Monday, May 26, 2008

Chapter sixteen: Not when a lawyer does it

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Two weeks after our visit to May B's place, two weeks after bringing little Anna Laird back with us to Marjori's place, I received a call from Marjori. I was in my room at Fumio's at the time, preparing to make an oxygen run, something that I hadn't done for too long, and which needed doing immediately, as one of the other runners had left suddednly.

"Hello, Ed?" Marjori said as I picked up the comm receiver.

"Marjori!" I said with some pleasure. "I was just thinking of you." I had seen her only once since we had brought Anna back, and I hoped that she would not think that I was neglecting either her or Anna's situation.

"That's sweet," she told me. "Even if it's just blarney. I've been talking to Leo Rhinard, my attorney. He's been checking out the laws that apply to Anna's case. Can you meet with us?"

"Any time that's convenient," I told her.

"How about this evening?" she asked. "Maybe around seven? We could have dinner."

"That would be no problem," I told her.

"Good," she said. "I'll have James fix a stir fry."


The dinner was, as usual, superb, good enough to make even a palate as coarse as mine take notice. We three agreed to not talk of the legal situation until after dinner, so Leo Rhinard and I traded stories and used the time to size each other up, as two men will always do when meeting in the presence of a lady known to them both.

Rhinard was a small man, though a better word for it would be compact. He stood maybe one hundred and sixty-five centimeters with an average build kept trim by exercise. I asked him about it and he confessed to an addiction to velk climbing, a sport where people climb walls with special cling shoes, gloves, knee and elbow pads. I told him I'd never tried it, though, in truth, I actually had.

His brown hair was graying at the temples, which gave him a definite presence, amplified by a deep and resonant voice. I told Marjori that he would make a match for Fumio, who has a weakness for beautiful voices, and Marjori laughed. She explained the joke to Rhinard and he laughed also, and suggested that I set up a meeting.

"Wait until she's between lovers, Leo," Marjori told him, and he nodded.

"Very well," he said. "I can be very patient." The barest look passed between the two of them, and I wondered what past involvements Marjori and Leo had been through. I knew from Marjori that her marriage had been somewhat adventurous, and extra-marital activities had certainly been one subset of the adventures.

I refused coffee and dessert, so Rhinard suggested that we begin our business. Marjori said, "I've heard the first part of this already, so I'm going to go check on Anna." We nodded.

He had brought a silver metal briefcase with him which he retrieved from a place by the front entrance, and we went into the main living room, which has the high window overlooking the City. Leo stopped in front of it to admire the view.

"Really quite remarkable, isn't it?" he said. "I grew up much farther down in the middle zones. We used to come up for picnics in one of the upper parks, but the view from there isn't quite as good. The moisture condenses on the windows and anyway, the windows are much smaller."

"Wealth has its advantages," I said. "There are offices on the Skyhook that have views even more impressive than this. Robert Grayling had such an office."

"And now he's dead," Rhinard said. "I understand the sentiment."

"I didn't mean any implications," I said. "We all die, but that doesn't have to make life meaningless." I paused for a moment. "So where do you work?"

"In an office on the Skyhook," he said. "My window is smaller than Grayling's was, I expect, but if you stand closer to it, I'll bet the view is pretty much the same." He broke into a grin. "Should we get philosophical about ambition and striving?"

I shook my head. "No, I think we should talk about inheritance law." I showed my teeth in a grin. I liked Leo Rhinard, though I had the impression that he was slow in making up his mind about me.

We went over to the conversation pit, a sunken area of blue chairs on a black rug, and sat down. Rhinard opened his briefcase and pulled out a sheaf of printouts. "Let's see here," he said to himself. "Judgment this, plenary session that, joint Skyhook/City Authority session . . . ah, here we go."

He looked up at me and smiled. "I've been doing some checking on Grayling's enterprises and how the probate is going. That's easy enough, because it's a massive set of business deals. Some of them are carried in the Financial Times listings, even.

"Now, for our purposes, we want to know what legal rights Anna Laird, the illegitimate granddaughter of Robert W. Grayling might have. That turns out to be a four-part tangle, because there are four overlapping jurisdictions involved."

He picked up a small piece of paper. "One part of it is easy. For the Taylorville jurisdiction, the home of Anna's putative father, Anna has no claim on any inheritance from Grayling. Taylorville is part of a circuit court system, based on a common law tradition. Under precedents established for that legal jurisdiction, no judgments within the system apply to properties held outside of the system. That is consistent with Skyhook codes, as well. So Graylings' assets don't count in Taylorville. However, Anna would have a claim on the Anderson family, should they desire to recognize the child. Marjori tells me that you think this is unlikely."

I nodded. "That family is devoted to maintaining its social position. They would be terrified of losing some of the family assets to the child."

"What if the child turns out to have a claim on a larger fortune?" he asked me.

"That might be a different story," I said. "So I'd prefer not to tell them."

Rhinard smiled a wicked smile. "Yes," he said. "I think that we might be able to file a claim in the Taylorville circuit court, asking for child support for Anna. That would get the Andersons to file a counter-motion, denying legal parentage, under something called 'presumed entrapment.' The law in Taylorville doesn't hold the father responsible unless the father was informed of the mother's pregnancy, among other things. So if William Anderson states that he didn't know, then he signs away his rights."

"That's slick," I told him. "My hat's off to you on that one."

"That's the easy case," he said. "The others get trickier." He separated out a much thicker sheaf of papers.

"First, we have Lunar law." He held up the sheaf of papers. "This is just a listing of decisions, and they all say the same thing. Illegitimate children have no standing under Lunar law. Period. That means that any portion of the Grayling estate that is found to exist under Lunar jurisdiction is denied to Anna."

He pulled off another set of papers, the thickest of the lot. "This is Sky City casework," he said. "Skyhook tried imposing Lunar law on Sky City when it first set up, and that was a total disaster, the closest thing to war that we've had since the Silence. So they started fudging it, fast. And one of the first fudges had to do with inheritance. Legitimate children have the most rights, of course, but then there is the category of acknowledged children, children who have been treated as blood relations through word or deed."

"But Grayling didn't know that Molly was his," I said.

"Didn't he?" Rhinard asked me. "How do we know that? The resemblance was there. He kept in touch with Molly's mother Elizabeth over many years. Then there is the matter of the pistol, a Grayling family heirloom that turns up in Molly's possession. If he gave it to her or her mother, then that could well be taken as acknowledgement."

"Grayling also invited Molly to his funeral," I said.

Rhinard nodded. "Another argument that could be made. Clearly Molly was special to him."

"Well," I began. "That could be..." But I broke off when his gaze shifted as Marjori returned.

"How is Anna doing?" Rhinard asked her.

"Fine," she said. "She's started to cry and Suzette and I sang her a lullaby while we rocked her. She's a very agreeable child. Adorable, too." She gave us a smirk. "I'm thinking of keeping her," she said. I couldn't tell if she was joking.

After a moment of silence, Leo said, "I've been taking Ed down the list. Where were we?" He looked over at me.

"You were about to tell me about the Skyhook laws on inheritance," I told him.

"Ah, right," he said. "Now that's an odd one. There are very few children born on the Hook itself, because you get low gravity deformities, and they don't have the space for centrifuge rooms like there are on Luna. But there is wealth there, and when someone dies, it undergoes a process called 'virtual repatriation.' That means that for the purposes of a legal fiction, the estate is held to exist elsewhere. So the buck gets passed back to the some other locality."

"So Skyhook law doesn't count?" I asked.

"Actually, it does," he said. "Grayling's business enterprise spanned the Venus/Skyhook/Luna trading system. Make that 'enterprises,' because Grayling owned literally hundreds of companies, many of them limited lifetime shipping ventures, corporations that existed long enough to capitalize the contents of a sunship, and which were liquidated when the goods were finally sold at retail.

"So you had one Grayling company buying from another Grayling company, and selling to yet another Grayling company. There were some limits, due to the way the value added taxes are administered, but within those broad limits, Grayling could shift resources between jurisdictions with impunity.

"After Grayling's death, an administrator was appointed to the estate, a Jesse Grayling…"

"Robert Grayling's cousin," I said. "We met at the funeral."

"Right," he said. "Anyway, Jesse Grayling was appointed by Skyhook Authority administrative action as executor of the estate. Skyhook Authority regulations take precedence in matters involving Venus/Luna trade. So that's why Skyhook law is a factor in this. It was a Skyhook judge who appointed Jesse Grayling, and Jesse Grayling has very broad authority over the estate, unless you can convince the Skyhook judge to overrule or remove him."

"So what's the bottom line?" I asked him.

"The bottom line is this. Since becoming executor to the Grayling estate, Jesse Grayling has been doing a rolling liquidation of the estate of Robert Grayling. The main action is for the estate proper to borrow money from some of the Lunar subsidiaries in the Grayling conglomerate, using the Venus properties as collateral. That money is then shifted up to a Skyhook bank, where it is 'repatriated' to Luna, where it can be used to buy up the notes that the Luna companies hold on the Venus holdings. Basically, the Grayling estate is buying itself and shifting the funds to Luna."

I thought for a moment. This sounded confusing. "So where would this leave Anna?" I asked.

"Nowhere," Rhinard said. "Once the process is complete, there will be precious little of the Grayling net worth left on Venus, so there would be nothing for Anna to inherit under Venus law."

"That's legal?" I asked.

"Hell, yes," he said. "In fact, Robert Grayling had done pretty much the same thing in reverse during his lifetime. All his Luna holdings were shells, with the notes held by other subsidiaries on Venus. Cousin Jesse is just reversing the process. Probably for the same reason that Robert did, actually, to allow for a centralized control. They just want that control on Luna now, rather than Venus."

"How long will this take?" I asked. "How long before there's nothing left on Venus?"

"There we have a bit of a break," he said. "The entire process will take years. The law says that everything has to be done at market rates, and you have to move slowly in order not to upset the market. I'd give it one to three years."

"Could you go after the assets immediately?" I asked him. "And get something out of it before the deal was done?"

He shook his head. "I'll file some motions, of course," he said. "But this fund shifting is perfectly legal under Skyhook Authority, and that's what takes precedence here. If Jesse Grayling wants to delay it all, then he can easily buy enough time to finish what he's doing now."

"And Sky City law gets completely overruled?" I asked.

"Sky City inheritance law does," he said. "Now if there have been other legal violations, that might be another matter. Marjori tells me that Grayling was involved in smuggling, those funds would be…"

"He didn't make any money at it," I told him. "We made sure of that." I thought for a moment. "How about other laws," I asked.

"Such as?"

I shrugged. "Suppose Jesse Grayling gets into trouble," I asked. "Suppose he were involved in smuggling, or even something worse, like extortion, or murder?"

Rhinard got very attentive. "Do you know something?" he asked.

I shook my head. "Only suspicions," I told him. "But I do mean to check into them."

"By all means do so," he told me. "Even a well-founded suspicion might be enough to go before the Skyhook judge and ask for another executor, or maybe outside oversight and an independent audit. Or Jesse might think it worthwhile to try to buy us off."

I raised an eyebrow. "Isn't that extortion?" I asked him.

"Not when a lawyer does it," Rhinard told me, and he winked.


Later that night, after Rhinard had left and after Marjori and I had gone to bed and to sleep, I awoke with a start, dreams or nightmares lurching into oblivion, alone in the large bed in Marjori's bedroom.

At first I thought that she would soon be back, but after several minutes, when she had still not returned, I got up and donned a plush robe, noting that Marjori's robe was already gone. I went out into the hall. The door to the nursery was at the end of the corridor, and it was open, a faint night light spilling from inside.

I padded down the corridor and entered the nursery; Marjori was standing motionless over the baby's crib, an abstract mobile slowly moving just above her head. I walked over to her and put my arms around her waist from behind. Her body leaned back into mine.

"Hello, Ed," she whispered. "I thought I heard Anna cry out, but it was just a dream. I came down here anyway."

"Where is Suzette?" I asked, referring to the newly hired nursemaid.

"Next door, asleep," Marjori said. "She was very tired. Babies can do that to you. Not that I know all that much about it." There was a tinge of regret in her voice.

"You raised three children," I reminded her.

"I think that the money did most of it," she said. "I've been thinking a lot about what I told you about that. It's true, you know. Enough money can make children a minor inconvenience. Enough money and enough external distraction. Or indifference."

"That sounds like self-recrimination," I told her. "You don't deserve it. I've met your children. You did fine by them. You still do."

I couldn't see her face, but I think she smiled. "Maybe so," she said. "I'm not sure I did fine by myself, though. I sometimes feel that I missed so much. It's so easy to get distracted by life."

"So you really are thinking of adopting Anna," I said.

She nodded. "Isn't that terrible of me? So dreadfully selfish? To want to take this child to fill my own emptiness?"

"More self-recrimination," I told her. "I won't stand for it." I turned her to me and kissed her. She responded warmly.

"I shouldn't second guess my good fortune," she said. "I've missed you though. I haven't seen much of you lately."

"I have a task," I told her. "I can't really talk about it. It was a special request from Skyhook, though."

"I understand," she said, turning back to watch Anna. "Well, actually, that's a lie. I don't understand. I'm not supposed to. But I accept it."

"I'll never ask for more than that," I told her. I think that I believed it at the time.

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