Questions of Perspective Tour

Questions of Perspective cover

Questions of Perspective cover

Contemporary fiction with a speculative element
Date Published: May 14, 2020
Publisher:  Black Rose Writing
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No one knew it at the time, but April 19, 2011, was the most important day in the history of the world.
After his only friend and colleague, John Manta, disappears without a word, Dave Randall further entrenches himself in the humdrum life of an unenthusiastic lawyer. But once he begins to understand what happened, he embarks on a journey to uncover the deeper meanings and implications of John’s fate.
Accompanied by Peaches the cat, Dave uproots his life and reinvents himself in the midst of his search. Along the way, he is haunted by his piecemeal understanding of John’s fate and what it means for his existence. Little does Dave know, his journey of self-discovery will have ramifications that extend far beyond the borders of his own little life.
Questions of Perspective tablet


No one, let alone me, realized it at the time, but April 19, 2011, was the most
important day in the history of the world. Probably of the entire universe.
As I lived it, though, the day actually kind of sucked.
My morning started in a packed courtroom in Jamaica, Queens, filled with
attorneys donning cheap suits ranging from dark blue to dark gray—a rainbow for
the colorblind. The day would have been considered hot in July, but it was
downright inhuman for April, and many of the lawyers in the room (particularly
those on the heavier side) were trying (and failing) to will themselves to stop
sweating. As I waited for the judge to emerge and the calendar call to begin, I
found myself wedged on a long bench in the gallery between two such attorneys.
The lawyer to my right had given up any pretense of dignity and was furiously
using his tie to mop his damp forehead. I squirmed in misery and glanced down
at the thin file I was carrying, noting the plaintiff’s name: Abramson, Jack. At least
I’ll be one of the first to get called, I thought, assuming an alphabetical call. I could have
confirmed this by checking the calendar that the clerk had posted by the door to
the courtroom, but that would have involved climbing over a number of attorneys
to get out, and I wasn’t that curious about where my case sat on the court’s
Justice Marder, a thin, stern-looking judge who looked to be in his eighties,
eventually hobbled out from his chambers to take the bench. He looked angry
from the get-go; the simmering fury of a man struggling to reconcile his significant
power with the fact that even he could not avoid spending the blistering morning
in a non-air-conditioned room (in a clingy black robe, no less). In the silence that
washed over the room as the judge limped slowly to the bench, I suddenly heard
a small plop, followed by another. Looking down, I saw two dark spots slowly
2 questions of perspective
expand on the redweld folder containing my litigation file—an inadvertent gift
from the dripping attorney to my left. Annoyed, I cocked my head and threw him
a perpendicular glare, which he seemed to receive.
“Hot in here, right?” he whispered, chuckling nervously. I didn’t respond. I
had a longstanding rule of ignoring any comments made in my direction relating
to temperature or the weather.
The calendar was finally and mercifully called. My case was not only one of the
first to be announced, it was the first. Had I planned ahead a little better, I would
have fought harder for an aisle seat. But I didn’t, and, as a result, it left me with an
undignified climb over ten attorneys to escape the row and make my way to the
front of the courtroom. Even though it was a slightly longer route, I opted to go
left, solely for the opportunity to shove my ass into the face of the attorney who
had dripped all over my file.
I was surprised when the judge directed me and my adversary to approach the
bench rather than take our places at the standard tables assigned for the plaintiff
and the defendant. When I arrived at the bench, my adversary—a kind-looking
bald man in his mid-sixties—stood waiting for me. “Kind-looking” isn’t typically
a profound description, but in this profession, it’s a rarity. The lawyer smiled at
me and actually threw me a wink, which I returned with a taut nod. Justice Marder
asked us about the status of the case, and the plaintiff’s attorney filled him in. As
he spoke, the judge’s eyes narrowed more and more until they were thin slits of
pure malice aimed squarely at me. It dawned on me that this would be an
unpleasant conference, and, like many other instances in my legal career, I wished
I were a little more prepared than I was, which was none. None prepared.
After he had been caught up to speed, Justice Marder continued to stare at me
with naked disgust. I opened my mouth to speak in my defense, but he quickly
shut me up with a raised finger, and then he started to yell.
As the judge’s tirade, punctuated by the occasional snicker from the rear of
the courtroom, washed over me, I felt myself sliding into a familiar state of
numbness that suffocated any emotional response I may have otherwise had at
being publicly chastised like a child. I was no longer an active participant in the
scene; I had stepped outside myself to become an audience member watching a
movie involving a man who just happened to look exactly like me, and who just
happened to be getting humiliated in front of a room full of strangers. I
recognized, at some level, that this detachment was a byproduct of depression, but
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in that moment, it did not bother me at all. I’d learned to work with the tools I
was given.
Even in my emotional cocoon, though, the unfairness of the situation was not
lost on me. While I stared at the screaming judge, all I could think to myself, in a
whiny interior monologue, was that this wasn’t even my case.
It was like this: The prior evening, around 7:15, I was working in my cramped
office, trying to finish writing a motion to dismiss that was due at week’s end,
when a fellow associate named Mark Foster appeared in the doorway. Mark,
holding a thin file, wore a sheepish grin that I imagine he thought was charming.
With his artificially whitened teeth and out-of-season tan, Mark was regarded by
most in the firm as the good-natured office idiot. I happened to like him more
than I liked most of the other associates I worked with, which really was not saying
anything at all.
“Hey, Doctor!” Mark said. Mark had taken to calling me “Doctor” because of
my name—Dave Randall—or, more specifically, my “DR” initials. As noted, Mark
was not a clever boy.
“What’s up, Mark?” I asked flatly. Mark seemed momentarily surprised at my
ability to divine that something was indeed “up,” but even a dope like him could
interpret the tone of my question: Get to the point.
“Ah …” he started, rubbing the back of his neck uncomfortably. “One of my
buddies from law school just called, and they’re all going down to Atlantic City for
the night. I was going to go with them and stay over, but I just remembered that
I have this compliance conference tomorrow …”
“And you’d like me to cover it for you,” I finished.
Mark blushed. At least, I think he did. His fake tan made it hard to tell.
“Yeah … I would have asked someone else, but this place is pretty empty
now. I already tried John, but he said he has a deposition tomorrow.”
I believed Mark when he said that I was his last resort. It took me years to
build my reputation as the office grump, but I had finally pulled it off at the
relatively young age of thirty-one. One of the perks of my unofficial title was that
it was rare for coworkers to come nosing about looking for favors. Unfortunately,
Mark’s dopiness, coupled with his desperation, was enough to make him immune
to my lack of charm. But I refused to give in so easily.
“I have a deposition tomorrow, too,” I told him, which was actually true.
Granted, it was scheduled to start in the afternoon, so there was really no reason
I couldn’t cover his appearance in the morning and then head to my deposition
4 questions of perspective
afterwards, other than the fact that I didn’t want to. Unfortunately for me, Mark
came prepared for my rejoinder, as evidenced by the hint of a smirk that touched
his lips at my response.
“Yeah, I checked your calendar before I came in,” he said quickly. “Your
deposition starts at 2:00, right? In midtown? My conference is in Queens at 9:30,
so it should be perfect. You can go straight to your deposition from court.”
Afterwards, I would think of a half-dozen excuses I could have offered to get
out of covering Mark’s appearance. I need to prep for my deposition in the morning, or,
Sorry, but I have a motion due Wednesday that I have to finish. Hell, Mark was so dumb
that I probably could have told him I had an appointment with my gynecologist
and gotten away with it. But it was late, and my mind at that hour was sluggish at
best. With a reluctant sigh, I reached for the file, which Mark was more than happy
to pass off to me.
“Thanks, Doctor!” he said. “I owe you. And the appearance should be easy.
Nothing’s really going on in the case.”
I came to realize the following morning, as Justice Marder’s rant-induced
spittle sprayed my face, that Mark’s assessment—nothing’s really going on—was
entirely accurate. What Mark left out was that a lot should have been going on.
Much to my embarrassment, I learned (along with the judge) that Mark had
blissfully ignored nearly every directive that Justice Marder had given him at the
last court conference—an act of gross negligence that I was paying for through
public humiliation.
Of course, I was tempted to interrupt the judge’s tirade by screaming, “It
wasn’t me! This isn’t my case!” But I knew that excuse wouldn’t fly. I was in court
as a “proud” representative of the law firm of Sanders, Martucci & Lyons, and
when one of us misses a deadline, as far as the court is concerned, we all missed
the deadline. Still, in that moment, it seemed unfair that I was the only one from
my firm being drenched in judge spit.
“Do you know what this is, Counselor?” Justice Marder demanded, waving a
piece of paper at me.
“Yes, Your Honor. It is an order,” I replied, feeling even more absurd at being
forced to become an active participant in the judge’s performance. A snicker from
somewhere in the gallery behind me confirmed that my embarrassment was
“Yes, it is an order. That means you are legally obligated to comply with it.
Did they teach you that in law school?”
daniel maunz 5
“Yes, Your Honor.”
“I’m so glad,” the judge sneered sarcastically, drawing a few laughs from the
horde of attorneys at the back of the room. Keep laughing, assholes, I thought. Your
cases will be called soon enough. Justice Marder then proceeded, in slow, exaggerated
fashion, to make a great show of putting on his reading glasses.
“Let’s see … did you respond to plaintiff’s interrogatories by February 18 like
I directed you to?” he asked, reading from the order.
“No, Your Honor.”
“Did you supplement your document production to provide your client’s
work papers for the 2003 audit like I ordered?”
“No, Your Honor.”
“Did you commence the third-party action that was discussed at the last
“No, Your Honor.” Or so I assumed. It seemed consistent with Mark’s modus
operandi for litigating this particular case.
“Were party depositions completed by March 18 like I ordered?”
“No, Your Honor.”
Justice Marder angrily slapped the order down on his bench and gave me a
stare that was equal parts bewilderment and disgust. In that moment of silence,
the plaintiff’s attorney—my adversary—cleared his throat.
“Your Honor, if I may?” Justice Marder finally took his eyes off me and waved
my counterpart on impatiently. “I have called defendants’ counsel repeatedly
regarding these issues, but no one has ever called me back. I even sent a good faith
letter about two weeks ago in the hope that these matters could be resolved before
this conference, but I never received a response. I had been dealing with a Mark
Foster, who I understood to be the associate handling the case. I believe that this
is my first encounter with …” He stopped and looked at me.
“Dave Randall,” I muttered, wondering where this windbag was going with
all of that. It then registered that he was trying to help me, and I felt a stab of
gratitude at that unexpected act of kindness. It is relatively rare in the world of
litigation. It was alien enough to me, at least, that I almost couldn’t identify it even
when it was right in front of my face.
The judge glowered, mulling his options. He had clearly been enjoying
lambasting me in front of a packed courtroom, but the revelation that I was not
the correct target for his rage seemed to knock the wind out of his sails.
6 questions of perspective
“This is what we’re going to do,” he said, finally. “You are going to give them
all of these documents in the next two weeks—by May 3. Do you understand?”
“Your Honor,” I started, and the judge froze in shock at receiving a response
that was anything more than a chastened head nod. I tried to adopt a contrite face,
but it felt unnatural, like I was merely pushing out a pouty lip while fluttering my
eyelashes. “I apologize for our disregard of your last order. I am confident that we
will not need a full two weeks to complete all of this. We can certainly have all of
these documents sent to plaintiff’s counsel and in his hands by this Friday.”
The judge stared at me, shocked. So did my adversary. I can’t imagine they
had ever seen an attorney argue in court for a shorter deadline to complete a task.
But I didn’t mind a tighter discovery schedule since I planned on throwing this file
back on Mark’s desk the second I returned to the office. I figured that by inserting
me into this mess, he had more than earned a few late nights of putting discovery
responses together. I maintained my best earnest expression and waited for the
judge’s answer.
“Fine,” Justice Marder snarled. “You get him this stuff by Friday. And I
strongly suggest you do not ignore this order. Do you understand me, Counselor?”
“Absolutely, Your Honor.”
As soon as the judge finished scribbling out an order, I took a carbon copy,
pivoted, and exited the courtroom, ignoring the various smirks lurking in my
periphery. It was one of the rules I had embraced regarding court appearances: Get
out as soon as you get a ruling you can live with. Only bad things can happen when you
dawdle. It was a solid maxim, and one that had served me well in the five-plus
years I had been litigating. In fact, if I were to rank my rules regarding court
appearances, that particular one would have come in a solid second, only behind
Don’t speak at all unless you have to. I liked that particular tenet so much that I actually
adopted it in my personal life as well.
I hurried out of the courthouse and lumbered down the steps to the street. I
later recognized that I should have waited for that other attorney to thank him for
his help in keeping me from getting completely steamrolled by the judge. But, of
course, I didn’t. The path to acting like a decent human being was, in general,
something I could only see with the gift of hindsight.
I crossed the street and headed toward the paid parking lot where attorneys
running late for their own court appearances were still lined up in their cars,
impatiently waiting to pass off their keys to an attendant. One such attendant,
overwhelmed with the backup, hurriedly took my ticket and did a double-take after
daniel maunz 7
glancing at it, which was followed by a death stare in my direction. It was the
second such look I had received that day, and it wasn’t even 10:15. “So, it was
you,” he growled in an accent I couldn’t place.
Before I could open my mouth to respond (likely with nothing more than a
confused uhhhhhh …), he cut me off.
“You didn’t leave your key! We had to move your car to another garage
because it was blocking all the other cars here!”
That’s impossible, I thought. How could he have moved my car if he didn’t have the …
My hand instinctively went to my pants pocket, and I felt my key ring with my
car’s keyless starter attached.
Oops. I pulled out my set of keys and grinned sheepishly. “I’m still not used to
this thing,” I offered lamely. The attendant remained uncharmed.
“Come on,” he barked, striding toward a van without bothering to check that
I was following. I shuffled along behind him like a child and, at his prompting, sat
in the passenger seat. He hopped in and, after throwing a quick look of disgust at
my struggle to connect my seatbelt, drove off through the back streets of Jamaica.
I didn’t bother trying to engage in small talk. Instead, I focused on how this
ride would end. Do I tip him? As if reading my thoughts, my surly driver announced:
“Fifty-dollar surcharge for not leaving your key.” I took out my wallet and was
relieved to see that I had exactly sixty-two dollars, which would cover the
surcharge plus the base rate of twelve dollars. It also rendered moot my concerns
regarding the propriety of a tip under the circumstances. I tried to take solace in
the fact that the attendant was already so annoyed that my stiffing him on a tip
was unlikely to have any material impact on our relationship.
We finally arrived at a dark garage where my car sat alone in the driveway near
the street. “Thanks—” I started. My driver stared straight ahead, clearly trying to
will me out of his life. I was all too familiar with that look, although I wasn’t used
to being on the receiving end of it. With a sigh, I handed over three twenties and
two mangled singles and then hustled out before he realized I had given him the
exact amount owed, sans gratuity.
Everything felt off when I entered my car. As I readjusted my car seat and
mirrors (was the guy who drove it here eight feet tall?), I realized I had a slight conundrum.
It was almost 10:30, and if I made the forty-five-minute drive back to my office,
I’d have fifteen minutes to kill before having to leave for my 2:00 deposition in
Manhattan. On the other hand, if I went straight to the city, I’d end up with over
two hours to spare there. Not loving either option, I decided upon the latter,
8 questions of perspective
reasoning that I could use the extra time to study a bit for my deposition. Aside
from filling a cardboard box with a bunch of random documents I might decide to
use during my questioning, I really hadn’t prepared at all. Earlier in my career, I
tried to justify this lack of preparation as a conscious strategy: Stay ignorant! Make
the witness educate YOU! Over time, I became more honest with myself and accepted
that my “stay ignorant” policy was really just a flimsy pretext for run-of-the-mill
It was nearly noon by the time I parked my car in midtown and lugged my
cardboard box full of “evidence” to the street. Time to cram. I found a Starbucks
and ordered a Venti Iced Caramel Macchiato with the hope of finding a quiet table
at which I could study. Unfortunately, as I sipped my tub of lactose, I noticed
there was absolutely nowhere to sit in the packed café. I tried to leave, but I
couldn’t quite figure out how to simultaneously carry both my drink and my
unwieldy box. With a sigh, I forced myself to chug my iced coffee just to free up
both hands. After I disposed of the plastic cup, I took my box back out to the
street. I was in the same exact position as I had been minutes earlier, only now I
also had to contend with the very real threat of diarrhea. I think I just enjoy a good
Before long, I gave up on finding an indoor venue to prepare, and I settled
for a bench in a small park. It was less than an ideal place to get ready. The breeze
threatened to steal any documents I plucked out of my box to review, and it was
a struggle to jot down notes on my legal pad without a solid surface to lean on.
Also, and perhaps most difficult of all, I was sharing my bench with a homeless
man screaming profanities at no one in particular. “Those shitheads” seemed to
be his primary target, but I don’t think I was included in that category. I got the
vibe that he somewhat enjoyed my company.
I eventually gave up trying to prepare and embraced the prospect of just sitting
and relaxing in the sun for a few hours. My stomach was making alarming noises,
but I figured I would be ok if I skipped lunch. At some point, I apparently learned
to tune out my companion’s rantings because he managed to wander away without
my realizing it. Once I had my bench to myself, I tried to at least mentally prepare
for the deposition.
The case was a boring one, even when compared to the other accounting
malpractice lawsuits that I handle. The extremely short version was that an
daniel maunz 9
accountant—my client—made a mistake on a tax return that resulted in the IRS
demanding nearly $250,000 in back taxes, $64,000 in interest, and $10,000 in
penalties. Everyone, including my client, acknowledged that he made a mistake in
preparing the return. If the plaintiff had hired an intelligent attorney, it would have
been an easy case to settle.
But, as these things tend to go, the plaintiff instead hired an ambulance chaser
named Michael Terkle who was completely unfamiliar with the law relating to
professional malpractice claims. So, even though it was well-settled in New York
that back taxes and interest are not recoverable components of damages (making
the case worth nothing more than the remaining $10,000 in penalties), the only
settlement demand we had received prior to the deposition was for a cool million,
which was, not-so-coincidentally, the policy limits of my client’s errors and
omissions insurance. At the most recent court conference, I asked Terkle how he
could justify such a high demand. He scoffed and asked rhetorically, “Do you have
any idea what a Manhattan jury will do to your guy at trial? An accountant who
admits that he fucked up?” I didn’t answer but thought to myself that it was also
unlikely that a jury would fall in love with his client, a guy who made his small
fortune producing porno movies.
By the time 1:45 rolled around, I had accomplished pretty much nothing.
Ignoring the growling sounds from my stomach, I stood up and made my way to
Terkle’s office with my useless box of useless documents. I was somewhat
surprised—and sickened—when I arrived at his chic office, which was on the
fortieth floor of a high-rise looking out over Central Park. I had been under the
impression that Terkle was practicing law out of the back of a used van. I headed
to his office suite and was greeted by his receptionist—a tall, skinny blonde in her
mid-twenties whose bored eyes couldn’t quite bring themselves to look directly at
me. She had me take a seat (“Mr. Terkle is on a very important phone call right
now”) and await his pleasure.
Twenty minutes later, Terkle emerged from a back room, smiling
apologetically. “So sorry for the delay,” he said. He arched an eyebrow at my box
of documents. “Planning on a long one?”
“We’ll see,” I muttered, and he frowned. I certainly had no intention of
conducting a long deposition. Despite my asinine box, I didn’t think I’d have more
than an hour of questions. If I finished by 3:00, there was an outside chance I
10 questions of perspective
could beat rush-hour traffic on my way back to Long Island. Still, I wanted to leave
him with the uncertain potential of a six-hour deposition ahead of him; it pleased
me to plant that seed of doubt in his mind.
I imagine that seed grew into something more substantial when, despite my
best efforts, the deposition ended up lasting over five hours, caused almost solely
by my scumbag of a witness refusing to answer just about every question I posed
to him, even the routine introductory ones:
Q: What year did you graduate from college?
A: I don’t understand the question.
Q: How can you not understand that question?
MR. TERKLE: Objection. He stated he does not understand the question.
Can you rephrase?
Q: Did you go to college?
A: You mean as a student?
Q: Yes. Were you ever enrolled as a student in college?
A: What do you mean enrolled?
And so forth.
I did what I could to move it along: I made my objections, I threatened to
move for sanctions. At one point I demanded that we call the court to address the
witness’s obstinance, but the judge ended up yelling at me for wasting his time. All
the while Terkle sat impassively, his poker face betrayed by his eyes sparkling with
amusement at my mounting frustration. Finally, after five hours of questioning, I
wrapped up the deposition, having established nothing more than that my client
was hired by the plaintiff and screwed up the tax return.
It was after 8:30 when I arrived back at my one-bedroom apartment in
Malverne, Long Island, which sat above my landlord’s house. I had neither the
energy nor the inclination to make dinner, so I stripped out of my suit, grabbed a
half-empty bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, and plopped on the couch to watch the
Mets game, already in progress. It was an ugly combination of poor hitting and
fielding on the part of both teams and fittingly went into extra innings with the
score tied 1-1. I tried to stay up to watch the end, not so much out of any emotional
investment in the outcome as much as a desire to put off going to bed. I knew
that once I fell asleep, my next sensation would be waking up to a brand-new day
daniel maunz 11
of the same old crap. Shortly before midnight, with the game in the fifteenth
inning, I lost my battle with consciousness and drifted to sleep on my couch.
The day had been lousy. Even sadder, it had not been particularly atypical, at
least from my perspective. But in time I would come to appreciate that was the
day everything changed.
April 19, 2011, was the day that my friend John Manta became God.
About the Author

When he is not writing, Daniel Maunz works as in-house counsel for a major insurance company. He currently lives in Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, with his wife Lynne, their son Patrick, and their two cats: Admiral Meowy McWhiskers and Captain Cutie (or “Admiral” and “Captain” for short). Questions of Perspective is his first novel.
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