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It was just after 11pm on a Friday night and I was putting the finishing touches on a summary judgment brief that I had to electronically file by midnight. The exhibits and accompanying declarations were assembled and ready for uploading, but the brief was still a half page over the limit. I took a sip of coffee and then repeatedly slid my wedding ring up and down my finger – a nervous habit that makes my wife go apoplectic but that I find completely uncontrollable, particularly in the winter when my fingers tend to shrink. I had already spent the last two hours exhaustively trimming fat from the brief by replacing useless phrases like “in the event that” with “if” and pruning citations and headings to the bare minimum. I was now faced with the dreadful prospect of censoring my own ideas to cut the brief down to size. My clerkship taught me that judges, and more importantly their law clerks, hate “conclusions” that simply recite the lonely, impotent phrase “for the foregoing reasons defendant’s motion should be denied.” So, I refused to cut my final paragraph, which neatly summarized the key reasons why any sane reader would feel compelled to rule in my client’s favor. And my former law review editor would find some unpleasant way to kill me if I dropped the roadmap paragraph from my introduction, which provided the reader with a preview of the arguments in the following sections. So there I was highlighting sections of my flowery prose designed to tug heartstrings and incite outrage and, with furrowed brow and tearful eye, pressing the delete key. Technically, the word “pressing” doesn’t quite capture it. Each stroke of that dread key was made with such force that a thunderous clap reverberated through my firm’s empty halls like the last strike of a judge’s gavel sealing a death sentence and sending some poor soul to the gallows where a hooded grunt would set him to dance. Although my index finger was beginning to throb from these little ceremonies, I carried on because my stricken words had life, for god’s sake, and I was going to give them the send-off they deserved. When my pride would not allow me to cleave any more textual flourish from my brief, I scrolled to the end and was relieved to find myself within the page limit, with two lines to spare. The time then was just 11:33 pm so I considered whether to make use of my newfound space. I took my writer’s pose – reclined in my task chair with my hands folded on the back of my head and staring slightly upward, not at the ceiling, or at the wall, or at the angle where they joined but at some alternate universe where the creative mind ignores all such boundaries. I lifted my feet from the floor and allowed the momentum to set my task chair to a slow spin. As I turned to face my office window a body flew past. It was definitely a body. There was no mistaking what I saw although calling him a body at that stage was premature. You see, referring to someone as a body carries the implication that he is already dead. This gentleman’s life expectancy was considerably short, since my office is on the 5th floor and he must surely have come from the roof of my 14-story building, but I was quite certain he was alive when I saw him. I knew this not just from the manner in which he was silently flailing his arms and legs about, but from his eyes. I could not quite make out his face in the darkness but his eyes were wide and shining bright as a full moon. And in the split second that I watched him sail past my window I registered something odd and yet unmistakable in those eyes – he was surprised to see me. Out of the two of us, I would have thought myself the rightful owner of that reaction. I leapt to my feet, causing my chair to spin off wildly and careen into my desk. My first instinct told me to run down the stairs and see if there was any hope for the poor fellow, but a horrendous lout somewhere in the back of my head screamed, “What about the filing, you fool?” To assuage my boorish alter ego, I stole another glance at the clock on my way out the door and noted that it was still only 11:33. Besides, this circumstance surely would warrant a continuance if the need arose. I dashed down the stairs and burst through the side door of my building where I found no one but Charlie, our night security guard, smoking a Pall Mall. “What happened, Charlie, is he dead?” I shouted into the smoke cloud surrounding Charlie’s face. Charlie met my alarmed inquiry with a blank stare and eerie calm. I knew Charlie was partially deaf so I thought he just hadn’t heard me, but after he finished a slow drag from his cigarette he responded. “Who’s that Mr. Turner?” “What do you mean who? The guy! The jumper!” I screamed aghast. “He must have landed right here!” I quickly glanced around to get my bearings and make sure I had come out on the right side of the building – I had. “He should have fallen right in front of your feet, Charlie!” “Mr. Turner, I’m on my second smoke. I’ve been out here a good ten minutes and you’re the first soul I’ve seen in that whole time. You think someone jumped off this building?” “I know someone did. I saw him drop past my window just as clear as I see you right now.” Charlie shrugged and flicked his cigarette away. He took me by the shoulder and we walked two uneventful laps around the building while Charlie explained that he had been working there for 22 years and this wasn’t the first time he had seen some late-working associate crack up in the middle of a long night. “Don’t worry,” said Charlie, “I won’t tell anyone. At least not until I get loaded at the building Christmas party.” He pulled another Pall Mall from behind his ear and raised it to his mouth along with his lighter. “Go on back up to your office. I’ll keep an eye out here for Peter Pan.” “Funny,” I grumbled as I spotted my wedding ring on the ground – it must have slipped off as I came through the side door in a rush. I picked it up and put it back on as I started up the stairs. When I reached the 5th floor, I didn’t stop. I was starting to believe the jumper was a figment of my overtaxed imagination but something, perhaps my conscience or more likely simple curiosity, demanded that I at least check the roof before I could go back to my office. I reached the roof slightly out of breath with a few beads of sweat on my brow. I walked along the edge of the building until I was just above where I estimated my office window should be. As I peered over the side, I suddenly remembered my filing deadline and shouted an appropriate expletive. As I quickly swung my hand up to check my watch, my too large wedding ring slid clean off my finger and sailed off into the night. That same expletive rose to my lips again as I reached out for my ring and toppled over the building’s ledge. It is a cruel trick that just before you die you are the most alive. Everything around you seems to move in slow motion and heightened senses allow you to catch all the world in vivid detail. Glancing around, I could see a few people in adjacent buildings toiling away in their offices, as I had been all that evening, and I could almost make out the words on their computer screens as they typed. I looked down and I could see the orange glow of Charlie’s cigarette and smell the harsh tobacco as it wafted up to me in the night sky. I turned to look at my reflection in the windows of the dark offices that I flew by. As I passed the 7th floor I could see the light shining from my office below and the lout in my head spoke up again, wondering who the hell was going to file that brief now. When I reached my window I looked in and was shocked to see a young man who looked an awful lot like me staring back from my office while reclined in my chair with his hands folded behind his head. Ignoring the approaching asphalt, I swung my arm around to check my watch; the time was still 11:33. “Curiosity killed the cat,” said the lout. “But satisfaction brought him back” I responded. Happy Halloween. Ellisen Turner is an associate in the Los Angeles office of Irell & Manella LLP where his practice includes intellectual property litigation and patent prosecution. You may reach him at [email protected]

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