His Stock In Trade

by John Davis Collins @1997 All Rights Reserved By John F. Clennan, Esq.

Yes, in Law we play God in a flawed world for mean petty people unadorned by the blandishments of everyday life. For whom and how much, that's up to us --sometimes.

Military Police Blotter was published by the legendary Bill Loepkey's Inditer Dot Com of Canada.

Against advancing illness and frustration which the legal system imposed, Bill Loepkey promoted literature and culture on the internet. It is no small recognition that his countrymen have hono[u]red Bill in their Bibliotek Nationale.

It was 11:00 a.m., September 15th, I was supposed to be on the road for an afternoon hearing at a court at a distance. My secretary interrupted me as I was about to shine my shoes.

"I know. I should have left already. Weather's expected to be bad..." I growled.

"Worse, George Johnson again... The guy with the daughter in the Army hospital..." she said.

I gasped.

"Canada has its members of parliament... Mexico has priests...In Canada the local MP roils the defence minister for an outrage in the defence forces...In Mexico the priests threaten eternal damnation...What can I do here in the US of A threaten a writ of habeas corpus?"

"Much as LT Johnson of the New York City Police would like eternal damnation of the doctor or at least public exposure, he'll have to settle with talking to you."

"Fine lot of good that'll do...The Lieutenant comes here at leat every year but never hired me to do legal work."

"Like all cops," the secretary replied, "The Lieutenant expects a freebee. Not without a little," the secretary winced, "equity on his side."

"I told him over and over again, a lawyer's time and advice is his stock and trade."

Yet faithfully the Police Lieutenant always appeared every 15th day of September for the past three years. Three years to the date, Johnson scratching the edge of his retreating hair first stood in front of my desk.

"My daughter," Johnson had told me with soleful eyes, "joined a reserve outfit with her girl friends... chump change for college... The other gals came home after six months basic training and she' been cooling her heels in an Army hospital for over a year... with nothing wrong with her."

Most people who come in with horror stories also come in with half truths. Mr. Johnson had paperwork to back up his claims including a report from a civilian doctor giving his daughter a clean bill of health.

"My real doctor, I mean the civilian," he pointed to the letter," never heard of Imperivoverticulitis of the patella."

A careful reading of the papers to one schooled in bureaucratese told the story of the failure of the minimal checks and balances on omnipotent petty demons in the Army medical corps.

I held a picture of the young lady in a freshly cut uniform, tall, black hair tied back properly, sharp cheek bones showing determination, and yet a twinkle in her eyes. She should be home or at college.

Too bad on the morning she decided to play sick soldier, some doctor fresh out of med school decided to change that.

My first meeting with the police lieutenant broke up when I said,"I'm a vet and sympathetic, one of the few New York lawyers who is... I have to be paid... The Army will provide you with a free Army lawyers, like they did with a doctor."

I shook my head back to the present. "I'll give Mr. Johnson a minute..."

The secretary prodded me, "At least tuck your shirt in and put on your shoes."

"Johnson has a second, if he doesn't mind watching me polish my shoes. I have no idea why Johnson keeps coming here. Johnson doesn't want to pay and I don't want to work." I grunted.

And I had no idea why Johnson returned. Johnson did not fit into the usual mold of perennial malcontent who confused law with psychology or religion: they would want to vent, be reassured or absolved. What Johnson wanted, I wouldn't give away. It was my stock and trade... And I was as firm as Johnson was--or so I thought.

A year after the initial, unproductive interview.. on a different September 15th Johnson visited me a second time. There were fewer strands of hair revealing a freckled bald top.

"The Army doc," Johnson whined "now says my daughter is terminal and sent her to the mental ward for a while when she didn't believe him...Imperiverticultitis... No body's ever heard of Impervo-vetriculitis. You got to tell me what to do."

Johnson said this innocently as if I had the Book of Fate itself among my dusty shelves or had a direct connection to Satan, the adversary, and could with a few words cancel the dreadful turn of events. And Johnson claimed this, my stock and trade for free.

"If I become a free law school, how am I to make a living ? It's..." I shook my head.

"I been to the press," Johnson moaned, "the congressman, my union. They all call me unpatriotic. Tell me what to do and I'll do it. It's not like it's my fault."

"Nor mine either. My regrets that the system has failed you." I terminated the interview.

Back in the present, I pushed aside the papers and files on my desk to make room to shine shoes.

The third time the father had come to me, glasses sat atop his bald scalp. Saying nothing, the father handed me the file. I leafed through it. I tried to picture the doctor... young with the power of God for the first time and the promise of a bright future... Why had he done this ?

"I can see some good news." I pleasantly concluded, "Those Army doctors commit for four years...His time will be up... He'll move on... of course the Army and the medical people will never admit the error... They'll probably release your daughter like nothing happened."

"I'd like to speed that up," Johnson leaned forward hopefully.

"Maybe the doc fell in love with your daughter. Tell her to propose... after the wedding..." The father replied, "You, not my daughter, belong in the loony bin."

"Maybe you're right," I dryly retorted. "Earthy practical advice is free. The legal way, if there is one, has to be purchased." I handed him back his file.

I had just put my shoes on the desk when Mr. Johnson walked in.

Staring at me, Johnson slowly shook his head in disgust. I laughed. He expected to be received princely; yet came like a pauper.

"My daughter is out of the service. Like you said. Doc went one week; they moved her in hand irons to the lockdown ward of a VA hospital the next. VA won't let her out until 'she's ready.'" What do I do ?"

I admit I play God, at times. I looked through the file the father presented me. I saw a different girl in a picture snapped on a holiday visit with her family. Four years in the hospital had sapped the determination from the chin, the luster in her eyes had vanished and flab had replaced firm muscle lines. A recruiting poster had been reduced to a troll.

She had outlasted a doctor's commitment to the service as well as my own will to charge for advice. I signalled to the father to draw closer and whispered to him.

The father looked at me in consternation and remarked, "That easy. I could have done that all along."

I nodded and dismissed Johnson imperiously with a wave of the hand. And Johnson fled as if he had been released from Satan's grasp. "You'll never hear from him again," I reassured the secretary, laughing at Johnson's quick retreat.

"What did you tell Johnson," the secretary asked looking in pleasant amazement at the breeze Johnson left in his wake.

"The path to eternal salvation?" I replied. "I finally told Johnson, but no one else. That's my stock in trade." My jaded view of human nature would never anticipate the courtesy of a simple thanks. To my surprise, Johnson did call to express appreciation. "I hope her accumulated private's pay for three years in a hospital," I snapped, "made the wait for free advice well worth it."

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