01-17-2012, 07:27 PM
The Worth family sat in the hallway next to Courtroom A at the Clark County courthouse Thursday morning. Casey and her mother, Sharon, sat on one side of the doorway, Benny and father Phil on the other. Neither side spoke, nor even looked at each other across the four and a half foot gap between them. Their lawsuit would be heard at nine AM, only fifteen minutes away, yet it seemed an eternity in the dignified silence of the courthouse.
Casey fought off the urge to call Mr. Springer to check if he was all right. When she had requested Thursday morning off for the hearing, he nonchalantly gave his consent, telling her that he'd be just fine with the New York Times crossword puzzle to occupy him. Now that his memoirs were going to press, time hung heavily on the old man's hands. Casey could only hope that he didn't fill his empty hours with alcohol. She didn't want to seem overprotective of Mr. Springer, but she didn't want to neglect him, either. He was her employer, and she had a responsibility toward him.
Sharon, meanwhile, had her own worries. She had filed for divorce right after she left her husband, citing irreconcilable differences and neglect. Being the only one with any sort of income, however, she could be forced to pay support to her disabled ex-spouse due to Nevada's communal property laws--meaning what was hers was also her husband's. But Phil was suing both her and her daughter, Casey, for nine million dollars--nine million they didn't have, nor ever would. The estate had not been thoroughly liquidated, and Casey had not yet received a dime of her share.
It was Casey's money--why should Phil get any of it? Sharon asked herself. He didn't do anything to deserve it. All he did was sit in his wheelchair and watch TV for over ten years. He might not have been able to walk, but he still had two good arms, and the Americans with Disabilites Act would have insured that he found suitable employment somewhere. But no, he spent an entire decade wallowing in self-pity, drowning his sorrows in beer and cable television. He had stopped being a husband and became more of an overgrown infant from the day he came home from the hospital. Sharon cursed herself for not leaving him a long time ago.
Phil Worth sat in his wheelchair on the other side of the doorway, cursing the female half of his family for holding out on him. Selfish (bleeps), he thought, leaving him to rot in that hellhole of a house while they were living it up in some mobster's mansion! Oh, God, how he was gonna rake their asses over the coals in that courtroom! He was gonna take them for all they had, and no jury in the world was gonna stop him! He deserved that nine million more than they did! Hell, he was in a wheelchair, for chrissakes! How could a wife abandon her crippled husband when he needed her most? Well, she wasn't going to get away with it, nosirreebob! He was gonna get his piece of the pie no matter what it took! A piece, nothing--he was going for the whole pie, and with ice cream on top! Hold out on him, will they? Abandon him, will they? Well, payback's a (bleep), sweetheart, and it's gonna cost you!
Benny sat beside his father in one of the uncomfortable plastic and chrome chairs, fidgeting. They'd been away from home for almost an hour now, the longest he'd been without TV or some other form of entertainment, and he was bored. He wished they'd hurry up and get this thing over with already--his favorite episode of Gilligan's Island was on at noon, and they didn't have TiVo or DVR on their system. "How much longer?" he groaned.
Phil looked at his watch. "About ten more minutes," he replied.
Benny silently cursed the dragging hands of time. They should at least put up a TV or something if they were going to wait for so long, he thought. He was about to get up and go to the drinking fountain at the end of the hall when the doors of Courtroom A opened suddenly. The bailiff set out a small sign reading QUIET COURT IN SESSION in plastic letters set in faded black velour, then motioned the family to come in. Casey and Sharon waited while Benny wheeled his father into the courtroom, then followed behind. No one said a word as they entered. The bailiff silently closed the doors behind them.
Phil was positioned behind one of the tables set aside for the plaintiffs, while Sharon and Casey sat opposite on the defendant's side. The two attorneys representing the parties were already present, ready to present their cases to the judge. Phil stole a glance at his ex-wife, hoping to detect a sign of weakness on her part that he could exploit. No good; she was like an oil painting.
Everyone except the wheelchair-bound Phil Worth stood when the judge entered the courtroom and ascended to the bench. The Honorable David M. Shedd commanded them to be seated, then looked at the docket before him. "The case of Philip Worth vs. Sharon and Casey Worth," he read aloud. "Are both parties present?"
"We are, Your Honor," the lawyers said.
Judge Shedd read the case docket again, his brow wrinkled in puzzlement. "It says here that the plaintiff, Mr. Worth, is suing his wife and daughter for nine million dollars," he said, bemused. "Is that true, Counselor?"
"Yes, Your Honor, it is," the counsel for the plaintiff replied. "The defendant, Casey Worth, inherited nine million dollars from her late employer, Mr. Michael Piccucci, Sr., over two months ago. He was never informed of the inheritance, nor was even considered for a share of it. My client is claiming damages for neglect and abuse."
Sharon and Casey were flabbergasted. "Abuse!?" Sharon cried. "I never abused him in my life!"
The judge tapped the gavel. "Order, please," he insisted firmly.
Sharon turned to her attorney. "He's lying!" she hissed. "I didn't do anything to hurt him, and he knows it!"
Her lawyer held up his hands to calm her down. "Okay, okay, just simmer down," he whispered to her. He rose to face the judge. "Your Honor," he began, "let me state for the record that my client does not have nine million dollars. In the case regarding the estate of Michael Piccucci, Sr., it was ruled in probate court that the entire estate was to be liquidated and divided between my client, Casey Worth, and the three surviving members of the Piccucci family. Minus taxes, my client inherited only one million six hundred thousand dollars."
"Has your client received the amount stated?" Judge Shedd asked.
The lawyer turned to Casey, who shook her head no. "No, she hasn't, Your Honor."
Judge Shedd turned to the plaintiff's side. "Mr. Worth, were you aware of this?" he asked.
"I wasn't aware of a goddam thing, Your Honor!" Phil snapped. "They kept me totally in the dark about this whole goddam mess! They wanted to keep all that money for themselves while I'm sitting here in this wheelchair, rotting away in that stinking hellhole of a house! Meanwhile, the two of them are living it up high on the hog in some old gangster's mansion! They don't give a diddly-damn about me, oh, no! I've been suffering for ten years, Your Honor! Don't I deserve a break?"
"Oh, cry me a river, Phil," Sharon muttered to herself. "You could fertilize a forty-acre cornfield with what you're spreading around!"
"Does the defendant have anything to say?" the judge asked.
Sharon rose and faced the judge with all the confidence she could muster. "Yes, Your Honor, I do. For the past ten years, my daughter, Casey, had been the breadwinner in the family, giving up her own dreams of nursing school to go to work to support the family. I tried to help out as best I could with what jobs I could find, but it was always Casey who bought home the bacon. Phil, however, did absolutely nothing but sit in front of the TV, watching game after game after game, drinking I don't know how many bottles of beer, and feeling sorry for himself. It was Casey who paid the bills; she was the one responsible for putting food on the table and keeping the lights on. She sacrificed her whole future just so we could have a roof over our heads. Does that sound like neglect to you, Your Honor? And Benny over there was the same way as his father, vegging out in front of the TV, not even making an effort to find a job."
She pointed at her son. "Look at him, Your Honor!" she cried. "Thirty-two years old and sponging off his parents--no job, no prospects, nothing! He just goes out to topless bars and gets drunk with his friends, or sits at home with his worthless excuse of a father, watching TV! If he had had the gumption to get up and get a job, bring in a little extra income, none of us would be here today!"
Benny stared at his mother, surprised that such an accusation could be leveled at him. "And now," Sharon went on, "Casey's got a little bit of money coming in,and they have the gall to demand we give it to them! Well, I say if they want any money, let them go out and earn it, because they aren't getting a dime out of me--or Casey!"
Sharon sat down, exhausted from her rant. The judge pondered her words, then turned to Casey. "Casey? Do you have anything to say in your defense? After all, it's your inheritance that's at stake here."
Casey stood up hesitantly. "Well, Your Honor," she began. "I don't know what to say, except everything my mother said is true. I've been supporting my family for ten years now, and quite frankly, I'm tired of it. I'd like to take my inheritance and go to nursing school, get a place of my own, and get on with my life, but after ten years of caring for my family, well..."
"Go on," the judge prompted.
Casey stood there, trembling. "Ever since I got that inheritance, my life has been hell on earth!" she said, her voice breaking. "I got death threats, bomb threats; I was almost shot by Mrs. Piccucci, and now my family's being torn apart. Yes, I'd like to see Benny get a job. Yes, I'd like to see Dad do something with his life besides sitting around watching TV. But I still feel some sort of love and devotion for them, and I still want to insure that they're taken care of. Yes, I've been living in a mansion, but it's not my mansion; I just work there for Mr. Springer. I don't have nine million dollars--I don't even have one million. It hurts me that my own father would want to sue me for money I don't have. Every penny I earned went to the family; I barely had enough for my own personal needs. But I felt it was worth it, because it was for the family. But now that I got this inheritance, everyone's gotten so greedy and selfish, I feel like taking all that money and donating it to charity! I wish I never was even mentioned in Mr. Piccucci's will!"
She looked up at the judge with pleading eyes. "Can't we work out some sort of deal that will make everyone happy?" she beseeched him.
Judge Shedd sat back in his black leather chair and thought it over. He drew a deep sigh and raised his gavel. "This court is recessed for fifteen minutes," he said, ending the session with a bang of the gavel on its pedestal.
Casey turned to the lawyer sitting beside her. "Why did the judge call a recess so soon?" she asked.
The lawyer smiled a little. "Don't spread this around, but Judge Shedd has a bit of a prostate problem. Poor guy's gotta take a lot of bathroom breaks. He spends more time in the men's room than his own chambers."
"Isn't he taking anything for it?" Casey asked.
"I don't know for sure," the lawyer replied. "He should see a doctor, but he's too dedicated to serving justice to take any time off. Don't worry, he'll be back soon."
Exactly fifteen minutes later, Judge Shedd reconviened court. "Now, to continue where we left off," he said, as if nothing untoward happened. "The counsel for the plaintiff may call the first witness."
"The court calls Philip Worth to the stand."
Phil was wheeled to the front of the courtroom and positioned in front of the witness stand, no room to be had for his wheelchair. He took the oath, stated his name for the record, and answered all the questions put forth to him by his attorney. He had been disabled in an accident at work, he said, and had been confined to a wheelchair for ten years, collecting disability insurance. No, he had made no effort to find work--what could a paraplegic do, anyway? He had been a manual laborer all of his adult life; no one was going to hire a cripple. Yes, Casey had been the family's bread and butter for a while, and no, his son Benny had no luck finding a job because the economy was in the crapper, not because he was lazy. Benny had taken care of him while his wife and daughter were working--or supposed to be working--and that counted for something, didn't it? Benny was the only member of his family who had stayed loyal while "those two over there" were living high on the hog in some gangster's mansion. Then Casey got nine million dollars from her former employer, but the selfish little (bleep) wanted to keep it all to herself! And after all he did for her! Totally ungrateful! Didn't he deserve a break after all he suffered? Didn't he derserve anything at all?
The counsel for the defense cross-examined Phil, but ended up getting the same story. Whenever the defense asked a particularly troubling question that might have tripped him up, he went into pity-party mode, bewailing the wounds from the slings and arrows that his flesh had been heir to for the past decade. Frustrated, the defense withdrew, and Phil was dismissed. Sharon noticed the smug look on her ex-husband's face when he was wheeled away from the stand.
Sharon was next. She had barely sat down in the witness stand when she attacked Phil's testamony with both barrels blazing. Phil had promised her she would be taken care of, that they would make it somehow, and she'd live like a queen when he got his big break. In the end, it had been she who raised the children, paid the bills, took care of the house, and tended to her husband's needs, and for what? A crippled husband and a good-for-nothing son who vegged out in front of the television while she and her daughter struggled to make ends meet. No big break, no living like a queen (unless it was a welfare queen), just endless toil to feed and care for Phil and Benny. Their whole relationship had been one-sided, she said. She had done her duty as a wife, and then some, but had nothing to show for it but bags, wrinkles and crow's feet. Neither of them deserved a dime of whatever inheritance Casey was coming into. It's her money, she insisted. She should use it to make a life for herself, not support two lazy good-for-nothings like Phil and Benny.
The counsel for the plaintiff tried to appeal to her sympathies, pleading on behalf of the disabled man she had once called husband. How could she leave him in this state? Who would tend to his needs now? Couldn't she arrange some sort of support for him, make his life a little easier? Being a caretaker was stressful, granted, but to abandon him now would be cruelty.
Sharon, however, was totally unmoved. He didn't know what it was like living with that man, she said. Gripe, whine and complain, that was all he did. Nothing she did pleased him, no matter how she tried. She was through, and that was that. Phil and Benny were two of a kind--they could work something out between them. If Benny got off his ass and found even a halfway decent job, there would be no need for support payments on her part, or Casey's. The nerve of them suing their daughter after all she did for them: sacrificing her education and her future happiness to support those two ungrateful wretches! Well, from now on, they were on their own! With that declaration of independence, Sharon was dismissed.
Benny was next, but examining the dull-witted couch potato proved to be an exercise in futility. He didn't have a job because he couldn't find one, he said. The economy's in the crapper, just like Dad said. Besides, he was too busy taking care of Dad while Mom and Casey were out working or whatever. When asked if he tried to find work, Benny shrugged and claimed he had looked around here and there but with no success.
Suddenly he got defensive, claiming that Casey should share her inheritance with her family, move out of the little house they called home and into that big mansion so they could be set for life. If she had any sense at all, she would do that. She had no right to keep all that cash for herself! She should stop being so selfish and give up the money right now!
Benny was quickly dismissed. Now, it was Casey's turn up on the stand. "Don't let them intimidate you," her mother hissed in her daughter's ear. "Stand your ground. You have a right to that money more than they do."
Casey went up to the stand, took the oath and nervously sat down. She pretty much reiterated what she had said in the beginning: that her inheritance had proven a curse, that it was tearing her family apart, and she had even faced death itself over it. She wanted to start a life for herself, but more, she wanted to make sure her family was provided for. Benny should get a job, she insisted, and contrary to what her father said, there were jobs available to the disabled--he just had to look in the ads. Once she had pointed out and ad to him from the Purple Heart foundation, hiring people with disabilities to do phone work at home setting up appointments for furniture pick-up. It sounded ideal for him, but he never followed through, preferring instead to wallow in self-pity in front of the TV. In the end, Casey had resigned herself to being the sole source of income, her dreams of a better life fading like a desert sunset.
"Isn't there any way this could be resolved with no hurt feelings on either side?" she had pleaded to the judge. "Anything at all? I just want this to end right now. I don't want to completely surrender, because that would mean giving up my dreams of going to nursing school. I want a life of my own, and so does my mother. I don't blame her for leaving Dad like she did--I'd have done the same thing! We're both tired of doing all the work while they laze around the TV. But he's still my dad and, well, you know..."
Judge Shedd looked at the attorney for the defense. "Would the counsel for the defense please repeat the terms of the inheritance?" he requested.
"Yes, Your Honor." The defense stood. "The estate of Michael Piccucci, Sr., was ordered to be liquidated and divided between Ms. Worth and the three surviving members of the family. Each member would receive one million, six hundred thousand dollars, after taxes."
Judge Shedd turned to the plaintiff's side. "Mr. Worth," he said, "I am appalled that you would value money over family. If you had been a bit more supportive, even in your current state of disability, I am sure that your daughter would not have hesitated to share her inheritance with you. Instead, you made a grab for the entire amount of the estate when she only received a portion of it, proving your avarice."
He turned to Benny. "Benjamin, you have been nothing but a millstone around your family's neck. As the eldest son, you had a duty to provide for your family by seeking employment and shouldering the responsibility of their welfare. Instead, you did nothing, nothing at all. You became a parasite, feeding off your sister Casey's income. And you claim that she is being selfish? You are judging her by your own example, Benjamin. You should be ashamed, a man of your age still living like a dependent child!"
The judge then turned to the side of the defendants. "Mrs. Worth, the court understands your frustration with your husband and son. As the counsel for the plaintiffs said, being a caregiver is stressful. But even you have fallen prey to greed, shutting out your ex-husband and son for money, even if it's for your daughter. The court regrets your decision to divorce your husband, but that is your choice.
"As for Casey, who had been shouldering a burden beyond her years, she's the only one here who has not a shred of avarice in her body. She has proven once again that inherited wealth is a curse, no matter who the beneficiary is. The Piccucci Affair has resulted in two murders and so much terror for Ms. Worth; it's no wonder she finds no joy in her windfall. She's the only one here with any compassion, any sense of love and devotion to any of you. She wanted what's best for all concerned. Therefore, it is the decision of this court that the defendants pay the sum of two thousand dollars, total, to the plaintiffs, after thirty days."
Phil was aghast. "Two thousand bucks?" he echoed, outraged at getting stiffed. "Is that all?"
The judge ignored the outburst. "Furthurmore, the plaintiffs shall be given thirty days to find employment. As the defendants said, there are jobs to be found even for the unskilled and disabled. The county labor and employment office is open to you to either find work or training for work. If, at the end of the thirty days, neither of the plaintiffs have found any sort of gainful employment, nor training for same, they will forfeit the award given and will be required to attend job skills classes. Your couch potato days are over, Mr. Worth. You and your son are going to make a life for yourselves whether you like it or not, just as your wife and daughter will." A bang of the gavel. "Case is dismissed."
Sharon rose, muttering irritably. "Two thousand dollars! I wouldn't give them two cents! They're not worth it."
Casey laid a hand on her mother's shoulder. "Don't worry, Mom. I only have to pay it if they find work before the end of the month. Besides, what's two grand compared to one and a half million and change? Anyway, it'll tide them over until they get their first paychecks."
"If they get paychecks," Sharon amended.
"They have to," Casey reminded her. "If they don't, they have to attend job skills classes. Think of the money as the carrot on the end of a stick to get them motivated."
"I'd like to just take the stick and beat them both with it."
Casey sighed. "Look, it's over, okay? Let's just go home and forget about it for a while. Besides, I have to check on Mr. Springer."
"Don't worry too much about Mr. Springer," her mother said. "He's probably been nursing a Manhattan or three since we've been gone."