Mr. Skeptic made no attempt to hide his cracked fingers. Somehow, he saw the cracks as signs of his truthfulness in the whole battle. He thought the system that had caused him to receive the cracks should have been embarrassed; not he. So, he told the officer that the bill had been sent to him after four requests. The fourth time, he mentioned, had been a very unpleasant argument between the lawyer and him. He concluded that the bill had been deeply influenced by that conversation.
“I obviously do not know how he was charging me, but I understand that I never left him a message on this day and he never left me a message,” Mr. Skeptic went on while the officer followed his points on the bill.
“Then,” Mr. Skeptic went on, “On this date he sends us a letter that he was going for a trail to Toronto and another lawyer was going to follow the case.”
He handed a letter to the officer and showed the amount he was charged on the bill.
“Later, we received a letter from the assigned lawyer that he was following the case. He had asked us to contact him. For both of these we have been billed. Now, what is my fault that he has to go to another place and this one wants to introduce himself?”
The officer looked at him from above his eyeglasses. Mr. Skeptic diverted his looks toward his papers lest he lost the sequence of the events based upon which he had organized his argument.
“Then, this new lawyer takes a whole procedure of reviewing the file and discussing the file with the previous lawyer and I am charged for all of it,” Mr. Skeptic went on.
At this point Maria wanted to speak; however Mr. Skeptic did not let her talk and continued presenting more evidence.
The officer’s interference brought him to a halt.
“Let her talk,” the officer said.
“For what he says about over-lap charge,” Maria said, “We have given him three hundred dollars discount. On the first bill we have given him two hundred dollars again. There is five hundred dollars discount altogether. So, indeed there is no overlap charge on this account.”
“Do not forget that it was courtesy to me and not for the over-lap charging,” Mr. Skeptic returned as soon as Maria stopped to breathe. “Do you want me to show you that he wrote to me that a part of that was his courtesy to us?”
Mr. Skeptic paused to hear a response that never came.
“And, I believe I have to thank you for giving yourself the credit for reducing the bill,” Mr. Skeptic went on in a stinging tone.
“About the first bill,” he went back to his papers, “Three times we confirmed with him that he was not going to charge us for anything until he actually started working on the file,” Mr. Skeptic said, and officer looked at him again, “Once he told my wife in their first meeting on February the nineteenth. The same night I confirmed with him what he had told my wife. And the third time was in his office on February twenty-eighth. Nonetheless, he charged us two hours for the twenty-minute meeting he had with my wife and claimed he had done us a favor and Maria is asking credit for that. He was taking a case that originally was not his. He was giving those incentives to convince us to pass the case to him. Why did he not come to the court himself to claim these credits anyway?”
Maria remained silent.
“So there is another bill to this account,” the officer said, “That bill has to be evaluated as well. Have you paid that bill?” He inquired.
“There is no problem with that bill,” Maria interrupted.
“Quite frankly,” Mr. Skeptic said, “I don’t know if anything is wrong with that. I used to give them post-dated checks and they were cashing them as time passed.
“So, there is no problem there?” The officer asked.
Mr. Skeptic nodded: “I think so”.
“So, it is not their fault if the first lawyer has assigned someone with higher hourly rate to the file,” the officer told Maria, “So, seven hours of his wage has to be reduced by ten dollars that he has over charged right there. It is seventy dollars plus tax.”
“On top of that, Sir,” Mr. Skeptic added, “They have thrown 1.8 hours of extra charge for the student-at-law’s rate at me. This part I will never pay.”
“You fired us Mr. Skeptic,” Maria interrupted, “And you have to pay up to the time that you fired us.”
“I really did not know that I have to pay for your arithmetic problems too,” Mr. Skeptic responded, “I have to pay for over-lap charging. I am sorry. I can not afford to give thousands of dollars while you were sleeping doing nothing.”
“I am sorry for the mistake Okay,” Maria said, frustrated “But you are not always the winner.”
“I don’t know what kind of legal system is this that you get kicked out of your business,” Mr. Skeptic said, “All your assets are kept and used. You are left with debt and still you are not a winner? I think the problem was the lawyer’s greed.”
“So, this was a partnership,” the patient officer added as it appeared he had seen many cases like that.
“Yes, Sir,” Mr. Skeptic responded.
“On September 19, their office receives the documents for which there is an application in the court,” Mr. Skeptic went on and handed the officer a copy of the paper on which the date had been stamped. “They purposely kept us unawares of this. From then until September 22 they charge us more than five hundred dollars plus tax for doing research, telephone, referring to different books of law and so on before they let us even know that they had received the documents and ask for instructions. This I believe the lawyer has thrown in because he knew I was going to fire him. Otherwise, how do they know we were still going to proceed with the court application that they do all those researches and so forth?”
“Well, they can say there was an application in the court and they had to do these,” the officer responded.
“But, they have received the material they had asked for,” Mr. Skeptic reminded the officer, “And the whole purpose of the application has been fulfilled and there was no need to proceed with court preparations?”
The officer did not respond. He kept working with his calculator instead.
When the story reached there, Nelly arrived and sat at the end of the table that Mr. Skeptic was sitting on.
“This is my wife,” Mr. Skeptic told the officer in a tone that he was on the verge of tears “Then, I called and told them that we did not want to proceed with the court and we wanted the other party to keep everything for herself. I told them that they were not going to recover anything for us and we were losing our money and health in vain. This was the time that they started blackmailing us. They scared us that if we did not continue with the case, the other party would ask for her expenses and we had to pay her.”
“How much do you want to pay them?” The officer asked.
“I believe they deserve nothing, Sir,” Mr. Skeptic responded, “Instead of promoting my trust in the legal system they absolutely ruined it. Nonetheless, your are a man of experience with these matters I pay whatever you determine except for their arithmetic problem that is obvious.”
“You won’t pay for that any way,” the officer said; and turned to his calculator.
After some calculations, the officer raised his head saying that he would assign another six hundred dollars to them instead of one thousand eighty-eight dollars.
Mr. Skeptic agreed; Maria added that she had to confirm the amount with her firm. They were dismissed until Maria had the confirmation.
All three of them walked out of the room. Maria disappeared somewhere. The tall judge was walking back and forth in the lobby. Nelly and Mr. Skeptic lingered in the lobby for a short talk. Nelly’s presence was not needed the courthouse any more. She left for her work somewhere in the west of the city; and Mr. Skeptic waited for Maria who appeared to be spending time in a corner.
It took Maria some half an hour to came back. Shortly after, she went to a payphone. No one was in the other side. She tried the number a few minutes later and exchanged several words and came back to Mr. Skeptic, ready to return to the officer.
In the office, Maria told the officer that she had a question. She asked the question in a language that Mr. Skeptic did not understand one single word of. The answer was a quick. Pointing at the paper in front of him, the officer said: “it is there”.
Later on Mr. Skeptic understood that she had asked the officer to allocate interest to the outstanding balance for the period of time. Why should they speak in a language that he could not understand? He did not comprehend. Why was he not entitled to understand something about his interest? The place that the officer pointed at was the place for interest allocation. It was filled with a big zero.
“Interest for the fees which did not recover nothing for us?” Mr. Skeptic asked himself, “These people’s greed does not recognize any limit.”
Eventually, Maria consented to the agreement in behalf of her law firm; and the officer calculated the total amount Mr. Skeptic owed to be seven hundred seventy three dollars. Mr. Skeptic asked for the reason for the new amount.
“Because you did not respond to my registered letter,” Maria said without waiting for the officer to respond.
“What registered letter?” Mr. Skeptic questioned with astonishment.
“The one that I wrote to you demanding the full payment of the balance on your bill,” she answered.
“Wait a minute,” Mr. Skeptic retorted, “This means either I or my wife has gone to the post office and have signed for a registered letter that you have sent to us. This is a lie.”
Officer looked at Mr. Skeptic’s outspokenness with astonishment.
“All through this process you have changed your words and given false information,” Mr. Skeptic went on, “You, please, give me the registration number and I will check with the post office to see where my registered letter has gone. Please give me the number.”
Mr. Skeptic took out a piece of paper and a pen ready to jut down the number. Maria did not say anything; and Mr. Skeptic resumed: “what you have sent me is a court document that you see is here. It was not even sent by registered mail. One October morning a lady in a van put it in our mailbox. We pick it up and we are here for that. Why should I pay for your court expenses when you did not send me a registered letter”?
“This expense you have to pay;” the officer told Mr. Skeptic, “Because she has given you the letter you are mentioning anyway. She has notified you of the procedure well in advance. So, she is entitled to that payment. Otherwise, you have to come back for the same reason and pay another court expense.”
“Anything you say, Sir!” Mr. Skeptic returned, “If she is entitled to that, I have no argument”.
“And I am asking him to give me a check for the full payment of the balance,” Maria asked the officer.
Mr. Skeptic was amazed to see how Maria showed an absolutely different personality in front of the officer. Her tone had changed considerably. She was not often challenging what Mr. Skeptic was saying. She was more or less amicable and showing that she was willing to accept the truth.
The officer did not respond to her request.
“Had you dealt with me honestly, I would have trusted you and would have given you what you are entitled to,” Mr. Skeptic responded, “Since I did not see such a merit in you and your firm, I don’t know if you will twist things around against me again. So, I pay you one hundred seventy-three dollars right now in front of the officer. The rest I will pay at the end of each month as soon as I receive my receipt for the previous payment. I don’t want to wait several months until I receive a receipt from your company.”
Mr. Skeptic wrote a check and handed to Maria while the officer was still busy writing. Maria left the room by shaking Mr. Skeptic’s hand and he started putting his littered papers in order and telling the officer that they had ruined his life and recovered nothing. As Mr. Skeptic was shaking the officer’s hand to leave the room he could see tears encircling the man’s big eyes. The officer did not pass a word to him, however he could see the emotions behind those wet eyes.
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