By Mark W. Meier
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?”
“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?”
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