I’m still sober and feeling pretty good.
Noo and I have been back home 2 days now and are settling back into a comfortable, domestic routine and there have been no pangs of regret and no yearnings to have a beer or a glass of wine or go to a bar. I think I will keep away from all drinking establishments for at least a couple of months, to ensure that I don’t get tempted.
There was a two litre unopened bottle of red plonk in my fridge, and yesterday, Noo asked me if I wanted to get rid of it. It seemed like a good idea so we had a ceremonial emptying of the bottle down the sink and that will be the last booze I ever intend to have in my home.
For the past two days, we have taken our three dogs for a walk around the lake in the early evening. It is good exercise for me and the dogs and we walk for about 20 minutes in one direction, before stopping near a bar on the opposite side of the road. Then we throw balls and sticks for the dogs to play with before making the return walk back home. Yesterday I was stopped twice by people who I knew – so I don’t have to go to bars to see friends.
I have now completed the first draft of chapter two of my new novel, which has the working title of ‘Som Nam Na’.
Here it is.
Bobby Solo was hurrying along Second Road, almost dragging a Thai lady of indeterminate age behind him. He was feeling a bit weary and more than a little horny. An hour ago he had popped two Viagra pills, for the second time that day. He had taken the popular sex meds just before he had left his hotel room on Second road to walk down to the beach to search for a ‘suitable lady for treatment’. Although almost sixty years old, the ‘Big V’ had made him feel at the very peak of his sexual prowess and he prided himself on his ability to satisfy any girl; literally making them ‘beg for it – over and over’. He always went for the older, not particularly pretty ones as he found they were more willing to ‘experiment’ and were certainly more grateful for whatever largess he felt like giving to them.
Bobby smiled in anticipation. He spoke virtually no Thai, but was a past master at communicating at a basic level with a mixture of sign language and primitive English, which the girls of the beach all seemed to understand well enough. After all, there wasn’t much to discuss; just: ‘Will you fuck me?’ and: ‘How much?’ Even the answers to both of those questions were a ‘given’. Of course they would fuck him – that’s what they were there for. As to price; the going rate was five hundred Baht for a ‘short time’. The price was pretty much standard and just about everyone knew it. If Bobby had wanted to, he could have simply beckoned with his fingers at his chosen whore, who would have dutifully followed him to his room, stripped of her clothes, allowed him to have his wicked way, collected her five hundred Baht and returned to the beach to await the next punter.
But Bobby liked going through the motions of getting to know the girl first. ‘Getting to know her’ usually entailed them exchanging first names, country or province of birth, age and – as ever – how much for a fuck? In the event, both parties invariably lied, although Bobby always gave his true name and place of birth – New York, USA. But he would lie about his age and the lady would usually do likewise, as so many of them had seen better years. Bobby reckoned he didn’t look a day over fifty and his innate vanity prevented him from admitting that he was old enough to be the girls’ grandfather.
On this particular night, he didn’t even know the name of the girl he had selected – he had forgotten it five seconds after she had told him – but he was confident he was in for a good time. He could sense it in her sensuous smile, the alluring, partly exposed swell of her well-developed bosoms and her wonderful, fleshy, enticing thighs – just how he liked them – which all but exposed her crotch under her ridiculously tight, jeans mini-skirt.
A smile crossed his face as they approached the cheap hotel on the opposite side of the road, where he had been staying for the past couple of weeks. He looked at his watch and saw that it was just after 4 a.m. He waited to cross the road – a dangerous manoeuvre even at this hour of the morning, for as far as the traffic was concerned, pedestrians just did not exist, not even on designated pedestrian crossings.
A moment of introspection suddenly overcame him. As soon as he had stopped walking, the girl, who was half a pace behind, came up level with him. He looked at her and looked across the busy road, still streaming with early morning revellers. What the hell was he doing here, on this road, at this time of the morning with this outrageously dressed whore? How had his life come to this?
Bobbie was born into a respectable, well off Jewish family, the eldest in a family of just two sons, in the borough of Queens in the City of New York. His early years were notable for their conventional ordinariness: a conventional Jewish education in a conventional private school, conventional Jewish teenage years, a conventional bar mitzvah, a conventional graduation and an even more utterly and predictable choice of career; he informed his conventional Jewish parents that he wanted to become an attorney at law.
His parents were delighted with their eldest son’s choice of career and didn’t raise an eyebrow when he calmly told them that he wished to attend a prestige college on the other side of America, in Los Angeles, California. Bobby was a good Jewish son and could be trusted to study diligently and return home at the conclusion of his studies, with a respectable law degree and embark on a career in one of the better New York law offices.
But despite his conventional upbringing, Bobby was far from a conventional human being. As he stumbled blindly through his teenage years, a shy, gawky young man who had never had a relationship with the opposite sex, he patiently awaited his opportunity to break the suffocating, parental yoke. His chance came when he graduated with outstanding grades and was able to secure a place at a good college which was as far away as he could get from his parents and their influence.
His first year at college was difficult and lonely and there were times when even he – Bobby – who had dreamt for years of getting away – yearned to be back with his family and the few friends that he had grown up with. His social life was almost non-existent, as nobody wanted to befriend this introverted, socially inept Jew from the east coast. But this isolation had the beneficial effect of leaving him little to do but study; he dutifully attended all his law classes and obtained better than average grades, which he was delighted to report to the folks back home.
Bobby’s second year at college marked a turning point which was to shape the rest of his life to date. His roommate, Greg, who had spoken barely a dozen words to him during their first year together, suggested one evening that he accompany him to a nearby bar as he needed ‘someone to drown my sorrows with.’ It transpired that Greg had just broken up with his long term girlfriend and wanted a shoulder to cry on. Bobby was a complete stranger to bars. He had been to a couple of New York bars with school friends for a dare, but had never had an alcoholic drink in his life. Both his parents were strict teetotallers.
Greg took Bobby in his car to one of the local bars, just off campus, where Bobby had his first ever beer. There was also another first that night. Bobby met his first ever girl in a bar. She wasn’t a prostitute, but she was certainly out for a good time, and made a beeline for Bobby as soon as he and Greg had settled themselves on their stools at the end of the bar. During the year that Bobby had spent away from home, his figure had filled out – partly due to a late growth spurt into a mature, young adult and partly from the mainly junk food that had become his daily diet. The extra weight suited him and he no longer looked like an awkward, gawky teenager. He was just under six feet in height and weighed around 180 pounds. He wasn’t handsome in the accepted sense, but he had the kind of ‘rugged, undisputedly ‘Semitic’ look that attracted a certain kind of lady. Arlene, the lady that introduced herself to him that night in the bar, was the first in a long line of such ladies.
Bobby immediately felt a little tipsy on the couple of beers that he allowed himself to sip and felt even more light-headed from the attention he received from Arlene. Where had he been all his life? He had never felt so good. But he was still a good Jewish young man and he was still feeling the invisible apron strings of his parents’ forbidding hands on him. So on this very first occasion, he wisely decided to stop after the third beer and persuaded Greg to drop him back at his room before his roommate went on to explore more bars and more women in downtown Los Angeles.
So Bobby’s second year at college was both liberating and worrying. He had elected to go to California to get as far away from his family as possible, but now that he was there he was scared. Scared to break out and do his ‘own thing’; scared to throw off the yoke of his Jewish upbringing ( which he secretly hated); scared to stand up to his parents and tell them that he wanted a new life, away from them and away from New York. He still relied on them for his living expenses and he was one of the few students who did not have to work nights and weekends to supplement his living expenses. But there again, he lived so frugally that he didn’t need much money, so his parents’ monthly allowance was meagre but adequate for its purpose.
All this changed, once Bobby had developed a taste for alcohol and the delights of bars and the women who patronised them. His small allowance was not enough for his bar bills and his women. The solution to his lack of income was an easy one. He became a part time barman in one of his favourite bars. He was in seventh heaven – what could be finer than to work in the establishment that had given him so much pleasure.
By the time Bobby graduated from law school, his grades had become distinctly average but graduate he did and he was ready to go to work. His parents, concerned about his falling grades and the apparent change in his persona, urged him to take a position with a distant relative who was a senior partner in a prestigious Manhattan law firm.
It became the first of several arguments that Bobby was to have with his parents. Bobby was resolved to stay in LA and find work there. He had finally found his niche in this huge, crazy, razzle-dazzle town. He loved it there. His ever increasing propensity for booze had opened many doors to him. He had found many like-minded friends and even more like-minded women. He was having a ball and wanted to spend the rest of his life there.
He wasn’t yet so dependent on alcohol that he couldn’t keep it under control when the occasion demanded. Indeed it would be many years before the first thing he did upon awakening in the morning would be to take a gulp of neat, cheap vodka to get the shakes under control. He was perfectly capable of doing a day’s work and restricting his drinking to ‘social hours’.
There was plenty of work for young, hard-working lawyers. Maybe not the kind of high profile litigation or criminal cases that he might find at uncle Marty’s law firm in New York, but what the heck. Work was work, and it would generate a healthy stream of money to fund his social activities.
It all came to a head a few weeks after Bobby graduated from college. He had insisted repeatedly in calls to his parents back in New York that he wasn’t coming back and that he would take a job in LA, when one evening, to his great astonishment and not a little trepidation he arrived back at his newly leased apartment to find his father and brother, Joseph, camped out on his door step.
Bobby had been drinking a few beers with friends. He wasn’t drunk, but neither was he sober. Thinking back, he was glad that his father had found him a little the worse for wear. For one thing, the secret of his drinking was out in the open, and for another, Bobby was emboldened by his alcohol consumption to take a hard line and resist his father’s strong attempts to take him back home with him.
‘Who know what might have happened if I had been sober?’ he thought later to himself. ‘Maybe I would have folded and agreed to meekly follow my father back to New York, to a boring life, a boring Jewish marriage and a life of unending filial duty and misery.’
As it was, he had a blazing row with his father and brother. He refused point blank to go back home. But his father wouldn’t be dissuaded from his mission and kept drumming into him about his ‘duty’ to his family. He pointed to his younger brother as an example. Joseph was going to be doctor and a place already awaited him at yet another uncle’s medical practice. Why couldn’t Bobby be a good, obedient, loving son like his brother Joseph?
All this rhetoric was like ‘red rag to a bull’ Bobby erupted into a terrible rage and harangued his father and brother on the joys of living as far away as possible from his ‘controlling Jewish family’. He accused Joseph of being a wimp – a coward who was too scared to stand up to his controlling parents. By this time his father and brother had realised that Bobby had been drinking and not wishing to hear any more of his hurtful rants they stormed out in disgust.
This was the start of a behaviour pattern that would dog him for years; Bobby had acquired a violent temper which frequently got the better of him. One minute he was calmly trying to explain to his father that he was happy in LA and wanted to make his future there and the next minute he had flown into a ferocious frenzy, yelling and screaming at his father; abusing and insulting him in the worst possible manner. After his father had gone, he calmed down and immediately regretted his outburst. But the damage was done and his father and brother were on their way back to New York. He had set out his bed. Now he must lie in it.
And lie in it he did. His relationship with his family became estranged and he ploughed his own furrow in the mad hectic world that was LA in the late sixties and seventies. He went through a few unsatisfactory junior positions in a series of LA law firms before landing a very well paid job with a firm which specialised in personal injury litigation. This was a fast growing part of the legal profession’s more profitable arm and was the one that to this day, makes personal injury litigators some of the most reviled people on the planet.
When away from his office, Bobby might have been a bit of a playboy, but at work he was a smart ‘cookie’ and knew how to litigate. His employers soon realised that they had hired a ‘special talent’ and his rise through the ranks was quite spectacular for a humble Jewish boy from New York. Of course Bobby threw off his heritage and only his closest friends knew of his Jewish origins. After all, even his own immigrant grandparents had changed their name from Solomon to Solo in an effort to disguise their roots and to be better be assimilated into American society.
For years, Bobby Solo worked hard and played hard. He had become a hardened drinker, but he was young and fit and he could handle his liquor and never let it get in the way of his need to make his mark as one of the leading personal injury litigators in the State.
It was a wretched and mainly unsatisfying way to earn a living. His wasn’t the role of champion to the underdogs, fighting the cruel and mighty insurance companies and other institutions who tried to avoid their financial liability to the downtrodden in society. No, Bobby’s work was all about lying, conniving, bullying, bluffing and ultimately threatening often innocent victims, companies and institutions to pay outrageously large sums of money for accidents and injuries that were at best, shamefully exaggerated and at worst, just plain non –existent – invented. It was a mean, cruel game and everyone played their part: the litigant, the respondent and crucially, the legal representatives of both parties.
Bobby was a master of his art. His skill in setting out his case to opposing attorneys and his consummate skill in firing off legal ripostes to floundering defences was the stuff of legends. In fact, he had developed his correspondence to such a fine art that after the first few years he rarely had to write an original letter. No, he had compiled every conceivable variation on a theme in his files and all he needed to do was tell his legal secretary the appropriate paragraph reference numbers to put together the desired letter to fit a particular claim.
Usually, his written prowess was sufficient to win the day, but occasionally the defence attorneys would refuse to be brow beaten into defeat by his erudition and demanded a face-to-face meeting. The poor devils didn’t know what they were letting themselves in for. If they imagined that Bobby’s turn of phrase was as far as his talents went, they were in for a big surprise.
Bobby had transformed himself from a shy law student who was scared of his own shadow into a belligerent, self-confident, litigating attorney who seemed to think that the English language had been invented just so that he could use its wonderful hyperbole to utterly destroy his opponents in ‘head on’ confrontations. If all else failed, Bobby wasn’t averse to letting his now renowned temper get the better of him and he would scream, shout and force his snarling countenance in the face of his opposite number to such an extent that the defending attorneys would often back off in fear and cede the argument.
On the odd occasions when the case went to court, Bobby was invariably the victor. Such was his ‘way with words’ and such was his skill in manipulating the facts and making mincemeat of defence witnesses, that he could nearly always ensure success in his case which he expertly presented to naïve and malleable juries.
Bobby was forty-five and at the height of his earning powers, when he belatedly became the victim of feminine wiles. He had been playing the field as a single man for so long that his friends and colleagues were taken aback when he announced he was getting married.
As ever, he had met his bride to be in a bar and although no prostitute, she was another one of those ‘good time girls’ whom he always seemed to attract. Gretchen worked as a receptionist in a down-town motel but worked even harder at trapping Bobby into marriage. She was an attractive, ‘busty’ and ‘leggy’ girl in her late twenties and she knew how to turn on her men. She had gone through a succession of no-hopers before coming across hard drinking Bobby one night at one of her regular ‘singles’ bars. At first, she thought he would be the same as the others, but after a couple of nights in his expensive penthouse apartment, the realisation dawned on her that she had finally found a nice fat fish. It was a fish that she had every intention of reeling in, and this she did with charm and not inconsiderable sexual skills – skills that have been second nature to such women since the dawn of time.
Before Bobby had bedded Gretchen on only a handful of occasions, he was a ‘goner’. He decided that she was everything he wanted in a woman: she was very beautiful, had good dress sense, had an incredible figure, was great in bed and was pretty good at social chit chat. He decided she was not very smart, but to him, this was an asset. He didn’t need someone who he could share his life with in the conventional sense. He didn’t need a soul mate. He wanted someone he could fuck whenever the mood took him, someone he could hang on his arm whenever he was invited to parties and dinners with friends and someone he could take to business lunches and dinners and who would charm his would-be clients.
He got all that, and more.
His drinking was starting to get worse and after a brief ‘honey-moon’ period when he did his best to behave like a good husband, he was back at his old haunts after work, getting drunk and staggering home in the early hours, much the worse for wear. On the odd occasion, he even failed to make it home at all; having picked up some cocktail girl in the small hours and slunk off to a seedy motel to satisfy his drunken desires.
If he thought that this behaviour would bother Gretchen, he was mistaken. She seemed to accept his actions with equanimity and never complained or tried to change him. She didn’t even say a word when he would stagger home from a drunken night out and pick a fight with her. He would wake her up and deliberately start a row – screaming and shouting abuse at her, but she just sat there, quietly and said nothing. Bobby really believed he had found the best bride in all the world.
They had been married for just over a year when he came into work one day and found a large packet in his in-tray. He usually left his mail until he had drunk at least three cups of hot black coffee, but the package looked so odd that he decided to open it at once. He tore at the package and immediately some photographs and a cassette tape fell onto his desk. He picked up the photographs and flicked through them. They were excellent quality. Bobby in a bar cuddling and kissing a young blonde; Bobby in another bar cuddling and kissing a brunette; Bobby in some seedy motel in the very act of fornication with some long forgotten red-head. He picked up the cassette and put it into a machine on his desk. It was Bobby swearing, Bobby screaming and Bobby threatening his wife.
He looked at the letter-head on the letter but didn’t bother to read its contents. The mere letter-head was enough to send his own head into a spin. It was the name of one of the top divorce lawyer practices in California. The master attorney, Bobby Solo, had been undone by a stupid piece of arse that he had been crazy enough to marry. He had made the biggest mistake of his life, and he knew it.
Up to this point in Bobby’s life, things had gone pretty much as he wanted. Sure he was estranged from his family and he had secretly grown to despise his job, but he had to earn a living and he philosophised that most people in this world didn’t have the good fortune to do a job that they enjoyed doing. So he had a high paying job, a great penthouse apartment, a seriously impressive imported European sports car, and a group of drinking friends who regarded him as the life and sole of the party – even he did foot far more bills than anyone else in his drinking gang. What else could a man want? Well, certainly not a very expensive divorce.
For some reason, the shock of his pending divorce made him look at himself with an honesty that had been absent for many years. He realised that his life didn’t really amount to a ‘row of beans’. He was a drunk; his so-called friends were just a bunch of superficial spongers; he had an almost uncontrollable temper and his job frequently disgusted him. But it was a realisation that did nothing to make him change his ways. He just became worse. He drank more, whored more, lost his temper more often and was ever more vitriolic in his daily work.
By the time he had hammered out a settlement with his soon to be ‘ex’, he was poorer by more than half the assets he had accumulated in the past twenty years or so of hard graft. He had been taken big time and it hurt like hell.
Life went on, but for Bobby, life was becoming less and less enjoyable. His drinking had reached such a stage that he couldn’t start his work day without a large slug of neat vodka. He would also carry a small hip flask with him throughout the day and would furtively top up his coffee with its contents as the day wore on. More and more, he was just going through the motions and with alarming frequency, he would arrive late for work, totally unprepared for the days’ meetings with clients and opposing defence counsellors.
He was on a slippery slope and he knew it, but he just couldn’t stop himself. He desperately craved a lady, who would take care of him and help him back to sobriety, but his experience at the hands of Gretchen had soured him and he was terrified that he would find another money grabber and lose the rest of what assets still remained. His work colleagues were growing concerned about his behaviour, but such was his reputation, that he still attracted good clients to the firm. The partners were resolved to tolerate his faltering work performance – at least for the time being.
He might well have reached the point where the partners would have had to seriously consider dispensing with his ever more unreliable services; but he saved them the trouble.
He had arrived very late at his office one morning to find three clients waiting to see him and a huge backlog of urgent correspondence to deal with. He felt terrible. He was trembling and his whole body was screaming at him to do something about his painful alcohol withdrawal.
His secretary was instructed to inform his visitors that there would be an hour’s delay and he picked up his Dictaphone to deal with the most urgent correspondence. He thought an hour would be long enough to get his head in order; all he needed was a very large slug of Vodka, followed by a quick sort of the most urgent cases lying in his in-tray and then he could put his head down on the office sofa for a 30 minute nap and let the liquor work its magic.
He swallowed the Vodka and rummaged through his files, picking up the first one that was marked ‘Very urgent’. It was a personal injury claim by a young man who was suing a local charity. His client alleged that the charity had been responsible for inflicting him with a permanent back injury, two months earlier when he delivered a parcel to the charity’s office. He claimed that a youth on roller skates had bumped into him and they had both gone flying. The kid had picked himself up, dusted himself down and skated out of the office. The man had done the same and left the office with no apparent ill effects. But he claimed that when he reached his home he was overcome with sharp pains in his back which had remained with him ever since, to such an extent that he had been obliged to stop work and was now a permanent invalid.
Bobby had met the young man and knew with utter certainty that there was nothing wrong with the man’s back. He had been in this business long enough to know when someone was swinging the lead and he regarded the claim as completely spurious. In chatting to the young man, the idiot had inadvertently blurted out that he was a regular at a local gym, not far from where he lived. It was going to be a really messy case as the charity being sued had failed to renew its public liability insurance on time, so they would now be obliged to meet any damages that may be awarded. If Bobby had his way, the Charity would go out of business. At the time of the interview, Bobby had made a note on his file never to expose his ‘not very bright’ client to cross examination.
Ordinarily, this would not have phased Bobby one iota. He considered that at least 25% of the claims he had successfully litigated had been totally false and that at in least another 50% of his cases, the damages he had won for his client were way above what they should have been in any decent and just society. But as all his cases were taken on a ‘contingency’ basis – no win no fee – as far as he concerned then opposition were all mugs for the taking. Whatever damages he was successful in securing for his client, his firm and Bobby would get their well-earned share. He took another slug of Vodka from the bottle in his desk and then started to dictate.
‘Mathew Fowler vs ‘The Angeles Youth Outreach Foundation’. Para 6 c then para 11f and finally para 16d. Oh, and make a note on the file that we better seek an injunction to freeze the Charity’s assets, just in case they go broke – before we can get our hands on their misguided, hard earned charitable donations……’
He suddenly stopped dictating, took another slug of Vodka and picked up the machine again.
‘No… hold that… ignore what I just dictated.
‘Para 6 c, as before and then the following;
‘With regards to the validity of this claim, I urgently recommend that you engage the services of a private investigator to observe Randall’s Fitness centre on the corner of….(find out where it is located)…. and photograph the plaintiff undergoing his daily exercise regime. This should provide you with sufficient evidence to sue the grovelling, lying little bastard for every penny he’s got and also to make a report to the police so that they can institute criminal charges… criminal charges….c-criminal charges…
He stopped again, feeling his temper rising and getting out of control.
‘Criminal charges… against my fucking, lying, shit hole of a client, who is trying to use this motherfucking firm, this arse hole, of what we deluded idiots call the legal profession, to line his own miserable, slime ridden pocket and destroy a decent organisation who is trying to help the disadvantaged youth in this fucked up city of fucked up people doing fucked up things to every other mother fucker and… and… and…
His rage was so incandescent that he ran out of expletives. He was completely out of control; his face became bright red as he screamed and ranted. His visitors could see and hear him screaming through a glass partition and they wondered if he was having some kind of a fit. By this time a group of work colleagues had gathered outside his office and two of them gingerly opened the door to enter.
‘What do you want? What do you mother fuckers want? Fuck off the lot of you!’ he screamed at them.
One of them had the temerity to answer him.
‘Bobby, calm down…’
‘Calm down! Calm fucking down!’ he screamed back at them. ‘Don’t you fucking bastards tell me to fucking calm down… You’re all a bunch of dirty, lying mother-fuckers. Not one of you here – including me – would have any hesitation in putting our own grandmother in jail if it would put a few more lousy fucking dollars in our pockets…
‘We are the spawn of fucking Satan. We get rich from the misfortune of others – we cheat, lie and steal from poor to pay the rich… What kind of fucking, fucked up life is this?’
He glared at the growing crowd in front him and they stared back at him. Many of them thought that they were watching a demented man in the middle of a nervous breakdown. They weren’t far wrong. Bobby took a menacing step towards the door. Almost comically, the crowd retreated half a step in unison.
‘Look at you! You bunch of craven, fucking cowards! All terrified of one crazy old man …’
Bobby looked at his large, executive desk and before anyone realised what he was doing he grabbed it in the centre and with one enormous, adrenalin-filled heave, he upended it, whereupon it seemed to collapse on itself, with the contents scattering across the floor, the wood splintering at odd angles. He then turned around, seemingly looking for something, when his eye happened upon a large earthen ware vase on his coffee table. He grabbed it and in one single movement, he raised the vase high above his head and then threw it with all his might out in front of him against the glass wall of the office, the other side of which was now crammed full of inquisitive, worried onlookers.
The vase smashed to smithereens on impact and incredibly, the glass partition seemed to hold for split second before it frosted over as a large series of cracks spread out from the point of impact.
Nobody moved. It was as though they were awaiting this wild, frenzied ‘animal’ to wear himself out. Bobby seemed preoccupied. He had stopped shouting and was on all fours, rustling through the mess on the floor, presumably looking for something. After a moment he stood up holding a sheaf of papers – some of the urgent files from his in-tray. Then he started to tear them up, one by one into tiny pieces. Finally, he bent down and gathered a handful of his torn papers and held them in front of him, gesticulating towards the watching crowd.
‘See this? This is my work! My fucking work! I make a lot of money by bullshitting and lying in this office! Well no more. Never again; I’m done –finished – gone! I will no longer be part of this bullshit organisation. I’d rather starve than stay one more day in this fucking place.’
He made a step towards the door and the crowd parted in haste to let him through.
He walked out of the firm where he been working for over twenty years and didn’t take a look back. The traumatic scene he had created in his office that day would stay indelibly etched in his mind for the rest of his life. He was truly gone forever and never again would he practise law.
Despite the large chunk of assets he had been obliged to hand over to his ex-wife, Bobby was still a relatively wealthy man and he could well afford to give up work and live a life of the ‘idle rich’. But Bobby never did anything by halves. He embarked on a life of drinking and partying that would have sunk many a person with a fainter heart. Day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, Bobby drank all day and half the night, only stopping long enough to grab a few hours’ sleep, wherever he happened to be, before starting again.
Bobby spent his 50th birthday in a ‘drunk tank’ in downtown LA and upon release, he was sober long enough to discover that due to his years of partying and some wild, high risk, foolhardy investment decisions, he was running very low in funds. His assets were fast drying up. He did the only thing he knew how to do in such circumstances – he got drunk.
The severe diminution of his funds meant that he was drinking in the rougher, dead-end dives in ever seedier parts of town. He had resorted to drinking the cheapest rotgut whisky and his health was starting to fail. He would often get into fights with other drunks. In the early days of his ‘full-time’ drinking career, he was still fit enough and strong enough to win most of these encounters, but these days, more often than not, he would find himself in the gutter, his clothes all torn and blood stained and be suffering anything from a black eye to a broken nose or jaw, or cracked ribs for his efforts.
Bobby was fifty two when he finally reached his ‘rock bottom’. His money had dried up completely and he had resorted to stealing from local liquor stores to keep himself in booze and the odd packet of junk food. As with everything he did, he became very adept at stealing and getting away, Scott free.
But inevitably, one day his luck ran out. It was the third or fourth occasion that he had stolen from this particular store and although the proprietor had never caught him in the act he had subsequently seen the thefts take place when he had re-run his closed circuit video.
As soon as Bobby entered the shop, the owner recognised him, but said nothing. Bobby followed his usual, tried and tested routine. He browsed the shelves, waiting for another customer to come in to distract the man behind the counter. After a few minutes, there were three customers lining up to pay their bills at the front counter. Bobby adjudged that the time was right. He quickly pulled a bottle of vodka and two packets of potato chips off the shelf and secreted them in the inside pocket of his long, dirty raincoat. He looked at the proprietor, who was completely occupied dealing with his line of customers. He smiled the smile of a drunk, anticipating the huge swig of booze he would take as soon as he was safely outside on the side walk.
He stepped out into the cool winter air, breathing a sigh of relief and revelling in the adrenalin rush that always accompanied his criminal exploits. He put the bottle to his mouth and was about to up-end it when out of nowhere he felt the thud of metal on his forehead. He was looking straight into the barrel of a two bore shot gun.
As soon as the store owner had spotted Bobby entering his premises he had sent an agreed signal to his son who was working out back in the store room. The young man had rushed around the corner of the shop to the front entrance and awaited Bobby’s arrival.
Bobby was arrested,handcuffed and taken down town where he was arraigned on several counts of robbery. He had already acquired a criminal record from the various drunken exploits he had been involved in during the past few years, so this time it was his third strike. He was going to enjoy a very long holiday, courtesy of California State penitentiary.
Time was finally up for Bobby Solo and he feared that he would never survive an anticipated long spell in jail. His health was shot to pieces and he was in no position to defend himself from the other inmates who would immediately regard him as easy prey. Even more importantly, he had no idea how he could survive even one day without alcohol. He already suffered severely from the DT’s and he felt that a sudden withdrawal from booze may well kill him. It was all over, he was down and out for the count.
But a huge surprise awaited Bobby when he was hauled out of the holding cell for his second court appearance. There, in the front of the court were two familiar faces. The first was the proprietor of the store who he had robbed on more than one occasion. He was expecting him to be there as he would be obliged to provide preliminary evidence. But it was the second man who gave him the shock of his life. There, sitting next to the proprietor was no other personage than Joseph – his estranged brother.
‘Joseph – My God! What are you doing here?’
‘Never mind that, just stand up and listen to what the judge has to say.’
The judge looked across at Bobby’s unshaven, dishevelled appearance, and started to speak.
‘Mr Solo, I have to tell you that you are a very lucky man’, the judge began, ‘The gentleman standing over there, Mr Xavier , whose store you have undoubtedly robbed on more than one occasion, has agreed to drop all charges against you.’
‘But – but I don’t understand…’
‘Neither do I, Mr Solo, neither do I. The good Mr Xavier has agreed not to press charges…on the condition that you make good all the items that you have stolen from him and that you immediately book yourself into an alcohol rehabilitation clinic and that you attend AA meetings on a daily basis for the next three months.’
Bobby stared at the judge.
‘B-but I have no money. I can’t afford to pay him back and I certainly can’t afford to go into rehab’
‘That’s all being taken care of, Judge,’ Joseph quickly intervened.
‘Very well then,’ continued the judge. ‘But I have to inform you that if you fail to comply with this agreement in any way whatsoever, then Mr Xavier will press charges against you and you will go to the State Pen for a very long time. Do you agree Mr solo?’
Bobby stared at the judge, barely comprehending what had happened. ‘Yes, Judge, yes, of course I agree.’
‘And Mr Solo,’ the judge continued, ‘I see you used to be an attorney – you used to be a very eminent attorney. What happened to you? Pull yourself together man… and find a decent job. For now, you are free to go and don’t ever let me see you here again or, I promise you, you will go to prison for a very long time…. Next case!’
Bobby looked at his brother and followed him and the shop owner out of the court. He was shivering but was enormously relieved. He couldn’t believe what had happened. Outside the court, Bobby’s brother handed Mr Xavier a cheque, shook his hand and watched him as he walked back to his car. Joe then hailed a cab and the two brothers climbed in the back. They were on their way to the rehab centre.
‘You are a very lucky man, Bobby,’ Joe said. ‘It took me nearly all night to persuade Mr Xavier to drop the charges. He wanted to see you locked up, he didn’t care about the money he lost. He was very angry. But in the end I made him see sense.’
‘See sense?’ asked Bobby. How did you do that?’
‘Let’s just say that I wouldn’t stop talking and wouldn’t let him go until he agreed to my proposal.’
Bobby laughed. ‘Joe, you should have been a lawyer.’
Joe smiled back at his brother. ‘Yes, maybe I should have, at that.’
The rehab centre was upstate and the brothers sat in silence in the back of the cab as they covered the long journey. At length, they arrived at the clinic and Bobby was checked in.
He soon commenced his treatment that helped him through the worst part of his withdrawal from alcohol and a few days later, when he had recovered from the the ‘shakes’, he attended his first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. Bobby started to realise that he had been a very fortunate person. He knew without a shadow of doubt that he was a total alcoholic and it had destroyed his life. His only way forward was to embrace the twelve step programme of AA and never take another drink.
He had been at the rehab centre for about 3 weeks when his brother came to see him. They had much to discuss. Bobby was amazed that Joseph had known what had happened to him and his brother explained that he had been keeping a wary eye on his older, errant brother for years, ever since he had walked out on his job and started drinking so heavily.
He had made enquiries and had kept in touch with a few of Bobby’s drinking buddies. Some of them of those he had contacted were his ex-working colleagues – who had been more than happy to provide Joseph with information from time to time on Bobby’s latest exploits. Others were complete down and outs – like Bobby, who had called Joseph from time to time, in return for the price of a drink.
Apparently, one of Bobby’s old drinking gang had found out by chance that he had been arrested for robbing the liquor store and had called Joseph with the bad news. Bobby’s mind was in a turmoil from all these revelations and he asked his brother why he hadn’t contacted him before this.
‘Because you would have told me to fuck off! To go away! You know you would have refused to have anything to do with me, admit it.’
Bobby conceded that his brother was probably right. He sighed inwardly. He had been such a bastard – to himself as well as his family.
‘Joe – what about Dad and Mum? How are they?’
Joe looked at his brother. ‘You don’t know do you?’
‘Know? Know what.’
‘They are both dead Bobby. Dad passed away two years ago – cancer – and Mom died last year later, from a broken heart everyone said.’
‘But why didn’t you tell me?’
‘Tell you? Why? What would you have done? You disowned them years ago, and anyway, when Dad died, I tried to make contact, but I found out that you were busy getting into drunken fights in the worst parts of L.A. You had no phone and you kept changing your accommodation. Most of the time you lived in cheap hotel rooms – sometimes a different hotel every night. So I wasn’t about to make the trip across America to track you down and tell you the bad news. You would have probably laughed in my face!’
Bobby looked sadly at his brother.
‘Yes, Joe, I probably would’ve. You were right not to bother. I am so sorry.’
‘It’s history, forget it. More to the point is what are you going to do with your life? Are you going to try and go back to work as an attorney?’
‘No, Joe, I have given up the legal profession forever. What will I do? I don’t really know – maybe just get a regular job, cleaning the streets, or delivering letters…’ he said with a smile.
‘There’s no need to do that. You’re not exactly poor.’
‘Not poor! I’m broke! Stony broke! You know that.’
‘You’ve spent all your savings – yes, I know. But you still got plenty of money – You have your share of Dad’s estate.’
‘Dad’s estate – you mean he actually left me something?’
‘Of course he did Bobby. Dad loved you. You broke his heart but he never stopped loving you.’
It took a while for this to sink in to the newly sober Bobby and when it did he felt even worse about his behaviour to his family and his life in general. Tears filled his eyes as the realisation dawned on what a bastard he had been and how much he had hurt the ones who had loved him. How could he ever forget what he had done, and how could he ever make it up to his brother? He put his head in his hands and for a few minutes was inconsolable. He used to despise grown men who cried and now he was one of them.
But as his brother had said, it was history. It was too late to turn back the clock and make matters right. His parents were gone and he had never had the chance to tell them that he had loved them. This was another burden that he would have to bear.
Bobby continued to attend AA meetings and when he was discharged from the rehab clinic – four weeks after he had arrived – the shivering, unkempt alcoholic mess of a man had been transformed into a sober, clean, clear-headed individual who was ready to take his place in society. He had claimed his inheritance, enough to keep him in food, shelter and clothing for the rest of his life, provided he didn’t revert back to his overindulgences of the past.
He elected to take a trip to Central America and liked it so much that after a few months of trying out a few countries in the region, decided to set up home in Costa Rica. He fell in love with Costa Rica – the climate was great, living was cheap and, most importantly the women were beautiful and plenty.
When he first arrived there, Bobby had not had any sexual experience for several years, let alone any kind of relationship, such was the state of his ravaged body. But as his body recovered from the years of alcohol abuse, he found that his old sexual urges – long dormant – started to resurface.
His new sober life style enabled him to keep his feet on the ground, but his belated raging hormones made him a sucker for a pretty face. Girls were cheap and he took advantage of them to satisfy his voracious appetite. Eventually, he grew tired of ‘playing the field’ and decided to settle down with one particular beauty, half his age with whom he had become totally enamoured.
Bobby had won his battle with booze, but he was still an innocent, naive child when it came to beautiful, scheming women. It was predictable that Bobby would marry his lady, as he harboured thoughts of an idyllic family life, where he would live in happiness and harmony with the woman of his dreams. The latest lady in his life already had a young son and together they produced two more offspring – a girl and a boy. For a while, he really thought that he had it made, but after a year, he started to realise that this wasn’t quite the family life he had bargained for.
His wife was becoming more and more demanding as far as money was concerned and she was also starting to behave very irrationally. It all came to a head one day when he caught her with drugs. They had a terrible row and Bobby’s temper, which had kept in check for quite a while, once again reared its ugly head.
Bobby cut off the money supply to his wife in the vain hope that it would stop her buying drugs, but the result couldn’t have been worse. He came home unexpectedly one day to find her in bed with a man who he knew was a local drug dealer. She couldn’t pay for her stuff so she was screwing for it. The final nail in the coffin on this doomed marriage was when he discovered that his step son, who was barely ten years old, was working for the local drug cartel as a drug runner.
Bobby knew it was time to get out. He had enough of Central America in general, and Costa Rica in particular. The girls were gorgeous and sexy but the whole country was ruined by drug cartels and it was becoming increasingly dangerous for ‘gringos’ to live there. He didn’t want to walk out on his obligations so he consulted a local lawyer and came to a settlement with his soon to be ex-wife. He would pay her an agreed, not inconsiderable lump sum, which would no doubt keep her in drugs for years to come, and he walked away a poorer, but free man.
Bobby no longer wished to stay in Central or South America, but he had acquired a taste for third world countries and in particular, third world women. He soon discovered that the ‘in’ place to be was South East Asia where, he had learned from the internet, boasted the most exquisite, beautiful young ladies he had ever seen. He felt that Thailand would be a bit ‘too civilised’ and maybe a tad expensive for his new, somewhat straightened circumstances, so he opted to go to Cambodia.
He had read that Cambodia was still relatively underdeveloped and that the cost of living there was still very low and the girls were plentiful. He spent a few days in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city, before gravitating to Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s only coastal resort, some four hours’ drive away.
Bobby liked Sihanoukville. He liked the primitive feel of the place. After his sojourn in ‘third world’ Costa Rica, he knew that he was more at home in such places than in L.A or New York – they seemed to suit his temperament. He was fascinated by the myriad cultures – so different from back home. He set up home in a cheap guest house and made a few friends amongst the small raggle-taggle bunch of foreigners who had also made the coastal resort their home.
And of course he delighted in the Cambodian ladies. He found them the most willing, horny and adventurous partners he had ever been with. Outwardly, they were very shy, but as soon as he got them into his room, all their inhibitions seemed to vanish. He had recently discovered the wonders of Viagra and that, together with his newly acquired sexual arts, would send most of his bed partners into frenzies of ecstasy. For a while, yet again, Bobby was truly in seventh heaven.
But as ever, he ruined it, by falling madly in love with the wrong lady. He didn’t marry her – he had finally learnt that lesson – but he did make almost every other mistake in the book. He showered her with gifts, sent money to her family, and horror upon horror, he acceded to her request to build a house for her in downtown Sihanoukville.
Disaster awaited him, just around the corner. The house cost more than he could really afford – they always do – and it had barely been completed when his whole world fell apart yet again when he caught his beloved, in flagrante delicto – in bed with a young, virile Cambodian male.
At this point in his life, Bobby hadn’t drunk a drop of alcohol for over seven years, but such was his emotional state after yet again finding himself the cuckold ‘husband’, that he all but succumbed to a terrible, overwhelming desire to drink himself into oblivion. But he knew that it would be then end of him and he knew that if he did take a drink, all of his efforts to stay away from booze for the past seven years would have amounted to nothing.
So he resisted and instead of drowning his sorrows, he packed up all his belongings and jumped on the next bus to Phnom Penh.
Bobby finally realised that he would never find the girl of his dreams and that he better get used to it and to adapt his lifestyle accordingly. His finances were not in particularly good shape – Costa Rica and Sihanoukville had taken their toll – but if he was carefully, and lived a frugal lifestyle, he felt that he would be able to manage OK, provided he stayed in third world countries and didn’t have any more expensive ‘affairs’.
But in the aftermath of his break up with the Cambodian lady, he embarked on frenzy of sexual activity in Phnom Penh. He took a cheap room in what was effectively free-lance whore house in all but name. Then he proceeded to fuck his way through anyone and everyone who put their dainty arses on one of the barstools in the large, ‘open all hours’, bar-restaurant. He became adept at paying minimal amounts to his sex partners and he would often get ladies for free in return for letting them spend the night in his room.
When he finally grew tired of this incessant fornication, he would take a trip around the region. Malaysia, Bali, and even Thailand was now on his itinerary. He had become a nomad. He would lie low in Chiang Mai for a couple of months, lead a completely celibate lifestyle, attend daily AA meetings, read books in his room, and pay visits to internet cafés. He had been a late starter in the internet age, but now he was sufficiently adept on computers to send his own emails and it had become his habit to send lurid details of his sexual adventures to the few friends that he still remained in contact with back in L.A. He also sent the odd email to his brother, Joseph, but carefully omitted the more colourful details.
When he grew bored with all this, he would take a bus down to ‘sin city’ – Pattaya, where he would indulge his desires with the ladies who plied their ‘freelance’ trade on the beach. Then it would be back to the Phnom Penh ‘whorehouse’ for a while before once more making his jaunt around the region. His sobriety was now a permanent feature of his life and he would seek out AA meetings, wherever and whenever they were being held. Life was pretty simple and he was content to be alone, with his entire worldly possessions in a single, battered suitcase.
‘How the mighty have fallen’, he thought wryly to himself.
There was a break in the traffic and he was about to cross the road when suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a black sedan passed him at speed before careering out of control into a parked Toyota Camry and then continuing on, to overturn a crowded baht Bus before finally coming to rest in the back of a third parked car.
Bobby was riveted to the spot. He stared at the carnage and the badly injured bodies that had spilled out of the pick-up truck. Then he looked at the car, the fucking car. His face turned white. He knew that car – he knew that fucking car! He knew the driver of that fucking car! He had warned him over and over…. And now this – this scene of death and destruction – what had the stupid motherfucker done this time?
The more he looked, the more his head went into a spin. Suddenly he exploded in anger. He ignored the girl beside him and ran over to the car. The windows were darkened and he could not see inside. But he knew who was in there – he knew, with a chilling certainty.
‘You bastard! You fucking bastard!’ he screamed. Look what you’ve done now!’
He thumped on the roof of the car with his fists, totally enraged and traumatised by what he had just witnessed. He thumped and thumped until his knuckles were raw and smears of blood started to appear on the black, shiny surface of the BMW.