Blind Date Collection
Chapter 1 from Bianca's Hope
The fifteen minutes of waiting in the small conference room at the Phoenix law firm Eaton & Eddington made me feel claustrophobic, despite the wall of windows overlooking the wide corridor. I wished Stephen Carey would hurry. It was bad enough needing an attorney in the first place, and waiting had only increased my anxiety. I still didn’t know how I was going to pay, but if I didn’t act, the past eight years of work and everything I’d created could be ripped from me.
I pulled out the little white card and stared at the silver embossing. I didn’t remember who’d given it to me, but it was in my purse with two others I’d gathered in the past month since I’d discovered someone was using my logo on pottery that closely resembled my signature designs. I’d chosen this appointment with Mr. Carey because his name sounded familiar, and because I like the artsy interlaced E’s on the law firm’s logo.
The door opened, surprising me with the suddenness of the motion. I straightened as a man in a dark brown suit entered the room, filling up the small space even more. “Hi,” he said with a smile. “You must be Bianca Mendez. I’m Stephen Carey. Sorry to keep you waiting—and sorry to startle you.”
“No, it’s fine.” I stood and shook his extended hand, my eyes having to travel far up to reach his face. At five-foot-three, I had to look up at a lot of people, even in ultra-high heels. Our gazes connected as his fingers closed over my hand. His eyes were blue, the color of the sky on a brilliant summer afternoon, and framed with short brown hair that made them more prominent. For a moment I couldn’t find my breath. He was handsome in a way that set my heart skipping beats. I had expected someone a lot more . . . stuffy.
His hand retracted quickly from mine as if touching fire. “Please have a seat.” He indicated the conference table.
I tried not to be offended. “Thank you, Mr. Carey.”
“Please, call me Stephen.” He sat in the chair kitty-corner to mine.
I couldn’t help noticing there wasn’t a ring on any of his fingers. If we’d met under other conditions, I’d try to find out more about him. A man hadn’t made my heart skip like this since my freshman year in college.
No, I warned myself. Keep it professional.
He took out a pen and laid it next to the pad of paper he’d set on the table. “Before we begin, I want to clarify that I’m an intern with Mr. Eddington. I’m currently in law school, and while I’ve been studying law for several years, I am not yet an attorney. What I can do today is discuss your case and let you know your options. If we proceed from here, I’ll likely be working on your case. Which is good for you, because my involvement will cut down on attorney fees. But Mr. Eddington would be attorney of record.”
“So you’re not an attorney?” I’d just assumed he was, since someone had recommended him. “I thought they gave the first consultation here—with an attorney—for free.”
“Oh, yes, absolutely. But since we’re here, and Mr. Eddington’s in court today, why don’t we talk a little about your case? Afterwards, if you decide to continue, we’ll set up a joint meeting with Mr. Eddington.”
Something in his tone made me bristle, as if he didn’t expect me to continue past our consult. Was he not taking me seriously? And why not? It wasn’t as if I was wearing ratty jeans. And I was almost certain I’d gotten all the clay out of my hair from yesterday’s attempt at my pottery wheel. I’d even slipped on fancy high heels before heading into the law firm.
“What do you mean if I decide to pursue the case? I don’t have any choice.”
“Maybe not. So, someone is using your logo?” He leaned forward, tenting his hands on the table. He suddenly felt too close.
I inched back in my chair. “Yes, his name’s Kent Fletcher. He runs a pottery shop here in town. I first learned about him using my logo a month ago.” Four weeks ago to be exact, while I was still recovering from surgery after the accident caused by the big storm. “Two days ago when I tracked him down, he practically admitted what he’s been doing. But when I said I was going to seek legal help, he just laughed and said to have my attorney talk to his.”
“Did he say who his attorney was?”
“He gave me a card, but I don’t have it with me.” It was crumpled on the floor of my truck. “He’s also using my designs. But I know copycats are always out there. I just want him to stop using my logo. It’s my initials—very distinctive. A large B with an opening and M inside the bottom curve of the B. I’ve been using it for eight years. Since high school and all the way through college. Here, I’ll show you.”
From the pocket of my suit coat, I extracted a small blue-marbled, fluted candy dish I’d made, turning it over to show him my potter’s mark. “I carve one into each of my pieces.”
He examined the dish before placing it on the table. “It’s unique. Did you file a trademark?”
“No.” My mouth suddenly went dry. “Is that bad?”
His lips tugged downward into a slight frown. “It makes your claim more of a hurdle, especially if someone else has trademarked it in the meantime.”
Frustration flared inside me. “You mean it doesn’t matter if I’ve been using it for eight years? That can’t be right! I’m finally starting to be noticed. I have regular orders from retailers, people are beginning to ask for my work—for quality handmade pieces. But last month when I contacted my clients to set up a time to show them my latest patterns, four of the shops I called had already bought dozens of new pieces from Fletcher. Pots that all had my logo on them.”
Those orders represented half my potential quarterly income, and just thinking about the loss made me panicky. Maybe if I hadn’t been injured two months ago, I’d have been able to contact the retailers sooner and Fletcher would have had less opportunity to step in. I breathed deeply and waited several heartbeats before adding, “And they weren’t even good pieces.”
“So, not like your work?”
What was he implying? “No. I mean, yes, they were copies, but bad copies. Uneven formation, ragged edges, poor artwork, improperly glazed.” I dug in my purse for a second piece of pottery, a different color, but similar. “See? This dish isn’t symmetrical. The glaze is spotty, and the logo is completely lopsided.”
“But the owners of the shops felt this man’s work was good enough to sell to their customers?”
“His pots are less expensive,” I clarified. “I don’t know how this Fletcher can afford to live off what he’s charging—unless he’s paying a bunch of kids next to nothing to make pots for him in his shop.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time.” Stephen made a face. “Unfortunately, it happens.”
“I’m not some big-time artist. Why would he target me?”
“I’d have to do some legwork to answer that definitively, but my bet is that you’ve cut into his market by offering quality pieces, so he’s pushing back.”
“How can I stop him from using my logo?” Was that desperation coming from me? “Shops are thinking it’s my stuff—so are customers. He’s going to ruin my name, my livelihood.”
Stephen leaned back and folded his arms, his eyes intent on my face. What did he see? A strong, independent woman with a college art degree? Or a part Latina girl who was too stupid to trademark her own logo?
“We can send him a notice to cease and desist,” he said, glancing at his watch, “and maybe file an injunction. But without a trademark backing us, and given his reaction when you confronted him, you may have to sue to get him to stop permanently. Even to file the lawsuit, we’d be talking in the range of seven thousand dollars. If he’s trademarked the logo in the meantime, it’ll be an uphill battle to prove you used the mark first.”
Was he kidding? I couldn’t breathe again, and this time it had nothing to do with his proximity. “There’s no way I’ve taken that much business from him. Would he spend so much to defend himself?”
“It cost a lot less to respond to a lawsuit, at least in the beginning. His attorney may advise him to let you take sue him, hoping you’ll give it up because of the expense.”
“Then what can I do?” To my utter mortification, tears threatened behind my eyes.
“Well,” Stephen said, “you have a case for common trademark and copyright violations, but speaking from experience, the expense of proving it would likely be far more than what you’d want to spend. A lawsuit could cost one hundred to three hundred thousand dollars, depending on how willing this guy is to keep your logo. And damages are almost impossible to obtain without a registered trademark. There are attorneys who will take cases like yours on contingency—receiving money only if they win the case—but that’s usually when it’s a corporation or wealthy individual who has infringed on a trademark.”
“I see.” No, I would not give into tears. Not in front of him. He’d barely heard a few details and already he’d made a judgment. He had no idea what this meant to me.
“Miss Mendez, I know this isn’t what you want to hear, but perhaps you should consider redesigning your logo and filing a trademark for it instead.”
As if that would be so easy. “And what’s to stop him from stealing the new one?”
“In that event, you’d have proof, and it would be easier for a judge to order him to stop. You’d also have a better chance of winning statutory damages.”
I surged to my feet. “I don’t want to design a new logo. This one is mine! And by using it, he’s cut my clients by half!” Or more.
Slowly, Stephen rose too, and I lost my height advantage. “I understand that he’s in the wrong. I just want to be clear about expectations before you pursue any legal options.” His voice became placating. “Aside from the money, a lawsuit takes a huge emotional toll on people.”
“Having my life’s work stolen is already emotional.” In fact, since returning to work in the past two weeks, I hadn’t created a single piece that was worth selling. “You know what, you said it yourself—you’re not even a real attorney. I think I’ll find someone who is.” I turned and strode the four steps to the door.
“Miss Mendez,” he called. “If you want to meet with Mr. Eddington . . .”
I continued out the door and down the corridor without a backward glance. That negative intern was not getting me down. I would find a way to fight this with a real attorney at a better law firm who would believe in me and my work. There had to be some justice in the world.
There had better be, or I’d be starving soon.