324: Pomp And Circumstances

on December 3, 2008 in Book 12

In Which Lee Is Not A Straight Shooter

“The top page… two, three pages… are all boilerplate,” Lee said. He flipped through them, and then the next few. “Six, actually… and… part of it is in verse. Apparently my opposite number has decided to appeal to the elven love of pomp by slaughtering a forest. Not the way I would go, but… oh, here we go: instructions. These are mostly self-explanatory, but we’ll go over them anyway.”

He started reading off a list of items, along the lines of ”the term ‘the university’ shall refer to…”

“The Center”, “the Labyrinth”, and “the events” were similarly identified. When he got to item H, identifying and clarifying the meaning of “the pronoun ‘you’”, I stopped him.

“Is that for real?”

“The law requires specificity,” Lee said.

“Why?” I asked. I wasn’t trying to be difficult, honestly, but this seemed like something out of a bad joke.

“Well… for one thing, if the person referred to by ‘you’ wasn’t specified, it could be argued to refer to anybody who read the paper.”

“Whatever happened to people making reasonable assumptions?” I asked.

“Would you want to be reasonable if being unreasonable helped you get out of an unfavorable contract or settlement?” Lee asked.

“Okay, I see your point,” I said. I sighed.

“Believe me, this is the easy part,” he said. “Moving forward.”

Fortunately, that was the only really egregiously ridiculous part of the instructions… there was no defining what was meant by “the term ‘the term’” and no “the party of the first part”. We finally got to the actual questionnaire itself.

State your full name, your true name (if different), and current place of residence.

Okay. That was like the written equivalent of “Please state your name for the record.” They were being thorough, I guessed. Maybe somewhere, sometime, somebody had filled out a big long questionnaire about a fatal carriage accident they weren’t actually involved in and nobody noticed until the guy had paid a million platinum judgment.

“Do they mean the school?” I asked. “Because I don’t really know where I live if not there.”

“That’s where you live, where you receive mail, and where seekings would find you,” Lee said. “So, yes.”

The second one began Identify any individual or individuals you are aware of possessing direct personal knowledge of the circumstances…

For something called an “interrogatory”, it sure had a mess of imperatives.

“That would be their own people in the center,” I said. “Who you said they would have already talked to.”

“They’re just covering bases,” he said, and we moved on. It was all very straightforward and obvious… and in fact, he kept stopping to point out how straightforward each one was, as well as repeating his advice to be concise and not try to argue on paper.

There was one asking me to state if I was under the influence of any potions, charms, or mind-altering spells at the time… it would have been insulting, but I could at least appreciate why they would ask that one.

“It seems like they’re just asking for a bunch of stuff they should already know,” I said.

“Part of the point of this process is to have everything on the table and out in the open before we begin,” Lee said. “I’m sure you watch a lot of courtroom dramas where…”

“No, actually, I don’t.”

“Okay. Well, that’s good,” he said. “The number of real life cases that turn on some surprise witness with a shocking revelation is very, very small. Ideally, everybody should know the score going in… pulling a fast one to put the other side off their guard rarely accomplishes anything except pissing off the judge and giving the other side an excuse to ask for more time. Also, it’s harder to get a settlement out of somebody when they don’t know you have them over a barrel.”

“Do we have them over a barrel?”

“We’ll get to that,” he said. “One thing at a time. Basically, what they know right now is that we have a complaint about what happened that Friday. In order for them to make an answer to that, they have to know what it is.”

“Isn’t that obvious?”

“Sure, in the same way that the meaning of ‘you’ is,” he said. “The law redresses wrongs. That’s what it cares about in all of this. ‘How were you wronged?’ and ‘Who wronged you?’ In order to have the case decided in your favor, we’re going to have to positively establish in what ways you have been hurt by the school.”

“What do you mean, ‘in what ways’?” I asked. “They dropped me in the middle of the freaking labyrinth.”

Lee raised his hand, shaped it like he was aiming a crossbow at me. He crooked his trigger finger.

“What did I just do to you?” he asked me.

“Uh… you shot me?” I asked.

“No, I didn’t,” he said. “If I had been holding a crossbow, I would have shot you, but I wasn’t. This,” he said, making the gesture again, “is nothing. It isn’t a wrong. The circumstances are everything.”

“Okay, I got it,” I said.

“The school sends students to the labyrinth every day. If they sent you there by accident, that’s a big whoops but it isn’t necessarily an injury,” he said. “Now, specifically, the school’s healing center owed you a duty of care, it failed in that duty, and as a result, you were exposed to mortal peril and subjected to physical trauma, which the professor who healed you can attest to. That’s before we even bring in the pitchfork. But we’re the ones making a complaint, so we have to establish that you were wronged and how it’s their fault.”

“Under the circumstances, I think it’s more a question of how wasn’t it their fault,” I said.

“Maybe, but both sides are entitled to tell their side of things, and since we’re the ones leveling accusations we’re the ones who are going to have to prove it,” Lee said.

“I don’t think they have a side,” I said.

“It doesn’t matter if they don’t,” Lee said. “They’re still entitled to tell it. And if, in the course of putting together their defense, they realize that they don’t really have one, well, maybe that’s when they decide it’s time to settle.”

“Yeah, but… it seems so straightforward, I’m not sure how we ‘establish’ or ‘prove’ anything except just, you know, pointing out what happened,” I said.

“Yeah, that’s sort of what we’re doing,” he said.

“Oh,” I said.

“We’ll get whatever corroborating evidence we need before the hearing, but ideally everybody will be in agreement about the basic facts going in,” Lee said. “At least, so far as it concerns the matters covered by the interrogatory. The pitchfork is going to be another story. Raising it now, after the complaint has already been filed, is going to have an unfortunate odor of ‘surprise witness’ about it… but that can’t really be avoided, since it didn’t come to light before.”

“Yeah, so, what do we do about that?” I asked.

“Good question,” he said. “Why don’t you tell me about it? I think we’ve covered the basics of the interrogatory. And…”

“I know, be specific,” I said. I sighed. “This… this isn’t going to be easy.”

“Take your time.”

The fact that I didn’t know what had happened when the pitchfork was being me made it a little bit easier. I kind of rushed over what happened in the hotel, since what really mattered wasn’t what I had done but why I had done it. I couldn’t skip it entirely, I knew… but I didn’t dwell, I just described how I had learned from Steff about the order and how I’d eaten it and then thrown up. To my relief, Lee listened impassively to it, his face showing concern but not shock or outrage.

Well, I had told him that it was bad. Maybe he was just relieved it wasn’t worse.

I spent a lot more time and detail on how we’d figured out what was going on and what Dee had done to prove it, since that was probably what the whole thing would hinge on.

“So, Ms. Delia Daella took it upon herself to do this?” he asked when I got to the part about Dee’s aural examination-turned-exorcism. “In the school lab?”

“She is an invested priestess, whatever that means,” I said. “Probably like an initiate. And she’s also thirty-something, not a kid like… um, like I was a year ago.”

“Don’t elves reckon maturity at a hundred?”

“Surface ones do,” I said. “Dee’s people don’t count on anybody living to a hundred.”

“Right. Well, as I said before, I think we’ll leave Ms. Delia Daella out of it as much as we can,” he said. “So her age and status shouldn’t matter. We’ll get somebody we know Philomenes will accept as an expert to produce testimony… anyway, Mack, what I really need to hear more about was the, ah, transaction you made while you were possessed and what followed from that.”


“Yes,” he said. “That’s going to be the key to the whole thing.”

“I was kind of hoping we could leave that out of it,” I said. “Like Dee. I mean, I don’t see it helping. Isn’t the fact that I was possessed by an artifact they left with me enough?”

“That’s getting back into ‘how were you wronged’ territory,” Lee said.

“I was possessed,” I said. “That’s like asking how you’re wronged by being killed. ‘Oh, I got stabbed to death at six right as my favorite show came on and I missed it.’”

“Possession and mind control are injurious because they deprive you of free will and lead you to do things that you would not otherwise do,” Lee said. “What else did you do while possessed that you wouldn’t have otherwise done? You said you might have picked a fight with your melee coach… that’s not much, nothing we could act on. This, on the other hand, is huge.”

“Wait… we’re saying I was the victim there?” I asked. “I mean, not just in terms of being possessed but… what I did?”

“What you did is how and why you’re a victim,” Lee said. “If the pitchfork possessed you in the middle of the night, rearranged your sock drawer, and went back to bed, there wouldn’t be much of a case.”

“Nothing happened to me, though,” I said.

“If that were true, the pitchfork wouldn’t be part of the case… but it isn’t true,” Lee said. “How do you feel about what happened, Mack?”

“How do you think I feel?” I asked. “I feel awful, I feel sick…”

“Then you’re the victim,” Lee said. “Because of the school’s actions, you were placed into a position where your body was used for purposes against your morals. Now, once again we face a situation where, if you were anybody else, that would be easy enough to establish… we’d just have to prove that it happened. Receipts from the business, testimony from anybody who knew about or witnessed the actions… but because of your exact circumstances, just proving it happened won’t be enough. We’ll also have to show that you were harmed by it.”

“Right… because I don’t have any morals for it to be against, I suppose,” I said.

“As things stood before, I doubt the school would play the demon card so directly,” Lee said. “Not with racial bias already present as a possible causative factor… it would be to their benefit to characterize the whole thing as a mistake that could have happened to anybody, not something that was done to you because of who you are. They’re in the wrong either way, but there’s wrong and there’s wrong. But this possession angle…”

“It’s not an angle,” I said.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to imply,” he said. “Anyway, it changes things. What we had before could be called a lever, something we could use to pry some concessions out of the school. What we have now is more like a hammer… a big, dwarven-style hammer carved from thunder and the side of a mountain. If we choose to throw it at them, they’re not going to have any choice but to throw whatever they can up to act as a barrier between them and it.”

That was what you called an evocative image. He’d said hammer, but I was picturing Pala the gigantic gladiator woman standing on a mountain top with her stone spear.

“You said ‘if’,” I said. “If we throw it… do you not think we should?”

“I think we—meaning you—should think very carefully before making that decision,” Lee said. “Because if they can, they’ll put you in the path of the hammer instead of them. Those questions that bother you so much here?” He picked up the pages. “They’ll do the same thing with this. ‘But how were you harmed?’ They’ll hit that again and again. There were no legal consequences, you were not physically injured, your reputation has not suffered because of it… and that leads me to my second point.”

“What’s that?” I asked. It seemed like what he’d said already was enough.

I knew that I wasn’t the one on trial, and that technically there wasn’t even going to be a trial, but I was picturing myself on a stand in front of a tribunal, with a hawk-like lawyer chipping away at me.

”Isn’t it true you like the taste of human flesh, Ms. Mackenzie? Isn’t it true that you enjoy it? Didn’t you tell the labyrinth scarecrow that it’s your favorite thing to eat?”

“This is a private arbitration,” Lee said. “The records are going to be sealed. There is going to be no media in the room, nobody who isn’t a party to the case… but that doesn’t mean it won’t get out. Now, if the other side leaked it in a way that we could prove, well… that would be ‘over a barrel’ time. The words ‘irreparable harm’ don’t begin to cover it, but I don’t think that would be much comfort to you. It probably wouldn’t be safe for you to continue your school career here. You’d have to drop out of public sight for a while.”

“What do you think I should do?” I asked.

“As your lawyer, I think we should go for it,” he said. “I think we should hammer them. But I can’t decide, I can only advise… and you’re the one who’s going to have to deal with the consequences if things go south.”

“I… do I have to decide right now?”

“No, of course not,” he said. He picked up the papers and handed them to me. “For now we can focus on fulfilling their requests, and I can line up the experts we’ll need to prove the possession and establish the nature of the artifact. Do you think you could describe the pitchfork?”

“It’s a pitchfork,” I said.

“Specifics, Mackenzie,” he said.

“Uh… three tines?” I asked. “Sorry, visual description’s not my thing, and it wasn’t that interesting looking. It looked like a pitchfork. Farmy, not weapon-of-doomy.”

Lee sighed.

“Well, that would complicate putting out a search for it,” he said. “The Enias River Valley is full of farms. Once again, that would be straying into witch hunt territory.” He got to his feet. “Anyway, I’m sure you have classes to get back to, and I have other clients… and a bride’s mother to placate. If you have any questions about what they’re asking for, Chet will be available even if I’m not. That’s what we barely pay him for.”

“Do you really think we couldn’t tell the story of my possession and not mention the rest?” I asked.

“We could, but I don’t think it would accomplish anything,” Lee said. “Picture a marble-faced elf saying ‘It sounds like you had quite a misadventure that day, Miss Mackenzie,’ and then moving on.”

“Okay,” I said, and I shook his hand, feeling equally certain that I needed to bring up the pitchfork to get a just resolution and that I couldn’t possibly go through with it.

Except for a not very interesting coach ride back to the market area and the one home… fortunately alone… that was the end of my first big Enwich solo adventure.

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2 Responses to “324: Pomp And Circumstances”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Our system of justice can be a soul crushing behemoth.

    Current score: 0
  2. Arkeus says:

    Mack, trying to hide stuff from your lawyer and the jury is is not easy. Think a bit before going “why can’t things be perfect”.

    Current score: 0