June 16, 2011
I arrived at the office at around eight in the morning, an hour before Harriet was due to arrive. I only had a small stack of pages left from that enormous four-box stack of papers from my closet, and I figured that I would use that hour to commit those pages to memory. I had an idea of what information they would contain, but I wanted to review them nonetheless just to be sure that I wouldn’t be receiving any curveballs here. They were documents outlining the condition of the building. As expected, the three buildings were in mostly good condition. A pipe needed repairs in the research building, and the mall building had a problem with the central air, but these were relatively minor fixes. There were no foundational cracks or anything like that, to my relief.
At 8:50, I heard a soft knock at the door.
Harriet? Oh my God. Is she early? It looks like our talk had some consequences after all.
Harriet entered the room. She was wearing a light blue skirt with a flowing white top; it was a much more professional look than yesterday. Her waist length blonde hair was tied back in a messy bun. In her hand, she held the same white designer bag from yesterday.
She cautiously approached my desk.
“You’re early!” I happily said.
“I have something for you..” Harriet unzipped her bag and pulled out a manila envelope. She opened the envelope and pulled out five sheets of paper. She handed the paper over to me.
I put on my reading glasses and began to flip through the report. I was quite impressed with what I read. Harriet made a chart which contained headcounts of each customer in each shop and a report of what each cashier for each shop said about the flow of customers. I looked up at Harriet, who was standing in front of my desk fidgeting with her hands and shifting her weight about nervously.
I took off my glasses and looked up at her.
“I have to say; I’m very impressed.”
“Really?” Harriet smiled from ear-to-ear. She let out a relieved and giddy laugh.
“You have, by far, exceeded all my expectations,” I said. It was true; I just expected, at best, Harriet would tell me what the shops were like generally.
“Thank you, I worked really hard on it. Although I can’t take all the credit for it; my brother helped me make the chart last night…”
Oh God. I have the CEO of a major company working on some busy work for an intern… I hope that won’t blow up in my face.
“I can tell you worked hard.”
“I visited the shops during the day, and I talked to the cashiers. I visited the shops at night again and also talked to the cashiers. I was up until midnight turning this into a chart for you…”
“Wow…” I looked down at the chart again and then looked up at Harriet. “Thank you.” I figured it was important to reward her for her hard work. Show that she’s appreciated for the good work that she does. Positive reinforcement never hurt anyone before. Well, probably.
“So…now what?” Harriet asked.
“Well, I was going to go down to the courthouse and do a title check. Would you like to come with me?” I offered.
“Yeah! That sounds great!”
“Awesome. I’ll take you to lunch somewhere by the courthouse too as a thank you for doing such good work.”
“Really?” Harriet smiled. “That sounds great.”
“Alright, let’s go.” I grabbed my keys off my desk. “My car’s this way.” I walked out my office door and held the door open for Harriet, who toddled on behind me. We walked through the winding bright white hallway and eventually went into the parking lot. Unfortunately for the two of us, I parked towards the back of the parking lot. My feet were killing me in my stiletto heels.
After what seemed like an eternity of walking in the hot sun in painful shoes, we arrived in my car. My car wasn’t anything fancy. Truth be told, I usually liked to walk to work and just leave the car in the work parking lot for driving to the courthouse. I liked having it in case of emergencies, though.
“That’s your car?” Harriet said in surprise. “You dress so fancy, and your office is so fancy, but your car is so basic.”
I laughed. “I don’t really care much about cars, so I just got an affordable one that works. Gets me from point A to point B.” I shrugged.
“As someone who just got her license, I’m all about cars right now. All about them.”
“Oh, you just got your license?” I said as I ushered myself into the car. It was a bit hot from sitting in the hot sun. My makeup was melting.
“Yeah,” Harriet replied. “I got it six months ago. I swear I took a year off of my brother’s life when he was teaching me how to drive.” She laughed. “After I got my license he got me the sports car of my choice.”
Huh. Her account of her brother seems a lot different than Leon’s. Not that any of this is my business…
“That’s great,” I said. “Congrats on your license.”
Harriet sat down in the passenger’s seat and buckled up.
“So what’s a title search?” She asked.
“Ok,” I put the car in drive, “So when you buy property, you get this thing called title, which means you own the property. But, it gets a bit tricky. Sometimes the person you buy the property from has problems with their title.”
“What do you mean?”
I have no idea how to explain title defects to a high schooler…
“How do I explain this…? Alright, so let’s say we buy this property from Blazes but, come to find out, the person Blazes bought the property from sold it to someone else, who actually owns the property. That’s the absolute worst case scenario. We don’t want that to happen because we would have spent all this money on something that we don’t actually own. There are other things that could be wrong with it too, like a mortgage we have to pay for or something.”
“So we’re basically making sure that if we buy this property we would own it and we don’t have to pay extra money and stuff,” Harriet said.
“Bingo,” I replied. “We'll also see if Blazes took out a lien on their property too so we can see if this is a fire sale or not.” Fortunately, the drive was short. The courthouse was only a ten-minute drive from the office. The drive was peaceful too. There weren’t many people on the road since it was right after rush hour. There was a little bit of glare sine it was still early in the day, but not too much of a glare.
“So what do we do? How do we do a title search?”
“So, we’re going to go to the courthouse and then talk to the clerks. The clerks are going to show us where everything is. Then we’re going to look at this thing called a grantee index and figure out who owned the property. Then we’re going to look at this thing called a grantor index to see who the owners sold it to. We’ll use that info to look at the deeds and stuff. We’re going to be on the lookouts for unextinguished mortgages, double sale gaps in time recording deeds, and just anything that looks sketchy in general.” I paused, wondering if I was forgetting something. And I was trying to make a tricky turn. “Oh, and we’re going to take a look at wills and stuff to see if any of the property was given away in someone’s inheritance.”
“How far back are we going?” Harriet asked.
“Eh, about fifty years. I mean, we could go back to when the land was sold from the government, but that’s kind of time consuming and unnecessary.”
“Ok…is there anything else we should look out for?”
“Oh…um…” I looked out for a parking spot. We were near the courthouse. “If there’s a lot of easements. Restrictive covenants too.” I parallel parked in one of the spots and rummaged for some spare change in my cup holder. I pulled out a handful of quarters; I figured that would be enough to last for about three hours, which is the length of time I figured that it would take. Hopefully.
“Is this your first time in a courthouse?” I asked Harriet.
“I was there once a few years ago when Maxwell took legal guardianship over me. It was a different courthouse though and we were only there for about thirty minutes.”
“Alright, so you have been in a courthouse before. When we have some downtime this summer, I’ll take you over to a trial. They’re interesting to watch.”
“Have you tried any cases?”
I laughed. “Only a couple. They were terrifying. I mean, I can do trial work, but it’s really not my specialty. Honestly, most of the time I’m behind a desk doing stuff—most lawyers are. But, if you’re interested in criminal law, they spend a lot of time in court.”
“Huh. I didn’t know that…I thought all lawyers spent time in court.”
“Harriet, what have you done at your other internships?” I held the door to the courthouse open for her.
“Honestly? They just have me make copies and file things or tell me to go home. I know that they just want me to get out of their way…”
You weren’t doing any favors for yourself, by the way, you were acting yesterday…
I smiled at her. “This experience will be different. If you promise to work hard like you have been doing today, I’ll teach you everything that I know. I see a lot of potential in you.”
“Really?” Harriet smiled ear-to-ear.
Wow, she’s like a totally different kid. I guess all it took was some scaring combined with some positive reinforcement.
The two of us walked over towards the clerk. She was buried in a pile of folders. The courthouse here was a little dingy; the beige walls desperately needed a paint job—there were small cracks all over the walls and the paint was peeling. I could tell that Harriet was a bit nervous about the unsavory characters standing around outside with tattoos smoking their cigarettes.
“How long are we going to be here?” Harriet whispered to me.
“About three hours, I think. Hopefully. If it goes over that, I’ll run over my meter.” I responded.
The clerk leaned over the high wooden table. “What can I help you with?” She asked.
“I’m looking to do a title check on this property.” I pulled out a piece of paper and slid it across the dingy countertop to the woman. She picked it up and examined it.
After a moment of silence, she motioned for Harriet and me to follow her to her back room, and that’s what we did. The back room was also dingy and dusty.
“Blazes. That’s over in the B’s. The book is over by that file cabinet.” The clerk pointed to a file cabinet at the far side of the room. “You know where the wills are.” She pointed to the far side of the room. “Oh, and just to let you know, some of the properties might be listed out of order because we’re running out of room in the books.”
“Alright, thank you,” I said.
“Holler if you need anything.” The clerk said. She left the room to rejoin the rest of the courthouse, leaving Harriet and me alone in a mess of dust and books all illuminated by a dim fluorescent light.
I wandered over to the books and began sorting flipping through the pages.
I began to get lost in my work. Every once and awhile Harriet would ask me a question, and I would explain something to her. I also asked her to look in the wills for me every so often or to fetch a deed in another book for me. Eventually, I was satisfied that there were no title defects present in this property. The owner didn’t even seem to be in dire straits financially—David and Jessica Blazes even paid off their mortgage on the property. I put away the last book and stood up and stretched.
“Alright, we’re all set,” I announced.
“Really?” Harriet asked.
“Yup, now let’s go grab some lunch.” I walked out the dusty file room with Harriet walking swiftly behind me. I thanked the clerk as we walked out of the room and into the parking lot. I had five minutes to spare before the meter ran out.
“So…are there any problems with the title?” Harriet asked.
“Nope, none whatsoever.”
“That seemed like a lot of work for nothing going wrong,” Harriet commented.
“It really is. Other courthouses have it all automatic, so you don’t even need to leave your home but not this one…should you practice law in the future, you probably won’t need to do a title search, truth be told.”
I put the car in drive and carefully left my parking spot. It was hard since the person in front of me didn’t leave that much room, and a lot of people were on the road to get to their lunch appointments.
I let out a relieved sigh as we got on the road. “So where do you want to go?” I asked.
“There’s a café about ten minutes away. It’s a really nice sit-down place, and they have an all-vegan menu.”
“That sounds really nice,” I replied. Vegan food sounded pretty good; I like to eat healthy, especially because I only go to the gym three times a week at the most. I’m pretty vain, admittedly. Growing up ugly does that to a person, I guess. Harriet plugged the directions to the restaurant in her phone, and I followed the directions over to the restaurant. Eventually, we found our way inside.
I liked the atmosphere of the restaurant; it had comfortable booths, wooden tables, and bookshelves that adorned the walls. I could tell that this restaurant was used for poetry readings and things like that. Fun, hipster things.
The two of us sat down. I admired the modern art on the walls.
“This is a really nice atmosphere; you chose well.”
“It’s one of my favorite places in town. I always have the brie sandwich with a side salad.” Harriet commented.
“I’ll have that too.” I closed the menu and leaned back into the booth. My mouth felt dry and dusty after going through all those documents, so I took a sip of water.
An awkward silence fell over the two of us. She seemed nice, but I just had no idea what to talk to her about. She was three years older than my own sister, so I doubt I could talk to her about the same things. The petty narcissism of small differences prevents a seventeen-year-old from liking the same thing as a fourteen-year-old.
“I thought you were pretty scary at first, but you’re pretty cool” Harriet commented.
“Thanks. If you work hard, I’ll work hard too. This could be a really good summer.”
The awkward silence returned. I silently wondered if my comment was too harsh. I silently sipped my water. Eventually, the waiter brought our brie sandwiches and salads out. I decided to break the silence.
“So what do you like to do in your downtime?” I asked.
“Ok, well, I like to go shopping a lot. Hmmm…what else do I do…? I sometimes paint, play field hockey. Oh, and I play board games a lot too with my brother.”
“You play field hockey?”
“Yeah, I’m the team captain,” Harriet said proudly.
“That’s cool. I’ve never had a knack for sports. I’ve always been kind of a klutz.” I confessed.
“It’s the only way I can be normal.” Harriet looked down at her food. I could tell that she was sad.
“What do you mean?” I leaned forward.
What’s up with me gossiping with people inside restaurants these days? This is the second day in a row where I’ve been doing this. Sheesh.
“My stupid older brother thinks that I’m going to get kidnapped or something.” Harriet crossed her arms and sunk down deep into her booth seat. “I got a threatening phone call two years ago from someone saying that they were going to kidnap me for ransom and ever since I’ve been stuck with all this security at school and home. It’s totally embarrassing because like, everyone at the school knows that my brother was the one who insisted on having the metal detectors installed at the school. Totally put a cramp on my style.”
“That must have been scary, though,” I said.
“Honestly, not really.” Harriet took a bite of her salad. “It’s just annoying that I can’t be like a normal high schooler, you know? I just want a normal senior year…”
I finally finished the final bite of my salad.
“Senior year should be fun. Have you started looking at colleges?” I asked.
Harriet sighed. “Yeah, that’s a tough topic.” Harriet put down her fork and dabbed her mouth. “I want to go and take a few years off and model, but Maxwell wants me to get a degree in something. But, I think that’s a bad idea because by the time I’m graduated, I’ll be 22 and that doesn’t give me that much time left before I’m old in model years.”
“Is there any way you can do both?” I asked.
Harriet groaned. “That’s what Maxwell says too, but I just don’t want to go…I want to carve my own path. He just doesn’t understand…”
I figured that it would be best if I dropped this topic; it seemed to be sensitive subject at the moment.
I dropped two twenty dollar bills on the table; I figured that would be enough for both of our meals plus a decent tip. Harriet pulled out her wallet.
“Oh, I can pay,” Harriet said.
“No, I insist.” I waved my hand dismissively. “Besides, technically you’re not allowed to. It’s company policy that interns can’t purchase meals for their employers.”
Harriet laughed. “I’m the bosses sister. I’m probably far richer than you.”
“Rules are rules. If you want to be treated just like everyone else, then you gotta follow the rules too.” I stepped out of the booth.
“Ok, boss.” Harriet laughed.
The two of us exited the restaurant and wandered back into the car where I drove us back to the office. During our car ride back, Harriet chattered about field hockey and modeling and the girl on the field hockey team that she had a crush on but didn’t know how to broach the subject with her. I tried to give her advice to the best of my abilities, but it’s not like I have the greatest track record with romance, so my advice was probably useless.
Eventually, the two of us returned to the office. I spent the rest of the afternoon teaching Harriet how to conduct legal research online and answering all of her questions; I wanted to be a good mentor. Eventually, five o’clock came, and I got back to doing my own work.
I reviewed Harriet’s chart and compared it to the sales that the stores reported. Everything seemed normal except for one exception. One notable exception. One of the stores—Marco’s Jewelry—reported to clear over five million a year in profits but, according to Harriet’s report, she didn’t see a single customer in there, and the cashier said that if they had one customer that day, it would be a good day. According to Harriet’s report, after she started asking questions about how busy the store was, a man working there ushered her out and asked her not to come back.
For several reasons, I found this to be deeply troublesome. I knew that I’d have to look into that later but, since it was eight o’clock at night, I figured that would be something I could do at a later point in time. I packed up my briefcase and went home for the night.
It looks like I was back to my old habits of working late at night to try to do the best job possible. Spinning too many plates. Being a perfectionist. Oh well. I guess it’s better than being a slacker. Anyways, that’s what I told myself as I left the office at eight o’clock on a Thursday.