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Crossing ClaybornA Novel
By Robert Willis
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 Robert Willis
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Chapter OneSouth Florida offers wonderful opportunities to retirees and still more wonderful opportunities to those who prey upon retireesand would-be retirees, as in Clayborn Redmond's case. To borrow an outlook from the strict constructionists, an ordinary guy might go so far as to say that these opportunities are limited only by one's small-time vision, one's private attitude as opposed to public acts. To go a step farther and amend this vista to fit Ewen Leetboer's view of the matter puts one on the fast track to wealth with no limitations. His formula for success was simple, too. That old "tough lover," Ewen, saw opportunity in boundless quantities wherever and whenever a serious asset accumulator such as himself could look his fellow real estate partners in the eye, even as they stared adversity in the face, and simply declare that "business is business," with never an impulse stirring under his skin to grant a single exception to the rules of foreclosure.
Clayborn Redmond, a real estate broker, didn't know he had been cheated out of a budding retirement nest egg until some time after the egg disappeared. Redmond was not exactly an old guy either. Only forty-one, the perfect age for youthful indiscretions, but he had his heart set on an early retreat from the work-a-day world. His book of plans required enough life left in his aging carcass to enjoy ocean cruises, trips to Europe, tours of all the great museums and historical landmarks from Madrid to Moscow, annual rides on the Orient Express and brief residences in exotic places scattered around the planet which weren't poverty-stricken or hostile but had some respectable amenities to offer. Pretty women for instance.
It was just another time-worn case of trust betrayed. Redmond was dumbstruck. His own partner of all people. Redmond believed this long-time business associate, Ewen Leetboer, was not the kind of guy to take advantage of a fellow partner, especially one who considered him a personal friend. For one thing, Leetboer had grown too rich to engage any longer in petty theft. For another, the aging tycoon was preoccupied with a beautiful young bride whom he had acquired shortly after his last wife died and who would divorce him in a Silicon Valley nanosecond if he damaged her assets in any way. Or so the story went.
It happened so smoothly, so businesslike, and tied together in such a neat legal package that not even the lawyer handling the Chapter Eleven case stopped to blush when he first began to turn his knowledge of the law against innocent, trusting, undercapitalized souls of a simple joint venture. In short, in his jurisprudent wisdom, this handpicked lawyer of Ewen Leetboer's had taken all the necessary steps toward becoming just another dirty little partner in crime himself.
His name, for the record, was Stanley B. Conover. Stanley's dress, style and professional bearing reflected well in the legal community. His paperwork projected cleanness, authority, precision. Each page befitted a man with impeccable habits. Every paragraph of the document satisfied all parties in the "protection" suit, even Clayborn Redmond, at least until the wheels of justice started to roll and then rolled right over him and his dream of early retirement.
Clay, as Mr. Redmond was called by his friends, grew up in the country and knew how to bend with the wind and dodge falling limbs, even how to extract revenge from aggressive bloodsuckers hanging out in the wilds, not to mention theme parks, beaches and other civilized habitats requiring a healthy respect for eternal vigilance. As soon as his partner's outrageous deed dawned on him and after he had recovered from the hurt and shock of being swindled by a trusted colleague, Clay Redmond set about the matter of figuring out a plan that would not only recover his losses but would leave his partner a little bit crippled himself for all his trouble. With luck, perhaps a broken leg or two ... or worse. Definitely worse off than the sneaky old marauder had intended to leave his guileless prey, which, with all due respect to the man's efficiency and lack of conscience, meant "wiped out."
It was the judge who pissed Clay Redmond off the most, excluding the chiseler Ewen Leetboer, of course. Clay's opinion quickly formed around the notion that Judge "Cotton" Brussard fitted Webster's definition of an old-fashioned shitass, the kind of shitass who would have added depth and range to the definition had Webster's wordsmiths known the man at the time they were struggling with the term. What a shitass, the plaintiff thoughtoften aloud in mixed company, the reason being that the bastard threw the case out without giving Clay his day in court. Brussard said something like, "Mr. Clayborn should of known better...." The Judge wasn't good at names either, further proof to Clay Redmond of his rotten mind. The broker's opinion of the Judge never softened. "As they used to say in the old days," Clay replied to Mason Riley when the attorney disclosed Judge Brussard's final ruling, "that judge doesn't know his ass from a hole under the outhouse."
In a nutshell, Clay Redmond's mistake was expecting better, if not from a friend then certainly from the scales of Themis, that sexy, blindfolded goddess holding truth in a balance. Foolish expectations constituted a defect in his social nature that he hadn't yet learned to live with, a flaw he finally acknowledged during the throes of several critical reassessments following Leetboer's grubby little stunt. But there was also a greater flawa "flaw in the law," as Clay sometimes recited in a vicious chant. This flaw allowed Ewen Leetboer to manipulate his fellow joint venturers, allowed him to turn the poor gullible dupes upside down and shake every penny out of their pockets while they were busy dreaming about their growing wealth and all those wonderfully carefree retirement years ahead.
After the dismissal of his lawsuit, Clay slumped into a cynical posture. He thought the judge had cut a deal with Ewen Leetboer's lawyer, maybe took a few "thou" under the bench to make the case go away. For some ungodly reason Leetboer seemed to prefer this method of parting with his money to more straightforward ways such as making payments directly to creditors when it was time to honor a debt.
"He made his money screwing his partners," was the most prevalent comment to emerge from the lips of informed sources. During the early years of their association, Clay Redmond tried not to let such gossip influence his opinion of Ewen Leetboer. If the screwing comments had a basis in fact, Clay decided, Ewen, to his credit, had screwed his way into one hell of a fortune, one in pursuit of which he must have started to screw around the age of five and, over the next fifty years, seldom if ever allowed himself to be handicapped by coitus interruptus in the wake of an astonishing string of fiscal conquests.
Clay Redmond retained Mason Riley to represent him. The attorney was well known among trial lawyers, had even won a few cases lately, albeit his notoriety stemmed as much from his prowess with a guitar as from his courtroom heroics. At any rate, Clay approved of the legal strategy advanced by the attorney, who sounded perfect for the job: vicious, resolute, uncompromising.
In a hurried conference, and without further delay, Clay Redmond paid the retainer, directed Mason Riley to file suit, and thereupon became a formal plaintiff of the court for the first time in his forty-one years of litigation-free existence.
After a lengthy period of case construction, together with its attendant but critically obligatory reams of motions and counter-motions, and thence after a few rounds of legal sparring via memoranda and frightful verbiage, old "Cotton" Brussard suddenly dismissed the case in a short flurry of words that sent even Clay Redmond's banjo dueler, Mason Riley, into a ridiculous flounder when he tried to explain their meaning to his foolishly expectant client.
This is what pissed Clay off about the judge. The old poot didn't wait for Clay to come before him and explain his side. He just passed his ruling down to Mason Riley and left Clay hanging out in the country without a clue to the conversation.
It was a legal slam-dunk for Ewen Leetboer. It was also an occasion for Clay Redmond to indulge in further suspicions, deeper cynicism. His attorney seemed too complacent about the judge's action. Mason Riley's tongue had, ipso facto, gone limp, impotent, bereft of muscle and sadly divested of its usual free-swinging gusto. Moreover, Mason remained increasingly unableor stubbornly reluctantto offer a plausible explanation for the dismissal. It appeared to Clay Redmond that his highly acclaimed attorney had joined hands with Judge Brussard and they were both enjoying a good rock in Leetboer's cradle of cash. Whether the two men had joined hands literally or only symbolically in private and mutual unawareness of a common pursuit didn't seem to Clay a distinction worthy of quibbling over. The bastards, he said, were both guilty of obstruction of justice and deserved to be deprived of one, if not both, testicles in full public view on the courthouse square.
Clay Redmond was not a man to rush in to action. He preferred to sit and ponder awhile, to mull over the facts and circumstances for a few days or weeks, even months sometimes, before jumping headlong into a scene that might suddenly mushroom into a full-blown situationone bristling with a much-too-hardy growth of angles and sharp edges. The longer he pondered, though, the quicker his sense of outrage dovetailed into a serious battle plan; and as he mulled along, week after week, the less concern he had for the straight and narrow.
His plan was simple: Forget castration. Kill Ewen Leetboer. Deny him his ill-gotten gains. The law had failed Clay but ancient instincts had arisen from the primordial pool inside his brain to fill the void. Clay Redmond didn't want a messy affair either. He wanted an air-tight alibi for himself even as he pulled the trigger. In short, he wanted a perfect crime, except in his mind the killing of Ewen Leetboer would hardly constitute a crime. The skunk was bound to stop somebody's bullet sooner or later. Clay's frontier solution would give taxpayers a break, substitute for the more costly judgment a jury of peers would surely have rendered had Mason Riley insisted on a jury trial and had Judge "Cotton" Brussard done his duty and allowed the case to go forward and be heard by honest citizens. They would have handed down a verdict probably worse than death in Ewen Leetboer's eyes. That is to say, a jury would have awarded just compensation to the plaintiff, including heavy punitive damages. Twelve citizens honest and true simply would not have allowed the defendant's rip-off of a sacred retirement trove to stand.
Also, Clay Redmond mused, Ewen must realize during his last few minutes on earth who had brought him to his end, and why. The greedy fucker must be granted a stay of execution long enough to ponder a bit himself in the presence of his executioner, to beg for mercy and promise millions only to wind up reflecting on his massive store of wealth and what little value it held for him in the final hour of his personal doomsday.
Chapter TwoIn the old days of the Wild West aggrieved men called each other to the street and "shot it out." A fast draw and steady aim usually settled the score between them. The victor could then walk away in broad daylight, sufficiently avenged and unmolested by legal structures of the time, although family and friends of the vanquished soul might carry on the grudge awhile longer out of respect for the departed or from a rush of pride that compelled at least an appearance of honor, if not a stout defense of the family name.
Clay Redmond fancied himself spiritually linked to these old westerners. Their practice of frontier justice was particularly appealing in its simplicity, its directness and inviolable certainty. Modern guardians of due process had long since abandoned, or watered down, those nobler means of settling disputes which they couldn't otherwise corrupt absolutely, and Clay's options, now that the law had failed to deliver even a smidgen of justice, would thrust him into the same category as a purveyor of Jack Daniel's beloved spirits enjoyed during Prohibition: i.e., a lawbreaker. Clay would have to operate outside the law, something that did not square with his regard for even keels, the straight and narrow, and so on, yet he was faced with a moral dilemma which a rebellious conscience directed him to ignore for the sake of another freedom, namely movement.
Ancestral genes formed out of the union of Miocene creatures urged Clay to "go for it," to follow his nose, his passion, his blisswhateverand use his god-given talents to correct a territorial infringement that had gotten out of hand, if not out of mind, but still managed to bring too much of its weight to rest in his gut. The dispatch of Ewen Leetboer would stand throughout the ages as a fitting acknowledgment of Clay Redmond's ancestry.
By coincidence one of Clay's favorite aunts had recently left to him in her will, among other good and valuable items, a Remington pocket automatic pistol, Model 51, .380 caliber. Apparently she, too, had been endowed with strains of the same ancient genes as Clay, for the location of the gun and her celebrated readiness to use it no doubt had a disquieting effect upon burglars. At least the record shows that criminal activities in and around the vicinity of her small bungalow, a tree-shrouded den of openness where she had passed a long and happy life, amounted to approximately zero.
The Model 51 was by no means one of those cheap little "Saturday night specials" but rather a classic piece of armory worthy of a will and a gentleman's choice. The timely, solemn transfer of the Remington property, therefore, seemed mysteriously prearranged and, as Clay Redmond perceived the event, divinely bequeathed to aid and abet his purpose.
Ewen Leetboer maintained on Miami Beach an ocean-side "hideaway," as he smugly called the place. In truth it met the local property appraiser's guidelines for a mansion of above-average grandeur. The old Dutchman also owned and managed a thriving empire of businesses in Canada where he lived most of the time in filthy opulence. After World War II he abandoned his native Holland, being then still a young buck on the make and having determined that postwar Europe had already been picked over by the Germans. Each of his businesses had prospered in direct proportion to the somewhat routine, somewhat manipulated "collapse" of Ewen's various joint ventures in and around Miami and in certain parts of the West Indies, notably Curaçao in the Netherlands Antilles. Cuba was even taking on a certain appeal now that Fidel Castro had opened the island to foreign investors. Sugar, rum, cigars, hotelsthese businesses all needed partners. Shortly before that unfortunate lawsuit he'd pumped Clay Redmond about it. Clay had connections down there. Clay knew what was happening and how to get in on it. Leetboer would wait for his favorite broker to cool off, bide time, maybe do a deal or two with him to rebuild confidence then move onto that exciting new stage as soon as Clay could line something up.
Clay Redmond had different plans, although Ewen Leetboer's ability to write large checks would fit right in. The man from Amsterdam had deep pockets indeed, and deeper pockets when it came to resuscitating a collapsed partnership but not even a fob for a partner caught in his trap. "Business is business," he would confide gravely to the partner as Attorney Stanley B. Conover presided over the transfer of the distraught chap's beneficial interest. Stanley knew how to bait Leetboer's verbiage traps better perhaps than anyone in the Western Hemisphere. According to rumors, the tricky prick was paid handsomely for it, too. While awaiting default provisions to kick in and snare an unsuspecting partner, Stanley and Ewen made good use of their time by seizing the assets of still other woebegone partners whom Stanley's default provisions had most recently seduced into a mistake. So much did the process resemble the movements of a fine Swiss watch, and since default was a function of time anyway, Leetboer allowed Stanley B. Conover to register his shell corporation in the name of "Clockwork Investments, Inc."
Excerpted from Crossing Clayborn by Robert Willis Copyright © 2013 by Robert Willis. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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