February 26, 1907
306 Brent Building
Right now, I’m cleaning up my desk; organizing a few files at the end of a rather boring Tuesday. Most of the firm’s staff have gone home already, and I like this part of the day, when the office is empty, things are quiet, and I have a chance to think in peace.
I only occupy a desk at Kehoe & Smithwick part-time; sometimes I’m mistaken for the clerical staff, because of where I sit. I’m not actually a member of the staff, though Walter and John occasionally include me on cases and such — paying me more than generous fees as a contractor of sorts. Walter says it’s always easier to find greener pastures when one is well situated, and there’s some truth in it. If I were out in town, fending for myself, I’m not sure how many breaks would have come my way thus far, if any. Honestly, without my friends, I’d be lost. It’s not that I’m stupid, I tell myself, but I know how things work in Pensacola. One needs connections to get anywhere.
The phone box next to the candlestick phone on the clerk’s desk jangles — I look at the clock on the wall — 6:32. It rings twice more, but I make no move to answer it. I’m not going to.
I glance towards the closed inner office door. Walter is still in there, working away. He probably didn’t even notice the phone. When he is focused on a case, deeply focused, he cannot be distracted. A fire alarm could have gone off somewhere outside, and he would not have noticed it, unless our own building was aflame and smoke had filled the corridors.
I am not sure how long I’m going to be in this workplace situation. It’s not as if Walter and John want me to leave, but I also know they cannot afford another lawyer on staff at present. It doesn’t matter; I’m only here part time, ever since I was appointed assistant district attorney for the First Judicial Circuit — in the Federal Building on Palafox, on the 4th floor, I also occupy a desk in the middle of another medium-sized office, also occasionally mistaken as a clerk or secretary.
I’m grateful for the opportunities; but after five months in Pensacola, I feel untethered.
One day, I’ll have an office again, with my name painted in gold lettering on the door, with my own assistant.
Walter has seen to it that I am busy and active in Pensacola activities.
On January 18, I was invited to join the brand new chapter of the Pensacola Bar Association , and I was mentioned in the front-page article about the meeting — I was asked to speak — and it was fine. Walter approved; encouraged it actually, though I felt uncomfortable.
I overheard a few of the fellows at the meeting say I was grandstanding, my being so new and all, and then, the comments I heard about my not being ‘established’ yet in local circle, but because I was Walter’s protege, I had to be accepted. After all, Walter was one of the reasons I had been appointed assistant district attorney. It was humiliating to hear these fellows, who I will probably be working with in a few years, say these things about me within earshot.
I shuffle through some of the papers on my desk, and pick up the Pensacola Evening News. There, on the front page, lower left hand column, is my article.
My friend from Stetson, Billy Crawford (the editor and publisher of the Pensacola Evening News), told me he wanted to write an article about my appointment, and I told him not to make a big deal about it. I mentioned what I the other fellows said at the Bar Association meeting, about the impression that I people thought I was overreaching.
“Be serious, Emmett. I have to write the piece,” Billy said.
But he included in the article a statement that I was as surprised as everyone else that I got the position, because I was not actively seeking it.
“And it’s not far-fetched, given you aren’t flamboyant, or talkative,” Billy added. “Though you’ll need to do more self-promotion if you want to rise quickly.”
Walter told me that’s nonsense; my family name, my family’s reputation in West Florida precedes me — and then, of course — with the connections and his patronage, I should not feel less than any other man in those meetings. Why, anyone else given these opportunities would — and should! — take them.
I told Walter that I’m still feeling a lot of shame for what happened in Sterling. Nick could have filed charges against me for malpractice. Any other partner would have done it. It’s not lost on me that Cephas would have done it, without any regard for my being his younger brother.
“He can certainly be a son of a bitch about things,” Walter said. “But son, you have been given a clean slate here in Pensacola. Make the most of every opportunity. Be a joined. Don’t be sidetracked by gossip.”
Walter was right of course. I’ve done everything he’s suggested, including cozying up to my uncle, Judge Evelyn Maxwell.
Uncle Evelyn has been reluctant to visit with me. He’s always intimidated me because he’s no-nonsense, and can see right through my efforts to get to know him. But lately, he’s agreed — grudgingly — to help me fit in better with my colleagues in Pensacola.
Walter told me that people commented to Uncle Evelyn how much I am like Uncle Evelyn’s father, my Grandfather Maxwell, in appearance and demeanor, and that might have something to do with it. You see, my mother was the apple of my grandfather’s eye; after her death in 1891, Grandfather Maxwell took special interest in me, writing me letters, advising me.
When Grandfather Maxwell moved to Chipley in 1903, so my father could take care of him as his health declined, Grandfather told me that he’d also did so in the hopes of seeing me more often, coming home during semester breaks from Stetson.
For awhile, Uncle Evelyn had the impression I was morally untethered; word got back to him through the family grapevine about what happened in Sterling. He’s not a teetotaler, but he does think people who cannot drink alcohol moderately are at fault somehow, psychologically or spiritually. He’s assigned men with drinking problems to Chattahoochie, where God knows what happens to those fellows behind closed doors. But he’s giving me another chance. Here’s what happened:
I saw Uncle Maxwell yesterday, and he told me that he approved of my work ethic. That was the extent of the interaction with him: Brief, brusque, to the point, without excessive words or sentences. Unless you know Uncle Maxwell, his words and behavior can be off-putting. But oh! I know Uncle Maxwell — and his words to me was his hard-won stamp of approval!
I pick up a piece of paper on my desk; I scan it. I pick up my pen and I draw a line through Uncle Evelyn’s name, and I smile to myself with satisfaction. I also draw a line through Billy Crawford’s names — that one was fairly easy. He bought the image I was trying to convey.
Little does Walter really know yet, or anyone else, that I do have a goal. Part of that goal is maintaining an image of a humbled, teachable, polite, hard-working young man who wants what every other fellow wants in this world — but oh — I want more. I want more than what Cephas has. I want more than what Walter has. I want to show them all. I never want to feel shamed again.
So far, my grand scheme is working just fine. I’m keeping it to myself, though.
The light in Walter’s office has switched off; I look up as he opens his office door, briefcase in hand.
“You about finished for the day, Emmett?”
“Yep. All done for today” I say, as I tuck my list into my own briefcase.
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