I get the call on a Thursday afternoon. At first I think it’s the media. Maybe a magazine wanting to do a feature piece.
“Mr Judd, I heard about you in the news a few years back, and I’ve been following your career…”
Perhaps it’s another devastated and desperate family member without the money for a good lawyer, looking for pro bono work. How do they manage to get my direct office line?
“… the thing is, Mr Judd, we really need your help. I know this sounds dramatic, but the fate of the world, and everyone in it, depends on this.”
Ugh! An environmentalist! Out to take on some big corporation, no doubt. Looking for someone good enough to win with a compelling argument.
Usually, I’d yell at them to go away or I’ll file a lawsuit for harassment. That usually seems to work. But, interestingly, I’m open to humouring this person today.
It’s not your average day, I suppose. I’m in a good mood. I just finished up a massive case, successful of course. The young woman burst into tears and leapt out of her seat to hug me this morning when her sentence was revoked.
“Michael,” sob, “I – I can’t,” sob, sob, “thank you enough.”
I shrugged, deftly brushed her face flowing with tears and snot away from my fancy suit, and returned back here to my large corner office to celebrate my win quietly with a highball. Cracking ice cubes, sharp whisky and a swish of tonic water. Cheers to me.
So there’s that, and I’m also on leave as of tomorrow afternoon. Kate and I are headed to Bali for three weeks. Where the water is warm, the beers are cold, cheap and endless, and we can get a nanny for less than 20c an hour. Bliss.
Yes, I’m in a very good mood. I have the patience for this insane person on the phone, who hasn’t let me get a word in yet. I swear if I got up and walked away, she’d still be babbling away in an hour’s time.
“Ma’am,” I interrupt her finally with a strong and assertive voice. “Please tell me what you’d like me to do for you.”
I hear her nervously clear her throat.
“Well, Mr Judd, we’d like to talk to you in person about this of course, but, I suppose you’re very busy and over the phone will have to suffice. You see… I work for a certain organisation. We aren’t a religious organisation as such, we just protect one believer…” she trails off, knowing that her explanation so far is weak and she will lose me at any moment. It would take less than a second to slam the receiver down and be done with this.
“I’m sorry,” I say, “I’m not following you.”
A sigh of perplexity travels down the phone line. When she speaks again, her voice is lower, more level and reasoned. She has finally pulled herself together.
“Mr Judd, I read an article about you recently,” she begins. “You told the interviewer about your secret to success. You believe in your clients. You listen to their stories and actually believe them. Completely. And your special gift, as a lawyer in your position, is to help make others believe the story too. Is that true?”
Although she has paraphrased, her words definitely bring back a conversation I had a few years ago with a beautiful blonde-haired, blue-eyed interviewer. She sat on my sofa at the apartment nibbling on the end of her pen as she asked her questions, and for the first time I was able to put into words how I do what I do.
“Yes, that’s how I work,” I confirm.
“We need that belief,” the woman implores. “You see, we have someone with a story to tell, and he’s struggling to find someone who will believe it.”
I rap my knuckles on the shiny mahogany desk, chunky silver wedding band banging against the varnish. As I’ve said, I’m in an unusually good mood.
“So are you looking for pro bono work?”
“What?” she sounds genuinely shocked. “No, certainly not!”
“Where are you calling from?”
“We’re located in Abbotsford.”
“Okay. I have some time this afternoon. Why don’t I swing by and talk to the client myself?”
“Oh!” She is taken aback. “Well, yes that would be wonderful.”
I raise my voice to let her know the conversation is about to end.
“I’m going to transfer you over to my secretary Gracie. Give her the address and I’ll be there in about,” I consult my watch, “50 minutes.”
I can hear the woman trying to thank me profusely, but I’m already punching in the transfer code.
48 minutes later, I pull my Lexus up outside a two-storey brick terrace house. As my eyes flit over the dry, overgrown garden and faded cream paint on the windows, I make a mental note to move the car in two hours. It’s a clearway after 5pm.
With a satisfying thunk, I close the door and head up the front path.
Paint flakes off the rotting door as I knock three times. Behind it, I hear a scurrying of footsteps.
“Mr Judd!” she exclaims before the door is even open. It must be the woman from the phone, but she looks a lot older than she sounded. Soft lines crinkle the corners of her pale blue eyes, and coarse grey hair frames her grateful face.
“Thank you so much for taking the time to come out here,” she babbles enthusiastically. She has already turned her back to me and is making her way down the hallway, as if I am to follow her.
“It’s no problem.” I step cautiously over the doormat, noting a faded rug rolling down the hall, which probably used to look grand but now looks tattered and worn. “I can’t stay too long.”
“Of course,” she pauses and turns back to me as I close the door behind me. “You’re a busy man.”
The house is cool and dark, which would be a relief from the baking heat outside if it weren’t for the musty smell. It’s like it’s been decades since they cracked a window open in here.
We’re making our way down the hall again, passing large rooms filled with antiquated furnishings.
“He’s up in the study,” she explains.
My dress shoes make an obnoxious click on the floorboards as we ascend the stairs. Shined to a tee. I had to go all out this morning for court.
We take a left and stop outside a closed door. She hesitates for a moment as she leans her body into the door and slowly turns the knob.
“Thank you again so much for seeing him,” she says. “He has tried to tell so many people… We just need someone to believe.”
At those words, and the pleading way she says them, I have to admit my stomach drops a little. I don’t often feel dread – only when I face a case that I might just lose. Is this man a radical? Or a crazy person? Maybe he has no evidence, just a hunch. I’ve only worked a few environmental cases before, so perhaps I’m not quite ready for this…
With a long, ominous creak the door swings open.
It takes a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the light in here. It’s even darker than the rest of the house. The blinds are drawn and the room is lit only by several candles. Despite that, it’s still quite cool.
I appear to be in a classically styled library. Every wall is lined with old hardbacks in various shades of maroon, emerald green and navy blue.
“Sam, this is Mr Judd, the man I was telling you about,” the woman introduces.
A very old man rises from a wooden stool by the window. He must be at least eighty years old, with that sort of tissue-paper thin skin that looks like it might evaporate, and white eyebrows that scrunch up over ancient eyes. He’s wearing a light grey cardigan and olive trousers.
“Please, call me Michael.” I stride across the room and extend my hand to him.
For a moment Sam looks at it like he’s not quite sure what to do with it. Then he concedes and gives it a brief shake.
“Let’s get straight into it, shall we?” I suggest authoritatively. I pull a small notebook from my shirt pocket, along with my smartphone and a fountain pen.
The old man nods.
“Thank you Wendy,” he says at the woman in a surprisingly deep voice.
“Let me know if you need anything, gentlemen. I’m just downstairs,” she replies cheerily, and gives a brief wave before exiting.
Sam gestures towards two armchairs and I take a seat in one. He lowers himself into the chair opposite.
“So, Wendy didn’t properly explain over the phone,” I begin. “From what I can gather, you’re struggling to find representation.”
I place my phone on the arm of the chair and flip open my notebook. Sam grunts and sniffs.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, representation,” he says.
We blink at each other.
“What’s your story?” I enquire. “Maybe you can tell it from the start.”
I look at my watch. I could invent another “client meeting” to get out of here in the next twenty minutes. Be home by 4.30.
He squints at me intently.
“What’s your heritage?” he asks. “Pakistani?”
I glance up to see what this has to do with anything, but he’s not showing any signs.
“Well, my grandparents were from India,” I explain. “My mother has some African in her too.”
“Yes I can see that, you’re quite dark,” he comments, not too delicately.
“So what does this have to do with –“
“Indian, then. Did your grandparents follow the Hindu belief? The eternal way?”
“I think so.”
“So,” he sits forward and pats his hands on his knees. “Reincarnation. An eternal cycle of life. Do you believe in all that?”
I don’t know where he’s going with all this. While the man seems innocent and harmless with his muted tones of clothing and his fragile frame, his voice is strong and calm. He’s a story teller for sure.
“My parents didn’t really bring me up with any kind of religion,” I reply, with a strong inflection that means I’m done explaining myself. “So, do you believe in reincarnation then?”
Sam considers the question carefully.
“I don’t believe we are reborn as different people, or animals. I believe we are born again exactly the same.”
I look at my watch again. I really don’t need to listen this whole preamble to his story. If he would just get to the point with his case…
“Michael,” his voice drops to an even deeper note and he stares straight into my eyes for added effect. “Are you listening to what I’m saying? Are you really listening?”
Though his direct questions have thrown me, I hold out hope that he’s getting to the point now. I nod my confirmation and he settles back comfortably in his armchair.
“I need to tell you something very important. It’s about me, and it’s about this world and everyone in it.” Sam pauses, as though waiting for his words to sink in. “Michael, when do you think the world began?”
I smooth my hair back.
“I guess… the Big Bang. What was it – 13 billion years ago or something?”
“Sure,” he agrees. “But before that, what was there?”
“Nothing,” I reply. “Gases maybe, and space and darkness and nothing.”
With where this conversation is headed, I begin to worry that Sam is slowly trying to convert me to some kind of cult. Talk of Hinduism and reincarnation and the origin of the world…
“I know how the world started, Michael,” he says with a serious expression. “I am the only person on this earth who knows the truth. If this secret that I know is lost, then the world as we know it is lost too. The problem is… no one will believe the secret when I tell them.”
“Sam… Am I not here about a legal case?” I ask, feeling stupid for the first time, understanding that I am in fact not here to represent a client in court.
He shakes his head, amused.
“We’ve been looking out for someone who has their head screwed on but also has an open mind, to be able to receive this information and truly believe it without getting carried away.” He studies my skeptical face. “That’s why you’re here. Wendy believes you might be able to do that.”
I clear my throat doubtfully, willing to go one step further down this obscure path my day has taken me down.
“Okay. Tell me, what is the origin of our world?” I ask.
“Michael. The existence of everything: the planets, the people, the animals, the sky – everything – is an eternal loop. It has been repeating itself forever and will continue to do so forever. After the Earth and everything in it dies, the miniscule particles that make up everything we know will float around for billions of years until they reform in the exact same way again and Earth is reborn. It’s the eternal way. You see, some religions like Hinduism and Buddhism have come so close to the truth, but they haven’t gone far enough to discover the real secret. We do not die and become different beings. When we die, we wait to live our lives over again.
“Yes, that means we’ve had this exact conversation billions of times before. I don’t know what the outcome of this is, but I hope that you’re listening, that you’re understanding what I’m saying and that you can become the next Secret Keeper. I’m old now and don’t have long left. Someone needs to believe and take this from me.”
I hold my hand up to signal I want to say something, and Sam sits back with an exhausted huff.
“Does that feel good to get off your chest?” I enquire.
“Do you think I’m crazy?”
“Do you believe what I’m saying?”
“I just have one question.”
“What happens if you don’t get someone to believe this story?”
Sam scratches at his white stubbly chin.
“The loop ends,” he says.
“How do you know?”
At this, he frowns at me as if I don’t have the right to ask that most obvious of questions.
“I know this, because that’s what I was told, by the last Secret Keeper. And I believed her. I still believe.”
“Sure.” I nod.
“The question is, Michael, will you believe?”