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POCKMANN'S FINAL EXHIBIT
Pockmann's Final Exhibit
The Deputy smiled as he handed Pockmann the summons, returning a favor that Pockmann had forced upon him many times. Pockmann sneered back at him and said nothing. "You're welcome, counselor," the Deputy said as he turned to leave. Once the door slammed shut Pockmann quickly unfolded the papers. As he expected, it was a summons to appear before the state's Attorney Disciplinary Commission. He'd been expecting one. Judge Holsapple had taken offense at Pockmann's suggestion, during his closing in the Mextaxas divorce case, that the Judge was "in bed with the Cummings Engine brass," of which Mextaxas was CEO.
Pockmann smirked as he read. "If this don't prove what I was sayin'," he thought, "I don't know what does." He opened the pencil drawer to his desk and tossed the complaint on top of a growing mound of papers- the Complaint that came last month suing him for malpractice in the Lewis divorce and the letter from the Gillett Physician's Cooperative advising that his cancer was back and requesting him to call his doctor.
The pencil drawer was the place he kept things he didn't want his secretary reading. Things he intended to ignore. He had more important things to think about today. Today was a trial date. He was due in court in 15 minutes. Cancer, malpractice and legal ethics would have to wait, he had a case to win.
He turned to the thick file for today's hearing and opened it, making sure he had what he needed. As he rummaged through the paper he scratched an itch on his right jaw line. A sharp sticking pain shot through his face. "Blessed Mother!," he shouted, having forgotten a cancerous lesion was beneath a Band-Aid on the spot he scratched. Pulling his hand away he saw a trace of blood.
His secretary, Amber Bartles, entered the room pursuing the shout. "You o.k.?" she inquired.
"I'm good!" he yelled.
"You're bleeding again, let me get the first aid kit."
"Yeah, Judge Petras don't like bloody pleadings", he joked.
"Well, no, "said Bartles, "and you need to get those things looked at."
"Hey…," he frowned, "I got one mother, God rest her soul, and I don't need another. You got those exhibits ready?"
Bartles rolled her eyes and left the room, returning with a stack of documents and a first aid kit. She dumped the documents on the desk and popped open the kit. "Come over her and let me see that thing," she ordered. Pockman complied.
"Ed!" she said, examining his face, "you got three more of those things since the last time I looked, I'm callin' your doc today."
"Not if you wanta have a job tomorrow, you stay outta my business," he yelled, poking her on the shoulder for effect.
Pockmann hauled up his fattest case, plopping the huge file into it. He focused back on Bartles and looked at his watch. "I suppose you can look to see when I got some free time next week, but I'm makin' the call to Doc Jensen-got it?"
She stiffened her body and threw up a quick salute, "Yessir, sarge, permission to be dismissed?" she said.
"Get outta here," he barked, waiving off her sarcasm.
Pockmann listed slowly toward the front door, his hunched frame bent even further by the weight of the leather case. A creak sounded from the door hinges as he forced it open, pushing against the twenty mile an hour winter winds that came from the opposite direction. His arthritic shoulder popped as he braced the door and pushed back against the wind. He hated these cold winters with a passion, perhaps even more than the young punk on the opposite side of the custody battle he was headed to.
He'd told himself this was the last winter in Gillett County. He was finished with this law gig, ready to kick back and enjoy a life without clients and deadlines, judges and clerks. He was seventy one now, old enough for the government to start paying him back. Ready to spend what winters he had left in Vegas or Scottsdale, hoping someday he could afford more than his trailer in Ft. Lauderdale.
As he crept slowly out onto the frozen sidewalk he heard a familiar voice. "Ed! Ed Pockmann, hold up a minute!" Looking up he saw it was Julius Klienner, another Gillett County divorce lawyer.
Klienner was one of the "good guys" in Pockmann's book, a veteran lawyer not as concerned with the details of procedure as he was a good result.
Klienner tip-toed across the icy street and slid across a patch of black ice as he neared Pockmann, who reached out and grabbed his arm.
"Steady as you go, Jules, what's so important you had'ta stop my forward progress across this frozen tundra?"
"Ed, you owe me a bunch of discovery… Lipsomb, Stetler, Bryant…. I've nothing from you on any of those and they're up next week. What gives? You know I don't need everything in the statute but I have to have the tax returns and the paystubs... we can't get anything done without those, what's goin' on with you? This isn't like you!"
Pockmann stared at him for a pregnant moment as his face reddened. "Hey, Jules," he finally replied, " I got more cases than just yours, ya know, I been swamped what with that Spicer custody I was tellin' you about and this one ….jeez, Jules give a fella a break. Then he reached out and grabbed Klienner by the arm again. "it ain't like you've never been late with the docs to me…need I start namin' cases? You'll get your paper, just back off, you're talkin' like one of them anal youth they been hirin' over at Pigeon and Burkess, come on man, cut me a break!"
Klienner pulled away and took a step back. "Easy Ed, I'm just askin' for what you owe me, I know your good for it, but my clients nervous, ya know? Lipsomb especially is breathin' heavy on me, so just shoot me those docs and let's get this stuff settled, o.k?, then we can go have a brew together, ya know –relax a bit, we both could probably use that,eh?"
"You relax, Jules," Pockmann continued, "you're actin' a little nervous, I'll get you the docs, tell Lipsomb to take a hike… I gotta go, can't be late for Petras, you know how he is." Klienner nodded and turned to go. Pockmann went back to tell Amber to get busy on discovery, his face flushed with resentment that his friend had called him on such a petty issue.
He wondered why Kliener was nervous. It had been a long time since going to court made Pockmann nervous. There had been a time that a hearing like todays would have done that- Temporary Custody in the Schlermacher divorce. Thirty years of divorcing people had taken away the trial day jitters.
Starting as a prosecutor, he moved on to the biggest firm in Gillett County doing criminal defense. About three years into that his superiors decided criminal defense didn't pay and that his trial skills could be put to more pecuniary benefit in Family litigation. He'd been doing that ever since.
Pockmann had a real taste for it. Exposing people's dirty laundry and watching them squirm on the stand was quite entertaining. And it paid well. "Where else can you get entertainment like this - and get paid for it?" he would say.
But lately he was losing his taste for this well-paid entertainment. The Courts had heard the cries of the child advocates that litigation was bad for children. Layer after layer of pretrial procedure virtually guaranteed that custody cases would never reach the courtroom. Psychiatrists and counselors would hash out all the issues Pockmann was used to fighting over.
By the time the client shelled out for mediation, the psychiatric evaluation, the custody evaluation, the deposition fees, and the rest of the pretrial regimen, most of them had neither the money nor the stomach to carry the fight into the courtroom.
Pockmann was increasingly uninterested in the outcome of all this therapeutic song and dance. He looked back wistfully to the day when he could file a petition one month and lock horns in the courtroom with another litigator the next. There was no need for the endless parade of psychobabblers pontificating about caregiving and nurturing.
A much better and quicker result was reached by putting the parents on the stand and letting "the truth come out." " Truth," of course, was whatever dirt he and his private dic Eugene Sandersoll could dredge up.
Once Pockmann was done exposing the dark edges the domicile his client inhabited, no jurist could doubt that only his client was worthy of custody. The other party was barely fit to be called human, let alone a fit parent. Most of his colleagues found that prospect distasteful, even if they did it for a living. But not Pockmann, he relished it. It seemed to meet some unspoken need.
In his more philosophical moments he told himself it exposed the truth about human nature. He felt called to point out the flaws in others. At least those others that weren't paying him. Perhaps he would cause people to reflect on the error of their ways, and they might be better for it. Deep in his past he had been the victim of parent's divorce, his father leaving the home when he was twelve. That had left him and his mother dependent on the state and in poverty. He had never forgotten that. Now the chance to make an errant husband pay for his sins was a source of great energy,
But that was becoming a thing of the past, a relic of days gone by. He was now more likely to send the client off to the mediator and have them return smiling, bearing documents, and announcing they had reached a settlement with their ex. "All well and good," he thought. Good for the parties, the kids, the mediator and the mediator's bottom line. But not so good for the lawyers. What of their bottom line? Cleaning up the language of a poorly drafted custody agreement did not pay nearly as well as making a businessman explain why he was on business to Vegas when there was no record of a "business meeting." The bottom line was suffering. Rent had been late several times and Pockmann had cut his draw in half so that Amber could take home her paycheck.
Besides that, the truth was the practice just wasn't much fun without the trials. Pockmann was never much good at the counselor part of the law business. He could stomach the hand holding if he knew at the end there would be a chance to prove his point about humanity by shredding a straying husband's lies.
Schlermacher was proving to be an exception. A breath of litigious air in a world where settlement incentives had all but sucked the oxygen out of the room. He was retained by the husband, a fiftyish, balding, short man was nearly as round as he was tall.
Mrs. Schlermacher was younger. A nervous, petite blond whose eyes darted from side to side when she talked. Four children and her suspicious mind had left her looking haggard and older than her forty two years.
Their children ranged from a senior in high school to the youngest, Mykayla, a second grader. She was what the fight was about. The eldest Schlermacher girls would live with their mother. The son would live with his father. Where Mykala would live was where the parties could not agree.
What made the case an exception was the fact that Mrs. Schlermacher had a nephew that had just passed the bar. He worked for Fichum and Markwell, who usually didn't do divorce. Most inexperienced lawyers wouldn't be allowed to handle a matter like this, but Aaron Britton had shown such promise his firm decided to take a chance. Mrs. Schlermacher's naive trust in her nephew and the firm's hope of future profit conspired to create a huge advantage for Pockmann- a lawyer on the other side in way over his head that need to prove he could win in court.
At least that's what Pockmann initially thought. Reality was proving to be different. On the day after his discovery answers were due, the youngster sent a nastly email announcing he would be filing a Motion to Compel if compliance wasn't forthcoming. Even more surprising, he took Pockmann before the judge when he didn't get an answer. No one had ever done that before. Britton had the law on his side. "True enough", Pockmann thought, "but that's not the way we do things here."
He knew Judge Petras pretty well, but how would he rule on a sanctions request? It was untested waters, he didn't know what to think.
Petras found him in contempt, ordering him to jail the next day if answers weren't forthcoming.
Pockmann was up past midnight prepping his answers. The longer he worked, the redder he grew in the face. He liked Petras, so he deflected the resentment he felt for his pending jail time towards the kid lawyer who brought the motion. As he fumed, he concluded he was done with the pressures of playing by the rules with Aaron Britton. Then he was finished with his interrogatory answers but not with his fuming. He was done with legal ethics, done with judge's expectations, with client's and their stupid demands. Maybe he was done with law practice and its multitude of hassles.
It was time, he concluded, to use the exhibit.
The exhibit was something Pockmann had long owned. He kept it locked up in the top drawer of his office desk. The exhibit had been owned by one of his mentors- Jerry Sproles, an old divorce litigator who had retired around the time Pockmann had left the firm and went out on his own.
"I never had'ta use this." Jerry had told him, "but the world not what it usta be. People are gettin' nasty. Lawyers don't behave like gentlemen no more. So just keep this somewhere, 'cause you never know..."
Pockmann had let it sit there gathering dust for twenty years. It wasn't that he hadn't been tempted. Divorce practice was like the wild, wild west sometimes.
Once his old rival Victor Knowles handed Pockmann's client a ball point to sign a stipulation. Then he emptied out the casing, turned it into a hitter pipe, and had his client smoke some weed with it. The cops almost believed her when she cried how her hubby was smoking in front of the children. His prints were all over it, but she didn't wipe down the tip where she put her lips. DNA testing was new and Knowles didn't think of it. Pockmann was thinking about unlocking that drawer until the lab test came back.
Francine Arenson had her client open a bank account in the name of the client's soon to be ex-husband's business. Back before 9/11 their small town bank let a wife open an account for a husband as long as she brought back the signature cards the next day. Francine put fifty thousand into that account that her client found while cleaning the husband's office. Then she filed for sactions against the ex for failure to disclose the account in is discovery answers. It only seemed right, he'd been hiding cash from her for years.
Lucky for Pockmann Sandersoll was dating a teller at the bank who found the tape on the security cam of the wife bringing in the signature card. The exhibit might have been useful then, but as usual, Gene came through for him. And so it sat unused.
Pockmann congratulated himself on his restraint, tolerating as much as he had and never opening that drawer. But Sproles was right, the world was getting nasty. "This new breed," he mused, "had just as soon kiss ya as kill ya."
The old loyalties were gone. "Sure", he'd told Klienner several times, "we'd put on the dog and pony show in the court room, we fight it out like gladiators, butting heads til the Judge pulled us apart. But at the end of the day, we shake hands, then go down and have a cold one." There weren't many left he could do that with. The kids nowadays had to run back to the office and pound out twenty more interrogatories, find ten more cases to cite.
He opened his pencil drawer and took out the key to that top drawer. The lock put up a bit of resistance to the key but with a little force it clicked open. There it sat, in the same place he'd left it so long ago.
He picked it up and ran his hand over it. "Never had much use for these," he mused.
Pockmann paused for a second and pondered whether this was the right thing to do. How far had he fallen? "Thought you was better than Knowles?," he asked himself.
He dropped the exhibit into his case. He had spent the night convincing himself the kid needed a lesson and this was the way to teach it. ""The punk's brought it on himself," he thought. "The Disciplinary Commission ain't gonna like it, but nobody that's down in the trenches is gonna blame me."
He snapped the case shut and headed for the door. He'd flung the front door open before Bartles realized he was leaving. "Ed!, you think you might wanna bring these with you,?" She held the answers to Britton's discovery request up above her head, giving him a look of fake astonishment.
Pockmann slapped himself on the forehead, "Holy Mother!...Bring 'em here, I gotta move, I'm late, Petras don't like it when yer late…" She jogged to the door with the papers and handed them off, Pockmann turned as he grabbed them and headed out into the windy street Not wanting to slow down, he carried the papers in his free hand. Three steps out the door he hit a patch of black ice that took his feet out from under him. The papers went flying as he landed on his bottom. The wind flung the papers down the street. All Pockmann could do was lie on the ground and watch them swirl away.
HIs secretary threw the door open. "Ed! ...you o.k.?"
He looked at her in disgust. "My rear end's a little sore, but that's the least of my problems." He pointed in the direction that the wind was blowing his discovery answers, now barely visible. "I gotta have those docs, elsewise you're gonna halfta call Klienner and tell 'em to put together a stay motion on my jail time!"
"I'm wearin' heels, Ed, there's no way I'm chasin' after those papers on this ice! Come on back in and lets call Petras, surely he'll understand."
Pockmann looked down the block, and waved off the documents, "I doubt it."
Trudging back to his desk, Pockmann was hit with a wave of adrenaline that nearly froze him. Every sore point on his body throbbed. The adrenaline doubled the dread he felt at the prospect of calling Petras.
Hoisting his case to the top of his desk, he slammed it down hard on the desk, the metal of the exhibit reverberating through the soft leather of the case. His breath grew short and his heart raced as he turned toward the phone and thought of what to say to the unforgiving judge. He picked up the receiver once but then slammed it down.
He pulled open the pencil drawer and retrieved the letter from the Gillett Physician's Cooperative. Reading it again confirmed what was already drilled permanently into his brain. "Survival rates past six months from onset are rare. It is advisable to make plans in accordance with this test result."
Drawing a heavy sigh, he opened the case and pulled out the exhibit. Opening the chamber, he found that it was, as he remembered, fully loaded.
"Amber", he yelled, "close the door and give me a minute."
Bartles' arm appeared and slammed the door shut. He thought about writing a note, but then decided the presence of the doctor's letter on the desk said it better than he would. He worried about Amber having to deal with the mess, but convinced himself that was better than months of trips to the hospital, having to watch him deteriorate in the process. He opened his mouth and lifted the barrel of the gun to it. Then the phone rang.
"Mr. Schlermacher's on the line, he says he's got big news, it can't wait, I tried to ….."
"Yeah, yeah, just put 'em on," he interrupted.
"Mr. Pockmann, this is Frank Schlermacher, I got those prints off her favorite wine glass like Mr. Sandersoll showed me, but uh...I guess I had second thoughts about that whole business, so I called her up last night, and ah, well...we worked the thing out. We came to an understanding about the kids. I'll still see her every other weekend and she'll come over here two nights a week when I don't have the weekend. It's' what's best for the kids, Mr Pockmann, and that's what counts, right?...Mr. Pockmann?
"I'm here, Frank," Pockmann said. He was busy looking for the key to his top drawer. He found it and opened the drawer. Carefully picking up the exhibit, he placed it back where it had been for twenty years.
"She called her lawyer and he's supposed to write something up for us to sign, so I guess we've got it all settled Mr. Pockmann. You aren't gonna need this tape with her fingerprints then, right? What should I do with it?"...Mr. Pockmann?
"Ah, I dunno…" Pockmann mumbled, shaking as he held the phone, "..Just toss it I guess, don't put it where nobody could find it."
"O.K., will do, and Mr. Pockmann...you sound kinda sad that we've got this all settled. I just wanta say we wouldn't have if you hadn't done such a good job. You had my wife scared to death, man, she did not want to get on that stand with you asking the questions. I owe you a lot, sir. I'll have my checkbook with me today so let me know what I owe you."
"Oh, you can bet on that, Frank, that's guaranteed!," Pockmann laughed as he clicked off the phone.
Pockmann set down the phone and turned his attention back to the exhibit in the drawer. He pulled the drawer back open and looked at the pistol sitting there for a moment. Then his secretary's familiar knock sounded on his door. He quickly slammed the drawer shut.
"Yeah?" he yelled.
"Ed that Britton kid called and said Schlermacher is settled?" Amber said, poking her head through the door. "He's got settlement papers drawn up and wants to know if he should email them over or just bring them to the Courthouse...he's dropping that contempt thing."
Pockmann rolled his eyes and blew out a puff of air, "ain't that just like them anal youth they're breedin' over at Pigeon, I shouldn't seen this coming, I knew that little punk wouldn't follow through...tell em' just to bring it with him, I gotta leave now or I'll be late. He grabbed the case off his desk and headed for the door, picking up the key to his desk drawer on his way out.
Slowly treading across the icy sidewalk, he made his way to the intersection and the sewer grate that lay on the curbing of the street. Digging in his pocket, he fished out the key to the desk drawer. He took one last look, drew a heavy sigh and dropped the key down the grate.
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