Friday, January 25, 2008

Trees: Chapter 1, Part 2

Kyle thought of how friendly Emma and her neighbors had been at their first homeowners’ association meeting held at the neighborhood church just one week earlier. They’d brought food and sweet tea to share, and hugged one another as if the meeting were really a long anticipated family reunion. Before he could get them focused on the business at hand, they had insisted he eat while they spent time getting to know him. And he, in turn, while washing down collards, black-eyed peas and greasy but irresistible fried hoe cakes with dark tea so sweet he thought it was maple syrup, got to know something about them. His clients were more than mere neighbors; they were lifelong friends and family who had established time honored traditions and a strong sense of community pride within the boundaries of their old and crumbling neighborhood.

“We’re going to save all the trees, Emma,” he said as he sat down. He opened his briefcase, pulled out a folder thick with stapled documents, and stole a cautious look at Allison.

She was watching him; her blue eyes still vibrant beneath her perfectly plucked brows. Sitting turned askew in her chair, her legs crossed at the knees, her sculpted shin and ankle pointing toward him, the sharp toe of her designer shoe bobbing slowly and rhythmically in the air.

“I don’t intend to let anyone down,” he added quickly, turning back to his folder and randomly, awkwardly, thumbing through its contents.

“I see you still have a soft spot for the underdog,” Allison said, grinning as she leaned across the aisle toward Kyle.

“Don’t insult my client,” he said, turning quickly and taking care to make deliberate stern eye contact with her. But he couldn’t help himself - his attention was drawn again to her hair, thick and soft and draped behind her shoulders to make sure it didn’t hide an inch of her flawless face.

“It’s been a while, Kyle. I’m eager to see how well you perform.” She smiled, then turned to her client and began to whisper in his ear.

Kyle hated that phrase. She had first said it to him when she let him know she was ready to allow him make love to her, when she let him know if he didn’t please her, there wouldn’t be a second chance to satisfy her.

Somehow, it seemed, Kyle often found himself in one shot situations.

“Why’d she call me an underdog?”

“It’s best just to ignore her.”

“Can’t hardly ignore a woman like that. We don’t see much of the likes of her in Liberty Park.”

Until now, the residents of Liberty Park were a quiet and acquiescent group who managed the neighborhood simply by being good neighbors to one another. They observed an unwritten code of conduct that required them to keep the front yards clean, watch each other’s children, and never start a lawn mower on Sunday. There, no one walked the walk of old money and high expectations.

“Shoot, you the first lawyer I ever even spoke to,” she added.

“I’ve read your petition, Counsel,” Farnsworth said to Kyle, “but humor me for a moment. The Board of Education has the right to sell the land and the developer has the right to remove those trees in keeping with the architectural plan that was approved when the property was rezoned. So tell me, why should I give you a permanent injunction against Capital City Construction?”

Kyle stood, cleared his throat and scanned his notes again. His tie suddenly too tight around his throat, he reached up and tugged on it.

The Liberty Park case had been handed to him less than three weeks ago, after Whitaker agreed to take it on the request of a golfing buddy who was distantly related to one of the homeowners. Whitaker had quickly become bored with the case, it didn’t have a big payoff other than returning a favor, after securing a temporary emergency injunction against removing the trees. “I want to see how well you work under pressure,” he said when he tossed the file onto Kyle’s desk. “Partners have to deal with a lot of pressure around here. Prove you can handle it, and maybe we’ll have something to talk about.”

“Your Honor, the residents of Liberty Park are here asking you to save a small grove of yellow poplar trees that stand on the property. Many of them planted the trees as small seedlings all the way around the old school during an Arbor Day ceremony decades ago. After the school burned down, the students who never moved from the neighborhood spent their own time and money maintaining the area, cutting the grass, pruning the shrubs, and planting flowers each spring. They turned it into their neighborhood park.”

“I said humor me, not bore me. Skip the soliloquy and get to your point.”

Allison halfheartedly covered her mouth to muffle a chuckle.

Kyle was beginning to forget her hair, remembering instead how much happier he had become since their breakup.

“Your Honor, we certainly don’t want to cause any ill will with the defendant,” Kyle continued, “but our intent is to see that these trees are preserved in accordance with the Tree Protection Ordinance. To assure that, we’ll resort to the recourses made available by the ordinance, no matter how aggressive.” He turned toward the well dressed developer sitting beside Allison and ignoring her, addressed him directly. “If we see that any of those trees have been harmed, if you so much as spray paint another X on even one of those trees ….”

“An X?” the judge questioned, lowering his glasses as he spoke.

“To mark ‘em for cutting down,” Emma blurted out, leaning forward in her chair and pounding the table with her gnarled little fist.

“That’s right, Your Honor,” Kyle said, grinning and holding his hand up to calm his client. “A red X is painted on each tree they want to remove; eight were marked before the homeowners intervened. We are here to preserve the trees, Your Honor. We’ll do whatever it takes to make sure they remain standing.”

“Counsel, the gentleman sounds serious about this case,” the judge addressed Allison, pointing to Kyle with his glasses. “What say you?”

“He sounds naively optimistic.”

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