me a few more details than that, I’m afraid, if I’m going to be able to help you. Start at the beginning, and go slowly.”

“Do I have to?”


“Ok, so you mentioned the case you handled with the woman I was helping, and the bag with the broken strap. That’s where it started. You remember that she sued, and we settled for a letter of apology, and I paid for the groceries and other items that got spilled all over the street, and then five-hundred dollars more for – what was it called? – pain and suffering.”

“I’d have to look at the file again for all the details, but yes, ok, I generally remember.”

“I could handle that without too much trouble, but then your bill came for legal services and it ran to five figures.”

“Well, as I recall, there was a lot of back and forth…”

“Yes, yes, I get that. But you may also recall that it took me more than six months to pay that bill off.”

“Well, accounting usually handles those things,” said James, almost apologetically, “and as long as they’re ultimately settled, I don’t pay too much attention. My job is to tie everything up legally.”

“Yes, well I was really strapped for cash at the time. The computer industry was in the toilet and I was out of work for almost three months. So I had to sell my car to live, and to finish paying your account.”

James began drumming his fingers on the big mahogany desk, and he looked distinctly uncomfortable. “I’m really sorry to hear that you had such a tough time of it, Steve. I had no idea.”

“Oh, that’s water under the bridge now,” Steve said, cheerfully. “The industry picked up and I got another job. A better one, in fact, that paid more. So I was able to catch up on things again, financially. I bought another car a few months ago. That’s the one that’s in the body shop now, with the smashed fender.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear that things are going better for you now, Steve. But I am still in the dark as to why you are being sued again.”

“I told you that I sold my old car, back two and a half years ago.”

“Right, I got that.”

“About a month ago, the fellow that I sold it to called me up. He apologized for the short notice but said that I was the only person he could think of who might do him a favor, because he knew that I was a really nice guy and would understand his problem. He said that the car that I had sold him had died at the very last minute and he needed to get to a wedding, urgently. It was happening fifty miles away and he needed to be at the church inside of two hours. He said that he had exhausted every other possible way of getting there. So he thought of calling me to see if I could help him out.”

“Why didn’t he call a taxi, or a ride-service?”

“I don’t know,” said Steve. “I didn’t ask him.”

“I see,” said James, who at this juncture, really didn’t see at all, but he encouraged Steve to continue with his explanation.

“Actually, I was flattered,” Steve confessed. “I mean, of all people, he called me, just a guy who had sold him an old car a couple of years ago. A car that failed him, when he needed it most. I felt guilty as hell that my old clunker of a car had pooped out on him, and I now had one that was running just perfectly, so naturally I offered to drive him to the wedding.”

“You would, wouldn’t you,” mused James, making a note on a pad he had pulled out of a desk drawer when Steve had begun weaving this convoluted tapestry of impending legal doom. He had no idea what was yet to come, but he was already forming a defense of a sort in his head. “I mean, as a former Eagle Scout, you would naturally consider giving him a ride as a…”

“Good deed!” exclaimed Steve, finishing his thought for him. “Yes, exactly! So I went and picked him up in my new car, and away we dashed. We made it to the church in just under the two-hours and I dropped him off there. He asked me to come in with him and be a witness, but I said no, I had to get back. And really, I hardly knew the guy. I would have felt out of place.”

“Oh, certainly, I can see that,” said James, without showing a soupçon of the irony with which his law partners would undoubtedly view this case, when they learned the details.

“Well, I was happy that I had been able to help him out, so I didn’t think any more about it until yesterday, when I got this demand letter from a lawyer. He wants seventy-five thousand dollars. Twenty-five thousand in catering and other costs and penalties for his client having to pay for cancelling the wedding, and fifty more for something called alienation of affection.” He extracted a legal-size envelope from a case he had brought with him, removed a folded letter and tossed it on the desk. Then he began rummaging in the case for a breath mint.

“Let me see that,” said James, snatching up the letter and scanning it quickly. “So this guy that you helped out by driving him to the church for his wedding is now suing you because the wedding was cancelled, and he’s blaming you?”

Steve looked up, shocked. “Oh, no!” he said. “The groom is suing me. The guy I drove to the church was the bride’s old boyfriend. He objected at the ceremony, and the bride had second thoughts. I think she and Gerry, he’s the guy who bought my old car, have reconciled and are back living together again. It’s kind of a sweet story, actually.”

“Oh, sure,” said James. “I can see that.”

“So, what do you think? What’s our legal strategy?”

James briefly considered non compos mentis, but then smiled at his old roommate and said: “Well, I think we can avoid going to court. I expect that the groom is suing you because he thinks he can get more from you than the guy – what’s his name? – Gerry, who, arguably, actually broke up the marriage. I’ll have a chat with his lawyer, challenge the demand as a frivolous action, and threaten a counter-suit on the grounds that it is causing my client, who is completely innocent, unwarranted anguish and suffering.”

Steve looked doubtful. “Do you think that will work?”

“It’s worth a shot. Are you losing sleep over this?”

“Well, no. I slept like a rock last night. That’s why I didn’t wake up this morning and I was late….”

“Let me rephrase it. Are you anxious, bothered, concerned, troubled, nervous, upset, worried, or any one of those things, over this demand letter?”

“Well, yes, but…”

“Good enough for me. Don’t fret about it. They have a very weak case here. I think I can make them see reason and get them to drop the demand. And if it were to get as far as a court, I can probably have it tossed. You can’t be held responsible for the bride changing her mind.”

Steve leaned back slowly in the big leather chair and gave a sigh. This time it was one of marked relief. “I knew I could count on you, Jimmy.”

“Alright, then! Leave it with me. Now, being as you temporarily don’t have a car, or a working cell phone, how about we call you a cab or an Uber so that you can get home?”

“Um, well I think that might be a problem.”

“How so?”

“I’m a bit strapped at the moment. That’s why I called Monica for a ride this morning.”

“I can see that I am in for another explanation. And it will probably have something to do with the scouts’ law. So, what happened?”

“Well, yesterday I dropped in at my landlady’s place. She had an uncle staying with her, he’s quite old, I mean really old, who was just released from prison.”

“I may not be clairvoyant, but I think I can see where this is going….sorry, Steve, don’t let me interrupt you.”

“Yes, well, he said he needed to buy a new shirt and a decent pair of shoes so he could go on a job interview.”

“So you offered to loan him some money.”

“How did you know that, Jimmy?”

“Lucky guess.”

“Well, just a hundred dollars, until he got his first paycheck. Then he would pay it back.”

“Of course.”

“So we both went to an ATM at my bank, and I got the cash there for him, and he went away happy.”

“I’m sure he did.”

“And, I forgot to tell you this. This morning, when I went to fill up Monica’s car with gas as a favor for driving me here, my credit card wouldn’t work, so she had to pay. I called my bank on her cell phone to find out why the card wouldn’t work, and they told me that my main account had been cleaned out. Almost seven-thousand bucks. They said it was probably fraud. That my PIN had been compromised. So they cancelled all my debit and credit cards until it’s straightened out, which I’m sure will happen before too long.”

“This guy who was with you at the ATM, the one you loaned money to,” said James, patiently. “Your landlady’s uncle. Do you happen to know what he was in prison for?”

“She mentioned grand larceny. Something about kiting checks, I think, back when people did that sort of thing. I mean, who writes checks these days?”

“Who indeed,” said James, without a trace of irony.

“Also, about your bill for this case, Jimmy. Seeing as we go back a long way, pals really, I was hoping that you might do this one as a pro bono.” Steve glanced around the office with its floor-to-ceiling windows and original paintings on the walls. “Or at least, a friends-and-family discount and some extra time to pay?”

James leaned back in his chair and grinned at his old college roommate.”

“Steve, I’m not saying no, you understand. I’m sure that we can work something out. But don’t you know that no good deed ever goes unpunished?”

“What makes you think that?”

“Experience, old buddy. Just call it, experience.”

April 10, 2023 00:31

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Darya Silman
19:13 Apr 18, 2023

I don't know why this story wasn't shortlisted or won the contest. It's so witty and funny that I love it!


Richard E. Gower
22:43 Apr 18, 2023

I thank you very much for reading the story, and your very flattering review. It means everything. -:)


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Wally Schmidt
14:37 Apr 17, 2023

Love this description 'yards of thick, plush cushioned carpeting a hamster could raise a family in without anyone finding them'. There are so many funny incidents (personal fave: the groom suing him) that keep this story moving along. Stevie is both annoying and lovable and the balance you gave him make you think someone like this could actually exist even if those particular instances do not. He can't help himself but get into trouble and he and Jimmy are bound to keep their client-attorney relationahip for a very long time.


Richard E. Gower
23:53 Apr 17, 2023

Thanks very much for the read and your positive review. It means a great deal.-:) Cheers! RG


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Marty B
04:11 Apr 15, 2023

Doh! Steve has got some troubles, he needs to go home lock the door and dont answer the phone!


Richard E. Gower
10:58 Apr 15, 2023

Doh! OMG, you're absolutely right...maybe for the next chapter...-:) Many thanks for the read. Always appreciated.-:) Cheers! RG


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Michał Przywara
20:38 Apr 14, 2023

"no good deed ever goes unpunished" - Exactly what I was thinking as I read along :) It's an amusing story, and the characters are quite different and distinct. We wonder if Steve is oblivious to how he's sabotaging his own life, or if he's aware of it and still insists on doing good deeds as a matter of principle - either way, the results are fun :) Looks like something's gone wonky with the quotes in: “Well, James mused, “As the King said, Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” Likewise in: “I suppose,...


Richard E. Gower
01:56 Apr 15, 2023

Michal, thank you so much for the extremely thorough read, for catching those two errant and gremlinesque quotation marks and for your very generous review. I think it might possibly be bad for Steve's health if he were to accidently stumble into another story on his way to a good deed, but who knows what the future might bring. -:) Merci again, Michal,-:) Cheers! RG


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Laurel Hanson
19:26 Apr 14, 2023

Nailed the prompt!. This is an enjoyable read, clipping along nicely and developing a really distinct character. Very clever.


Richard E. Gower
01:40 Apr 15, 2023

Thanks for the read and the kind words.-:) RG


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Aeris Walker
18:34 Apr 12, 2023

I felt like a timer started when I began reading this—just a little device on that big mahogany desk tracking the time spent on this billable conversation between James and Steve, and by the end, it represented a big fat bill poor Steve was going to get in the mail. This reminded me so much of a relative of mine, who didn’t quite understand that her lawyer wasn’t her best friend, and she racked up some hefty costs with her constant phone calls at all hours of the day. (Like Steve, she never could just cut to the chase). I enjoyed this sto...


Richard E. Gower
20:23 Apr 12, 2023

Thanks very much for your kind and generous review. -:) Comments like yours are what keep a writer going for the next one...-:) Yes, every lawyer's office should have a warning-device reminder on the desk, by way of a sand-timer. -:) Cheers! RG


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Michelle Oliver
11:20 Apr 11, 2023

What a great story Richard. Steve the eternal optimist and Boy Scout contrasts nicely with James the practical realist. I am amazed that James managed to keep a straight, professional face with confronted by the litany of good deeds that back fired. I laughed at this line… he could now finally relax after expending a massive exertion, like running a marathon, or lifting a car off someone’s chest. …but as the story progressed I realised that Steve probably would have lifted a car off someone’s chest if they needed it done. What was hyperbo...


Richard E. Gower
12:19 Apr 11, 2023

Thanks very much for the read and your kind and generous comments, Michelle. -:) I wrote it specifically to meet the spirit of the prompt. That's one of the things that I enjoy about being here on Reedsy; it encourages you to keep challenging yourself with ideas for stories that you may not have taken on, without the prompt. However, compared to the seven-course dinner with dessert and cordial that was your take on the Bard, my story was but a light lunch, without wine. So I very much appreciate your very positive review. Thanks again. -;...


Michelle Oliver
12:23 Apr 11, 2023

You are welcome. I like your banquet metaphor haha. Light lunches with or without wine are thoroughly enjoyable, especially with good friends, whereas seven course banquets can be stiff and formal. It takes all sorts and one is not inherently better or worse than the other! Most of my other stories have been light lunches too.


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Linda Lovendahl
00:13 Apr 11, 2023

HI Richard. You did the assignment thoroughly and with humor. It was a good turn in the story when James was able to define how he would forward the case in Steve's favor. He had me convinced it would work too! My reading, however, was stuck on your first line; I wasn't sure what the leather-bound Smart phone had to do with Steve. It may have been added to cast an impression of the office opulence, but I think it wasn't needed because of the office quality is brought out in the rest of the story. I also suggest that in describing Steve's ent...


Richard E. Gower
10:54 Apr 11, 2023

Thanks for the feedback, Linda. -:)


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Mary Bendickson
15:44 Apr 10, 2023

' plush cushioned carpeting a hamster could raise a family in without anyone finding them, ' Had this happen in my upstairs carpeting when my hamster-loving son used that room as his. Layers upon layers. What a nice guy. Too bad nothing worked in his favor. This must be a 'Simpsons' episode. So..oo funny.


Richard E. Gower
15:56 Apr 10, 2023

Many thanks, Mary, for your always supportive reviews. -:) You're probably too young to remember Al Capp's Joe Btfsplk, but Steve would fit that profile if Joe had been well-meaning. -:)


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13:30 Apr 10, 2023

Loved this one.


Richard E. Gower
13:48 Apr 10, 2023

Thank you for the kudos and the support. They mean everything to a writer. -:) Cheers! RG


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Rabab Zaidi
06:23 Apr 16, 2023

Interesting. Really humorous!


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