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Chapter Two

Chapter Two

A Chapter by Oliver Sands



 When the woman entered Mark Stone’s law office in downtown Miami without an appointment, Mark was tempted to tell her to come back another day. It’s not that he was busy.  He had lost most of his clients in the past two months. The thing was, as a lawyer, he could not simply receive any visitor that happened to drop by. He had to keep up appearances.

“What can I do for you?” he asked the woman, as he invited her to sit down in one of the two red leather guest chairs in front of his desk. He was still debating what to do with his visitor. Her face reminded him vaguely of a picture that he had seen in a business magazine.

He could not simply chase her away, however, because Joan Couch, his bossy secretary, would be furious.  Mark figured that it must be really important for Joan to allow the woman to intrude and disrupt his morning coffee.

She waited until Mark walked back behind his desk to sit down before responding. “Thank you for receiving me on such short notice, Mr. Stone. My name is Margaret Prentiss and I am the CEO of Prentiss Construction and Design and I need your help.”

She was thin, attractive and looked very elegant in a conservative dress that screamed Fifth Avenue shops. She appeared to be in her early forties, with dark auburn hair kept in a tight bun, and a slight New York accent that reminded Mark of home. 

 “Call me Mark, Ms. Prentiss,” he said. “I’ll be glad to help. Just tell me what I can do for you.” Mark was definitely not accustomed to this type of client. She smelled of money and power.  She seemed the type who went to the big law firms and hired the most expensive lawyers.

Mark’s law office, on the other hand, was a two-person operation and was on the fifth floor of an old building that needed a facelift. That made Mark wonder whether she had mistaken him for another attorney named Stone.

She paused as if she was taking a deep breath and, looking at Mark with warm gray eyes, she said, “I’ve seen your face in the paper. I know you’re familiar with Chief Judge Jonathan Francis.”

I can’t believe that she would bring this up. That slimy judge hurt my reputation and is responsible for me losing most of my clients, Mark thought. He did not want to talk about it. “It was an unfortunate incident that happened two months ago.”

“It was more than an incident,” she insisted. “You spent two days in jail for contempt of court for telling the judge to shove the order that he was entering against your client. That’s why I think that my company needs a lawyer like you.  We recently sued Miami-Dade County over a seventy-five million dollar construction contract that the county awarded to our competitor. Judge Francis, who is the judge in the case, just ruled against us.”  

As she was explaining the reason for her presence, she smiled at Mark, revealing perfect white teeth, which beautifully contrasted with her dark shade of lipstick. Whether she knew that she had a disarming smile was impossible to tell.

Mark gently tapped the pen he was holding on the blank notepad in front of him on the desk. He did not intend to take any notes.  He was leaning against taking the case. 

“Ms. Prentiss,” Mark began to say, ignoring her charming expression, “companies lose cases every day. I’m not sure why your case would be any different.” His intuition was telling him that the case was trouble, and he wanted to find a tactful way to tell the woman that he did not want to get involved. 

Instead of being offended, she widened her smile and leaned forward with calm poise.  She seemed surprised but undeterred by Mark’s doubts.

“The vote to award the contract was made by the county commissioners. There was a tie vote and the newly elected commissioner voted and broke the tie in favor of our competitor,” she said. “We also suspect that the judge is friends with the new commissioner, but we can’t prove it.” 

Listening to the woman, Mark definitely did not want to take the case.  His intuition kept warning him that if he did, he would regret the decision.

Seeing the woman’s eyes resting on his blank notepad, he lifted it up. He was pretending to scribble something when the phone on his desk rang, surprising them both. He apologized and looked at the caller ID. It was the building property manager calling on Mark’s private line for the overdue rent.  He ignored the call and turned off the ringer before resuming his conversation. “I still don’t see how I can help you.” He was trying his best to find a polite way to decline the case and, at the same time, not risk Joan’s wrath.

Detecting Mark’s reluctance, she tilted her head slightly towards him and lowered her voice, as if she was sharing a secret with him. “The lawyers in this town don’t want to fight the county commission.  Since you’re originally from New York and are not afraid of the Chief Judge, I know that you can help us fight his order.”

Although Mark was pleased by the confidence that she was exhibiting in him, he was still hoping to convince her that he was the wrong lawyer for her case. “What happened to the lawyer who represented your company in front of the judge? Why don’t you just use him?” He was amused and impressed by the woman’s persistence.

She leaned backward, turned sideways on the chair uncomfortably, and crossed her tanned legs before responding. “My old lawyer died in a car accident a couple of weeks ago.”

The news of the lawyer’s death surprised Mark, who now felt embarrassed by his behavior.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Mark said apologetically.

“That’s okay,” she said. Her smile then faded and her brow became furrowed as she continued her explanation. “Although we didn’t hear from him, we thought that he was in court representing us.  We only found out about his death when we went to his office to talk to him, after we heard of the judge’s decision against us.”

Listen to your intuition. Bad omen, Mark kept reminding himself. “I’m sorry about your company losing the case, Ms. Prentiss. But why do you think the new commissioner voted against your company?  Could it be that he thought that your competitor could do a better job?”  Mark was hoping that his skepticism would convince the woman to take her case somewhere else.

“Call me Margaret. We are larger and more experienced than the other company,” she said, tilting her head very slightly to her left. She uncrossed her legs and shot Mark a confident glare, before adding, “We would have won, but when one of the commissioners abruptly resigned, the county had to have a special election and Mr. Manuel Garcia, the newly elected commissioner, voted against us.”

Mark was restless inside. Don’t take the case.

“I’m not sure that I’m the best person for your case. I don’t handle government litigation,” Mark said, finally giving in to his intuition and gathering the courage to turn her away.

Instead of being deterred, she said, “I understand that you’ve been losing clients because of Judge Francis’ actions against you. Taking my case could also help restore your reputation.” As Mark was about to protest, she quickly added, “I also know that it will be expensive and that you might have to appeal his decision all the way to the Florida Supreme Court.  So I’m prepared to give you an initial retainer of thirty thousand dollars to cover your costs and your attorneys’ fees.”

Thirty thousand bucks can go a long way, Mark thought. He was amazed at Margaret’s generous offer. Usually, his clients had to scramble to come up with a few hundred dollars to pay him.  Don’t be stupid Mark.  You’ll be able to pay your rent for months in advance and pay back everything you owe your secretary.

 After listening to the offer, Mark thought again for one second and decided that male intuition was not that reliable after all.  He then smiled widely, flipped the first page of his notepad, and said, “Okay Margaret, tell me what happened from the beginning.”


© 2012 Oliver Sands

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Added on January 4, 2012
Last Updated on March 18, 2012
Tags: legal thriller, john grisham, the pelican brief, scott turow, mystery, suspense, legal


Oliver Sands
Oliver Sands


Oliver Sands is the the pseudonym for the author of the most anticipated legal thriller, The Kappa File. He is an attorney and handles government litigation. For a longer preview of The Kappa File,.. more..

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A Chapter by Oliver Sands