A SICK JUDGE
It was Saturday morning in the office of Roberts McCann. Not much happened on Saturday mornings. Dylan was never there at such time, and Ben often gave it a miss too. They were always at the end of a mobile phone in case of an emergency. The firm gave the staff every second Saturday off, and since they did not have many employees in the first place, the office on a Saturday morning was operated by very much a skeleton staff. Ben often wondered why the Law Society insisted that solicitors’ offices remained open on a Saturday morning, it was a complete waste of time to his mind.
This Saturday morning, however, Ben was sitting at his desk. He could not sleep the previous night, which was not unusual, and thus decided to spend a morning in the office to try and get rid of the backlog. At 11.00am Patty said there was a call from Judge Lee’s clerk, Rebecca, for him. This surprised Ben. Why would she be calling in the middle of a trial, especially on a Saturday? Ben had a soft spot for Rebecca, who had been very helpful to them over the last year or so. He picked up the phone.
“Hi, Rebecca, nice to hear from you this sunny morning!” He liked flirting with her, and usually she was keen to reciprocate, but not today.
“Oh, Mr. McCann, she said, “I have some terrible news.” She sounded as though she was fighting back the tears. “Judge Lee was admitted to hospital last night. A suspected heart attack.”
“Oh my God!” whispered Ben.
“He is comfortable, they say, but they’re keeping him in. We’re canceling all his court appointments. Principally the Tang Clan trial.” Ben bit his lip.
“I’m so sorry, Rebecca. Is there anything I can do?”
“Not really. I’m sure you’re going to have your hands full now telling everybody connected with the trial. I know the judge was very keen to get the trial finished as soon as possible. Please turn up on Monday morning as scheduled, Judge Rogan will deal with outstanding matters.”
“Thanks, Rebecca. Just call if you need anything, take care.” He put down the phone.
This was potentially absolute disaster. Ben knew Judge Lee to be a fair judge, and that was all he asked for. It was always difficult suing the Government, as no doubt some judges saw it as a route to promotion by finding for the Government at every trial. Ben was confident Judge Lee would call it as he saw it. Now this. Ben considered the possibilities.
He hoped Judge Lee would make a full recovery. If so, he may want to keep the Tang Clan trial to himself. That would no doubt be adjourned now to at least months hence. If that was the case, then the week’s evidence would not be wasted, the judge had seen the witnesses and had taken notes. They could simply restart the trial with the expert witnesses.
In this scenario, both Richard Yap and Gordon Stewart would have to accept the continuation of their daily refresher fee. Both Counsel had accepted a brief fee (basically a fee for preparation and the first day of trial) and thereafter were paid an agreed fee for every day of court attendance.
If, however, the case was assigned to another judge, the likelihood was the trial would have to start all over again. Both Counsels would ask for another brief fee, and they would be entitled to it. Ben had no doubts that both Richard and Gordon would request it. They may have become friends of Ben and Dylan’s, but above all they were professionals. They were not going to throw away another US$200,000.00. Ben was aware that the Tang Clan simply could not afford that.
It effectively meant that if the case went to another judge, that was the end of the line.
Ben sat at his desk quietly for ten minutes, and then started making calls. He started with Richard Yap, who had already heard. He had already told Gordon, who was making plans to fly back to London on Monday night. He called Wai and Jacob, who were suitably horrified. He called Dylan, and got him out of bed.
“We’re in the shit now”, said Dylan.
“Looks like it, my son.”
“Wonder if Chan Chi Wah had anything to do with it?” This had never occurred to Ben.
“What? I doubt it very much, even that bastard would have to go some to give the judge a heart attack. No, I don’t think so, it’s impossible.”
Ben then called Professor Davids, who was now staying with friends on the Peak. The Professor expressed his sympathy, and said he would fly home the following week, but was available at short notice to return when the trial recommenced. Ben thanked him and the Professor called him a cocksucker.
And that was that, thought Ben. Nothing more he could do. He remembered Peachey, and thought that Richard would have told her, they were in the same chambers. He couldn’t face another call. He called Patty in and explained the position. She was very shocked, and said she would pray for the judge. Ben asked her to pray for them all. He felt miserable. He knew that this was selfish, but he couldn’t help it. He saw Patty whispering to Jennifer outside, and then Jennifer came into the office.
Saturday morning was casual wear day, and Jennifer obviously took this to mean dress like a hooker. She was wearing a sawn-off white t-shirt which clearly showed off her navel (Ben always associated such a style with Madonna circa ‘Holiday’ period), and a pair of pink shorts which barely covered her panties, it seemed to Ben. He smiled to himself, despite everything.
“Patty said I have to cheer you up”, she smiled.
“Oh really. Well, you already have, Jennifer. I will think of you all weekend dressed like that. How’s your boyfriend, have you finished him yet?”
“No, not yet. He was horrible to me last night, though.”
“Really? So I have a chance, then?”
“If you lose fifty pounds and twenty years.”
“OK, that’s a deal, no problem.” It was a familiar routine. “Come for lunch.”
“Because you’ll try and rape me.”
“No I won’t. I haven’t raped a girl in years.”
“I can’t, I’m meeting my mother to go shopping.”
“OK, another time then. Have your legs got longer?”
“Maybe”, she grinned cheekily. “Got to go, bye!”
She skipped out of his office as she usually did, giving him a glimpse of her perfect behind as she did so. What a dirty old man I am, thought Ben. And yet she was so lovely. Ben realized he hadn’t thought about the Tang Clan for five minutes. That’s what a beautiful girl can do for you, he thought. No point in moping about, Jennifer had cheered him up. He was playing football again for Athletico de Wanchai again that afternoon. He had decided not to go, but what the hell. He was the manager after all, his team needed him. He said goodbye to Patty and got a taxi to Happy Valley. The match was due to kick-off at 1.30pm, against Baker and McKenzie in the Legal League.
He met Big Bob, the self-appointed President for Life of the club, when walking to the pitch. Bob offered him a beer, Ben declined on the ground that he would be playing football in ten minutes. Bob seemed confused, but opened a can for himself. Ben told him about the judge and the adjournment of the trial, and Bob made sympathetic noises.
“Never mind, go and score a goal, that’ll make you feel better”, he said in his distinctive Yorkshire accent.
Ben did not score – since he had only scored one goal in three years, and that the previous week, the odds were very much against it – but he had a pretty good game, he thought. He was by far the oldest in the team at forty-one, and certainly the fattest – Big Bob rarely played these days – but he still had a trick or two up his sleeve, or so he liked to think. The truth was the younger players carried him, and he knew that, but hey, it was his team, he formed it ten years ago, and he would play until he dropped, and stuff the rest of them.
Athletico won 3-1, a good result against the biggest legal firm in the world, although in truth Bakers were the worst team in the league, playing a whole host of young, slender Chinese office workers against big, strapping British lads. Ben joined the boys for a quick pint after the game, but left early, he wasn’t up for a big one after the day’s events. He got home around 7.00pm, and was surprised to find Dylan home.
“Hey, what are you doing here on a Saturday?” asked Ben.
“Oh, didn’t feel like going out today, since my life is in tatters.”
“Give it a rest, I’ve been feeling sorry for myself all day. There’s people worse off than us, you know.”
“That’s hardly the point, is it? I wanted to be a millionaire by the time I’m forty. Two years to go, will I make it?”
“Well, there’s still time. When are we going for a drink with Bono?”
“U2 have cancelled.”
“Oh no”, said Ben gravely.
“Yeah, sons of bitches, wanted too much money.”
“What, they wanted paying as well? Bastards.”
They both broke into laughter. Dylan had prepared his special spaghetti, which went down well with a bottle of red wine Ben discovered in the kitchen. They watched “Terminator 2 “ on the TV before Ben decided to go to bed.
“See you, I’m off to bed”, he said. “Don’t worry, there’s a long way to go yet, it’s not over until the fat lady sings.”
“Yeah. Trouble is, I don’t know any fat ladies. Apart from your wife.”
Ben threw a cushion at him.