Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Until Death - Part 2

This is Part 2 of a Serial Story. The Story began here.

The office door swung open to reveal the gaunt and bent form of Samuel A. Drake, senior partner. A man whose greatest frustration in life, it seemed to me, was lacking sufficient power and authority to outlaw smiling. Still, he did what he could to destroy good cheer wherever he went, something he could usually accomplish by entering the room.

Mr. Drake – I could never think of him as Sam, or even Samuel – was not popular with his clients. They found it difficult to warm up to him, and one had even told me in private that Mr. Drake frightened her. It was unfortunate because the man was a brilliant attorney. But between us we had developed a system that worked. I met with the clients, and he drafted the documents. It put me in a position to be mentored in my legal career by one of the brightest minds in the state. What young lawyer wouldn’t want that kind of opportunity?

As for his determinedly morose outlook…well…it was kind of amusing. To me, anyway. I made a game out of trying to make Mr. Drake smile. He tolerated it with bad humor, at the same time making it clear that I was a fortunate person to be tolerated at all.

Mr. Drake gestured with long, elegant fingers to the beige legal folder in his hands. “Wind,” he said grandly.

“Hurricane, gale force, let’s-go-fly-a-kite, or zephyr-like breeze?” I asked with a smile.

He sighed ponderously, his pale nostrils flaring with disdain. With a quick and seamless motion he closed the door, crossed the threshold of my office, and seated himself in the chair too recently occupied by the spirit of Anthony.

Mr. Drake slid the case file across my desk. “Open it,” he said.

Score another point for Mr. Drake in the game of will-he-or-won’t-he-smile.

I opened the file and jumped a little as a spider skittered out. “I thought the exterminator sprayed for spiders last week,” I said, pushing the spider off my desk with the edge of the folder.

"Apparently he missed one. Read,” said Mr. Drake.

I quickly scanned the papers inside the folder. Satisfied that I had grasped the main facts I shut the file and faced Mr. Drake. “The parents are dead. They left their farmland to their two children. One child inherited the land rights, and the other surface rights. An oil company wants to install commercial-grade wind turbines on the property, and the children are fighting over who owns the wind rights,” I summarized.

“And the legal issue is…?” he prompted.

“Interpretation of the language in the parents’ Will.” I picked up the file again and flipped to the photocopy of the Will. “All rights to the land exclusive of surface rights: oil, gas and other minerals,” I read.

“Our client owns the surface rights and is arguing that the wind rights are his as well. His argument is that the language in the will limits his sister’s rights to oil, gas and other minerals,” said Mr. Drake. He stood up and crossed to my office door. “The client will be here this afternoon. Have an attack plan against the sister organized and ready to present.” He paused and studied his meticulously manicured fingernails. “Are you familiar with the doctrine of cuius est solum eius est usque ad coelum et ad inferos?” he asked.

“Yes, sir. The phrase means, essentially, that owning land includes everthing related to the land, from ‘heaven to hell.’ The property owner owns everything from the sky to the core of the earth,” I said.

“Minerals, below the ground, being the hell. The surface of the land is life, the mortal coil. Last, the wind blowing free above the earth is heaven in motion. Ask yourself this, Maryanne: why should the sister claim any rights to heaven when her clear portion under the Will is hell?”

“Okay. I’ll think about that. I’m not certain the application of that doctrine is exactly on point here, but I will think about it. But I won’t phrase things the way you just did for the client. It was…creepy,” I said, politely.

Mr. Drake arched one dark eyebrow and said, “Perhaps. Oh, before I forget, the firm is hosting a dinner Friday night. All associate attorneys are expected to attend.”

I grimaced. “This Friday? I can’t, Mr. Drake. My friend Charlotte is in a musical at the university, and I promised her that I would be there. I’m sorry, but I just can’t go to the dinner,” I said apologetically.

He glared at me. “No one else in the firm attends these…plays. Or movies, or concerts. They are unnecessary frivolity. And it is time for you to focus on more important matters,” he said.

“I know, and I’m sorry. But she’s been my friend since we went to church camp together as kids. I can’t back out on her now.”

“You put too much importance on relationships outside of the firm. Don’t you realize, Maryanne, that you are only hurting your ‘friends’ in the long run? The deeper your involvement in this firm becomes the less time you will have for people outside these walls. You should begin to break away from them now,” he said commandingly.

I hate those moments when you have to decide between your life and your job. Well, he could have told me about this dinner before now. I mean it’s the week of. Charlotte asked me to come to her show two months ago.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Drake, but I already have plans for this Friday,” I said firmly.

He opened the door and said quietly, “Think about it, Maryanne.” The door closed behind him with a soft click.

Yeesh. No wonder his clients don’t like him.

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