“We ain’t settling,” June declared. She had stormed through the glass doors into the Courthouse lobby right over to me. “You tell that man that I’ve got mountains of evidence against him!”
She dropped papers on the bench next to me like a hurricane releasing its hoard. Pill bottles in her oversized bag rattled angrily.
She wore a large, satin hat over her bronze, Tina Turner wig, a white dress over her thin, black body, and stockings despite the warm weather. She didn’t take off her hat indoors. When I told her to dress up for Court, that’s not what I envisioned. She wasn’t unattractive; the problem was above the neck.
“Thanks, glad you could make it.” I’ve been an attorney at the Indigent Society for almost a year now, and was surprised clients, who rarely had good defenses, showed up at all.
“These are real people and they can tell you how they’ve treated me.” June said, pointing to the stack. She towered over me as I looked at the smallest mountain in the world. Her flashboard face, “The Mug,” hid nothing. Since this eviction, it flickered between anger, indignation or selfpity. Right now, anger.
I nodded solemnly but let the words evaporate. June’s case was infuriatingly predictable.
As a Section 8 tenant, she paid only a small portion out of her meager income from disability and welfare, the government paid the rest. Plaintiff, Wyndmill Properties, sued her for nonpayment of her own portion and wanted the unit back. I couldn’t raise many defenses if the crux of the eviction was for nonpayment.
If you don’t pay, you don’t get.
My supervisor, Gertrude’s, quip popped into mind, like unsolicited advice from a wellmeaning, but persistent neighbor.
Outside, summer waited on the horizon, ready to unleash its unrelenting, tripledigit heat over this small town. People would turn sluggard and listless. As the days progressed, I grew less enthusiastic about everything. Morning light flooded the entire lobby, spotlighting all the petty, painful and humiliating things that unfolded here.
The eviction calendar was posted next to the heavy wooden door to the actual courtroom, now closed. Once the morning session began, Judge Johnston would call each case and if the parties couldn’t settle, schedule them for an afternoon trial. Patrons loitered nervously in front of the calendar, their loafers, heels or sandals clicking or slapping away. They would peer at it, sit and then, a few seconds later, get up to look again. Was having their anxieties, fears and hopes solidified on paper somehow comforting? Fortunately, I only had one trial today. Unfortunately, it was hers.
During our first meeting, I asked June to describe her defenses and she nearly jumped out of her seat.
Sexual Harassment some unnamed Mexican gardener leered at her while she undressed in her apartment.
Racial discrimination while walking to her unit one night, another unnamed gentleman, called her a “Gorilla.”
Regular discrimination in the common area, her gay neighbor kissed his partner right in front of her, rather than waiting, like a civilized man, until she had walked away.
She had a dozen more but I told her we could preserve her unstated defenses without writing a novel. When I asked her about the alleged nonpayment, she glared at me, the lines around her face deepened and said, “I always pay on time.” She didn’t have any receipts and despite repeated inquiries, never brought them. Instead, she would occasionally drop off yellowed leaflets about tenant rights. We filed them away without reading, She also habitually called in the evenings right before closing, relaying her abuse that day at the landlord’s hands.
The receptionist couldn’t push the transfer button fast enough.
“That’s great initiative, June.” Some of her papers were barely legible, handwritten letters, mixed with drug prescriptions. “But this stuff is hearsay and not admissible. It’s too late to amend your Answer. Can you get these witnesses to come to Court?”
But I already knew. June could corner some elderly or handicapped neighbor in that Section 8 complex to draft a hasty note. But to get them to ride the hourlong bus, testify before the Judge and against their own landlord, all before strangers, was something else.
“Your case is not as strong, June. What about the settlement?” I tried to keep the eagerness out of my voice. If we went to trial, we would lose. The sooner I settled, the sooner I’d report the case as “successful” and the sooner I’d be rid of June.
“Are you crazy? After what they did to me?”
The landlord’s standard offer was that if June vacated the premises in two weeks, he would dismiss the case. If she failed to do so, he would forcibly evict. Furniture on the streets.
Nosey, gawking neighbors. From a landlord’s perspective, settlement removed the tenant faster than even winning at trial. Even after a win, he would still need to wait for the Sheriff to actually evict. In a depressed economy and with only one Sheriff in town, that would take over four weeks. Lucky us. For June, the end result was the same. The offer was a more graceful exit.
Why delay the inevitable?
Another Gertrude favorite.
The lobby grew fuller now. Suited attorneys exchanged paperwork with one another and laypersons. Spanish and English voices mingled. I spotted a few “Regulars,” including partners, Fifield and Rotty. They represented only Society adversaries. A regular pain in our asses. Rotty was older, smaller and spoke with a quiet confidence. Fifield was tall and his baldness emphasized his lumpy, trollshaped skull. Most Society clients had weak defenses. Rotty never gloated but Fifield swaggered whenever his client was present. I hated that the dynamic duo nearly always had the legal advantage.
The young, pasty Wyndmill landlord wore a baseball cap, which he didn’t remove. He’d look diffidently at Rotty and Fifield whenever either of them spoke. He lacked June’s passions, which made him less entertaining. Rotty spotted me and slowly walked over. He’d revealed that his heart was only at 23% capacity, no doubt a casualty from his big firm days in New York.
Fifield must have made up the other 7%.
“Warm, isn’t it?” Rotty said. Fifield leaned one arm against the wall near where he stood and chatted away with the seated client, but his eyes were on us.
“Yes, it’s still so early.”
“You have many cases today?” The more slammed Society attorneys were, the more likely Regulars can squeeze a quicker settlement.
“Nope. Just this little gem.” I held up June’s file. June wheeled to face him, eye to eye.
“We ain’t settlin’. You tell him that. We’ll bury you.” The Mug of fiery indignation.
“It’s very generous of my client, considering . . . .” Rotty didn’t look at June but only me.
“We’ll look it over. Thanks.” Rotty nodded and then walked away slowly but firmly.
June’s glare bounced off his back.
“Another thing to consider, June,” I tried to keep my tone neutral, “if you do go to trial and lose, you can lose your Section 8 voucher too.”
Under the Section 8 program, the government could revoke tenants’ vouchers if they’ve been evicted. She wouldn’t be able to afford anything then. Since June converged on this town a few months ago, she had fought, whined and stormed her way from one apartment to another.
She had always managed to land a new unit before the previous landlord could evict her. A clean record . . . so far.
“Judge Johnston wants people to settle without trial.” Evictees may hate their former landlords and distrust their attorneys, but everyone liked prettyboy Johnson.
“Michelle,” She drew out the “M’ like a whiny flute. “You’re supposed to be working for me!” It’s the same voice she used when she called our office lamenting about her mistreatment after I’d repeatedly tell her I couldn’t help. She widened her plaintive eyes to match the shape of her hat brim. The Mug was picture perfect image of selfpity.
“It’s not about how hard we fight or even the strength of our evidence. It’s about what he believes.” Judge Johnston, like other whites in the area, has probably never been evicted and was most likely a landlord himself. “I think it’s a good offer.”
Before she could respond, the Deputy stood in front of heavy door and with his hands on his wide hips and made his announcements. He repeated his weekly spew about procedures, warning us not to unprofessional, rude or loud. Then, with relish, he swung open the courtroom doors. People streamed through that cavernous mouth, like baby birds down a giant’s gullet.
Unlike the lobby, the courtroom was cool and gloomy. The dark carpeting swallowed any light that trickled from the high ceiling. Often, I felt as if I were standing at the bottom of a giant cave, where sunlight couldn’t reach. We all sat and waited.
No one stood when Judge Johnston arrived. Eviction court was casual. He wiggled in his seat on the Bench, testing it for comfort. In few months, he’d rotate to a larger city, leaving only the indent of his behind. He smiled broadly at us and began his usual speech; each party would come before the bench and provide an update. The Spanishonly participants gaped at him, lost without the translator. Other evictees just stared because unlike them, he was an educated, pretty, white man. He shared a joke with the matronly Clerk beside him, submerged in a sea of knickknacks, family photos, and files.
The usual Regulars, landlords and evictees made their appearances. Some evictees stood quietly, occasionally wiping away stray tears. Others began arguing and gesturing wildly as soon as they had an audience, not realizing the futility of their passions. The Judge called our case.
When June walked down the aisle, someone hummed,
What’s Love Got to Do with It?
Others snickered. Fifield and his client stood on the opposite side from us. She didn’t remove her hat.
After a few preliminary questions, Judge Johnston asked us whether we discussed the possibility of a settlement.
“Your Honor, we tendered our offer over a week ago.” Fifield announced confidently, not passing a chance to humiliate an opponent. He stood more erect with the stickpole client beside him.
“We’re open to the possibility, Your Honor.” I said.
“Great. Reasonable persons can always come to an agreement.” The handsome Judge replied. June, who stood next to me, swallowed hard. Good. She’s listening. The Clerk reassigned our case to the afternoon calendar for trial. We had to settle before then. An actual trial can be long, stressful and if we lose, a complete waste. We all walked out to the lobby to negotiate. If we couldn’t settle, I’ll have to publicly explain to the Judge why such reasonable attorneys couldn’t agree.
At that moment, Gertrude walked in; the sunlight pierced her flaming red hair, setting it aglow. She was agile despite her age and large turquoise jewelry jangled around her neck and wrists. Decades ago, she fled a war in Eastern Europe for the United States but still spoke with an accent. Many young, freshfaced attorneys had passed through Society during her lengthy tenure. Their idealism eventually turning into dust under the merciless sun and dissipating. Only Gertrude remained, as solid and anchored as her heavy jewelry. I’ve heard that she could retire with a full pension if the Executive didn’t find fault in her management and terminate her first.
Gertrude had no cases today; she wanted to monitor me, adding liquid fire to the turbulence.
“Hello Michelle. Oh, and you must be June. I’ve heard so much about you.” She grinned and shook June’s reluctant hand. I sat on the bench but June and Gertrude stood.
“How is everything?” Gertrude asked cheerfully.
“We ain’t settling.” June crossed her arms and glared, daring us to contradict her. The familiar lines deepened in her face. A Mug of rocky, cracked terrain.
“Oh?” Gertrude raised her auburn eyebrows at me. She gave the usual Society speech about the merits of settlement versus trial. To Gertrude, Society’s purpose is to prevent the poor Mingzhao Xu 6
and dispossessed from rioting. We could guide them through the darkness, not lift it completely.
The latter would require an Act of God, and Gertrude was a staunch atheist.
June shook her head and launched into her own practiced rant about Wyndmill. “He was looking
at me.” She cocked her head and let her eyeballs roll from under the hat to demonstrate the deviousness of the Mexican gardener. “Is that right to you?”
Taking the file from me, Gertrude began to explain that if he were an independent contractor, the landlord would have less control over his behavior and therefore, be less liable.
Also, this would not be a defense to the failure to pay rent claim. Gertrude liked to set hard boundaries that no amount of wheedling, whining, or manipulation could scale. This didn’t keep June from circling around or crawling underneath. Each time June suggested a reason for not settling, Gertrude shot her down and erected a new wall. It was a strange contest between the mad and the stubborn.
I excused myself and headed to the restroom down the hall, exhaling slowly. After washing my face, I stared at the mirror. The full hair and chubby cheeks betrayed my age. This is my first public interest job. But my lines, the ones that showed when I furrowed my brows in thought or pressed my lips resolutely, would be as deep and hard as June’s in time. I wore the usual black suit. The more summers I spent here, the more faded it became. Same of my dark hair. The process was as gradual and irreversible, like roadkill bones slowly bleached by the sun.
Before I graduated, I had thousands of reasons for being here. Now, those reasons were drown out by the meager pay, ungrateful clients, unimpressive title. Why am I here? The face only stared back.
I heard them as I walked out in the hallway, but they couldn’t see me yet. Gertrude’s voice was rising to match June’s. “You mention many men in your Answer my dear, but you give no names.” June pulled her hat down firmly on her head and her jaw tightened.
“I called the cops on him. They have his name.”
Gertrude continued but spoke more slowly, “Now, June, how could he have looked at you through the windows, if you were on the second floor? Was this unruly gentleman over ten feet tall?”
June stopped and she blinked rapidly, seeking an out. Most Society clients would look away ashamed or just refuse to answer when caught in a lie undisclosed income, undocumented status but June just tornadoed through.
“Michelle told me that the papers I gave her would help me win,” she replied. When they finally saw me, they paused. I sat back down.
“Michelle,” Gertrude spoke slowly and didn’t take her eyes off of me, “will carefully review each piece of evidence and I’m sure her advice will be the same . If you choose trial, you will lose the deal and your place. Work with what you have dear. Settle, settle, settle.”
The Executive valued numbers and considered any settlement a success, but not a lost trial. If that occurred, they would force Gertrude to micromanage my cases. It’d be unbearable.
The Executive’s lasso reached far and wide, and there was no escape. June looked at me for support, but she couldn't throw me under the bus and later expect a rescue.
“You’re in wonderful hands June, have a great day.” Gertrude handed me back the file and her jewelry jangled like skeleton bones.
Gertrude twirled about like a socialite, leaving us to gossip with other attorneys in the lobby. She waved at Rotty and Fifield, who sat with their client at another bench. The Regulars had learned to trust her over the years, she was as familiar to them as the roan rocks, and didn’t harbor any leftist idealism like the younger attorneys. After making the rounds, she would disappear for lunch.
June took her hat off and used it to fan herself. It wasn’t hot inside but beads of sweat rolled off her temples. She seemed nervous. Good. Gertrude wouldn’t let June’s stubbornness delay her pension, and I shouldn’t let it hamper common sense.
“Gertrude is very experienced. Her advice is sound. We’d never tell a client to take unnecessary risks.” I tried to imagine June testifying on the stand but conjured up only the image of her hat, its cartoonish mouth flapping away about a Mexican gardener.
June stared off into space without responding, occasionally wiping the sweat from her forehead. I anticipated a high strung retort, hostile glare or selfpitying Mug. As she remained silent, I became more conscious of the background noise. Spanish phrases followed by English translations. A child’s babble pierced through the dark tenor of middleaged men.
“June, do you understand?”
“I hear you!” It was loud enough to turn heads. She took a few breaths.
Her face was blank and it was hard to gauge her feelings without Mug activity. I wondered if the constant hammering of Executive ethics had permanently derailed her trains of thought and behavioral patterns. She usually wasn’t silent for long. This was menacing.
“If I accept the settlement . . .” she didn’t look at me directly but stared into the distance.
“Then you’ll have the security of knowing what to expect. The assurance that they’re bound by it too.”
“Then I’ll be homeless.” She said almost to herself. She was right for once. They would forcibly sell the belongings she couldn’t move. Neighbors would gossip.
“Society could provide you with a list of local landlords who accept Section 8, or women’s shelters.” She had probably already contacted them. This was a small town.
She now turned to glare at me. "I. Will. Be. Homeless."
I avoided eye contact by pretending to look at the ceiling to think. "You have plenty of options. St. Mary's Women Shelter isn't full this time of year." Beatings usually occurred during the Holidays.
"A complete dismissal and you get two weeks to find a new place." I tried to smile. I wanted her to see the light, and more importantly, keep my neck out of the Executive’s lasso.
Instead of a response, she abruptly stormed off to the bathroom, hat in her hands and pill bottles clacking out a rhythmic dirge.
Per Gertrude’s orders, I began digging through her mountain, careful to avoid paper cuts as I was wary of their source. It looked like garbage but did remind me of my favorite property law subject “treasure trove”. Unsuspecting owners found items of extreme value where they’d least expect. A middleage man found ten grand in the seat of his used car while reupholstering, a grandmother found several gold bars in her Goodwill safe. The objects found didn’t fascinate me so much as the thrill of the unanticipated gift, in the most overlooked of places.
I found a small, faded ATM receipt. It was from a bank near June’s apartment in the amount of her rental portion and was dated after the notice to vacate. Then there was another one dated before the trial date. Tenants directly deposited into Wyndmill’s business account. If this was what I thought it was . . . .
“How’s everything?” I didn’t even hear Rotty approach. I looked up as calmly as I could.
“Great. I think we’re making progress.” He glanced furtively in the direction of the women’s bathroom as if fearful of what may emerge from it.
“Well, maybe this will persuade her. My client’s in a good mood today. He’ll just give her the two weeks free.” If June wouldn’t have to pay for the two weeks she stayed per the settlement, she’ll have more money to move. Rotty held up two fingers in case I couldn’t count.
“How generous. But Rotty, it’s not just about the money. My client feels disrespected.”
Rotty shook his head, “That woman has no respect for anyone.”
When June’s heavy footsteps drew closer, Rotty made his way as quickly as he could back to his client. He would’ve skipped if his heart permitted it.
“June, what are these?” I showed her the receipts. Her eyes seemed puffy.
“From the bank, after I put in my rent.”
“You paid even after you got the notice? After they filed the lawsuit?”
She gave me her usual indignant glare. “Didn’t I tell you? I always pay!”
Capitalism made evictions expedient. Defendants didn’t have as many delay tactics as in a regular civil lawsuit. Here, if I proved that he accepted her rent while he was evicting her, that would nullify the entire case. June would get to stay in her unit, until they find another reason to evict.
My revised settlement offer stated that June would get one rentfree month, no negative references, and no eviction judgment against her unless she failed to vacate on time. A month meant more income saved, or whatever she could hustle, and more time to convince another hapless landlord to accept her.
Gertrude was on one of her usual long lunch break. I asked Jeka, the senior attorney, to review my work. She spoke frankly and often wore black tshirts and knitbeanies. She sat behind the desk and I in the front, like one of her confused and bedraggle clients.
“What I wouldn’t give to have evidence like this.”
“Want to take over? June’s partial to hats.”
Jeka laughed. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“She’s worried about being homeless.”
“Aren’t they all? Her disability wouldn’t cover deposit and first month’s rent elsewhere, especially if she’s still paying Wyndmill.” Jeka drank from her coffee mug.
“I want to get her more time.”
“Get her more money.” Jeka pointed her chin at a part of June’s file. Before landing at Wyndmill, there had been periodic spikes in her government benefits. That meant she been homeless during those times.
“You don’t think we can win at trial?” I thought about taking that risk for one moment of glory.
“No one really wins.” Jeka shook her head. She was right. The Executive would hang me if I went to trial without trying to settle. Also, June would just end up in court again a few weeks later.
“Then what is the point?” I leaned back into my chair. “They’re making so much money.” I muttered, thinking about our classmates who went into private practice.
She knew what I meant, and didn’t launch into a polished speech about the merits of helping the community or how it was her life’s passion. We were both beyond that. We chose public interest work despite the risks and school debt.
“Then why don’t you join them?” She smiled but kept her eyes on the settlement.
“Ha, why indeed.” I chuckled. I had revisited this question with alarming frequency recently. Changing careers had its appeal. I could leave this backwater town, the heat, and the incessant office politics and move to the larger city. Make my mama proud. I envisioned myself racing a topdown convertible on the highway out of town. My idealism would unravel and fly off behind me like a scarf caught in the wind. But the other reason I pursued public interest clung to me like a stubborn, gear-teeth insect : the client.
¨Good luck and let me know how it ends.” Jeka’s voice snapped me back into the present.
She locked eyes with me and said, “I know this type of client. Don’t ever let her think she can win.”
I thanked her and went back to my office to finalize the documents. A pile of new cases for this week sat in my In Box. Society attorneys never had an Out Box. June’s little receipt was unique. No one could’ve imagined that my hatobsessed client was right. I prepared myself mentally for the Regulars’ reactions, trying to imagine their counterarguments, and how I’d rebuff them. That would be sweet. The word itself “re” and “buff” suggested that if I had polished something with gusto, it’d shine like the sun. I’d leave my fantasies for now.
The lunch recess was about to end. Outside of the courthouse, the noon sun warmed me as I walked past the lawn to where Rotty stood with Fifield. The landlord was not present, probably still out to lunch like June. Several ochre grasshoppers eyeballed me menacingly as I walked by, horns sat on their little heads and razors flanked their legs. This species only existed here.
“How was lunch Rotty?” I interrupted, forcing them to face me.
“Eh, I prefer New York.” He made a ¨so so” gesture with his hand.
“Did you finally talk some sense into your client?” Fifield perked.
“After reviewing your offer closely, I’ve decided to make some revisions.” I handed Fifield the new offer along with copies of accompanying statutes.
“What was your favorite place in New York?” I was hungry and wanted to live vicariously.
“Don’t get me started. This holeinthewall diner on 4th and . . . .”
“What the heck is this?” Fifield grimaced at the paper. Rotty turned to his colleague.
“Looks like your client’s been accepting my client’s money despite the ongoing lawsuit.
We’re going to argue due process violations.” I handed Fifield the original receipt and he looked like I was handing him a turd. After reading it repeatedly, realization dawned on him. He was like a man who drove indifferently past the same roadkill every day, only to realize later that it was his dog.
“She could’ve gotten this anywhere.”
“It’s how she usually pays rent, by depositing it at the nearest bank, which spits out a receipt. Look, you can confirm with your client if you don’t believe us.”
“No one told that woman to keep paying.”
“No one told Wyndmill to keep the money.”
“It’s hearsay.” I was shorter and Fifield kept sticking his neck out downward to emphasize his point, like a troll popping out of its burrow.
“Nope.” I shook my head. “I’ve attached the statute that says electronic evidence like this bypasses the hearsay rule. Also, my client can testify. Is your client willing to say she didn’t under oath?” Fifield looked at Rotty for support.
But I already knew. The Regulars weren’t stupid enough to knowingly introducing perjury to the Court.
The afternoon was hot. Light reflected off the tiles, making the lobby seem more airy and spacious. More people came during the afternoons. Some smelled like fast food, others brought their schoolage kids as babysitters were costly. Judge Johnston would have to contend with the afternoon trials as well as the morning ones that weren’t resolved. If we couldn’t settle, Gertrude would feel displeased. The Executive would tighten that lasso.
To my relief, June walked into the lobby as the Deputy announced that the doors will open soon. We sat next to each other and I told her about the receipt, how it could invalidate the entire lawsuit, but Judges are unpredictable. What if he doesn’t care for the law? It’s best to use it to press for a more advantageous settlement. She looked pensive and grim at first but then began to chuckle. I started, having never before heard her laugh. Her thin frame shook. The sounds rose from belly depths and grew bigger until she tilted her head back and released it with an opened mouth. The hat teetered dangerously backwards. People turned to look as us.
“I still need you to accept the terms.”
“I know that.” She snapped her head back like a pez dispenser, letting out a treat and then shutting up quickly afterwards. She fanned herself with her hat and kept staring into space.
Closeup, I now noticed it: the lining inside her hat was missing, her wig was a cheap synthetic, her stockings had runs, and one pull on the loose seams from her dress could unravel it. Her limitations on paper were laid bare before me. I needed to buy a new suit too, but I didn’t have to sacrifice groceries, the bills or a roof to do so. She was thick and difficult but I understood. She had to keep the core strong – the bigger the outside threat, the stronger it had to be – else, everything would collapse.
“They just throwing peanuts at me,” she grumbled.
We were so close. Gertrude wouldn’t be pleased that I let any settlement opportunity pass, even if we could win at trial. If she wasn’t happy, then I’m miserable. I remembered Jeka’s advice. Earlier, Rotty was willing to waive her rent for the two weeks. If her miniscule rental portion didn’t mean anything to them, then I’d work with what I have. I could give her more than what luck provided.
“I’m going to visit our friends.” I walked toward the Regulars and their client, while June continued to look off in the distance.
They coalesced together like dark vinegar droplets in an oil bottle. The landlord crossed his arms firmly across his chest and would shake his head adamantly when one of the Regulars spoke to him.
“Everything well here?” I asked with a smile.
“Fine.” Rotty looked hard at the twiglike landlord, who avoided eye contact.
“Has your client signed it yet?” Fifield asked.
“She’s almost there.”
“Judge Johnston will call us soon.”
“Yeah about that. She has a lot to consider but, I do have a suggestion.” Rotty raised his eyebrow. “Her rent portion is really small. Why not just return the rents monies you kept since the notice was first served and strengthen the deal?”
The landlord looked at me incredulously, “So now, you want me to pay her to leave?”
Even in distress, his voice lacked June’s resonance.
“No sir, just giving back what you took. You shouldn’t even have had the money in the first place?” I’m technically not supposed to address adverse counsel’s client directly but no one stopped me.
“We’ll have to think upon your offer a bit more.” Rotty said. “The real question is whether she’ll actually leave.” He used his first two fingers to mimic a stick figure walking away.
“You throw the money in there and she will. If she doesn’t, you keep the money and get a judgment for possession.”
The landlord muttered about how much this woman was costing him and the absurdity of it all. Fifield kept his eyes on Rotty, who rubbed his chin in thought.
“Her money is peanuts.” I smiled and deliberately gazed at his two Regulars. “She’s not the one costing you.” Society attorneys never charged the clients for their services but I’d hate to see this guy’s legal bill, especially after an actual trial. If this doesn’t settle things, I’m not sure what would. I pushed hard in both directions. Something’s gotta give.
She took off her hat this time. In interior courtroom lighting, her wig was the color of a dying sun. The landlord kept taking off his baseball cap and rubbing his face and hair like he had been rankled by a strong wind. Plaintiff accepted on the condition that the reimbursements were to be paid in two parts, one now and one after she vacated. June would get everything so long as she actually left
. Even after the landlord signed the settlement, I still had to assure June that the landlord wasn’t going to spread lies about her, and that they’d make an effort to find that Mexican gardener. Moreover, the revised settlement was a sign that they were truly
sorry. The attorney wouldn’t allow his client to apologize in person or admit fault, of course. June stood by my side and watched Judge Johnston earnestly.
“Great,” Judge Johnston remarked. He was lethargic after his noon meal and flipped through our settlement languidly. “I’ve got several unrepresented persons, Ms. Lee, care to take them?” He smiled.
I chuckled nervously and looked around the gallery. A lot more despondent faces than earlier. A larger pile now sat on the Clerk’s desk. Deputy Bayer handed us the copies of the settlement. Judge Johnston called the next case, signaling the completion of ours. Fifield walked his client out of the courthouse without a parting, depriving me of a chance to gloat.
The hottest part of the day had passed. The sky was bluedomed and promised fair weather for now. People walked before the courthouse without any care for the drama that constantly unfolded there. I handed June a copy of the settlement.
“June, remember if you want to keep the bargain, you’ll have to follow the steps precisely. Do you understand?”
June looked at me for a few seconds, furrowed her brows. “Michelle!” She drew out the “M.” “I may be on Section 8, welfare and disability but I’m not stupid.”
“I’ll take that as a ‘yes.’”
She opened her mouth but instead of an angry retort, she just closed it. She adjusted her hat and smoothed down her dress. “I’ve dealt with worse.”
“Well, good luck then.”
“Those shitheads had it coming to them. Always insulting me. We made them pay today.
“We sure did.” It was true: the case outcome was solid, even the Executive would be impressed. Gertrude could retire. Jeka and I would have discretion over our cases. I breathed more easily now, might as well enjoy the balmy Spring before summer.
“I know I’ve been hard on you guys but . . . .” She paused, mentally searching for the right script, the words to give form to these feelings. I waited for her to finish. A moment later, she merely adjusted her hat, dress and shoved the papers into her bag. One couldn’t milk a stone.
A bus pull up in front of the courthouse.
“Oh, that’s mine.” She haphazardly ran to it, the pill bottles jingling a coda along the way. She shoved her way aboard. People rolled their eyes. The bus drove off with dust in its wake.
The main road led out of town in one direction and the office in the opposite. I walked back to the office. June went on to fight more landlords, and me, the In Box. If I dug deep enough, maybe I’ll find a treasure others have overlooked.