Max was furious. To be talked to like that, to be chastised, by some pip-squeak stooge, was intolerable. Max was shaking when he finally left Judge Mainman’s chambers at two-thirty—an hour and a half with that moron!—shaking with frustration and rage, ready to commit a personal murder with his own two hands for the first time in years and years. “That—that—that—”
“I wouldn’t say it, Max,” Walter Greenbaum advised, walking beside him. Walter, Max’s personal attorney with the heavy bags under his eyes, could even make a statement like that sound like profundity.
“At least not until we’re out of the building,” said John Weisman, walking on Max’s other side.
John Weisman was another attorney, yet another of Max’s attorneys. It seemed to Max sometimes that he had attorneys the way Chinese restaurants have roaches. Every time you turned on the light, there were more of them. This one, John Weisman, was a specialist, Max’s bankruptcy attorney. The man devoted his life to bankruptcy cases, and charged an arm and a leg, and lived very well indeed off bankruptcy, proving either that you can get blood from a turnip, or a lot of those things claiming to be turnips were lying.
In any event, Weisman didn’t have Walter’s solonic majesty, so that his not-till-we’re-outside crack merely sounded like a not-till-we’re-outside crack. A compact lean man in tip-top physical condition, Weisman apparently spent all his spare time in rugged pursuits, hunting, camping, hiking, mountain climbing, you name it. Max personally thought it showed great restraint on Weisman’s part not to come to court in a camouflage uniform.
Although today it was Max who might have been better in camouflage. Judge Mainman, a fat-faced petty inquisitor, had treated him with such disdain, such contempt, as though there were something wrong with a successful man wishing to avail himself of the benefits of the law. Why would successful men buy legislators, if they weren’t to make use of the resulting laws? But try to tell that to Judge Mainman.
“I can’t do it, you know,” Max said, as they left the court building, down all those broad shallow steps that irritatingly forced you to think about every step you took—rather appropriate for a courthouse, actually—and across the sidewalk full of scruffy people in Max Fairbanks’s way, to the waiting limousine, whose waiting chauffeur in timely fashion opened the rear door.
The attorneys waited until everybody was inside the limo and the door shut, and then Walter said, “Can’t do what?” while Weisman said, “Sorry, Mr. Fairbanks, you have no choice.”
Walter looked at Weisman: “Has no choice in what?”
“Selling the house.”
“I can’t do it,” Max said. The limousine pulled smoothly and silently away from the rotten courthouse. “It’s a personal humiliation. It’s a humiliation within my own company! In front of my own employees!”
“Still,” Weisman said, “we do have the order.”
The order. Judge Mainman, the puny despot, had been fuming when they’d entered his chambers, petulant that anyone would treat his magnificent decisions lightly. He didn’t believe Max’s sworn statement that he’d only gone out to Carrport to pick up some important papers, and he’d made his disbelief insultingly obvious. He was so affronted, this minor little pip-squeak of a judge, he was so affronted, he spoke at first with apparent seriousness about reopening the entire Chapter Eleven proceeding, a move that could only improve his creditors’ prospects and cost Max who knows how much more money. Millions. Actual money; millions.
So it had been necessary to grovel before the son of a bitch, to apologize, to promise to take the bastard’s orders much more seriously from now on, and then to thank the miserable cretin for backing off from an entire junking of the agreement, backing off to a mere order to sell the Carrport house.
Yes. Sell the house, put the proceeds from the sale into the bankruptcy fund, and let it be dribbled away into the coffers of the creditors. And every single TUI employee in middle management and above, every last one of them who had ever spent a night, a weekend, a seminar afternoon, out at the Carrport house, would understand that the boss had lost the house to a miserable bankruptcy judge.
“There’s got to be some way out of this,” Max said. “Come on, one of you, think of something.”
Walter said, “Max, John’s right. You have to put the property on the market. The best you can do is hope it isn’t sold between now and the time we’re finished with this adjustment.”
“Well, no,” Weisman said. “The house has now been placed in the category of assets to be disbursed, there’s nothing we can do about that.”
“Hmmmmm,” said Walter. Even his hmmmmms sounded wise.
Max said, “If I put it on the market at some outlandish price? So no one will ever buy it?”
“Then you’re in contempt of court,” Weisman said. “You have to offer the house for sale at fair market price, and I have to so represent to the court. There’s nothing else to be done.”
Bitter, brooding, Max twisted his new ring around and around and around on his finger. He wasn’t even conscious of that gesture any more, it had become so habitual so soon. “I’ve lost the goddam house,” he said.
“Sorry, Mr. Fairbanks,” Weisman said, “but you have.”
Walter said, “Max, you’ll just have to put this behind you, and look ahead.” Even Walter, though, couldn’t make that twaddle sound like anything but twaddle.
Max said, “I can go out there one more time?”
“So the court has ordered,” Weisman said. “After apprising the court, you’re permitted one final overnight visit, to gather and remove personal and corporate possessions and to make a last inventory.”
Miss September. Maybe that goddam burglar will be there again; this time, I’ll shoot him. “It’s a hell of a small silver lining,” Max grumbled, “for such a great big fucking cloud.”