Friday, October 30, 2009

JUST ANOTHER DAY -- A SHORT STORY

I submitted the following short story in the Pennsylvania Lawyer magazine's 2009 Short Story Fiction Contest but, unfortunately, it was not one of the three stories selected for publication in the November/December edition. I offer it here for your (hopefully) reading enjoyment:


JUST ANOTHER DAY

by

DANIEL E. CUMMINS, ESQUIRE

For Attorney J. Benjamin Hogan III, life was good as long as he didn’t care too much. After fifteen years of practicing law, most of it spent defending insurance companies in all kinds of personal injury cases, Attorney Hogan believed he was just getting into the stride of his career. Without much effort, he had been made partner after seven years in a firm that was flourishing. Despite the current recession, there were plenty of car accidents to go around to justify his existence.

Attorney Hogan was tall and thin with broad shoulders, perfect for filling out the pin-striped double-breasted suits he was fond of wearing. He wore his jet black, wavy hair just a tad too long. On occasion, he would toy with wearing a pair of dark, rectangular reading glasses believing they gave him a more sophisticated look.

Ben, as he was known by his peers, liked to believe that he was a well respected civil litigator known for his good “people” skills. Yet, in recent years, he much preferred to simply deal with the papers stuffed in his many brown accordion style files as opposed to the various types of people who were his clients. In his career as a litigator, people had always been a nuisance who stood in the way of his ability to settle cases and move onto the next one.

As he strode off the elevator from an early lunch and into the mahogany paneled, red carpeted foyer of his firm’s office, he glanced up at his name on the wall, partly with pride and partly just to make sure it was still there. He checked his phone messages and began to make his way back to his office when he was stopped by his secretary.

“Ben,” she called from her desk, “Your deposition tomorrow in the Evans case has been cancelled.”

The case of The Estate of Tammy Evans v. Anna Novak and James Morgan, involved the death of Tammy Evans as a result of a horrific car accident. The following day, the parties to the lawsuit were set to take a deposition of Anna Novak, who was Attorney Hogan’s client. These depositions had been on Attorney Hogan’s calendar for months waiting to be completed.

“Why?” Ben asked, not really caring and thinking more about all of the other work he could get done now that the next day had opened up.

Still typing away and not looking up, the secretary casually responded, “The other attorney’s office said something about him being called to cover a golf outing with a client. Did you want me to cancel your pre-deposition meeting with Ms. Novak?”

“No,” said Ben, “Don’t call her. We’ll just have her still come in so I can go over the case with her. That way, the next time these depositions are set up, I won’t have to waste as much time with her preparing. See if you can get the depositions rescheduled to take place in the next month or so.”

* * * * * *

Anna Novak was worried sick about her impending deposition set for the next day. Sitting at a table in the food court of the mall with her mother and baby, she stared at her lunch unable to eat. Anna was a slight girl of only twenty years of age who could not afford not to eat. The lines around her eyes betrayed her and gave her a worn, defeated look so early in life.

“What’s wrong?” her mother asked. Anna’s baby boy smiled up at them from his high chair.

“I have that supposition…er…deposition, or whatever it’s called, tomorrow in Tammy’s lawsuit. I have been dreading it for months and now it’s here. What’s worse is that I haven’t even heard from that freakin’ attorney from the insurance company. I mean, he sent some letters in the beginning and some written questions about the accident I had to fill out months ago, but since then, I haven’t heard squat.” Anna’s voice began to rise. “I don’t know what to expect tomorrow and it’s totally stressing me out! I haven’t been able to eat. I can’t sleep.” Tears welled up in Anna’s eyes.

“Okay, Okay,” her mom said softly, touching Anna’s hand. “I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about. You just go in there, tell the truth, and tell them what you can remember. Now calm down or you’re gonna upset the baby.”

“The accident happened three years ago!” Anna cried in exasperation. She took a breath, and, through tears, whispered, “I can’t remember everything that happened. All I can think about is Tammy. I killed her.”

It took all Anna had in her not to break down in front of the baby. “On top of all this, my boss at the diner is pissed because I have to come in late for work.”

A thought bolted into Anna’s head, “Oh! I totally forgot – Ma, you gotta’ babysit for me tomorrow morning when I go to this thing.”

Anna’s mom withdrew her hand from Anna’s. “Geez, Anna. I don’t know. I have a dental appointment. I don’t know if I’d be able to get another appointment that quickly.”

“Mom, you have to! There’s no one else to babysit on such short notice,” Anna said a little louder than she intended with the strain becoming more and more apparent in her voice. The baby began to cry.

“I said I will see what I can do,” her mother replied sharply, getting a bit frazzled herself.

* * * * * *

That same day, Attorney Hogan left the office early, hoping to shoot over to the softball field and get in some batting practice before the game. The local attorneys had gathered a team and joined a neighborhood softball league. For some of the older guys it was a chance to keep the dream alive of someday hitting a stand-up triple. Sadly, for most of these guys, slowed and jaded by age, that dream would never be realized. Most of them hadn’t seen the likes of third base since they were on a date at a drive-in movie back in high school.

Ben had joined the team as a way to blow off some steam after work. On this nice, summer night of softball, he had decided not to bring the Evans v. Novak file home, figuring he could skim through it in the morning just before his meeting with Anna Novak.

He took a seat on the small bleachers next to his buddy, Tommy Herzog, a criminal defense attorney. Tommy Herzog was just coming off a suspension of his license to practice law on account of “borrowing” money from his clients that he eventually paid back.

“Hey Ben, what’s up?” Tommy said as he passed Ben a beer.

“Not much. Same old, same old.”

“You busy?”

“Yeah, not crazy busy, but busy enough,” Ben responded. “There’s enough car accidents to go around.”

Tommy asked, “Whaddya’ got tomorrow?”

“Just another day,” Ben said, “Had a deposition in a death case tomorrow that was cancelled, so it’s sorta’ cleared my day up for me. Maybe we can do lunch.”

Hmm. Did you call your client to tell them it was off?”

“Nah, I figured I’d have her come in and we’d go over the file a little to prepare for the next time it’s scheduled.” Ben tied up his spikes and took another slug from his ice cold beer.

Tommy looked at Ben and chuckled. “You didn’t call the client?”

“No….What?!” Ben asked, still not getting it.

“Man, your client’s probably nervous as hell, all worried about this thing.”

Ben smiled and still didn’t think anything of it. “Oh well, not much I can do about it now. Let’s go!” Ben picked up a bat and trotted to the plate for some swings before the game.

* * * * * *

That night Anna lay awake in bed crying, feeling alone and scared. The next day’s deposition was bringing back the terror of the car accident in full force.

The accident had happened on a perfect, spring night. Anna was driving her friend Tammy to a party. They were both set to graduate high school and the prom was only two weeks away. The girls had already planned a senior week at the shore following graduation. Then Tammy would soon be on her way to Cornell on a full ride to study to become a veterinarian. Anna, who had not done as well in high school, was planning to start at a local community college.

Everything changed in an instant. Anna had entered an intersection on a green light and slowed to make a left hand turn. She was changing the channel on the radio and chatting with Tammy, who was relaying their conversation to another friend on her cell phone. Laughter filled the car.

As Anna began her left turn, she suddenly realized that the oncoming pickup truck was closer and faster than she thought. Horrified, Anna felt adrenaline reach every cell in her body as she stomped on the gas to outrun the truck, but it was too late. The pickup truck slammed into the passenger side door, crushing Tammy and her dreams instantly. Anna was left with a broken body that eventually healed, flashbacks, and a lifetime of guilt.

* * * * * *

Getting home from the softball, Ben pulled his silver Jaguar into his circular driveway pleased with how he had played in the game. As he normally did after a game, Ben walked through the gate of the cedar wood fence that surrounded his two-story Tudor style home and trotted back to the pool area.

There he threw off his shirt, cleats, and socks and, to the shouts of “Daddy!,” dived into the deep end of the pool. He swam under the cool, refreshing water to the shallow end, climbed up the steps of the pool, and, dripping all the way, walked over to the patio table where he kissed his wife, Beverly, and his two young blonde haired daughters, Brittany and Brianna, who were waiting for him with a barbecue dinner.

“How was your day, dear?” his wife asked him while handing him an ice cold Corona (with a lime twist, of course). The bottle glistened with condensation on this muggy night.

“It was quiet,” Ben replied. “And tomorrow looks even better now that my deposition was cancelled.”

Ben enjoyed his dinner with his family and then took his daughters up for a little play time and a bath before they would be put to bed promptly at 8 p.m. After the kids were asleep, he enjoyed some quiet time watching T.V. with his wife and discussing the trip to the shore they had planned for the upcoming weekend. When Ben later went to
bed that evening after the news, it seemed as if he fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.

* * * * * *

Anna eventually fell asleep around 3 a.m. only to have the baby’s cries wake her up at 3:30 a.m. After finally settling the baby back to sleep, Anna tossed and turned for a few more hours before getting up at dawn to get ready for her 9:30 a.m. meeting with Attorney Hogan.

Her mom had called the night before to indicate she switched her dental appointment and could babysit after all. Anna was so nervous that she left for Attorney Hogan’s office without eating as soon as her mother arrived at her apartment at around 8:30 a.m.

Anna arrived at the law office a half hour early for her appointment and was escorted to wait on a couch surrounded by months old, wrinkly magazines. Anna could barely breathe, her palms were wet, and she repeatedly fought back tears. To make matters worse, her appointment time of 9:30 a.m. came and went with no signs of Attorney Hogan. For twenty minutes she had continued to stare at the words of the same page of a Sports Illustrated she had absentmindedly picked up.

A little after 10 a.m., a tall man with dark wavy hair wearing a blue blazer, crisp khakis, and saddle shoes came off the elevator, strolled through the reception area and right past Anna without even looking at her. Ten minutes later, that same man walked back up to Anna, and with a fake, toothy grin, introduced himself as “Attorney Hogan,” shook her clammy hand, and invited her into a conference room.

When they sat down, Attorney Hogan opened up with, “You may be happy to know that your deposition has been continued.”

“Continued?” Anna asked. “What…what does that mean?”

“Uh, postponed,” Attorney Hogan replied. “We’re working on a new date now. I figured I’d still have you come in today anyway so we could prepare for it.”

Anna went numb. As Attorney Hogan droned on about the deposition process, he began to sound to Anna like the teacher from the Charlie Brown cartoons. Still unable to process the news that she would not be getting her deposition over and done with, Anna stared out the window longing for the meeting to end so she could flee and cry.

When the meeting finally ended about twenty minutes later, Attorney Hogan obliviously escorted Anna to the elevator and told her he’d let her know when the deposition was rescheduled. He never apologized and did not inquire of Anna what day or time would be convenient to her. Anna was still dazed as she stepped into the elevator and only half-heartedly waved good-bye to the smiling attorney. When the elevator door finally closed on Attorney Hogan’s office, Anna leaned against the wall, burst into tears, and hugged herself.

Attorney Hogan turned and whistled as he sauntered back to his office. He stopped and called out to his secretary, “Hey, call Tommy Herzog for me and see if he’s around for lunch.”

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