WENDY K. AKBAR
There is a thirteenth floor in the six-story federal district courthouse.
I met John Thorpe, a partner at my Phoenix firm of Mooney &
Brody LLP, in the lobby of the Sandra Day O’Connor courthouse
first thing in the morning. I’d never worked with him before, but
when Thorpe asked you to do something—especially if you happened to be a junior associate—you did it. So there I was. But when
he refused to tell me why we were meeting in that great glass box of
a courthouse, marched me in silence past the silvery-grey floors and
icy-green veneers into the elevator and told me to, for the love of all
things legal, stop with the questions already: doubt crept in.
Followed, of course, by the inevitable first-year associate guilt over
doubting a senior partner.
We had just reached the sixth, uppermost floor at the usual lazy
speed when the elevator shot upward with a sudden jolt. By any normal rules of height and gravity we should have risen up and out like
Willy Wonka’s great glass elevator. But we had barely stopped moving when the doors parted in a loud raspberry of protest, revealing a
long corridor pockmarked with evenly spaced double doors on the
left side. Thorpe walked off without a backwards glance.
I stepped out to follow, only by accident glancing at the buttons
to the side of the elevator doors. They were numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,
and 6, lined up in neat rows like always. But next to the 6 sat another one, brightly lit, the number 13 emblazed on its face.
That button had not been there a moment ago.
As Thorpe led the way, I noticed that his usual black leather briefcase was gone. Replaced by, of all things, a small black bucket with a
braided white handle, like a child carries to the beach. It was filled
with brackish water.
Then the water rippled, and something moved.
Thorpe caught me looking. “Our defenses,” he said, holding his
open hand protectively over the top. “It was the best I could do on
such short notice.”
“But—your briefcase?” I asked. He’d been carrying it in the
lobby. Hadn’t he?
“People see what they want to see,” he said shortly. “Now, keep
On the right, opposite the double doors, I could see over the rail-
ing down into the lobby. Putting aside the fact that the thirteenth
floor technically did not exist, the corridor looked like every other
floor in the building.
Except, of course, for the creatures.
I nearly tripped over one growling in a corner. It was black and
white, a sort of ugly, misshapen panda with wild eyes and jagged
teeth. The thing clenched and unclenched clawed fingers, snapping
its jaw and glancing about greedily.
Thorpe yanked me away by the arm. “Trolls,” he explained, one
side of his mouth curling up. “Patent trolls. Ignore them. And don’t
think any original thoughts. They feed on those.”
I tried not to think of anything creative as we walked. But truly,
the thought of that thing behind us sent waves of “original thought”
through my brain. Being eaten alive, for one. Slowly. Quickly. Maybe
I was picturing the head-first option when the troll began to
stomp down the hall after us.
Thorpe looked back at me, annoyed. “The easiest way,” he said,
“is not to think of anything at all. But barring that … ”
He reached into the inside pocket of his jacket, pulled out and
unfolded what appeared to be the pages of a patent, the first one con-
taining two columns of tiny words set above a technical drawing of a
golf club. “Never,” said Thorpe, “come up here unarmed.” He threw
the sheets at the troll, and its eyes glowed yellow as it crunched the
papers in its mouth. Apparently they had an appetite for the stuff of
imagination, Thorpe explained. They feasted on ideas, often undilut-
ed from the minds of lawyers (which law firms cared a little about)
and sometimes their clients (which they cared about quite a bit
Thorpe finally stopped in front of a set of double doors with let-
ters stenciled above them that spelled out COURT OF UNCOMMON
PLEAS. “Ah. Here we are.”
And there we were, minutes later, sitting at the defense table in
what appeared to be an ordinary courtroom with cedar walls, empty
jury and witness boxes, a judge on the bench and a court reporter off
to the side, fingers poised over her instrument.
I was still waiting for the explanation.
“A reading of the charges, if you please,” came the voice of Judge
Grimm, stern and slightly pudgy on a high wooden bench. His name
sounded vaguely familiar, and I threw Thorpe a questioning glance as
I saw it on the golden plaque in front of the judge.
“You’re thinking of his brother on the regular federal docket,
down in the District of Maryland,” Thorpe hissed. “Trust me, you’ve
never been before this Judge Grimm.”
Before I could process his words, the prosecutor answered the
judge’s command. “People v. Akbar. The charges are multiple flights
of fancy. Overuse of imagination. In short, a state of mind antitheti-
cal to the proper practice of law.”
My mouth dropped open in shock. Akbar. That was me.
The judge turned to Thorpe. “The plea?”
“Not guilty, your Honor,” said Thorpe.
The Thirteenth Story
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