Web Site: Author William Manchee's Website
This is based on true events. The names and places have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.
I always tell my clients to stay away from the courthouse if at all possible. You never know what might happen if you put your fate in the hands of a judge or jury. It was sage advice that I'd gleaned from many agonizing years of law practice, but I never realized that there were other dangers lurking along the halls of the courthouse.
It was late one Friday afternoon in August and I'd stopped by the Dallas County Law Library to check out some audio tapes of a probate conference I'd missed. As I was heading for the elevator, I was hailed by Martin Johnson, an acquaintance I vaguely remembered.
"Stan, you got a minute?"
"Ah, well . . . I guess."
"I'm so glad I ran into you. Listen. I need a favor."
I shrugged thinking maybe his car wouldn't start and he needed a jump. "Sure, what do you need."
"Listen, I'm down here for an emergency Temporary Injunction Hearing and the judge is insisting that an attorney ad litem be appointed for the child."
I shook my head. "No, Martin. I'm sorry. I don't practice family law."
Martin put his hand on my shoulder. "Stan, I'm desperate here. I've scoured the building for an attorney and you're the only one still here. If I don't have this hearing today, Melody may be brutalized by her father over the weekend. He's really pissed off and may take it out on her."
A cold chill washed over me. Martin had set the trap and I was just about to be yanked into something I knew would haunt me for months, if not years. I'd tried family law when I first started practice and quickly realized I didn't have the stomach for it. Before I knew it, Martin was dragging me down the hall to the 301st District Court. We stepped inside where everyone was impatiently waiting.
"Your Honor," Martin said. "I've found someone."
"Mr. Turner," the judge said, "I didn't know you practiced family law."
"I don't, Your Honor. I'm here under duress," I replied factitiously. "I'm not seeking this appointment, but just doing Martin a favor since he said it was important. If the Court thinks—"
The judge smiled. "No. I'm confident you'll be able to handle this appointment and, Mr. Johnson is correct, it is an important matter that must be handled today." The judge made a notation on her docket sheet and then looked up. "All right, I've signed the order appointing Mr. Turner as attorney ad litem. Mr. Johnson, you may proceed."
Melody was already on the stand. She was an attractive blond about 5' 4" tall. I guessed her to be fifteen or sixteen. She had a serious bruise on her left cheek and her eyes were dark and swollen like she'd been crying. "Melody, I know this will be difficult, but will you tell us what happened this morning?" Martin asked.
Melody looked over at the man at the defense table. I assumed it was her father. He was a middle-aged man, thick and muscular, probably twice Melody's weight. "Yes, sir," she said softly. "I was getting ready for school and I heard Mom and Frank arguing downstairs. I was scared because Frank hits Mom sometimes."
Since Melody had referred to her father as Frank, I decided he must be a stepfather. Melody looked over at her mother who was weeping. She was tall and probably had been pretty in her day, but now she had tobacco stained teeth and dry, wrinkly skin, probably from wearing too much makeup.
"Had he ever hit you before?" Martin asked. "Yes. Once when he was trying to feel me up."
"Objection! Your Honor," Frank's counsel bellowed.
"Overruled," the judge said.
"When did this happen?" Martin asked.
"Last summer. I was taking a swim and had just gotten out of the pool. Frank came up from behind me and unhooked by bikini top. I screamed and he grabbed me and made sure he'd—" Melody began to cry. My stomach churned in disgust. I took a hard look at Frank. He looked back at me stone-faced. It was going to be a long, disgusting afternoon. I could see that.
The next day I didn't start out well, either. It seemed wherever I turned I encountered the seedy side of human nature. There was a message from Robert Vine. We were representing his sisters, Brenda and Alice, in a will contest. It was a nasty affair, two sisters pitted against three brothers, all over their parents home that had appreciated to the tune of some quarter-million dollars.
"Mr. Turner. We've thought about your offer, but we can't accept it. We're going to hire an attorney and kick Brenda out of the house."
"But, Mr. Vine, Brenda took care of your disabled mother for thirteen years in that house. She has no place to go."
"I don't give a rat's ass. She's been nothing but a moocher all her life. It's time she gets off her duff and takes care of herself."
"What are you talking about? She deposited her paycheck in your mother's bank account every month and paid all the bills. She's supported your mother all these years and never asked any of you for a red cent."
"So she says. I don't believe her. She's a—"
"Okay, I'm not going to sit here and listen to you slander my client. If you don't want to accept her generous offer, we'll see you in court."
"Yeah, see you in court," Robert spat.
Some days I wondered whatever possessed me to practice law. It seemed if I wasn't having to deal with sleazy bastards, it was greedy ones. Depression swept over me like a monsoon, drenching me in regret and self-pity. Fortunately, my telephone rang forcing me to shake off my malaise and get back to work. My receptionist advised me that Denise Strong was on the line.
"Hello, this is Stan Turner."
"Yes, Mr. Turner. You were referred to me by a friend. I'm needing a probate attorney."
"Oh. Did someone die?"
She drew in a long breath. "Yes, my father."
"Oh, no. I'm so sorry. . . . My father died a few years back too, so I know how difficult it must be for you."
"Yeah, well he's been sick for a few years, so it was for the best. He was in a lot of pain."
"Right. So, how can I help you?"
She sighed. "I suppose we need to probate the will."
"Sure, we can help you with that."
"Good, there's one thing, though."
"We don't like what the will says. We want to change it."
I started to laugh, but restrained myself. "What don't you like about it?"
"My father and one of my brothers were estranged. It happened many years ago when we were teenagers. Walter and my father never got along very well. Their personalities were too much alike. They fought all the time." She sighed. "It got so tiresome at times."
"I can relate," I said. "My sister and my father used to fight a lot too. I know how terrible that can be. Was this a second marriage for your mother and father?"
"Yes, Walter is a half-brother, but we loved him and still do." She trailed off and I felt she had more to say about her brother.
"So, does Walter know your father has died?"
"No, we haven't seen Walter since he left home twenty-seven years ago."
"Oh, my God. That's terrible."
"Yes, we so much want to find him. That's why we called. We want to change the will."
"I don't understand," I said.
"My father disinherited Walter when he ran away from home. He gets nothing in this will. That's not right. He deserves his fair share."
"Wow. That's very admirable of you. You must have a very close family."
"Yes, we've always been close and have regretted losing Walter the way we did."
"Well, I don't see a problem. You can probate the will and then make a gift of 20 percent of each's share to Walter."
"That's what we want to do, the problem is we can't find him. We've tried over the years, but never had any luck. Frankly, we're worried about him. He didn't graduate from high school and he left home without a dime."
Denise began to choke up. I could hear her crying at the other end of the line. "Don't worry," I said. " I know a private eye who can find anybody. If your brother is alive, we'll find him. If he's dead, well Paul will still find out where he's buried."
"Really, you think he can do that?" she asked hopefully.
"Yes, just come on in. We'll get the probate going and I'll get Paul Thayer to look for your brother."
"Oh, thank you, Mr. Turner. I feel so much better."
"You feel better, . . . ma'am, you've just made my day!"
That night I went home in a great mood. Denise and her family had restored my faith in humanity. I just prayed Paul could find Walter so the Strong family could be made whole again.
Denise came in the next week and we got the probate started. Paul talked to Denise and her brother and sister to find out all they knew about Walter's whereabouts. Over the years Walter had contacted his brother and sisters a time or two, usually when he was out of luck, short on cash, or locked up in a jail somewhere. His propensity for trouble actually made locating Walter very easy. Paul called a few weeks later to tell me Walter had been released just two days earlier from the Duval County Jail in Jacksonville, Florida. He said he had men looking for him as we spoke. I thanked Paul and immediately called Denise to tell her the good news.
Three days later Paul called to say they'd found Walter camped under a bridge in Jacksonville. I told him to have his people give him some money and have him call his sister Denise. He said he would. Denise called me the next day.
"Mr. Turner. Thank you! Walter called me this morning. He's coming home. I've left airline tickets for him at the airport."
"Oh, I'm so happy," I said. "That's wonderful news."
Denise was crying now. I could hear the strain in her voice. "I know it will be tough. Walter's in bad shape from what I hear, but that's okay. We can work on that. At least now we have him back in our lives."
I struggled to keep from crying myself. "He's a lucky man to have a family like yours."
"Yes, we're all lucky. Thank you again, Mr. Turner."
"No problem. I'm glad I could help."
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|Reviewed by MaryFrances Williamson
|Well, well! Hope you live to be 100 and keep writing! I always love anything you write, Mr. Manchee.
Cheers to many more,
|Reviewed by m j hollingshead
|Reviewed by Peter Paton
|A good ending to a bad start...:)
|Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado
|Good story; well done! :)|
|Reviewed by Elizabeth Taylor
|Another good one, William.|