Notice To Quit

Notice To Quit

Notice To Quit 1920 1280 Tom Funk

The buzz from Bert Immaus’ bedside radio alarm raked across his brain and awakened him. Could it really be 6:15 already? He cracked the corner of his left eyelid open just enough to glance at the edge of his bedroom window. Sunlight slapped his cornea and confirmed that the alarm had not lied. It was time to rise. The unforgiving drill sergeant that resided in the far reaches of his brain barked that it was time for feet on the floor. Bert dutifully obeyed, never one to question the authorities inside his head.  Obedience to the drill sergeant was getting harder to come by these days. His 61 year old back was full of arthritis and pivoting from a reclining position to a vertical one extracted a price that took more than a few moments to recover from. He winched and popped, shuffled and moaned his way toward the bedroom door and down the sunlit hall toward his morning shower.

Mid-shower he opened the curtain and reviewed his bathroom clock, fearing he might be burning daylight and late for his morning coffee at Thelma’s. He and Coleman Burns, another Gillette County collection lawyer, had met at Thelma’s for coffee and eggs since his wife Mary died nearly three years ago. He was four minutes past time to get out of the shower and on to shaving. Now he would have to rush if he was going to be out to the driveway by 6:46 per the usual plan.

Bert believed one had to have a plan. He’d had one for as long as he could remember. A big part of his plan was doing things the same way he was used to doing them. If you did things that way you got good at what you were doing. Knowing what your doing builds confidence. People like a confident lawyer. “So do what you know and know what you do,” he would say. And he lived that way. The drill sergeant liked that.

The drill sergeant had not always played such a prominent role in his life. When Mary was living he mostly stayed at his post and did paperwork or whatever drill sergeants do when they aren’t barking out orders. Mary did most of directing back then. Not that Bert needed a lot of it, but when he needed a reminder that it was time to get up, she’d come in and gently nudge him. When he got lost in thought in the shower she’d come in and ask him if he didn’t have to be in court soon. When she did that, he didn’t need the drill sergeant, but now it seemed like there was no one else around to do it. So out he came, and nobody told him to go back to his post.

The plan called for Bert to be the best collection lawyer in Gillette County, make a lot of money doing that, and then retire so he and Mary could travel. After Mary passed the third part obviously needed replacing, but Bert had yet to replace it. He was still busy working parts one and two.

Having showered and dressed, he glanced at his watch and saw he was still two minutes behind. No time to waste, he grabbed his briefcase and shuffled toward the front door.

*

Thelma’s had only one thing to recommend it: location. It was on the first floor of Bert’s downtown office, thus allowing him to met Coleman there for breakfast and still get to work on time. Being on time was a big part of the plan, and from Thelma’s he took the parking garage elevator up to the fifth floor and walk down the hundred foot hallway to his office.

Thelma’s, like Bert, was nondescript in appearance. Cheap pine tables and booths, a dropped tile ceiling, a dirty white linoleum floor with the pattern worn off by use. The place was noisy to the point of distraction for the sensitive soul. Between the clanking of the dishes landing on the hard pine, the chatter of the customers and the blare of the country and western muzak management piped through the tinny sound system, it was difficult to hear your own voice.

That was part of why Bert and Coleman favored it. They could barely hear each other speak .They were confident no one at another booth would pick up on their conversation. They sat in the far corner booth, as far from the front door and the counter as they could get. Most of the time they talked about their cases, saying things they didn’t want anyone else hearing- what they really thought of the judge they were in front of that day, what stupid thing a young lawyer had said the day before.

Coleman was long and thin like the cigarettes he smoked. His hair was as white and curly as the smoke that he liked to blow towards the ceiling as they talked.

 A good deal of the conversation was about the people they brought to court. Nearly all of them came without lawyers. Most came in jeans and tee shirts. Sometimes they bathed, other times they didn’t. Most worked blue collar jobs if they worked at all.  Bert presumed none of them had a plan. They were clueless as to why they ended up in court. Most of them thought it was someone else’s fault.

Bert really wasn’t a “collections lawyer.” He did nothing but evictions, having people removed from their homes for a living. He did not like the sound of “evictions lawyer.” Thus he stuck with the term collections lawyer. It wasn’t the most flattering of terms, but “it paid the bills” he’d say.

It paid the bills well. There had been a great demand for evictions since the housing market went under water. Bert was already doing evictions for the County when the Great Recession hit. He received calls from two of the biggest landlords in the county shortly after that and he had been doing nothing but evictions ever since.

Many lawyers shied away from evictions. They couldn’t stomach listening to the pleading of the single mothers, the disabled veterans and the others they had to remove.

Bert didn’t have that problem. “These people got themselves into this situation, why should I worry about where their going to end up?,” he would tell Coleman. Coleman usually blew up a ring of smoke and nodded in agreement. Years of listening to tenants’ pleading had numbed him against any emotional affect. If any of his heart strings were plucked by a tenant’s cry the drill sergeant would bark orders to ignore it. Without Mary around to offer a contrary opinion, Bert obeyed.

Bert always had the two eggs and bacon with coffee. Mary would not have approved of bacon every day, but surprisingly the drill sergeant allowed it. He was funny that way. Coleman usually just drank coffee, lots of it. They paid their own bills. Bert’s was always $6.87. He always left a $1.00 bill on the table for the waitress. He appreciated hard work and Bert thought Thelma worked her help pretty hard.

Bert thought most people could stand to work harder. He worked 10-11 hours a day trying to keep up. Coleman suggested he hire an associate to help. Bert said he’d just have to train them and it was just easier to do it yourself. What he thought but did not say was that he couldn’t stand the thought of allowing an inexperienced lawyer to screw up his cases. Getting it right the first time was a big part of the plan.

The plan called for him to finish breakfast and be out of Thelma’s by 7:47. That way he could be at the office a good half hour before his 8:30 court call. That gave him time to look over his files, sign that morning’s Notice to Quits, and read a bit of the Gillette County Register. His office was only two blocks from the courthouse so he would not have to be out the office door until 8:14. If he was running on time he would stop by his process server’s office to drop off the Notice to Quits.

The Notice to Quit was what told the tenant they had five days to catch up on the rent they owned or they would be evicted. The law allowed for a 10 day Notice without a chance to catch up too but that was too slow a process for Bert. The five day notice let them pay if they could and if not then he could get them to court more quickly. Bert’s client liked that, the tenants had no money and did not.

He liked having the early morning court call .The street between his office and the courthouse was usually free of people at that time of day. The neighborhood around the courthouse was going downhill. The bookstore had been replaced by a payday loan office. The deli by a storefront church. The optometrist’s place was still vacant after two years. The township had opened a satellite office next to that. People made their appeals for township relief there and picked up their checks. That office didn’t open until ten and a line started forming around a quarter til. Bert was glad to be back in his office and away from the sidewalk when that started.

Bert arrived at his office that day at 7:49. Coleman had not had much to say and he ate in a hurry, trying to make up for those lost four minutes in the shower. He found the Notice to Quits neatly stacked on his assistant’s desk, per his order. He signed off on all and scooped them into his briefcase as he headed out the door toward the office of his process server. Bert smiled as he glanced at the clock. It said 8:11, he was three minutes ahead of schedule.

As he watched the elevator doors open Bert remembered that Residentio, one of his big landlord clients, had called the day before and told him not to serve a 5 day notice on a tenant named Dominguez.  He couldn’t remember if he had pulled it. As he plodded on toward the entrance to the Parking Garage that served as his port to the sidewalk he decided he had better look and make sure it was not there.

Stopping on the edge of the sidewalk he pulled out the stack and thumbed through it.  It was still there. His secretary was due for a good lecture on following directions.

Bert bent over to put the document back into his case when a car came barreling out of the parking garage ramp and flew past him, barely missing his back side. Bert reflexively jumped away from the car. The draft from the car blew the Dominguez notice out of his hand and down the sidewalk.

Not wanting to lose a legal pleading he walked as quickly as a dignified Gillette County lawyer could to retrieve it. He caught up with it about halfway down the block and reach over to pick it up, but a puff of wind blew it further down the street.

It was then that Bert first noticed the small black child squatting down in front of the window at the storefront church. Bert thought the child could not have been more than 5 and he saw no parent in sight. Before he could look around for a parent Bert saw the boy was headed for his document. All concern for the child evaporated as he contemplated what the boy might do to his document. Bert picked up speed and nearly broke into a trot as he approached the boy.

The child spied the paper and began running toward it fully speed.  He picked it up and looked up just in time to hear Bert yell “That belongs to me, son, give it here!”  The boy let out a high pitched cry, turned and ran into the church.

Bert started to follow him inside and then hesitated, realizing he did not know what was on the other side of the door. The storefront window of the church was open but a view of the inside was blocked by a large white clapboard sign sitting on a three legged easel which read in large black letters:

REPENT!

FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND

MATTHEW 3:12.

He stood at the door trying to look through the dirty white curtain that fell behind the glass. He gave up trying to see through it and moved over to the window, walking to the edge of the clapboard to see if there was an opening from which to view the interior of the church. Standing tip-toed he thought he saw a door with a light shining behind it at the back wall. He pondered whether it was worth going in. He thought about what might happen if someone got hold of the Notice and used it for their own purposes. He drew a deep breath, grabbed the doorknob and turned it.

The interior was dark but he could see a door at the back of the room with a light coming from it. He could hear a rather loud woman’s voice coming from the room. He then saw the boy dart into the room from behind an electric keyboard near the far side of the room. He followed the boy in.

Stopping to knock on the door he noticed a sign on it that read

“Mavis Tacq,Pastor.” The door was nearly shut when he knocked but the force of his hand opened it, revealing a rather large African-American woman seated at a desk that was pushed against the far wall of a very small office. In a folding chair against the far wall was a teenage African-American male bowed forward in the chair with his head in his hands. The five year old was clinging to the woman, his arm around her waist; the other hand was holding Bert’s Notice. He was crying.

The woman turned in her chair at Bert’s knock, revealing an angry glare. “May I help you?’ she said in a less than friendly tone.

Bert pointed to the paper, “The young man has my paper,” he stated in calm a tone as he could muster.

“So this is yours?” the woman barked, grabbing the Notice from the boy and holding it accusingly in front of her.

“Why, yes it is,” Bert replied sheepishly, taking a half a step back and wondering why all the anger.

“I want to know your name Mister, and I want to know why you servin’ papers on a five year old? I never heard of such, I did social work for 23 years before I got this call and I saw lots of folks get evicted, but I’ve never seen nobody try serving papers on a boy this age. He don’t work here, yeah, he’s mine but this is a church not a house, what’s got into you?…, what is your name anyhow?

Bert stood there speechless, his mind and heart racing. What had he walked into? His instincts told him to turn and run. But the big woman had his paper, and it was quite clear she was not giving it up. Finally he gathered his wits and spoke.

“My name is Bert Immaus, I’m not serving papers, I’m a lawyer on my way to the courthouse, I lost that paper in the wind and your son grabbed it off the sidewalk and brought it in here.” Bert did his best to look calm and sound authoritative, just like he always did in court, but he could feel his knees trembling beneath his suit pants.

The large woman stood up out of the chair, revealing that not only was she big but tall as well with a full stock of fiery red hair teased up over her head and a floral pattern red and yellow dress that was so bright that when she moved Bert momentarily thought she might be aflame.

“Mmm-hmmm” she hummed dismissively as she rose, looking down at Bert’s notice.  “Well, Mr. Bert Immaus, you’re wasting your time this morning ‘cause you done already served papers on me earlier this week, and my name ain’t Dominguez, its Tacq,“ She finished her sentence with a smile and extended the notice toward Bert, pointing to the name at the top with her free hand.

Bert reached out to take the notice but she pulled it back before he could take it. “Wait a minute,” she said, her eyes lighting up at the spark of a new thought, “Bert Immaus…. you the lawyer aren’t ya? You the lawyer for Residentio!” She pointed at him and then quickly drew her finger to her mouth, partially hiding her wide grin.

Bert just looked at her like he really did not want to respond to all this, but she still had his paper, so he felt he didn’t have much choice. “Well, yes, that’s what I just told you, I …”

“Praise be! Glory to God!” she interrupted, I’ve been prayin’ I’d get a chance to talk to you since the man brought that notice, I called the number on the paper but the lady said you don’t talk to people ‘til you get to court. Praise God he gave me a Divine Appointment!” She raised one of her hands over her head and danced around abit, while Bert stared in disbelief. He glanced over at the teenager, who raised his eyebrows and shrugged.

“Pastor Tacq,” Bert said, both baffled and irritated, “I have no idea what you are talking about, and I’m due in court so I have no time for an appointment, divine or otherwise.”

Mavis Tacq took a deep breath, and changed her tone, “Let me explain,” she pleaded, holding up her index finger as she searched her desk with her other hand. “Here it is,’ she said, finding a document among the papers strewn across her desk. She pulled up what Bert immediately recognized as a Notice to Quit. She handed him the paper. It was the in the standard form, notifying the Kingdom At Hand Church that it was delinquent $1467 in rent and if that was not paid within 5 days its lease with Residentio would be terminated. It was signed by Bert.

“Now Mr. Bert, let me explain a little bit about this situation,” she continued, looking him straight in the eye earnestly.

Bert held up his right hand and attempted to cut her off, “ Ma’am my client has made it clear they don’t want me discussing settlement with tenants outside of court.”

Not deterred by his legalese, Mavis continued, “Well y’all can just listen then. God called me to this ministry after my Herschel, my husband, passed two year ago . It was his before that. He poured his life into it and God blessed it. We started out ‘bout ten year ago outta our garage. I was working for Social Services and Herschel was a county Deputy. But we saw how the people we worked with needed God and they didn’t have him. So we started inviting ‘em over to the house for Bible study. Herschel had a way with the young men. He played ball in school and he’d shoot hoops with ‘em til all hours. They liked that. “

Bert took two steps toward the front door and announced, “ I’m sorry but I have to be in court, well, …I’m three minutes late now…I have to go.” He reached down to grab his briefcase, only to realize it was not where he had set it down. Panic stricken, he frantically surveyed the room, but it was nowhere to be seen. Wondering if things could get worse, Bert blurted out “Where’s my briefcase?!”

A faint child’s giggling came from the dark room. Mavis’ eyes narrowed and she marched quickly toward the sound “Jamal Tacq!,” she thundered, “you come out here with that man’s briefcase now!” Bert followed behind her into the darkened room.

She weaved between the rows of metal folding chairs shouting her son’s name. The giggling had stopped and Bert was losing all hope of getting to his morning court call. He pulled out his smart phone to call the Judge’s office but then he saw what appeared to be the front of a small tennis shoe poking out from the edge of a 4 foot high wooden box marked “Offerings.” He tapped Mavis on the shoulder and pointed to it.

“Come out from there Jamal ‘less you wantin’ a good swat,” she cried as she moved toward the box. The boy stood up giggling again and dropped the briefcase. Mavis grabbed the case and turned toward Bert. “Now, I was telling you,” picking up the story without a hitch, “Herschel had a way with those boys, and it wasn’t long for we had crowds of ‘em showing up. Herschel always could preach and Pastor told him he might as well have church with ‘em ‘cause they’d listen to him, so we started havin’ church right there in our garage.”

“Ma’am”, Bert interrupted, “this is all very interesting but I need to go, I’m late for court,” he pleaded, holding an open palm toward her in the hope she would give him the briefcase. Instead she pulled it away, and started back toward her office, continuing to talk as she went. “Well, it wasn’t long we had thirty in our garage and we needed a place to go. So Herschel started looking around and then he heard the deli by the courthouse was closing. God opened up this door, this place was His plan.  Lots of the folks we was working with come to court and they need the township’s help too, so our plan was to meet them where they was. So we signed the lease, it was a little pricey, but we prayed over it and I was makin’ good money with Social Services so we took it. And the plan was workin’, we had lots of folks coming, makin’ rent was no problem … but then Herschel got sick…” She turned her head and wiped away a tear.

“Satan didn’t like it, didn’t like it one bit what we was doin’, and next thing I knew Herschel was gone”, she wiped another tear away and continued, her voice cracking. “But we wasn’t gonna quit, no sir, we were working God’s plan and so my deacons said Mavis, you can do this, you preach as good as Herchel, you be our preacher.”  Looking around for a tissue, not finding one,she wiped her eyes with her sleeve and continued. “I told ‘em I can’t do this and keep workin’ Social Services, I’d have to quit my job. They said, you pray about it, ask the Lord, but we got your back, you been good to us, … So I quit my job and since then I been working God’s plan, and Mr. Bert, I got your Notice to Quit and I said, no sir, I ain’t gonna quit, I’m working God’s plan, I’m not quittin’, you can take the building if you want but I won’t quit, I been called, I answered it, here I am. We got twelve young men here every Tuesday for Drug Recovery, we give out WIC supplies on Thursdays and we got sixty people coming for church every week. I cain’t quit Mr. Bert no sir, God’s gonna get us that money I believe that, God told me. ..”

Bert didn’t quite know what to make of this, being always interested in someone with a plan, but now ten minutes late for court with no idea of how to explain this to Judge Holsapple.

He opened his mouth to ask for his briefcase again but before he could say a word a tremendous boom rattled the building, shaking the window glass and stopping him, Mavis, and everyone else in the vicinity from doing anything but wondering what had caused it. It seemed to come from the street, so they both unconsciously moved toward the front door.

Opening the door, Bert noticed people across the street pointing in the direction of the courthouse. Stepping out onto the sidewalk he looked down in that direction and once again his heart started to race wildly. The courthouse sat less than two blocks away and normally the front doors were clearly visible from the sidewalk where Burt stood. Instead, he could barely make them out through a veil of white smoke. As he watched, people came running down the steps as fast as their legs would carry them. Looking to the left of the doors, Bert could make out thick white smoke pouring from the basement windows, the windows directly below the first floor courtroom that he was supposed to be in. He stood there gap-mouthed as he heard sirens start to wail, and screams and gasps from people coming out of their buildings to gawk. Mavis stepped out, took one look, and screamed “Lord have mercy, they bombed the courthouse!”

 

*

 

There was no bomb. What blew up was the fifty year old furnace in the Courthouse basement. No one was in the basement at the time, the janitor’s office being vacant as it was donut day in the Assessor’s office.

The next day the word reached Bert that Coleman had been injured in the blast and was in the hospital. Concern for who was covering Coleman’s collection call and curiosity over what had happened in the first floor Courtroom when the blast occurred brought Bert to the hospital

He sheepishly grinned when we entered Coleman’s room, Coleman nodded his usually wordless greeting. “Well there you are, lying down on the job as usual,” Bert mumbled.

“Well at least I got to work yesterday, Coleman shot back, “where were you when all the fireworks started?”

Bert fell back on his heels and took a gulp of air, Coleman usually wasn’t this direct with him.  “I heard you have some 2d degree burns?’ he said, looking down at Coleman’s bandaged legs as he hoped the subject would change.

“Yeah, the flames from that explosion shot right up from the basement through the air ducts and right into Holsapple’s Courtroom- you know how that air duct sits right there in front of the bench? Well, guess who was standing there and caught all the flames with his polyester pants?”

“So was anyone else hurt?’

“Oh, a few had minor cuts from the breaking glass but I think I got the worst of it,” Coleman sighed.

“Well, “said Bert, “looks like they’ve got you all bandaged up, can you walk?’”

“I’m on my back for a week, then they’ll take these off and see how it looks, so you’ll have to hold down the fort in Holsapple’s courtroom without me. The firm will send one of the youngsters over to handle my call. “By the way…, he paused, looking up from over his reading glasses, “where were you yesterday? Holsapple always takes your evictions first, and it was almost a quarter til when that furnance blew?”

Bert swallowed hard again looked away from Coleman, “We had an issue with a Notice to Quit being misplaced, couldn’t find it anywhere and it had to get out that day, I lost track of time looking for it.”

“I guess you can thank your gal for screwing up, that was one time it wasn’t good to be on time,” Coleman offered.

“Yeah,” Bert nervously chuckled, “Let me know if there is anything I can do, ” he blurted quickly, looking down at his watch like he had something to do. Coleman nodded and looked at the clock on the wall, “well you best get out of here or you’ll be late again, Holsapple won’t know what to do without you there, let me know how the youngsters handle my call.” Relieved to have that over with, he quickly exited and headed to his office.

Arriving at the office, he unlocked the file cabinet where he kept a personal checkbook that he didn’t use very much. It was for a joint account that Mary and he had. They used it for retirement savings. It was their travel account. The plan called for them to save ahead and they had quite a balance of funds set aside for those retirement trips they were going to take.

Bert sat down at his assistant’s desk and began writing a check. The drill sergeant barked orders for him to stop, but strangely Bert just kept on writing. Standing up, he placed the check in his jacket pocket, picked up his Notices and headed out the door.

Approaching the door to the Kingdom At Hand Church the drill sergeant barked orders to keep moving. Bert slowed and tried to look through the window. The drill sergeant got right in Bert’s face and yelled as loud as he could. Bert pushed him aside and quietly opened the door. The room was dark save the light coming from the half closed door to Pastor Tacq’s office. That was just enough light .He spied the black box with the word “Offerings” stenciled across the front.  Silently he snuck slowly across the darkened room to the box, reached into his pocket, and dropped his check for $1467 into the box.

 

 

 

Tom Funk

Tom is an Associate Circuit Judge for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Illinois. He is married to Karrie and has three children, two in college and one in high school. He teaches an adult Sunday School class and has served as an elder at his church. He started writing short stories about five years ago.

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