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The Pay Off

Entering court: "Don't worry," they said, "everyone perjures when they get on the stand."

UNITED STATES—It was a Thursday afternoon and ostensibly my “day off.” I was refuging into a movie theater, the Vista, to escape the unfolding crime and consequences. Nobody knew how Moorehead was going to react to the discovery that his belongings had been surgically ransacked.

From the bright spring afternoon, I glided into the shadowy recesses of the Vista, watched over by gilded sculpted sheiks that supported the rafters and saw “Goodfellas.” It’s funny how a matinee can be a prism for what is going on in one’s life. It’s a crime buddy movie, a portrait of a waspy kid, Henry Hill (you couldn’t get a waspier name than that). Because of the hood Henry grows up in, he goes into the same business as the neighborhood guys: crime, and is oblivious to the damage they cause. Eventually he takes part in one of the great cash heists, the Lufthansa heist, which netted 10 million in jewels and cash that poured in monthly to JFK from U.S. Army bases in West Germany. Ultimately, Henry Hill snitches on his friends to the feds and ends up with a nauseatingly suburban life in a witness protection program. i.e. he gets away with it.

In the days and hours that followed the storage unit “robbery,” there came a spate of phone messages from Moorehead.  Sure, it was a shame what had happened to the storage unit; you can never be too careful.  A few more weeks went by, and one of Mooreheads friends, almost apologetically handed me a paper for the owner to come to court with Moorehead. Again, it struck me how nice his friends were, and he, too, when he when the ides of January had passed.

We met in a small courtroom, presided over by a female judge. We had a witness, if called upon, the guy who had sold the house to Wylie on Estrella Avenue. Joe  Contreras, who later said that he had bitten the inside of his mouth to keep from laughing when Moorehead addressed the court, empty save for ourselves and one or two members of a modest family who gathered for the next case.

“There were evil forces in the room across the hall,” he spoke in a soft, respectful tone. “And they taunted me with lies. No papers were given to me to tell of their evil designs. I was deprived of my rights. There has been a miscarriage of justice.” The image brought to mind a slimy embryo and a blindfolded statue. “They have robbed me of the god of Disco, one nation indivisible with liberty for all. These wrongs were done against me, and for that reason I am asking for damages and to be able to move back into the house.”

The more he talked, the more worked up Moorehead got. I was perhaps the only person to whom his rambling speech made a bizarre kind of sense.  After he stopped speaking, Wylie took the stand and spoke politic words in measured tones, “As you can see, your honor, Mr. Moorehead is a highly charged individual. He represented unique challenges for myself, as owner, and for the other tenants.”

There was suspense yet: we had to wait three days for the verdict do come. The informal verdict in the courtroom that day was that Moorehead had spoken too much.  When official verdict came through, Wyle had prevailed, the case was decided in favor of Wylie properties.  I didn’t feel there was anything to celebrate: move on to the next thing. Leave a lot of flyers on telephone poles in Mid-City and talk myself hoarse to all these people enquiring about the rooms, and taking great pains to put a good spin on the shared bathroom and map out for prospective tenants the most scenic (less threatening) approach to the property.

Grady Miller is a humorist. His new comedy fiction cavalcade, “Later Bloomer.” Grady can be reached at gr**********@ca*********.com.

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