More than a year had passed since the Candlerock debacle. Richard was ready to try his luck as an attorney. He went to Ivington, a small city ten miles to the east, and rented an office. He installed a phone, a desk, a bed and a chair, and printed some business cards, which he tacked to trees and corkboards around town. He sat back and waited for the phone to ring, and soon enough it did.
He handled a couple of small matters, mostly filing paperwork, to cut his teeth, but soon found himself turning down jobs he thought would be tedious. He began to dream of finding a case with a settlement so large he could relax and pursue whatever other cases or causes or endeavors were most to his liking. He also came to prefer living in Ivington, and spent more and more nights in the office, and soon was, for all intents and purposes, residing there.
One evening the office phone rang. He was surprised by it ringing so late, as he’d only given the number out with the business cards. He answered it and a woman said: “Oh, I was expecting an answering machine. Hello?”
“This is Attorney Sleitzer.”
“Great. I’d like to come see you tomorrow, to tell you about my case and see if you might be interested.”
“Absolutely,” he replied. “The office opens at nine. The address is 160 Sycamore.”
“Thank you, I’ll be by to see you,” she said. “My name is Cass, I hope you can help.”
She hung up, and his curiosity nagged him all night. He didn’t have to wait long for her in the morning; she was there by nine thirty. She was a tall and slender, very attractive middle aged woman about fifty. She introduced herself, Cassandra Oughty, then said: “Do you have a few minutes and somewhere we can sit down?”
“Why don’t we go around the corner,” he suggested. “There’s a little café; we could sit outside and talk there.”
They went and made themselves comfortable, and she explained her story. She was a widow who’d lost her husband three months earlier. He was a successful building contractor whose combined business, savings, investment and property assets totaled more than five million dollars. But for a couple of small bequeathments, she was the sole beneficiary of it all. But her husband’s brother had produced another will leaving everything to him, he was contesting her will as invalid, and she wanted an attorney beside her in probate court. There was a hearing in two days, on which the judge would either rule in her favor, or with a postponement to investigate her brother in law’s claim.
“Now, my husband did write a will naming his brother,” she explained, “but that was when we were separated, and after we reconciled he invalidated that and we reverted to the one written to me. He simply rewrote the one naming me his full beneficiary with a later date. Mine is real, and what he intended when he died.”
“You haven’t told me yet how he died,” Richard said.
“It’s a complicated death,” she answered. “I am a heart surgeon. My husband had heart problems. One night he had a major heart attack. We rushed him to the hospital, and emergency surgery was his only hope of survival. I was the only surgeon available on the short notice. Operating on one’s own family is frowned upon, with good reason, but there was no alternative. He held on for an hour, then died in my hands.”
“My condolences,” Richard offered.
“Thank you,” she answered. “My husband’s name was Floyd Oughty, and his brother is Francis Oughty. Francis will be in court Thursday morning. Will you do it?”
“Sure I’ll do it,” he answered. “I’ll appear for two hundred, and any fees beyond that we’ll take from there.”
She shook his hand. “Very well, I will see you at Probate Court on Thursday morning. The hearing is scheduled for ten.”
Richard went to the law books in the library and engaged in a crash study on probate law and the discharge of wills. He was pleased with the opportunity to participate in his first such case. The courthouse was three blocks from his office, and he walked there early Thursday morning. She was awaiting him in the lobby. She briefly refreshed his memory of the pertinent details. They seated themselves before the judge, and before he appeared she whispered and pointed out Francis, her brother in law. He was a rugged man with a chiseled face who appeared to be about Cass’ age. He caught Richard’s curious eyes, and looked at him long and hard.
“He’s a rough looking guy,” Richard quietly said to Cass.
“He’s a blustery, blubbery baby,” she remarked scornfully.
The judge called order and commenced. He had received Francis Oughty’s request for a delay while the will naming him primary beneficiary was considered, and was granting it. He would review all documents and render a decision two weeks hence. He called them all to stand before him and asked if there were any other supporting documentations they wished to submit. Richard presented himself as Mrs. Oughty’s attorney, and requested copies of everything Francis Oughty had submitted. The judge consented then adjourned the court.
“That was to be expected,” Cass said, as they walked outside the courthouse. “Review everything the court gives you, with a thought to the possible eventuality that the court rules on his behalf, and we have to appeal. I’ll be by your office soon. Thank you again for your help.”
Richard returned to his office, and within an hour a courier from the court had delivered the written materials. He was poring them over when the door opened and a man entered. It was Francis Oughty. He introduced himself, saying: “Attorney Sleitzer, I presume?”
“I am,” Richard answered.
“I was still at the courthouse when I overheard the clerk give the courier your paperwork, along with your name and address, and followed him here. I hope you don’t mind,” he said.
“No, I don’t mind,” Richard replied. “My office is public. I’m not hiding from anyone.”
“Very well then,” Francis continued. “Let me get straight to the point. I’m sure Cass has only told you part of the story. Would you like to hear the whole thing?”
“Of course I would,” Richard responded. He sat up and devoted his attention to Francis. “Begin wherever and whenever you like.”
Francis seated himself across and began: “Am I correct in presuming that she told you Floyd wrote the will to me when they were separated?”
“That she did,” he confirmed.
“And did she tell you that during that three year separation she was having an affair with me in another state?” he nonchalantly asked.
Richard was astounded. “That she did not,” he managed to mumble.
“I didn’t think so,” Francis remarked. “But she was and she did. I don’t need the money—I staked my brother in his business, and am worth more than he was—but I’ll have to be hog-tied and horns waggled before she touches a cent. And of his death? What did she say?”
“That she is a heart surgeon, and was performing emergency surgery on him when he expired,” Richard explained.
“I’m already pressing for a homicide investigation, and the moment these wills are settled I’m going to sue her for malpractice! You heard me clearly, I think she killed my brother,” Francis claimed. “Their children were grown, she was tired of him and she was ready to enjoy the money. She had the knowledge and access to the medicines needed to induce a heart attack. If anyone knows how devious and cunning she can be, it is me—we spent three years together.”
Richard was shocked by the revelations, and didn’t know what to say.
“If she wins the settlement in probate, I’ll take it back in a malpractice suit; and if she loses probate to me I’ll go after what little she does have left,” Francis proclaimed. “As you talk with her listen for any slip or hint that might be used against her, and if you do discover anything, maybe when this matter is over you can lead my lawsuit against her.”
“Maybe,” Richard slowly replied. “You’ve just given my mind a mountain to ingest.”
Francis stood up and said: “Very well. Food for thought. Either way I’ll be seeing you soon.”
“Wait, here,” Richard said, then handed him a business card.
Francis used it to salute him, then slipped it into his pocket and left.
Cass phoned Richard a few days before the court date. He informed her that he’d read everything and was confident she would emerge victorious. They planned to meet for coffee an hour before court. He had purchased himself a noticeably expensive valise, which held his paperwork, and a matching three piece Armani suit. They seated themselves and exchanged pleasantries, then Richard said: “I don’t foresee any problems, but I do have a couple questions.”
“By all means,” she said. “What would you like to know?”
“Where did you live when you were apart from your husband?”
He was hoping for more of an answer than that. “I see,” he finally said. “And do you have a copy of the first will he wrote you?”
“No, he destroyed that when I went to Colorado,” she explained. “But this one is every word identical to the original, and was even written on the same stationary.”
He contemplated, then spoke slowly. “Just one sensitive question about the night Floyd died—is that too difficult?”
“Not at all,” she answered. “I can talk about it.”
“I’m just curious, did anyone ever make an issue of you being your husband’s surgeon?” he asked. “It could be perceived as somewhat ticklish.”
“Not at all, but I have to confess that I was unnerved by the moment,” she answered. “I’ve never told anyone, but I’ve never had such a cloudy mind while operating before. I wish there had been another surgeon available. Unless you have anything else, we should get inside.”
He stood up and she led the way.
They took their seats before the judge. Francis was already in his place. When Cass wasn’t looking Francis caught Richard’s eye, to acknowledge him. Richard smiled and gave a very slight nod, then faced the judge.
“Before I render, does anyone have anything to say?” the judge asked.
He looked toward Francis, who said: “I’ve laid out my case in its entirety.”
Richard stood and said: “I’d like to address the court, your honor.”
“Proceed,” the judge replied.
“There are no forged wills here, as Mister Oughty would have you believe,” he stated. “There was another will to Missus Oughty composed eight years ago, identical in wording, paper and notarization. This is not an altered will, as Mister Oughty contends, but the last testament of Floyd Oughty, naming his widow his full beneficiary. There is but one truth, and that is it.”
“Is that all?” the judge asked. Nobody spoke. “Very well. The court is in full agreement with Attorney Sleitzer, and upholds its ruling on behalf of Cassandra Oughty. This case is disposed. The bailiff will read the next case.”
Cassandra gave Richard a long and tight embrace. When Richard turned around, Francis was already gone from the courtroom. She paid him his fee of twenty five hundred, gave him a five thousand dollar bonus, and they parted ways there in the lobby. Even as she strolled out of sight he started pondering his plans to sue her.
The next morning there was a knock on Richard’s office door just as he was getting out of his bed in the back room. He dressed in haste and answered it. Standing on the stoop was Francis Oughty. “Nice job, rolling me under that bus. I had half a hope that you’d throw her over and come work for me. How much did she pay you?”
“Well,” Richard answered.
“I’d have tripled it and then some,” Francis boasted.
“Do come in,” Richard said. “I’ve been thinking things over, and was hoping you’d come by.”
“So we can sue her for malpractice,” Richard replied. “You’re the closest kin to the deceased, and the only path to take in a civil suit.”
Francis was confused. “You just won a ruling for her against me, and now you want to get with me and go after her?”
“That is correct,” Richard confirmed.
“Am I missing something?” Francis mused. “That doesn’t make sense.”
“It makes perfect sense,” Richard explained. “I had to finish representing her to collect my fee. I had to demonstrate to you that I was a competent and successful attorney, which unfortunately came at your expense. And now she has all the more for us to take away. And I did get her to confess a little something about the night her husband died.”
“Did you now? Maybe we should have a little talk then consider drawing up a contract.”
They had a long talk, agreed to terms, then spent a week or so preparing the case to be filed. That done they settled in to wait for the courts. A few days later he received an unsigned, typewritten note that he was certain came from Cassandra. It read: Rue the day I saw your card on the wall. You are contemptible and pernicious.
Richard was meticulous, methodical and diligent in handling the case. Francis had paid a handsome upfront fee, and Richard’s small percentage of the final award was potentially huge. He didn’t want to miss the slightest turn. It finally reached a jury trial, which the police monitored closely. If Cass was found to be at fault, they would have to conduct further criminal investigation.
The trial lasted a week. The history of Cassandra’s affair with Francis came out in its lurid details. They had snuck around for two years during her marriage to Floyd, moved away and lived together for three more during their legal separation, then she left Francis and returned to her husband. She confessed to having an affair with Floyd’s brother under oath, and that upon its conclusion she and Floyd had mended their marriage as best they could, and were happy for the couple years until Floyd died, during which time he wrote his final last will and testament. As to the night of his death, they had dined together early, had spent a quiet night in and were getting ready for bed when he suffered the heart attack. She worked on him in the ambulance, and started the surgery the moment they were inside the hospital. He expired about an hour later.
At this point in the proceeding, with Cassandra on the stand, Richard asked: “Did you not once confide in me that you were unnerved by having to operate on your husband, and that your thoughts were cloudy in those moments?”
Her eyes flashed boring fire. “Yes, I did,” she answered curtly.
“And did you not also tell me that you wished there had been another surgeon available?”
“Yes, I did.”
“And isn’t it possible that if you had never opened his chest with a scalpel that he might still be alive and with us today?”
“Of course it’s possible, but not at all likely,” she responded.
“Nothing further, your honor,” Richard said.
On the second day of deliberation the six person jury ruled that Cassandra Oughty had acted negligently, and hastened, if not caused her husband’s death. The plaintiff, Francis Oughty, was awarded nine million dollars in combined compensatory and punitive damages. Francis and Richard broke huge smiles and hugged there before the bench. There was an appeal, the verdict was upheld, and soon thereafter Richard had pocketed his first million.