I was in a complete fog. I found myself looking along the side of the road for some evil, satanic, red-hued man with horns and a bifurcated tail. I took turns looking for said man, and glancing at that blue folder that lay innocuously on the front seat. But was it really innocuous, or would I literally be releasing the hounds of hell as soon as I opened it?
In my head, I found myself mimicking Brad Pitt in the movie “Se7en,” as he emphatically and fearfully screamed, “what’s in the box? What’s in the box? What’s in the fucking box?”
I was reasonably sure that Gwyneth Paltrow’s head wasn’t inside that folder, unless of course it had been run through some huge hydraulic press. For a split second, I wondered, “shit! I wonder if Parker Patterson’s head is in that folder?”
It’s amazing what those little psychotic neurons in your brain will insinuate into your mind when you’re unsure of just about any and every little thing.
My sanity returned (I think) and I convinced myself that there was no head in the folder. I didn’t have a clue what was in there, nor did I have a clue what I had gotten myself into. I also knew that I had given a solemn oath, and now that I was alone with the folder, I was beginning to have second thoughts.
I was worried. I was kind of scared. Could I keep my word? Would I keep my word? Would this be the first time I betrayed my lifelong commitment to honor…the very thing on which my reputation was based? Harvilles’ words echoed in my head like a gunshot bouncing off the walls of a deep canyon. “Great tragedy can befall a man who breaks his word.” Why didn’t he just say, “it doesn’t matter what you do…you’re fucked.”
I stared at the folder almost like it was a living thing. I had trepidation, anticipation, curiosity, dread, fear and I admit, a little excitement. It seemed to have an almost mystic quality, like it was going to either give me transcendental power, or quite possibly kill me.
The answers to most of my questions were in this folder, according to Harville. I sat down, took a deep breath and reached for the folder. I almost wished I had one of those fine Gurkha Her Majesty’s Reserve cigars, if for no other reason than to have something to chew on other than my fingernails; either that or light it and use it to set fire to the folder.
I opened it, and the first thing I saw was an envelope with my name neatly written on the front. I literally moaned aloud, “shit. What’s in the envelope? What’s in the envelope? What’s in the fucking envelope? Instructions? Demands? The Grim Reaper? Dynamite? White powder?”
After my initial shock and a few minutes of reservation, I reached for my letter opener, unsure of whether to use it to carefully slice along the top of the envelope, skillfully slit my wrists, or prepare to stab whatever crawled out until it lay there screaming for mercy.
It was time to put on my big boy panties again.
I opened it.
I was wondering if this was some cruel joke, and all I would find was a condensed version of “Understanding the Law for Dummies,” but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I wiped my eyes and checked my pulse to see if my heart was still actually beating.
I was shaking my head as I looked at a check made out to me in the amount of FIVE million dollars. Attached was a note, containing very specific instructions that I was to open my own law firm. An account had been established in my name and “funds” would immediately be made available for expenses. The amount would be known as soon as I set up a “password.” What the hell?
Word balloons were floating over my head as I thought, “what attorney doesn’t lust after having his or her own firm along with the funds for the practice? No more groveling and putting up with incompetent, empty-headed clerks. No more ass kissing, hoping to be made a senior partner. No more being known as Mr. 2 or 3 or 4.”
Harville may have had to do that at one time, but he didn’t now. He was what they used to call “shittin’ in high cotton and fartin’ through silk.” He had his maid and his butler and his chef and his chauffeur, not to mention the grand estate on ‘hundreds’ of acres of land.
Was I going to become him? Did I want to? I believe he had done well for the Pattersons, and I felt he had done the same for Parker. Aside from my jealous, “pretend hatred” for him, I truthfully believed he was an honorable man, but I had this disturbing feeling. Had I unknowingly, as I said, made a deal with Beelzebub himself, or I had just accepted a suicide mission?
I went through the folder, visiting each and every case Parker Patterson had won. I recalled how twice, she had stomped on my ego, and made me look like a pathetic bird-brain, limping out of the courtroom. I also remembered how much I despised her.
I kept asking myself. “Why me? What could she have possibly seen in me that had made her choose me as her successor?” Choosing me made no sense. We had barely exchanged ten words between us during all those years, and they had not been pleasant by any means.
There were several “sub-parts” to the folder. One part contained handwritten notes by Parker, which I found odd. Why didn’t she use a computer? Could it be that because once it’s out in cyberspace, it’s out there forever? Was there something she didn’t want anyone to know? So many questions. I decided that I would scrutinize them later.
Another part contained the names of the defendants, whose freedom and “protection” had been so masterfully arranged. I found it curious that their names were coupled with “latitude and longitude” coordinates. No new identities, addresses or employment records were attached. There weren’t even any pages where that information had been redacted.
“Hmm. That’s strange, I thought.” I knew about witness protection, and I knew that it was kept secret from the general population, but the arranging officers or departments were privy to that information, and there was always a record somewhere.
The last part of the folder was a sort of “accounts payable” spreadsheet. It went back twenty years and the first entry was a name that I didn’t recognize. Underneath the name was “Jackson Alton Benson.” For some reason, that name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t quite recall why.
I carefully followed the line across the top name, and gasped when I saw the amount “paid.” It was a cool one million dollars.
The next entry was also a name I didn’t recognize, and the scenario was the same. I halfheartedly scanned through the names, and the last one caught my eye.
The name was a Mrs. Cumberbatch. Underneath her name was “Bernard Copley.” Even after twenty years, I knew that name well. It was the case that first introduced me to the famous Parker Carolina Patterson. It was the case “she won.” It was the case that made me start despising her, not because she won, but because she had made me look ridiculous. Not only that, but she had made a mockery of the judicial system, and the coup des grace was arranging protection for that horrible excuse for a human being.
The records indicated that Mrs. Cumberbatch was Evelyn Copley’s mother. She had received one million dollars every year for the last twenty years. Wow. I was on to something here, but I wasn’t exactly sure what.
A quick call to Harville went unanswered of course, so after ordering a pie from the local Pizza Hut, I settled down to have another look at the papers.
I wasn’t prepared for what I was going to see.
To be continued_________________________________