Hi everyone. You may have noticed that I haven’t posted in a few weeks. I have started a new endeavor. I enjoyed writing about the origin of the universe and trying to answer the question, what was God doing before He made the universe, but for the month of November I’m taking part in NaNoWriMo. That’s National Novel Writing Month. It happens every November. Aspiring writers sign up and try to write a 50,000 word novel between November 1 and November 30. So I’ll post excerpts from the novel I’m working on throughout the month. Here’s Chapter 1.
Creighton idly tapped his pen on his yellow pad. Inwardly he smiled but his face held its neutral expression. Never let the jury see you react. That was one of the cardinal rules of litigation, one of the many Creighton had down pat.
The witness, the 62-year old plaintiff in this personal injury lawsuit, was scoring a few minor points under the barely competent direct examination of her attorney, a woman who was only a couple of years out of law school. This might be her first trial, Creighton thought. A couple of jurors nodded their heads in agreement as the woman described life without her husband of 40-plus years, a man who had been killed by Creighton’s client, driving under the influence of alcohol. Drunk as a skunk if you want the unvarnished truth. Technically, he wasn’t Creighton’s client. He was actually the insured of Creighton’s client, a huge insurance company. Creighton’s client had the misfortune of having insured this idiot who sat next to Creighton. The client, whose name Creighton barely remembered, was guilty as hell. But this wasn’t a criminal trial. Creighton’s job wasn’t to pass judgment on the defendant’s inability to stay off the booze; Creighton’s job was to minimize the loss his client, the insurance company, would suffer. The plaintiff was asking for over $1 million. Creighton had authority to settle for $100,000. It was far less than the case was worth, but it was all the bean counters at the insurance company would authorize. To a lesser attorney, squeezing the case down by 90% was an impossible task. But Creighton was not a lesser attorney.
The plaintiff’s lawyer was wrapping up her direct examination.
“Your witness, Mr. Lonsdale,” the judge intoned.
Creighton sat up and heaved his bulk out of the chair. Over 250 lbs. Creighton was not spry. But he wore $3,000 tailored suits that disguised his bulk and once on his feet he still moved with grace and assurance.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Williams. My name is Creighton Lonsdale and I represent the defendant,” he glanced at his notes, “Mr. Winget. We met at your deposition, do you remember?” He smiled, a seemingly sincere smile.
Mrs. Williams shifted in the witness chair. “Yes, I remember.”
Creighton nodded. He had gone relatively easy on Mrs. Williams. Creighton didn’t believe in destroying a witness at a deposition; he liked to save that for trial. No sense in forewarning a witness.
“Now, Mrs. Williams, you have given us a very good picture of your life since the unfortunate incident involving Mr. Winget.” He smiled again, this time exuding sympathy. It was Mrs. William’s turn to nod.
“I’d like to ask you a few questions now about your life before Mr. Williams’ untimely death.”
Creighton conducted his cross examination much like a conductor of a symphony. He began slowly, a pianissimo, drawing both Mrs. Williams and the jury in. He built gradually. His questions came faster and more confrontational. Her lawyer objected but each time the judge overruled her. Creighton was aware of the annoyance on the judge’s face but there was nothing he could do. Creighton was inside the lines of propriety – barely. That’s where Creighton liked to operate: pushing the boundaries but never breaking them.
Forty-five minutes later Creighton was done. Mrs. Williams was drained. She dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief.
“Re-direct, Ms. Price,” the judge looked at the plaintiff’s table.
Mrs. Williams’ attorney tried to rehabilitate her but it was no use. Mrs. Williams was completely devastated. Creighton had expertly placed the dagger and twisted it mercilessly. Finally Ms. Price sat down.
“Re-cross, Mr. Lonsdale?”
Creighton shook his head. “No further questions, your honor,” he said, half rising from his chair.
The judge looked at the clock on the wall. It was nearly 4:30.
“Court will adjourn for the day,” he announced. “We will reconvene tomorrow at 9:00. I again remind the jury not to speak of this case among yourselves.” He banged his gavel.
“All rise,” the clerk said. The judge swept out of the courtroom, black robe trailing behind him.
Ms. Price whispered to her client. Mrs. Williams continued to dab at her eyes, nodded, and slumped in her chair. Creighton waited for what he knew was coming.
An hour later Creighton walked into his office at the firm of Hart Lester and dropped his briefcase into one of the guest chairs in front of his mahogany desk. He walked behind the desk, taking his suit coat off to hang on the hanger on the wall. He heard the door close behind him and smiled. Perry was right on time.
“And?” Perry asked.
Creighton turned to face Perry Adams, the senior partner to whom Clayton, a junior partner, reported.
“Seventy-five thousand,” Creighton shook his head as if disappointed.
“Seventy-five thousand!” Perry exclaimed. “Creighton, you’re a damned genius. How did you get them down to that?”
Creighton shrugged. “Clean living, solid preparation, hard work, all that stuff.”
Perry fairly sprinted around Creighton’s desk. He slapped Creighton on the back. “Hell of a job, my boy, hell of a job. Have you let the client know?”
Creighton knew Perry wasn’t referring to Eddie Winget, the nominal client. He was referring to Cressida Braxton, the senior adjuster in New York who was overseeing Hart Lester’s handling of this case.
“No,” Creighton shook his head. “I wanted to let you call her.” Creighton knew that would make Perry look good. He viewed that as his main job; to make his boss look good, whether that was to Perry’s boss, the management committee, or to the client.
Perry looked at his watch. It was nearly 8:30 in New York. “I’ve got her cell. I’ll call her now.” Perry was punching numbers on his smart phone as he walked out.
“Creighton,” he said over his shoulder, “great job. You know the advancement committee is meeting in three weeks. This bodes very well for your appointment as a senior partner. Congratulations.” He switched gears. “Cressida, Perry here. I’ve got great news.” Perry walked out, giving Creighton a thumbs’ up.
Creighton smiled and sat in his high-back leather chair. It groaned under his weight. He looked at the stack of messages on his desk and started to thumb through them. Suddenly his good humor vanished. Shelly had called. Again. Creighton felt his blood pressure rising. He closed his eyes and counted to ten, like the doctor had told him.
What was the matter with that woman? OK, so he was late on the child support and alimony. She always got it eventually. Didn’t she realize he had to work 16 hours a day? No, of course she didn’t. That’s what caused the divorce in the first place. Shelly simply couldn’t understand that in order to support her in the lifestyle to which she had become accustomed he had to put in long hours. That and he needed something to relax him, a little drink now and then, a little diversion.
He felt his blood pressure drop. Creighton wasn’t about to let Shelly spoil this night. He’d deal with her tomorrow or the next day or next week. Any time but tonight. Tonight he was going to celebrate. He pulled himself out of the chair, took his coat off the rack and closed his office door behind him.