Stingray

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Chapter 6 Julie Newsome Green vs Ernest Tyson Green

Save the advice given to her by two of her co-workers and the small gift waiting for her on her desk, Julie’s first day teaching at Baxton Elementary was not that memorable. Though she taught fifth grade, Julie had been assigned a classroom in the same hall as the two fourth grade teachers, Helen Sampson and Mark Nelson. While getting her classroom ready for her students the week before she had a chance to meet both of them.

Mrs. Sampson was an absolute treasure. Said she had been teaching for more than thirty five years, and loved every second of it. And you could just tell from the way she carried herself, Mrs. Sampson knew what she was doing.

The Jury was still out on Mark Nelson. From what Julie could tell, he was incredibly smart, funny, and not too hard on the eyes. But Julie didn’t like the way he pretended like he didn’t take his job seriously. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but it was almost as if Mark felt like acting this way would come off cool. But it wasn’t cool, especially when later Julie would see how obvious it was that he did care. He cared a lot.

Without having a decent reason why, Julie initially thought that not being able to share a hall with the fifth grade teachers would have its drawbacks. She voiced these concerns to both Mr. Nelson and Mrs. Sampson. Each gave her the pros of being there. Mrs. Sampson all matter of fact and Mark Nelson a bit silly. Julie was surprised at the amount of comfort she felt by each.

“Though it’s only one grade between the two,” Mrs. Sampson said, “fifth and fourth grade students are completely different species of students. Fourth graders have more imagination and can make trouble by themselves. But by the time a student gets to fifth grade he needs someone else with him to make trouble. It takes two to tango; so to speak.” Mrs. Sampson stopped for a brief second here and smiled at her own joke. “And although I admit it is trivial, the biggest discipline problem with the fifth graders, as a whole, is they cut up in the halls with their friends. Being in the fourth grade hall, you can count on your students being less likely to cut up because the younger fourth graders will not interest your fifth graders in the slightest. Simply put, with no friends to make trouble with, there will be no trouble made.”

Julie couldn’t quite remember the exact way Mark set it up, but remembered the punchline. Mark was helping her move the desks in her classroom into rows when she brought it up. First he said, “You should be glad you’re here in this hall.” When Julie asked why, Mark replied with a smile, “Because I am in this hall.”

Sure, it was cheesy. Nevertheless, Julie liked it, but she didn’t plan to let him off the hook thinking he was so suave. “Right? So, the hall has you. Ok. But let’s just say, hypothetically, that just won’t do it for me,” Julie goaded. “What else does this hall have to offer?”

Feigning ignorance, Mark replied, “You mean, besides me?”

“Yea, Mark, besides you.”

“Well we have the in-comp-ra-bull, Missus Sampson.” Mark said while sliding a desk. “Tell me you have met her?”

“Yea. She and I talked earlier. I like her. She let me borrow a stapler.”

“Well there it is,” Mark said as if that explained everything. “Just so you know: none of the other teachers in the other halls would let you borrow a stapler. Like, ever.”

“Really? Ever?” Julie asked in a way clearly evidencing she knew Mark was putting her on.

“Yep. So it proves you are in the best hall.”

“Because it has Ms. Sampson?”

“She prefers Missus,” Mark said, playfully.

“Oh, because it has Mrs. Sampson, the only teacher at Baxton Elementary who loans staplers.”

“Yea there is that, and also because it has me.”

“Oh, well damn, Mark. I didn’t know. So, you’re saying you loan staplers too?

“No indeed not. You must be crazy. Just Missus Sampson. She is in-comp-ra-bull.” Mark said smiling.

“Oh. Get the hell out of here you dope. I got to finish some lesson plans.”

“Sure. Sure. Sure. Get me to move all your desks and kick me out. I see how it is. Fredo, you broke my heart!”


On Julie’s desk waiting when she got to school on the first day of class was a yellow Post-it note reading: “Missus Sampson loans em, & I gift em. Welcome to the hall Ms. Green.” The note was stuck to a new stapler and signed, “The Less Than Comp-ra-bull, Mr. Nelson.” Julie didn’t understand this comp-ra-bull stuff. She thought it must have been something from a movie or maybe it was something Mark had made up.

Mark was always quoting movies, which was fine. But a lot of times it wasn’t movies that anyone else had seen. And when the quote was from a popular movie, it was never a popular quote. Last week, Mark had said something about Fredo breaking his heart, which Julie later found out is from the second Godfather movie. Sure Julie had seen it. Hadn’t everyone? But that had been like 20 years ago. Julie didn’t retain all the dialogue and character names from movies, nor did she think she was expected to. When Mark talked this way he acted like everyone had total recall of all these things. The new stapler was nice though, and the note very thoughtful.

While her students were out to afternoon recess, Mrs. Sampson popped her head into Julie’s classroom, and said, “I just wanted to see how things were going on your first day.” The funny thing was, Mark had did and said the exact same thing during the morning recess. Seeing Mrs. Sampson, Julie couldn’t help but agree with what Mark had said about the hall – it was the best because it had both of them. She truly felt welcomed.

Julie told both of them that things were going well, and they talked about some other stuff going on. Mrs. Sampson had planted some gardenias. And said, they are prettier than jasmine, but do not smell as good. She will do jasmine again next year, and when the gardenias come in she will put some in a vase for Julie’s classroom. Fifth graders don’t realize how much they like plant life until you put some beautiful flowers in a classroom.

Mark said he had seen this movie called True Lies. Said he liked it. Jim Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger make the best movies. No doubt about it. Would Julie like it? He isn’t sure. She would like it if she liked The Terminator? Said he knows she would like this one called Forrest Gump. He has already seen it twice, but would go again. Said it’s that good.

When they were chatting earlier Julie had asked Mark if he knew any local attorneys. Without missing a beat, he told her, “Jet Finestein,” and to “make sure that you tell him Mark Nelson referred you. I guarantee he will give you a hell of a deal.” Wow that was relatively painless, Julie thought. Now that Mrs. Sampson was here Julie asked her the same.

“The only attorney I know is the one who represented my husband in the 1970’s my dear.”

“Oh, is he still practicing law?” Julie asked. She was immediately cognizant of the fact that neither Mark nor Mrs. Sampson asked her why she needed an attorney. She appreciated this from them. She was new in town and didn’t want to spread her business, and was glad she didn’t have to in order to get a quick answer. Though she thought it intriguing that Mrs. Sampson’s husband needed an attorney, and her mentioning it sort of opened the door for inquiry, Julie honored the unspoken deal by not inquiring about the circumstances.

“I believe so. His name is Bernard Finestein.”

“Any relation to Jet - you think?

“Jet,” Mrs. Sampson repeated to herself pensively. “Oh you mean Jerome. Yes, Jerome is Bernard’s son. How do you know him?”

“I don’t. I asked Mark, I mean Mr. Nelson, earlier for a referral and he told me about Jet.”

“Oh yea that’s right. I had forgotten that Jerome and he went to school together. Small world. Well at least you won’t be in too big a pickle.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well you lucked up, my dear,” Mrs. Sampson said. “Just think if we gave you the names of two competing attorneys, you’d be stuck wondering: should you go with the one that the best teacher at the school gave you as a referral or the one this old woman gave you. The good news for you is that they practice in the same firm together.”

Julie took a second to process everything she just heard. Did the in-comp-ra-bull Mrs. Sampson call the too cool for school Mark Nelson the best teacher? Yes she did. And you could tell she meant it. Julie would let that part go. But wait was there was a joke or two in there too? Mrs. Sampson called herself old. Julie would need to say something about that, right. Maybe tell Mrs. Sampson she wasn’t old? But now that she missed a beat, there was no way to bring it back into the conversation. So, let that go too. But should she at least smile? Acknowledge the joke? Then there was the fact that both attorneys referred to her were in practice together. What does that mean? Was that part of the joke too? Do you hire a firm or an attorney? Julie figured attorney. So she would still need to pick one or the other right? Just then, Mrs. Sampson cut off Julie’s train of thought. “Just make sure you tell Bernard that I referred you. Tell him that and I am sure that he will get his son to help out too –at no extra charge.”


When Julie got home that afternoon, she looked the Finesteins phone number up in the Yellow Pages. There was a full page firm advertisement accompanying the listed phone number. These guys were good, she thought. She could tell because it was the only advertisement in full color. Next to Bernard Finestein’s name there was a laundry list of cases he had argued at the United States Supreme Court. Next to Jerome “Jet” Finestein’s name was a blurb about his nationwide involvement in the legal cases surrounding the Tylenol Murders of 1982. Julie remembered a little about that. Something about someone who had went to pharmacies and put poison in Tylenol bottles that were later bought by other people who died when they took the Tylenol.

It was all very interesting, but Julie wasn’t fighting Supreme Court battles or even the manufacturers of Tylenol. She needed help with a divorce, and wondered if the Finesteins even did this type of legal work. Julie’s dad always said, “Nothing beats a failure but a try.” She picked up the phone and made the call.

After only one ring, a woman answered, “Finestein & Finestein. How may I direct your call?”

“Um. Oh. I am not sure. Either Mr. Finestein will be fine to start.” It was a simple question, but Julie was stumped by it. And she was sort of embarrassed. It was almost as if she believed the Finesteins themselves would answer the line. But it was a secretary who answered. Of course it was. A secretary who appeared to be all business.

“What do you mean, either one?” The secretary asked.

“I don’t know which one would help me with my case,” Julie said, sounding even more unsure of herself, and even more embarrassed.

“Well which one have you been talking to about your case, ma’am?”

“No one yet. This is my first time to call.”

“So this is a new case then?”

“Well yes. I mean, no. Well sort of.” Julie said stuttering. “I mean, I filed it already but need help now.”

“Well Bennie,” the secretary said his nickname playfully, “is nearing retirement. So he isn’t taking new cases. And Jet doesn’t take cases that are already in litigation. He said he doesn’t like to clean up other people’s messes. So, I am sorry.”

“But, I was referred to them.”

“Hmm,” the secretary said mockingly. “Who was it that referred you, and to which attorney were you referred?”

Damn, Julie thought, it is like pulling teeth with this woman. She powered forward. “Mrs. Helen Sampson referred me to Bernard, and Mark Nelson referred me to Jet.” Julie said, making sure she stated each of her co-worker’s names as if their mere mention would move mountains.

“Please hold.”

Great, Julie thought. Maybe she was just doing her job. But is being a bitch part of it? Bennie doesn’t take new cases, and Jet doesn’t like having to clean up the messes of the old. And the Yellow Pages didn’t even indicate they do divorces. Evidently, this woman is paid to screen calls. After all, the attorneys must be busy. And who I think I am just cold calling like this?

No doubt, Julie would have continued with these thoughts, had someone not answered the line. Julie was surprised by how quick it was. She couldn’t have been on hold for more than 10 seconds.

“This is Jet.”

“Mr. Finestein, this is Julie Newsome Green.”

“Mr. Finestein is my father,” He said playfully. “You got to call me Jet. What can I do for you? Any friend of Mark Nelson’s is a friend of mine.”

“Speaking of your father, when you see him please tell him he comes highly referred by Mrs. Helen Sampson.”

“I certainly will. As Mark says, “She is in-comp-ra-bull.” Am I right? But you know if I tell dad that – he is going to insist on helping me out with your case.”

“Mrs. Sampson mentioned something like that.”

“OK. We both are all yours then.” Jet said matter-of-factly.

“Oh, wow. Ok. It’s for a divorce. Do you or your dad do divorces?”

“No, but no matter. We will handle it nonetheless.”

“Oh how much is your retainer?”

“Normally, it is ten grand. But don’t worry about that. It’s the least I can do for Mark.”

“Oh. I don’t know. I only met Mark last week. If you owe him a favor, especially a ten thousand dollar one, I don’t know that I am really the one who gets to cash it in.”

“C’mon now, I said don’t worry about it and I meant it. Besides I owe him more than ten thousand dollars. I owe Mark Nelson my whole career.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Though I have always had confidence in social settings, I used to have terrible test anxiety. It wasn’t because I was dumb. I would just freeze up when I take standardized tests.”

“And, Mark helped you with that?”

“Yes. In more ways than one.”

There was a beat in the conversation. Julie was silently waiting for the story, and Jet was weighing whether he would tell her both parts. What the hell, he thought. She has the right to know the circumstances surrounding the $10,000.00 dollar favor she is cashing in. “The narrative surrounding the first time he helped me is a bit embarrassing, and I am not entirely sure that Mark knows. So promise you won’t tell him?”

“I promise.”

“Ok. When Mark was a freshman and I was a senior in high school, I sat next to him during the SATs and copied straight from his answer sheet. Without a doubt, had I not done that, I would not have gotten a good enough score to be accepted to college.”

It was the first time Jet had ever said this out loud to anyone. It was oddly therapeutic. The second part of the story he had told a million times.

Jet continued, “Years later, this was right after I finished law school when I started studying for the state bar exam. I had taken like ten practice tests and failed them all. I am talking like I bombed the things.” He chuckled. “It didn’t make any sense. I graduated first in my law class – and now I can’t even pass the bar.” He paused to make sure Julie got the point.

“Like I said this was years later, but I remembered that freshman who I had sat next to during the SATs. So I look him up, and give him a call. I tell him my bar exam woes –and ask him for his help. He doesn’t say yes or no immediately. He waits a second. I got to tell you in that second, I am prepping my answer for what I believe is going to be his first question: What made you think to call me? In that moment, I still wasn’t sure if I would come clean about copying his SAT answer sheet or lie to him. But Mark doesn’t ask me that. Instead you know what he does?

“No, what?”

“Mark freaking asks me if I have seen the Godfather films.”

“What?”

“Yea. I know, right? I am pouring out my heart and soul asking for help, and this guy asks if I have seen the Godfather movies? I tell him yes. And he goes, ‘Ok. That’s perfect. I got you. We will use the Francis Ford Coppola method.’ He drops everything that he has going on in his life, and moves in with me at my house, and for the next six weeks re-teaches me all the material.”

“The Francis Ford Coppola method?” Julie asked. “What the hell is that?”

“It’s hard to explain. So I guess you know how Mark is really into movies, right? Well he is also brilliant. He reads through the bar exam material once, and then reteaches it back to me comparing every law and every element with a movie plot or character from the first film. Like when he went over the elements of an enforceable contract with me, he talked about all the different negotiations and discussions the Corleones and The Five Families were having with one another. Then he would explain why each one was or wasn’t a contract and what type of contract it was. I tell you, it got to where I was able to visualize the elements of a contract in my head with the scenes from the film and say whether a contract had been effectuated. It was super effective.

“He did the same thing with elements of murder. He’d be like, ‘Was it first or second degree murder when Michael shot Sollozzo? What about when he shot McClusky? Would your answer change if McClusky was wearing his police uniform?’ It was unreal how good he was at throwing new things in the mix to make you re-think why or how the answer would change. It got me really thinking about each crime and their differences and how to properly apply them. You see?

“Once we finished the material. He says you’re taking a practice test tomorrow under time conditions. Your only homework, re-watch The Godfather Part II. I did. The next day, he proctors a test he had made up. It was a full practice bar exam with all nine subjects using the second Godfather as the source material. I wish I could find my copy. I tell you it’s genius what he did.”

“Oh I bet.”

“So I take the Godfather Part II practice bar exam using the timed conditions of the real thing. I tell you, it was ten times harder than any practice exam I had taken before. Mark is so damn good at finding every nuance. But it was so damn fun, because for the first time I truly knew the material. Mark grades it and I ace it. The real bar exam was the next week. I wasn’t the least bit nervous. I just sat there using the Francis Ford Coppola method that Mark taught me, and knocked it out of the park.”

“That’s awesome.”

“Yea, so you see. Without him I wouldn’t have gone to college or become a lawyer. I have never forgotten his generosity, and am always trying to think of ways to pay him back.”

“You and him ever hang out?”

“Sometimes, the last time was about four or so years ago. We went to go see The Godfather Part III the night it came out.”

“Typical.”

“Yea, I know. So afterwards we go to get a bite to eat. He looks at me and says with a smile, ’So, when Altobello hires Mosca to assassinate Michael, if Mosca would have been successful could Altobello be found guilty for 1st degree murder -even though it was Mosca who pulled the trigger?’ I tell you the damn guy’s brain never quits working.

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