We liked Lawyer Number Three. No surprises there. Brian had found her.
I spent two days sending her pages of notes. Then cursed my thoroughness and attention to detail.
“This name here,” she said. Tiny bit-player in the corner: church treasurer or some-such. Needn’t have mentioned him at all. “I’ve acted for his firm.”
Conflict of interest. End of relationship. Deep disappointment.
She recommended two other firms, both Christian. Croydon or Birmingham. Croydon sounded closer.
Lawyer Number Four.
He told me to email everything over.
He rang a day or two later – when I was walking through The Avenue of Trinity College (the correct Trinity, obviously) presumably with Serena as she is a member – addressing me most courteously, as Mrs Atkins.
Coo. V professional. Sadly didn’t make me any richer though.
Mark explained his fees. Including telephone conversations.
I felt hot all over, and slightly sick. There was nowhere to sit down. Did this mean we already owed him squillions?
I didn’t dare ask.
How brief could I make the conversation?
(Bloke rings lawyer. Asks fee.
“Isn’t that rather a lot?”
Mark had scanned the proposed settlement. “There’s something missing,” he observed.
“Oh?” I said. Slightly more attentive now. Like a dog, my eyes watching a stick. Was that all it was? Or was it a bone...?
“I would never have drawn up a settlement like this,” he continued.
“Why?” I said. “What’s wrong?”
“They’ve left something out.” I could hear his brain whirring impressively, down the line. “A settlement like this should always be conditional,” he explained. “They’ve forgotten to specify that the money will only be forthcoming if your husband hasn’t got another job.”
Only a stick, then.
Shaun hadn’t got another job. What difference did it make?
“What you should do,” he said, “is this. Your husband should get a new job. And accept the money. Both.”
And nip to the moon in the meantime.
A day or two later, Lawyer Two rang back. Reluctant. He knew members of the church.
Knowing what I know now, it seems extraordinary that he considered it at all. Surely, with not just clients but friends on the other side, there was far more conflict than for Lawyer Three?
But as he heard the way Shaun had been treated, his blood stirred.
“I’ll do it,” he said. He was Louis’s contact. It seemed to make sense.
“Thank you,” I said.
Know what? I’ve just remembered…
(That you get what you pay for? It’s ok thanks: I knew that already. That money spent on a really decent lawyer can return you an hundredfold? That I was soon to learn, too.)
Lawyer Two’s name was Robin.
* * * * *
I’d never thought Serena’s dog would earn his keep. That next weekend, he did. For life.
Serena’s – like Shaun’s, his successor – was a harlequin Great Dane. Handsome, enormous and almost completely pointless. Until that weekend.
And since our, and his, trauma of homelessness, very slightly unreliable.
Shameful to relate, given that this was a church, I knew it had become a bloke-thing. In truth, had been ever since I hadn’t done as I was told.
Watch me demean you. Mine is bigger than yours.
I can even make your children homeless.
We had been invited to Neil and Christine Hamilton’s honey-stone gorgeous manor for the weekend. (We had met at the Mail on Sunday Christmas party some weeks earlier and, hearing our story, Christine had been kindness itself: sending flowers and pink champagne and chocolates, just to cheer us.)
Meanwhile, the church-member who had taken our humiliation upon his shoulders told us that he and another needed to take an inventory of our cottage. They would visit on Friday, late afternoon. I replied with polite regret: we might have left already. How about Monday?
“No matter,” he said. “We have the key.”
Now, clergy accommodation is not tenancy. You don’t get much dosh, as a vicar, but you are still accorded some respect. Although clergy never own their homes, they are deemed as if they do.
He was a lawyer himself. He had no legal right to let himself into Shaun’s tied accommodation, without his permission.
No matter, as he said. It nicely served to illustrate that we had nothing. They were in control. That I should have done as I was told first time around, and would certainly have to now.
“Entirely up to you,” I emailed back cheerfully, “but Hamlet will be here. We can’t answer for his response, with strange men” (they’d both met him, but I liked the tag) “letting themselves in, and us not here to approve you.”
Great Danes are soft as cuddly toys.
Just as well. With half a mind (rather more than they usually engage) they could take your throat out in seconds. Several of you at once.
They are the size of lions.
“We’ll see you on Monday,” he emailed back.
Dignity, delivered by dog.
We set off in more deep snow.
More deeply though, I regretted not taking Hamlet with us. He would have loved Christine’s lovely home and lovelier gardens.
All in the snow and all.