After her hearing at the District Court life returned to a semblance of normality for Paula Whitby. Following the hearing, Sandy and Mike had taken her to a nearby hotel bar for a celebratory drink. Paula was worried that they weren’t being overly optimistic but Mike was adamant. If it had been a clear-cut case the judge would have ruled then and there. The fact that he set another date for the final hearing meant that he had serious about the issues raised by Baker. Mike went on to say that, in his experience, in civil cases at least, judges were given a great deal of leeway in order to arrive at a judgment fair to both parties and all concerned.
And so Paula had returned to work the following day and out of gratitude to her employers for their support had pulled out all the stops. She had worked flat out. It was tiring but worth it. The work took her mind off the case and what might yet happen if the judge didn’t see things her way.
Then, seven days after the hearing Paula was leaving her apartment building for work when she saw a letter in her mailbox. Normally she checked the box on the way home, but last night for some reason she had forgotten. Now she looked at the letter. It had ‘Wanchai District Court’ printed across the top. She stuffed it into her handbag and went to the office. Whatever it was, it could wait until she’d had a coffee.
Now, sitting at her desk at 8:45 before the daily madness started she had no excuse not to open the letter. She took it out of her bag and placed it on the table. It was addressed to her, Ms. Paula B. Whitby, followed by her address. She took a deep breath and opened it.
Under the formalities and her name and address it read: Re: DC/1329/15
I wish to inform you that Mr. Simon Lee, Judge of the District Court, has made a ruling in the aforementioned case and I am requested to ask you to attend Court No. 7, 8th Floor, Wanchai District Court Premises on the 17th, April at 10:30 A.M. in order that you may receive a copy of His Honour’s Judgement.
I thank you for your kind attention. Yours sincerely,
Wong Lam Fai Clerk of the Court. District Court Wanchai
Paula looked at the letter and read it over and over again. The 17th was only three days away. Then she realised that Mike was standing over her shoulder, grinning from ear to ear.
“You’ve won!” He said. “You’ve won!”
Life went on as usual for Philip Baker as well, until he received a call from Lansard to inform him about the letter. As Baker’s solicitor, his letter had been sent to Lansard’s office.
“Well,” asked Baker belligerently, “what does that mean?”
“It means, quite simply, that we have to attend the District Court on the 17th in order to get the Judge’s ruling,” replied Lansard.
“I know that!” Baker shouted. What do you think the judge has decided? “
“I don’t think it’s very good news,” said Lansard. “Obviously he has reached a decision based on the testimonies and presentations presented. If he was still unsure he would have asked for further presentations on the date of the next hearing. And, ” He continued. “May I remind you that I still have not received your remittance of the second part of my fees?”
Baker muttered something into the phone to say that the fees were in hand and arranged to meet Lansard at the court on the 17th. He put the handset down without saying goodbye.
On the other end of the line, Lansard looked briefly at his handset before replacing it. There was no doubt in his mind that Baker would pay, in cash or in kind, of that he was absolutely certain. He looked at a drawing set in a beautiful Balinese carved frame. It was a sketch of Shylock from the Merchant of Venice only recently acquired. Yes, he decided, Baker would pay.
For Paula, the 17th could not come round fast enough. At the appointed time Mike went to her desk to make sure she was ready. Sandy was staying behind as she had meetings to attend but she gave Paula a thumbs up from her office. Paula had actually told her employers that she could attend by herself but Sandy insisted that Mike accompany her. If Baker turned nasty she wanted Mike there to look after her.
Paula was more nervous that morning than she had been at the initial hearing. What might happen in the next few hours would decide her future. If it all went wrong she would be paying for it over the next twenty years. She checked her make up for the tenth time, adjusted her dress and left with Mike.
Then they were there.
At precisely 10:30 Mike and Paula entered the courtroom, Baker and Lansard were already there. They took their customary seats, Paula a few seats down from Lansard in the front row and Mike and Baker two rows back, equally separated.
They waited, Paula’s heart pounding in her chest. Then a gentleman in a dark suit entered from the judge’s door, it was not the Judge but Paula recognised him from the earlier hearings. He introduced himself.
“Mr. Lansard, Ms. Whitby, I am Mr. Wong, the Clerk of this court. Judge Lee has instructed me to pass on to each of you his decision in the matter of the case, reference DC/1329/15. You may read it here or outside in the rooms available.
However, please note, Judge Lee’s decision at this stage is final. If you wish to appeal his decision you may do so through the proper channels. Good Day!”
And with that, Mr. Wong turned and left the courtroom. Lansard sat down, like a tonne of bricks, thought Paula, and opened his envelope with trembling hands. She and Mike went outside to take advantage of one of the small conference rooms available.
There, with equally trembling hands she opened her envelope. She scanned the letter quickly, reading out snippets for Paul until she came to the final paragraph which read:
‘In the case concerning breach of contract by Ms. Paula Beatrice Whitby, I am of the decision that the non-compete clause in Ms. Whitby’s contract was too wide-reaching and therefore unenforcible. I am therefore dismissing the plaint by Mr. Philip Albert Baker made through his Solicitor, Mr. R.J.H. Lansard.’ It went on, giving reasons and case references but they were lost on Paula.
Paula stopped reading and looked across the table at Mike. She would re-read that document a hundred times over the next few weeks but she would never forget the emotion that she felt that day. She couldn’t help the tears that ran down her face. It was over. The nightmare was over. She had won and now life could return to normal.
Mike reached out and gave her a brotherly pat on the shoulder. He was lost for words, seeing the emotion barely constrained by Paula. He was just about to say that he would call Sandy and they’d meet up for a real celebration when they were interrupted by Baker and Lansard bursting out of the courtroom. Lansard looked at her briefly as he walked away and she was thankful for that. Never in her life had she seen a look of such pure malevolence on a human face before.
Baker and Lansard had parted company at the courthouse building to return to their offices. The last thing that Baker said was, “File an appeal. I’m going to get that bitch!”
Now Lansard was back in his office, toying with ideas for appealing the decision. There wasn’t a lot to go on. As the ruling said, the non-compete clause was too wide-ranging and therefore unenforcible.
Also, the judge had paid particular attention to Paula Whitby’s testimony on how Baker had been verbally abusive to her and the other members of staff. He was considering telling Baker that it couldn’t be done, or, to take his business elsewhere. Lansard didn’t really need the business. He didn’t really need the outstanding fees that Baker owed him either. He had plenty of money, thanks to his father, but it was the principle of the matter.
He looked up at the portrait once again. His father, Alfred Lansard, had arrived in Hong Kong in the late 1800s, originally from where exactly, Lansard knew not, although, from earlier discussions with his father Russia had been mentioned. He had travelled extensively through South East Asia having made his down through, what was then British India. Even in those days, he had never been short of funds, although where his fortune came from he never disclosed to his son.
He was a seeker after the truth, his holy grail was the elixir of everlasting life. His travels and research took him from India, down through Burma, Thailand and Malaysia to Borneo and from there to the Indonesian islands. Seeking out the company of shamans, wise men, wizards, witches and witch doctors wherever he went. He found his grail on the island of Komodo amongst the fearsome dragons. But at a terrible cost.
Having found what he was looking for he sought civilisation, such as it was in the burgeoning British Colony of Hong Kong. He was welcomed wholeheartedly, as least by the business community because he had money to spend and invest.
The only problem to his continued survival in Hong Kong was his longevity, that which he had sought at great peril and cost to himself was now his curse. In 1905 he departed Hong Kong, leaving his businesses in the hands of people he trusted. He had left a Will and Last Testament with Barnaby and Sons, Solicitors, leaving everything to a relative, one Gregory Lansard, departed, and was never seen again, at least as Alfred Lansard.
Then, one day in January of 1913 Gregory Lansard arrived by steamer from the Philippines and presented himself at the offices of Barnaby and Sons, Solicitors, with a copy of Alfred’s Will. They checked his copy with the original that they had been keeping and welcomed the new Mr. Lansard to Hong Kong. They assisted him with finding accommodation and were perplexed when he chose a house that was far below his new status in life. Furthermore, while always the most polite of individuals, he shunned the society of men.
At some point in time, however, he must have felt the need to procreate and so Roger Lansard was born in 1950. He never knew his mother and was brought up by his father and a succession of amahs. After his tenth birthday, his father purchased a second apartment in Sheung Wan and Lansard senior then went into seclusion and was never seen again in public. Roger Lansard remained in the old house with a guardian and his amahs.
Only Roger Lansard knew the real reason behind that decision. Whatever pact his father had made with the devils on the Island of Komodo was now taking its toll.
He looked down at the deformed fingernail, it was longer, yellower and more pointed than before. He knew what he needed to do but also knew that he could put if off for a few weeks before the urge became too strong. He also realised that it was happening more frequently now.
His father’s curse had come down, through birth, to him.
(c) Copyright John Stewart Sloan – 2017 – Not for Distribution
The Featured photo is by Mark Dumont – Flickr: There Be Dragons, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25935468