Robbins: He said they came from Mars |

Robbins: He said they came from Mars

He was about the height of a pogo stick, lean and spare, and looked out at the world from behind thick, rose-tinted glasses. He had left his car — a battered, canary-yellow Gremlin — idling out front and dripping oil. He said his name was Otis.

Otis had shown up at my door unannounced.

I was sitting at my desk when I heard a voice that turned out to be three sizes too big for him ask if “the counselor” was in. I learned quickly that the reason that his voice was over-sized was owing to his woeful hearing. To even hear himself, he had to shout. And when he shouted, he sprayed the space before him like a garden hose with spittle. In the days before COVID — which this blissfully was — a spittle shower was no more than a soggy nuisance.

My assistant showed him in.

Otis sat on the couch before my desk. He politely removed his weathered baseball cap and folded his hands in his lap as neatly as a nun. His knees were knocked together and the way his weight was balanced ahead of his hips, he gave me the impression of a bird perched on a slender limb.

I offered him a cheery, “Good to meet you, sir” which he answered with what I took to be befuddlement. I could have sworn that just a moment or two ago I distinctly heard him ask to see the counselor in English. Maybe, I considered, that was a phrase he’d learned, rehearsed and committed to memory but was the extent of his fluency.

Although he looked more Irish than he did Hispanic, I subscribed to the old nostrum of not judging a book by its cover. I tried again, “Encantado de conocerte,” this time rising from behind my desk with my hand held out for him to shake.

He blinked at me like a doe that I was offering a Salisbury steak.

I tried a different tack. “Why have you come to see me, sir?” He was an older man; judging by the leather of his skin and the sag of what little meat he had to tame his bones, I figured him to be roughly the age of a coastal sequoia, the General Grant perhaps.

“I’M AS DEAF AS A BAT-EARED FOX!” he hollered, which I thought was sort of strange, bat-eared foxes being found only on the African savanna which we distinctly were not, and bat-earned foxes being especially acute of hearing. But I decided not to wander down that particular rabbit hole. “YOU’RE GONNA HAVE TO SHOUT!” he said, a rain of spittle sprinkling my desk.

I felt strange shouting at a man who was the age of a great sequoia and who was no larger than a pogo stick. As I sat and screwed up my voice, what consumed me was the thought that they didn’t teach this kind of stuff in law school. Contracts? Check. Torts? Of course. The rule against perpetuities? None of that was going to help me now. When I settled in my chair, I said, “GOOD TO MEET YOU, SIR. WHAT BRINGS YOU HERE TO SEE ME?”

Just as Deb came to my open door to see what all the fuss was about is when he told me, “MARTIANS!”

I’d been practicing law for 15 years or so and, if I reckoned right, this was the first time in all those years anyone had come to me with extraterrestrial concerns. “MARTIANS,” I solemnly repeated.

He wet his thin, dry lips and nodded earnestly. “WE HAVE GOT TO TALK!” he said.

I settled in. “GO ON.”

What he told me was that he had been orphaned at an early age. His mother had stumbled into some sort of thresher and had come out as mincemeat. And his father, as far as I could make out, had been consumed by wild cats although it was unclear to me if he had leaped into a zoo enclosure, become a cat’s repast when on safari, or had in some other way succumbed to fang and claw. As I scribbled notes, I figured I could work out the precise details later. What I wrote was Mom made into mincemeat by thresher, Dad eaten by a wildcat(s) → → orphaned young.

He lived awhile with his aunt and uncle. Then they died, too. I didn’t inquire as to the details. He seemed real calm about it but, after all, judging by his age — this was all probably a hundred years ago or more — I supposed he’d had time to adjust.

After Aunt Ruth and Uncle Winslow died, no other relatives would take him in. “I HAD ‘EM! RELATIVES,” he bellowed “BUT THEY MUST’VE FIGURED I WAS A REGULAR CALAMITY JANE! THEY WOULDN’T TOUCH ME! OFF TO THE ORPHANAGE I WENT!” He took a breath then said, “EVERYONE IN THE ORPHANAGE WAS NAMED OTIS.” Hard stop. “IT WAS AN ALL-OTIS ORPHANAGE.”

To which, I said, “Um hum.”

We got down to the meat of it. What he wanted me to do, he said, was pay them off — the martians. He had a bundle of cash, he said, in the backseat of the Gremlin that was dripping oil on my drive and he had arranged for me to meet them in a field near Burns. “IF YOU DON’T,” he ominously warned, “THEY’LL KIDNAP ME.” His quick eyes scanned the room. “ONE BY ONE, THEY’VE BEEN KIDNAPPING ALL THE OTHER OTISES!”

What, you may be wondering does this have to do with law?

Precisely. Sometimes in the practice of law — as in life itself — the unexpected just sort of shows up at your door.

As far as I know, Otis is well — as old, deaf, and stately as an ancient coastal giant. What he worked out with the martians? Well, maybe he found a specialist in that particular area of the law.

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