Travis Has A Decision To Make – short story

This is a story involving the characters in Special Circumstances.  The events are tangential to the story in the novel, but provide insight into who the characters are and how they think.  Plus, it’s fun for me to figure out what they do during their off time. -DH

“All right, I think I have enough to go on. I won’t keep you any longer.”

Travis’s father, Val Lynch, stood briskly, smoothing his coat and tie and holding his hand out to the distinguished gentleman across the table. Travis scrambled to stand, his father had caught him by surprise.

The distinguished gentleman remained sitting, hands on the table, his dark skin contrasting with his pale shirt. A fringe of short white hair circled the back of his head, echoing the white goatee on his chin. He pushed a folder across the desk towards Val. “If Wilson agrees to my terms, the matter stops here. If he doesn’t agree, well… you have my permission to stick it to him.”

Val waved the idea away. Tall and lanky like Travis, his hair was thinning gray instead of Travis’s thick brown. “Understood, Carlton. But he doesn’t strike me as unreasonable.”

“He stole from me,” the other man said, rising. “Forty years ago that would have earned him a beating. Or worse. I’m too old for that now. It’s why I have you.”

Val led his client to the door. “You know the way out? If you get lost Stewart will point you in the right direction.”

“We need to go shooting again,” Mr. Sanford said as he took his leave. “Call my office, they keep my schedule. Next week?”

Travis held out his hand. “Thank you for letting me sit in on this, Mr. Sanford. I’m getting a good feel for being an attorney.”

The older man clapped him on the shoulder as he departed. “Your Dad’s the best. Just do what he does and you’ll be fine.”

Val smiled and nodded, waving as he closed his door. He turned to his son, a University junior, who had only recently grown taller than him. “Well? What do you think?”

“You don’t like guns,” Travis replied, pointing at the nickel-plated revolver locked into a case, his grandfather’s weapon. “Do you actually go shooting with clients?”

Nodding, Val headed back to his huge oak desk, settling into his overstuffed chair. “From time to time, as the job requires. I meant what did you think about what Mr. Sanford said?”

“Seems pretty cut and dried.” Travis sat in one of the smaller chairs on the other side of his father’s desk. “That guy Wilson took seven hundred dollars to build a gazebo for Mr. Sanford. He didn’t build it, and said he ‘lost’ the seven hundred dollars. He owes the money.”

Val kicked his booted feet up on his desk. “Does he?”

Travis squirmed uneasily as his father stared at him. This was one of those things where there was no right or wrong answer, but Travis still felt his father was judging him. Say the wrong thing and land on the ‘not as good as Jake’ space.

“Uh… yeah?”

“Are you asking me or telling me?”

Travis resisted the urge to sigh. He hated when his father used this half-assed Socratic method on him.

“Dad, I haven’t even applied to law school yet, how am I…”

“Forget law school,” Val said, eyeing his son steadily. “What does your gut tell you?”

“Wilson’s a thief and stole seven-hundred dollars.”

Val clapped his hands. “There you go. No hesitation, straight from the heart.”

“Is that the right answer?” Travis pressed.

Val shrugged. “Who knows?”

Travis threw his hands up. “Aw, come on! How hard is it to just tell me yes or no?!”

“There’s little certainty in the world, son,” Val said carefully. He sat up straight. “Some people try very hard to force the gray into black and white. Your brother does. Your mother. I’d like you to recognize that truth is somewhere between yes and no. Understand?”

Travis shook his head.

The desk phone buzzed and Stewart’s voice came across the tinny speaker. “Mr. Lynch, Travis’s ride is here.”

Val stood quickly, a sly grin on his face. “It’s that girl you’ve been seeing, Shirley?”


“I’ve met her twice, maybe three times, what’s the big deal?” Val answered defensively. “I just want to talk to her a little. She seems nice.”

“She is nice, and I like her,” Travis said, beating his father to the door. “So don’t… make… Just don’t, okay?”

His father still grinned, a thirty-year older version of the face that greeted Travis in the mirror. “Don’t what? Be my charming self?”

“Dad, please…”

“All right,” Val surrendered. “I’ll be plain vanilla Dad. I never get to do what I want.”


Down the hallway, past Stewart’s desk and an immediate right put Travis in Lynch & Brockhurst’s waiting room. A short, pretty, dark-haired woman stood as Travis entered. She smiled broadly, taking Travis’s breath away again, as she approached for a hug.

“Dad, you remember Shirley.”

His father settled for a handshake. “Shirley Rojas, yes, I remember. Father is Hector, mother is Guadalupe, two sisters, you’re an accounting major, you live on campus, and you don’t like mangos because they taste like vomit.”

Shirley laughed nervously. “Yes… that’s all correct. You have quite a memory, Mr. Lynch.”

Travis sighed, and died a little inside. If his father ruined things with Shirley…

“Call me Val,” his father offered. “I got a feeling you’re going to be around a good long while.”

Shirley giggled and blushed.

“Dammit, Dad…”

“What? She’s great, you’d be an idiot to lose her.” He backed off a few steps, taking his leave. “And son? Don’t forget what we were just talking about. Think it through. Think about what you know of that case. Ask yourself some hard questions. We’ll talk about it at brunch this weekend. I’ll tell your mother you’re bringing Shirley.”

When his father retreated back his office, Travis turned to his girlfriend. He had intended to keep his family away from her for a while longer, but his father had taken that option off the table.

“So… are you busy Sunday morning?”


“I still don’t get it.” Shirley had her back to him as she poked through a bin of tiny rubber stamps.

Travis squirmed, feeling out of place in the scrapbooking store, and a little embarrassed at being one of two men in aisles filled with women.

“It’s this thing my Dad does,” he replied, “where he wants his kids to think like lawyers early on. My grandfather did it with him. He did it with Jake and Claire, and now it’s my turn.”

“But this is a real case? Real people? Real problems?” Shirley asked absently. She moved towards the display of very expensive paper and Travis dutifully followed.

“Yup. Usually it’s long time clients, people my Dad knows will say yes.”

“So they don’t mind that you’re not an attorney?”

Travis shrugged. “I’m pretty sure they do mind, but I’m also pretty sure they don’t think they can say no. Dad has that effect on people sometimes.”

An older lady in a floral dress walked past, giving Travis a sympathetic smile as she saw what was in his hands. He and Shirley had progressed far enough in their dating that his role was ‘boyfriend awkwardly holding girlfriend’s purse.’

“So what is it he wants you to think about?”

“Gray truth.”

Shirley turned around, frowning. “What does he mean by that? Is he talking constructivism? Consensus theory?”

Travis truly had no idea what to say. Shirley waited, expecting an answer he could not give.

“Maybe we’re finding the root of your problem,” she muttered, turning back to the expensive paper.

“I thought you were an accounting major.”

Shirley nodded, barely acknowledging him. “Minor in philosophy. Not something I tell guys I’m dating. Not right away. They usually have some sort of problem with it.”

She very carefully refrained from making eye contact, leafing slowly through the expensive paper.

“Let’s make a deal,” Travis offered, “you don’t throw around philosophy terms without explaining them first, and I won’t cite case law unless I know you’ve read it.”

Shirley turned her bright smile on him, melting his heart. She held out her hand. “Deal.”

He pulled her into a hug, squeezing her purse between them. She pulled his head down for a quick peck on the cheek then pushed away.

“So you’re going to do it? Apply to law school and become an attorney?”

“I guess.” Travis hadn’t made the decision, he was stuck in between yes and no. “I mean, it’s kind of my family legacy, so… I’d be a total jackass if I did something else.”

“Not really,” Shirley replied, now perusing a rack of specialty scissors. “What else would you do?”

There was the question. The great big black ocean of possibility stretched in front of him. It had always been assumed he’d become an attorney, just like his father and his father’s father, and his father’s father’s father, on back generations. Like Jake was doing right now, like Claire was about to do. But if he didn’t go to law school, if he didn’t take up the family profession… what else was there?

“Don’t blow a gasket,” Shirley’s voice and gentle slap on the butt snapped him out of his reverie. “Be a lawyer, don’t be a lawyer, it’s your choice. But don’t make a career out of choosing. Shit or get off the pot.”

“Okay, now you just sound like my mother.”


Travis put the plates carefully in his kitchen sink, laying the forks beside them. This might have been the first time he ate pizza off actual dishes instead of paper plates, Shirley’s decision, not his. She put the glasses beside the plates, taking a second to rinse her hands.

Travis waited for her to move, but she blocked the path to the living room, searching his face and waiting.

“You’re not going to do the dishes?” she prompted.

The first answer that leapt into Travis’s head was ‘of course not,’ but he could tell that wasn’t what she wanted to hear. “I think baseball is on…”

“Come on, it’ll take a couple of minutes and you won’t have to worry about them later.”

She turned on the hot water and got the dish soap out of the cabinet. How she knew where the soap was, Travis had no idea. He surrendered to the process, taking out barely-used dish towels and a thick drying pad.

“Tell me more about that case today,” Shirley pressed. “Thinking out loud always helps me.”

Slowly, the details of the conversation with Mr. Sanford bubbled up in his memory. “It seems pretty simple, but Dad doesn’t think so. His client Mr. Sanford hired Mr. Wilson to build a gazebo in the backyard. Sanford gave Wilson twelve-hundred dollars to start the project, Wilson bought five-hundred dollars of material and delivered it, but never even started to build the gazebo. He says he ‘lost the envelope’ with seven-hundred dollars in it.”

Shirley nodded. “Okay. What does Mr. Sanford do for a living?”

Travis thought. “He’s owns a construction company. Commercial, not residential. Oil and gas stuff, mostly. All those wells and pipelines out West.”

“What about Mr. Wilson?”

“He owned a small construction business for less than a year. One truck. Now he’s helping with hurricane clean-up, he closed the business.”

As she ran a sponge over the dishes, Shirley scrunched up her face, thinking. “So… Mr. Sanford’s in the big-time construction business… but he hires Mr. Wilson, who’s all by himself, extremely small-time…”

“Yeah, kind of weird when you really think about it,” Travis said, as the pieces started sorting themselves in his mind. “Mr. Sanford drafted a contract that was, like, twelve pages long with a draw schedule and incentives bonuses, all that stuff. Professional-level.”

“For one guy with a truck,” Shirley muttered. “Something’s off about that.”

In a flash the situation solidified for Travis. “Son of a bitch… Mr. Sanford could have hired any remodeling contractor, like my parents did when they added that room onto their house, a licensed and bonded company. But he hired Mr. Wilson instead, specifically because Mr. Wilson was inexperienced.”

“You think?” Shirley was almost finished with the dishes, and Travis hadn’t helped at all.

Travis snapped his fingers as he continued. “Yes! Why hire ‘dude with a truck’ when you already know all sorts of people in the construction industry? Because you’re trying to get ten-thousand dollars worth of work for five-thousand dollars.”

“You think Sanford was trying to cheat Wilson?”

Nodding, Travis started to pace in his kitchen. “Of course he was. But Wilson was trying to cheat Sanford, too. Trying to do one-thousand dollars worth of work but charge five-thousand dollars. When he realized he was out of his depth, he just took what money he had and moved to the coast.”

The sound of water swirling down the drain caught Travis’s attention. He hadn’t even noticed Shirley had finished the dishes.

“Wow, people sure do suck,” Shirley muttered.

“Gray,” Travis said, mostly to himself. “It’s all just different shades of gray. Two crooks trying to take advantage of each other. And neither of them particularly good at it.”

Shirley dried her hands on a dish towel. “See? Thinking out loud.”

“I think I get it now,” he said. “My Dad was right. And so were you.”

He gathered Shirley in his arms and leaned in for a kiss.

She put a finger to his lips. “You put a lot of garlic and pepper on your pizza.”

“Brush my teeth first?”

Shirley nodded.


Travis’s older brother Jake stood nearly six inches shorter, but he packed forty more muscular pounds on that frame. He used every ounce of that advantage as he slugged Travis in the arm.

“Dude, cut it out!” Travis yelped. “For God’s sake, you’re a grown man, quit punching me.”

“Never,” Jake replied, with another tap to the exact same spot. “One day you’re gonna fight back, dorkus.”

Their mother, Mae Lynch, bustled through her living room, stepping between the two of them as she had for years. “Stop it, you two. Don’t make me call in Claire to settle this.”

Both brothers looked around for their sister. They took the threat of her intervention seriously. Claire didn’t fight fair.

Jake brushed his thinning blonde hair back and took a deep draw off his bottle of beer. For a moment Travis considered teasing his brother about his retreating hairline, but that would almost certainly end in a fight. Pointless provocation. If he wanted his brother to grow up, Travis knew he had to set the example.

“Dad said he gave you homework,” Jake muttered, pretending he didn’t care.

Travis nodded.

“Did you do it?”

Travis sighed softly. “I know what I think. It’s probably not what he thinks, though. I hate getting that stuff wrong.”

Jake shook his head as he finished his beer. “You’re overthinking it. He doesn’t really care what answer you give, he wants to know you’ve thought the positions through. It’s what attorneys are supposed to do, right?”

“That’s what Shirley said on the way over here,” Travis replied.

“Smart girl,” Jake answered. “A little on the short side, though. I thought you liked ‘em taller.”

Travis smiled as he caught sight of Shirley talking with Jake’s fiancee Rita out on the patio. “I used to.”

The stood in silence for a few moments, still children in their parents’ house, yet adults leading their own lives.

“So. You gonna pull the trigger?” Jake asked. This time he turned and looked up at his little brother, man to man. “Are you going to law school?”

“I got a year to go…” Travis could hear the whine in his own voice.

Jake poked him in the chest. “Don’t half-ass this, Trav. If you’re gonna do it, commit. If you’re not gonna do it, commit to that. Don’t leave Dad hanging, don’t jerk him around. This means a lot to him.”

It did? Travis hadn’t noticed any particular urgency in his father’s manner. Same old Val he’d always been.

“Here’s the problem,” Travis said, so quietly he almost mumbled. He scanned the backyard to make sure his father was outside. “I do want to be a lawyer. I’m just not sure I want to work at Lynch & Brockhurst.”

Inexplicably, Jake smiled, big and broad and beaming. He clapped his brother on the shoulder. “I hear you. Believe me, hanging with the old man all day every day isn’t what I’m looking for either.”

Shocked, Travis had no reply, his mouth just hung open. Jake didn’t want to enter the family business either? Since when? And how did he think he was going to get out of it?

Before Travis had a chance to gather himself and ask questions, Claire poked her head in from the kitchen. She had her auburn hair up, and wore one of their mother’s aprons like a robe of office.

“Are you two morons going to help, or what?” she demanded. “I swear, if I see your girlfriends lifting a finger…”

“All right, fine,” Jake snapped. “We’re just talking career options. Maybe we’ll end up working together.”

Claire laughed. “Like a hawk and a rattlesnake work together? That’ll be fun to watch. Get your lazy asses in here.”

Travis followed his brother, ready to do whatever labor their sister assigned. But his head was far away, lost in possibilities. Maybe his future wasn’t as set in stone as he imagined it was.