Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Day 15 in my novel-in-a-month effort:

Chapter 17: Infringers

Anyone who violates any of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner as provided by sections 106 through 122 or of the author as provided in section 106A(a), or who imports copies or phonorecords into the United States in violation of section 602, is an infringer of the copyright or right of the author, as the case may be.

—Title 17, United States Code, Copyrights, Copyright Infringement and Remedies, Infringement of Copyright

On the other boat, chaos quickly ruled.

“Did someone fall overboard?”

“Or did a man jump?”

“Who was that?”

“Should we stop and look?”

“Oh, the humanity!”

It was Claude Dedrick and Sarah Fujii who had seen clearly what had occurred, and they each worked to calm the troops and assure them that no one had sunk to a watery grave.

“It was Justice Castro,” concluded Dedrick, “apparently dissenting.”

With that, Dedrick appeared to consider the matter closed, and would speak no more about the spectacle.

It was a beautiful day, they were not in the office, the anticipation of alcohol hung in the air, and so the assembled masses gave no more thought to Castro’s Leap, as it would be called in later years. A calm, sleepy, happy kind of silence settled over the boaters, who, with the thrum – thrum – thrum of the engines, enjoyed the opportunity to avoid speaking.

Finally, however, because a law firm partner despises a vacuum, Claude Dedrick rose to his feet. Even given his diminutive frame, it was clear that he intended to speak.

“I am happy to be able to report some good news,” he told the group. “I am sorry that we have to be split up on two boats, but the others will have to hear about this via memorandum.”

Listeners stifled their smiles, for they had detected a reduction in the number of managing partner memos that had been coming their way. It could be because Dedrick was distracted or tired, or because someone had pointed out that the memos were dreck. Either way, it was a welcome development.

“The news is good news not just for me personally, but for all of us here at the firm.”

The group nodded in anticipation –

“Just to be clear, though, it is primarily good news for me.”

 – and then shook their heads in consternation.

“Just the other day,” Dedrick continued, “I received a telephone call from someone in the highest reaches of government retaining my – our – services. The legal matter is a significant one, the principles are important, and I am confident that our – my – representation will be historic.”

The already quiet group drew closer, eager to hear the news.

“You have probably heard via the news outlets that a lawsuit is being threatened by the Legislature against our state’s Governor. The matter will lead, I am certain, to implications and rulings that guide the great State of Arizona for generations to come.”

Dedrick, as always, was speaking carefully, choosing his words to create the most accurate communication. To his dismay, though, the ship’s engine – as well as the shouts and laughs coming from the S.S. Elsie Moore – made it difficult for his listeners to hear clearly.

“The Governor?” said an associate, astounded. “Our firm is going to represent the Governor?”

“This’ll be great,” said another in a rush. “What an opportunity. I bet it’ll even get up to the supreme court.”

Dedrick, clearly agitated, did his best to right the ship.

“Excuse me, Mr. …, um, you associates. In all matters that come before a court, there are two parties, each equally entitled to excellent representation – “

The associates continued, heedless and headlong.

“I can’t wait to tell my folks. And they told me to go to business school!”

“I know. I wonder if we’ll get to meet the Governor, maybe help prepare her for a deposition.”

Dedrick had forgotten to remove his tricornered hat, and its lily white plume framed his beet red face. He even stamped his foot.

“We do not represent the Governor, we represent Speaker Alan Spinkter, and that is important too, and that should be enough for your parents, and associates should learn to speak when spoken to.”

Having reached the middle of the lake, the boat’s motor had cut out just as Dedrick launched his rant. As such, it had been entirely audible, not only on the Michael Brag, but also on the Elsie Moore, laying alongside. After the outburst, silence descended on the two boats.

Until Ted Castro spoke.

“Speaker Sphincter, eh, Claude? Now that’s quite a coup.”

Dedrick prided himself on being a patient and tolerant man, as only impatient and intolerant men can do so well. But even years later, he could never let himself be convinced that Castro had inserted the dreaded “H” by accident. Spinkter’s newest lawyer stared across the open water toward Castro, with daggers in his eyes.

Tom Paine was watching his firm’s restoration crumble before his own eyes. He had half expected such an outcome, but hoped that they would have at least reached lunch time before it all went south. And so he was forever grateful when Sarah Fujii cleared her throat.

Sarah hadn’t planned to do much public speaking today, what with the halter top and all. And she certainly hadn’t expected to share her own news.

“Congratulations to Justice Dedrick,” she said. “That’s a great accomplishment.”

Claude nodded her way in thanks, his plume fluttering in the breeze.

“And I guess this might be a good time to share my own news.”

Everyone leaned in, happy to put the uncomfortable silence behind them.

“I received a phone call the other day too, from someone who’d like the firm to represent them. The matter is a lot less earth shaking than a case between the Speaker and the Governor – “

She smiled at Dedrick, who stonily smiled in return, as a test proctor would, or an axe murderer.

“ – but it is still a case that is important to our client, and I’m looking forward to it.”

“What is it, Sarah?” Drew Duckworth asked.

“Well, you may have heard about a matter in which a large hotel chain wants to demolish a Chinese American historic building – “

Dedrick’s ears perked up.

“ – and I got a call from one of the parties asking me and the firm to represent them.”

Shocked from the peak of his hat to the buckles on his shoes, Dedrick stared stony faced at Fujii. She gazed back, confused, having no way of knowing that she had taken “his” case.

Recalling Dedrick’s misstep only minutes before, Sarah got ahead of any speculation.

“I should make it clear right away that I do not represent the Y Hotel chain. I know that would have been a bigger client and probably meant more financially to the firm. Instead, I’ve been asked to represent the Chinese American community in its efforts to preserve the last intact building from Phoenix’s Chinatown.”

The group, on both boats, broke out into spontaneous applause. The contrast with the reception Dedrick’s news received was stark. But he was at least slightly appeased by her news. At least she hadn’t been hired by the hotel.

“Congratulations, Sarah,” said Claude, as the clapping died down. “As you said, this matter is far less significant than mine, but it’s delightful news nonetheless. This will be a charming bauble, and the firm should be proud.”

Sarah swallowed – hard.

“Thank you, Claude,” she said, reserving, at least for now, the word “Justice.”

“I do wonder, though,” he continued, “how much this will cost the firm.”

“What do you mean, Claude?” asked Duckworth.

“Well, it’s pro bono, isn’t it?” responded Dedrick. “We can’t expect – what are they, farmers, or shopkeepers, or railroad workers – to pay our fees, now, can we?”

Before Sarah could counter with anger, Castro spoke from the adjoining boat.

“They are not railroad workers or shopkeepers, Justice Cracker. Those were the jobs of their ancestors. These people – our clients – are professionals of all kinds.”

Tom Paine decided to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and interrupted.

“Well, I’d like to lead a round of applause for both of our partners and their wonderful news. And then let’s have our wonderful lunch.”

The staff of the firm clapped enthusiastically, pleased to move on. It was 9:30, the food was served, and the bar was open.

But Dedrick seethed. Today was to have been his own day in the limelight. That light had been taken from him, first by two incompetent, soon to be unemployed associate attorneys, then by Ted Castro, and finally by Sarah Fujii. Tom Paine could try to put a good face on it, but Dedrick’s moment had been stolen.

He looked about him on the narrow boat, seeking some way to right the world, to reassert his place at the head of this firm. Which is when he looked across the water again at Ted Castro, relaxing and laughing with non-lawyer staff – staff! – on the stern of the Elsie Moore.

Claude decided that it was a good day for a race.

CHAPTER 18 is next.

Day 15 in my novel-in-a-month effort:

Chapter 16: Pests of the Sea

For the purposes of conserving and protecting the fish and shellfish resources in the coastal waters of the United States and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and promoting and safeguarding water-based recreation for present and future generations in these waters, the Secretary of Commerce is authorized to cooperate with, and provide assistance to, the States in controlling and eliminating jellyfish, commonly referred to as “sea nettles,” and other such pests.

—Title 16, United States Code, Conservation, Declaration of purposes; Secretary’s cooperation with and assistance to States

“Call me Theodore.”

Thus spoke Ted Castro, smiling to himself as he stood in the boat’s bow. It was a testament to his age and education that his first thought in that instance was Herman Melville, not the movie Titanic. Despite what had so far transpired and despite the presence of some colleagues he could barely tolerate, he smiled as he looked forward.

And that is the nature of man (or woman) and the sea (or the lake, gulf, aquifer, reservoir or harbor). There is something about an expanse of water, once it reaches a certain volume, that resurrects a person’s soulful nature. Bodies of water, never completely still, stir something within even the most placid of people. The sea, the lake or the pond dare the most curmudgeonly among us to remain mundane and trapped in the here and now. Most find it impossible to do, and instead sink inside into their thoughts and memories, carried away with the tides.

That sinking was a pleasant release for Ted, who had found the managing partner Claude Dedrick more and more insufferable as time went on. The past two weeks had cemented his feelings.

After the State Fair, Ted Castro had thrown himself headlong into the creation of mini modern houses. Constructed of high quality wood veneer, each one took him weeks of effort. His initial results were uninspired, but after a time he was fashioning scale model replicas of the best ever offered by Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe and, more locally, Al Beadle.

His grandchildren found the creations amazing, and would stare for hours at the detail – the one and a half inch dining table set with food, the tricycle fallen on its side in the back yard, the dog asleep on the couch, even the trousers casually tossed over the back of a bedroom chair.

Though he reveled in the praise of his grandkids, he yearned for a wider reaction. He initially had thought he would bide his time until the next year’s State Fair, but he soon realized that he wanted to display his work sooner. And that’s when he thought of the firm lobby.

Like most law firms around the country, the Dedrick law firm offered those who awaited its services a view of some select art pieces. Often, such work fell into a category one could call “Law Firm Contemporary.” Indeed, anyone who has visited, say, half a dozen firms begins to imagine that there is a consignment shop someplace, maybe online, that provides all of these pieces.

The pieces at Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine clearly came from that shop. They were the approved law firm size – massive. They were the approved law firm composition – abstract, but not too. They were in the approved law firm hues – mostly monochrome but with a few conservative splashes of color, never pastel. They fulfilled the approved law firm mission – convey wealth and stature, and just a touch of superiority, without indicating anything too cutting edge or “out there.” They had not been the first choice of Office Administrator Bernie Galvez, but Claude Dedrick loved them, so that was the end of the conversation.

Ted Castro did not love them. Though he was pleasantly surprised that Dedrick hadn’t selected works that were composed of bucolic farmhouses, or cavorting kittens, they still did little to stir his soul or say much about the modern viewpoint. And so he had begun to bring in his house models.

At first, he had simply set a model or two on lobby tables. But then he began to believe that the venue, as decorated, did not do justice to his work. Looking back now, though, he decided it may have been unwise for him also to replace Dedrick’s colonial furnishings at the same time. That may have been too much for the managing partner.

So in pretty rapid fashion, the lobby was transformed into an IKEA showroom with beautiful but oddly sited little model homes. The staff were transfixed by the new items, which materialized overnight without explanation. Visitors to the firm couldn’t stare at them enough, believing that the firm had engaged the services of an area artist or architect to provide a new vision. Even delivery people, racing as they did from place to place, paused to explore the tiny scenes of domestic bliss.

Only one person was unhappy.

Claude Dedrick was thunderstruck when he first stepped through the firm’s doors and was met by an anonymous artist’s handiwork. His first inclination was to have it hauled away, tout de suite. But the intervention by none other than Ted Castro made him pause.

“Look at this disaster,” said Dedrick. “Some idiot must have delivered these to the wrong place.”

“I don’t know; they look like they belong here,” replied Castro.

“Well, they don’t, and they’re being removed immediately.”

“Well, I’d be careful, if I were you,” said Ted.

“What do you mean?” Dedrick demanded impatiently.

“It’s my understanding that anything that comes in or out of this building needs a requisition order,” said Ted, strolling away.

That brought Dedrick up short. Castro had suggested to the managing partner of a law firm that there was an alternate procedure, a rule, a guideline that must be followed. As a licensed attorney, Claude Dedrick was at that moment honor bound to suspend any independent judgment he might possess. He had to ignore the evidence that sat before him, and negate his own experience as a managing partner in this very building. Instead, he was now required by his training to research the possibility of a rule. Once he found it, he would have to determine whether that rule applied to his situation. If it did, he would have to analyze whether there were any aggravating or mitigating circumstances that would suggest the rule should or should not be suspended in this instance.

That examination would be followed, finally, by completion of the order form itself, which would provide massive new avenues for conflicting interpretation.

All of that would have to be done before Claude Dedrick felt confident that he was within his rights to move some plywood doll houses.

To Ted Castro’s surprise, that gambit gained the model homes a full week in the lobby. When he heard from Dedrick’s secretary Mary that her boss was nearing a decision on what he called the “Model Home Matter,” Castro moved them out to his car, using the freight elevator. As quietly as modern architecture had entered the firm, it exited.

But after that, the office had seemed sterile, unbearable, to Ted Castro. So today, he was happy to be out of the Security Building, and to feel the breeze from the north and the spray off the reservoir.

Still and all, being trapped on a boat with Claude Dedrick for a day long outing was certainly going to be too much for him. And that is why Castro took a leap of faith that his aging frame never would have attempted otherwise.

He jumped from the bow of his boat – and landed on the stern of the smaller boat, which was sailing into the lake ahead of them.

As his feet left the deck of the S.S. Michael Brag, his heart soared, and he felt as if he could accomplish anything. But as he landed on the S.S. Elsie Moore, he felt a sharp shooting pain race up his right leg.

For the rest of his long life, Theodore Castro would walk with a limp caused by that hard landing. But to hear him tell it, from the first moment of his airborne escape from tyranny until the day he died, he walked taller than he ever had before. He had left his white whale behind.

CHAPTER 17 is next.

Day 15 in my novel-in-a-month effort:

Chapter 15.1: A Novelist Despairs

A character in an admiral costume? Are you kidding?

The novelist sat in his office at the law firm of Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine, his head resting in his hands.

He despaired.

When one begins certain complex ventures, one has certain assumptions.

For instance, when you launch yourself on a mission such as a cross country trip, or a new career, or maybe even writing a novel, a few things can be assumed:

You’ve got a road map. You have at least some idea where you want to end up. You are not a horse’s ass.

Well, maybe not the last, but the novelist wasn’t so sure as he read his previous chapter, posted to the blog and currently, maybe, being read by readers with critical eyes and judgmental natures. And when he read it, he despaired – but I’ve already mentioned that.

Not that he didn’t find it at least slightly humorous – he did. When he read a few of the sentences, he smiled; when he pictured a few of the tableaus, he snickered. And even though he was sleep deprived, that had to count for something, didn’t it?

But an admiral costume? Come ON!

Because he was of a certain age, he recalled with chagrin the rise and fall of various popular television shows.

ER had begun as a cutting edge medical drama. But after what seemed like about 2,000 seasons, the writers were clearly flailing. So one week, they would have an ambulance crash into the hospital, turning the hospital itself into a crash scene. Another week, they would have a rare strain of monkey pox or bubonic plague infiltrate the ER, turning it into a scene from ET, clean suits and all. And then an airplane would crash into the hospital.

Get the picture? Smell the desperation?

This over reaching wasn’t confined to medical dramas. How about the Rockford Files episode where James Garner had to arm wrestle a sea monster. No? Then take a look at the Baywatch episode where they spoke their lines for an entire show garbed in nothing but swimsuits (wait – wasn’t that every show?). Or the L.A. Law where they settled a case, quietly, without histrionics.

See what I mean? Ridiculous, impossible far fetched stuff. Desperate stuff.

That’s why the novelist despaired.

He had the sinking suspicion that placing a main character in a period costume comprised the offense of Desperation in the First Degree. Who would believe this stuff? Who could swallow the idea that a law firm could be so dangerously idiosyncratic – aside from anyone who has ever worked in one.

The novelist understood that he did not really know what was coming next. All he knew was this:

He had put the characters on a lake. And, by God, he had to have them do something and then maybe, just maybe, get them back ashore.

He turned back to his key board, and began typing.