Clarice was absolutely delighted when she came downstairs the next day and was greeted by yaps.
“A puppy!” she squealed, kneeling down to pick it up.
“That’s a present from Josie for us. She thought we missed Blondie.”
“Yeah, I miss her,” Clarice said, petting the dog’s head. She laughed and dodged away as he tried to lick her face. “What’s her name?”
“It’s a boy. And I think I’m going to call him Po.”
“Po?” She giggled. “That’s a funny name. …But maybe he looks like a Po.”
Clarice had such a hard time concentrating on her homework, she and Scott were still working on it when Josie called down the stairs.
Scott leapt to his feet. “Oh, crap.”
Clarice hurriedly put Po down, looking guilty. Together, she and Scott quickly packed up her homework.
“I didn’t know it was so late,” he mumbled. “I completely forgot about your supper.”
“It’s okay; I’m not really hungry.”
Scott pulled out his wallet and handed her five dollars. “You need to eat,” he said firmly. “Have your mother stop and get you something on the way home.”
“Okay,” she said cheerfully, taking the money from him.
He bent down and gave her a quick hug. “Bye, baby. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Daddy.” She reached down to pet the dog. “Bye, Po! I’ll be back in a couple of days, okay?”
Po slobbered on her hand.
Scott followed Clarice upstairs and watched as she went out the door and got into Maggie’s car.
“I hope that doesn’t come back to bite me in the ass,” he muttered to himself.
“What?” Josie asked.
He looked at her, grimacing. “We were so busy playing with the dog, Clarice didn’t get her homework finished and I completely lost track of time and forgot to get her dinner.”
“It’s not like it’s that late,” Josie said, consoling. “She still has time to eat dinner and finish her work.”
“Yeah, but Maggie will probably give me hell for it.”
“If she ever comes in…” Josie muttered.
“So, other than him being a bad distraction, how do you like the puppy?”
Scott couldn’t help himself; he smiled. “I like him. Thank you.”
She smiled in return. She really had the most beautiful smile. “Have you thought of a name for him yet?”
“I think ‘Po.’”
“Po? As in Edgar Allen Poe?”
“No, as in broke; lacking funds.”
“Broke?” Josie asked, confused. Then realization dawned on her face. “Oh, po’ as in poor. Like a po’ boy.”
She laughed. “Where on earth did you come up with that?”
“I have no idea. I was half-awake this morning, contemplating my poverty, and that just came to mind.”
Someone walked in the front door, interrupting their conversation.
“Evening,” Scott said.
“Evening,” the man said, his eyes darting around nervously. “Is… is this Mr. Cunningham’s office? The vampire lawyer?”
“That’s me,” Scott replied.
Josie glanced at the calendar on her computer. “Are you Mr. Peterson?”
“Yes, I am.”
Josie glanced at Scott. “Mr. Peterson is your 7:30 appointment. Custody.”
“I’m a little early,” Mr. Peterson said apologetically.
“That’s okay. Come on back,” Scott said, gesturing for him to follow.
They walked into Scott’s office, and Scott shut the door behind them. “Have a seat, Mr. Peterson.”
“Thank you,” he said, sitting down. Scott could tell he was nervous. He could also tell he was a vampire. He had that same musty, old basement smell all of them seemed to have. Scott was always paranoid about being stinky—especially as he did live in a musty, old basement—and he wore a little light cologne almost constantly—even though Josie had sniffed him when he wasn’t wearing anything and swore that he didn’t have any smell whatsoever.
“What can I do for you?” Scott asked, walking around his desk to sit down.
“I… was wondering if you could help me with custody. My ex and I’ve been divorced for… about five years, now. We had joint custody of my boy—you know, where we split our time with him; I’d have him one week and she’d have him the other one. But when I became a vampire, she told me I shouldn’t have him. At first I agreed with her, because I didn’t know what was going to happen, and I certainly didn’t want to hurt my kid, you know. But after a while, when things kind of settled down, and I saw I was still pretty normal—I mean, that I could be around people okay—I told her I wanted to go back to having him every other week. And she hemmed and hawed and made excuses, and I’m just tired of it.
“Someone told me that I could go to her house, when it was my turn to pick him up, and if she wouldn’t let me have him, call the police, and they’d come and make her give him to me.”
“Yes, they generally will, so long as you have a copy of the signed Parenting Plan to show them.”
“Well, I thought about doing that, then I thought no, Gary, that ain’t right. I mean, I don’t care if the cops come out and embarrass my wife in front of her neighbors and everything, but I don’t want to embarrass my boy. And I don’t want to traumatize him or anything—having the police come after him. It makes me think of those kids that the State comes and takes away and puts into foster care. That’s got to be so upsetting for a kid. I don’t want him to think that he’s being taken away from his Mama.”
Scott nodded understandingly.
“So I thought I’d try taking her to court and let the judge tell her to do it, or else.”
“Yeah, well, it sounds like a pretty straightforward contempt case, Mr. Peterson. If you have a signed Parenting Plan, it’s valid and there’s really nothing she can do about it. The only way she can change it is if there’s been a material change of circumstances. And even if you are a vampire now, that doesn’t affect your parental rights.”
“So, what will happen? At court, I mean? …Or whatever you have to do.”
“We’ll draft contempt papers and have her served with them. She’ll have thirty days to respond and present a defense or counterclaim.”
“What if she doesn’t?”
“Then we go to court and almost certainly win.”
“What if she answers?”
“Then we still go to court, but the judge will weigh both arguments.”
“Can she get a lawyer?”
“Yes, she can.”
“What will happen then?”
“The same thing, basically.”
“What happens if I do this, but she starts letting me have Jason again? I mean, before we go to court?”
“You can either drop the petition and we don’t go to court, or we can go to court and she can argue that she’s not in contempt. The judge will probably admonish her for not following the Parenting Plan for so long, and will warn her not to do that again. He almost certainly wouldn’t give her jail time—they almost never do that on a first offense.”
“And what about the judges around here? Are they pretty fair to guys like me?”
“Judge Standiff is a vampire. I’ve only been before him a couple of times. He has a reputation for being tough—very no-nonsense—but fair. I think you’ll get a fair shake from him. He can’t very well ding you for being a vampire when he’s a vampire. He should know—the same as the rest of us—that you’re not a danger to your child.”
“You got children, Mr. Cunningham?”
“I have a daughter. My ex took her away from me, too, but I’ve finally managed to finagle some visitation.”
Mr. Peterson smiled. “All that good lawyering, huh?”
“No, actually, I think she’s hurting for money and wants to get on my good side.”
Mr. Peterson looked stunned for a moment, then chuckled, shaking his head. “Sounds like something an ex-wife would do.”
“Sounds like mine, at least.”
“So, how much will this set me back?”
Scott considered it for a moment. “Eight hundred to go to court on the contempt, plus any court costs—although I don’t think there are any to file a contempt petition. On the off chance that something comes up and we end up fighting it out over the Parenting Plan, that’ll be more. But I really don’t think there’s anything she can do about it,” he added.
“And we’ll ask for attorney’s fees as part of the contempt. If she loses, the judge will almost certainly make her reimburse you.”
Mr. Peterson grinned. “I like that.”
“Do you have any more questions?”
“Do I pay you now, or…?”
Scott stood up. “You can pay my secretary and give her your information—she has some form she has people fill out. And then we can get started on it tonight.”
Mr. Peterson stood and stuck out his hand. “You sure have been helpful, Mr. Cunningham—answering all my questions and all that.”
Scott shook his hand. “That’s what I’m here for.”
“I knew if anyone could help me, it’d be you.”
“I will certainly do my very best. I know what it’s like to have your child taken away.”
Read the entire series–The Bloodsuckers: Vampire Lawyers of Middle Tennessee