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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Part 61

Act V

Victory


Chapter Sixteen


Gavin wondered if his ghostly tutor had abandoned him. Almost a week had passed with no word, and none of his magic worked. He’d tried teleporting home, conjuring cash, even something simple like tripping someone on the sidewalk outside his motel.

Nothing.

Gavin jumped to his feet when the ghostly wizard finally appeared. “You’re back!”

“Yes.” Mastema looked around the ratty motel room. “Looks like you’ve been neglecting your studies while I’ve been busy.”

“I’ve tried – really tried. But nothing works. I can’t even conjure cash.”

Mastema paused, one hand rubbing his spectral chin. “I guess you were more tired than I thought. Have you tried anything today?”

“Why bother? It won’t work.” Gavin was petulant and knew it.

“Well, this afternoon we’re going to try teleporting to Savannah. Rest up.”

Mastema vanished.

***

Austin arrived at Booking, Card, Painter, and Allen just before eight in the morning. The single story stucco building near Atlanta’s Woodruff Park had a sign in the window with office hours and a bold “CLOSED” indicator. She fidgeted in her car until someone opened the office, then slowly drank a coffee in the lobby until Edmond Allen arrived. No one was expecting her that day because her official hire date was really more than six months away, but nobody would quibble about that difference. Besides, she might get an early jump on the process, now that she was done with what was soon to be named Kiel and Associates – if they could even stay in business.

Austin stood when Allen walked in through the front doors. She handed her empty coffee mug to the receptionist. “Mr. Allen? Good morning. And nice shoes.”

Allen paused, looking in puzzlement at the woman addressing him. When he finally realized who she was he said, “Jessica Austin, I wasn’t expecting to see you for a few months yet.”

“I wanted to get familiar with the firm before I actually start.” Austin mostly believed that of herself. She’d wanted to give Kiel everything until she’d planned to move, but her forced departure had moved up her schedule.

“You specialize in inheritance law, right?”

“Yes. Big case going on in Savannah with Michael Grambic’s will.”

Allen’s eyes widened. “That’s your firm?”

“Was. I don’t work there anymore.”

“That’s our case, too. You’d better not do anything to give grounds for an appeal.”

Then Austin’s midnight revelation flooded back. “Is there somewhere we could talk?”

“I guess.” Allen glanced toward a small conference room. “Sam, any reason we can’t use the room?”

The receptionist said, “No, Mr. Allen. It’s not booked until ten.”

“Thanks, Sam. Could you have Greta join us?” Allen turned to Austin. “Greta is head of our paralegals. I’d be more comfortable if she were with us.”

***

An hour later, paralegal Greta Silvanus watched Allen and Austin shake hands in the firm’s lobby as the woman was leaving. Austin had told Bob Allen about a case in Michigan where a will had been probated even though it remained unsigned.

Allen had been vehement about keeping Austin out of the Grambic case. “It’s a conflict of interest for you to get involved in the least possible way,” Allen had said. Silvanus, though, didn’t have that conflict. She’d taken notes, and that was the extent of her job – to record conversations in case the matter came up in a suit of some kind.

Austin left through the front door. Allen went deeper into the offices.

Silvanus knew she had to do the right thing, so she picked up the desk phone in the small conference room and dialed the number printed on Austin’s business card.

The phone rang twice before someone picked up.

“Kiel and Associates, this is Yvette Faucher. How may I direct your call?”

A twinge of pain shot up her back. “I’m Greta Silvanus from Booking, Card, Painter, and Allen. I have some information for Ben Kiel.”

***

Ben Kiel picked up the call his secretary sent in. “Ben Kiel.”

“Mr. Kiel, Bob Allen.”

“Victor Howe’s attorney. What can I do for you this morning?” Kiel had a good idea, but didn’t want to assume.

Allen’s manner was purely business. “Mr. Howe wants me to explore what kind of settlement Ms. Drabbs might accept.”

That confirmed Kiel’s guess. “Does he have an offer in mind?”

“Well,” Allen said, “I’ve suggested he take it to the judge, but he wants to be done with the process so he can get on with running his business.”

Kiel smirked at the concept of “his business.”

Allen continued. “To that end, I’ve been authorized to offer a one-time cash payment of five million dollars, plus another million every year for ten years.”

“That’s an interesting amount, Mr. Allen.” Kiel kept his voice neutral even as he marveled at the amount. He’d often been on the other end of such a negotiation and knew the first offer was a lowball, which meant Howe probably would accept somewhere around double. “I’ll present that to my client when she arrives later this morning.”

“Mr. Howe is eager to complete this negotiation.” Allen cleared his throat. “Can we meet with you and Ms. Drabbs this afternoon?”

“I don’t see why not.” Kiel checked the time: 10:37. Amy was due to land at 11:30, so he could present the numbers at noon, discuss for an hour, and have a leisurely lunch. “How does 3:30 sound?”

Kiel heard papers rustling and a keyboard clacking.

“How about 4:00? Mr. Howe has a teleconference with contractors in Canada for a new facility. It might run longer than expected.”

“We’ll be ready. Where would you like to meet?”

“Grambic Tower, if you don’t mind. Mr. Howe has a conference table in his office which should be large enough.”

“I’ll be in his lobby at 3:45.”

***

Ruax was glad he’d hung around the Atlanta law firm. He didn’t like the way Silvanus looked. When she’d dialed he knew direct action was required. Since this firm was located in Atlanta, not Savannah, there was no risk in taking the most drastic – and fun – measures. Nobody would connect this with what was happening in the coastal city.

The tinny voice coming from the handset said, “Mr. Kiel is on another call right now. Can you tell me what kind of information you have?”

Silvanus half-covered the phone so Sam Manning, the receptionist, couldn’t overhear her whisper. “It’s about the Grambic case.”

Ruax reached into the woman’s chest and squeezed.

“Can you hold for a moment?”

Silvanus tried to say something, but a croak of pain was the best she could manage.

Faucher asked, “Are you okay?”

The woman was dead before she hit the floor.


If you appreciate this story, please consider supporting the author's ability to write more stories by purchasing The Brotherhood, available in print and on Kindle. Please share on social media, and leave a review on the page linked above.



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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Part 60

Act V

Victory


“One more question, Your Honor.” Kiel didn’t want to trap Jameson Boynton, but had to be sure. “Does your uncle sail?”

“No. He’s afraid of the water. Never even uses his yacht. Now, if you’re ready, I have a full docket today.”

Kiel’s heart sank. He made a note to check on David Boynton, and out of the corner of his eye he noticed Howe leaning back in his seat with a smirk. “I’m ready, Your Honor.”

“Then let’s get on with it, Mr. Kiel. What do you have?”

Regrouping, Kiel said, “Judge, I have a copy of the document allegedly signed by Michael Grambic. But I witnessed Victor Howe sign and date them.” He lifted the packet of papers in question.

Boynton finished making a few notes. “Do you have something with Grambic’s signature? Something you know for sure is his signature?”

“Your Honor, we can only assume a driver’s license from his sophomore year in college would be his authentic writing.” Kiel sorted through his paperwork and produced the one with a photocopy of a young Michael Grambic’s license. “Also, when he inherited from his father he hired me to produce his first will, which he signed in my presence.” He added a ten-sheet packet to other page.

The judge turned to the bailiff. “Bring them to me, please.”

Boynton looked over the papers, flipping from one to the next to the next. “Seems like there is a question of a valid signature, Mr. Allen.”

“Perhaps, Your Honor.” Allen produced his own packet of documents. “However, it was standard operating procedure for Mr. Grambic to have his executive assistant sign in his place. Here is an abbreviated example of signatures over the years. The top page lists when signatures changed, correlated with hiring dates for new executive assistants.”

After the bailiff brought the papers, the judge rifled through them. “Mr. Kiel, on the surface of things it seems as if Mr. Grambic routinely allowed his people to sign for him.”

“Perhaps, Your Honor.” Kiel shaded his normal tone a bit closer to Allen’s statement. “However, Mr. Grambic always called me to approve of the will before sending me the signed copy. This time, in my presence, he’d expressed rejection of the will which was recently probated.”

Boynton looked down at the two attorneys. “Mr. Kiel, I think you’ve established a basis to contest this latest will. Do you have standing?”

Kiel produced his contract with Amy Drabbs and handed it to the bailiff. “The day of his death, Mr. Grambic instructed me to produce a will which named his cousin, Amy Drabbs, his major beneficiary. If Mr. Grambic had lived another few hours he’d have signed a different will. Ms. Drabbs has retained my services to contest the probated will.”

Boynton looked over the contract. “Do you have a copy of the prospective will?”

Kiel handed the sixty-three pages to the bailiff. The judge barely glanced at the document. “Where is Ms. Drabbs, Mr. Kiel?”

“She was involved in an airplane crash in Bowling Green, Your Honor. She’s expected to arrive in Savannah later today.”

“Mr. Allen.” Boynton gave Kiel’s opponent an even stare. “It seems there is reason to suspect the probated will of the late Michael Grambic was based on faulty information.” The judge signed a document before continuing. “Your client’s property and finances are frozen, with the exception of the normal operating expenses associated with Grambic Tiles. We’ll schedule a hearing for October nineteenth. In the meantime, see if you can come to some kind of understanding with Ms. Drabbs. With the totals involved, however, I’m not optimistic.”

Boynton gaveled the hearing closed.

***

Bathin had a good read on the situation in Savannah. He knew a great deal of cash would soon be needed. He summoned a senior imp in search of a name and identity.

“Cash.” Bathin knew the imp might think of that as a name. So be it. If its mission succeeded, the name could be confirmed. “I need you to identify homes in America with stashes of money. Dispatch underlings to take a single fifty dollar bill from the biggest hoards. They won’t be missed, and I need the money.”

The imp nodded its misshapen head, then vanished.

If Cash failed, it could always be demoted to a lesser imp and forget the incident. It would never remember the incident again, even if later promoted.

Bathin appeared – invisible – in a department store.

Even the store’s security camera would never pick up how a briefcase vanished.

***

Amy was mildly surprised when the doctor released her.

“Medically, there’s no reason to hold you.” He signed a discharge form, handed it to a nurse, and turned back to Amy. “The FAA investigators might want to talk to you, but since they haven’t told me to keep you here. . . .” His voice trailed off as he shrugged.

“Great!” Amy sat up and her ribs reminded her she’d been in a serious accident.

The nurse moved in as the doctor left the room to continue his rounds. “That’ll teach you to be more careful. Broken ribs aren’t something to take lightly.” She removed the last of the sensors and turned off equipment. “By the way, a Mr. Kiel asked if I could get an Uber to take you to the airport. He has a helicopter standing by to take you to Savannah.”

Amy grinned, glad to have someone like that lawyer on her side. “Mr. Kiel thinks of everything.”

“So I should make the call?” The nurse pulled open a drawer holding some new clothes. “The clothes you were wearing aren’t in any condition to be worn. Mr. Kiel took care of that, too.”

Holding up a button-down shirt, Amy estimated it would be a little baggy. “Kinda big for me, isn’t it?”

“Has to fit over your bandaging, so we picked them one size bigger than what you had before. Leave the bindings on for at least a week. No showers or baths.”

Amy wrinkled her nose. “Sponges and wipe downs for the time being?”

“Yes.” The nurse pulled the drapery closed around the door area. “Want help getting dressed, or should I leave it to you?”

Amy bent to put on her socks, groaned, and sat back up. “I better have some help.”

The nurse smiled. “I’ll call for Uber when you’re filling out forms.” She took the socks from Amy.

***

Helicopters typically flew much lower than fixed-wing aircraft. Baraqijal searched the countryside of Tennessee for hunters. A poacher north of Chattanooga lined up a shot to take down a deer. As he squeezed the trigger a grouse flushed.

The poacher’s shot flew straight up toward a passing helicopter.

***

In the middle of the night Austin woke, remembered a ruling from a Michigan appeals court. “That’s it!” In moments, though, she was asleep again.

As she left the Dublin hotel the next morning she didn’t even remember having an epiphany.


If you appreciate this story, please consider supporting the author's ability to write more stories by purchasing The Brotherhood, available in print and on Kindle. Please share on social media, and leave a review on the page linked above.



  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Part 59

Act V

Victory


Chapter Fifteen


Kiel had a list of bad news when he arrived at the office the next morning. Probably the biggest problem was the notice by the Georgia Bar Association calling into question his fitness to practice law. Governor Rawlin had asked for a review of Kiel, Austin, and Cromwell. An anonymous tip suggested some of his lawyers might be disbarred.

Second on the list was a note indicating their initial appearance in the Grambic/Howe hearing had been moved up to next week. They had five days to put together a legal presentation to give grounds for contesting Grambic’s will. He’d been counting on months of research and preparation.

And Austin wouldn’t be available to help out.

Yvette Faucher buzzed Kiel’s intercom. He picked up. “What is it, Yvette?”

“Austin’s here.”

“Thank you, Yvette.”

He left his office suite and turned left – toward the area with Austin’s office, as well as half the associates and their assorted staff. Tracey Droud, head of that section of secretaries and paralegals, stood.

“Mr. Kiel. She just got here.”

“Thanks, Tracey.” He stepped into Austin’s office to find her packing one small box with personal belongings.

“I’ll be out in ten minutes, Ben.”

Kiel detected a strong note of anger, and hoped that wasn’t because of him. “You could stay.”

Austin paused, holding a stuffed Troll over the box. “We covered that already. It’s time to move on.” She threw the toy into the cardboard container hard enough for it to bounce out. She swore.

“You’ll be missed.” Ben looked down at the commercial grade carpeting. “And you’ll always have a place here if you wanted to come back.” He picked up the Troll and gently stowed it for his partner.

Faucher rushed into the office, face reddened. “They’ve disbarred Cromwell. Can they do that so quickly?”

Kiel cursed. “If someone has enough influence. Jessica, take care of yourself.” He turned to leave. “If you need anything, let me know.”

Faucher was about to say more, but her boss signaled her to wait. She gave Austin a sad grin. “It’s been nice working with you.”

“Thanks, Yvette. Go tell Ben the rest of your news.”

The two hastened back to Kiel’s office. Faucher hadn’t even closed the door when Kiel said, “Okay, what’s next.”

“Virtually everyone here has been disbarred.” Faucher pushed hair back behind her ear. “Only you, Judy, and Carl are left. And you’re under review.”

Kiel reeled, falling into a sofa to the side of his desk. “What happened to bring this on?”

“The executive committee of the state bar was given information last week that members of our firm lied to the FBI in the Lewis case.” Faucher looked down at some notes on her phone. “I quote, ‘We realize that Ben Kiel was vacationing in Spain during the time in question, but it strains credulity to think he didn’t know his own subordinates provided false testimony to federal investigators.’ They’re checking phone records to find out if anyone called you. If they did, you’ll probably be disbarred, too.”

Kiel knew why this was happening, but that didn’t make it any easier to deal with. “Of course the allegations are untrue.”

Faucher grimaced. “What are you going to do?”

Kiel blinked. “I don’t know.”

***

Chamos sat in the middle of a spiritual web, sensing which strands were tugged, how hard, and in which direction.

Peralta, on the other hand, only saw her boss, Victor Howe, staring off into space. She shook her head while the imp beside her whispered supportive words in her ear.

She went back to work, only occasionally glancing up to look at her boss.

***

Five days later a disheveled Ben Kiel took his place at a table facing the judge’s bench. Only that morning had he been informed their scheduled judge had won $200,000 in the latest Powerball. Currently he was taking time off to rearrange his financial life.

Kiel groaned when he read the name plate on the massive desk in the front of the court room: “Jameson Boynton.”

While still arranging the paperwork into stacks on the mahogany workspace, Kiel heard the doors open in the back of the courtroom. Howe and his attorney entered and made their way up the tiled aisle, hard-soled shoes clacking with each step.

“Mister Kiel,” Howe gloated. “My lawyer, Bob Allen.”

Allen barely glanced at Kiel. “From Booking, Card, Painter, and Allen.”

Kiel nearly choked as an assault of aftershave washed over him, so strong Kiel could taste the Ice Blue. “I believe your firm took one of mine. Austin is a great lawyer.” He wondered why Allen was even talking to him. Opponents rarely talked to each other in a court room.

“I’m sure she’ll have her name up there with the rest of the partners in no time.”

Allen moved to his side of the courtroom just as Judge Boynton entered. He was followed by a bailiff and a stenographer.

“Are we ready, gentlemen?”

Allen was about to speak when Kiel interrupted. “Your Honor, I’d like to clarify something before we begin.”

Boynton sat. “By all means.”

The steno pressed keys to begin the transcript of the hearing.

“My late client, Michael Grambic, whose will we’re discussing today, died in an accident while racing against your uncle, Associate Justice David Boynton. I wondered if there was any conflict of interest.”

Boynton flipped through the papers on his desk. “I believe Mr. Grambic died toward the end of last month. Is that correct?”

“Yes, Your Honor.” Kiel glanced down at his notes. “March twenty-eighth.”

Boynton looked up. “My uncle has been on sabbatical for more than three months. There’s no conflict, because he couldn’t have been involved in a race on the date in question.”

Kiel’s skin prickled with dread. “I saw him at an Atlanta drag race earlier that day.”

Boynton shook his head. “Sorry. He’s been in Italy since the week before Christmas. Shall we get started?”


If you appreciate this story, please consider supporting the author's ability to write more stories by purchasing The Brotherhood, available in print and on Kindle. Please share on social media, and leave a review on the page linked above.



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