Fictional Character

      From where I sit behind my computer desk, I can always hear the
rumbling of his truck before I turn my head to see him shoving the
articles of mail into the mail boxes. The mailman reaches our street
everyday around eleven. I admire his driving skills, the way he
maneuvers his little white truck to fit in between the two parked cars
on either side of my mailbox. Once he affixed a warning on the box
letting me know that my car must be parked far enough from the
mailbox to allow easy access.   Sometimes, the moment I see him
stop by my mailbox, I storm out in the nick of time to give him a piece
of outgoing mail before he drives off. And on occasions, he knocks
on my door to deliver a package that requires my signature.  

      Maybe I’m being too cynical but there’s something about our
mailman that bothers me; I just don’t like the way he looks at me.  
Although he seems to be a very quiet and well-mannered individual,
because of his job he knows too much about personal affairs of
others and that give me the creeps.  I bet he pays attention to what I
receive or send. How else can he add a little flavor to his boring job?
I know I would do the same if I were in his shoes. Snooping in private
lives of others may be morally reprehensible but surely is an
intriguing pastime the postal employees take for granted.  In general,
the main function of the postal service is to bring me junk mail, bills
and bad news, neither of which I care for therefore  I’m not
particularly fond of the mail or the man who divers it.

      A few weeks ago, as I was drifting in my fantasies and feverishly
typing my new story on my desktop computer, I noticed the mailman
trudging toward my house with a letter in his hand. Before he had a
chance to knock, I leaped to open the door and startled him.

      He detached a green slip off the fat envelope, handed it to me
and said, “Please sign on the first line and print your name on the
second.”  I sensed a wicked smirk of his face. He must’ve read the
sender’s address. It was from a law firm.

       After he left, I opened the envelope, unfolded the neatly the
papers to learn I was being sued. Hastily I glanced through the legal
mambo jumbo to see why. Among the host of venomous words and
phrases like justice and attorney’s fees crawling all over the legal
document waiting to bite the words defamation and slandering caught
my attention.   

      I did what I usually do in similar circumstances. I put down the
letter, closed my eyes and took a deep breath to calm down. Then I
paced back and forth in the room, cursed my damn luck and shouted
every phrase in my profane vocabulary.  This therapeutic routine did
not yield the comfort I expected as I realized I had to narrow down my
cursing targets.  

      Then I snatched the letter off the coffee table and carefully read
it to find out who I’d ticked off this time. I was sued by a character in a
short story I wrote a few years ago, I could not stop laughing seeing
such frivolous lawsuit.  According to the letter, the personal traits of
the villain I’d portrayed in my story exactly matched those of a man
who I had never met. The plaintiff claimed that his character had
been too accurately portrayed in my fiction to be a simple
coincidence in an imaginative creation. I was held liable for knowingly
slandering an innocent man and damaging his reputation.  

      Who would in his right mind take such a preposterous lawsuit
seriously? I wondered. Yet the letter seemed real so I had no choice
but to authenticate the lawsuit and defend myself somehow. The next
day I flipped through the yellow pages to find an attorney specialized
in defamation cases.

      “Is it possible to get sued by an imaginary character?” I was
equally infuriated and mystified.  

      “You’re not being sued by a imaginary character? ” the attorney
said.

      “How could I get sued for what I imagined?”

      “A real person is suing you for defamation. I don’t know this law
firm but if there is any doubt about authenticity, you may contact the
law firm representing the plaintiff to validate the lawsuit?”

      “I already did. The law office is real and the counselor whose
signature is on the paperwork actually works there.”

      “Then, you’re in a real legal bind.” I sensed a biting sarcasm in
his response.

      “Are you experienced in litigating defamation cases?”

      “I practiced in this area of law for more than two decades.”

      “Can he prevail in court?”

      “That depends on how accurately you portrayed him. Yes he
may have a case.”      

      “What are my options? What’s the next step?”

      “You need to respond to his allegations. If you wish to acquire
my services, I transfer you to my secretary so you can make an
appointment for next week. Bring the story in question and any other
supporting document you may have. Did you have any income for
writing this story, royalty or advance payment perhaps? “

      “I’m a morbidly obscure writer. This damn piece was only once
published in a magazine and I received one penny for each word.
The grand total earning was a whopping forty five dollars and sixty
three cents.”

      “Let me ask you this question and I want you to be
straightforward. Is it possible you inadvertently portrayed his
character based on a real person in your life, someone you knew
perhaps?”  

      “I made no conscious effort to portray a real person. I created
him based on my perceptions only. That’s not my fault if a real
person possesses such repulsive traits. Should I be punished
because someone else is corrupt?”

       “Well, this is the essence of this lawsuit. You’re being sued for
character assassination.  The Jury is interested to see if your
characterization was malicious.”

      “I wrote a piece of damn fiction for crying out loud. The entire
premise of the story is imaginary, events are all invented, characters
are fictitious and dialogues are all made up. And I’m a lousy writer,
what I write can harm no one. I tell you sir on good authority my
writing is weak, incoherent and utterly ambiguous. There is no way in
hell I can realistically portray anyone let alone carry out a character
assassination. You just present the copy of the crummy check I
received for the piece of crap I wrote as evidence in court to slap the
plaintiff in face. What I earned for this piece is the best indication of
my incompetence as a writer?”

      “Let me give you a word of advice for free. If this case goes to
trial, you should tone down your rhetoric. Judges frown upon
emotional outburst and sarcasm.”

      “You put me on the stand and let me have my moment in court. I’
m a very credible person I swear to God.  I’m not playing innocent I
really am a lousy writer. Let me tell you a dirty secret about this
particular story. I purchased a three year subscription of the
magazine that published this story. I paid them more than they paid
me. My net income for this literally affair was negative and I reported
this loss on my tax return, these are all documented. The notion of
me profiting from this transaction is simply ludicrous.”

      He paused for a few moments, I could hear him sighing.
      “I tell you right off the bat sir, your dry sense of humor and your
belligerence will not resonate with the jury of your peers. Frankly
speaking, this is going to be an uphill battle in court.”

      “I have no choice but to fight the monster I portrayed in my
fiction. Would you represent me? “

      “Of course I will. I charge $250 per hour and require a $7,500
retainer which gives you thirty hours of my time. And I want you to
understand that I cannot guaranty a favorable outcome. After you
sign the contract with me, any letter I send out on your behalf, you’ll
be billed for. Any correspondence our office has with the opposing
party is billable. Every time I have a phone conversation with you, I
charge you. When I think of your case in bed, in the shower or even
in the john I charge you. My time is valuable.”

              “Yes I understand, please transfer me to your secretary so I
can make necessary arrangements and an appointment.”

      “Of course, just bear with me for a second, we have a new
phone system. I don’t know my way around these buttons yet, if we
get disconnected call back please and talk to Jennifer.”

      Sure enough we got disconnected and I didn’t call back. Now I
had more reasons to protect my interest against the lawyer then the
accuser. Oh! I hate to deal with lawyers and used car dealers not to
mention my ex-wife.

      Truth was that I could not afford to go through a costly legal
battle to defend myself against accusations of some crook I’d created
in one of my delusional flings. This charlatan was legally blackmailing
me as he was aware of my intricate thought process portrayed in that
short fictional and now callously using it against me in real life.  He
had no qualm about using my weaknesses to extort money out of
me.  The lone shark I crafted in the safest retreat to my imaginary
world was now collecting his debt at high interest rate.  How could I
possibly be exonerated from the literary travesty I had knowingly
committed?  How could I deny the charges when I’d already
confessed to the crime in writing?

      The best way out of this predicament was to reason with the con-
artist directly to reach a settlement and end this charade. I searched
the plaintiff’s name on the internet and came across a database
company that provided his name, address, phone number and email
address for a nominal fee. For two full days I contemplated how to
approach him then I called.

      “Hello.”

      It must have been him answering the phone. His voice was so
familiar. I introduced myself.

      “I know who you are. I expected your call but am not interested in
hearing anything you have to say.”

      “Listen to me you son of bitch, I’m not a tele-marketer that you
can easily brush off. I need to have a word with you.”

      “Call my attorney to discuss any concern you may have. I was
advised not to have any direct contact with you.”

      “Do you have any idea how these parasites operate? Every time
I call your attorney, he’ll charge you,” I said.

      “I’m not worried about that. I hired a legal counsel on a
contingency bases so in the end you’re the one who will pay for the
chats.”

      “I see how this scheme of yours hatches. A low life scum joins a
white collar swindler to milk an innocent writer whose main interest is
writing, who writes for sheer pleasure of creating.”

        “You’re neither innocent nor a writer.”

      “Shut the hell up you fucking bastard...” I could not control
myself anymore.

      “Do you want me to pile harassment charges on top of
slandering too?” he calmly responded.

       “The last thing I want is to listen to the literary critic of a scum
like you,” I shouted off top of my lung.

      “You know what your problem is?” he asked.

      “Yes, jerks like you.”

      “Exactly, if you’d created decent characters, you wouldn’t be in
this mess.”

       “What I write is my business.” I shrieked.

      “and now it is mine too.”

      “Why are you doing this to me?” I desperately pleaded.

      “This is how you characterized me. I’m the villain you wrote; what
do you expect me to do. I’m doing this for money.”

      “I’m not rich, you should know that.”

      “You have enough to share.”

      “I can legally fight this.”

      “You know defending yourself will cost you more than the
damages I asked for. The large portion of the court settlement would
actually be for my attorney’s fees. And I bet you already know that. I
know you’ve already examined all your options and this call was your
last resort and the least expensive alternative.”

      “You’re so goddamn twisted,” I said. Yet I found his wickedness
quite interesting.

      “I’m your best work, cream of the crop.”

      “How did you convince an attorney to take your case on a
contingency basis?”

      “Lawyers are unethical, shrewd, greedy and utterly opportunistic
but not as smart as they lead to believe. They’re not interested in
justice but to make a quick buck by writing a few letters to the
opposing party and intimidate them in settling out of court. If you’re
aware of their professional qualities, you can always lure one to
represent you if he sees a lucrative opportunity. You just need to
play your hand right.”

       “You truly are as evil as I depicted you.”

      “No wonder we understand each other perfectly,” he said.

      “Let’s meet and discuss this,” I offered.

      “That’s not a good idea,” he responded.

      “How much do you know about me?”

      “More than you can imagine.”

      “Let’s settle this between the two of us. What figure you have in
mind?”
      “25,000 dollars.”

      “That’s outrageous”

      “That’s the price.”

      “5,000 dollars.” I cannot afford more than that.

      “Yes you can.”

      “10,000.”

      “$25,000 if you pay me directly without my attorney knowing
about it.”  

      “You’ll drop the lawsuit?”

      “Yes sir.”

      “What about your lawyer?”

      “I drop him like a bag of dirt.”

      “I don’t think you can get rid of him without paying him. You
cannot settle without him being involved. You have a contract.”

      “In one of you stories you showed me how to ditch your attorney
too.”

       I had no leverage in this negotiation. He had me completely
figured out. He was more sophisticated and manipulative than the
villain I portrayed. What terrified me the most was how much he knew
about me and how far he was willing to go to hurt me.  I had to
disentangle myself from this creep. God knows what he was capable
of. I wanted him out of my life for good. So I agreed to pay the
ransom. He gave me a bank account number where I deposited the
fund a week after.

      Two weeks later I received a letter from the plaintiff’s attorney
indicating the dismissal of the lawsuit. When I was signing the
certified letter, for the first time my mailman avoided making an eye
contact.