He heard the dog first: the short, high, bark followed by the low, sultry sound of a woman’s voice and the scrabble of claws as the animal was lifted up off the floor in the lobby.
He was at the door before she knocked, preparing to greet her properly when one look from her silenced all thoughts of ‘hello.’
“Mr. Berkhart?” She glanced behind him into his office.
“Yes, Mrs. Underby, correct? do, um, come…” But she brushed past him into the office, letting the little corgi puppy she was carrying down onto the carpet and surveying the room. Though he strove to keep it at least tidy he suddenly was aware of how long it had been since he’d dusted or cleaned the windows. She perched with delicate distaste at the edge of a chair and waited for him.
He sat, rifling with the papers on his desk, “How can I help you, Mrs. Underby?”
“I understand that you sometimes handle divorces?”
“Divorces, yes. Naturally, not a terribly common occurrence.” He cleared his throat, “I should tell you though that I’ve yet to see a case where the woman has managed to win and prevent the divorce from being finalized.”
She stared at him for a long moment, as if he were a frog who had suddenly learned to speak, “You misunderstand me, Mr. Berkhart, I wish to initiate a divorce.”
“You…wish to initiate a..divorce?” His surprise was enough that he dropped the pen he was holding.
“Yes, is there a problem?” The dog was sniffing around the edge of the carpet and seized a corner of it in her mouth.
“No, it’s just, highly unusual for the woman, to, ah, initiate the proceedings.”
“Missy, no.” Phaedra snapped her fingers and the dog immediately dropped the carpet and galloped to heel. Phaedra returned her attention to the solicitor, “Then I suppose you may say that I am unusual.”
Mr. Berkhart flushed, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Underby, I didn’t mean to imply…I, ah, so you wish to divorce Mr. Underby?”
She sighed heavily, “No, I wish to divorce my other husband.”
“Your…your other husband?”
She scooped the dog up, “Yes, I wish to divorce Mr. Underby. Are you quite sure you’re capable of handling this?”
Mr. Berkhart attempted to re-compose himself, picking up his pen studiously and dipping it into the ink pot, “We’ve handled divorce cases quite capably in the past, Mrs. Underby, let me assure you.”
She gave him a long, cold, appraising look, “Good, so what is to be done?”
“We will draw up the papers and present them to your husband to be signed, file a petition with city hall. The two of you will need to appear before a judge if he wishes to contest it, if he doesn’t then myself and his solicitor will take care of the legalities. It’s really very simple.” By the time he reached the end of his little speech, Mr. Berkhart sounded his usual confident self again.
“Is it?” Phaedra bent her head to kiss the top of Missy’s head.
“Is it so very simple?”
“I…yes, usually, is there a problem?”
She turned her head to look out the window, the city was a sooty smudge through the dirty windows, “No. I should like to take the papers to Mr. Underby myself.”
Berkhart coughed in surprised, “You wish to take him the papers yourself?”
“Will that be a problem?” She set Missy down and pulled a small clamshell mirror from her pocket, flicking it open with her thumb and holding it up to regard her reflection.
“No, it’s just…”
“Unusual?” She tucked a bit of hair that had come loose back into its pin, “Mr. Berkhart, my husband and I have been married for many years, well over half my life. The least that I can do for him is to present him with the papers for our separation in person.” She flicked the mirror shut.
“Oh, I see. Quite right, Mrs. Underby. Would that all had your, erm, morals. I suppose. I could have the papers for you by friday, would that do?”
She nodded, standing, “That would do quite well.”
He stood as she did and hurried around the desk to get the door for her, “We haven’t discussed payment yet,” he said, anxiously.
“I’m not concerned about that. Whatever your fee is, I can afford it. There are factions of my family that will be quite pleased to be done with Yoyo.” She clapped her hand against her hip and Missy dashed across the floor after her and out the door.
“Then, friday. I shall have them ready on friday.” He held his hand out at her.
She gave it a long look, “Thank you, Mr. Berkhart, I shall be by on friday.” She turned and swept down the hall, the little orange dog pattering after her, pausing only once to turn and growl softly at Berkhart.