240: Legal Wrangling

on June 18, 2008 in Book 9

In Which Mackenzie’s Actions Sicken Her Attorney

After dinner, Amaranth reminded me that I’d wanted to talk to my lawyer about the newspaper article. We headed back up to my room and I flipped open the mirror.

It turned out there were three echoes waiting for me. The first was a quick one from Ian, saying that he had to cancel on dinner because the band had been asked to do a frat party on Saturday and they wanted to squeeze in all the practice they could.

Since the thing with Gloria had kind of knocked any memory of his promise—agreement, I mean… no sense going all “Sooni” on him—to have dinner with us out of my head, I didn’t really begrudge him this. I knew Ian wouldn’t want to sound anything less than perfect at his first gig, and even then he probably still wouldn’t be satisfied.

He ended by telling me to wake him up for breakfast tomorrow… and saying “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” I told his watery, deaf image before it faded away.

The second echo was from Lee Jenkins, asking me to give him a shout if I got the message before eight. The third image to come into focus was Amaranth.

“Oh, you don’t have to watch this, baby,” she said, reaching for the mirror. She froze as her doppelganger began to speak.

“Is this… baby, are you there? Is this thing…” She looked off to the side. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” she told somebody out of frame. “It’s what? I don’t…”

Then the image flickered and faded away. The real Amaranth looked more embarrassed than I’d ever seen her. She muttered something about “my first time.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “I haven’t used them very often, myself. I guess I’d better talk to my lawyer, huh?”

“Do you want my help?” she asked.

I thought about it. I’d have loved to hand Amaranth the mirror and all responsibility for everything that had anything to do with the arbitration case, but I had a feeling that wouldn’t fly, which meant that at some point I needed to start doing this shit for myself. Might as well be now, I thought.

“I’ll do it,” I said.

“Okay,” she said, smiling patiently. “I’ll be right here.”

I asked the mirror for Lee Jenkins, Attorney At Law, at Pendragon and Associates of Enwich. He came into focus almost immediately, wearing a pale blue shirt and a tie, but no jacket. The wood grain behind him didn’t look like the wall in his office.

“Ah, Mack,” he said. “You got my message. Great!”

“Yeah,” I said. “Sorry I didn’t answer, but I left the mirror behind for combat class. I was going to look you up, though, anyway… do you always work this late?”

“If I were working this late, I probably would’ve had to let you fall into my echo trap,” he said. “You’ve actually caught me at home, though. I just wanted to take a minute to let you know where we are and to see if you have any additional concerns.”

“Well, yeah, I kind of do,” I said. “But, you start.”

“Are you alone?” he asked.

“Amaranth is here,” I said. “We’re in my room.” I turned the mirror around and held it up so that he could see her wave, and get a view of the surroundings.

“Whoa, don’t do that,” he said. “Gives me motion sickness.”

“Sorry,” I said. “I’ve never had a hand mirror before.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “I’ve been in contact with the university. I sent a petition to be named your advocate on Sunday night. It was delivered Monday morning and approved today, though the arbiter can overrule that if he or she judges, for some reason, that I do not represent your interests. They have not actually named an arbiter yet but I’ve suggested to the committee that we would not contest the appointment of an oathspeaker to that position. I’m fairly certain they’re heading in that direction, anyway. There’s qualified human arbiters in town. If they’re going elven, they have to see who’s available and how soon they can come here.”

“Um… not to question your judgment…”

“By all means, question away,” Lee said. “If I ever do anything on your behalf that I can’t explain or defend, you should probably start looking for a lawyer.”

“Well, I know you think this will sidestep some of the bias, but I’ve run into prejudice from elves before,” I said.

“At the university?”

“Professor Ariadne Einhorn,” I said.

“Einhorn? There’s an A. Einhorn who writes letters to the editor,” Lee said. “I wouldn’t have guessed that she was an elf. Or a woman. Anyway, the point is that it’s always a bit of a gamble when you go before somebody, judge, jury, or otherwise. There’s always going to be some risk that you’ll just rub somebody the wrong way, for reasons that are beyond your control. The typical elf, though, is less likely to have problems with your heritage than the typical human.”

“I guess Ariadne’s pretty atypical, as far as that goes,” I said.

“In my professional opinion as your attorney, I would say she’s a bit of a dingbat,” Lee said.

“So they appoint the arbiter and then what?”

“Then the case begins in earnest,” Lee said. “There will most likely be a period of discovery, which essentially means a lot of statement-taking. It’s safe to assume—safe past the point of calling it an assumption—that the university’s lawyers have already examined everybody involved on their side.”

“Already?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” he said. “They don’t gain anything by waiting. Once the arbiter has been named, we’ll be able to get copies of their transcripts and start taking depositions ourselves. That should give us a clearer idea of where we stand. It’s possible that it won’t go any further than that, if the facts are clear enough. I wouldn’t put a bet on it either way, but it’s possible.”

“So what do I have to do, exactly?”

“At this point? Nothing,” he said. “Don’t talk to anybody about it. Amaranth is probably okay. As a direct servant of a divine entity she can’t be compelled by earthly courts to give testimony in a matter that doesn’t involve her directly and it’s unlikely we’ll need her to testify. With anybody else, you’ll need to keep a lid on things. We’ve got a filter on your mirror that’s keeping the press away, but if anybody approaches you directly, just refer them to me.”

“Uh, yeah,” I said. “That brings me up to the concern I have.”

“You haven’t already spoken to the press?”

“No,” I said. “But the press has certainly spoken to me.”

I summarized Angstrom’s article for him. He was quiet for a few seconds.

“Is this on the net?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Give me one second.”

He disappeared from the image for a minute and then came back, toting a palm-sized crystal ball which he gazed into as he spoke, his profile to me.

“This made the front page? Honestly? I know it’s a student paper, but… okay, this part. The two-headed girl? Is that what’s bothering you?”

“The most, anyway,” I said. “They’re actually two girls with one body. He didn’t even get that much right.”

“Well, if they felt like being juvenile, they’d have been better off simply saying that you smell bad or were ugly… opinions are not falsifiable, and thus, not actionable,” he said. “But these are actual claims they’re making. Appending, ‘Well, somebody said…’ doesn’t change that, because I doubt they could produce this somebody, under oath. Still, it’s complicated. Libel requires damage to one’s reputation. The paper’s reproduced these remarks with a clear denotation of their skepticism, and it could also be argued that the claim is so ludicrous that no reasonable person would believe it. We could still possibly bring a case of false light, but I don’t think this is worth pursuing. If you’d like, though, I can send a very lawyerly letter to the paper’s academic adviser that will probably stop any more articles.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’d appreciate that. Really.”

“How much of the rest of this is true?” he asked.

“Bits of it are sort of true,” I said. “It’s… complicated.”

“Okay,” he said. “I don’t see anything that should have a bearing on the case, but this is exactly why I want it settled in arbitration instead of going to court. An oathspeaker is not going to care whom you watch TV with naked or are dating, which means I don’t have to care about it, either, and that’s the way I’d prefer to keep it.”

“Would a judge care?” I asked.

“Possibly,” he said. “A jury’s even more likely to. They shouldn’t, in either case, but it’s hard to control that. Was there anything else?”

I looked at Amaranth to see if I was forgetting anything, but she shook her head.

“No,” I said. “Thanks… oh, wait.”

“Yes?”

“A friend of mine who was quoted in that article… well, I don’t know how much you know about subterranean elven naming conventions.”

“‘Subterranean elves’,” he said. “I like that. Better than ‘elf of color’. I gather that their names are important.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Anyway, he not only butchered her name, he left off her matronym. She’s looking for an apology or a retraction…”

“Mack, I’m your attorney. If she needs representation…”

“Hold on, I don’t think it’s going to come to that,” I said. “But, if they try to ironwall her, can I help her protest? I mean, will that screw anything up if I support her?”

Lee didn’t say anything for a few moments.

“Use your judgment,” he said. “You don’t want to antagonize the administration. If you do get involved in something, try to keep any public statements on topic, and away from your own case.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Now, I’m serious about this: your case is your case,” he said. “Whatever else is going on, with the newspaper or broader campus conditions, this is going to come down to a finding of facts. I know you want to aim for certain concessions in any settlement, but we won’t get the chance if we don’t handle this right. If you’re out there supporting your friend, that might show the university that you’re not the sort to back down, but you don’t want to give them any ammunition.”

“Like what?” I asked. “If it’s just going to come down to the facts?”

“I couldn’t tell you,” Lee said. “If I had any specific worries I’d be warning you about them specifically. But, I take it as axiomatic that no case can be so cut-and-dried that it can’t be knocked completely off course by an ill-advised public statement from the client. If you were a professional figure, it would be fairly easy to limit your exposure, but you’re a student living on campus and involved in campus life. All I can tell you is to be careful, and exercise your best judgment before you say anything.”

“Okay,” I said. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” he said. “I’ll fire off an a-mail about the newspaper before I go to bed, and follow up with a paper copy tomorrow. I expect we’ll hear about the arbiter by Friday, but they could surprise me by dragging their feet.”

“I… um… might not be around Friday night,” I said.

“Right,” Lee said. “That’s fine. Somebody will be in touch with you to schedule your deposition.”

“Okay,” I said. “That means testimony, right?”

“Right,” Lee said. “I’m afraid Amaranth can’t be present for that.”

“Would that be at your office or the school?”

“Wherever is comfortable for you,” he said. “I think we’ll want to avoid your dorm room but I’m sure the university can provide us some space.”

“Okay,” I said. “Is the lift…”

“We’re working on it,” Lee said. “We’ve made it clear to our landlord that the current state of affairs is unacceptable, but apparently it has some very complex enchantments, and the building has historic status.”

“And that covers the enchantments on the lifts?” I asked.

“It shouldn’t, as they’re ancillary to the lift’s purpose and won’t result in a change in appearance, but it makes everybody cautious,” he said. “If they wind up accidentally destroying the levitation spells along with the wards, it would be expensive to have them fixed.”

“Ah,” I said. “I guess I could see that.”

It really was difficult to remove a single part of a complex enchantment. It was only recently that a more “modular” approach had caught on, with individual effects standing as separate spells.

“If there’s nothing else, I’ll let you go,” he said. “And good luck on Friday. If I may say, Ms. Hoshinotama seems like a lovely young woman.”

“Say whatever you want about her,” I said. “I’m not actually going out with her.”

“Oh,” he said. “Forget I mentioned it, then. Good night, Mack.”

“Good night, Lee,” I said.

He waved me away, and I closed the mirror.

“Who’s Ms. Hoshinotama?” Amaranth asked.

“Sooni,” I said. “Or ‘Suzune’, as she’s apparently known overseas… she told Mr. Reporter—and thus the entire campus—that we’re going out together Friday.”

Amaranth had a look of stunned disbelief on her face that I found very satisfying, until it had gone on for about twenty seconds longer than I was comfortable with. I realized she wasn’t stunned by Sooni’s ongoing craziness, but by me, by something I had done.

“What?” I asked. “What’s wrong?”

“Baby… you are going out with Sooni on Friday,” she said. “You promised.”


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12 Responses to “240: Legal Wrangling”

  1. pedestrian says:

    AlexandraErin, now you are just torturing Mackenzie and Steff!

    Current score: 2
  2. baywoof says:

    This is one time were it’s definitely appropriate to break one’s promise.

    Current score: 0
    • Anthony says:

      Which one? She promised both of them, afterall…

      Current score: 0
  3. Anthony says:

    First, what’s up with people getting nauseated all over the place in this story when someone turns their hand mirror? I’ve been on Skype calls before where the other person turned the laptop, or even picked it up and carried it to another room, and I never felt even the least bit queasy from that. Does it really give some people motion sickness?

    Second, “use your best judgment before saying anything”? Hoo boy. Mackenzie’s doomed…

    Current score: 1
    • Daezed says:

      It can indeed. I had a buddy do that to me on Skype once… I very nearly had the same reaction as Lee, lol. Some of us are more susceptible than others. Kind of like getting car-sick. Some people are fine regardless, some get ill if they read, some if they’re in the back, and others every time. Just one of those things, I’d imagine!

      Current score: 1
      • Anon says:

        Clearly Lee took an obscure flaw that gives him +1 lawyering in exchange for nausea when somebody spins a mirror at him. That’s how you know he properly optimized his character.

        Current score: 3
    • zeel says:

      Well I have to imagine that it’s because a mirror is 3D. It’s weird to realize, but reflections are not at all like pictures. It’s reasonable to think this aspect woukd increase the chance of vertigo.

      Current score: 0
    • Athena says:

      It’s an individual thing. I haven’t gotten motion sickness on a skype call either, but I’ve had people complain about it before. So yeah, it’s really a thing that happens.

      Current score: 0
  4. Hoopla says:

    Our author doesn’t seem to like our characters being happy or even just content.

    Current score: 0
    • tordirycgoyust says:

      Rule of Drama. All audiences are sadists at heart.

      Current score: 1
    • Athena says:

      Yep. Moving stories forward is all about torturing your characters.

      As Lois McMaster Bujold puts it, whenever she’s not sure what to write next, she just asks herself “What is the /worst/ possible thing I can do to Miles right now?

      Current score: 0
  5. Anon says:

    I believe the correct course is to tell Sooni that you have become involved in an extremely complicated situation involving a half-ogre prince and a fair maiden and you have after an extended period of preparation and a great deal of suffering arrived at the brink of the conclusion to a plan you have devised to sweep her away from her horrific dungeon but it unfortunately the plan can only be put into action friday evening.

    And in exchange you will spend the entire weekend with Sooni *and* buy a proper swimsuit at your first reasonable opportunity.

    Wait shit, just saw the problem with this. There’s no way that Sooni wouldn’t join in the final phase of the plan; she’s the main character.

    Plan b: get Sooni and Stef in bed together, run away fast, change your name, leave the country. That’s the ticket.

    Current score: 1