Face Of A Shadow

Avarice and greed are the staples for the law profession, without those human vices we would be left purely with violence as a living.  Crimes against property are as old as the day Adam and Eve were shown the gate and civilization was begun.  The reasons why these crimes are committed vary form individuals and not all are prosecuted and punished.  I had graduated from law school and was in search of my first job as a lawyer.  Had I graduated from Yale or Harvard or any of the other big name schools my future might have been assured.  But entry to such schools took money, position, friends, and social contacts, none of which I had managed to gather.  I had come out of the service and put myself through state college by working odd jobs and summers to finance the tuition and living expenses.  And my choice of law school was equally undistinguished.  But like all graduates I was in need of a job and now at age thirty I was late in seeking my career of choice.  Major Duncan P. Mathews was my savior, I was given a position in the legal department of his corporation.  the work wasn’t glamorous, mostly clerical.  Details of contracts must be recorded, filed, and maintained.  Disclaimers must be revised.  All the grunt work that interns are given to free up the valuable time of the firms senior and even junior lawyers was now my duties.

Major Duncan had been something of a hero during the last war, having been awarded two silver stars, four bronze stars, and three purple hearts.  That last category had been the cause of his medical retirement from the Army.  But what might have been the death sentence of a long and fruitless retirement had been for the Major, as he was called by a great many, became an opportunity.  Military procurement was, in the right hands, the road to riches if one produces specialized and expensive weapons.  These were not the ordinary small arms, these were electronic arms.  Laser sights for rifles and cannon, optics for infrared vision, and a few other such weapon attachments.  Often his production floors did the work for other larger corporations that did not want the start up costs.  And the Major had his contacts in military procurement.  In short he was a wealthy man.

I had met the Major at a social fundraiser sponsored by the local VFW.  It was a brief encounter but the local commander had introduced me to the Major as having been awarded a silver star.  The Major took note and strode towards another group gathered at the bar.  The next week Duncan Corporation had hand delivered an invitation to interview for a position on their legal team.  The interview was short.  The hiring manager, a Mr Robinson ESQ, told me that the Major had instructed him to find a position for me since I had been awarded a silver star.  “Thank the Major very much for the offer but I would be remiss if I did not correct such an error.  The only medal I was awarded was for good conduct.  The VFW commander obviously mistook me for another veteran.”

“Yes, we know your background.  In fact we were hoping that you would correct the record.  The Major wanted to know your character.  You’re hired since the Major’s judgment of character is never wrong.”  So I began that week.  My internship was to have lasted six months but the Major insisted it be carried over for another six.  Meanwhile I had volunteered at the local Legal Aide Society since I had recently passed the bar.  The work was largely that of common everyday legal matters.  People who couldn’t afford the regular legal profession turn to us to draft wills, probate estates that rarely consisted of more that $50,000 in value, and the occasional misdemeanor offenses of a trivial nature.  My extra corporate activities did not go unnoticed.  At the end of my internship I was offered a position in a local law partnership that specialized in criminal cases.  I found the work more to my liking.  My courses in political science and psychology stood me in good stead.  Like all attorneys we protest our client’s innocence in court and accept that most are guilty of the crime for which they stand before the bar.  Criminal law is a messy business, one where only the district attorneys keep score, that’s how they are re-elected.  For the defence lawyer it is a matter of whether justice is served, we lose most of our cases.

There was one client I defended where I won the case but I wasn’t too proud of myself.  I knew he to be guilty but the state never had sufficient evidence to convict and I had some very good arguments to prove that case.  He was a young man with a temper and hard fists.  Perhaps you have met or even know someone like that.  Rocky had beaten an older man half to death and yet the witness couldn’t identify from a line up nor was there any evidence at the scene of the crime.  He had been seen in the area about the time of the crime but that was circumstantial at best.  When the verdict was read I remember what Rocky had said.  “Hey Mr Martin, you really did it.  You pulled it off.  What a bunch of suckers.”  His laughter still rings in my memory.  “You were lucky, Rocky.  You beat a man half to death and got away with it.  Next time you may kill a man and you won’t be so lucky.  Next time I won’t defend you, ever.”  His face looked at me quizzically for a moment as if he did not believe my words.   But his eye met mine and he understood.  I did not see him again for many years.

As if on cue, Rocky got involved in another beating.  Only there were witnesses and the police had arrived in time to see the aftermath.  His parents came to me wanting me as his council but I turned them down cold.  They believed I would work another miracle and save their son from prison time.  “No, find someone else.  I can’t believe that he is innocent.”  I heard he had been found guilty and sentences to ten years.  That’s a long time to spend thinking about your mistakes.  Were we all like Perry Mason and could pick the clients who are really innocent then we might sleep better knowing that the world was a better place.  But the scales of justice tend to balance out in the end and sometimes they take a round about way.

Almost seven years later I was involved in a murder case.  I was never sure that my client wasn’t guilty.  That is the problem, when you aren’t sure your judgment tends to be obscured.  But to make matters worse my client was a reputed member of one of the local mobs.  And the individual he was suppose to have killed was a member of a rival mob.  Given the evidence, the case could have gone either way.  The evidence itself was very messy.  Half of it looked planted, the investigation was sloppy, and the state was rabid for a guilty verdict.  To make matters worse I had received a threat that if I didn’t “lose” the case I would be dead soon after.  I reported the threat to the Judge and precautions were taken to watch over me during the trial but after that I would be on my own, win, lose, or draw.  As I said, the case was very messy but I did show that the state had not proven its case against my client.  It was a hung jury.

Perhaps I should have been glad but i had that feeling of dread as if a cloud or shadow was hanging over me.  For many weeks I fancied I was being followed but I could never see who that person might be.  A month later my former client was found shot several times.  As I said, justice may win out and in some of the most unusual ways.  I thought that should have ended the matter for me but it never did.  I started receiving new threats.  the police were of little help, what could they do but wait until that crime had been committed against me.  Finally after three more threats and as many months I felt the cloud lift.  The shadow was gone.  I felt free.  About that time I remember reading about another murder in the city.  the victim was an out of state mob figure, a reputed hit man.  He had been beaten to death.  The usual suspects were rounded up but the investigation led nowhere.  Several days later I received a post card in the mail at my office.  It simply read, “I owed you one, we even now.”  I took several days to piece the puzzle together.  So I called the police and inquired if Rocky was still incarcerated?  “No, said the officer, he was paroled six month ago.”

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