THE LAST LAUGH: Expert advice

Don’t drink and propose
This was from the deposition of an 89-year-old man.
Q. So you got engaged early on in the relationship?
A. I don’t know how long ago we got engaged. I don’t remember that.
Q. Okay.
A. It just happened one night, and I don’t drink. I don’t drink neither. I don’t drink, so I can’t say all that because I don’t drink. I don’t smoke and don’t drink.
Q. Oh, I get what you’re saying. So you got engaged, but it wasn’t because you were feeling, I guess, pretty tipsy that night.
Elsa Jorgensen
Birmingham, Mich.

Dating yourself
Q. I will apologize in advance if I ask you to repeat things. I’m old. I grew up listening to Led Zeppelin way too loud, so my hearing is not —
A. I listen to Led Zeppelin, too, so I know how old you are. I’m coming right up there.
Therese J. Casterline, RMR, CRR
The Colony, Texas

What does it all mean?
MR. SMITH: Objection, calls for speculation. And asked and answered.
THE WITNESS: And as an answer?
MR. SMITH: Asked and answered.
THE WITNESS: Past and answered?
MR. SMITH: No. It’s “asked and answered.” It’s part of the objection. You go ahead.
MR. JONES: Go ahead.
THE WITNESS: That means I can answer it?
MR. JONES: You can answer it.
Mr. SMITH: You may.
THE WITNESS: Oh, I may —
MR. SMITH: You have to.
THE WITNESS: I have to answer it. So that’s not “may,” Counsel. That is “thou shalt.”
MR. SMITH: You’re correct.
Laurel L. Hall
Chimacum, Wash.

You can never go home again
Q. Were you born and raised here in Oregon?
A. No. I was actually born near Chicago and raised in Detroit, Mich.
Q. Oh, you were?
A. Yeah. And then I roamed around the country working for newspapers in Ohio and New York and all over. But I’ve been in Oregon now since 1980.
Q. My wife is from just outside of Detroit.
A. What town?
Q. There was a movie about it. You could probably guess. They have forest parks, city parks.
A. Oh, yes. Grosse Pointe. Yes, okay. You know, I was from the poorer side of town.
MR. SMITH: There was a movie about your wife?
MR. JONES: Isn’t there some movie about Grosse Pointe?
THE WITNESS: Well, there’s Grosse Pointe Blank.
MR. JONES: Yeah. But I can’t remember which part of town she was — so it wasn’t too high-end, but she had a good life.
Juliane Petersen
Beaverton, Ore.

Expert opinion
Q. Doctor, in what other ways has the fall affected Mrs. Jones?
A. She had absolutely no bone density loss because of the cross country skiing that she did. Now she is at risk for hip fractures and osteoporosis.
Q. This is what Mrs. Jones has told you?
A. Yes.
Q. Doctor, you don’t portend any expertise in osteoporosis or the aging propensity?
A. I’m married to an aging woman. I know what osteoporosis is.
Sandra Chadwick, RMR
New Milford, Conn.

Alphabet soup
Q. What does CVGG do for Oxy to market the NGLs to DCP NGL?
A. I believe that DCP NGLs markets the NGL’s Enterprise at the MAPL point.
Denyce Sanders, RDR, CRR
Houston, Texas

Lost in translation
An interpreter was involved in this depsotision, which is probably why the witness was confused.
Q. And when you went back at that time, what hours were you working?
A. Nine. My schedule.
Q. The same hours you were working before the accident?
A. I don’t remember because I have so many.
Q. So many what?
A. Sweaters. Aren’t you asking me about sweaters?
Q. No, I’m not. I could care less about your sweaters.
David Novick
Howard Beach, N.Y.

Inquisition or deposition?
Q. And why did you write those notes?
A. Just to remember because I knew I was coming in for the inquisition. Is it the inquisition?
MS. SMITH: Yep. That’s what it is.
WITNESS’S WIFE: Deposition.
Virginia Dodge, RDR, CRR
Boston, Mass.

Accidents happen
The captain of a tug was pushing a barge and hit a bridge, causing damage to it.
Q. Were you also the captain of your tug when your tug hit the Alligator Bridge down at Albemarle Sound? Is that correct?
A. The Alligator Bridge?
Q. Yes, sir.
A. The bridge hit me.
Q. Yes, sir. I won’t even touch that.
Sue Ash, RMR
Norfolk, Va.

I don’t remember
Q. Is dementia in the family? Do you know?
A. No.
Q. Unless you forgot. Just kidding.
Diana D. Sabo
Tinley Park, Ill.

Follow the bouncing ball
ATTORNEY: At the conclusion of the trial, the court will give the jury a packet of instructions to follow in reaching their verdict. Do you think you will be able to follow the court’s instructions, even if you may not agree with the law?
JUROR: I’ve been married for 17 years, so yes, I can follow instructions, even if I don’t agree.
Kari O. Narey, RMR, CRR
Waterloo, Iowa

THE LAST LAUGH: People say the craziest things

Where you get your information
OTIS is the Offender Tracking Information System in Michigan. This was over signing a form without reading it first.
A. I mean, I inadvertently put myself in a bad position, you know.
Q. Right, right. You won’t do that again, though. See? Big, giant lesson learned; right?
A. Yeah, we’ll see if I end up on OTIS.
Q. I don’t think you’re going to end up on OTIS. It’s funny that you know what OTIS is.
A. Well, everybody does.
Q. I know. That’s true. Everybody really does.
A. Everybody goes on there and sees “I remember him from high school, or her. Let’s see.”
Q. I know. That is true. It is true. I think it would be more important if you ended up on Ashley Madison.
A. Oh, no, no. I just think that’s hilarious.
Elsa Jorgensen
Birmingham, Mo.

First deposition nerves
A. And my children, both my daughter and my son, have the same kind of memory I do, different than what my husband has. You had him so scared. I mean, he was just unbelievably. I couldn’t believe it.
Q. I was trying not to scare him, really.
A. I know, but he has watched too much TV.
Q. Oh, he thought I had chains and whips in here?
A. Yeah. He was all ready. He had told me he was going to have to do some cussing and swearing. And I said, “You are not.”
Q. Well, I hope I disappointed him.
A. You did.
Q. And how about you? Have I got you scared too?
A. No. I am not that way at all. I talk to the world.
Michelle Giangualano
Seattle, Wash.

Q. I will represent to you, sir, that in the snippet that you are looking — which for record purposes is Bates-labeled 666 —
A. Yes.
Q. You’re laughing because —
A. He was laughing.
MR. BROWN: The devil.
MR. JONES: It’s late in the day, and 666 is striking somebody in the room as funny.
Therese J. Casterline, RMR, CRR
The Colony, Texas

Experience is the best teacher
A. And I was going to turn left, and a car came and I didn’t — well, I saw it, but I thought I had time, and I pulled out and she hit me from the side.
Q. Do you remember what your mom said to you?
A. To not say anything.
Q. Okay. Is she a defense attorney?
A. No.
MR. JONES: Just a wise person.
Laurel L. Hall
Chimacum, Wash.

The woman being deposed and several members of her family were at a lake for a family reunion. Together they pulled eight strangers from the water who were drowning.
Q. Other than with family and just talking about what happened, there’s nobody else that you spoke with that came and asked you questions about what happened outside of your family?
A. People I worked with that saw the news, you know, just that typical type of thing. “What happened? We saw you on the news.” That sort of thing.
Q. And the news media folks talked to you that day as well?
A. The next day they did. And then that Monday the Today Show went out to Mom and Dad — or to Dad’s at the time, Dad and Evan’s, and interviewed us.
Q. And so you were on the Today Show?
A. Well, we were bumped for Justin Bieber’s mom, but they interviewed us.
Q. And so they played your interviews on the Today Show?
A. They did not. They were going to, but Justin Bieber’s mom took precedence.
Q. Did they give you copies of the interviews?
A. No, they didn’t. And that’s okay.
Q. Well, I’d have rather watched your story.
Juliane Petersen
Beaverton, Ore.

Listen to the judge
A. Well, you asked me what I would do, and that’s what I would do.
MR. JOHNSON: Objection. Sidebar.
MR. GARCIA: I’m going to overrule both of those.
Q. (BY MR. JOHNSON) My question is —
MR. SMITH: You’re out of your jurisdiction.
Denyce Sanders, RDR, CRR
Houston, Texas

Spelling test
THE COURT: You’re going to have a baby?
DEFENDANT: I already had him, and I already did that class.
THE COURT: Oh, you did?
DEFENDANT: (Inaudible)
THE COURT: Is that a “yes”? I don’t understand “mm-mm.”
THE COURT: And neither does the court reporter. She just — doesn’t even know how to spell that, probably. Do you know how to spell it?
DEFENDANT: Yep. M-h-m-m-m-dot-dot-dot.
THE COURT: All right. But I don’t, so you’re going to have to speak “yes’s” and “no’s” with me, okay?
DEFENDANT: Yes, sir.
McKayla McHugh, RPR
Austin, Texas

Dumb phone
Q. Do you use a smartphone?
A. No. Just a normal one. I don’t know how smart it might be.
Jeannette Samoulides
Walnut Creek, Calif.

If the shoe fits
This has to do with a bank robbery, wherein the Defendant is on the stand testifying and claiming he did not rob the bank. They had video of him robbing the bank. The shoes he wore made an imprint on the counter when he jumped over to rob the teller.
Q. Did you make any attempt whatsoever to dispose of those shoes in any way?
A. No, I didn’t.
Q. Could you have disposed of those shoes?
A. Yes, I could have. I could have had my people come down and get all of my property.
Q. Why was it that you did not dispose of those shoes?
A. Because I wasn’t involved in no robbery, and them shoes wasn’t neither.
Sue Ash, RPR, RMR
Norfolk, Va.

Turning a blind eye
Q. Do you have to submit to any additional tests or anything when you go to the MVD?
A. Well, because I’m blind in one eye.
Q. So what do you have to do for that?
A. Well, I just got to make sure that I can see out of the right eye.
Mary Seal, RDR, CRR
Albuquerque, N.M.

Theft prevention
Q. How long had you owned that 1991 Honda Accord at the time of the accident?
A. For about four or five months.
Q. And were you the only driver of that Honda Accord?
A. Yes.
Q. And was that vehicle an automatic or a manual?
A. Automatic.
Q. Do you know how to drive a manual?
A. No.
Q. Nobody does anymore. It’s the best security device you can get.
Juliane Petersen
Beaverton, Ore.

THE LAST PAGE: Wait, there’s more!

Flattery will get you everywhere
Q. All right. Was she a young woman?
A. Probably somewhere around my age.
Q. So a young woman?
A. Yeah. Oh, good one.
Elsa Jorgensen
Birmingham, Mich.

Don’t twist my arm
THE WITNESS: And so my husband and I were getting married in June. And I said, “I am getting this thing fixed before we get married because I don’t want to be walking in with my arm in a sling because everybody is going to say you twisted my arm and married me.”
Michelle Giangualano
Seattle, Wash.

Q. And since we talked a little bit about athletics off the record at the start of this deposition, I’m a little curious as to how one goes to Yale as an undergrad and Harvard for medical school, and where does one sit during The Game.
MR. SMITH: You’re under oath.
A. I tend to sit on the Yale side, but I haven’t gone in a while.
Q. The good answer would be either the home team side or whoever has the best tailgates.
Virginia Dodge, RDR, CRR
Boston, Mass.

Last laughDon’t sit downwind
MR. JONES: Michael, your dog has gas.
MR. JONES: May the record reflect that Michael’s dog has gas. I don’t need coffee anymore.
MR. SMITH: I would hate to have to validate or invalidate that assumption, but…
MR. JONES: The south end of your north-facing dog is facing me.
MR. SMITH: Yes, the south end of the dog is facing Mr. Jones. And it’s a direct hit, I have to say.
MR. JONES: You sunk my battleship.
MR. SMITH: That’s the kind of luck you’re going to have this week, Mr. Jones.
MR. JONES: I start a trial next week. You don’t need to tell me that.
MR. SMITH: Hmm. You may have to take a shower before you get there.
Holly Goodwin
Portland, Ore.

Gotta be from somewhere
Q. Dr. Green, you grew up in Dumas, Texas?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. When was the last time you were out in Dumas?
A. It’s probably been a couple of years.
Q. Do you consider yourself to be one of the Ding Dong Daddies?
MR. SMITH: He’ll know what that means.
MR. JONES: Yeah, I don’t know.
MR. SMITH: You’re not from out there?
Therese J. Casterline, RMR, CRR
The Colony, Texas

Avoidance behaviors
Q. Have you ever been in a deposition before?
A. No, I never have. I don’t know how I’ve avoided it.
MR. SMITH: Carefully.
THE WITNESS: Carefully, yes.
MR. JONES: So that’s a good thing.
Juliane Petersen
Beaverton, Ore.

Speed trap
Q. Do you mind just starting that answer again a little bit slower?
A. I’m sorry. Yes.
THE COURT: See the nice court reporter?
THE WITNESS: Yes, your Honor, I do. She’s very lovely. By the way, I love the scarf. I will slow down.
THE COURT: Then don’t kill her.
THE WITNESS: I will not. I will not. I promise. Mea culpa.
THE COURT: It’s accepted. But you be true to your word and speak slowly.
THE WITNESS: Yes, ma’am.
Lisa Edwards, RDR, CRR
Miami, Fla.

Location, location, location
MR. JONES: Okay. And, for the record, she’s used her right hand and put it directly below her neck, right at her chest.
MR. SMITH: Actually, it was by her heart, your Honor.
MR. JONES: Okay. That’s fine.
THE COURT: Okay. With that important distinction on the record, we’ll accept that modified stipulation, Counsel.
Stephanie Fernandez
Ridgecrest, Calif.

As long as you’re not hangry
Q. As you sit here today are you feeling impaired in any way that would affect your ability to testify about past events?
A. No. A little hungry. But…
Helga Lavan, RPR
Woodbury, Conn.

Oh, the fear I instill!
A. Yes, ma’am.
Q. Did I read that correctly?
A. Uh huh. Yes, ma’am, you did. I’m sorry. I said “uh huh,” and I want to make sure I got it straight.
Q. Thank you for catching that.
A. I didn’t want Denyce to get me.
Q. That’s fair.
Denyce Sanders, RDR, CRR
Houston, Texas

What’s the diff?
Q. Tell me about that carpet.
A. It’s a rug.
Q. What’s the difference between a rug and a carpet?
A. Carpet is wall-to-wall. Rug is a piece.
Q. I’ve always had this picture of a flying carpet, and that’s not wall-to-wall.
MR. JONES: See, that’s where lawyers get their information — is from cartoons.
Cassy Kerr, RPR, CRR, CRC
Tulsa, Okla.

The secret lives of pets
Q. Do you own any pets of any kind?
A. Yes.
Q. Tell me about that
A. I own a rabbit, a cat, a snake, and three fish.
Q. Did you ever have a dog as a pet?
A. Yes.
Q. Did you ever have any issues with that dog?
A. No.
Q. Did that dog ever bite you or growl at you or attack you?
A. No.
Q. Same question but for any other dog?
A. No.
Q. Prior to the accident that we’re here for today, were you ever attacked or bitten or scratched by any other dogs?
A. No.
Q. This may be a silly question, but I’ll ask the same question for the rabbit, the cat, and the snake. Did you ever have any issues with any of those pets?
A. No.
Q. Where they attacked you or bit you or scratched you, anything like that?
A. No.
Q. Okay.
MR. SMITH: What about the fish?
Q. I’m going to give the fish the benefit of the doubt. They’re not piranhas; right?
A. No.
Kelly Palazzi, RPR
South Hackensack, N.J.





It can be hard keeping a straight face as a court reporter

The Havana Herald, Havana, Fla., posted an excerpt on March 3 from Disorder in the American Courts submitted by one of its readers. The excerpt is an example of humorous exchanges courtrooms that were captured by court reporters.

Read more.

LAST LAUGH: I heard it in the funny pages

What’s on the telly tonight?
Dissing the witness’s choice of TV programming
Q. Do you have any hobbies that keep you busy when you’re not hanging around with family or watching sport events or anything?
A. Well, I — God, I guess kind of one of my hobbies now is watching TV. I watch a lot of History channel, American military channel because I was in Vietnam and I was in the Vietnam War. I do watch a lot of that because I love the history of World War II and, like, the Korean War, and some of my relatives were in both of those. So I do that.
And I do — oh, here’s one: Dancing with the Stars. My wife and I are ballroom dancers, and so we watch Dancing with the Stars and — oh, and I watch The Bachelor and Bachelorette with her.
MR. SMITH: All right. That’s quite enough of that.
Juliane Petersen
Beaverton, Ore.

Ah, memories
Marking an exhibit that is a printout of the deponent’s web page.
Q. That’s a good picture of you.
A. That was taken a number of years ago.
Q. I didn’t want to mention that.
A. That’s okay. I think it was taken in 2000. I’ll use any advantage I can to get people to visit my website.
Elsa Jorgensen
Birmingham, Mich.

Sometimes, it’s easier to just take the uh-huh
Q. Does he ever go outside through the garage door?
A. Well, yeah, when I took him out on the leash.
Q. Only on the leash?
A. Uh-huh.
Q. Yes? You said, yes?
A. Sir?
Q. Your answer was, yes?
A. What was your question?
Angeli English
D’Iberville, Miss.

Pick your favorite
Q. Okay. And how many stories did my client, Mr. Jackson, tell you?
STATE’S ATTORNEY: Objection. Relevance.
THE COURT: What’s the relevance?
DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, I want to know how many stories there were so that we can see which one we should believe for these proceedings.
THE COURT: Sustained.
Lisa Kwasigroch, RPR
Milwaukee, Wis.

He plays one on TV
MR. JONES: Who enjoys shows like CSI, NCIS, Law & Order? Is everyone comfortable with the idea that that’s television and things go differently in the real courtroom?
MR. SMITH: I know Judge Chase is very handsome; Mr. Wright is very handsome; and I’m very handsome. But we’re not probably quite up to the standard of television. Is everyone okay with that?
THE COURT: Speak for yourself, pal.
(Courtroom laughter.)
MR. JONES: Aside from Judge Chase, of course.
MR. SMITH: I object.
Betsy Cradic, RPR
Rochester, Minn.

If my friends were your friends …
After 300 pages of names like Mike, Mark, Bobby, and Anthony (friends of the witness) where no last names were known, the following questions come up.
Q. What friend did you used to run with?
A. Me, Bobby, and Anthony.
Q. Was it Bobby the bagel guy?
A. No.
Q. No?
A. No.
Q. Different Bobby?
A. Different Bobby.
Q. What’s Bobby’s last name?
A. He lives in Long Island.
MS. JONES: She didn’t ask you where he lived, she asked you his last name.
A. Bobby Anthony.
Q. What’s Anthony’s last name, Anthony Bobby?
A. Whatever you want to put.
MS. JONES: Do you know his last name, yes or no?
THE WITNESS: I’m lucky I know his first name.
MS. JONES: Okay. So is that a no?
Q. Can you still contact Bobby Anthony?
A. No.
Q. Can you still contact Anthony I-don’t-know-his-last-name?
A. No.
Q. Anthony Doe, shall we call him?
A. They’re gone; they moved.
Devora Hackner
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Who’s the boss?
Q. But you’re not doing any sort of consulting, anything else that’s generating income since you retired?
A. I’m doing “honey do” projects.
Q. Tell me what you mean by that, just so that the jury can hear it.
A. I get to do whatever my wife tells me needs to be done.
Laurie Collins, RPR
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Lightning before the thunder
(When swearing the witness)
THE WITNESS: Where is my Bible at?
MR. JONES: We’ll take your word on it.
THE WITNESS: That’s in court, isn’t it?
MR. JONES: Just on TV.
THE WITNESS: Oh, just on TV?
MR. JONES: Or when you’re getting sworn in to be a United States Supreme Court Justice.
Therese Casterline Kiernan, RMR, CRR
The Colony, Texas

This is why we proof!
“Rectal fires” should be “rectifiers.” My brief for “rectal” is REBGT. Glad I proofed!
MR. ATTORNEY: On Page Eight, Your Honor, in Paragraph 24, Sub Paragraph E, CB alleges that the Defendants did not provide any manual controls for the rectal fires or the manufacturer’s software necessary to adjust the current. Therefore, it is impossible to adjust the current output of the rectal fires. And then they go on.
Debra M. Arter, RDR, CRR
Rockledge, Fla.


THE LAST PAGE: Happy time

Q. Do you have an elliptical in your home?
A. Yes.
Q. What brand is it?
A. Precor.
Q. I’m a fugitive from the gym most of time, but I did go at the hotel.
Virginia Dodge, RDR, CRR
Boston, Mass.

The phantom employee
Q. Okay. So first you said the other person was in cahoots and then you denied that there was another person. So I am confused.
A. Okay. Sorry.
Q. Are you saying that there is a phantom employee, there really wasn’t a fellow employee, or that this fellow employee was in cahoots with her? I mean, you can’t be in cahoots with a phantom, so help me understand what your testimony is.
Michelle Giangualano
Seattle, Wash.

Can you hear me now?
Q. Do you have any hearing difficulties?
A. I think I’m little a hard of hearing in one ear.
Q. You’re supposed to say “what?” when I ask that question.
A. I thought there was no levity involved.
Q. Oh, you can always have a little levity in life.
A. Oh, there is?
Q. Sometimes.
A. Oh, I hear you now.
Q. See?
(The cell phone ring sounded like a duck quacking.)
(Phone sounds.)
THE WITNESS: I’m hearing that better more than I hear you right now. I’m sorry.
MR. ATTORNEY: Do you want to hit the mute button or whatever?
THE REPORTER: You killed the duck.
THE WITNESS: I shot the duck.
Sandy Hancock, RPR
O’Fallon, Mo.

Too much thinking
Q. Mrs. Jones, I understand you were standing at the intersection where this accident happened.
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Would you tell the Court and Jury what you saw, please, ma’am?
A. Well, I think this blue car —
MR. SMITH: Judge, I object to what she thinks.
THE COURT: Sustained.
Q. Just describe what you saw, please, ma’am.
A. Well, I think that the blue car – –
MR. SMITH: Objection.
THE COURT: Sustained.
MR. SMITH: Judge, would you instruct the witness?
THE COURT: Ma’am, you can’t tell us what you think, just what you saw.
THE WITNESS: Well, Judge, Your Honor, Sir, I ain’t like them lawyers. I can’t talk without thinking.
(Utter chaos among the jury)
Richard Wilson, RPR (Ret.)
Montgomery, Ala.

Reading list
Q. Could you read D for me, 1D?
A. I read it.
Q. Could you read it out loud for me into the record?
MR. JONES: The document speaks for itself. If you want to ask him whether he was aware of it, that’s fine, and reading it seems like a waste of good eyesight.
Lora J. Appino Barnett, RMR
Topeka, Kan.

Spell it for the record
MS. SMITH: Your Honor, I mean, it’s probably not that important, but for some reason, it says two o’clock.
MR. JONES: I noticed that.
MS. SMITH: My name is spelled wrong, too, but I will let that one go.
MR. JONES: I wasn’t responsible for that. I know how to spell your name. I heard it on the radio.
Adam H. Alweis, RPR
Syracuse, N.Y.

Remember this
Q. And do you believe that you would have a memory if that question had been answered?
MR. SMITH: Object to whether or not you would have a memory of something you can’t remember.
MR. JONES: Good objection. It’s one of the best I’ve heard.
Therese J. Casterline, RMR, CRR
The Colony, Texas

Name that number
Q. Okay. Have you tried to talk to him about his medical condition and he walks away?
A. Yes.
Q. Okay. How many times has that happened?
A. A handful.
Q. So six times?
A. Five.
Q. Five times?
A. Yes.
Q. Oh, yeah. Five.
Chris Willette, RDR, CRR, CRC
Wausau, Wis.

It’s all about the bass
Q. What other surgeries have you had?
A. I had liposuction.
Q. Is that for weight loss?
A. Cosmetic.
Q. I think I was reading somewhere – it was kind of interesting, but they actually take some fat tissue out of you, and then they inject it somewhere else?
A. Yeah. Yes.
Q. Did you have some problems when they injected your lower back with that – whatever material they removed?
A. They didn’t inject my lower back. What do you mean? My buttocks?
Q. Your buttocks.
A. Not the first time. Now, the second time, I don’t know if it was because of the surgery, but I ended up with an abscess somewhere in my leg.
Q. I don’t want to get too personal, but why would they inject it into your buttocks? Is it to make them, I guess, rounder or bigger or something?
A. Yes. Yes.
Q. More appealing to the male gender?
A. Yes.
Elizabeth A. Tubbert, RPR
Highland, Mich.

Break time
MR. JONES: When you get to a good stopping point, I could use a break.
MR. SMITH: No breaks for you, Mr. Jones.
MR. JONES: It could be uncomfortable for you, then.
MR. SMITH: Uncomfortable for you, perhaps. We’ll take a break.
Debra M. Arter, RDR, CRR
Rockledge, Fla.

And now for something completely different
Q. The nonworking, retired partner who’s received close to —
MR. JONES: Excuse me?
MR. JONES: Departed. Well, departed has a whole different meaning sometimes.
Q. The now departed but still living, not quite dead, as they would say in Monty Python —
Laurie Collins, RPR
Brooklyn, N.Y.

LAST PAGE: Now that’s just silly!

Speaking volumes
Q. If I get too loud, tell me. My wife likes me to use my inside voice, so I don’t mean to be yelling at you.
A. I’m Italian. It’s okay.
Q. Well, I don’t want you to think I don’t have manners, ma’am.
Virginia Dodge
Boston, Mass.

Big or little
Q. Now I’m curious. How big is your ex-wife?
A. Well —
MR. DOE: Or how small? What is her size?

Elsa Jorgensen
Birmingham, Mich.

Spoken well enough
Q You also — you kind of alluded to a minute ago, you speak some other languages other than English; is that correct?
A Yes. Sort of.
Q Okay.
A I think I do.
Q How about the people on the other end?
A They get used to it after a while. It sounds better than — you know, like, I worked in California many years ago in a Hispanic – primarily a Hispanic town, and basically I say that I — you know, that I butchered the Spanish language every day for nine years.
Michelle Giangualano
Seattle, Wash.

It’s not the destination
A. It was, like, my shoulder. And then it was popping. You know, I would catch myself, like, walking like a helicopter. You know what I mean? Because it would just hurt, you know, here and in the back, like my chicken wing.
Q. Okay. So — I’ve lost my train of thought.
A. And I know I caught myself when I fell in the basement. I know I did.
MR. ROGERS: You were thinking whether rooster beak would be an appropriate or efficacious treatment for a chicken wing?
MS. STAUCH: There you go. You’re going to take me further off the track.
Carrie Arnold, RPR, CRR
Arvada, Colo.

Inside out or outside in?
A. I guess you would say it’s like a terrance (sic) — like a terrance they call it.
Q. Terrace?
A. Yes, terrace, that goes to your unit. So you have to go from the outside to the inside to the outside and then when – so I’m on the inside going to the outside to get to my door.
Ellen Muir
Wareham, Mass.
Where did that come from?
Q: Do you know how Ford Motor Company becomes aware of the fact that they need to issue a TSB directing its technicians on how to complete a repair?
MR. JONES: Object to the form.
THE WITNESS: No, I do not.
Q. Okay. Is it your understanding that it comes from someplace other than thin air?
MR. JONES: Object to the form.
THE WITNESS: I would think so.
Debra M. Arter, RDR, CRR
Rockledge, Fla.

Here’s the wind-up, and here’s the pitch

Q. Now, here we are at January 23, 2008, with an alleged injury that happened in late November, 2007; correct? Is it ——
THE COURT REPORTER: I didn’t hear an answer.
MR. ATTORNEY: It really was not a good question.
MR. LAWYER: Was there an answer?
MR. LAWYER: I didn’t hear him say anything.
THE WITNESS: I didn’t think you were through.
MR. ATTORNEY: Let me rephrase it. I wasn’t really looking for an answer there. I was just kind of reciting some facts as background to this question.
MR. LAWYER: Otherwise known as leading. I’m just kidding.
Liebe Stevenson, RMR
Liberty, Mo.

When you’ve been doing this job so long
Mr. Jones: So let’s jump ahead then. I mean, what’s next, Molly?
Court Reporter: Recreational activities?
The Witness: Wow, you gotta ask the reporter what’s next, huh?
The Witness: Holy moly.
Mr. Janis: Can I make a suggestion? Why don’t you just get right to it: How are you doing today?
Mr. Jones: Exactly. How are you doing today?
Marlene “Molly” Ward, RPR
Boise, Idaho
What’s that sound?
The cell phone ring sounded like a duck quacking.
(Phone sounds.)
THE WITNESS: I’m hearing that better more than I hear you right now. I’m sorry.
MR. ATTORNEY: Do you want to hit the mute button or whatever?
THE REPORTER: You killed the duck.
THE WITNESS: I shot the duck.
Sandy Hancock, RPR
O’Fallon, Mo.

I don’t even know what to say about this other than these donuts are so good they affect our ability to spell.

Q. But I want to also point out that if you turn the page to page 4 of the return, which is denoted as Schedule K, as in Krispy — Kreme, I’m sorry.
Laurie Collins, RPR
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Listening skills
Q. BY MR. JONES: Tell me about how that conversation went.
A. I told him she shouldn’t be doing our taxes, and he said it’s easy, we just send her everything and she does it. I said she still shouldn’t be doing them, because I didn’t want anything to do with her.
Q. But he kept doing it?
A. Of course. Do men listen? No.

MR. SMITH: Yes, we do, for the record.
Doreen Sutton, RPR
Scottsdale, Ariz.

Technical terms
Q. If I were to ask you how long it took me to eat dinner last night, would you be able to tell me that approximately?
A. 15 minutes.
Q. So you can approximate that, but if I was to ask you, you wouldn’t know, you’d be guessing. Do you understand?
A. 30 minutes.
Q. No, how much time I was eating dinner last night, not you.
A. You, 30 minutes.
Q. All right. How would you know how long I had dinner for yesterday?
A. Because my husband reads the newspaper and he takes 30 minutes.
Q. No, how much time I was eating dinner last night, not you.
Terri L. Ochipinti, RPR
Mount Holly, N.J.

Deposition horrors!

JCR publications share buttonIn honor of Halloween, JD Supra Business Advisor posted a blog on Oct. 27 that features several humorous horror stories from the deposition room. The blog was written by Suzanne Quinson of Planet Depos.

Read more.


Location, location, location
MR. ANDREWS: The real question is, do you guys like each other?
MR. BURNS: Yes, I do. I will say that.
Q. (BY MR. BURNS) Do we like each other, Mr. Holder?
A. We’re from the same place. Location, that means.
Denyce M. Sanders, RDR, CRR
Houston, Texas

Leaps in logic
THE COURT: Next is the instruction with regard to the request by the jury for any read back of testimony, which reads, “Written transcripts of the testimony of witnesses given at trial are not available,” and then it goes on to explain to them that if there is a need for a read back, the entire testimony of that requested witness must be transcribed and then read in open court with all parties present.
Any objection?
THE DEFENDANT: The objection is based on Article IV, Section 4, of the United States Constitution, which states, quote, “The United States government shall protect each state from invasion.”
Danielle R. Murray, RPR
Olathe, Kan.

Dr. Google
Q. Are you aware of any other — first of all, how many employees were in the department at that time? I don’t mean just the accounts payable department. I mean the accounting department as a whole, including all those crazy general ledger folks, the party animals.
A. Yeah. And you know what? That’s what the nurse said when they said, Give her a Breathalyzer. She goes, Are you serious?
Q. 7:20 in the morning?
A. Yeah. I blew a zero.
Q. Way to go. Has any doctor ever told you that, or is that your own personal speculation?
A. No. I read on Dr. Google, you know.
Q. That may be worse; the writhing cesspool of Internet misinformation. Medicine seems to take the cake in it.
A. Well, I had asked because he said that when he did the surgery, that there was arthritis in my knee. And when I had the first surgery, Dr. Sanchez had told me that I had the knees and the bones of a 40-year-old.
Q. There was a time in your life when that would not have been complimentary.
Carrie Arnold, RPR, CRR
Arvada, Colo.

I don’t do math
Q. If ABC Company represents 90 percent of your work since July 2009, what percentage would you attribute to XYZ Company?
A. You know, actually, we talked earlier. I said 85 percent might be ABC. It’s hard for me to say, but, you know, they’re maybe 10 percent.
Q. Okay.
A. And I know that, you know, if we added some other people in there, that would add up to more than 100 percent.
Q. Sure.
MR. DOE: Well, that’s the problem with using percentages.
Elsa Jorgensen
Birmingham, Mich.

Show me the money
Q. Okay. What is your present residence address?
A. 1234 Pot O Gold Street, West Palm Beach.
Q. That’s where your attorney said he was taking you, right, Pot O Gold? You understand that I like to have a little fun. I mean no disrespect to you or your attorney, okay?
A. I have to think about that for a minute.
Q. You better think long and hard about that for a minute.

Robyn Maxwell, RPR
Royal Palm Beach, Fla.

Walk through the memory palace
Q. So when you were making the sugar-and-cigarette run, were you given a list?
A. No.
Q. How did you remember all the things that you were supposed to buy?
A. Cigarettes. Sugar. I can handle that.
Janet L. Wynne, RPR
Boston, Mass.

Attention spans
Q. Other than the slurred speech, are there any other issues that you still experience that you believe are caused by the incident?
A. Just the forgetfulness.
Q. And describe that for me, what do you forget?
MR. MONTI: I’m going to object. Because if you knew what you forget, then you wouldn’t have forgotten it, so I object to the form of the question.
Ellen Muir
Wareham, Mass.

Q. Either we have discussed everything that you today know as it relates to Ms. Doe and her care in May and June of 2014, or we have not; is that correct?
A. I don’t know.
Q. You don’t know if we have or not?
A. I don’t.
Q. Do you know what you know today?
MS. BLACK: This is really weird and existential, so object to that.
MR. WHITE: Interesting, okay.
Debbie Arter, RDR, CRR
Rockledge, Fla.

Why we proofread
During a hearing, the defendant kept repeatedly whispering in defense counsel’s ear. Finally the judge commented: The defendant seems to be chirping in your rear. (He really said ear.)
Candy L. Potter, RMR, CRR
Phoenix, Ariz.

Basic functions
Q. How old was your mother when your father passed away?
A. Well, she was born in 1913, and he died in 1994.
Q. You’re going to make me do the math?
A. You’ve got fingers and toes.
MR. JONES: We’re lawyers. We can’t do math.
MR. SMITH: Can I divide that by three?
MR. JONES: Exactly.
Virginia Dodge, RDR, CRR
Boston, Mass.

(The attorneys were at each other’s throats most of this day.)
THE COURT: Can I fine each one of you ten dollars —
MR. LAWYER: Yes, sir.
THE COURT: — to benefit the American Red Cross?
MR. ATTORNEY: If I can yell at him some more, Judge, I’ll pay 20.
Liebe Stevenson, RMR
Liberty, Mo.

The pain scale decoded
A. I would say that 1 is very small, 5 is medium, 10 is severe. But 10 is like having a baby and passing kidney stones at the same time, and that we can’t sit here and talk about this because you are too busy screaming and begging for an ambulance.
Q. Okay.
A. And 9 is delivering a baby but not passing kidney stones. Like a 9 is right before you have a baby. 10 is actually delivering a baby and passing kidney stones while a semi runs over your toe or whatever. Pardon me.
Michelle Giangualano
Seattle, Wash.

Excerpt from “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Brash Blonde”


“‘How long has the subject been dead?’ This is the question most commonly asked in the field of forensic pathology.” The speaker paused to survey the lecture hall before moving to his next slide. A collective gasp rose at the sight of a human skull partially obscured by profuse vegetation.


I sat forward, my attention rapt. The girl beside me muttered “Gross!” and went back to Candy Crush on her phone.

I tried not to roll my eyes at her. Well, I sorta tried. The guest speaker was only Dr. Bennett Osterman, one of the best in the field. His curriculum vitae was probably longer than any book Miss Candy Crush had ever read. I silently wondered how she’d even gotten into Stanford. Probably the offspring of alumni with deep pockets.

“It’s sometimes difficult to say,” Dr. Osterman went on. “As you can see in this example, postmortem vegetative growth has continued, precipitating the broken orbital bone fragments you see on this slide, which could easily mislead investigators into incorrect assumptions regarding cause of death. The appearance may mimic the results of battery, for example.”

“Oh yuck,” the girl said.

This time I didn’t even try to hide my irritation, giving her a pointed look.

“This is where the inspection of root systems can be valuable,” he added.

“I knew I should’ve dropped this class,” the girl muttered.

“Shh,” I whispered. “I want to—” My phone buzzed with an incoming text message. I glanced at the screen.

Guess who’s late for work?

I checked the time readout and pulled in a sharp breath. I didn’t have to guess. I’d lost track of time again. Moving fast, I gathered up my things, slipped past the girl who was paying no attention — to Dr. Osterman or anyone else — and left the room, disappointed that I had to go just when it was getting interesting. It wasn’t every day that I had access to one of the most brilliant minds in the forensic sciences.

Unlike Candy Crush, I unfortunately was neither the child of an alumni nor anyone with deep pockets. Or even shallow ones. The words “college fund” hadn’t exactly been in my mom’s vocabulary as I was growing up, her concerns usually ranging more toward “food on table” and “roof over head.” Not that I was complaining. My hardworking single mom had done the best she could. But it just meant that instead of four years of sorority rushing and mid-term cramming, I had to resort to “non-credited” class auditing — translation: crashing them — and working at the campus bookstore coffee bar. I glanced once more at my phone. A job I should have been at ten minutes ago.

I pedaled my bike furiously across the campus, my blonde hair whipping at my cheeks as I wished I’d had the chance to ask Dr. Osterman some of the questions I’d jotted down. I’d been looking forward to his presentation for weeks, and it annoyed me to have to cut it short for something as mundane as coffee. Not that it mattered all that much in the bigger picture. I had no papers to write or tests to take, because I wasn’t technically a student. While that meant I could sit in on my choice of classes and avoid the evil specter of GPAs and final exams, it also meant I’d never have the holy grail of a degree either, which did put a slight crimp in my job prospects. Working as a barista wasn’t my first career choice, but it paid the bills for now. Barely.

I locked up my bike and hurried into the bookstore and up the stairs to the second floor loft coffee bar, which was bustling as usual. I took a moment to look over the sprawling bookstore below, the shelves sprouting from a garden of gleaming hardwood, the students busily picking through Stanford hats and shirts and other logo’d gear. Then I stashed my bag and quickly tied an apron over my average five-five-onmy- tiptoes and 120-to-125-pounds-give-or-take-a-holiday-meal frame.

I was wiping down one of the tables when Pamela Lockwood tapped me on the shoulder. Pam was round and soft with pink cheeks and fine brown hair, and she’d worked at the coffee bar for the past two semesters.

“Hey, Marty.”

While my given name was Martha Hudson, everyone had called me Marty for as long as I could remember.

“Hey,” I answered back.

“I hope my text didn’t interrupt something important.”

I shook my head. “Thanks for sending it. I’d lost track of time.”

Pam grinned. “What was it this time? Astrophysics? Linear algebra?”

“Forensic anthropology.”

“Oh yuck.”

Yeah, I’d heard that a lot lately.

“Dr. Bennett Osterman was speaking,” I said. “He was showing this slide of a skull with —”

“Again,” Pam interrupted, “yuck.”

I sighed. No one appreciated the finer things in life anymore.

“Why don’t you just break down and register already?” Pam asked. “If you’re going to listen to this stuff, you might as well earn something for it.”

“What, and give up all this?” I asked, my hands sweeping to include the sandwich wrapper and discarded paper cups at the next table.

Pam grinned. “You know, you could work here and attend classes. Some of us do.”

I shook my head. Attending would mean (a) somehow getting accepted and (b) somehow paying tuition. High school was a good handful of years behind me, and I hadn’t had the most stellar grades then. While I’d aced classes like biology and physics, things like PE and dissecting Shakespeare’s early works to the point even he’d have no idea what we were talking about had bored me to tears. As a result, my grades had been all over the place, resulting in a GPA that was less than impressive. And then there was the whole tuition thing. Which, if I had it, I wouldn’t be picking up dirty cups for a living.

No, slipping (hopefully) unnoticed into the lectures of my choice worked much better all the way around.

“I don’t know how you can listen to that forensics stuff anyway,” Pam said. “It’d give me nightmares for sure.”

I shrugged. “It’s interesting.”

I’ll tell you what’s interesting.” Pam pointed. “See the blond guy down there with the Cardinal T-shirt on? He’s interesting.”

I looked and thought, Not so much. He was the typical California dude, with curly blond hair, surfer tan, and unnaturally white teeth. You couldn’t walk across campus without running into a dozen just like him. He wasn’t half as interesting as Dr. Bennett Osterman.

“Maybe he’ll come up for coffee or something.” Pam wiggled her shoulders around and patted her hair. “How do I look? Am I frizzy?”

I smiled at her. “You look fine.”

“I’m going to go floss,” Pam said. “You never know if he’ll come up, and I don’t want cinnamon bun in my teeth if he does. By the way, we need more cinnamon buns.”

She rushed off, scrubbing at her front teeth with a finger.

I went back behind the counter. The line of customers had momentarily thinned to just a few people, but the lull wouldn’t last. Book buying and tchotchke shopping seemed to be thirsty work. In just a few minutes, the coffee bar could be swarming with co-eds in need of a caffeine or sugar fix. Pamela’s Mr. Interesting might even show up. Hopefully she wouldn’t be off tending to dental hygiene when he did.

Still thinking about Dr. Osterman’s presentation, I filled orders and handed them over, wiped down the counter, and restocked the napkin dispensers and the bakery case. The scent of cinnamon and chocolate tantalized me, and my fingers had just closed on a coffee cake muffin when someone asked, “Got any crullers left?”

I dropped the muffin and raised my head too fast, cracking the back of my skull on the lip of the display case. Grimacing, I looked up to see my best friend, Irene Adler, frowning at me.

“Were you just going to take that muffin?” she asked.

I rubbed my head. “No. I was rearranging it.”

“Sure,” Irene said. “From the case into your face. I thought you were on a diet.”

“I thought you were at a meeting with some Silicon Valley babies.” I pulled a cruller from the case, plunked it onto a plate, and shoved it across the counter. I could have shoved a half dozen crullers across the counter, and Irene could have scarfed all of them and had no repercussions except powdered sugar on her fingers. Her size two frame never dared gain an inch. I loved her anyway.

Irene made a face. “Got canceled. One of them woke up with a runny nose.” She shook her head, her diamond earrings sparkling in the light. “Kids.”

I refrained from pointing out that Irene herself was only twenty-seven. A gorgeous and very accomplished twenty-seven. Irene was something of a computer prodigy and had parlayed that genius into a degree from MIT at the age of fourteen and then into millions of dollars when she’d sold her own start-up on the day she’d turned twenty-one. Of course like any good computer prodigy, she also had a checkered past, which included hacking into a government mainframe at the ripe old age of twelve, but as she’d pointed out, kids would be kids. And now “kids” were coming to her looking for venture capital to fund their own start-ups.

I’d first met Irene a few years ago when she’d come to give a lecture about social media’s impact in political and economic culture. I’d peppered her with questions afterward, and between my enthusiasm for hilarious political Twitter fails and her enthusiasm for pastries, we’d bonded right away and been fast friends ever since.

“Know what would go with this cruller?” Irene asked, shifting her designer handbag higher on her shoulder. “A decaf mocha latte.”

Pam and her ultra-clean teeth came back while I was blending the latte. “Has he come up here yet?”

I looked up. “Who?”

“Mr. Right,” Pam said. “You know, the guy downstairs? The blond?”

“You’re not talking about a muscle-y guy in a Stanford Cardinal T-shirt, are you?” Irene asked her.

Pam’s eyes got wide. “You saw him too?” Her face fell, and I could practically read her mind. If Irene had seen him, and he’d seen Irene, it was all over for Pam. Irene had green eyes and auburn hair, and I was pretty sure the Mattel people had modeled Barbie’s body after hers.

Irene nodded. “He left with a redhead. I think they’re a couple. Your Mr. Right was even carrying her backpack.”

Pam fell against the counter, her shoulders slumping. “Just my luck.”

“There’ll be another Mr. Right,” I assured her. It wasn’t an empty promise. There’d been about eighty Mr. Rights since Pam had started working there. And that was the first week.

“I hope so,” Pam said. “I’m not getting any younger.”

I snorted. “You’re twenty.”

Pam nodded. “That’s what I said.” She went off to take a refill to a customer.

Irene grinned at me. “Is that how we sounded at twenty?”

“I sincerely hope not,” I said. I handed over the decaf mocha latte. “But it wouldn’t surprise me one bit.”

* * *

The rest of the afternoon managed to slip past with no more Mr. Rights for Pam and no more head injuries for me. At eight o’clock, I left the bookstore, reclaimed my bike from the rack, and headed home. Which wasn’t exactly the high point of my day, since home at the moment was not much more than a rathole of an apartment with antique plumbing and a few antique neighbors who seemed to sit with one cataract pressed to their peepholes to catalog my comings and goings. The space was small, and the rent was high. Welcome to California. But that wasn’t completely problematic since I hadn’t paid it in a couple of months anyway. What could I say? Tips had been sparse lately. I blamed the cost of education rising almost as fast as tax rates. But consequently, rent payments had become a line item on my long-term to-do list, like dusting the ceiling fan. Sooner or later, the dust would build up and fall off the fan blades under its own weight. That was my working hypothesis anyway.

I hopped off the bike and wheeled it up the front walk into the tiny, gloomy lobby with its chipped vinyl tile floor, dirty white walls, and inadequate forty-watt lighting. A quick check of my mailbox revealed nothing but some sales circulars and a credit card bill. I tucked both into my bag and kept moving up the stairs to my second-floor apartment. The smell of cabbage, faint in the lobby, grew stronger and more noxious with each step. Wrinkling my nose, I stabbed my key at the lock, when I felt the presence of someone behind me.

I spun around to find 2B leering at me from his doorway. 2B’s real name was Ed Something-or-Other. His last name was 20 letters long with no vowels. I’d never been able to pronounce it, and he’d lived across the hall for nearly a year. In that whole time, I’d never seen him wear anything but torn jeans and T-shirts featuring wash-worn photos of different classic rock bands or album covers, from back when there were classic rock bands and album covers. His face was long and thin with a scrubby patch of whiskers on the point of his chin and a Jack Nicholson arch to his eyebrows that only added to the devilish leer.

Suddenly the cabbage smell made sense.

“Hey, Marty.” He leaned against the doorway, arms crossed over the Led Zeppelin album cover imprinted on his shirt, head cocked sideways to look me over. “It’s about time you got home. Your phone’s been ringing for the past couple of hours.”

“It has?” A frisson of anxiety shivered through me. Maybe my mother had had an accident of some kind out in her condo in Phoenix. No, that couldn’t be it. She’d have called my cell phone. And I’d seen Irene not too long ago. That was pretty much it as far as people willing to put in a couple of hours’ effort to reach me.

“Probably telemarketers,” I said, mostly to convince myself. I made a mental note to text Mom just in case. “They have a knack for calling at dinnertime.”

2B nodded. “That’s what I used to do, when I was one.”

No surprise there.

He stepped into the hall, pulling his door shut behind him. “I’m jonesing for a Big Mac. Buy you one?”

I couldn’t imagine how. As far as I knew, 2B didn’t have a job. I suppressed a shudder. “No, thanks. How can you have an appetite with that smell?”

“Smell?” A flicker of confusion crossed his face and cleared. “Oh, you must be talking about the boiled cabbage. Mr. Bitterman’s trying out a new recipe.”

I should’ve known. Isaac Bitterman was an 83-year-old widower who’d been forced to discover cooking after his wife died, only he’d gone immediately to the dark side of the culinary arts. His sense of smell seemed as blunted as his eyesight; his experiment with Limburger cheese and broccoli had lingered in the hallway for a week. Unluckily for me, he lived on the other side of a very thin wall, and there were times that the stench of his food was so thick in my apartment that I could practically do a taste test for him.

2B shoved a hand into his pocket and pulled out a handful of crumpled bills. All ones, as far as I could see. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d produced a roll of pennies. “So what do you think, Marty?” he asked. “Big Mac?”

I shook my head. “Sorry, I ate at work.”

“Your loss. I’m a great dinner date.” He scratched his armpit, providing evidence to the contrary. “One of these days, you’re gonna let me buy you a burger.”

I couldn’t possibly live enough days for that. I shoved my bike into the apartment ahead of me. “Sure. Bon appétit.”

“Bone appetite to you, too,” he told me. “I’ll catch you later, Marty.” He lifted a casual hand over his shoulder in a wave as he disappeared down the stairs.

Blowing out a breath, just to avoid inhaling more boiled cabbage stench, I followed my bike inside and hung it on the hook beside the door before locking both dead bolts and heading for the kitchen to scrounge up something for dinner. Despite what I’d told 2B, all I’d eaten at work was a coffee cake muffin, and my stomach was growling.

I stood in front of the open fridge, surveying a few bottles of beer, half a loaf of white bread, a two-day-old carton of sweet and sour chicken, and a Tupperware container of leftover takeout linguini. The pasta wasn’t a Big Mac, but it would have to do. Hopefully the scent of marinara sauce could overtake the secondhand cabbage. I dumped the linguini onto a plate and shoved it into the microwave.

The phone rang while the timer was counting down.

“Martha Hudson, please.” A male voice, deep and confident. Nice. But telemarketers could have nice voices too. That didn’t mean I wanted to talk to one.

“Who’s calling?” I glanced at the microwave. When had I ordered that linguini? Maybe I should have gone with the Chinese food. There was still time. I opened the fridge.

“My name is Andrew Bonamassa,” he said. “I’m an attorney with the firm of Bonamassa and Hadley. Is this Miss Hudson?”

I closed the fridge. The rent. It had to be about the rent. My landlord had finally gotten fed up with chasing me down for his money. It was bound to happen. Now there would probably be interest and court costs and lawyers’ fees to pay too. How was I going to manage that?

Briefly, I considered fibbing, but I wasn’t very good at it. It was probably best just to get it over with. “I’m Martha Hudson,” I said with a sigh. “And I’m very sorry, but things have been kind of tight for a while, and I know that’s no excuse, but I really didn’t intend to do it. It just sort of happened, and, well, now it’s gotten out of control, I’ll admit it, but I guess I can go on a payment plan of some sort, right?”

A few seconds of silence. Then: “Could you tell me your mother’s maiden name, Miss Hudson?”

“Oh, for pete’s sake.” I rolled my eyes. “I already told you I’ll go on a payment plan. There’s no reason to drag my mother into this.”

More silence. Then, tentatively: “How about the names of your siblings?”

I stared at the phone. What was with this guy and his intrusive personal questions? Was this how bill collectors worked? Weren’t there laws about this sort of thing? Other than Always call during the dinner hour, that was?

“I’m an only child,” I snapped. “Sorry. You can’t extract any money there either.”

Still more silence. Then, cautiously: “Maybe you can verify your address?”

He had to be kidding me. As if the landlord wouldn’t have already given him that information.

“Humor me,” he said when I didn’t reply. “I have to make sure that I’m actually speaking to Martha Hudson.”

“I told you I’m Martha Hudson,” I said. “Why would anyone else accept the responsibility of paying my back rent?”

“Excuse me?”

I blinked. “That’s why you’re calling, right? About the rent?”

“This isn’t about any rent, Miss Hudson. This is about the beneficiary of the living trust and Last Will and Testament of your great-aunt, Kate Quigley. I represent her estate.”

“Wait.” I gripped the phone tighter. “I have a great-aunt Kate?”

“Not anymore,” he said. “She’s dead. I’m sorry to say.”

I had a great-aunt Kate? I tried to remember meeting her, or seeing pictures of her, or even hearing my mother mention her. I couldn’t. How could I not know about her? While my mom and I had been close, she’d been about all the family I’d ever known. Dad had taken off before I was even born, and Mom had been an only child herself, her parents having passed away when she was in college. As a kid I’d actually fantasized about long-lost relatives finding us and turning our sliced turkey breast for two into a true Thanksgiving family feast like I’d seen in commercials on TV. Only in my fantasies the relatives had been alive and welcoming, not recently deceased.

“Are you sure?” I asked. The microwave dinged. I ignored it. “I mean, are you sure I’m her…”

“I’m sure,” he said. “According to her, you were her nephew’s daughter.”

Her nephew. My father. Another family member I’d never known.

“And,” he continued, “you’re her sole beneficiary, Miss Hudson.”

I fell back against the counter, stunned. “Her sole…”

“Beneficiary,” he agreed. “Kate never married or had children, and so her entire estate has been left to you. Including, of course, her home in San Francisco.”

Of course.


Her home? I’d inherited a house? People like me didn’t inherit houses. We inherited Corelle dishes, table lamps with seashells in their base, and Aunt Stella’s costume jewelry collection.

I let out a shaky exhale. “Are you sure about this?”

“I’m sure,” he said again. “I drafted the paperwork for Kate myself, Miss Hudson. I’ll provide you with copies, of course.”

I’d inherited a house in San Francisco. The thought made me weak. I did a slow, exacting appraisal of my apartment, even though that was something best done quickly, with the eyes closed, to minimize the cringeworthiness. I could hardly believe that finally I’d be able to move out of this place. I’d dreamed of the day I could move out of this place and away from the ragged carpet, the dingy walls, the hit-or-miss hot water. Away from Mr. Bitterman and his culinary science experiments. Especially away from 2B.

My new home was probably some fantastic place nestled into Lombard Street or along the Embarcadero. Maybe I’d have a next-door neighbor who owned a suit and tie and bought his wine in something other than boxes.

Immediately on the heels of my excitement came a sharp regret that I’d never met my great-aunt Kate, had never even known about her. I wondered what she’d been like. Had she looked like me? Did I have her smile? How could I have not known she’d been living just a few miles away this whole time? I suddenly wanted to know everything I could about Kate Quigley. Because somehow Kate had known about me and had left me her house and everything in it.

Including tax and utility bills. Could I afford a house in San Francisco? Could I take care of it the way Kate had taken care of it?

“In case you’d like to take a look at your house,” Andrew Bonamassa was saying, “the address is 221 Baker Street. Kate had it put in a trust a few years back, so there’s no need to wait out probate on the property. You can pick up the key at my office at your convenience. I’m sure you’re eager to see the place.”

Eager was hardly the word. I arranged to meet Mr. Bonamassa at his office the next morning, accepted his somber condolences, and disconnected, still numb with disbelief and pretty sure that I wouldn’t be able to count on sleep to get me through the long hours separating me from my new life.

As soon as I’d reheated my dinner and sat down at the table, someone knocked on my door. Probably 2B still hoping to buy himself a romantic evening with a couple of Big Macs and some fries. He was delusional, but it didn’t matter. I was a homeowner now, and pretty soon I wouldn’t have to see 2B ever again.

But it wasn’t 2B at the door. It was Mr. Bitterman, clutching a Tupperware container in both gnarled hands. Mr. Bitterman was considered quite a catch among the widowed ladies in the building. His six hairs were always combed, he had two distinct eyebrows, and his clothes were always clean, even if they were usually mismatched. Plus rumor had it his railroad pension would allow him to live comfortably to the age of 112, a quality more prized by husband hunters than a GQ-worthy wardrobe.

He gave me a gummy smile, and his dentures shifted a little in his mouth. “Evening, Martha Hudson.”

Mr. Bitterman never called me Martha or Marty. Always Martha Hudson. Maybe because he wanted to double-check that he was talking to the right person. I eyed the Tupperware container with deep suspicion. “Hello, Mr. Bitterman. What have you got there?”

“I tried out a new recipe today, and I made a little extra.” He held it out to me. “Thought I’d do the neighborly thing and share.”

I took it before he dropped it all over my carpet and it ate through to the floorboards. I didn’t stand a chance of seeing my security deposit returned as it was. Not that it was my fault the paint was peeling off the walls on its own accord.

“You didn’t have to do that,” I said. He could have done the neighborly thing and dumped it down the disposal. The smells leaking out from beneath that lid would straighten my hair faster than a flatiron.

“I need an objective opinion,” he said. “You can be my tester.”

I sure hoped he was talking about aftershave, because I had no intention of tasting whatever was swimming inside that Tupperware.

“Besides,” he added, “an old man doesn’t like to eat alone.”

It occurred to me that that was what old women were for, but I didn’t have the heart to say so. The truth was, I liked Mr. Bitterman, and I really didn’t mind having dinner with him. As long as it wasn’this dinner.

“I understand,” I said. “I’ve got some sweet and sour pork in the fridge. Come on in.”

I’d given it my best and gentlest shot, but Mr. Bitterman and his mystery dish would not be separated. He followed me into the kitchen and settled in at my table with a grunt of exertion. “You might want to give that a turn in the microwave,” he said. “It tends to congeal as it cools.”

Nothing unappetizing about that. I held my breath, spooned the contents of the Tupperware container into a bowl, and shoved it into the microwave. It didn’t look like it was congealing. It looked like it was breathing.

I slammed the door shut and turned the microwave to Incinerate.

“You know,” I told him, “I appreciate the gesture, but you could have had dinner with Mrs. Frist in 2E. I think she’s got her eye on you.”

“She’s got her eye on everyone,” he said. “She sits and stares out the peephole all day long. Her only exercise is when she changes eyes.” He grimaced. “And Mrs. Frist doesn’t know good food when she tastes it. You might want to give that a stir.”

I was afraid to give it a stir. If I opened the microwave, it might jump out and attack me.

“I know the signs,” he said. “They’re looking for new husbands, all of them. They bring me enough casseroles and Bundt cakes to open a restaurant.”

Casserole and Bundt cake didn’t sound so bad to me. I cast a baleful glance at the microwave. He was sitting on real food, and I got stuck with that.

He shook his head. “None of them will let me cook dinner. Won’t let me near the stove. They insist on feeding me.”

Guess he couldn’t take a hint.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “And you’re right. I’m candy for the ladies.”

Yeah. That was what I’d been thinking.

“But I got plans,” he added. “I’m writing a cookbook. It’s going to be huge. I’m calling it theBitterman Diet Plan. What do you think?”

Something popped inside the microwave, and he made a better-check-that gesture that I deliberately ignored. I wasn’t opening that door. The smell would get out.

“If you want to help people lose weight,” I said, “I think you’ve got a winner.” He seemed pleased. He moved his dentures around until they got out of the way and smiled at me. It was a lovely Hallmark moment.

Until our dinner whistled, sizzled, and exploded in the microwave. Mr. Bitterman shrieked like a little girl and ducked his head.

I rushed to open the door, but I was too late. For the dinner and the microwave. It looked like a scene from Ghostbusters in there. There was no saving it. Even if I managed to scrape the remnants of Cabbage Surprise off the walls, I doubted I could purge that smell.

But I’d rather smell it than taste it.