When You’re Right

It began one Saturday morning when his mother had been drinking coffee and reading the paper at the breakfast table. Lowering the paper to take a bite of her toast, she saw something outside through the picture window that seemed odd. Two men were pounding stakes into the ground, and they were doing it on the edge of her property. She knew it was hers because at one corner of the property her husband had planted a lychee tree, and at the other corner a mango tree.

Laying down the paper, she stood up and went to the back door. Looking through the screen door, just to make sure she was seeing things correctly, she confirmed that the two men were, in fact, pounding stakes into her yard.

She opened the door and stepped out onto the back porch. “Excuse me,” she called to the men. “What are you doing there?”

One of them stood up and, wiping his brow, said, “We’re staking out the property line. This house is going up for sale.”

“Oh,” said Mrs. Yamashita, “so why are you putting those markers up on my property?”

The other man stopped pounding and stood up, too. The two men glanced at each other, then turned back to her.

“According to our measurements, this is where the boundary is.”

“Well, I’m sorry,” said Mrs. Yamashita, “but that’s not correct. Do you see that lychee tree there, and that mango tree there?” she asked, pointing them out. “My late husband planted those to mark the corners of our property.”

The two men looked at both trees. The first man said, “Well, we measured the boundaries using lasers, and I can tell you that your husband made a mistake. What we’re marking are the original boundaries, and we are one hundred percent accurate given the modern way of measuring. Back then, the surveyors were using old techniques that weren’t accurate.”

Mrs. Yamashita, feeling a little heated, said, “I don’t care what kind of laser things you’re using, I say you are on my property and I want you to stop.”

“Look here, lady,” said the first man. “My name’s Willie Craft, and I’m the realtor. This is Maka Levall, and he’s the surveyor. The way we measured the real boundary lines is modern and it’s accurate. You’re wrong, and your husband was wrong. Okay?”

Now Mrs. Yamashita was very upset, and as she stepped forward to walk down into the yard, she slipped and fell down the stairs. Rather than come to help her, the two men laughed, and, having finished their staking, returned to the house next door.

Mrs. Yamashita, after making sure she could, raised herself and managed to get to her feet. Hobbling up the stairs, she was puzzled about what to do next.

And then she called her son, Lester, to tell him about what had happened. Lester came right over and went out into the yard. Given his knowledge of the reason for planting the two trees, he could see that the stakes were on his mother’s property.

Lester looked up the number of the realtor, Willie Craft, and called him. Craft was loud, angry, and obnoxious on the phone, and Lester, trying his best to remain civil, warned Craft not to proceed with selling the house next door because that would mean selling off some of his mother’s property.

Craft was livid, called Lester stupid, and slammed down the phone.

At that point, Lester called a lawyer friend of his who referred him to his friend who specialized in real estate law, Richard Sakai. Sakai said he would call Willie Craft to get the whole story.

A little bit later Sakai called Lester back to tell him that Craft had been angrily insistent on the accuracy of his measurements.

“Lester, the guy is not going to give in on this. What I suggest you do is hire your own surveyor. I know the most reputable company in the state.”

He gave Lester the name of the surveying company. On Monday, Lester called them and asked about having a survey done. He’d thought it would be of his mother’s property, but the surveyor told him that might only be the starting point.

“Mr. Yamashita,” said the surveyor, “in old neighborhoods like yours, establishing the accuracy of boundary lines may involve surveying more properties than just yours. Sometimes these surveys can be extensive, and therefore expensive. You’ll need to think about that if you want to proceed.”

“When you say expensive,” said Lester, “what are we talking about, price-wise?”

“I don’t want to deceive you in any way, Mister Yamashita, so I’ll tell you right up front that sometimes our surveys run ten thousand dollars or more.”

This was a bit of a shock, so Lester said he’d discuss the matter with his mother and get back to the surveyor.

“He called me,” said his mother.

“Who, mom?”

“That Willie Craft. He said I was old and didn’t know what I was talking about.”

This angered Lester, but he did his best to calm himself so he and his mother could discuss the survey issue.

“That’s a lot of money, mom. Do you think we should go ahead? Is it worth it?”

A tear ran down her cheek. Mrs. Yamashita dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. “Lester, your father planted those trees so we’d always know the boundaries. I know he was right. We are right. That realtor is wrong. Yes, I’m old, but that doesn’t me I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

She rested her hands on the tabletop and turned to her son. “Let’s have them do the survey. I really don’t care what it costs.”

So Lester carried out his mother’s wishes and requested the survey. The company was very good and constantly kept him abreast of their progress. As he had feared, the survey began to stretch out, and more days turned into more weeks.

During that time, Willie Craft continued to call his mother and badger her. Finally, Lester couldn’t take it anymore, and he was surprised his mother tolerated the abuse. He contacted the real estate lawyer, Richard Sakai.

“That’s terrible,” said Sakai. “Would you like me to stop him?”

“Stop him?” asked Lester. “How can you do that?”

“It’s very easy,” said Sakai. “I’ll call him and tell him to stop calling. I’ll tell him that we’ll file a complaint against him if he keeps it up.”

Lester agreed to this.

The survey was completed, and lo and behold, Mrs. Yamashita had been correct. The trees did mark the original boundary points. Willie Craft had been trying to sell her property. It turned out that the property next door was short the required 5000-foot minimum on which to build a house, and the people who’d originally built the home, some three owners before, had done so in violation of the law.

In the end, the survey cost $14,000, and the services of Richard Sakai did not come cheap. All in all, the price of being right ran much higher than Lester had hoped.

“It doesn’t matter,” his mother said. “We were right.”

“Okay, mom, that is important I know.”

Lester’s cousin Stella, a personal injury lawyer, suggested to Mrs. Yamashita that she should file a suit against Willie Craft.

“I don’t want to do that,” said Mrs. Yamashita. “The main thing is that we were right.”

“But, auntie,” said Stella, “at least you can recover your costs. Not to mention his harassing you. We’d get you compensation for that as well.”

“No,” said Mrs. Yamashita, “all that matters is that we were right. When you’re right, you’re right.”

And that night, Mrs. Yamashita died in her sleep.

Three years later, Willie Craft died as well. He’d been shot and killed in an illegal gambling raid. When the news came out, it was noted that his real estate company required all partners to contribute 10% of their sales commission to a slush fund that covered all legal difficulties. Selling off the adjacent property of their clients was only one of their illegal activities, so the fund was put to use frequently.

One day Lester and his friend Kila happened to be driving past the cemetery where Lester knew Willie Craft was buried. Checking with the front desk people, they located Craft’s grave.

Kila followed Lester to the site.

Lester stood there staring at the grave and thinking about how Craft had worn his mother down. Then, out loud, he said, “What a fucker.”

Kila wasn’t surprised by this, but he said, “So you don’t feel a little bit sorry for the guy what with you still being alive and standing over his grave and all? I mean, isn’t it enough that you are still alive? Isn’t it time to let go of all the hard feelings?”

Lester looked up from Craft’s grave at Kila. A new wave of anger and disgust rolled through his body, causing him first to shake and then shiver.

“Say what? How can you ask that, man? Hey, now I feel like I’ve got his eye. He took my mom’s, so the only thing I feel good about is getting a little bit even here. For me, hey, I still want his other eye, Kila. His being dead is just the one for my mom. My mom said being right was enough. Well, maybe for her, but not for me. His other eye, Kila, I want it. How am I going to get it ? Dead just doesn’t do it.”

Lester thought about spitting on Craft’s grave but decided just to walk away. Still, he managed a smile, thinking about the way Craft had died.

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