Legal Karma

At 9:45 AM in Hollywood, California, a man in his fifties and his son, twenty, approached the tall office building for the young man’s deposition at a busy intersection on Sunset Boulevard. Tall father in his blue pin striped suit, and muscular son, three inches shorter, in slacks and a sport shirt, strutted through a cross-walk. A crowd waited for a street musician to begin. Father and son passed the gathering to a nine-story office building, through glass revolving doors, into the foyer over black granite tile to the elevators. A swift ride to the ninth floor took them to a snazzy law office where the defense lawyers rented space. They stepped out of the elevator on to dark oak floor that led to the reception area.“We are here for John Kelly’s deposition,” Matt Kelly said to the slender dark- haired receptionist. She wore a professional grey suit bearing a name tag, “Fran”. She whisked them to the law library, where legal treatises ascended from floor to ceiling, and Joe Murphy, John’s attorney, closed the doors, “All the defense lawyers have read the hospital and psychiatric reports, and everyone wants to settle except the attorney for the driver of the Toyota who caused the accident without your deposition, John. She seems argumentative. The insurance lawyer is a professional and will begin the questioning. Just stick to the facts.” They walked to the conference room. Joe opened the heavy oak doors and they entered. Set on red carpet, an oak table had nine empty captain’s chairs with a court reporter at the far end in a dark blue suit. She had just placed new paper in her shorthand machine. A long glass window overlooked Sunset Boulevard to the east. They remained standing as the defense attorneys arrived. An obese female lawyer for the driver of the blue Toyota sauntered in with the insurance company’s lawyer, a husky red-haired attorney with a crew cut, Jack Levine. The reporter arose and pointing at the seat next to her said, “Would the deponent please sit here?” John took that seat, Joe sat adjacent, and Matt moved next to him. “Mr. John Kelly, do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” the court reporter said. “I do.” “Counsel may proceed.” “Mr. Kelly, what time did you begin the trip in question?”asked Levine. “About ten AM.” “Where did you leave from?” “542 Newton Avenue, San Fernando, California.” “Who else joined you?” “My wife Barbara.” “What course of study were you engaged in at the time of the accident?” “I was a Microbiology student at UCLA in my third year.” “What speed were you going at the time of the collision? “I used cruise control at 66 miles per hour.” “Tell us how the accident occurred?” “The defendant’s Toyota entered the freeway on my right at high speed. I tried to avoid the collision but was surrounded by trucks. I honked and moved over but her car slammed into mine sending it into a spin. My car crossed into oncoming traffic, a van broadsided me, and knocked me unconscious.” “So you didn’t see the van coming ? “No, everything went dark once the spin ended.” “What do you recall next?” “I awoke at the UCLA hospital in the ICU.” “How long did you remain there?” “Two weeks.” “Do you have any symptoms today?” “Emotional distress from the loss of my wife, unable to finish my science major, and constant back pain.” “Have you seen any medical professionals?” Joe Murphy interposed, “May we take a break so I can discuss the medical records with counsel?” “Off the record for a conference,” said the court reporter. Joe whispered to John and Matt, “Why don’t you gentlemen go outside and relax. It’s a lovely day. I’ll get them back into settlement mode.” Joe took defense counsel through the medical records, hospital charges, and car repairs. John and Matt left. “Dad, can you hear that saxophone around the corner?” John said. “Yeah, that’s a Glenn Miller tune I played in high school. Let’s go listen.” “That old music jumps and the sax wails.” “That’s a mellow tone he must have amplified.” Matt pulled out a five spot and handed it to John, “Toss it in the man’s hat.”John placed the bill in a red and white brocaded leather hat with the name “Zeke” embroidered in gold on one side. Zeke winked and nodded acknowledging the gift reeling, rollicking, and blowing on his mouthpiece. His cheeks puffed like balloons as he manipulated the sound. With fuzzy white-hair covering his chin, standing and rocking back and forth, he sound-sculptured “In the Mood” with melodious notes that wafted from his gold sax. A crowd of smiling pedestrians had gathered clapping their hands and moving their feet, heads bobbing, and fingers popping to Zeke’s music oblivious to the dust, smell of garbage, and clamor of the street. “My brother played that on sax and I played trumpet in high school.” “Why not ask him to play another?”John said. “Zeke, can you play ‘Little Brown Jug?’” “Sure can, friend,” Zeke said winking his eyes catching a sparkle from the sun. His gold-plated 1950 Selmer Alto spilled notes that affected the crowd who rocked, moved heads and shoulders, feet and hands, to his rhythms and riffs. Some danced to Zeke’s spicy improvisations as his fingers raced over the brass keys like a hummingbird’s wings. Time seemed to stand still for the Kellys relieving them of the morning’s tension and restoring balance. After a half an hour Matt said, “How long will you be here?” “Hell, I’ll stay here until 8 PM.” “Do you play any Brubeck?” John asked. “I’ll save 'Take Five' for you.”They went back to the office and sat in the reception room with a cup of coffee. “Let’s get lunch” Joe said coming out of the conference room “and discuss settlement.” After ordering sandwiches they took a seat overlooking Sunset Boulevard. Jack met them, “I’m sorry Joe, but Griselda insists on her opportunity to question John before she’ll agree to any contribution from her client.” “Just like her. This’ll be over soon,” Matt said putting his arm on John’s shoulder. The court reporter said, “Mr. Kelly you are still under the oath.” The Insurance attorney, a woman in her thirties, blond-brown bouffant shooting skyward, large pointed nose piercing forward, started the attack with pursed lips and eyes glaring: “Mr. Kelly, why do you expect our insurance company and my client to give you any money for killing your wife with your reckless driving?” “How dare you attack my son?” shouted Matt face red with rage. John’s pained expression looked as if he had just witnessed his wife's death. His eyes welled up and he slumped in his chair as if all the air went out of him. Joe jumped up a little cooler and made his record: “Objection! Ms. Crass, your question assumes facts not in evidence, is argumentative, unethical, and unprofessional. You know the police cited your client for gross negligence and exonerated my client who has lost his young wife and had his dreams of a future crushed. You have interfered with the progress counsel, except you, have made toward resolving this matter. I shall file a complaint with the state bar against you for unethical misconduct. This transcript contains the evidence. The deposition is over.” Matt and John arose and joined Joe as they walked into the reception area. They were followed by all the attorneys. Ms. Crass fumed from the accusation. She arose, pointed her nose skyward, and stomped out bouffant trailing. One could imagine smoke erupting from a train stack as she chugged out the door. The court reporter agreed to send the transcripts to counsel and be a witness in further proceedings. “Don’t worry Joe, we’ll settle. Crass only represents the driver’s personal funds as a high school student. She’s been cited by the police and has a driving record that will follow her,” Jack said, “I don’t want any money from the young girl,” blurted John. “Good for you,” said Matt. “The case ends when you sign the settlement agreement,” said Jack. “I’ll send it to you tomorrow,” Joe said. Everyone shook hands and parted. John and Matt left the law office, took the elevator down to the first floor, walked into the foyer, and through the revolving doors. They heard a loud SCREECH and then a THUD. A leather hat lay in the crosswalk with a crowd of witnesses. A crumpled old white-haired man was ten feet in front of a black Cadillac Escalade with the tires on both sides of the crosswalk. A policeman at the scene opened the door and out stepped Griselda Crass, screaming “That man darted in front of me. I couldn’t avoid him.” “Tell it to the judge, lady. You’re under arrest,” said the policeman as he handcuffed her, while his partner started taking witness statements. An ambulance pulled up and immediately began treating Zeke who started breathing again. “What happened?” Matt asked a pedestrian in jeans and a Hawaiian shirt. “Zeke was halfway in the street when the SUV slammed him,” said a bystander. “That driver was on a cell phone when she hit Zeke,” a woman of thirty said. “What was the last song he played?” John asked the man with the drums. “‘Time out’ by Brubeck.”

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There’s a Man on the Roof

                                              “There’s a man on the roof,” I said to my Duke University roommate. “How did he get there?” “You won’t believe this. He climbed up the bricks of the Chemistry building from the bottom using his fingers, shoes, and balance all the way to the roof.” “I’ve never seen anything like it. How long did it take him?” “I’ve been watching him since I first saw him half of the way up.” “Do you know him?” “Yeah. That’s Dave Craven.” “Hey, I know him!” “He’s the psychology major who wants to study ESP. Remember when he hypnotized you?” “That was when I met him two weeks ago. Look, he’s starting to come down now.” “Notice how he slides his fingers to the next point to find the lower line of bricks to come down.” “I’d never do it. I’m afraid of heights. What balance! Is he a gymnast?” “No. He goes rock climbing.”He carefully grabbed the top of a window to the third floor, swung to the window ledge, and placed one foot on the bottom of the ledge. “What agility.” “Foolishness if he falls.” “Hope he finishes soon.” Our classmates were gathering at the entrance to the Drama building to witness live drama from the Duke Players doing T. S. Eliot’s "Murder in the Cathedral." I thought from Dave’s angle the freshman class of eight hundred must have looked like a herd of blue ducks in formal clothing with their required Duke-blue dinks on their heads oblivious to Dave’s climbing, just a misstep from his death. “We still have plenty of time. The ushers have to seat every freshman before they begin.” “He’s walking along the second floor ledge about to drop down one level. Let’s go.” “We have to critique T. S. Eliot’s play, so get us two seats up front.” “OK. Hurry, so the ushers don’t close the doors.” Dave reached the top of the first floor window ledge and began to drop as I beckoned, “The ushers will shut the doors soon. Hurry, Dave.” “Relax. I’ll make it. A few more feet and a jump.”The last of the line had reached the concrete steps and were about to enter the doors manned by ushers wearing dark suits, white shirts, and ties. Unbelievably, Dave had climbed the entire height up and down a four-story brick building in a grey sports coat, slacks, blue pinstriped shirt, and maroon tie, but he wisely wore tennis shoes. I raced up the steps yelling, “Keep the doors open; another student’s coming. My roommate saved seats for us.” The skinny usher said. “We have instructions to close the doors at 7. The play begins in a minute. Your friend can’t make it.” “Please let him in.”Dave jumped to the ground; his class of 1962 blue dink fell. He retrieved the cap; and put it on as all freshmen were required to the first month of freshmen orientation. A white “62” embroidered on the front above the short bill made the freshmen resemble Donald Duck. I raced to the door, showed my I.D., and shoved my foot against the door. Dave ran behind me, sweat dripping from his face shouting, “Hold the door open.” “You’re late,” said the skinny usher. He began to close the door, but my foot blocked it, as did the muscular usher’s body. Dave leaped at the door, swung it open, and knocked down the muscular usher. He helped that usher onto his feet, brushed him off, and said, “Thanks for holding the door open for me.” That usher smiled, “Enjoy the play. You earned it by your balancing act, agility, and strength. I’m the captain of Duke’s rock-climbing team. You’re going to enjoy the steep mountain rocks we climb. Oh. Dean Jones, what’s the matter?” “I’ve heard a report,” the Dean of the freshmen said, with a worried expression. He gazed up, and looked around. The lights went down, and the play started. He said in the dark, “There’s a man on the roof?”

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Over There and Back

The muscular Marine officer watched sunset with his wife and eight-year-old daughter from their porch overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the Island of Coronado, California. Water lapped the shore as the surf rolled in. Shaded streaks of magenta and orange shimmered in cloud scattered sky. The reflection cast on the smooth back-flow mirrored glowing colors smeared by Nature’s paintbrush. The pattern changed with wind or breaking wave—white foam erasing images. Plunging water from waves splashed after breaking with percussive beats in throbbing rhythms. Seagulls squawked diving for minnows, catching them in beaks, flying up, circling for more. Who would know a World War raged across that Ocean?

The transport carrying him and his platoon of marines would depart tomorrow for an island occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army.  Captain Thomas Hart embraced his wife for a final time. “My ship passes Point Loma at 8:00 A.M.”

She looked at him with tear-stained eyes, “Write me every week, keep this picture in your helmet, and stay healthy.” He gazed at the photograph of his slender blond wife, freckled eight-year-old daughter, and him as they sat on his leather living room couch, petting his Labrador retriever.

He put on his cap, jumped in the waiting Marine jeep, threw his green duffle bag with his belongings in the back, and departed in a cloud of dust. Wife and daughter waved goodbye as his image faded in the twilight.

In a half an hour he had boarded the USS Zeilin, a Navy Amphibious Assault Transport carrying one hundred and fifty officers and two thousand enlisted men. Joining his compatriots in officer’s quarters, he stowed his gear, and lay in bed thinking about the journey ahead. What would he feel with his marines in landing craft plowing through the ocean approaching Japs dug in with cannons, machine guns, bullets whizzing at him, and shells bursting? He feared death, but had to hide that. Troops needed a confident leader in battle.  Closing his eyes, he meditated while deep-breathing—a walk beside a peaceful lake.

The transport steamed out of the San Diego harbor with a gaggle of gulls trailing, looking for garbage from the galley, the smoke billowing out of the stacks after an Aircraft Carrier.

Hart’s wife and daughter watched the ship gliding slowly toward the horizon ever growing smaller. When only a blip, the Zeilin dropped and disappeared as if it fell off a table into a chasm.

Two months later the Japanese initiated the battle. Alerted by the pre-dawn American amphibious forces offshore, the garrison of cannons opened fire on the task force with their six-inch naval guns shortly after five A.M. His fleet’s battleships responded. Planes strafed the enemy. Fireballs lit the sky when a sixteen inch shell hit an ammunition dump. Hart’s stomach churned. “Move out,” barked the platoon sergeant, a burly Texan named Hunsicker.

The captain of the Zeilin played the Marine Hymn over the public address system, and the sailors cheered as the 2nd Battalion Marines crawled over the side and down the cargo nets.

                                                                                       

Hart’s platoon clambered into a landing craft. They plowed through the rolling water toward the shore.A marine next to Hart vomited. One mumbled the Lord’s Prayer with eyes closed as machine gun bullets sprayed the front of the craft. A wave lifted them—do we have a guardian angel? Hart wondered. Only men, of all living things, pray.”

Explosions from cannon shells shot water high in the air and rocked the craft.As they approached the beach some men in the water tried to reach cover in the jungle. Machine guns cut down many. Mortars fired shells at them from positions hidden in the jungle. The landing craft opened its front ramp. Hunsicker screamed, “Move out.” Bodies littered the beach and floated in the water. Hart struggled through the surf, held his rifle high, and scrambled out of the water onto sand.

A soldier in a stupor, next to him with one arm shot off cried, “Oh no, no.”

In an underground concrete bunker, a clean-cut intelligent Japanese commander planned strategy with another officer before a model of the island. Allied aircraft bombs blasted close, and shook the walls and table. As he sat on a bed for support, the leader clutched a photograph of his wife, in a kimono with a parasol, hugging their young daughter on his lap—all smiling. A Buddhist shrine hung from the wall next to a large white flag with a red circle in the center. He lit a pipe, and poured green tea into porcelain cups for him and his lieutenant. On the beach the men raced over dunes, fell, and rolled. Many died.

Shouts of “Corpsman” came from wounded marines. Hart ran into the jungle with others for cover until they reached tall grass, and crawled. Automatic machine-gun fire from under palm trees and rifles across the way in shrubs, rattled sporadically. “We’re caught in crossfire,” Hart yelled. He said to Jim, an Alabama sharp-shooter, “Get the riflemen. I’ll take the machine gunner.”

“OK Captain—let’s give ‘em hell.”

Joe, a marine from Boston who loved baseball, tossed a grenade into a hidden gun nest where Jap bullets killed two marines. After an explosion, two bloody bodies rolled out from a small dirt bunker covered with palm fronds.

The sergeant yelled, “Fix Bayonets.”

Joe imagined a blade slicing into his neck, blood gushing out. Bullets flew at them from the enemy in the jungle. A marine with a buddy next to him under cover screamed, “I’ll get the sniper” and shot. A body tumbled out. They came out to inspect.

One marine turned the body over and shouted, “It’s a dummy.” Bullets rang out from a tree killing both marines.

Jim told Joe, “Bet I stay alive longer than you.”

“Shut up and fight. If I win, you won’t pay.”

The sergeant saw rifle fire coming from a cave yelled, “Send for a flame thrower.”

A wounded Japanese soldier staggered from the jungle fell with blood flowing from bullet holes. He dreamed he was with his wife and two teenage sons soaking in an ofuro, helped them towel off, and dined with chopsticks seated in the yoga position. They meditated before a Shinto shrine.

Hart told the sergeant, “Get someone to guard the prisoner. I’m going to check on our wounded,” and left the area.

Hunsicker broke both of the man’s legs with his rifle butt, and then questioned him to learn their plans. The prisoner refused to talk. The sergeant cut off his left ear. In agony the man with fear in his eyes, held his bloody head. “Where are the Jap troops?” After silence, he stabbed the soldier in the neck and twisted the knife. Screams trailed off to a choking sound as the enemy soldier fell to his death. The sergeant kicked his body into a hole hidden by a tree. Unknown to the sergeant, a young marine observed his actions.

A soldier with a flame thrower arrived as requested and torched the cave with a stream of liquid fire scorching two Japanese soldiers who burned to a blackened crisp.

The young marine nearby vomited.

In another area of the jungle, a Japanese soldier without his helmet on photographed a large purple and scarlet flower with curving petals like a brilliant jellyfish. He opened a book from his backpack and examined the flower. Smiling as he thumbed through his drawings, he drew the flower with a set of colored pens. His face relaxed into a tranquil expression.

Marines with fixed bayonets spaced out to avoid making an easy target. Japanese soldiers sharpened their bayonets that glistened in the sun, like those of their samurai ancestors.

Hart wrote in his journal, “I’ll never figure out this war. Our men are like possums in a tree, easy targets for the enemy. Japanese men go up in flames like tissue paper. The flame thrower is the worst. I’d rather take a shot.” Returning to the scene where the sergeant had the prisoner, Hart questioned him, “Where’s the enemy soldier I asked you to guard?”

“I tried to get information out of him but he ran away when I was distracted by the Japs in the cave.”

Hart shouted, “Anybody see the wounded prisoner leave?”

The young marine approached and whispered, “The sergeant broke his legs, cut off his ear, and then killed him with his knife.”

“What happened sergeant?”

“This is war. I killed a Jap. That’s what we do so they can’t come back at us.”

“Sgt. Hunsicker we fight hard, but we don’t torture prisoners. We don’t fight out of hate. We’re not professional killers.”

Hunsicker said, “That’s a bunch of crap. I’m going to bury our dead, and kill me some more Japs.”

The young marine mused, “That’s the danger. We forget why we’re here. No one warned us of that.”

 

Navy and Air Force planes zoomed overhead, and bombed the enemy. Explosions rocked the ground. Sounds of missiles, bombs, and machine guns from strafing sent plumes of smoke in the air as our men smiled and cheered the angels from the sky.

             

After twenty minutes of constant pounding, the silence left only the jungle sounds of birds, insects, rustling palms, and ferns in the wind. Hart interrupted the ambience, “Let’s find Japanese headquarters. Follow me, I have a communication from a scout in the air that we are close.”

The men reached a clearing that overlooked a roof hidden from view. They descended through the camouflage. Hunsicker broke a hole in the roof. The young marine peered in and exclaimed, “The Japanese commander committed Hari Kari with his sword.”

Hart jumped into the room, saw the sword in the commander’s stomach and the shrine. He looked at the photo of the happy Japanese family. A tear rolled down his cheek as he climbed back and faced the men, “It’s over. They followed him back on a trail and stopped when he signaled them.

“Men I have received a message we must join the others and return to the ship.” The men followed Hart toward the beach and encountered a Japanese soldier crying next to a dead friend in uniform without his helmet. Hunsicker took aim, but Hart stopped him, “He’s unarmed.” They approached the Japanese. The distraught soldier had no weapons. Hart offered him water from his canteen. The soldier reached out for the canteen with one hand and handed Hart a small book with the other. A look of astonishment came over Hart’s face, as he thumbed through the book.

The young marine watching over Hart’s shoulder said, “The soldier was an artist. Those are his paintings of exotic flowers.”

Tears fell from Hart’s eyes. He gathered the men. “We have taken this island. Only he remains and will commit Hara Kiri, an ancient form of ritual suicide that defeated samurai, or those whose shame was too unbearable used to restore their honor.” His unarmed friend was needlessly killed. Bow your heads in prayer. Dear God help us put an end to war. Amen.”

The men trudged in silence back to the landing craft. Fires burned, and smoke rose from the island. The smell of death was everywhere as were the ghastly images the men will never erase from their minds. The men entered the landing craft that returned them to the transport. They climbed the cargo nets, and entered the Zeilin. They looked from the ship’s height over the desolate island, once paradise to its natives, now desecrated by war.

The young marine said, “We won this one. There are so many more to go.”

“I’m looking for the next battle,” Jim offered, “I got myself six gooks here.”

Joe said, “I wonder how the Red Sox are going to do next year.”

Six months later the transport pulled into San Diego Harbor. The base let the families know the time of arrival when the ship approached. Tom’s wife and daughter stood at their porch as a small dot appeared on the horizon beyond the rolling ocean kissing the shore. Sea gulls flew, squawked, and dove. Porpoise cavorted bobbing up and down beyond the surf. Dry sand glistened with shells and pebbles as each incoming wave receded. Tom noticed that Nature didn’t seem to know what he and his men had done, that a war was on, that people were dying. A steady rhythm from the sounds of waves thumping after breaking, assured a casual observer that Mother Nature would weather man’s meanness.

At the gang plank where the Zeilin anchored among a crowd of well-wishers, family, and officials, Tom stood waving. The Coronado Navy band broke into the Marine Hymn. There wasn’t a dry eye. Below, Hunsicker shined his shoes. The young marine wore a wide smile. Jim cleaned his gun. His family was down south. He couldn’t wait for another medal as a sharpshooter.

When the time came, Major Tom ran down the gangplank, grabbed his wife and daughter, hugged, and kissed them.

“We are so proud of you dear. Thank God you’re home,” his wife said.

He lifted up his daughter, and wheeled around in a dance of joy, and shouted, “I’m home. I’m home to stay.” He put his daughter down and hugged his wife as the tears rolled down all of their faces. Their hearts beat as one.

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