The Tenth Justice: Chapter 15


At nine-thirty Monday morning, Lisa and Ben prepared to go down to the courtroom to watch the justices announce the decisions to the public. “I still think you should turn yourself in,” Lisa said, putting on her beige-and-black-striped suit jacket.

“No way.” Ben tightened his gold and navy tie. “Not at this point.”

“Why not? I’m sure they’d go easy on you.”

“It doesn’t matter. That’s not a viable option as far as I’m concerned. Even if I don’t go to jail, they’ll have to fire me from the Court. And if they’re going to take me out of this place, you better believe I’m going out kicking and screaming. I refuse to serve myself up on a platter.”

“It’s your life. I just think you’re making a mistake.”

A light knock on the door interrupted the debate.

“Come on in,” Ben said.

The door opened and Nancy entered. “Ben, your visitor’s here.”

Ober moved around Nancy and walked into the room with his arms outstretched. “Bubby! So this is where the big boys play, huh?” Ober asked, his hands brushing over everything he passed: the books on Lisa’s desk, her computer monitor, Ben’s pencil sharpener, his telephone.

Ben pointed to the sofa and offered Ober a seat. “I guess you had some trouble getting in.”

“Not at all,” Ober said, taking off his coat and throwing it on the sofa. “It was easy. The security guard downstairs said that the courtroom was full today. And then I told him that I was here to see Ben Addison. Well, let me tell you, the man checked his clipboard and, bingo, I was inside and at the front of the line. After I got through the metal detector, another guard led me up here.” Ober looked around the room. “This is a pretty good setup here. It feels like the White House—everything is old and serious.”

“It is the Supreme Court,” Lisa said. “Perhaps you’ve heard of it?”

“Did someone say something?” Ober asked, looking at Ben. “I thought I heard a whiny bitch, but it must’ve been my imagination.”

“Ober, you promised,” Ben scolded.

“Fine, fine, I’ll be good,” Ober said, sitting on the sofa. “How are you today, Lisa?”

“I wish a pox on you.”

“Why, thanks for saying so. I just had it cut last week,” Ober said, touching his hair. “This is a great sofa,” he noted, bouncing up and down on its springy cushions. “And you guys have a lot of privacy. So have you ever, you know . . . late at night after the cleaning lady leaves . . . ?”

“Can you please show some decorum?” Ben begged.

“Can I ask you a question?” Lisa said to Ober. “How can you be so damn festive when you know your friend is scared to death?”

“Don’t judge me,” Ober warned. “You help Ben your way and I’ll help him mine.”

“Both of you, stop it,” Ben said, heading for the door. “Let’s go downstairs.”

In the Great Hall, the slowly diminishing crowd filed through two metal detectors, while Ben, Lisa, and Ober walked straight into the main courtroom. “He’s with us,” Ben explained to a security guard who was staring at Ober.

“This is amazing,” Ober said when he finally entered the room packed full of spectators, reporters, and Court staff.

“If you want pomp, we’ve got pomp,” Ben said as they walked to a roped-off section of seats on the right side of the room.

“Is everyone in front of us a clerk?” Ober asked, noticing that they all seemed to be his age.

Ben nodded. “Only clerks and roommates of clerks can sit here.”

As the remaining spectators were ushered into the room, Ober said, “Well, Ben, I have to admit, the Court looks the same as when I worked here.”

The clerk in front of Ober turned around. “Who’d you clerk for?”

“Osterman,” Ober said.

“Me too!” the clerk said, clearly excited. Extending a hand, he said, “I’m Joel.”

“Nice to meet you, Joel,” Ober said, his voice growing deeper.

“What’s he saying now?” Lisa asked Ben.

“Nothing,” Ben said, amused. “Let him go.”

“Hey, if he puts you in a good mood, I’m in a good mood,” Lisa said.

“So what’d you think of the big man?” Joel asked Ober.

“He was always the nicest in my book.”

“Really?” Ben asked. “Because Osterman’s usually known as being the biggest asshole on the Court.”

“Well, that’s what I meant,” Ober said. “He was nice in that ‘mean asshole’ sort of way.”

“Your friend wasn’t a clerk, was he?” Joel asked Ben. When Ben smiled, Joel said, “Fuck you, Addison. You think you’re so funny, don’t you?”

“No, Joel,” Ben replied. “I know I’m funny.”

“He is very funny,” Ober said. When Joel turned around and ignored him, Ober continued, “Nice to meet you, too.”

A buzzer sounded, ending every conversation in the room. “Is this where I’m supposed to be quiet?” Ober whispered.

“Shhhhh,” Ben said.

The marshal banged his gavel, and every person in the room stood at attention. “The Honorable, the Chief Justice and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States!” the marshal announced. Within seconds, the nine justices strode through openings in the burgundy velvet curtain and moved to their respective seats on the bench.

“Very cool,” Ober whispered.

When the justices took their seats, the marshal announced, “Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God save the United States and this Honorable Court!” Once again the gavel fell, and everyone took their seats.

From the center seat, Chief Justice Osterman said, “Today we have a longer docket than usual. We will be handing down the decisions of Doniger v. Lubetsky; Anderson v. United States; Maryland v. Schopf; Galani v. Zimmerman; and Grinnell and Associates v. New York. Justice Blake will be reading our first three decisions, and Justice Veidt will be reading the remainder.”

“Get comfortable,” Ben whispered. “Blake’s going to take his own sweet time.”

“Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice,” Blake announced in his signature Southern drawl. Reading from his prepared statement sheet, he announced with painful slowness each of the decisions of the Court.

“How do they pick who speaks?” Ober asked.

“It depends,” Ben whispered. “Blake wrote the first three decisions, while Veidt was chosen because he was instrumental in the last two.”

When Blake finished, Osterman said, “Thank you, Justice Blake. Justice Veidt.”

Justice Veidt pulled his microphone close to his mouth and announced the first of his two decisions. A small man with stark dyed-black hair and gaunt features, Veidt was known for his writings on American legal realism, which made him popular with legal scholars and uninteresting to the popular media. Although he had heard that Veidt was one of the nicest justices sitting on the Court, Ben, at this moment, couldn’t muster anything but hate for him.

“How are you doing?” Lisa asked, noticing the lack of color in Ben’s face.

“I’m fine,” Ben whispered back.

With his hand still on the microphone, Veidt cleared his throat and announced the decision. “In the case of Grinnell and Associates v. New York, we agree that the burden borne by the plaintiffs is a great one indeed. However, the importance of historical preservation of this country’s landmarks cannot be overstated. The historical value of the property, combined with the limited expectations of the plaintiffs when the property was purchased, leads us to conclude that New York City’s Landmark Law does not constitute a taking of the plaintiff’s property. We therefore find for the defendant and reverse the Appellate Court’s decision.”

The marshal banged his gavel to close the session, the tourists left the room, and Ben leaned back in his chair, a wide smile of relief flushing his face.

“Congratulations!” Lisa said, hugging her co-clerk.

“I don’t understand,” Ober said, confused. “I thought you said that Grinnell was—”

“Not here,” Ben interrupted, holding up his hand and indicating the other clerks who were still filing out of their seats. Ben rose from his chair. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Wait a minute,” Ober said. “What the hell is going on?”

“Just shut up and walk,” Lisa said, pushing Ober from behind.

The three friends fought their way through the crowds that lingered in the Great Hall and made their way to the stairs on the north side of the building. As they walked upstairs to Ben and Lisa’s office, Ober struggled to make sense of the last five minutes. “Hold on a second,” he demanded, stopping on the stairs.

“Just wait,” Ben said, refusing to stop for his roommate. “I’ll explain in a second.”

When they entered the office, Ober waited for the door to close behind him. “Now tell me what the hell just happened down there.”

Ben’s phone rang. “I knew it,” Ben said to Lisa. “I told you it wouldn’t take ten minutes.”

“You were right,” Lisa said as Ober looked on, still bewildered. “I thought for sure he would try to sell the property first.”

“Hello,” Ben said. “Justice Hollis’s chambers.”

“You’re a dead man, Ben.”

“Ah, Rick, how’re you doing? Everything’s just swell here.”

“Make all the jokes you want,” Rick said, “but you’re now—”

“Let me tell you something, you piece of shit,” Ben interrupted. “You’re the one who picked this fight. You’re the one who approached me. You’re the one who lied to gain my trust, and you’re the one who screwed me at the first opportunity you got. If you thought for a second that I wouldn’t try to screw you back, then you never understood me. You thought you were so damn smart that you’d make fools of the Ivy League imbeciles. Well, I’ve got news for you, my friend, you were outsmarted! I’m not some spoiled, gullible rich kid! I wasn’t born with a silver spoon! I was born with an iron foot, and right now, I’m sticking it straight up your non–Ivy League ass! In the future, pick your opponents more wisely. Now, I have to go celebrate with my real friends, so enjoy your shitty property and know that we beat you.” Ben slammed down the receiver, caught his breath, and then looked at his colleagues.

“Wow,” Lisa said. “Why don’t you say what’s on your mind? The catharsis will do you good.”

“Rick was, how shall I say, concerned, but otherwise thoughtful,” Ben said, struggling to catch his breath. “And he sends his love to everyone.”

“Just tell me what the hell is happening,” Ober demanded, shaking Ben by the shoulders. “I thought you said Grinnell was supposed to win.”

Ben sat down in his seat. “He was.”

“Are you saying that you knew the decision was going to come out the other way?”

“Of course I knew,” Ben said. “Lisa and I wrote the opinion.”

“But I thought you wrote the dissent,” Ober said, scratching his head. “I’m completely confused.”

“Here’s the deal,” Ben explained. “When the justices first voted on the decision, it came down four to four. Justice Veidt was undecided. Then Osterman convinced Veidt that if he voted for Grinnell, the decision, when it was written, would barely limit future government regulation. At that point, Veidt sided with Osterman, who now had enough votes to form a majority. Since Hollis was in the minority, Lisa and I started writing the dissent.”

“And at that point, Grinnell was supposed to win.” Ober leaned on the corner of Ben’s desk.

“Exactly,” Ben said. “Now, when the majority opinions are finally written, they’re passed around to all the justices, so they can all see what it is they’re actually voting for.”

“And that’s when Veidt switched sides,” Ober said.

“Exactly,” Ben said.

“Omigod, I think he’s actually learning,” Lisa said, patting Ober on the back.

Ben couldn’t contain his smile. “When Veidt saw Osterman’s opinion, he realized that the decision was taking a bigger step than he had signed on for. Osterman had basically written a ranting condemnation against government regulation. So Veidt told him that if he didn’t rewrite it, he was going to jump ship. Eventually, Veidt realized that there would be no way to take a small step, so he came over to our side. With that extra vote, our dissent became the majority opinion.”

“It happens all the time,” Lisa interrupted. “Justices say one thing in Conference, but when it comes down to putting it on paper, they don’t agree, so they switch sides.”

“So wait a minute. What does this do to Rick?”

Ben put his feet up on his desk. “Let’s put it this way—he just paid a great deal of money for a crappy piece of property.”

“Is the property worthless?”

“It’s not worthless, but the only thing that pushed the price up so high was the possibility that the owners could turn it into a giant, revenue-creating mall. And as you could see from my conversation with Mr. Scumbag, that possibility is totally shot.”

“There’s still one thing I don’t understand,” Ober said. “How did Rick get the wrong decision?”

“Eric took it from my briefcase,” Ben said.

“Eric?”

“The one and only,” Lisa said.

“I don’t believe it,” Ober said. “So since you knew the decision was going to be stolen, you planted the wrong decision in your briefcase.”

“Exactly,” Ben said, as someone knocked on the door. “I just left it in the old dissent form.”

“Come in!” Lisa yelled.

Nancy walked in. “I have someone here who says he has an appointment with you.” Stepping aside, she let Eric enter the room.

Ben rose from his seat. “Yes, I know him,” Ben said to Nancy. “Thanks for bringing him up.”

When Nancy left the room, Eric stared at Ben. “I just heard that Grinnell lost their case.”

“Can you believe it?” Ben asked as he rushed toward his roommate.

“Congratulations!” Eric embraced Ben.

“You, too,” Ben said. “We couldn’t have done it without you.”

Eric hugged Lisa. “Thanks for all the help.”

“Did you have any trouble getting in downstairs?” Ben asked.

“Not at all,” Eric said. “I told them I was Nathan, just like you said.”

“Wait a minute,” Ober said, his eyes darting to everyone in the room. “What the hell is going on here? Yesterday, everyone hated each other, and today you’re having a love-in?”

“Take a seat, Sherlock.” Ben pointed to the sofa. “This is where it gets good.”

Looking at Eric, Ober asked, “So you’ve been—”

“Just listen,” Ben interrupted, sitting on the edge of Lisa’s desk. “If you remember, Rick and I were supposed to meet—so I could give him the Grinnell decision. Apparently, Rick was worried that I’d try to trap him, which I would’ve, so he started looking for other sources that could get him a decision.”

“And since he knew Ben and I were on the outs, he approached me,” Eric said, sitting down next to Ober. “I guess he figured that if I wrote the CMI story so I could get a promotion, I’d definitely steal some documents for one and a half million.”

“He offered you over a million bucks?” Ober asked. “He should’ve come to me.”

“Funny,” Eric said. “So a few days before Thanksgiving, I’m sitting at my desk, and I get a call from Rick. He tells me that he wants to speak to me about our mutual friend Ben, and he asks me to meet him at this hotel. When I get there, he offers me over a million and a half to keep an eye on Ben and to somehow snag the decision.”

“Are you kidding me?” Ober asked. “What’d you say?”

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell him to screw off right there,” Lisa said.

“No way,” Ben said. “Eric’s way too opportunistic to do that.” Turning to Ober, Ben continued, “That night, Eric slipped a note under my door telling me the whole story. He said he was sorry about what happened between us, and he wanted to make it up to me. We were so afraid that the house and all of our phones were bugged, we started communicating through notes, until we eventually worked out this plan.”

“That’s what I was looking for when you caught me rummaging through Ben’s garbage,” Eric said to Ober.

“So you knew all along that you were giving Rick the wrong decision?” Ober asked.

“Yes,” Eric said.

“And Rick believed you since he thought you hated Ben.”

“Exactly.”

“And all of you were in on it?”

“Yep.”

“And now you’ve basically screwed Rick to the wall since he bet on the wrong decision?”

“You got it.”

“THIS IS THE GREATEST PLAN OF ALL TIME!” Ober screamed, throwing his hands in the air. “You guys are geniuses!”

“We try,” Lisa said.

Ober jumped from the sofa. “We have to celebrate! This is the best ever!”

“So you’re not mad we didn’t tell you?” Eric asked, knowing the answer.

“Yeah,” Ober said, calming down. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“We just wanted to keep you safe,” Ben said.

“That’s not it,” Ober said.

“He didn’t tell you because you’re a bonehead who can’t act, and you probably would’ve screwed up the whole plan,” Lisa said.

“Oh, give me a break,” Ober said. “I’m a great actor.”

“I’m sure you are,” Ben said. “But there was too much at stake to fool around. For the past month, Eric and I had to act like we were still at each other’s throats. We couldn’t risk involving everyone.”

“Did Nathan know?” Ober asked.

“No,” Ben said, looking at Lisa.

“You can say it,” Lisa said. She turned to Ober and explained, “That part was my idea. I’m the one who said not to trust Nathan. There, it’s out. Are you happy now?”

Ben looked back at Ober. “Believe me, I was dying to tell him. But in the end, I felt the fewer people who knew, the better. And when we found out about that briefcase mike—well, that sealed it. We were convinced that Rick had contacted Nathan as well.”

“So you really did suspect him,” Ober said.

“Absolutely,” Ben said. “Especially when Eric told me that he never told Rick about the yearbook plan, but Rick somehow knew about it on his own. I was terrified. I thought Rick was using Eric to get the decision and that he was using Nathan to keep a closer eye on me.”

“But why couldn’t Rick get that information from Eric?” Ober asked, sitting in Ben’s desk chair. “Why pay two friends?”

“Because at that point, I wasn’t speaking to Eric anymore,” Ben explained. “And Nathan was the person I was spending the most time with.”

“We still don’t know Nathan’s innocent,” Lisa pointed out.

“Oh, man,” Ober said to Ben. “He is going to be pissed at you for not telling him. And when you combine that with what you said to him last week—you’ll be lucky if he ever forgives you.”

Ben stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Thanks for the reminder.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Eric said, waving his hand. “You can deal with Nathan later. We should be celebrating right now. This was a tremendous victory.”

“I’m telling you,” Ober said, pulling open Ben’s desk drawers, “I’ve got to get a job here. This is the most exciting day of my life. Where can I pick up an application?”

“The brass polishers have their own union,” Lisa said. “My guess is you’ll have to go through them.”

Ignoring the comment, Ober asked Eric, “So what was it like being the inside man? Risking your life, seeing danger around every corner, but forging ahead because you knew that . . . wait a minute.” He stopped. “What happened to all the money you got?”

“It’s in some bank in Switzerland. It was supposed to be released to me after the decision came down. I called a minute after the decision was announced, and I still couldn’t get access. My guess is we’ll never see that money.”

“Do you know what we could’ve done with a million bucks?” Ober groaned. “We could’ve bought a small nation. We could’ve owned Guam. We could’ve built the world’s biggest hoagie as a monument to the sandwich gods.”

“Darn,” Eric said sarcastically. “I never thought about the hoagie monument. Maybe I can get it back.” Turning toward Ben, he added, “Meanwhile, I’m surprised you haven’t heard from Rick yet. I thought for sure—”

“He already called,” Ben said.

“He did? When?”

“About a minute after we got back here. He was completely dumbfounded.”

“You should’ve heard it,” Ober said. “Ben tore him apart! I just wish we had a videophone so we could’ve seen his expression.”

“I don’t know if you should’ve told him off like that,” Lisa said, taking a seat in her own chair.

“To be honest,” Ben said, “I really don’t give a shit right now. I’m just happy to have my life back.”

“Whatever you say,” Lisa said. “But I suggest that you watch your back. He’s not going to just go away.”

Eric looked at his watch. “I want to hear exactly what you said to him, but I really have to get back to work. We’ll talk about it later?”

“Definitely,” Ben said with a smile. “But don’t think that just because you saved my ass, I’m not still pissed at you for writing that story.”

“Yeah, yeah, you’ll never forgive me,” Eric said as he walked to the door. “I’ve heard it all before.”

“Hold on,” Ober said to Eric. “Did you drive here?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Because you have to drop me off at work,” Ober said, grabbing his jacket and following Eric to the door. “By the way, Ben, thanks for bringing me in today. It wasn’t as exciting as you said, but it was okay.”

“I’ll see you guys later,” Ben said.

When the door closed behind Eric and Ober, Lisa looked at Ben. “So how do you feel? Top o’ the world, Ma?”

“I feel unbelievable,” Ben said, banging his desk. “You should’ve heard Rick on the phone. He was so pissed.”

“I still think you shouldn’t have—”

“Lisa, I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to lose this mood. I feel mighty. I feel authoritative. I feel like I can command a small army of rebel soldiers on a quest for the perfect tetherball court.”

“I have to admit, the ego boost suits you. I haven’t seen you this happy since I let you drag me into bed.”

“That’s funny,” Ben said. “Because the way I remember it, you were the one doing the dragging. Or was it begging?”

“That’s right, I forgot your major in college was revisionist history. I should’ve known better.”

“Trust me, the facts have not changed,” Ben said as he strolled to the sofa. “You were the one who was begging for it. In fact, as I remember it, the quote was, ‘I’ve been waiting to jump your bones since the moment I met you.’ Does that ring any bells?”

“Oh, please,” Lisa said. “I just made that up to make you feel better. It was a lie and you know it.”

“Let me ask you one question,” Ben said. “If you were so reluctant to get into bed with me, how come you were the one who wasn’t wearing any underwear that night?”

Lisa flushed red. “I told you, I forgot to pack extra. I ran out on the first day. That was the only reason.”

“Sure it was,” Ben said, amused. “And if I were a complete moron, I might even believe that.”

“Good thing you’re only a partial moron, then.”

“Ha. And what else did you say that night?” Ben asked. “That whenever I wanted to go again, you’d be ready?” Stretching out on the sofa, he announced, “I’m ready.”

Lisa approached the sofa. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“I am.”

“Are you wearing your lucky underwear?”

“I most certainly am. Today was a big day for me.” As Lisa sat down on the sofa, Ben said, “You know you want to—it’s all over your face.”

“It is?” she asked as her face approached his.

“It definitely is. Besides, you heard what I said before: I’m ready.”

“You’re dreaming, is what you are,” Lisa laughed as she pulled away. “Do you really think that just because you had your macho victory, you can get your hormones worked up and talk me into bed?”

“Pretty much,” Ben said.

“Then you’re on some serious hallucinogens,” Lisa said, heading back to her desk. “You may’ve pulled off one miracle earlier today, but that doesn’t mean you can do two.”

Sitting up, Ben readjusted his tie. “Does this mean we’re not having sex on the sofa?”

“That was unbelievable,” Ober said as he and Eric stepped out of the elevator and into the Great Hall. “I can’t believe you guys pulled it off.”

“It was all Ben,” Eric said. “The moment I told him about Rick, he had the whole plan designed within a few hours.”

“The boy’s no dummy,” Ober said.

“All I can say is, thank God he’s no longer mad at me. He can be a devious bastard when it comes to revenge.”

“Do you think Nathan will forgive him?”

“Not a chance in hell,” Eric said as the two friends walked past the security guard station and out the front entrance of the Court.

“Are you sure that was him?” Lungen asked as Eric and Ober left the building.

“Are you kidding?” Fisk said. “Of course that’s him. I had my friend point him out last time I was at the Herald.”

“And he didn’t sign in under the name Eric Stroman?” Lungen asked the security guard who manned the main entrance.

“Nope,” the guard said, flipping through the pages of his clipboard. When he found what he was looking for, he pointed to the sign-in sheet. “See, he said his name was Nathan.”

“That’s the other roommate,” Fisk said. “Ben’s been blowing smoke since the beginning. I told you he’s a liar.”

“I want you to call our friend at the Herald,” Lungen said. “If Eric and Ben are on speaking terms, I want to know why.”

Returning home from work, Ben dreaded his inevitable confrontation with Nathan. Maybe he won’t be home until later, Ben thought, slowly walking up the never-shoveled, ice-covered front path. As he opened the door, he wondered how he would break the news to Nathan.

“So you set up the whole thing and trusted everyone but me and Ober?” Nathan asked before Ben could pull his key out of the lock.

“I guess you heard the good news,” Ben said.

“I have one question for you,” Nathan said, standing face-to-face with Ben in the middle of the living room. “Why did you trust Lisa over me?”

Ben stepped around Nathan and toward the kitchen, hoping to somehow defuse the situation. “I didn’t trust Lisa over you. In fact, I didn’t tell her about the plan until three days ago, when Rick finally invested his money in Grinnell. When I found out Rick bet on the wrong decision, I knew Lisa was innocent. If she was working with Rick, she would’ve told him that he had the wrong decision.”

“But that didn’t mean you had to tell her everything.”

“Yes, it did,” Ben said. “Otherwise, she wouldn’t have stopped talking about how Rick bet on the wrong decision, which was something I didn’t want anyone saying out loud.”

“Fine. Thank you,” Nathan said, heading for the stairs. “That’s all I wanted to know.”

“Wait,” Ben said, turning back toward the living room. “Where are you going?”

Nathan didn’t answer.

When Nathan was out of sight, Ben looked at Ober. “What did he want me to say?”

“Oh, c’mon,” Ober said. “You’re a grown-up. You know what you did. Did you really expect to hug and make up?”

“Yeah, but please, the silent treatment?”

“It’ll only last a while,” Ober said. “Don’t worry. I’m sure he’ll come around eventually. I mean, he’s still your friend.”

“But that’s such an immature way to—”

“Look at it this way,” Ober said. “At least he’s not asking you to move out and find a new roommate.”

“Ho-ho. That’s very funny,” Ben said sarcastically. “I just hope he comes around in time for New Year’s.”

“Why? Are you actually going to have some time off to enjoy it?”

“Well, we still have piles of cert petitions to go through, but the justices are gone for the next few weeks. We’re basically closed down until the second week of January.”

“Do you still have to go to work every day?”

“Are you kidding? Justice never sleeps. It doesn’t even nap. And if it does doze off, you can bet it never hits the snooze bar.”

“I get the idea,” Ober said, getting up from his seat. “Just tell me when you’re going to be off, so I can figure out where to make plans.”

“I’ll probably take off on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, but that’s it.”

“Then I guess we’ll make plans around here,” Ober said as he walked to the kitchen to make dinner.

“I don’t care where we celebrate,” Ben said, following Ober to the kitchen. “All I want is for next year to be less stressful than this one.”

Striking a match, Ober turned on the gas and lit the stove. “Don’t count on it.”


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