“Uh… that is, your Honor, uhmm…”
“Counselor Matthews,” the Judge intoned, “my docket is full today and I don’t have time for a lot of time chew-chawing and hem-hawing. Is what Counselor Landiss said true?”
Matthews wiped a single tear of sweat from his forehead and then picked up the divorce settlement.
“Uh… if your Honor will note, according to the agreement reached by all parties, my client has consented to give Mrs. Shaw everything she has demanded and she has signed the settlement agreement. Unless she is claiming duress, I hardly think that this is the time or place for her to issue further demands. Mrs. Shaw has known all along of her husbands business and in contrast to Mr. Landiss’ statement, we have dealt openly and honestly with Mrs. Shaw. We have been overly generous in meeting her demands and neither she nor her attorney has ever mentioned nor made any demands concerning Mr. Shaw’s business in our prior discussions. I respectfully ask that this request be denied…”
“Your Honor,” Landiss interrupted, “whether prior demands have been made or not, the fact remains that Mrs. Shaw is well within her rights.”
There descended upon the courtroom and uneasy silence as Judge Carlsson pulled his bifocals from his inside his robe, placed them on his nose and quietly scanned the document in front of him.
When he spoke, it was as if his voice echoed from the inside of a well.
“The fact remains, Counselor Matthews, that California is indeed, as Mr. Landiss has pointed out, a community property state and in the absence of a pre-nuptial agreement, post-nuptial agreement or a satisfactory settlement concerning specified and unspecified mutual properties, etcetera, etcetera; I shouldn’t have to quote it to you chapter and verse; both parties are to share equally or as equitably as is humanly possible in the division of said properties and etcetera, etcetera, unless a separate agreement can be reached prior to a court date by both parties. I am given, at this point, to understand that Mrs. Shaw is not satisfied with the property division. Is that correct Mrs. Shaw?”
“That’s correct sir.” Landiss answered for her.
“Then it would appear that you all have some work to do before this thing is finished that is, unless you are now going to petition the court to decide for you…”
“No. No we are not sir.” Bill answered quickly. Landiss smiled. The court would be fair. Landiss did not want that and obviously, neither did Matthews or Mr. Shaw. Too bad for them. They should have quit while they were behind. They didn’t know it or perhaps they did and just couldn’t stop it but they were offering themselves up on a silver platter and Richard Landiss III, modern day buccaneer that he was, never turned down a meal or a head presented to him on a plate.
Judge Carlsson peered over the top of his glasses as he spoke.
“Fine. I suggest you four get your collective acts together and hash this thing out, and I mean completely, before you waste the court’s time again.”
Still peering over his glasses, he spoke to his court clerk.
“Set a thirty day reappearance, Janis. No wait,” he interrupted himself as he thumbed through his calendar, “better make that sixty…”
“Thanksgiving.” she mumbled.
“Huh? What’s that?” Carlsson asked.
“After Thanksgiving.” Janis repeated. “That would be December first, sir.”
“Well then, until December first, the court rules that all property, including the business located at…” He snapped his fingers twice as he looked toward his courts clerk.
“4480 Willow Street.” she answered dutifully.
“4480 Willow Street.” He repeated. ” and the items listed but not limited to this agreement, which is now a worthless piece of garbage,” he mumbled “shall not be disposed of or liquidated or by any means altered, etcetera, etcetera… Counselors, you know the drill. Explain it to your clients on the way out. Next!”
Martin sat dumbstruck. He was frozen in his chair, a look of utter disbelief scrawled across his face and he suddenly knew why and for what reasons ordinary people find themselves capable of murder. He wanted to kill Elizabeth. He wanted to kill her attorney. He wanted to kill his attorney. He wanted to kill the Judge, the court’s clerk and everyone in the court and then kill them again. If he had a gun in that moment, he would have gone on a blood feud rampage. He would have shot everyone and everything that moved or breathed or had a pulse until he was out of ammunition. He couldn’t see. He couldn’t breath. He couldn’t move. He wouldn’t have been able to speak if someone, anyone had asked his name, where he was or what had just happened. It was gone. All of it. Gone.
“Martin, Martin?” Bill was patting him on the shoulder. “C’mon, let’s get out of here.”
Martin looked up blankly.
“Let’s go, I said. Let’s get out of here.”
“Go where?” Martin asked plaintively. He was not being sarcastic. He really did not think that he had anything left to go to. After all, wasn’t it all gone? Hadn’t they bargained it all away to keep the business? And now wasn’t the business gone too?
“Are you alright?” Bill asked as he grabbed his briefcase.
“Go where?” Martin repeated as he absent-mindedly buttoned his suit jacket.
“Well for starters I think we should leave the court room. Look, this thing ain’t over yet. That sly bastard…” Bill paused long enough to take the full visage of the ever smiling Richard Landiss III, “It’s not as bad as it looks.” He spoke in low reassuring tones as he gathered the last of his papers and ushered his client out the door to the rear of the courtroom.
Once in the hallway, Martin felt flushed and there was a light sheen of sweat on his face. The corridor was hot and claustrophobically close. He arched his neck, closed his eyes and gasped for air that was immediately too heavy to breath. His head began to spin and his stomach tightened into a large ball that threatened to burst through his clothing. His chest heaved as he fought for air and he felt as though a large steel band was constricting around his rib cage, crushing the life out of him. He felt as if he were going to explode, implode and be crushed. He was confused. He could hear voices, voices of alarm but they seemed far away, as if he were dreaming them. He could see faces but they were not real. They were distant masks of persons that he felt he should know, faces that seemed familiar but were strangers all the same. Twenty feet down the hall was a drinking fountain. He needed water in his throat and on his face. His feet did not wish to co-operate so he dragged them as they disappeared into the shallow carpet like the feet of a Legionnaire sinking into the timeless sands of the Sahara. He was moving in slow motion and the hallway seemed to stretch on forever, the fountain getting farther away as he moved toward it, his tunnel vision becoming more acute with each ragged breath. The more he walked, stumbled toward the fountain, the farther away it seemed to be. He gasped for air, gulped huge breaths of it as if he were suffocating. His necktie was strangling him, cutting into his throat. He tried to untie it but found that his fingers were too large and clumsy and tingling so badly that they simply would not perform the task. He pulled frantically at it, yanking it from side to side in an effort to be free of it. He heard the cloth lining stretch as the stitching began to tear. The roar of the disintegrating silk filled his ears till he could hear nothing else. Then the sound of water filled his ears and he looked to see the handle of the water fountain in his hand and the steady stream of liquid pouring from the mouthpiece. He lurched forward and losing his balance, struck the right side of his mouth against the protruding prongs on either side of the aperture. He drank greedily, only partially aware of the pain. He drank until he had to gasp for breath and then plunged his face back into the stream for more. The sensation of the refrigerated water on his eyes and forehead made him shudder and momentarily brought him back to his frayed senses. He pulled his face from the water, arched his back and tilted his head. As he did so, water mixed with blood from the one inch gash he had inflicted upon the corner of his mouth, ran down his chin, over his tie and began to soak the front of his white shirt. Bill’s face was suddenly in front of his eyes.
“Martin, are you alright?”
“Uhh, y…yeah; I mean no…” He stammered, “no, I’m… I’m okay.”
“C’mon, your mouth is bleeding and you’re attracting attention.”
Bill took his client by the arm and hustled him into a nearby bathroom. Once inside, Martin wrested himself away from his friend’s grasp, stumbled to a sink and placed his forearms along the rim where he laid his head and tried to clear his vision. He immediately became ill from all the cold water that had rushed into his stomach and from hyperventilating. At first it felt like a belch that didn’t want to free itself from his throat but quickly degenerated to a series of gag reflexes that started at his feet and worked viciously up through his intestines and stomach where they continued upward until they culminated into a violent ball of gastric acid and bile that spilled into his mouth and nasal passages. His hands moved instinctively, defensively to his mid-section as the water that he had just gulped down began to boil and churn and then rushed like a run away Mack truck back up his throat. The sink was filled with a sweet nauseating fluid and each gag reflex torqued his body up another notch until he thought his insides were going to be yanked out through his eye sockets. He felt as though he were being turned inside out. His knees buckled and then there was the cool hard sensation of tile against the palms of his hands and the vague realization that he had collapsed to his knees.
“Just take it nice and slow, Marty.” Bill’s voice was measured and calm. He wrapped his right arm around his client. Martin struggled to stand as his heaves subsided.
“God…” Martin mumbled as he turned the spigot in the sink and began to rinse his face.
“It’s not really as bad as it looks.” Bill stated.
“It’s gone.” Martin choked out.
“No. Everything is simply on hold until we get back to the conference room with Elizabeth and Landiss. You might have to give up another bauble or two, but that’s all.”
Martin pulled away from the sink, grabbed a paper towel and began to sponge his face. He glanced into the mirror and realized that he was probably going to have a stitch or two put into the corner of his mouth.
“You scared me. I thought you might have been having a heart attack.”
“I wish I had.” Martin sighed.
“No you don’t. C’mon, let’s get you to your doctor.”
Martin wiped the blood from his mouth with the back of his hand.
“I’m fine.” He grimaced. “It’s just a split lip.”
They both moved through the doorway and into the hall. As they drew abreast of the courtroom door, they came face to face with Elizabeth and Landiss.
“When the Lion Smiles” © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson
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