Trial of Conscience
The gray morning haze obscured the view of the river from the window as the woman settled back into her leather chair. A password entry and two taps of the mouse, and today's schedule popped up on the computer screen.
8:00 a.m. SM-Sr
9:45 a.m. PC-Tel re: Davis v. Davis
10:00 a.m. SC-IO re: Livingston, et al v. Jackson Bros. Const., et al
11:45 a.m. L Frank Delhomme - Meredith's
2:00 p.m. TR Delery Grace v. Aetna, et al
7:00 p.m. O Fund-raiser - Vicky Rosenthal
A long arm reached for the telephone, a finger tapping the speaker button. The touch of another button and the phone on the other end buzzed.
"Is the settlement demand finished on Livingston?"
"We're making the final copies now. I'll have them on your desk in fifteen minutes."
"Good." A long finger hit a button, ending the conversation.
Twirling the dark steel colored Waterman in her right hand, she pulled the yellow legal pad in front of her with her left. Staff meeting. Status on Fiorella Rule 11. Need to tell Eric I want to handle that. Davis. Caymans bank accounts. Livingston. Taken care of. Wonder what Frank wants? Grace. Final review before trial. Check with court re docket position. Rosenthal. Bring campaign finance returns.
A light knock sounded at the door. "Yeah," a low voice mumbled.
The door opened and Rachel walked in, carrying the settlement demand and brochures. "Here's your brochures. You need more coffee?"
"Please. Call Andrew. Make sure he's at the airport to meet that plane for eight. Here's the tape for the motion." She handed Rachel the micro-cassette. "Instructions are on there as well. I want that Davis motion and affidavit filed with the court and Andrew waiting to hand it to the judge at 9:45 a.m."
Rachel giggled. "I'd love to be a fly on the wall when that bombshell falls on Clinton Davis."
The private line rang. She reached for the receiver and signaled with one finger to Rachel to wait. "Evin Moran."
"Evin, it's Julie." The tone of her voice did not promise good news. "There's a problem with the closing tomorrow in Mississippi."
"What's the problem?" she responded calmly.
"Title's not clear. There's a lien on the property."
"How the hell did that happen? That title was clear last Thursday." Evin reached for a folder on her desk, taking the report out. "I've got the completed search right here."
"The county went in and filed an Improvements lien on Friday for $150,000.00."
Rachel winced as a string of expletives flew out of her boss' mouth. Julie mirrored the wince, unseen on the other end of the phone.
When the expletives stopped, Julie asked "Do you want me to push the closing back until this is taken care of?"
The low voice growled, "Fuck no! We're closing tomorrow. Do you have a copy of the lien?"
"Not yet. Courthouse doesn't open until eight thirty."
"Get it and fax it to me. Hang on a second." Tucking the phone under her chin, she typed a few commands on the keyboard. "I'm sending Doug directly to your office. Have him call me when he gets there."
Evin turned to Rachel, rapidly giving instructions. "Get Doug on the phone and send him to Julie's. Tell him the county filed a lien on the Jourdan River property last Friday after the title search, and the closing's tomorrow. He's got two appointments this morning and the brief due by five on the Cooper case. Reschedule his appointments and get Anna to finish the brief."
"Will do, boss."
A small grin tugged at Evin's lips. "I'll make sure we schedule the Davis property agreement signing here so you can sign as a witness."
Rachel giggled again and said "Thanks." Wow! I'll get to see his face after all. That pompous ass shouldn't have pissed Evin off, she thought as she walked back to her desk.
"Well, Ms. Moran, I really don't see the need to postpone the trial date on this matter, much less indefinitely."
Evin stretched in the leather chair, wiggling stocking covered toes. "Well, Your Honor," she drawled, her voice like satin, nostrils flaring slightly as she anticipated the kill. "Seems like Mr. Davis took it upon himself to conceal assets in the Caymans and God knows where else. We need a little more time to investigate."
Allan Dodd, opposing counsel in the Davis case, interjected. "Your Honor, Mr. Davis has no hidden assets, in the Caymans or anywhere else. There's absolutely no proof...."
Evin cut him off. "Your Honor, Andrew Thomas from my office should be waiting for you in your court with the affidavit of the president of Caymans International Bank, attesting to the fact that Mr. Davis has a depository account with a balance of $1.3 million. And Allan, have your secretary check your fax machine. The affidavit, motion, and exhibits were faxed to you at nine this morning."
Rustling noises made by hands covering the receivers echoed through the phone. She heard the judge tell his clerk to find Andrew Thomas. She bit off a bark of laughter that threatened to escape when the muffled, very angry voice of Allan Dodd demanded the fax and said "Get that fucking asshole Clifton Davis on the phone now !" He needs to learn how to use his mute button.
The authoritative voice of the judge came through the line. "Mr. Dodd, I suggest you learn how to use your mute button. The Court will not tolerate such language."
Dodd spluttered into the phone "Huh, what? I'm sorry, Judge. I didn't catch that."
This is getting too good. Wonder what his blood pressure's up to. Evin leaned back and put her feet up on the desk.
The judge repeated his admonition and Dodd apologized profusely.
The judge continued, "Mr. Dodd, do you have your copy of the motion yet? I've got mine now. Ms. Moran, why don't you summarize for me while we review it."
"Very well, Your Honor. We're asking for an indefinite extension of time...."
"Your Honor, I object...."
"Mr. Dodd, don't interrupt Ms. Moran."
"As I was saying, Your Honor," Evin continued smoothly. "In addition to the indefinite extension of time, we're asking for a hearing to increase the alimony pendente lite based on the new assets retroactive to the date of filing as well as...."
"What! Increase APL! You...you can't do that," Dodd stammered.
"Allan," she purred. "I can and I did."
The judge took over. "All right, folks, this is what we're going to do. Get out your calendars. How does next Friday look?"
"Fine with me, Your Honor," Evin responded calmly.
"Can't do it next Friday," Dodd finally countered.
Every Friday was motion day in Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans, State of Louisiana. The judge ran through the next five motion dates, all of which were fine with Evin, but none worked for Allan Dodd. Reaching the end of his tolerance level, the judge finally said, "Tell you what, Mr. Dodd, the hearing is now scheduled for next Friday at 9:00. You have until Tuesday, September 21st, to file any responses or motions. Ms. Moran, I trust that will give you enough time to respond."
Dodd wisely chose to keep quiet.
"Yes, Your Honor. That will be more than enough time." She keyed the hearing date and time into her calendar.
"Mr. Dodd?" the judge asked, his tone challenging.
A weak "Fine with me," was Dodd's reply.
"Then we're done for now." The judge hung up his phone.
"Moran, you still there?"
"Yup," came Evin's obviously disinterested reply.
"I'll get with my client, discuss a possible settlement and get back with you."
"No settlement, Allan." She hung up the phone feeling almost sorry for him. Almost. She pressed the call timer button, hit the 'bill to' icon and entered the case number and billing code. Twenty-five minutes. Five hundred an hour. Two hundred ten dollars.
The intercom buzzed as soon as she hung the phone up.
"It's Jeffrey. The Monsieurs Landry and their entourage are in con five. I've already given them the settlement brochure. Doug called twice. Julie called once. The Grace trial has been postponed. Judge Harrison's office called. He's in the hospital having an emergency appendectomy and they're in the process of deciding whether to reschedule or ship the case to another docket. In any event, it's a no-go on the Grace trial for tomorrow. That clears your calendar for the rest of the week. And Professor Richard Rayburn is on seven. He says it's urgent."
"I'll take seven." She glanced at her watch. 10:12. The Landrys will have to wait. She hit the button for line seven. "Evin Moran."
"Evin, Ricky Rayburn here."
"Richard, how are you?" She couldn't bring herself to call the seventy-five year old man 'Ricky.'
"Well, Evin, I could be better. I'm calling to ask you for a favor."
"I'll do any lecture you need."
"It's not about a lecture. I'd really rather not discuss this on the phone. Is it possible for me to see you today?"
The urgency in his voice raised her interest. "Tell you what, Richard. I've got some time this afternoon. How about I meet you at school at two?"
"That will be fine, Evin." His relief was unmistakable. "I look forward to seeing you. Goodbye."
"Bye." What would rattle the old man? She stood up, slipped her pumps on, and grabbed the Livingston file, heading for conference room five and the pompous father and son insurance defense team, the Monsieurs Landry. Time to make some real money.
Evin was seated in the Professor's small office. "Things haven't changed much." She pointed to a pile of papers on the floor in the corner. "I think those were there when I graduated," she teased.
"How is my prized pupil?" He smiled warmly at her, ignoring her remark.
Her eyes narrowed as she straightened in the chair. "You're complimenting me, Richard. That can only mean trouble."
They broke the mold when they made you, he thought fondly. She was the only student in the history of the law school to turn down the coveted status on Law Review. When she was a senior in the Law Clinic, she had won a landmark case against a giant chemical concern, Landau Industries. Law firms nationwide tried to recruit her, but she had turned them all down and struck out on her own. She had taken impossible cases and won them, quickly establishing her as a force to be reckoned with. And when the rain had started to fall for her firm, they had to close the floodgates.
"We had a fairly routine case in clinic. And it has taken, well, a rather bizarre turn. For the worse, I'm afraid." He looked at her and said ruefully "It's another Landau."
Shit. Memories of Landau flooded her mind. "And...." she said evenly.
"You're the only one who can do this." He eyed her intently. No visible reaction.
She got up and walked to the bookcase, pulling out an old textbook and thumbing through it. Son of a bitch. First the bait, then the challenge. Do I want to do this? A little voice screamed 'Yes!' No! 'The gauntlet's been thrown down,' the little voice chided, 'Just pick it up.' No!
"Okay." She felt the immediate pounding of blood vessels in her brain. What the fuck is wrong with you? 'There's not enough time to go into that right now.' the little voice answered.
"So you'll help?" He let out a deep breath of relief.
"Yes." She looked up from the book, noting that he now seemed more relaxed. Great, he feels better and I'm screwed. "Now tell me what I'm getting into."
"Well, there's a summary judgment hearing tomorrow at 9:00 in Judge Keller's court."
Did ya hear that big 'BOOM' Evin? That's the sound of the guns from the ambush you just walked into. "A what!" The register of her voice dropped two octaves and the volume rose five notches. "You're about to be shot out of the water in less than nineteen hours in Killer Keller's court. I'm a fucking lawyer, Richard, not Annie Sullivan."
A knock at the door stopped his response.
Evin growled at the door "What!"
"Evin, this isn't your office," he scolded. "Be nice and don't scare the little law students."
The door opened to reveal a petite redhead wearing jeans and a Law Review t-shirt. She tentatively poked her head in, her eyes flickering first at her professor and then to Evin. "Professor Rayburn? You wanted to see me?"
"Yes, please, have a seat."
Screw the little law students. The textbook in her hand slammed down onto the desk. "You ambushed me, Richard." Her voice was cold, pale blue eyes glittering with anger. "I don't like being ambushed."
The redhead nearly fell out of her seat when the tall woman slammed the textbook on the desk. Watching her with wide eyes, she wondered what had happened to anger the woman so.
The old man's brown eyes looked at her pleadingly. He hesitated, playing his last card. "I need you on this. This case is what the practice of law should be about." He looked into her eyes, the anger momentarily replaced by a flash of something before it returned. Guilt, perhaps, but he wasn't sure.
"What's the name of the student handling this?" she snapped, her voice still tinged with anger.
He let out the breath he was holding. "Sydney Parker."
"Well, get him in here." Shaking her head, she muttered disgustedly, "Let's see how bad he fucked this up."
"Um, excuse me." The little redhead stood up and extended her hand to Evin. "I'm Sydney Parker," she said in an even tone, then raised her chin slightly in defiance, "and I don't think it's fucked up."
Jesus H. Christ, could this get any worse? Evin took the smaller woman's hand and shook it. Nice firm grip. She looked into green eyes that met hers without hesitation, holding the gaze for a long moment. Intelligent, clear, unwavering. "Evin Moran." Evin was totally unprepared for what happened next.
The redhead's eyes opened wide in surprise and awe. "The Evin Moran who turned down Law Review? The Evin Moran of Thibodeaux v. Landau Industries?" The words came out in an excited tumble and the petite redhead hugged the taller woman. "I'm so excited to meet you. Wow!"
Evin just stood there stiffly, a blush rising on her face. She looked to Richard and then back at the small woman smiling from ear to ear, lighting up the room. What the hell? Twilight zone. Yeah, that's it. Some kind of Rod Serling flashback.
After spending all of two minutes looking at the five boxes of files jammed into Sydney's small cubicle in the Law Clinic, Evin decided to cart the files and Sydney Parker back to her office. She had no desire to relive the 'law school experience' and figured that if they had to be up all night, they might as well at least do it in the comfort of her office.
The oxford green BMW 750iL pulled into the first floor parking lot of the Vincent Melantha building on Tchoupitoulas Street. Two young men, looking like strangled chickens from too tight ties, made their way towards the car with hand trucks. She popped the trunk lock and got out of the car. "Gary, Ryan, y'all take these up to my con, and for God's sake, loosen your ties." Long strides ate up the ground as she headed for the elevator, Sydney Parker scurrying to catch up.
Sydney had spent the twenty-minute trip to the office answering rapid-fire questions from the tall woman. She pinched herself on the thigh several times to make sure she wasn't dreaming. I'm going to work on a case with Evin Moran . She finally realized she wasn't dreaming after the fifth time Evin had told her to stop calling her Ms. Moran. Now here she was, sharing an elevator with her, going to her office. Get a grip on yourself, Sydney. This is serious shit. Act professional.
Exiting on the tenth floor, Evin led her through a set of double doors. "Rachel, Jeffrey. This is Sydney Parker. If she needs anything, get it for her. Anything that can't wait until tomorrow?" She kept moving through another set of double doors and into her office, her entourage growing by two as they both got up to follow her. Depositing her briefcase on the desk, she flipped one pump off, letting it hit the wall next to her desk with a satisfying thud, quickly followed by the other. "I hate those god damned things. Okay, go."
Jeffrey started first. "The only truly urgent message that needs to be returned is Julie's. She's called fifteen times. The last time I think she was starting to give birth to a full grown cow." That drew a snort of laughter from Evin. "Everything else looks like it can wait. They're all on your calls list."
He glanced at Rachel. It was her turn. Pointing at the top of the desk, she said "Pleadings to sign in this stack. Nothing urgent. Letters to sign in this stack. Two are demands that should get out today. Faxes that came in are here. The top one is from Doug about the Mississippi situation." Evin reached out and grabbed the top fax. "The second is from the Monsieurs Landry. They've countered with twenty six."
Pale blue eyes glinted as Evin looked up from the fax, a wicked smile crossing her face. "Seven more than I thought they'd come back with. Think I scared 'em?"
Rachel and Jeffrey just laughed. "What's the plan boss?" Jeffrey asked.
"I'm going to change. Give me five and then get Julie on the phone. Try to locate the Livingstons. Tell Randy and Alice meeting at three thirty, my con. And, Rachel, head home. Your tour of duty's over for today."
"Boss, can I stick around for a couple of hours?" Rachel asked.
"If ya want to, sure. All right, time to shift into overdrive." She headed for a door in the corner of her office, then glanced back at Sydney. "Be back in a minute."
"Overdrive?" Sydney managed to squeak out, looking from Jeffrey to Rachel.
"Yeah, she's just been in second gear today." Jeffrey chuckled and followed Rachel out of the office.
During the whirlwind of activity, Sydney had taken a seat on the leather sofa against the wall, to the right of the double doors leading into the office. Sydney took in her surroundings. The office was huge and appeared to take up one side of the building. The furniture, bookcases, and cabinets were of black walnut and black leather upholstered the chairs and sofa; a Persian rug covered a parquet floor. Understated. Not exactly what I had expected. Don't know what I expected though.
To her right was a floor to ceiling unit, the contents of which were hidden from view by doors. A coffee table and two overstuffed leather chairs were in front of the sofa. The part of the wall that wasn't windows held a built in bookcase. A round table was in the center of the room, five chairs spaced evenly around it. At the other end of the office, in front of floor to ceiling windows, sat a large desk and leather chair with two chairs in front of the desk. To the right of the big desk, located between two doors, sat a small credenza.
Evin returned a couple of minutes later. Sydney's mind tried to register the dramatic change in appearance. Just a few minutes ago, Evin had been dressed in an obviously expensive, tailored power suit from hell, and now she had changed into a black sweatshirt, sleeves and neck cut off and slightly torn down the front, and black sweat pants, large gold letters reading LSU down the front of her right thigh. She sat in her chair behind her desk, elbows resting on the flat surface, her fingers steepled in front of her face.
"All right, Sydney, let's get started. First thing I want you to do is pull your pleadings file. My con is through that door. The boxes should be in there by now," she said, pointing to one of the doors to the right. The intercom buzzed. "Yeah."
"Julie on one."
The tall woman pressed the button for line one and started talking.
Sydney stood up and headed for the door, wondering what a con was. I guess I'll find out. She opened the door and walked into a conference room. Ah, con is conference. Kind of thought so, but you never know. Sydney spotted the box marked pleadings and carried it back to the office, placing it on the round table and took a seat, waiting for the phone conversation to finish. The tall woman appeared to be doing a thousand things at once, reviewing documents held in her left hand, typing with her right, and talking on the phone tucked under her chin.
The tall woman's voice held an edge of anger, a frown creasing her forehead. "Pay the damn one fifty k and have Doug file the suit...Ju...I know they're trying to screw us... I'm not going to hold up a five million dollar deal. You'll have my check by nine tomorrow morning. Pay it, get the release and clear certificates and have the abstractor amend his report. I'll have Doug file the suit...No more discussion. Just get it done." The receiver went back on the cradle, ending the conversation.
Looking over at Sydney, she said sharply, "Points of attack, that's what we're going to be looking for. Nothing else. The goal is to buy some time, not win it all." Then she added for clarification, "At least not tomorrow. Pull the initial petition, your answer, the motion for summary judgment, and your opposition. Give them to Rachel and have her make five copies. Tell her one's to be scanned and converted, one to Randy, one to Alice. While you do that, I'm going to finish up with what's on my desk."
"Okay." The petite woman nodded and pulled some files out of the box, retrieving the requested documents. She then headed out the door to find Rachel.
Evin had pulled up her calls list and reviewed it while talking to Sydney, then finished signing the letters and pleadings.
Sydney came back into the office with the copies and sat at the table, fidgeting with the papers. "So what's next?"
"At three thirty, we'll meet with Randy Franklin and Alice Schell. Randy is Douglas Dunn's paralegal. Douglas specializes in real estate and construction law. Alice is our resident civil procedure expert. Then we'll start breaking everything down word by word. Give me my copies and take yours and start reviewing them."
"Okay." Sydney handed Evin her copies and settled back into a chair at the round table.
Sydney and Evin read the documents in silence. Sydney felt like it was the hundredth time she had read them. She knew this file by heart, the case having consumed her life since June. The words made no impact on her at all. She fidgeted absently with her pen and stared sadly out the window, exhausted and frustrated. Those poor people. There's got to be something we can do. She thought of the Dolese family who had taken their life savings and bought the land from Hynes Refining. And now Hynes, for some reason, wanted the land back, very badly.
Her ruminations were interrupted by a low voice. "I'm sorry, I was kinda out of there for a minute."
"Are you thirsty?"
"We've got tea, soft drinks, water, juice, coffee, um...."
"Iced tea would be great."
The intercom sounded again. "Clarice Livingston on line six."
"Okay, and Jeffrey, bring us a pitcher of iced tea and a couple of glasses, please."
Evin reached for the phone. "Clarice, how are you?...Good, how's Jacob?...and the kids?...Yes we did...Well, they've offered twenty six, no structure...Clarice, it is yours and Jacob's decision...We've got your written authorization on file...Good, Clarice. We can do that. Congratulations. Let me speak with Jacob please...Congratulations, Jacob...I know you're glad it's over. As soon as the papers are ready, we'll let you know...Probably the beginning of next week. You know us lawyers, we'll haggle over a few details, but I'll accept the offer today...Good...You're welcome, Jacob. Talk to you soon."
Evin pressed the intercom. "Rachel, print the settlement acceptance letter on Livingston."
Sydney heard screams and claps of excitement coming through the closed office doors.
A long finger dialed a number. "Stephen Landry please...Evin Moran...Livingston v. Jackson Brothers...Yes, I'll hold." Evin shifted in her chair and spun it around to stare out the window.
For the last hour and twenty minutes, Sydney felt like she was a voyeur, watching the tall woman work. It's kind of like Cops, only with lawyers . She had clerked last summer for a firm back in Memphis, but it was nothing like this. The tall woman spoke in a low, clipped voice, issuing terse instructions and directing the activities around her effortlessly. Her movements were smooth and precise, her posture relaxed, her face reflecting an almost infinite boredom with her activities. Pale blue eyes, set in a dark frame of tanned skin and dark hair, absorbed everything, reflected nothing.
But Sydney's mind couldn't reconcile the visual presentation with the feelings the woman stirred. It's like being caught in an undertow. No overt signs, no warnings. You can't see it, but you can feel it, the unseen power, pulling you, as it snares you. Its touch is soft and smooth as it flows over and around you, but the consequences, once ensnared, can be catastrophic.
"Stephen....Yes, my clients have decided to accept your offer...I'll have someone pick up the documents tomorrow afternoon...Right. We'll expect the check no later than Monday...I'll call the court...It's been a real pleasure doing business with you, Stephen." The tall woman turned the chair back to face the desk and placed the receiver back in the cradle.
Pale blue eyes looked at Sydney. "You ready for the meeting?" she said seriously.
"Yeah. Did you just settle a case?"
"Uh huh, got twenty six million."
"Holy shit!" When she said twenty-six before, I thought she meant twenty six thousand. "That means your fee is...."
Evin looked at the petite redhead, noting the shocked look on her face. "Eight million, six hundred sixty five thousand, eight hundred dollars."
"It pays the bills." Evin shrugged her shoulders. "Where's that damned tea?"
Sydney sat there dumbfounded, watching as Evin stood and headed out of the office. Her mind tried to comprehend the staggering amount of fee Evin had just earned. She didn't seem too excited about it. She probably does this all the time, that's why.
Evin came back into the office with a tray carrying a pitcher of iced tea, an ice bucket, and two glasses. She set the tray on the round table where Sydney was sitting and poured her a glass. "Add whatever you want," she said, pointing to the tray which also held lemon, sugar and two kinds of artificial sweetener. "Come on, let's get to that meeting."
Sydney followed the barefoot, sweat clothes clad woman through the conference room door, feeling decidedly overwhelmed.
We're getting nowhere fast. We've been at this for five hours and hit nothing but dead ends. There isn't anything remotely similar to this and Landau. This is a simple foreclosure case. You conned me, Richard, you son of a bitch. You're just trying to save some poor slob's land and you and your little student couldn't do it so you wanted me to perform some fucking miracle. Evin's irritation increased with every breath she took.
Jeffrey called through the open office door. "Evin, it's eight thirty." His sandy blonde head poked through the doorway.
"So?" Evin snapped, not looking up.
He cleared his throat, drawing Evin's attention. He glanced over at Sydney, digging through another of the boxes searching for an elusive document, then back to Evin. "You want the menu from Frankie's?" He waved the menu in his hand. He knew his boss. If the law student didn't speak up, Evin would never think of food.
"Yes." One eyebrow raised. "Sydney, you ready for some food?"
"Yeah, that'd be great. I'm starving."
Jeffrey poked his tongue out at Evin. She dropped her head back down, shaking it from side to side. He took their orders and left to pick up the food.
"Sydney, we need to get your client on the phone."
"Um, that's a problem." Sydney sat on the floor, surrounded by boxes and paper. "They, uh, don't have a phone."
Blue eyes rounded in surprise and both brows shot up. "No phone?"
"I told you they were really, really poor."
"Yeah, you did. I just didn't realize...." Jesus, no phone. He said this was like Landau. Do you think things got better for everybody, just because they did for you? You think everybody's got a phone? Wears tailored clothes? Drives a Benz or BMW? Are you that out of touch, Moran? She closed her eyes and tried to ignore the throbbing at her temples. The little voice whispered, 'Yes.' "What time are they meeting you at court in the morning?"
"Uh, they're not."
The 1998 edition of the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure flew across the office and slammed into the wall. "Shit!" Evin looked over to see Sydney staring at her, wide-eyed.
"I'm sorry." Sydney dropped her eyes and said softly, her voice wavering. "It's a hearing. Everything's done by affidavit. I didn't think...." I knew I screwed this up. I just knew it. Those people are going to lose their home because of me.
Evin stood up and said sharply "Nothing to apologize for. I'll be back in a few minutes." She disappeared out the office door.
I will not cry. I will not cry. Sydney repeated her mantra over and over. The stress and pressure of the last few months came crashing down on her. This is hopeless. I will not cry. We haven't been able to come up with anything new. I will not cry. I'm in way over my head and tomorrow morning.... Poor Emma and WiIlie. The kids. I will not cry. Despite the mantra, tears streamed down Sydney's face.
Evin stood on the balcony watching a ship travel down the river, its hulking steel frame lit by a gibbous moon. What the hell is wrong with you Moran? Why did you even say you'd do this? The answers her mind supplied left her nauseated. Aren't you an arrogant, egotistical, alpha bitch from hell? She didn't like the answer her mind supplied to that question either. Jesus, what's happened to you?
An image of her younger self, armed to the teeth with righteous indignation and not much else, marching into a courtroom eight years ago to battle the enemy, pushed itself to the forefront of her mind. When did the game itself become more important than the reason you started playing it? Sucking in a deep breath, she shoved the questions back into a little corner of her mind and locked them away. I'll deal with that later. Her little voice mocked her, 'No you won't.'
When Evin returned, Sydney still sat on the floor, tear stains evident on her cheeks. Please God, anything but crying. I can't handle that. Jesus, I'm an ass. I made her cry. Now what? Her mind rapidly supplied 'Send her flowers.' The little voice said 'The answer to everything. Fuck them, send them flowers. Piss them off, send them flowers. You're so pathetic.'
"Food here yet?" Brilliant, do ya see any food?
"No." Green eyes filled with sadness and despair looked up at her.
All right Moran, say something. You need her calm and rational. You need her input. She knows the facts better than you do at this point.
"Yes," she said hesitantly, her shoulders hunching slightly.
"Come sit over here with me." Evin motioned to the table. "We need to talk."
Sydney got up and moved to a chair across from Evin.
Evin looked into green eyes. Flowers are so much easier. "I, uh, wasn't yelling at you, Sydney."
"Oh." A small voice replied, green eyes flooding with relief and a hint of a smile tugging at the corners.
"You're absolutely right that everything is usually done by affidavit. Attorneys don't generally bring their clients to this type of hearing, so you had no reason to tell your clients to be there."
"Okay. Have I screwed something up with the case?" Sydney questioned, trying to understand the outburst.
"Nothing's screwed up. You've done everything right."
"Are you sure? I mean, you're just not being nice to me, are you?"
"Yes, I'm sure." Evin snorted derisively. "I'm not nice to anybody."
"So why did you get angry?"
Yeah, Moran, why did you get angry? Evin blinked a few times and looked around the office. "Um...I...um...."
Jeffrey called out "Hey, I'm back with the food," as he came through the door smiling.
Thank God. Evin stood up and literally tore the bag out of his hands, shoving it at Sydney. "Here." The room suddenly felt very small and crowded. Her head pounded frantically, the color draining from her face. "I'll be back," and she left again.
"Something happened with the case?" Jeffrey asked as he stared at the back of his boss disappearing quickly out of the office.
"No, at least not that I'm aware of." Sydney said. "We were doing some research and then she got angry, started cursing, threw a book across the room then stormed out." Sydney pointed out the book still sitting where it had landed. She didn't know what had triggered the tall woman's anger. "I guess all of it finally got to me," she spread her arms and waved them at the documents and boxes lying around. "I started crying. Not very professional, huh?"
"It's okay, Sydney. I can't imagine trying to handle a case and going to school full time. I'd have been crying a long time ago."
She couldn't help but wonder if she had made some mistake somewhere, despite Evin's reassuring words. Maybe she was just being nice, not wanting to hurt Sydney's feelings. "When she came back, she told me I haven't done anything wrong with the case, but I think she's just being nice. You know, taking pity on a stupid little law student who has no business handling this case."
Jeffrey looked at her incredulously. "I don't think I've ever heard the words 'nice' or 'pity' used in the same sentence with Evin. Wait, I take that back," he chuckled. "I did hear someone say in the elevator something like 'Pity the poor person who tangles with Evin.'"
Sydney looked at Jeffrey skeptically. "Come on, she can't be that bad. She seems like a nice person to me."
"No, Sydney, Evin's not 'nice.' Why do you think everybody wants her as their attorney? Nice doesn't cut it."
They were silent for a while as they finished their food. "What do you think your chances are tomorrow?"
"Lousy," she said dejectedly. "This case is so frustrating. I mean, I thought this would be so simple when the Doleses came to clinic. The next thing you know, I'm surrounded by mountains of paperwork. Six different lawyers are calling me about the case. Strange things start happening on the Dolese farm and then somebody breaks into the clinic and wrecks all the files. And today...I mean, today in particular has been incredibly overwhelming." Sydney finished in a rush.
Jeffrey smiled warmly. "Well, you've got the best help available. If anybody can make sense out of it, the boss can."
"Is she always like this?"
"So intense. I've never seen anything like it." Sydney shook her head. "She's been going non-stop since I met her this afternoon, plowing through all this work like it's nothing. And then she settled that big case and didn't even crack a smile. And you should have seen her in that meeting. How does her brain work? She asked questions and answered them herself in less time than any of us could even think about the question. I mean, she's quoting statutes and code articles and cases off the top of her head and looking at us like we know what the hell she's talking about. I don't understand how anybody can keep up with her."
"She forgets we're mere mortals. That's why she has two secretaries." He laughed. "I quit wondering about all that a long time ago. I'll never understand her. She just is who she is."
The elevator door opened and Evin stepped out into the parking garage. The tension gripped her body like a vise. I've got to work some of this off . You're swinging like a pendulum tonight, Moran. Just calm down. Take a few deep breaths. She inhaled and exhaled deeply for several breaths. Good. Her hands clenched and unclenched rhythmically. Bouncing lightly on the balls of her feet, she desperately wished she was at home where she could pound the heavy bag to the point of exhaustion. No shoes. Can't go on the street for a run. She looked around the garage, her eyes finally stopping when she saw the door marked "Stairs." Bingo!
She completed her stretching routine and headed for the stairs at a slow jog. Now, time to answer a few questions. She started taking the steps two at a time, feeling her muscles stretch. First, where's your focus? Remember, answer honestly. The little voice said, 'You don't have any.' Good answer, Evin.
As she reached the second floor landing, her blood warmed and her heart beat stronger. Second question, Evin. Ready? What is your gut telling you? The little voice replied, 'Something's wrong with this case.' But there's no evidence, her mind cried. 'So?' the little voice shot back. 'Since when did you start ignoring your gut? It's taken you this far. Do you really think Richard would ask you for help if there wasn't something more to this?' Okay, I'll give you that one.
Her breath came faster as she hit the fourth floor landing. Third question, Evin. You've been grilling the little law student mercilessly, but have you been asking the right questions? The little voice meekly replied 'No.' Why not? 'OBJECTION!' You can't object to your own question. 'Maybe not, but I can take the fifth,' the little voice said defensively.
Her thigh muscles started to burn as she hit the sixth floor landing. Blood sang through her vessels. She increased her speed, taking the steps three at a time now. I'm granting you immunity. The little voice cried 'You can't do that!' Oh, but I can, and I did. 'I still won't answer,' the little voice said defiantly.
The eighth floor landing flew by. Droplets of sweat formed on her forehead and she could feel her sweatshirt starting to cling to her back. The air rushed in and out of her lungs, her arms pumping harder. Then at least answer this last one. What questions should you be asking about this case? A mental hand slapped Evin across the face, hard, and then caught the other cheek on its return. Of course! She broke into a grin as she burst through the tenth floor door.
Evin strode purposefully into the office, her pale blue eyes flashing brightly. She stopped and put her hands on her hips.
Sydney hadn't heard the tall woman come in, but something made her look up. Whoa! Sydney's mind supplied, a tingle chasing another tingle running down her spine, her breath catching in her throat. I can feel her intensity from here. Jeffrey's words ran through her mind. We are mere mortals.
"We're going to see your clients." Evin commanded.
"It's almost nine thirty. By the time we get there, it'll be...."
"Rule number one, Sydney. Whatever it takes....Whatever it takes, from both you and your client. We wake 'em up tonight, they might still have a home tomorrow." Pale blue eyes bore into the petite redhead's green eyes, challenging her. "You willing to do whatever it takes?"
"Yes, I am," Sydney answered solemnly.
"Good. I'm going to change into my monkey suit." As Evin passed by Sydney, a small hand reached out, gently tugging on Evin's forearm. Evin stopped, her arm stiffening in response to the touch.
"Uh, Evin," soft green eyes looked up. "You might want to forget about the power suit." She's imposing enough without the additional height her pumps add and the tailored clothes that form-fit her body. "They're really, uh, not used to, uh, well...it might make them uncomfortable. If they're uncomfortable, it'll be harder for you to talk to them."
Evin frowned, processing the information. Huh, I haven't thought about that in years. Hell, I haven't had a client like this in years. " You're right, Sydney. Thanks. I'll just put some tennis shoes on."
"They love LSU."
Evin broke out into a grin. "Then they'll approve of my choice of outfits."
Sydney watched the woman walk away. She smiled.
The BMW ate up the miles on the two-lane road that led to the Doleses' small farm; the only thing visible was the road in front of them where the headlights hit.
Evin broke the silence. "We need to talk about how to handle your clients. I don't know what you've told them so far, but I don't believe in pulling punches."
Sydney shifted in her seat, turning slightly to face Evin, and laughing softly. "Somehow, I didn't think you would."
"No, I guess not." Evin smiled to herself. "The other lawyers usually don't let me near the clients, except during trial prep. My bedside manner is somewhat...lacking. So what have you told your clients?"
"I've been up front with them throughout this whole thing. They realize that there's a pretty good chance that we're going to lose tomorrow." The thought made her stomach turn. "You haven't said what you think our chances are."
"As of right now, we don't stand a chance," Evin informed her bluntly. "The only thing that will stop this hearing tomorrow is throwing your client into bankruptcy."
"Wow, I hadn't thought of that."
"The power of the federal courts. But it's only temporary, and creates a whole new set of problems for your clients. I'd rather not do that, if we can help it."
"They're your clients, too, now." Sydney reminded her.
I guess they are. "Why do you think Hynes is going after them so hard?"
Sydney thought about that for a minute. "I don't know. None of this makes any sense. I know I keep saying that, but I feel like I've been chasing my tail in circles."
"Recite the position of the parties for me."
Sydney slipped into law school class mode. "Plaintiff alleges that defendant failed to make mortgage payments per the terms of the promissory note. Defendant claims that payments were made per the terms of the note, but plaintiff failed to negotiate the checks."
"What evidence does the plaintiff offer?"
Sydney was surprised by the question. "They don't have to offer any. It's up to the defendant to rebut the claims."
"Right. So what evidence do you have to rebut the claims?"
"None, other than Willie's testimony that he mailed the checks, his check register showing the entries and his bank statements showing that the checks didn't clear."
"You didn't have him put stop payments on them, did you?"
"No. I was hoping maybe they were just stuck in some clerk's desk somewhere and that they'd find them and deposit them and we could use that as evidence. I've also had them continue to send the mortgage checks in, by certified mail, but Hynes keeps sending them back."
"That's good, Sydney. Let's go through the facts. Start at the beginning."
"Willie mailed the...."
Evin stopped her. "Hold up. That's not the beginning. The beginning is when the first event happens that materially affects a case. If you start with the event that triggers a lawsuit, you can miss some really important things that way. Start with the original sale to the Doleses."
She's teaching me, Sydney realized. "They bought the land from a man named Michael Odom in February of 1995 for $185,000.00. He had purchased the land from Hynes before that. They put their life savings as a down payment and financed the rest through the local Farm Bureau. They qualified because it was some deal where the government backed the loan, but it wasn't a direct government loan. Then Hynes bought the note from the bank in March of 1997 and notified Willie that all future payments should be directed to them. Willie started sending the payments directly to Hynes like he was instructed. Then Willie got served with the lawsuit."
"Mr. Dolese didn't notice that Hynes wasn't cashing his checks?"
"Well, he noticed the first one, but didn't think a whole lot of it. He said that they were sometimes late in depositing his checks. Then when he got his bank statement the next month, and it still hadn't cleared, along with the current month's check, he called and talked to some clerk. She told him not to worry about it, that they had received the payments and they just hadn't been posted yet."
It's so easy to fuck people over. "So, assuming your client's telling the truth, why the big set-up to get the land back?"
"OUR client is telling the truth," Sydney said defensively. "I can tell when I look in his eyes."
By the look in their eyes? Right! She's so naïve. "Sydney, everybody lies," Evin shot back.
"You're wrong. Everybody doesn't lie. I don't lie." Sydney could feel her anger rising.
"Bullshit! Maybe not yet, but you will one day," Evin snarled. "Everybody lies."
Sydney was now completely facing Evin, her voice angry and loud. "You can't say that. You don't even know me."
"No, I don't." But you're no different from everybody else.
"Do you lie?"
"No." Mine are sins of omission.
"So what makes you so different from everybody else?"
"I never said I was different from everybody else." How did I get involved in this?
"Then how come they all lie and you don't?"
"I'm very capable of lying. I just don't."
"Moral superiority then, is it?"
"It has nothing to do with morals. Look, just drop it."
An uneasy silence fell between them. Evin kept her eyes on the road. What kind of fantasy land does she live in? She's going to get eaten alive when she starts practicing. Her little voice contributed 'And how do you explain that it isn't some morality you're concerned about, but whether you win or lose and getting caught in a lie equates with losing.'
Sydney stared out the side window. The BMW flew by a billboard on the side of the road. "It's only three more miles on the left from that billboard." Sydney informed Evin coldly. She turned her head and regarded the profile in the darkness. A nod from Evin acknowledged that she'd been heard. She could see the lines of tension running through the lawyer's body. What the hell made her so jaded? That must be a rotten way to live, thinking everybody's lying to you. Sydney felt the car slowing as the headlights picked up a dirt road leading off the highway.
"Is this it?"
Evin turned off and they drove a few hundred yards until they came up to a small wooden house. Evin started to get out of the car. Sydney's voice stopped her.
"Before we go in, can we please put aside whatever our differences might be, at least for the clients' sake?"
Our differences? We're night and day, you and I. "Yes."
When they exited the car, Evin looked up to see a man standing on the front porch in his pajamas, a shotgun in his hands. Great, just great. "Uh, Sydney, you might want to tell him who we are, while you still can."
"Willie! Willie, it's me, Sydney Parker."
He squinted into the darkness. "Sydney, that you? Who's with you? What are you doing here at this hour?"
"Evin Moran. She's an attorney. We need to talk to you."
"Well, come on in then," he called as he motioned them up onto the porch.
"Sydney," Evin drawled. "You mind telling me what the shotgun is all about?"