THIS IS ONE ISSUE THAT WE—AND MANY OF OUR READERS—PARTICULARLY LOOK FORWARD TO. It is apparent that inspired storytelling is alive and well, and the Texas Bar Journal relishes the opportunity to share some of it with you. Many of this year’s entries proved familiar, funny, and forceful—not to mention far-fetched. We’d like to extend an appreciative thank you to the 44 authors who submitted stories to the 2015 competition. To keep the contest fair and impartial, we removed author names from each entry, replacing them with numbers. Two panels of judges faced the challenging task of selecting the winners, and for each round, the same evaluation form was used for consistency. Ten entries advanced to the final round, which was judged by attorney and literary agent Mike Farris of Dallas and previous contest winners Stephanie Tillman of Houston and Lane D. Thibodeaux of Bryan. The winner, “The Corner Man,” by Amanda Moore, earned the highest number of points. We have published the first-, second-, and third-place winners on the following pages. We hope you enjoy these creative short stories as much as we did. To listen to a podcast reading by the authors, go to texasbar.com/shortstory. FINALISTS Please congratulate these attorney-authors for making it through the competitive first round of judging to the finals. THE CORNER MAN, by Amanda Moore (First Place) HIGH STAKES LITIGATION, by Russell W. Fusco (Second Place) THE COLOR OF GRAVITY, by Blair Dancy (Third Place) A FORMAL INTERVIEW, by Lyn Levin THE BLUES, by Jason P. Steed SPIDER BIT, by Ron Uselton PENNSYLVANIA, by David Portz A COIN FOR CHARON, by Frank J. Gonynor CLIENTS, by Scott Petty A COLD DISH, by Terri B. Moore The Corner Man BY AMANDA MOORE I’ll never forget the first time I saw him. He was 28 years old, sharply dressed, and newly married. He was an eager young prosecutor. I heard that he had worked with a legendary prosecutor from another county before he came to our little courtroom. I’m sure some people would describe him as unreasonable or even pretentious, but what best describes him in my mind would be one word—fearless. Like a predator on the heels of its prey, once that young man was assigned a case he would latch on to it with both hands. In court proceedings, we would all address him by his last name with a “Mr.” added for emphasis. Privately and only among my closest friends, I called him the Ice Man. He never said a word in my direction unless it was absolutely necessary, but every time he did, he was very polite. At the beginning of every case, he was always civil and the true embodiment of what they talk about in the Lawyer’s Creed. If a case went to trial, however, the Ice Man had absolutely no mercy. My wife says that I exaggerate these things, and maybe I do. Over the years, I have become a bit cynical about things. No matter what anyone says, though, I still remember the trembling lips and flushed face of a notorious gang leader who wept in his chair after the Ice Man’s closing statement. It might be a courtroom legend, but I heard that the gang leader’s lawyer begged him to take a plea deal instead of taking a chance against the Ice Man. On one particular afternoon, I remember seeing the Ice Man sitting in the juror box just rocking back and forth with his eyes closed. I quietly closed and locked the door so that only he could open it from the inside. As I walked down the hall, I thought about what happened in court that morning. It was the day of closing statements for a hit-and-run case. Two kids, twin brother and sister, were walking home from school. They were both struck in the middle of a crosswalk by a luxury SUV. Witnesses said that the defendant stopped at first and even got out of his car to look at the bodies. Rather than helping them, he simply drove away. I heard that the mother screamed as she ran to her children lying in the street. When the Ice Man emerged in court, he was unstoppable. The entire courtroom fell into a trance, mesmerized by his eloquent prose and disarming honesty. At the end, he said, “Yes, he made a mistake. We all do, but he didn’t even try to help them. He left, like a coward. He left them in the street, bleeding and in pain. They were born together and they were killed together. I can only pray that they heard their mother’s voice before they died. Please, ladies and gentleman, be the voice for them today.” The jury took only 15 minutes to return a guilty verdict. From the moment court was in session, the Ice Man wielded his evidence, exhibits, and objections like an ice-hot sword cutting through the suits’ case like butter. I often chuckled to myself as they left, wondering if I should have offered those folks some pain medication after the Ice Man’s body blows, or maybe even a mild sedative for the Ice Man aftershocks, but I never did. After that, the Ice Man’s reputation among other lawyers could best be described as notorious. Defense attorneys, who I like to call “suits,” would look at him with either amazement or downright disgust. The family of defendants always sat quietly a few rows behind them, and I watched as their faces always transformed from hope to despair when the Ice Man stood up to argue. He referred to cases that had the mini-suits scrambling to research on their fancy little iPads. The veteran suits didn’t show any fear that I could easily recognize, but it may have been disguised by a nervous cough or a hesitant answer. There was no doubt in my mind that the Ice Man had earned not only their attention but also their respect. The most entertaining moments for me were when the arrogant suits arrived. Unlike most of the suits who came to court with a humble air of professionalism, these suits had an entourage of young assistants and flashed the kind of smile that never came across as genuine. Known for tricky courtroom tactics, they would always hold press conferences in front of the courthouse entrance after every win. They nodded in my direction as they strutted to their tables, but all I saw were lions going to the coliseum and the Ice Man was the undefeated gladiator. From the moment court was in session, the Ice Man wielded his evidence, exhibits, and objections like an ice-hot sword cutting through the suits’ case like butter. I often chuckled to myself as they left, wondering if I should have offered those folks some pain medication after the Ice Man’s body blows, or maybe even a mild sedative for the Ice Man aftershocks, but I never did. His successes did not go unnoticed, and he was eventually transferred out of my court. After my shift, I would often ease into his new courtroom and stand in the back with a dozen others as he finished closing arguments in yet another case where someone had lost a loved one. He still had it. I really don’t know why the Ice Man eventually switched over to the other side and became a criminal defense attorney. We all thought that he was in line to be our next district attorney, but it was probably the smoothest transition I had ever seen. The Ice Man became more of a legend, but in a different kind of way. Although the dark hair that I remembered slowly turned into silver, the law that he practiced still burned everything in its wake. Guilty verdicts disintegrated, and evidence literally evaporated in front of a juror’s eyes. As time went by, he slowly became known more for his temper than his closing statements. On many occasions before court started, I heard him yelling at a paralegal in the hallway for bringing him the wrong case file. Young law clerks would skulk away under his glare on a daily basis. One Friday afternoon, I went to wash my hands before lunch and saw the Ice Man. The legend, the man who I amusingly thought had ice water in his veins, was weeping in the corner of a courthouse restroom that was used so infrequently that it was often left unlocked. I was dumbstruck. In that moment, he was a shell of a man, using the wall to prop up what was left of his posture as he sobbed uncontrollably. After he wiped his hands across his eyes and turned around, he stopped and stared at me. Technically, I had known him for years, but at that moment, I could not think of a single word to say to him. For no reason that I can really remember, I slowly reached into my pocket and pulled out one of the handkerchiefs that my wife bought for me years ago. She customized them with my initials “LW” and added a baby-pink butterfly for my little girl. I never used them, but I liked to keep them in my pocket to remind me of the world outside of the courthouse. I placed one on the counter, nodded in his direction, and left. I never saw the Ice Man again. As the years passed, I continued to see the full spectrum of human emotion from my side of the courtroom. I saw a grown man weep when the deputies escorted him out after sentencing. I saw witnesses look at the courtroom wall as if it had a window to escape from tough cross-examination questions. I remember seeing defendants stare at the floor as if it would provide answers to the questions in their minds. I heard a mother scream when a guilty verdict was read, and I remember having to restrain a father from attacking a murderer in open court. At my retirement party, the staff ordered barbecue. Gina, the court reporter, made her famous 7UP pound cake. My wife, daughter, and grandson arrived in the afternoon, and after being a bailiff for almost 30 years, I couldn’t believe that it was time to head home for good. While speaking to a judge who I had known for years, one of the new, young prosecutors from my courtroom approached and stood quietly beside me until the judge left. I turned to acknowledge him, and he shook my hand and gave me a little blue gift bag. “Thank you for your service here, Mr. Walker. My father said that you were quite remarkable and came through for him when he needed it the most. He retired from the practice and has been sick for some time. He was unable to make it today, though I believe he wanted to,” he said. I looked at him curiously, not really sure of what to say, or to whom he was referring. He took a deep breath and continued. “The thing is, Mr. Walker, we lost my mom to cancer a while ago. It was a devastating blow to all four of us, and my father worked very hard to support us emotionally and financially. Law was his life, but we were his priority. He even left the DA’s office to try to make more money as a criminal defense attorney. I’m sure he had a harder time than he would ever share with his family,” he said. My wife must have seen my expression from across the room, and, as she slowly walked over to me, he continued. “I wanted to make sure that you received this before you left. I wish you the best of luck on your retirement,” he said. He then left as smoothly as he arrived. For a moment, I heard a dull ringing in my ears. Other people continued to wish me well with quick hugs and handshakes. My wife tried to tell me something, but I couldn’t focus on what she said while holding the little blue gift. I looked inside it, and there at the bottom of the bag was a clean, white handkerchief with the initials “LW” on the corner with a little pink butterfly. I saw an envelope and a note. On beige-colored paper, in elegant cursive were the following words: Dear Corner Man, In a boxing match, a cornerman is the person who the fighter relies on during the highs and lows of his fight. He is a pillar of support even if he does nothing more than to simply observe the match from a corner. Thank you for being in the corner for me. — A. Lewis. I opened the envelope and in it was a detailed itinerary of a seven-day Mediterranean cruise for two. All of my information was there, even the number to the travel agent for goodness sake. At the bottom of the letter was a simple phrase, “Courtesy of the Ice Man.” Son of a gun, I thought. He still had it. AMANDA MOORE is a staff attorney with the Texas State Teachers Association. She specializes in school law and represents employees at Texas public schools, colleges, and universities. Before attending the University of Texas School of Law, Amanda graduated summa cum laude from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor where she double-majored in English and Spanish. High Stakes Litigation BY RUSSELL W. FUSCO Dear Mr. Winthorpe, I feel that I may have given you the wrong impression yesterday when I said that in my five years as a litigation associate, I have never been to trial. That is not exactly true. I would like to set the record straight, but I must warn you that my story requires an open mind. You will see shortly why I did not tell it during our interview. These events occurred about six months ago. They began as I was leaving a deposition with a partner from my firm (he had taken the deposition). It was late evening, and a wintry dusk had settled over the parking lot through which we were walking. The partner was saying something with his back turned to me when I was blinded by a bright light. I shut my eyes and realized that I no longer heard the partner or any other sound besides. For a terrifying instant, I thought I was dead—run over by a car in the parking lot of a lawyer’s office. But then I noted that I was still breathing, and the light still pierced my closed eyelids with mortal discomfort. I opened my eyes and saw that I floated some 20 feet above the ground, enclosed in a cylinder of yellow light so bright that I needed to squint to see the parking lot below. There, too, I saw the partner, still walking to his car, dragging his rolling briefcase behind him. I tried to call out but found my voice was frozen. Before I could make any further effort to get his attention, I was seized by a powerful force and whisked upward at great speed. In the next instant the parking lot was a blot of darkness in a constellation of city lights. Soon I saw our beloved planet recede to nothing, and then I was hurtling alone through star-strewn space. I do not know how long I traveled thus, but ultimately, I saw an ending to the tunnel of yellow light, which had both widened in diameter and increased in transparency so that I could see clearly where I was headed. I wish that I hadn’t. Floating in space before me was a colossal mass that approximated a sphere, but with tumorous disruptions beneath its surface. The thing was riddled with what looked like enormous pustules, each disgorging a thick yellow-green liquid that flowed in rivers over the putrid body. From its edges more than a dozen spidery tendrils stretched sinuously into space, some of them going beyond my vision. Whether the thing was a planet, an organism, or a machine I could not say, but it was with horror that I saw the tunnel of light terminate in its midst, and knew that I was destined for its insides. As I approached, the light around me once more intensified, and it seemed that my speed increased as I was swept inside the monster, at which point I lost consciousness. I felt that I had been asleep for a long time when I felt hands—human hands—shaking me awake. “Jay? You alive?” I recognized the voice and, as I swam toward consciousness, began to think that the strange journey must have been a dream. “Man, I am so sorry about the aliens.” I opened my eyes. Peering over me was a face that was white and gaunt where it wasn’t carpeted with a thick matting of beard. From it peered two wide and glassy eyes. Eyes that I recognized. “I had no choice,” he said. “I needed a lawyer.” “Timmy?” “Uh, I go by Tim now.” Cousin Timmy. My best friend growing up and most of the way through college until our interests diverged—mine focusing on the LSAT and his on the cultivation of marijuana in the basement of his fraternity house. He had been missing for almost a month and his family had begun to fear the worst. I sat up groggily and observed our surroundings. We were in a cubical room, about 15 feet on each side, unadorned and without apparent exit. “Where are we?” “Remember when you told me if I ever needed a lawyer to call you?” I rubbed my head. I was very thirsty. “Vaguely,” I said. “Dude, you said it. Anyway, I was in a spot and you’re the only one I knew to call.” “Spot?” “All right, I’ll lay it straight.” He rolled back on his heels, inhaled deeply, and closed his eyes for a moment before speaking. “I have been wrongfully accused of theft.” “What did you steal?” “I didn’t steal anything! It was dark. I was scared out of my mind and grabbed the first ride I saw. How was I supposed to know it was theirs?” “You stole a spaceship?” “It was more a kind of floating scooter,” he said. “Whatever it was, I didn’t get very far before they got me in their yellow ray and blasted me off to this place. They asked me if I needed a lawyer, so I gave them your name.” “Thanks.” “This is serious, man!” He wriggled his hands one on either side of his face in a way that would have been comical if not for the seriousness of our predicament. “They are threatening the harshest of penalties.” “Death?” “Yes and no.” He hesitated. “Actually, they want to disintegrate everyone on earth.” “They what?” I was paying attention now, even my thirst forgotten. The cube seemed a very real and unalien prison. “That’s not fair.” “Exactly!” “They should just disintegrate you.” “Hey!” A rumbling from beneath our feet interrupted us, and to my dismay the floor began to rise toward the ceiling. Just as I thought we were going to be flattened like pancakes, the ceiling broke into curved partitions that flowed into recesses like submerging dorsal fins. We rose through the opening created, and the floor beneath us became a pedestal in a much larger room whose boundaries were swallowed in shadows. My attention, however, was driven to the three horrors seated high on a metal bench before us. Each creature was a translucent green bubble, over which coursed the same yellow-green pus I had seen running over the surface of their spacecraft. Through their flesh I could see the working of various organs that vaguely resembled our own, including what I thought might be a proportionally magnificent brain. From what I guessed was each creature’s forehead protruded four eyes on tubular stalks, which were in constant movement, and from their sides extended long tendrils approximating those I had seen on the spacecraft on my first approach. These floated about them like the rays of perverted suns as they stared down at us with their terrible moving eyes. “You, earthling, stand accused of theft.” This communication appeared in my mind not as words, but as pure thought in a manner that I cannot describe. I looked at Timmy, cowering beside me. His lips trembled, but no words came forth. “Speak now in your defense, and your kind may not perish in punishment for your crime.” “Your honors,” I said, prompted I am sure by lawyerly instinct. “I will speak for the accused.” Twelve vacillating eyes turned toward me. So revolting were they that I was forced to look away, but not before I felt a force against my mind like a rush of invisible probing fingers. “You are the advocate this one has requested?” “Yes.” I cleared my throat, forcing myself to look at them. “I am his lawyer.” “But you have never before spoken for another.” “That is not exactly true. I—” “You have never before spoken for another.” I cleared my throat again, this time with as much annoyance as disgust. “Be that as it may, I will speak for this one.” They were silent, and I sensed a moment of impenetrable communion in which they debated my qualifications to speak on Timmy’s behalf. “You may proceed.” With a look at Timmy, whose eyes filled with desperate hope, I stepped forward. “Your honors. I do not know your system of justice. But it is evident to me by the very fact of this tribunal that you are a just people. I therefore ask you to exonerate this man, who is innocent not only by the measure of earthly laws, but by the laws of the universe that would bind us as civilized beings, just as they bind us as material ones.” “By our laws,” they said, “We would disintegrate this man and all his kind.” “But that is not justice. To you, our race of people may be one. But on Earth we see ourselves each as an individual standing alone in volition, action, and consequence. If a crime is committed by one, it is that one who must suffer the consequences, and not the whole of humanity.” There followed another moment of silence. Finally they spoke. “You have convinced us. We shall disintegrate only him.” From Timmy came a thin, whistling sound. “Your honors, there is more. Just as justice in our system is served only on the individual, one man cannot be held accountable for a crime that he neither understands nor intends to commit.” “You say that this one did not intend to take the exploratory landcraft with which he absconded?” “No,” I said. “I am not saying that.” “Then he is guilty. Let the disintegration began.” Timmy’s cry was now a choking sob. I forced myself to look fully upon the creatures and saw them for all of their revolting ugliness. I could only imagine how they appeared to Timmy when he made off with their “landcraft.” And then I saw that just as Timmy and I were averting our eyes from them, so were the 12 eyes atop the stalks constantly twisting away from us. “Your honors, do you find the defendant and me to be pleasant in appearance?” There came what might have been a telepathic chuckle. “Hardly.” “Is he disgusting?” “To say the least.” “Odious?” “Indeed.” “Very well,” I said. “Imagine being on your planet and, never having seen one before, suddenly coming across a creature like the defendant in the dark of night. Would you be afraid?” “Terrified,” they said. “Would you flee?” “Most certainly.” “And if you saw in the darkness your salvation in the form of an—uh—exploratory landcraft, would you think yourself justified in taking it?” There followed a lengthy pause as the creatures debated my argument. “Are you saying,” they said, and in their thought I felt a form of astonishment, “that we appear to you as terrible as you do to us?” “Yes.” “Impossible!” “Look for yourselves,” I said. “And see that it is true.” Their thoughts rushed upon me with urgent interest, probing deeper than they had before, aiming not just to see, but also to feel and understand. A cry from Timmy indicated that he was experiencing the same interrogation. Suddenly they withdrew, and I felt their thoughts swarming like agitated birds from which a part could not be distinguished from the whole. At length their thoughts calmed, and they looked upon us again as one. “You have convinced us.” I do not remember losing consciousness this time. In the next moment I found myself again in the deserted parking lot, tracing the footsteps of the partner from my firm. We stopped at his car, where I helped load several boxes of exhibit documents into his trunk. Before driving away, he looked at me and said not unkindly, “We’ve got to get you in to take one of these things.” I stood for I know not how long in that parking lot alone, staring into the starlit sky and wondering at both my future as an attorney and my own sanity. Just before going to my car, I noted a new text message on my phone. It contained only two words: “thanks cuz.” Very truly yours, Jay McPheevy, esq. RUSS FUSCO is an associate attorney in the Dallas office of Baker Botts. He met his wife, Sandy, while they served in the U.S. Navy before attending law school together. They live with their three children in Dallas. He has never been abducted by aliens (as far as he knows). The Color of Gravity BY BLAIR DANCY I’m fascinated by physics, especially gravity. No one knows whether gravitons exist, but if they do, they’d be beyond tiny. Photons—the massless particles that compose light—would be gargantuan compared to a graviton, assuming such a comparison were even possible. But size provides only so much insight. Photons act like both particles and waves. The more precisely one calculates where a photon is, the less certain is any calculation of how fast it’s going. And vice versa. The more precisely one calculates the speed of a given photon, the less certain is any calculation of where it is. I can’t help but wonder if those characteristics carry over to gravitons. After all, light and gravity travel at the same speed, and we know that when enough matter is amassed, those invisible, mythical gravitons can become so strong that light can’t even escape them. But gravitons remain one of the great secrets of the universe. When Professor Tsuneo Yoshimoto walked into my office, I already knew who he was. MacArthur “genius grant” winner. Senior professor of astrophysics at Rice University. Undoubtedly one of the secret nominees for the Nobel Prize multiple times, but not a winner. Not yet anyway. I remembered a tall, lean man from the speech he gave at the University of Texas a decade ago. He talked about the difference between dark matter and dark energy and other cutting-edge theories that were, frankly, over my head. But his passion was contagious. I read all his articles and papers after that presentation. Now, the man sat in front of my desk in the same style of bland gray suit and black tie as he had when he had given the speech, but he no longer stood tall and was not exactly lean. Gaunt was a better word. Frail. The man could fall into pieces, like a Lego figure, in the face of a steady West Texas wind. He even trembled, so slightly, most noticeably in his thin hands. He sat in a slump, as if he had forgotten to take off a backpack. He seemed more a spurned teenage lover than an intellectual luminary. He quizzed me about my credentials. Patent agent—check. Worked mostly for the University of Texas System— check. Prosecuted patents related to lasers, magnetic guns, and weaponized microwave technology—check. I tried to tell him how much I appreciated his work, his insights, what he meant for his field and to me personally, but he held up his hand for silence. He did not want to hear it. He shifted in his seat, regarding me. “What I tell you here,” he asked, “who are you allowed to tell? Who else gets to hear my secrets?” Secrets? “No one,” I said. “Unless I have your permission, or you’re going to harm or kill someone.” As a solo practitioner, I had no staff or other lawyers to share client confidences, and the odds of this shadow-of-a-man hurting anyone seemed preposterous. I thought about elaborating, even pulling out the disciplinary rules to show him, but his expression told me he was more interested in knowing whether I was a man who could keep secrets. I was. I had been doing it for 40 years, gathering secrets from clients of all stripes. Family members, researchers, university administrators. The relative with the odd sartorial hobbies. The former colleague from a family line born with 12 toes. Which members of that family still had all dozen. People who had suffered betrayals, perceived and actual. Theft and abandonment. Adultery. There was no shortage of secrets, and I was a convenient repository. I had never been required by the rules to divulge client information. I merely amassed it like a priest collecting confessions. I was an osmium ball of confidences, the weight of each secret adding to my own heft over time, slowing my gait, my speech, my reaction times. Where others saw aging, I saw it as gaining unseen mass, my own dark matter. Professor Yoshimoto continued to regard me, considering whether to trust me. I found myself resigned to my fate, unable but to collect one more confidence. “What kind of secrets?” I asked. “If I get a patent, what kind of control do I get over who uses it?” “There are limits,” I said, wondering whether a patentable idea was truly the secret he wanted to divulge. Perhaps it was. Perhaps not going to his university’s lawyers was the secret, a hope to steal the idea for himself, a selfish reward toward the end of an illustrious career. “You control it for commercial purposes,” I continued. “Others can use it for educational and research purposes. Enforcement is different from country to country, near impossible in some.” “Humankind,” he said, “continues to collect knowledge, like the universe continues to expand. We don’t know whether that expansion will continue forever or ultimately reverse course in a Big Crunch.” “I heard you say that before, years ago, at the university.” He paused, as if still wondering whether to share. “What’s the idea?” I pressed. I didn’t think he would tell me. Then like a true believer at confessional, it spilled from him. “The color of gravity,” he said. He compared gravitons to photons. He reminded me that all the elements in the periodic table each have a unique light signature, a unique set of wavelengths for both emission and absorption. The photons bounce off each element differently. He went over the experiments done, objectively, scientifically. Highly sensitive scales available only at a university laboratory were employed during downtime when they weren’t needed for funded experiments. The changes in weight of various elements were measured as the sun and moon passed overhead. Tiny differences emerged between the elements. The noble gases were affected more by the sun. Metals—particularly iron—by the iron-rich moon. The measurements were barely measurable, but confirmed and reconfirmed and statistically significant. The results? A gravity spectrum. Each element had its own unique set of gravitational wavelengths. Gravity had a spectrum just as light did. Gravity had colors. He finished his short presentation. His suit was baggy, hanging from his bony shoulders. Years of pursuit of knowledge had stolen his youth. I felt his fatigue. I knew his exhaustion. “Is it patentable?” “No,” I said. “A law of nature is itself unpatentable. The U.S. Supreme Court made that clear in Mayo versus Prometheus in 2012. Why would you want to patent that?” “Maybe there are practical applications,” he suggested, gesturing toward nothing, dismissively, as if trying to convince himself that there could be something worthwhile and giving up on the idea at the same time. I was not holding my breath either. It sounded like pure science to me. Unpatentable. “But let me ask you this. Do I have to be the inventor?” “It’s first to file,” I said. “The America Invents Act of 2007.” He held out a palm. It shook in the air. “I know about the act. I want to know if the idea has to be mine.” “Of course,” I said. So this was his secret. A stolen idea. Not the first time, among my clients, but the first time from someone I admired. Had admired. “Whose idea is it? Does he know?” “She’ll never know.” “A she. It’s a she, not a he?” “It was a she,” he said. “A graduate student. Bonnie Wasser. Brain cancer.” His eyes held steady focus on me. Then it hit me. The way he described the experiments to confirm the theory in such an objective way. He never mentioned that he actually did the work. He only described what was done, never identifying the actor. A would-be thief, yet honest to a point. “What about the experiments?” I asked. “Yours?” “Hers,” he said. He rubbed his index fingers and thumbs together on each hand, a slight quiver to them. “The theories were hers, too. I found her research after she died, cleaning out her desk.” “If you were interested in a patent claim,” I said, “I’d need to look at who actually has the claim. If you don’t pursue a patent, obviously everything you’ve told me stays here, in this room.” “Everything?” he asked. “Well, like I said before, unless you’re going to hurt or kill someone.” I smiled as reassuringly as I could. Lawyer jokes. That is, jokes by lawyers. Hilarious every time. He smiled wanly. “That’s to protect the public, right?” “You bet,” I said. “So if you had a client who already killed someone, you wouldn’t be able to disclose that to anyone.” He gestured as he had earlier, as if the idea were baseless conjecture, to be dismissed out of hand, but there was a breath of hesitation. I allowed a few moments of silence to fall between us. While this had not happened frequently in my career, the circumstance was familiar. A client treating the attorney as confessor. A man seeking absolution. The best thing was to get it over with, quickly. “Have you killed someone?” He stopped rubbing his delicate fingers and thumbs together. Even the tremble in his hands stopped. Somehow, under that thinned face, I saw the confident man who stood before that university crowd 10 years ago. His eyes shined brightly, sorrowfully, hopefully. “Bonnie Wasser,” he said. “I put her on projects that exposed her to more radioactivity than ... well, it caused the brain cancer. She didn’t know I had done that. No one did.” He explained how he had ordered radioactive contaminated materials under the auspices of research, removed all warnings of danger, and then provided the materials to Ms. Wasser for her projects. He had covered his tracks. No one knew but him, and now me. Calculated. Methodical. Horrific. “Why would you do that?” I asked. My voice was hoarse. “She stole our grants,” he said. “She spoke elegantly, like a poet. She looked like a model. Her brain, the way she thought, was beautiful. She was a complete package, and in a male-dominated field, everyone wanted to fund her. But she told us that once she got her doctorate, she planned to leave us, to go to the East Coast, Ivy League. Now that she’s dead, her legacy will be identified with my department, forever.” “You killed her for the money?” I could hardly believe it. Such an intellect, yet so stupid. “She hurt me,” he said. “Every day she walked onto campus. Every gorgeous step she took, I died a small death.” “You loved her,” I said. His eyes narrowed cynically. His voice was only a whisper. “Everyone loved her. I was the only one who loved her enough to keep her ... to take her.” Professor Yoshimoto stood. The frail man who first walked into my office was gone. He now looked strong, resilient. His shoulders no longer slumped, as if he had set down a great weight. He no longer carried the guilt he had brought into my office. He had put that burden on me. On his way out, he thanked me, but he did not say for what. I showered for a long time that night, and I threw away the suit I had been wearing. I had to rid myself of that encounter, that man, any way I could. But I had no basis to disclose his past crime. I would hold his secret. A few months later, I saw a news article discussing a new discovery: the colors of gravity. It credited Professor Yoshimoto’s “team” for discovering it and noted they were looking for funding to continue their experiments. Rice University had awarded him a newly endowed chair in the department. He was on top of the world. I, meanwhile, continue practicing law, a bit heavier each day, one confidence at a time. In a few years, I’ll finally be so heavy with secrets that my conscience will collapse on itself, forming a black hole, and even light won’t escape me. BLAIR DANCY is a trial lawyer who has been collecting client confidences in Austin for 18 years but does not anticipate imploding under their great weight, at least not any time soon. This story is entirely a work of fiction, and the people depicted are no more real than gravitons.
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