The Texas Bar Journal
THIS IS ONE ISSUE THAT WE—AND MANY OF OUR READERS—particularly look
forward to. Storytelling is alive and well, and the Texas Bar
Journal relishes the opportunity to share some of it with you. We’d
like to extend an appreciative thank you to the 14 writers who submitted
entries to the 2022 competition.
To keep the contest fair and impartial, author names were removed
from each entry. Two panels of judges faced the challenging task of
selecting the winners, and for each round, the same evaluation form was
used for consistency. Five entries advanced to the final round, which
was judged by Pamela Buchmeyer, of Dallas and Jupiter, Florida; Mike
Farris, of Dallas; and last year’s winner, Mark Ratway, of Dallas.
The winner, “The New Client,” by Jeff Kramer, earned the highest
number of points.
We have published the first-place, second-place, and third-place winning stories on the following pages. We hope you enjoy these creative short stories as much as we did.
Please congratulate these attorney-authors for making it through the competitive first round of judging to the finals.
“THE NEW CLIENT,” by Jeff Kramer (First Place)
“THE GUARDIAN,” by Carly Gallagher Murray (Second Place)
“THE SAME DIFFERENCE,” by Victor Segura (Third Place)
“THE JURY DOCTOR,” by Frank J. Gonynor
“STATUS NORMAL—ALL FOULED UP,” by Cynthia F. Burham
THE NEW CLIENT
Written by Jeff Kramer
It should have been an easy Friday.
It was one of those general docket days in Dallas County. A few dismissal hearings, a scheduling conference, and one frustrating discovery hearing where we wasted 45 minutes of everyone’s time arguing, only to have the judge roll her eyes at the other side and say, “We’d all like to get out of here before lunch. Give Mr. MacArthur the documents he’s asking for.”
As I walked along Commerce Street back to my office at the corner of Wood and Ervay, I grumbled over the sidewalk closures and construction debris. I’d usually walk down Young, but the street had been closed since Monday when the Furious Forces of Fury tried to rob the old Federal Reserve Bank on Akard. They hadn’t realized the Fed had moved to Uptown over 25 years ago.
The F3, as they called themselves, were a new supervillain group, so the public forgave their amateur attempts at bank robbery and self-branding. Mighty Man had been doing a book signing at the Dallas Library and apprehended The F3 without trouble. Knowing what a jerk Mighty Man was, I figured he’d send the city a bill for his services.
After criss-crossing my way down Commerce, I finally made it back to the office. My assistant, Molly, handed me a stack of messages when I walked in the door. I glanced through them, nothing that looked important. It was almost lunchtime so maybe I could just head to the brewpub down the street and not come back until Monday.
“You need to check your email,” Molly said to me, interrupting my thoughts of a porter on the patio. “The insurance company sent over the releases for Berry and for Welsh.” I went into my office to review the documents. They looked in order. I printed, signed, and put the papers on my desk to give to Molly when I left.
Twenty minutes later there was a knock on the door. “Mr. MacArthur?”
Molly was calling me “mister,” which must mean there’s somebody in
the office who wants to talk to me. I closed the browser window from the
article I was reading. According to the Extraordinary Humans section of
the Dallas Morning News (the politically correct media avoided
using the terms “Superhero” and “Supervillain” these days), there had
been a break-in at the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant and two pounds
of enriched uranium was missing. The FBI suspected The AtomSmasher was
behind the heist, but nobody has claimed responsibility yet.
“What is it, Molly?”
She opened and closed her mouth several times before speaking. “There’s a gentleman here, he says he wants to hire you.” She looked pale and unsteady on her feet.
A new client would be nice, preferably one with a slam dunk case that didn’t need me to hold their hand. “Have him fill out the intake form,” I told her, “and I’ll see him in 10 minutes.”
“I asked him to fill out the form,” she replied. “He refused. Said he would only talk to you. I think you might want to see him.”
“OK, tell him I’ll see him in a few minutes.” Molly turned and shut the door.
I did a quick survey of my office. It was sufficiently messy to convey that I was a very busy lawyer, and they were lucky to get a moment of my time, but not so messy that I looked sloppy and disorganized. I checked my tie and my teeth in the mirror. Tie straight, nothing in the teeth. Time to make some money. I walked to the door to the lobby, opened it, and stopped.
“Hi, I’m Masked Marauder.” He got up off the couch, walked over, and held out his hand. I stood there with my mouth open for what felt like 10 minutes.
The Masked Marauder was the most notorious supervillain in Texas, possibly in all of the Southwest. He was your classic All-American kid gone bad. After leading Highland Park to a state championship in football as a quarterback, Mr. Marauder, or Connor Stephenson as he was then known, turned down a scholarship to play football at Northwestern and instead joined the Army. While serving his country, he volunteered for a genetic engineering experiment aimed at creating the perfect warrior called the Geronimo Project. You know: bigger, stronger, faster.
According to rumors, he was part of an elite kill squad of Super Soldiers. While on a mission in Pyongyang to assassinate a North Korean general, he was captured and subjected to North Korea’s attempts at reverse genetic engineering. Instead, the North Koreans fried his brain and turned him against everybody. Now back in Dallas, he was robbing banks, blowing up bridges, kidnapping government officials, and other assorted supervillainy. The United States government denies the Masked Marauder was part of the Geronimo Project and furthermore denies the Geronimo Project has ever existed.
He stood at least 6-foot-7 and was dressed all in black leather:
shirt, pants, boots, and jacket. On his head looked like an ordinary
motorcycle helmet but I was certain it had some kind of high-tech visor.
There was a belt around his waist with a Bowie knife on each hip. With
his jacket open, I could see two shoulder holsters, each carrying a
The Masked Marauder noticed me staring. “Sorry, it’s the helmet, it scares people.” He removed it, revealing a pale face and a blonde crew cut, still keeping the Army haircut. I finally recovered from my shock and stuck my hand out.
“Jack MacArthur, nice to meet you.” We shook hands, his hand crushing mine. That would be the genetically engineered strength. I walked him back into my office noticing that Molly was like a deer staring straight ahead and not moving.
I shut the door and sat behind my desk. The Masked Marauder surveyed the room, probably looking for anything that he could use to kill me if he didn’t like the conversation. “Please, sit down. What can I do for you?”
He sat down, placing the helmet on the chair next to him, and leaned forward. “I want to sue Mighty Man.” His voice was more nasally than I expected. Not the low-pitched growl you heard when he had his helmet on.
“You want to sue...Mighty Man? As in, THE Mighty Man? For what?”
“He hit me with his car. It was three days ago, my neck and back are killing me. Look, you came highly recommended.”
I didn’t know what to make of this. “Mr....Marauder,” I started to say.
He interrupted me, “Please, call me Mo.”
“OK, Mo. I do injury cases, but I’ve never represented an, uh…” I trailed off, unsure of what exactly to call him.
Mo laughed. “A supervillain?” he asked. “Professor Monstrosity said you got him a really nice settlement for a car wreck five or six years ago. Of course, that was before the lab accident.”
Professor Monstrosity was a UT-Dallas chemistry professor when I represented him, after he was hit by an 18-wheeler on I-635. The less said about the professor, the better. It’s a tragedy what happened to him.
I wasn’t sure this was something I wanted to get involved in. “Can’t Jessica Mendoza handle this for you? I know she represented you on that federal trial last year.” Jessica was one of the original prosecutors for the U.S. Attorney’s Enhanced Prolific Important Criminal (E.P.I.C.) Team formed to prosecute people like the Masked Marauder. Supposedly they were based out of the NORAD Command Center in Colorado for safety reasons. Eventually, Jessica realized what Mo did—crime does in fact pay—and went on to a lucrative career exclusively defending supervillains.
“She’s only doing criminal work these days, she’s representing me on the bomb thing I have pending right now. Besides, do you know how much she charges? And they say I’m the supervillain.”
I laughed at his joke, even made it sound believable. The “bomb thing” my new friend Mo was referring to were allegations that he planted enough explosives in the New Orleans federal courthouse to sink it and the surrounding 20 square blocks straight into the swamp, so laughing seemed like a good idea.
“Anyway,” he continued. “Let me tell you what happened. I was sitting in my van outside the Chase building and Mighty Man crashed his car, the so-called Mighty Mobile, right into mine.”
“Wasn’t there a robbery there recently?” I immediately regretted opening my mouth.
Mo looked back and forth, as if he was deciding whether he wanted to answer or pull a gun out. Finally, he asked, “Whatever we talk about is confidential, right?”
Attorney-client privilege and fear of a painful death would prevent me from ever saying anything.
He still looked like he didn’t want to say. I figured I better move
the conversation along. “Well, it doesn’t matter why you were at the
Chase building. We can come back to that later.”
Mo looked like he appreciated he wasn’t going to have to confess to a crime.
I thought I better continue. “If you’re going to sue Mighty Man,” words I never thought I would say, “we’ll need some damages. After the accident, did you go to the ER and get checked out?”
“ER?” Mo looked at me sideways. “Do you have any idea how much health insurance is for someone in my line of work? Those insurance company CEOs—they’re the real supervillains.” Again, I laughed because I thought it was safer than not laughing.
“My first couple years in the business I was able to use my VA benefits, I had an honorable discharge then.”
“You can’t do that now?” I felt stupid asking the question, but it seemed like the logical one.
“No, they changed me to a dishonorable discharge. Took the Army five years to do it. Part of it was just red tape. Part of it was I was holding Senator Ellroy’s family hostage, so he was able to keep the Pentagon from changing my status. But anyway, I can’t go to the VA anymore. At best they just won’t let me in, at worst it’s armed guards with shoot-on-sight orders.”
This was not going to be the easy case that I was hoping for when Molly knocked on my door. He was going to be one of those clients. “What about your van?” I asked. “Have you submitted a claim with your insurance company?” I knew the answer to the question, but felt I had to ask. And to his credit, Mo just looked at me.
“OK. Well, here’s what we need to do. You need to take your van to a body shop and get it fixed. I have a shop down in Oak Cliff I work with that will help you out. They’re discrete. But you need to go to a doctor and get checked out. Isn’t there anyone in your, uh, community you can go to? Once we have some bills, then we can put a lawsuit together.”
That answer seemed to satisfy Mo. We chatted for a little longer about how the civil court process worked—he was only familiar with criminal courts—and how long it might take. At 1 o’clock he stood up and said he had a meeting he had to get to. He shook my hand, crushing it again, and thanked me for my time. I told him I’d be in touch. As we walked out to the lobby, I saw Molly’s chair was empty and her desk completely cleared out. She wasn’t coming back.
Mo put on his helmet and opened the door to leave. He looked back and
said to me in a low growl, “Mr. MacArthur, I don’t like to lose.” He
then turned and walked out the door and I wondered what I had gotten
JEFF KRAMER is an attorney with Portfolio Recovery Associates. He lives in Dallas with his wife and cat. The cat is likely a supervillain.
Written by Carly Gallagher Murray
Audrey Gallatin jolted awake.
7:40 a.m. “Oh no. Dammit, dammit,” she groaned, head spinning, temples throbbing in sync with her racing pulse. Pulling off the covers, she sat up slowly to discover she had slept in her black suit pants, now ripped at both knees. She fumed at this familiar daybreak chaos knowing she now had just 20 minutes to dress for court and be out the door.
She pulled on the only clean skirt she could find, tugging the hem forcefully to cover her two scraped knees. She threw on a purple cardigan, half-tidied yesterday’s smeared mascara, and pulled her hair into a low bun. She knew she looked unkempt. She also knew no one would look at her long enough to care. She took three Advil, grabbed her purse, and heaved out the door with a single minute to spare, feeling both shame and triumph at this accomplishment.
The Frank County courthouse, a distinctly drab, renovated former elementary school, sat five blocks from Audrey’s apartment in the center of downtown St. Larpen, an area rife with bodegas, churches, and aging apartment buildings, all in need of paint and parking lot repair. She knew finding parking near the courthouse would take longer than just walking the five blocks. So, she pushed through the heavy wrought iron gate from her apartment complex to the buckling city sidewalk. She looked over her shoulder to see whether she had driven her car home last night. Dammit, she had.
The morning was just cool enough to be unpleasant on her bare, prickled legs and raw knees. Audrey walked quickly. She knew that Judge Williams did not suffer tardiness, and she did not want to be the person who soured the mercurial middle-aged man for everyone that morning. Best let some other poor soul absorb the resentful stares of the attorneys who all knew that, once turned, Judge Williams’ mood would not improve for the remainder of the day.
Entering the courthouse, Audrey began a one-armed thrash through her purse to find her phone. She knew the security checkpoint at the courthouse entrance would require placing her purse and phone into separate trays on the screening conveyor. She felt pens, gum, keys, wallet (thank goodness), and chapsticks, but no phone. She peered into each of the purse pockets—still no phone. She remembered having it last night at Burgundy, a wine bar in midtown. She remembered it buzzing to alert her that their order was ready for pickup at Mike’s, her favorite late-night burger joint. She remembered laughing in disbelief at Jacob Street Pub, a musty neighborhood dive, when she used it to Google the lifespan of a potbelly pig (19 years). Not finding the phone, Audrey plopped her purse onto the security conveyor. No tripped alarm meant her phone, definitely not in her purse, was missing. Dammit.
Once wanded for weapons and now through security, Audrey turned the corner to see Carrie Murphy, the attorney representing Delta Aldridge in the case for which Audrey had been appointed guardian ad litem. Carrie was always neatly put together and on time. Today, Carrie wore an emerald green suit jacket with black ankle pants and leopard print heels. It had been over a decade since Audrey had worn heels to the courthouse, the same length of time since she had woken up not hungover and uncertain about the previous night’s end. The sight of Carrie, slender and well rested, made Audrey instantly self-conscious and angry. Carrie was standing next to Delta Aldridge, who did not hide her distaste for Audrey. Carrie saw Audrey and began walking toward her. Carrie was always pleasant and professional, and it enraged Audrey.
“Good morning,” Carrie said cautiously. “Did you hear?” Carrie’s eyes scanned Audrey, noticing the skinned knees, wrinkled skirt, and dry shampoo flakes in Audrey’s scalp.
“Hear what?” Audrey quizzed dismissively scanning the hallway. “Have you seen Mr. Michaels yet? I didn’t notice him on the way in.”
“Audrey, he was found dead this morning. A few blocks from here, actually. I’ve been trying to call you since I found out to see what you wanted to do about today.” Carrie looked surprised that Audrey was just learning this information. “I assumed the police would call you, too.”
“What?” Audrey managed to utter. “Oh. No, I guess I didn’t hear it ring. It was still on silent from yesterday,” Audrey lied mindlessly. Making excuses for drunken consequences was so natural to her now that she barely hesitated coming up with an excuse. “Dead? Really? Wow. Wha—what happened?”
Audrey, dazed, glanced over at Delta Aldridge and then back to Carrie, both of whom Audrey presumed delighted in this news.
Audrey was the court-appointed guardian ad litem in the ongoing custody battle involving Delta Aldridge and John Michaels’ 13-year-old son, Stephen Michaels. Stephen had returned home from John’s house reporting to his mother that John had been so drunk that weekend that Stephen, only a slight-framed teen, had had to call a neighbor twice to help him lift John off the floor. Stephen had reported similar behavior to Delta many times in the years since Delta and John’s divorce, and as many times, Delta had called CPS to intervene. CPS would then appear at John’s house, perform a perfunctory, superficial investigation, and always conclude there was no cause for concern. Delta had hired Carrie Murphy hoping the judge would listen to Stephen’s recent claims about John’s alcohol use and persistent bullying. Stephen frequently reported to Delta that John, a six-foot-seven, 300-pound anvil of a man, would push Stephen, trying to provoke him to “stand up for yourself, son! Hit me back now. Do it. I bet you won’t. Guess your mama did get that pretty little daughter she always wanted.” Judge Williams entered a temporary order restricting John’s access to Stephen but not before also appointing Audrey as guardian ad litem.
Audrey had instantly liked John. He was gruff, but he reminded her of her own father, a large no-nonsense man with similar bright blue eyes. She believed John when he told her that Stephen exaggerated things, especially stories about John’s drinking. She felt moved when John, voice cracking, said he just wanted a normal relationship with his son. When she met with Stephen, and later with Delta, she felt offended on John’s behalf at their insistence of John’s wrongdoing. She had argued passionately with Delta, returning Delta’s furious stares with immovable loyalty to her own belief that Delta’s insecurity and Stephen’s pathological attachment to his mother were the causes for Stephen’s outcries, not John. She further opined that John’s drinking was not problematic. Yes, John drank; he was allowed to do so. But he did not drink any more than Audrey herself did. Audrey reported that, “for a man his size, the amount he would have to drink to be that drunk would be extraordinary, and I see no evidence of his consumption to that degree.” In the hearing last week, Carrie Murphy’s cross-examination and Audrey’s stammering defense of herself only deepened Audrey’s dislike of Carrie and loyalty to John.
Last week, Judge Williams had permitted two unsupervised visits between John and Stephen, and he ordered everyone to report back to him the following Thursday, today. Audrey felt happy for what she had accomplished for John. She saw Delta comforting the neatly-dressed boy with his matching belt and shoes as he sobbed, shoulders shaking. “Yeah,” Audrey thought to herself. “That boy just needs his dad.”
Leaving the courthouse that morning, John had winked at Audrey, saying, “Hey, let me buy you a drink as a thanks.”
“Okay. What did you have in mind?” Audrey responded quickly.
“How about Burgundy, that wine bar over in midtown? They have a happy hour. I’ll meet you around 5:30 next Wednesday,” John offered. His requests had the distinct feel of a command, and Audrey happily complied.
“Wednesday at 5:30 it is. See you then,” Audrey responded, her heart swelling with pride at a job well done.
On Wednesday, yesterday, after work, Audrey arrived at Burgundy at 5:20 and found John, dressed in a green plaid shirt and jeans, halfway through a beer. She found a seat next to him at the bar.
“Hey you,” she said, in an awkward attempt to flirt. She had not been invited out with a man (was this a date?) in quite some time. John smirked as his eyes halfway darted her direction then waved the bartender over.
“What are you having?” John asked Audrey.
“I’ll have what you’re having,” which phrase continued as a theme over the course of the evening, with Audrey matching John drink for drink. The two drank beers and half-priced wine at Burgundy, laughing about how mad Carrie Murphy must have been after last week’s hearing. Later, they wandered over to Mike’s, where they drank draft beers in plastic cups and ate greasy burgers and onion rings as John wondered aloud if Stephen was gay and if Delta’s dressing him in argyle sweater vests as a toddler had been the cause. Later still, the two stumbled over to Jacob Street Pub where, over tequila shots and many more cheap beers, John slurred that he’d had a pig when he was a kid that had lived 19 years. Audrey, quite skeptical, cackled riotously when her Google search returned confirmation of the surprisingly long lifespan.
She remembered John walking her to her car. She remembered him making a crack about her shoes and how the soles reminded him of truck tires. She remembered laughing even though her face pricked with embarrassment. She remembered John, too many drinks in, saying, “That’s a joke, Goodyear. I’m just kiddin’.” She remembered John pretending to jab her left shoulder but actually making enough contact to cause her, also too many drinks in, to lose her balance. Trying to correct her body’s uncontrolled sway, she’d fallen forward ripping her black suit pants and scraping both her knees. She remembered looking up to see John laughing so heartily that he did not offer to help her up. That was the last thing she remembered.
“Audrey?” Carrie nudged. Audrey blinked to find herself staring at Judge Williams’ courtroom door as the bailiff pushed it open. “I don’t think they know yet what happened to him, Audrey, but he was found lying near the middle of the road with no shirt on. I’m pretty sure they suspect he was drunk,” Carrie stated, searching Audrey’s face for some final acknowledgment of the alcohol problem about which Delta and Stephen had long complained.
Audrey felt lightheaded and clammy. She had seen John just six hours ago. How could this be true? “I guess we should update Judge Williams,” Audrey resigned.
Walking back to her apartment, Audrey’s mind swirled, and she wondered what could have happened to John. Was he mugged? Did he have some kind of medical incident? A heart attack maybe? She continued to think about John, their evening, and this shocking news when she remembered again that her phone was still missing. “Where the hell is my phone?” she wondered aloud. “The car. I bet it’s in the car.”
Audrey pulled open the black iron gate to her apartment complex and
approached her car from the passenger’s side. She opened the door and
moved her hand over the floor, seat, and in between the console and the
seat. No phone. She slammed the door and walked behind the car around to
the driver’s side. There! There on the pavement just inches from the
front driver’s-side wheel, was her phone. Thank goodness. As she
approached it, she suddenly noticed the car’s front fender was bent
forward, sticking out from the car’s grill, and the headlamp was smashed
out. “What the hell?” she wondered. She bent down to pick up her phone,
its screen shattered, and to examine the damage to her vehicle. There,
wedged between the front bumper and the wheel, was an unmistakable green
CARLY GALLAGHER MURRAYis a solo practitioner and family lawyer practicing in the Austin area. She lives with her funny husband, two adorable sons, and two spirited pups, Darcy Lou and Waylon June, all of whom fill her life with joy . . . and a bit of chaos. Carly enjoys cooking, reading, and singing karaoke Broadway tunes.
THE SAME DIFFERENCE
Written by Victor Segura
Ever since we were little, my identical twin brother took advantage
of our likeness. It started with little things. If I did something good,
Patrick took the credit. If I wasn’t there, Patrick would pretend to be
me to get my portion. He would joke about it, getting a thrill from the
deception. Eventually Patrick went too far. In a twisted act of envy, he
deceived my high school girlfriend to go out with him, pretending to be
me. He never apologized. I couldn’t trust Patrick after that. Years went
by and we all went our separate ways.
Patrick went to live in Bogota, Colombia. I stayed in Boerne where my parents live. Patrick would call on my parents’ birthdays. Those were the only times we heard from him. I didn’t know what he was doing in Colombia. I overheard my mother tell my aunt he had started some sort of business. I didn’t care. I became a lawyer and opened my office in Boerne. One day mom received a call from the Colombian consulate. Patrick had been killed in a car crash in the mountains of Colombia. My mother and father took it hard, as parents do. I didn’t know what to feel. Patrick was my blood, my only sibling. But it had become easier to hold on to anger than to forgive.
Dad wanted to go to Colombia to bring Patrick home. Mom was concerned that it would be too much for him, with his heart condition and all. I told them I would do it. I was the logical choice. It was a surprisingly short flight to Bogota. According to the instructions from the consulate, I was to claim Patrick’s body at the morgue and make arrangements to fly him back to Texas. When I got to the morgue, they took my information and told me to take a seat. An hour went by. I asked how much longer it would be. They told me the paperwork was being completed. Two more hours went by. I was about to ask to speak with someone in charge when a woman walked up to me.
“I am Anafelina. Patrick told me about you. I told the clerk here to call me when someone came to claim him.”
“Is there something I can do for you?”
“Not in this place, please. After you finish here, will you join me for a coffee?”
I was taken to the room where they keep the bodies. I had to formally identify Patrick. I didn’t ask her to accompany me, but Anafelina came along. When they pulled back the sheet, a flood of emotions came over me.
I wanted to scream at my brother. Why! Why did you leave the way you did! Why did you hurt Mom and Dad like this! Why couldn’t you have been a good brother? But I had no words. I saw myself on that table. My anger toward Patrick melted away. My eyes welled up with tears. Anafelina squeezed my hand.
“Come on. Let’s get some air.”
She told the attendant something and we left. We walked to a nearby café. Anafelina told me how she and Patrick met when he was taking Spanish classes. She was substituting for her teacher friend that evening. Patrick started meeting with her for private lessons. He told her she made it easy for him since she also spoke English, which she had studied since she was a kid. She knew that was just a pretext. Patrick eventually asked her out and they became a couple. It was on their first date that Patrick was struck by the presence of homeless children in the streets of Bogota. He couldn’t believe how many there were, how young they were.
“Patrick couldn’t stop talking about the ‘Gamines,’ as they are called. He surprised me one day when he said he was going to open a school for them. I thought he was crazy. He started working for a plastics company and when he wasn’t at work, he was meeting with people and making plans for the school.”
Once again, I had no words. Anafelina was describing someone I didn’t know. The guy I remembered was callous and selfish. Who was this Patrick?
“We opened the doors to the ‘Centro Para Jovenes’ three years ago. I have been there since the beginning. The smiles on the children’s faces light up my heart. Now I don’t know what is going to happen.”
“What do you mean? Is it closing?”
“Patrick was the heart of the Centro. People donate their time and money because they believe in his mission, in him. Who is going to run things now?”
“What about you?”
“Me? I am a teacher, not a director.”
“What about the other people working at the center?”
“We are a small group. Would you like to see the Centro?”
I went to visit the center the following morning. It was a large old house that had been converted into a school and dormitory. The structure’s façade hid a large patio in the back, surrounded by trees and colorful flowers. I sat on a bench and waited for Anafelina.
A bell rang and suddenly the patio was filled with kids. It was their morning snack time. The boys wore khaki pants and white shirts. The girls, blue skirts and white blouses. A little boy stuck out. He stood alone against a tree until the bell rang again and a teacher called everyone back in.
Anafelina introduced me to the staff and gave me the tour. They all had similar reactions. They all thought I was Patrick. Even after I explained we were identical twins, they still called me Patrick. Anafelina showed me Patrick’s office. The door was marked with large colorful letters spelling out PATRICK.
“The children made that sign. They loved him.”
The room was adorned with photos pinned to the walls. Photos of Patrick and the staff, surrounded by clinging kids with huge smiles. Anafelina pulled out an envelope from a rickety-looking desk.
“Patrick told me about your family. He kept these.”
There were photos of Mom, Dad, and me. There was one photo I had never seen before. I was sitting on a bicycle, Patrick was standing beside me with his arms wrapped around my neck. We were both smiling. It was the day my father took the training wheels off my bike. It was after our eighth birthday. I remembered how Patrick rode his bike next to me, encouraging me to look ahead and keep pedaling.
“Whenever Patrick spoke about you Daniel, I could tell he was pained. He missed you. He was planning to invite you and your parents to join us in celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Centro opening. We were looking forward to it.”
“Why did he come to Colombia? Did he ever tell you?”
“Patrick told me he just wanted to get away and do something different. I suspected there was more, but we didn’t talk about it.”
“There is something about the accident I don’t understand. I know what the police report says, but why was Patrick out there?”
“Patrick had big dreams. He wanted to expand the school. He could not stand how we had to turn away children in need because we had no more room. His vision was to open a finca, a ranch on the outskirts of Bogota. He wanted to save all the children. He was visiting a site the day of the crash. Now, who knows what we’re going to do.”
The lunch bell rang. Anafelina invited me to join her for lunch with the kids. As we were sitting down to eat, I saw the little boy from the patio. He sat alone, apart from the others. I looked over toward the boy and asked Anafelina, “Does he have special needs?”
“That is Luis Eduardo. He is seven. His parents were killed a few months ago and he doesn’t have any other family. He has been with us for a little over a week. He hasn’t said a word since he arrived. We need to give him time.”
I don’t know why, but I was moved to do it. “May I talk to him?”
“Well, OK, but don’t expect too much.”
I walked over to his table and sat across from the little boy. “Hola, mi nombre es Daniel.” He didn’t respond. He kept his head down, staring at his plate. I took my keys out of my pocket and pulled off the keyring. It was a tiny red firetruck with shiny silver wheels. I put it on the table and rolled it over toward him. Just as it was about to roll off the table, he blocked it with his hand.
I placed my hand on the table to form a wall on my side. He rolled the little truck back toward me. The bell rang. Lunchtime was over. I put the firetruck near his hand.
“It’s for you. I know you will take good care of it.”
He hesitated, but then picked it up and put it in his pocket.
Anafelina walked over after the kids had left.
“That was beautiful, Daniel. You made a breakthrough. It is not easy for Luis Eduardo to trust right now. You gave him a reason to try.”
My stay in Bogota was brief. I returned to Boerne with Patrick. We laid him to rest and I went back to my life. Yet I could not stop thinking about the center, about Luis Eduardo, and Anafelina. I started calling Anafelina to get updates on the center and Luis Eduardo. One of the other teachers had taken over as interim director for the center. Anafelina and her colleagues felt he was not doing a very good job. Luis Eduardo still wasn’t talking. There was chatter that some teachers might be leaving. I could hear in Anafelina’s voice that she was getting tired.
We were talking about the center when I jokingly said, “Maybe I need to go down there and straighten things out.”
“Would you? I think you would be really good for the Centro, for the kids.”
“I don’t know, Ana. I have my law practice here, and I don’t speak Spanish very well.”
“It’s OK. It was just a thought.”
After the call, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. What if I did leave my practice and moved to Colombia? I was in my office reviewing the files one afternoon when I remembered Patrick’s photo and I could hear him telling me to “look ahead and keep pedaling.” I made my decision. My parents were very understanding. They too wanted the center to stay open, to continue with Patrick’s mission with the kids. The transition was easier than I expected. I transferred my clients to colleagues and closed my office in Boerne. Once back in Bogota, the teachers at the center welcomed me into the group. They soon encouraged me to take over as director.
I have been running the center for a year now. Anafelina is my right hand. I couldn’t do it without her. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve never been happier. Witnessing the transformations in the kids we take off the streets is more rewarding than I could ever have imagined. Luis Eduardo has come out of his shell. He is talking now. Every once in a while he comes to my office in between classes, peering his head in to say hello. I recently caught him laughing with a group of kids in the patio.
We will be celebrating the Centro’s fifth anniversary soon. My parents are planning a trip to join us. Mom can’t wait to meet Ana.
Looking back, I once thought I knew my twin. Then he left and I forgot about him. I once hated him. Now I love the things he loved. I found my brother’s joy and discovered my own.TBJ
VICTOR SEGURA is a patent attorney in Houston, and he enjoys science fiction.