Part II.

15 Feb

Attorney Phot Aiton, feeling a need to see Kimon Meun immediately, made a telephonic call to the home of the client who was absorbing all his working hours. The caucho tire manufacturer was at home and invited Phot to visit him there later that evening. “Our house is at the corner of Crozier and Thornton,” explained the client. “The large red brick with the steep slate roof. You can’t miss it.”

The young man promised to be there at eight, then hung up the receiver. This looked to be the most important case and client that had come to him yet in his short law career.

A long, leisurely walk took Phot to the indicated residence a little before the scheduled hour. It was Katina, in a purple mauve dress, who opened the front screen door for him once he rang the electric bell. She had a luminous smile on her diminutive face. “Come in,” she greeted him. “Father is upstairs, but said he will be down in a jiffy. I’m to show you into the front parlor.”

The latter proved to be a large room stuffed solidly with large pieces of ornate furniture, most of it qualifying as antiques. Bright colors clashed with each other. Different periods of home furnishing existed together in this jumble of styles.

Katina led him to a large sofa chair of rosk damask cheviot. As soon as he sat down, Phot addressed the young woman of the house.

“I went to see the work being done by you at the centrum temple,” he began, gazing at the still standing Katina.

“What did you do think of it?” she said with burning curiosity.

“I found everything so fine!” he smiled. “It was all very impressive.”

Before either of them could go on, Kimon Meun came striding into the parlor.

“Mr. Aiton, it is so good of you to visit us this evening. I see that my daughter has brought you in and made you comfortable. Can we get you something to eat or drink? Katina would be glad to fetch you whatever we have. Since my wife’s death, this house has seen few guests or visitors in it. Our lives are lonely ones, spent by ourselves. We live almost like hermits here.”

Phot told him that since he was neither hungry nor thirsty, he would wait till later. Katina sensed this was the moment to leave the two males to their legal business and quietly withdrew from the parlor.

“You have discovered something of importance?” asked the manufacturer after his daughter had been gone several seconds.

“I think there is one overlooked fact that can defeat your enemy, sir,” said the lawyer.

“And what, please, could that be?” asked the older man with surprise.

“Time. The timing of the patent by Nestro Terion, I mean. He and his lawyers believe it applies to all varieties of tires, whether on bicycles, monocycles, autocycles, or automotives. But the important question is this one: what existed at the date of the patent, and what was at that precise time non-existent? That must, in the end, be the deciding criterion. Nothing else.

“I am sure that I can, based on precedents, convince the judge that my interpretation of the old patent is the only correct and logical one. Let me describe some cases that I can use from the past. They will strengthen my argument all the more.”

Phot went on, quoting old court decisions he had found and committed to memory. He astounded his client with his mnemonic power. Only after twenty minutes of legal citation did the older man have a chance to say something.

“Does this mean the odds will be in our favor now?” asked Meun with rising hope on his face, in his eyes, and within his voice.

“I believe so, sir.”

“Good!” said the manufacturer with a laugh. “Now, allow me to show you the old-fashioned Gefir hospitality of my home. Katina, though formally educated in art, carries on the skills of her late mother. You and I shall now withdraw to the family kitchen. I told my daughter before you arrived to get ready some mincemeat pie and pivo beer for us. Will you join Katina and me?” grinned Meun.

“Of course,” answered the advocate. “I’d be most happy to do so, sir.”

Katina had everything prepared when the two men entered the long, gleaming white spotless kitchen. The three of them sat down at a round, enameled yellow and green table. Each of the participants served themselves from what the daughter had set out while the two others had been busy talking in the parlor.

“Tell us about your art plans at the centrum temple,” said her father to the surprised young woman across from him. “Our friend has considerable interest in what is being accomplished by you there. He thinks it a very worthy achievement.”

Flushing a little, she looked directly into the pointed sapphire eyes of Phot, uncertain what to say to the stranger.

“What can I say?” she shyly muttered. “The primary aim of the restoration I am involved in is far above and beyond aesthetics alone. There is a unifying social purpose in trying to inspire a rekindling of spiritual fervor for martyred Kexato. Everyone involved in the enterprise aspires to these high community goals for the Gefirs of Rubber City. I guess that I could sum it all up by saying that all of us at the centrum temple are hoping for a rebirth, a renascence of what makes our people so different from the majority of the inhabitants surrounding us here in this city. We dream of preserving what is most precious in the culture that we inherited from our Gefir ancestors.”

“Bravo,” interjected Phot. “That goal is a praiseworthy one. I only hope it is not too late, that assimilation has not already reached a point from which we cannot turn back. Is what I am thinking clear to you? We must remain where we now are and never lose consciousness of our Gefir past and affiliation. That must never be erased, never.”

The speaker of these words had been shaken by them. He had never before made such a nationalistic outburst anywhere, at any time. Why now? he asked himself. What had motivated this candid confession by him? he wondered all of a sudden.

Phot suddenly realized that his words were the result of having seen the wall murals at the temple. He smiled at the painter who had given new life to those images from their common, shared past.

“Pardon me if I seem reckless, Miss Meun. But the colors and the characterizations that you painted have moved me deeply. I have made myself sound like a wild-eyed enthusiast, perhaps. That was not what I intended to do. But your creative gifts are truly inspiring ones. They are outstanding.”

“Thank you,” she whispered, looking to one side, away from his direct gaze. “Thank you so much for that kindness of expression.”

At this point, Kimon Meun decided to return to legal matters.

“Victory for me will mean greater opportunity for Gefirs in the rubber industry. The discrimination we have to suffer is horribly insulting. Every day, there is one of us injured in some way. A courtroom defeat of Terion will be a blow against all Phrixian bigots, and every one of them will feel the sting.

“But can we win our case?

“The judge is one of them. Might that poison the decision he reaches?”

“I am hopeful that our case will be too strong for anyone to ignore or frustrate. Law and precedent must compel the most prejudiced mind to submit to the truth and proclaim you the injured party, sir.”

Kimon Meun lifted up his cantharus and took a drink of pivobeer.

“I believe that I feel greater optimism after hearing those words of yours,” he said, gazing directly at the young visitor.

In a little while, Phot left, thanking both hosts for the friendly hospitality shown him. His heart and his mind had both been uplifted.

He walked back to his flat in a confident, reflective mood. A great victory was about to be won. That seemed certain to him.

Among the earliest Gefirs to settle in Rubber City were the Meun brothers. They had experience growing vegetables crops and peddling their produce from a horse-drawn wagon. Upon arrival in the burgeoning city, they obtained jobs at the central fruit market. But their goal being to operate a business independently, the three Meuns in a couple of years opened their own establishment called the Public Market, on Spicer Street. It grew and expanded, making them prosperous merchants in the grocery field. Success and wealth came to the threesome almost imperceptibly as time passed slowly by. They were a bright example to all Gefirs who migrated to the city of promise called Rubber City.

The oldest brother, Vasto, was president and in specific charge of the meat and fish section. He was tall, slim, and green-eyed, with a natural, stately manner that impressed all who worked for him or met the man over business matters. Second in age came Migo, in charge of the vegetable, grain, and nuts section. Blue-eyed and with a blond crew cut, he always deferred all matters of judgment to Vasto. Youngest was Coso, somehow spoiled by their parents in childhood. He was always smiling and laughing. An eternal joker, he enlivened the company he kept with fellow Gefirs. The customers of the Public Market loved his wit and charm, even the Phryxians. His domain was the produce section, whose fruit section enjoyed outstanding popularity among the many customers.

Caso took credit for this profitable area of their grocery, his personal kingdom. Here he acted like a star performer on a public stage, enlivening all his sales with an entertaining patter. This brother was known as one always in good humor and high spirit.

The imagination of this youngest brother was always exploring new possibilities and opportunities, speculating about what was to come. His offerings of produce expanded into a rich rainbow of foods: pomegranate, papaya, tangelo, pomelo, tangerine, clementine, ananis, melopelo, passion fruit, fico, biffin, pepo, pompelmous, hesperidium, peach, apricot, damson, cantaloupe, mango, muskmelon, peponida, drupe, pipal, guava, carise, pimola, bergamot, zucca, calabaza, poma, citronille, alligator pear, shaddock, candia, tamerind, sapodilla, mamey fruit, and durian fruit. He was completely familiar with them all and could estimate which of them might be of interest to any single, particular customer.

One spring morning, the azure-eyed Caso came to work brimming with joyful enthusiasm. He at once told his two brothers the cause of his rapturous mood.

“I came across a report in a farming magazine. A new method of preserving freshness has been discovered, and it is done by using a magneto-electric generator. The secret is that a field of force can keep a food in fresh condition for an extended time, nearly indefinitely. Think of what that means. Imagine how such devices will revolutionize all of our business. No one yet has such a miraculous machine hereabouts, no one!

“We must join with the innovators and make ourselves pioneers. I can visualize what we will become: the first galvanic grocery in Rubber City. This ability to keep our produce intact will make us number one in the city. A series of outlets, scattered over many sections, will put us everywhere. Dare I predict that magneto-electric apparati will make us fabulously wealthy? And we shall become known as pioneers who revolutionized the grocery business of this community.”

The two older brothers gazed at him in astonishment.

What were the ramifications and implications of what he was saying to them?

Vasto answered him in a serious, powerful voice.

“Too high a risk. Such a wild gamble might ruin us. We have to wait and see what our competitors do. Today, what you claim is only speculation. Isn’t that so, Migo?” he asked, turning to the middle brother.

“We have worked hard to build our grocery. It will all be lost were we to try this untested electrical method. I am against such gambling with what we have succeeded in saving up so far. We must maintain what we have already put together here through our hard work.”

Coso, boiling over with anger, looked with scorn at his older siblings.

“What’s the matter with you two? Are you blind to what the future can bring to those who are first? I refuse to be stuck in the mud with such ignoramuses. I’m getting out of the Public Market and starting out on my own, with the first magneto-electric fresheners in Rubber City. It is the individual road that I must take. Our business partnership shall be dissolved and I must start out all over again, on my own. It appears that only I am unafraid of taking a risk.”

The two others looked at him in astonished surprise. Neither of them had ever imagined such an event possible.

They were no longer to be a team of three brothers.

The business cycle fell into steep decline as Caso was bought out by his brothers. Vasto and Migo soon found themselves in dire difficulty, unable to pay wholesalers and suppliers. Their trade suffered from the closing of the popular produce section. Debts mounted to unprecedented heights, until bankruptcy had to be declared within a year.

But Coso, now estranged from the other two, had misfortunes strike his own adventurous initiative. He discovered that bank credit was not available to a Gefir entrepreneur like himself. All had to be done using only his own small pile of capital. And he soon learned that magneto-electric freshening was more promise than reality. The expensive devices did not work as their makers claimed. His small stock of fruit rotted away as if the new machinery did not exist. Disappointment came quickly. The public was intolerant of this strange, unfamiliar innovation. And it by no means lived up to the fanciful claims made for the process by its creator.

Coso managed to close his electrified fruit market before going into insolvency like his brothers. What was he to do, now that he was broke and without a business? How was he to survive on his own after such a disaster? The future seemed to be without hope for him.

A distant cousin found him one evening in a Gefir tavern on Exchange Street. The relative sat down across a small round table from Coso and stared intently at him.

“How would you like to become a scrap agent for me?” he asked the depressed, down-hearted young Meun.

“A scrap agent?” inquired the latter, looking up.

“There are a lot of damaged buggy tires laying around on vacant land. I can supply you a horse and a cart. All you have to do is bring whatever you can find or obtain to my junk yard on Bellows Street. You know where that is, don’t you?”

“Yes,” nodded Coso, almost without thinking. “I guess I have to be doing something different from what I’ve been involved with till now. I need to try something new if I want to get ahead. That is the only way I can keep my head up and not drown in debts like my two brothers did.”

Thus it came about that Coso Meun unconsciously and indirectly entered the caucho industry of Rubber City. Within a year, as the business economy entered an upswing, he was operating on his own from a rented junk yard. Greater returns came in each week, each month. The young businessman proved he had a knack for successful bargaining with tiremakers. This was a pleasant way to make money, it soon became evident to him. The business was an easy one, not at all boring. He took to it at once.

But why remain a scrap-dealer, operating on the fringes?

An ambition was born in Coso: to be the first Gefir to make tires out of caucho. Half a dozen years of hard, unrelenting effort brought him to the dreamed-of position of becoming an industrial producer with his own factory and equipment.

He was the first of his Gefir group to own a facility in the industry that was becoming the backbone of the city’s economy.

Demand for tires grew at an exponential speed, ever upward.

His new firm won a foothold in the expanding and exploding market. Sales and production sky-rocketed. The potential appeared inexhaustible and his ambitions soared. He had proved himself a business success.

The name Meun came to have weight. Caso left an established company and a considerable fortune to his only child, Kimon. He had achieved what no other Gefir had in the city of rubber.

Late that night, Stilio Lavron telephoned Nestro Terion. The two conspirators spoke in cryptic, Aesopian language that might have been taken for sports talk.

“How are you fixed up for the big match tomorrow, boss? Did I help you with those records of past games I got for you?”

“Indeed, they are most helpful to our side. I go in with full confidence of winning. The advantages are all stacked against my opponent. He is locked into a deep pit with defeat at its bottom. No question about that. The odds all favor my team. They do not enjoy our superiority. I am very confident that victory will be mine.”

“Do you want me standing by, keeping an eye on their players?”

“Yes, that makes sense to me. We never want to become too sure of ourselves or underestimate the foe we face. That is the sure way to start losing.”

“I can send someone down to watch what happens on the field of play.”

“Good idea, my friend. I owe a lot to you and the organization that you lead. Where would I be without you?”

“Thank you. I appreciate what you are saying.”

The two said farewell to each other and hung up.

Rubber City went to bed, then to sleep, except for night workers and businesses operating in the shadows. Drinking, gambling, and debauchery continued till dawn in the areas marked off for Stilio Lavron and his ilk.

Giant Delphic columns spread over the front of the Rubber City district courthouse, built of yellowish brown limestone. A long series of steps led up the hillock on which it was located. The only courtroom packed with observers was the one where the two tiremakers contended over patent rights.

The veteran, high-priced mouthpieces for Terion expatiated at length, on dry legal abstractions most of the audience was unable to follow. On and on his squeaky voice droned. He cited case after musty case.

Kimon Meun and his attorney sat beside each other, patient and motionless. At last, the judge gave Phot his chance to present a defense.

He spoke slowly, in a high, ringing tone.

“Your Worthiness,

“Simple, clear logic will show this accusation of infringement to be false, bogus, and illegal. The weakness of the other side is due to temporal confusion that reaches the height of possible absurdity. Let me explain.

“When the patent was granted to the complainant, motorized automotives did not exist and were not being manufactured. They had not yet been constructed and their invention lay in the future. So, this patent applied to tires for the then existent vehicles: bicycles, tricycles, velocepids, unicycles, and other similar vehicles. What did these have in common? The lack of any powering by a fuel-propelled engine.

“Only tires for such mechanisms fit the provisions of the monopoly rights of the Terion-owned patent. Nothing else does. That is not my personal opinion, but the logical conclusion of all pertinent decisions and judgments in the law records. Let me list the cases from the past that touch this question. Their principles would clearly exclude tires for automotives from any monopoly rights.”

Reciting with perfect memory, Phot went on to cite case after case and their main arguments. At the opposite table, Nestro Terion glared at his own lawyer in perplexity. Something unforeseen was occurring before everyone.

At last, Phot finished and took his seat beside Kimon.

Expectancy filled the chamber till the judge in dark robe gave his judgment.

“There is no need for me to take time out for consideration, I can present my decision at once, at this precise moment. This is my determined judgment: no case like this should ever have been started. The defending attorney was correct: date and timing make the patent inoperative in relationship to any automotive tire, since that type of vehicle was only a distant dream when the monopoly was granted. So, these rights cannot reasonably apply to such tires.

“I therefore dismiss the action and refuse any rewards whatsoever to the side that started this suit.

“Good day to all. The claim to compensation is hereby voided.”

The judge rose and descended the stairs of his rostrum. As soon as he was gone, a noisy, buzzing din rose on all sides of the court room.

Almost simultaneously, Phot and his client turned to each other, both with broad grins of triumph. But Kimon then looked to see how his enemy was taking the defeat just suffered.

Terion, glaring across at the victors, had already risen to his feet. Provoked by the smiling face of Meun, he stared with ever reddening face. Anger overcame the loser, who stalked out of the court room rapidly with fuming emotion.

Kimon turned back to the young lawyer beside him.

“I want to invite you to our house for an evening repast at eight. A special cook who is Gefir will be working with Katina to give us a meal fitting for this glorious occasion of celebration.

“And there is a matter concerning your future that I plan to talk with you about.”

The tire manufacturer rose and made his way out, grinning triumphantly.

Phot sat and considered for a time what the final remark might refer to.

The moment he received news of the judge’s decision, Stilio Lavron called Nestro Terion on the telephone. The underworld boss was boiling mad.

“This is terrible. We should never have lost this game. How could anyone have predicted that the referee would be so cockeyed?”

“I feel the same way, my friend. If only we could do something immediately, at once. The enemy must be taught that the game goes on, that our side has not surrendered to them,” sputtered the irate Terion.

“My idea is that we have to get back at once, this evening. And I know how to do it. There is a way of making them suffer.”

“What are you thinking of, then?” eagerly asked the manufacturer of tires.

The vice lord lowered his voice.

“I can have my team attack their goalie, the one responsible for their side’s winning. It is an easy thing to do. And all of them will know who did it to him. We will close his big mouth for a short while, at least.”

“It can be done safely?”

“I guarantee that.”

“Go ahead, then.”

With that, Terion closed off his telephone.

After eating a cassareep and nut salad at a popular eatery, Phot headed for his flat. Night had fallen and a new mood dominated the streets of Rubber City.

Joy-seekers filled the space in front of the nickolodeons and burlesque theaters on Voris Street. The lawyer circled around the nodes of men in a hurry, not paying attention to the libertines in toppers and straw hats. Such dissipation held no interest at all for him. Those were aspects of city life he kept away from.

He could not have anticipated what was about to happen to him.

Without his knowing it, a trio of toughs in checkered coats and pants drifted close and quickly surrounded him. Two of these giant bruisers began to drive him toward one side. The third man was the one who pushed Phot into a lightless alleyway between the buildings. No one on the street’s sidewalk saw or noticed this.

Things happened too rapidly for the lawyer to understand what they meant to do.

As two toughs held their victim upright, their leader pummeled him with huge, iron-like fists. The brass knuckledusters that were fitted onto these powerful weapons of battle left visible marks and wounds on their target.

His terrible pain was brief, for Phot quickly lost consciousness and fell to the rough pavement of the alley. Only then did the trio leave him to himself, after the leader gave his body a last farewell kick in its middle.

How long did the young man lie there before a passerby found him?

No one knew or could ever tell.

A small knot of the curious assembled and Phot began to awaken because of the noise they made. He remembered little of what had happened to him. He was walking along busy Voris Street when…everything collapsed on him.

“Who did this to him?”

“It was probably a robbery.”

“What should we do to help him?”

A police patrolman in black uniform appeared and took charge of the situation.

He hurried off to the nearest call-box and summoned an ambulance van from the City Infirmary.

Phot passed out again before the emergency crew lifted him into the back of the automotive vehicle and rushed him to the municipal emergency spital.

He slept that night in a strange bed in an unfamiliar public institution. Nothing like this had ever happened to him before.

When the lawyer woke up about eleven o’clock the following morning, he was surprised by the sight of Kimon and Katina Meun sitting on folding chairs by the bed he rested in. He stared at them, unable to say a word or even moan.

“Don’t talk,” warned the industrialist. “It may cause you to hurt.”

Phot succeeded in nodding his bandaged head.

“When you failed to appear for supper last night,” explained Kimon, “we feared that there was something wrong. That you may have suffered an accident.

“So, Katina called around to find out how you were. She rang up the police and all the different spitals. At last, City Infirmary informed her that you had been brought in by the police in an unconscious state and they had identified you by the papers in your wallet. This fact proves that the assault was not a street robbery. Nothing was taken. It was clearly retaliation for your court victory yesterday. It is easy to guess who was behind the dastardly deed.

“Let me tell you this: Terian will pay for what he ordered done to you. If not today, then in time. I will not let him get away with this cowardly crime.

“But there is something else that you must be told as soon as possible. I have reached a decision to ask you to join my company as its new vice-president and secretary. You will, of course, be in charge of all our legal affairs. I have needed a skilled right hand for some time, someone to guide me through the jungle of the legal system.

“I believe you are a man I can trust, Phot. Do not give me an answer now. Wait until you are recovered. Then make a reply. Your salary will be adequate, I promise you that.

“We need you at our side because the fight goes on.”

Phot glanced at Katina, who was looking at him with sympathy.

He realized at once that he was going to accept the offered post.

His future was in the rubber tire industry, beside the Meuns.

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