Trouble at the Law Firm
Catalina watched anxiously as the black van with darkened windows came to a stop outside her apartment building. She’d been waiting there for ten minutes under the curious gaze of Wes the watchman at the entrance to the apartment building. Ma Black had phoned to ask her if she was interested in seeing the real underbelly of New York and Catalina had eagerly accepted. Now she was not too sure, and she stiffened in fright as she saw two enormous black men emerge from the van and size her up. They moved her way and Wes moved to intervene. Catalina was about to retreat to her apartment when she spied Ma Black emerge from the van and speak to the men. Catalina relaxed. Ma Black beckoned her to the van, and she obeyed much to the concern of Wes who wondered what was going on.
The women took seats in the back of the van and the two giants took their place seated silently by the door. Their eyes moved continuously as they took in street movements while they travelled and entered parts of town that only the derelicts of society would dare enter. Catalina had been warned to dress down for the occasion. Soon they were deep inside the no go zone of New York and Catalina marvelled at the depressing sight in front of her. The loitering denizens of this concrete jungle came alert as they observed a stranger in their midst. The giants pointed and grunted, and they were joined by a small army that would accompany them on their sightseeing venture.
Ma Black turned to Catalina. “You wanted to see where I live? Now you will also see how we live.”
They moved from one building to another with their retinue of guards while those in corridors and homes ogled cat called and shouted insults. Those who were unruly were bought into line swiftly by the giants. Catalina studied the giants with their scars and the state of buildings and needs of those crammed into small derelict apartments. Some apartments had exposed wiring and poor electricity supply and many apartments had faulty plumbing. The whole scene screamed of neglect.
Ma Black saw the effect this was having on this sheltered young woman and felt compassion. She remembered how hard it had been for her to adjust to this life when she’d had everything she could wish for in Jamaica. But the work she was doing for the downtrodden gave her joy and fulfillment. She spoke.
“Catalina have you ever seen anything like this before?” She already knew the answer to this question, but she watched as Catalina slowly shook her head.
Ma Black spoke to the giants and the protection squad and they turned and headed for her home. They stayed downstairs to guard as the two women climbed stairs to Ma Black’s apartment. It was sparce but neat and tidy. There were three children studying their schoolbooks, and they looked up from the floor and smiled as the old woman entered.
Ma Black introduced them in turn, and they greeted Catalina respectfully. “I’m unofficially fostering these children to keep them off the streets. Now we talk. I bought you here to see how we live. This whole area is owned by slum lords. We don’t know exactly who they are, but their representatives are ruffians who collect rents and punish those who don’t pay. Some say the owners are the crime lords who live in parts of New York like where you live. We pay rent for small spaces in buildings that are literally falling apart and services that are substandard like the wires you saw hanging out in apartments and hallways dangerous to touch. You said you want to help us so what can you do to improve our living spaces and get us the kind of services others in New York enjoy?”
Catalina shook her head uncertainly not knowing what to say or where to start. This was much bigger than she had the capabilities to tackle. In her mind she had thought of helping Figit but now expectations were obviously much higher.
“I don’t know what I can do as this is far beyond my experience but I’m willing to try Ma Black and I can’t promise more than that. First I’ll find out who owns these buildings and see if there’s a way to get any government intervention to improve these shocking conditions.”
Back at work Catalina began collecting information from government records about buildings in the area she’d visited with Ma Black. It was a slow process as she had a fulltime job researching for the partners and in particular her mentor in the partnership along with minor legal cases, she was being slowly entrusted with to take to courts herself. But over time she began to accumulate details of ownership over those buildings and owner dealings with the local government. She was surprised to find some of the high-profile clients the legal firm dealt with were on her list. But these clients and others who were not the legal firm’s clients were becoming curious about who was taking an interest in their affairs for property barons have a close relationship with those who are elected to care for public interests and information is shared between them.
One day the senior partner called her into his office. He complemented her on her work and told her the firm had expectations she’d develop into one of their best recruits and potentially over time a partnership. Then consulting some letters on his desk, he inquired about her interest in slum buildings as she’d used the firm’s name in accessing government public documents. Catalina explained her interest in seeing services were improved for residents of that area.
Her mentor sat back in his chair and surveyed her smiling. He expressed his concern that she’d used the firm’s name in accessing information and gently chided her for giving the impression the firm was involved. He indicated the letters on his table were inquiries from some of the firm’s top clients who were wondering what these investigations were all about and made it plain the firms name was not to be used. He even instructed her to discontinue her investigations or perhaps think of resigning if she felt this was an issue she wanted to pursue by herself. He was not threatening her, but if she were to be working against client’s interests that would be untenable. He complemented her again and sent her back to work feeling she’d make the best decision for the firm and her future.
That evening Catalina phoned her parents to find out if they’d finance her into private practice in New York. She explained she was doing well with the legal firm but wanted the experience of working with her own clients to improve her knowledge. Her Father Andres thought that if she was going to cut her relationship with the legal firm then she should have had enough experience to come home and use her knowledge and skills in the Sanchez enterprises. Elisa reasoned that a bit more time in New York would not be a problem as they didn’t need her skills in the businesses just yet as between both, they were still active and coping well and she may not get fulfillment working under their direction. So finally, Andres agreed to give her another year to experiment managing her own law practice. Perhaps that would be good extra experience for her. Andres arranged for fund transfers to set up her own practice rooms and looked forward to hearing of the clients she’d build up over the next year.
With that promise of funding Catalina presented her resignation letter next day promising to finalize pending work before she left the firm. The partners attempted to change her mind offering her an enhanced salary package, but Catalina declined thanking them for their support during the time she’d spent with them.
Her mentor realized this decision had something to do with her research into their client’s investments in the slums and bided his time until she’d finalized her obligations. Then reported to his clients what her intensions were.
Catalina began to run into problems getting her practice operating. Finding rental space proved to be difficult and when she did find one in an out of the way part of New York there were exasperating difficulties in getting necessary permits. Nothing seemed to be working out and she was beginning to get discouraged. She began to get suspicious her research into the slum lords could be a contributing factor to her difficulties so stubbornly resolved to keep working on that project from her home.
She began to get threatening letters and on one occasion in supermarket shopping a stranger confronted her in an aisle and suggested she watch her back as this was a dangerous town. Then Ma Black phoned her. Catalina had kept her informed as to what was happening and now those threats were being communicated to Ma Black that if the lawyer girl didn’t back off her investigations something bad would happen.
Ma Black told her to forget about the investigation as she could confirm the people who passed on that message did have the capacity to harm Catalina and they’d never be convicted. Then while she was out shopping one day and returned home, she noticed Wes was not at his post. She proceeded to her apartment and opened the door. Everything in the apartment had been smashed and her documents had been taken. She phoned the police.
Wes was found bound and gagged later in the basement of the building. When Wes was released, he begged her to leave New York for her own safety. He didn’t know the ones who’d attacked him, but they’d left a personal message for her through him. He asked his security firm for reassignment and was replaced with another security guard. But this had finally convinced Catalina it was unsafe for her to be here anymore and she phoned her parents pouring out her fears. She then phoned Ma Black and wept before she could find words, Ma Black soothed the young woman and told her it was OK, they would survive, and it was time for her to go.
Next morning Catalina fled to the airport with clothing she’d been able to salvage in a carry-on bag. She was suspicious of the taxi driver and frightened at the press of crowds around her at the airport. She sat rigid in her seat all the way to LA and sank sobbing into her mother’s arms on arrival. Elisa accompanied her to counselling sessions for a month before Catalina could get herself straightened out.
This time Andres didn’t send his wife to New York to finalize the apartment and collect what was useful out of her left behind personal effects. He contacted his cousins and they met him at the airport and helped as everything was finalized. It had only taken a week. Then he remembered his promise to his daughter. He checked the number given him on his cell phone and tapped the number in his contact list.
A woman at the other end of the line answered.
“Sorry to bother you this time of the evening Maam, this is Catalina’s father and I’ve come to New York to sort out the disposal of her apartment.”
There was a pause then Ma Black spoke. “Is she safe?”
“She is concerned about your welfare and wants to know you are OK. I know its late in the day, but could I visit with you as I have something to discuss.”
“Not safe for you to do that!”
“Ma Black I’m not at all fearful and I know exactly where you live. Don’t worry my relatives are more than a match with anyone who’d like to mix with them. Can I come over to talk with you?”
There was another pause. “You are taking a big risk but if that confident come.”
A half hour later Andres hastened up the stairs and knocked at the door while his cousins and some reinforcements stood guard over the vehicle and the entrance. Ma Black let him in warily.
“Ma Black, I don’t have much time, but I want to put a proposition to you. It’s about Figit. I’d like to take him back with me to LA and put him through school as Catalina sees potential in him and then we can get him a job. If you’d like to come too, we could arrange that.”
“Mr Sanchez, I choose to stay here and help some of the children have a chance in life if that’s possible. Some make it and some don’t but for the few that do I find fulfillment in that. I have property and wealth in Jamaica but have chosen to stay here and supplement the money this government gives me to teach to help people here. So, you want to help Figit? I appreciate that.”
She called loudly. “Figit come here!”
Figit appeared from another room at the back of the apartment. “Yes Ma?”
“Pack a suitcase with your things, you’re going with this man now.”
“But I don’t want to Ma, have I made you angry?”
“No son, I’m proud of you. This man is going to get you into school so you can learn and become a big shot. Then when you have a big job and I get too old for this work you will look after your old Ma won’t you?”
“Yes Ma, I don’t have much to pack but I’ll do it quickly.”
For the first time in his life Andres felt emotion welling up inside him. This was a tough world and you had to be tough to survive and prosper but here he found a woman who had wealth but was willing to put it aside to help those who had nothing to give in return. What he was offering now was nothing by way of comparison.
Ma Black kissed and hugged Figit as she saw them to the door. “Mr Sanchez your daughter is a good woman.”
Andres nodded as he took leave and steered the boy downstairs. He’d see this woman’s wish was fulfilled in her adopted son. Catalina had been brought up in a sheltered environment not like his own upbringing and he felt for her having been exposed to the evil side of this world. But being a Sanchez, she’d pick up the pieces and move on. If she were to eventually head up their Sanchez enterprises, she had to be aware of all the issues she’d be called upon to deal with. He knew she would make that transition. In the meantime, he’d think about whether his corporate ambitions were sympathetic enough to his employees and those less fortunate the society around them.
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