Disclaimer: This is a work of pure fiction. Any resemblance to anyone, living or dead is purely coincidental. The characters are fictional and of my own creation. The place, time, and incidents are purely fictional. Copyright © January 2004.
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Inevitable Destiny Ė Fickle Fate
By Ken Rogers
The elevator opened to the long richly carpeted hallway, giving birth to a well dressed, striking looking womanóa little above average at five foot nine, and shapely, her breasts slightly large for her trim figureó who turned left and strode down the long corridor with a purpose. She ignored the prints of expensive paintings lining the wood paneled walls, her demeanor that of someone who had been here many times before. The Rolex watch, and nugget bracelet she wore complimented the expensive dark green business suit, matching heels, and white silk blouse she wore. Intelligent gray eyes watched the world from a beautiful face surrounded by luxuriant red shoulder-length hair, though her nose and lips were very slightly too large and her face a little too round to be called classic. When she reached the fourth set of six matching doors, she turned to the one on her right. It opened silently to her sure touch and she entered, closing it after herself.
Her quick gaze took in a large desk to her right and several expensive leather chairs arranged along the left side of the wall, the rug a lighter gray than her piercing gaze, totally in contrast to the rich brown carpeting in the hallway.
The rather stern looking middle-aged woman, with short chestnut hair, that sat behind the desk, busy at a computer keyboard, looked up at the newest arrival and smiled briefly.
"Good evening, Ms. Donovan."
"Hi, Grace, she in yet?"
"Ms. Coulter just returned about ten minutes ago, maíam."
"And she told you not to call me yet, right?"
Grace let her stern mask melt a little. "Those were her instructions, yes. Iím sorry."
"Donít apologize, Grace. Sheís your boss. I hardly expect you to disobey her."
"Thank you, Ms Donovan. Iíll announce you."
"Is she alone?"
"Thanks, Iíll announce myself." The words drifted over her shoulder as she moved towards the inner door. She entered quickly, closing the door softly behind her and leaning back against it.
The inner office was impressively large, a virtual clone to her own, except her office had acquired a few personal touches, and this one had not. To her left a massive coffee table was surrounded by two leather couches and matching chairs. The far wall contained the blank screen of a flat screen TV. To her right there was a mirrored bar and beyond that a door leading to a private bathroom and a small bedroom. Bookcases stuffed to overflowing with massive tomes made up much of the left and rear walls, and there were floor to ceiling windows directly in front of her. The tall windows behind the roomís occupant were hidden behind closed vertical blinds. In front of her was a large modern desk, which was covered in numerous books, legal documents, portfolios, and a rather incongruous old desk lamp, casting a soft yellow glow over the desk. There was also a laptop to the right and a flat screen video monitor to the womanís left, the keyboard partially buried under a small mountain of paper.
The woman behind the desk, a petite blonde, was wearing a long sleeved white silk blouse, the sleeves rolled up to her elbows. The light gray jacket to her business suit was draped over a smallóout of placeóchair next to the desk. She was totally immersed in the document lying in front of her, an elegant silver pen held loosely in her right hand. Blond shoulder length hair fell freely about her face hiding most of her features.
"Hi, Phil." Samantha didnít look up, continuing with what she was doing.
Phyllis looked up to the ceiling, praying for patience, then back down at her closest friend.
"Samantha Coulter, donít you dare try to tell me that you didnít know we were supposed to leave nearly two hours ago!" she retorted as she stepped away from the door. "I had to move our flight back to the last one of the day, so get moving."
Samantha leaned back in her sumptuous leather chair studying her friend. She absently tapped the end of her pen against her chin as Phyllis walked to the desk and perched on the edge.
"Oh no! No, Sam! Not again! You promised. Weíve been planning this trip since forever, and youíve already backed out on me twice!"
Samantha sighed, eyeing the clock over the door behind the redhead. She dropped the pen onto the document she had been studying and sighed.
"I need another hour, Phil. Iíve cleared my calendar, but this is last minute urgent, and critically important to the Robison case. Jason is taking the case for me, but he needs this information. I canít get out of this."
Phyllis glanced at her watch, then back to her friend.
"One hour, Sam, not a second more. As it is Iíll have to break all land speed records to get to the airport on time. I will not miss out on Jamaica again, and neither will you, my friend," she replied, her voice firm with her determination.
Samanthaís eyes rose to the ceiling. "Why I let you talk me into this, Iíll never know."
"Because Iím your friend and if I didnít watch out for you, youíd just stay in this dreadful office and never come out. Come on, Sam. You need a break."
"I take a break almost every day."
Phyllis snorted. "Oh, right, the gym. I forgot. You go in there and nearly kill yourself every day and you call that a break."
"It relaxes me," Samantha answered contritely.
"Sam. Itís a club, for god sakes! We go there, bikini in hand, and tough it out for a couple days of sun, sand, pina coladas, and gourmet food, and we forget this crazy place for a little while. We get roasted and toasted and come back looking ever so worldly. What could be bad?"
Sam studied her for a minute then sighed, glancing up at the clock again.. "Fifty-five minutes, Phil. Thatís all I need."
Phyllis gave her a brilliant smile and slid off the desk. "Fix you anything? " She detoured past the closest couch to drop her purse then made her way to the bar, worriedly glancing at her watch again.
"Coffee," Samantha replied without looking up, her eyes racing over the document in her left hand.
"I was thinking something a little more in spirit with our destination, Sam," she answered as she wrinkled her nose at the half pot of strong smelling coffee.
"Not while Iím working, Phil. Coffee will do."
"Fine," she answered, pouring a cup of the evil looking brew. She failed to understand how Samantha could stomach the stuff without at least a pound of sugar and a gallon of milk to mellow it out a little. She fixed herself a martini and returned to the desk, placing the coffee in a small clear spot of desk next to the lamp. "There you go."
"Thanks," Sam answered, not looking up.
Phyllis went to the couch and sat down, glancing around the office. She pushed her heels off then lifted her tired feet to the coffee table before leaning back and sipping her drink. The place was immaculate, except for the cluttered desk of course, but then it should be. When Samantha was in the office she was almost always at her desk. She seldom used the little conference area and when she did, Grace took care of things for her. Phyllis leaned back and watched her friend, taking a sip of her martini.
To say she admired her friend was an understatement, yet at the same time she felt sorry for her. The woman had everything and yet she had nothing. Except for her initial shoe-in to the firm, because of her fatherís friendship with Mr. Jarred Lewellen, of the firm, Pike, Lewellen, Maranze, and Talbot, she had done it on her own. She was a rising star in the firm, blazing ahead of many other rising stars, outshining them by several orders of magnitude. She had a fabulous office on THE floor, just down the hall from Lester Maranze, the grand old man himself, a luxurious four-bedroom apartment, the obligatory Beemer, and literally anything she wanted in the way of wardrobe.
At the same time Phyllis felt sorry for her, because little miss success had no life outside her work. She never dated and seldom went out, except to the opera, or to business functions, her only companion of choice being Phyllis.
Women hated her looks, her drive, and her brilliance, but gloated over the rumors that she was a real dud in the social circles, and in the bedroom.. Gossip had run the gamut from shy prude, to obnoxious closet drunk, to lesbian, to egomaniac madly in love with herself, and any other thing that catty women could come up with.
Men hated her for her brilliance and her unapproachability, two apparently despised traits in beautiful women. Many had tried everything to get a date with her. Whole campaigns had been run to get her into bed. There was even a competition, with money gathered into a pot, for the first man that could get anywhere with her. Currently the winning of a single kissóprovableówas worth a thousand bucks to the lucky bastard that turned her head. No luck. She was polite, but coldly adamant. Only one man, a brashly obnoxious ego in a business suit, had tried to steel a kiss from her at an obligatory cocktail party. He had been just drunk enough to take a dare and to force his attentions on her. The attempted kiss, when polite but firm refusal had failed, cost him a broken arm, and an unexpected flight through the air. In the course of his clumsy attack he had ripped her strapless dress as she tried to get away from him, exposing her full firm breasts to the entire room, including a rabid group of press photographers that gleefully filmed the whole incident. The next day she filed charges for sexual harassment, assault, physical injury, psychological injury, and had a peace bond sworn out against him. The peace bond presented an immediate problem for him because he was not allowed within a hundred feet of her and there was a very large officer there to hand him the papers and escort him from the floor. Unfortunately for him his office was only thirty feet from hers and he was forced to move to another floor.
His counter suit, for physically attacking him, was quickly disposed of as self-defense. After an embarrassingly public litigation and under pressure, he resigned, and Samantha became known as the ice queen. He lost the sexual harassment lawsuit and paid her one hundred thousand in damages, plus court costs, and was put on three years probation.
Samantha was the cause of a lot of hard feelings and gossip in the firm but she had one thing going for her that no one could deny her. In her four years at P. L. M. and T., she had become one of the most formidable defense attorneys in the state of New York. Prosecution attorneyís dreaded going against her. Already she had the reputation that if she took your case, you were sure to win.
It helped that she worked for one of the most exclusive law firms in all of New York and that PLM&T took mostly very rich clients. But it could be said that among that very elitist group were some of the most devious and criminal minds in the entire state. No one could say her cases were easy and some of them had been spectacular, spread all over the news. Samantha handled the attention just like she did anything else, with cool indifferent efficiency. The press alternately loved and hated her. She was absolutely unflappable under fire, no matter the questions or their insinuations, yet she was also bankable news, and they couldnít get enough of her.
Phyllis sighed and sipped her drink. This trip to Jamaica had seemed like a way to get Samantha to loosen up a little, to step down from her ice castle and let her hair down. Phyllis also hoped that maybe she could get a little of her high school friend back. She missed her, that loving little firecracker from their high school days.
Phyllis remembered the heart wrenching phone call she had gotten only two days after reluctantly leaving the blonde with a complete stranger. She had only made four hundred miles after leaving Samantha, because she had stopped in the first fair sized town to get her damaged windshield repairedócaused by the gut wrenching near miss of a deeróand to get a restful nightís sleep. She had also been privately hoping the blonde would call her before she got too far away, sure that the obvious infatuation would wilt with the light of day. The unexpected heart-wrenching call she received, had been enough to hurry her back to the motel Sam was staying in, but she had been totally unprepared for what she found in that darkened, stuffy, stale little room.
In just three days Samantha had changed dramatically. She looked drawn and sickly. Dark circles marred her sunken eyes and she looked as if she hadnít eaten or slept in a month, gaunt, haggard, and emaciated. She let Phyllis in and immediately curled back into her bed, the covers up to her neck..
Phyllis tried to open the curtains or turn on the air conditioning to clear out the overpowering, stale, dead cigarette smell, but Samantha wouldnít let her, becoming so distraught that Phyllis relented. She contented herself with emptying the overflowing ashtray and getting Samantha a drink of water, the only thing she would accept, except another in a continuing stream of cigarettes.
Haltingly at first, interspersed with heart wrenching sobs, she told Phyllis what had happened. Phyllis was shocked at the torment and anguish her friend was going through for someone she didnít even know.
When Samantha fell into an exhausted sleep, Phyllis checked her over, not surprised to find that she was running a fever and soaked in sweat. There was no food in the room and besides the stink of old cigarettes, the place reeked of unwashed body and bedding. She suspected that Samantha had hardly moved from the bed for the entire three days. By the time they left the next day, she had gotten a little food into the blonde, practically force feeding her, and cleaned her up, but she still looked like she had been through a wringer.
The trip was a study in frustrations for Phyllis. Samantha hardly spoke, staring vacantly out the side window. She barely ate, and she slept a good part of the trip away, waking from intense nightmares, sometimes crying silently for hours at a time, the inevitable cigarette staining her fingers but otherwise hardly touched.
Smoking was something neither of them had done since brief, unpleasant trials in high school, but Samantha might have been smoking for years the way she was going through them.
Phyllis didnít really know what to do for her. She just couldnít understand the intense grief for someone she had known for little more than a day, and a day of rejection at that, judging by her story. Still, there was no doubt that something about the brunette had affected her friend more deeply than anything or anyone ever had.
They made it to San Diego and Samantha disappeared into the room Phyllis put her in, only coming out when Phyllis forced her out for meals, which she only picked at. After nearly a month of reclusive living, an emaciated Samantha reentered the world of the living with renewed goals. She got a job clerking in a law office and returned to school to finish out her degree with a single-minded determination that at first elated then concerned Phyllis.
To Phyllisís dismay her friend had profoundly changed. The sparkling bubbly girl then woman, she had known since high school, was gone. In her place was a cold calculating machine that sometimes frightened her. She couldnít remember the last time she had genuinely seen Samantha smile. She drove herself and everyone around her remorselessly.
Phyllis loved her dearly, but she was ever so glad that her work in boring old business law had teamed her only once with Sam. That one time had nearly cost them their friendship and by then they had both more or less become used to the frenetic pace of life in the firm.
Phyllis looked down, surprised to find her glass empty. She checked her watch.
"Sam, timeís up."
"Fifteen minutes, Phil, just fifteen minutes."
Phyllis sighed, climbing to her feet. "Damn it, Sam, we donít have fifteen minutes. Weíll probably miss our plane as it is."
Samantha never looked up. She was working on something on her laptop, while referencing something on her desktop computer, having moved the laptop next to her desktop screen.
"Relax, Phil. Weíll make it, trust me. Make yourself another drink then call down and have them take our luggage up to the roof. The front desk has the keys to your truck, right?"
Phyllis automatically growled her disgust. "Itís not a truck, Sam. Iíve told you a thousand times itís an SUV."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Just have them take our stuff up to the roof. I got us a ride."
When had she done that? Obediently Phyllis returned to the couch and retrieved her cell phone, calling down to the desk. It wasnít required that you leave a set of keys at the desk, but everyone did. That way, if you were spirited off with a group to wherever USA, your car could be taken to the airport, a meeting across town, or even serviced and taken to your home. PLM&T demanded a lot of you, so they often took care of the little essentials for you.
It was more a necessity than a perk though. Sometimes you just had to go with the flow and it was nice to have someone to take care of the things you just couldnít find time for.
Jonathan Pike, the head of corporate law and her boss, had put it succinctly when he discovered she was reluctant to use the service. "Ms. Donovan, I pay you an indecent amount of money to make me an even more obscene amount of money, to help keep this corporate monster alive. I canít afford to have you running little errands when you could be running your time clock for much, much more. What I can do is hire someone or even several someoneís to walk your bird or kiss your cat while you are adding to our bottom line. In the hour you fritter away attending to the little drudgeries in all our lives, the firm loses enough to pay, our share, your wages, your secretary, plus five people to care for your car, your home, your cats, a woman to fetch you a change of clothes, and probably two guys and a van to fetch you a seven course dinner from Soviniís. Get to work."
Inwardly she grinned at the memory. Maybe she was worth that now but she was fairly sure he had exaggerated her worth then, since she had only been with the firm for a little over a month at the time and one of the newest members of the snake pit. She had gotten the message.
Instead of making herself another drink, she used Samís private bathroom to freshen up. She herself had had a rather exacting day that unavoidably ran overlong so she knew what the blonde was going through. PLM&T allowed its associates to take up to a month at a time off, provided they could clear their slate. In the four years that they both had worked here, that had never happened, not even for a week. This time they had been planning and working for months, for this two-week break, and Sam had already delayed them twice with last minute problems she couldnít break away from.
Phyllis smiled at the elegant redhead looking back at her from the mirror, as she reapplied her lipstick. She remembered the first six months they had worked here. Sam took to the grind like a duck to water. She, on the other hand, thought she would die. The hours, fraught with intense strategy meetings, client meetings, massive research, late nights, long weekends, and fast food delivered and dumped on conference tables or desks, had nearly killed her, before she got used to it. She wondered what in the hell she had gotten into and just knew they would fire her any second. For one thing, since she rode into the company sort of on Samís coattails, through Samís acceptance due to her father, a friend of crotchety old Jarred Lewellen, their head government man, she figured she was looked at as a favor of a favor, which she was. She hadnít known until sometime last year that no one, except the partners knew how she got here and they wouldnít have cared anyway. She learned early that there was no room for slackers and you pulled more than your share or your ass hit the pavement, hard, no matter who you were or where you came from.
When Sam first told her that her dad had greased the way for both of them, Phyllis had been dead set against it. At the time she was working in a second rate hole in the wall law firm where bigoted assholes was an understatement close to a complement. She spent more time fetching coffee and knocking hands off her ass than practicing law. She was in fact looking for another job at the time, financially unable to quit or sue or any of those other things the law said she had a right to do, but what Sam offered made her nervous. She had this preconceived idea about firms like PLM&T and how little actual work they did while gouging their clients. She also didnít want to be known as one of those bitches that took the easy way out to the big bucks, whoring their way in over better lawyers.
Sam disabused her of the easy life gougers theory with a couple of entertaining stories of her fatherís, promising that if it was even remotely true, they would quit together. After much explaining, wheedling, and just plain begging on Samís part, she had agreed to give it a try, her current position offering an undeniable impetus to move practically anywhere.
The first week had been a whirlwind collage of fleeting memories. She remembered being very pleasantly shocked at her starting salary, but she also remembered that, after spending the morning in personnel and one interview after the other, with the partners, both of them had found themselves on the seventh floor in a huge conference room, in the thick of chaos. A month later she realized that she had a sumptuous, gorgeously furnished apartment, just down the hall from Samís, closets full of expensive clothes, a Lexus SUV, and she had had almost nothing to do with any of it, though she would certainly be working her ass off trying to pay for it all. Oh, she briefly saw the apartment, was kept up to date on everything that went on there, decided the colors, and with an interior decorator, planned the general décor, but that was pretty much the extent of her involvement.
She picked her preferences in clothes, with a consultant to tell her why she shouldnít wear this or that, and just what sort of image the firm expected her to portray. An elegant woman and her assistant came to her office, measured and fitted her, and went away. She was prodded, probed, measured, fitted, told what to wear in the way of clothes, makeup and even underwear, to enhance the firmís image.
A few days later, a day when she actually made it to her apartment for a few hours instead of catching a few on one of the tiny cots on the seventh floor, she opened her closet to find that most of her old clothes were gone, and her closet had acquired a sprinkling of expensive business clothes. She didnít get to the apartment every day, but when she did during the next two weeks, her closet had grown.
She was the one that picked out her new vehicle, including the color and options, using the Internet, and mindful of the list of types of vehicles. That was the extent her involvement and it just showed up in the parking garage one day, already licensed with New York plates, in her assigned space with her freshly painted name stenciled on it. One day one of the staff assistants asked her for her driverís license, had her sign a form, then took her picture and disappeared. She returned later and handed her a New York license and a little booklet suggesting she look through it when she could.
All of this was done at a frantic pace, between meetings, phone calls, client sessions, brainstorm sessions, frantic research with dozens of clerks assigned to help her and the other staff lawyers. She knew she would fail and they would fire her inept ass at any second. More than once she was ready to go to her boss, the dreaded Jonathan Pike, on the eleventh floor and just resign. No, she was more likely to seek out her team leader, and then personnel, since the thought of actually facing the intense Jonathan Pike again scared the hell out of her. She knew she would take years to pay back the money they had spent on her but it was just too much. Actually the thing that saved her from doing that was simply that she just hardly had a moment to even think about it. In her first month she worked on six cases, more or less simultaneously, with five other staff lawyers, only one of which had been there less than a year. They always immediately threw the new fish into teams, to start them. It was a shock, much like an unexpected punch in the gut, giving them an immediate up close and personal feeling for just what it was like to work for PLM&T. Fortunately the new people were kept so busy with the small stuff for the first weeks, they had little time to dwell on just how out of their depth they felt. As the days passed they were burdened with more and more work as rapidly as their mentor felt they could handle it, always a frantic pace.
Suddenly three months were gone, with hardly time to take a breath. She was in an intense meeting, brainstorming how to get the corporate dumb-asses they currently had for clients out of the very big hole they insisted on enlarging for themselves almost daily. Five associates, their PAís, six staff lawyers, including her, and seven researchers were seated at as many laptops, scanning the libraries for precedents or loopholes, typing documents, and collecting data, anything to plug the latest hemorrhage in their case. It was total chaos, so intense that two associates were at each otherís throats, while several researchers tried to stop them from killing each other. It didnít even slow the rest of them down, the ever-present deadlines looming larger by the minute.
No one noticed the door open, or the tiny woman that moved gracefully through the chaotic room, but suddenly Phyllis was tapped on the shoulder by the stone faced Gwendolyn McDonaldson, it being far to loud for the soft-spoken womanís voice to have any effect. Phyllisís world came crashing around her ears. The dreaded Gwendolyn was Jonathan Pikeís executive assistant. She had deflated like a balloon as she meekly followed the crooked finger out of the room. This was it. Her three-month trial period was over and Jonathan Pike was going to personally kick her butt back to hole in the wall USA. She tried her best to prepare herself but it was hard. She realized with a shock that she would miss the place. She also realized that she was having the time of her life and she didnít want it to end.
Phyllis followed docilely along behind Gwendolyn looking, she was sure, like she was going to her execution. Thatís exactly how she felt.
Gwendolyn solemnly opened the door and let her in to the death chamber, then closed it behind her. The almost inaudible closing of that door was so frighteningly final she nearly fainted. Jonathan was cordial, offering her a seat, and handing her a glass of, as it turned out later, thirty year old brandy, but she hardly noticed. He returned to his desk and picked up her file. For the next eternity, which was probably less than ten minutes, she listened as he mentioned each and every thing she had worked on, from her very first day, each point like another heavy nail in her coffin. Finally he stopped and looked up at her, his heavy graying eyebrows seeming to scowl at her in disapproval and she dropped her head. What he said next was forever lost to her, until he said, "Congratulations, Ms Donovan, welcome to the team."
He laughed at the startled look on her face, when she looked up, a wide, devilish grin splitting his rugged features. She remembered thanking him somehow, and she remembered emptying the brandy snifter in one go, not ever really feeling the effects of the strong drink. He handed her a sheet of paper to sign, which was a copy of his appraisal for her records, which also included her raise, a figure she couldnít ever remember until her next pay stub arrived. She could hardly hold the pen but she scrawled something unintelligible on the form, shook his hand, mumbling god only knew what, and left on cloud nine, sure her feet never touched the floor all the way to the conference room, where she got another surprise. Her team knew she had been accepted and they had a little surprise party for her, complete with cake and champagne. Sam had been there, and for once she was smiling. The party tuned out to be for both of them, Sam having gotten her Ďexecutioní at the same time, one floor above hers. It was the first time they had seen each other, except in hurried passing, in a month, though they were both currently residents of the Ďsnake pit.í
She had figured she would spend her entire career in the snake pit, most of them did. She was happy with that possibility, but on her third anniversary with the company she found herself, just as Sam had done on her second, boosted to THE floor, hers being the eleventh, while Sam was on twelve. Their offices were nearly identical, the firmís required projected image for their associates. What a shock that had been! Sheíd had no doubt that Sam would make it, though doing it in two years was phenomenal, but she never expected she reach such a pinnacle.
She nearly died when a very solemn Gwendolyn called her at her tiny desk and told her Mr. Pike wanted her in his office immediately. It was a call that had caused more than one empty desk. She would have thrown up, but when Jonathan said now, you didnít take time for anything. You ran. She was physically ill in the elevator, though she didnít actually throw up. Gwendolyn, with a caustic look and a curt command, relegated her to one of the waiting room chairs, where she was sure she died several times. Her daze was broken by Jonathanís cold voice on the intercom. "Send her in." That ten feet was the longest and hardest walk she ever took, but she made it, though her legs were absolute rubber. Gwendolyn made it to the door and opened it for her, then closed it behind herself. To say she was shocked was a monumental understatement. All five partners were in the room, holding glasses. Gwendolyn put something in her hand. Jonathan grinned. "Welcome to eleven, Ms. Donovan." Tiny Gwendolyn caught her when she fainted, amidst uproarious laughter.
"Hey, Phil, you take up residence in there?" Samantha hollered.
Phyllis snapped out of her reminiscing daze. "Coming!" she answered as she began quickly stuffing her things back in her purse.
She turned to find Sam just outside the door.
"I thought maybe you left when I wasnít paying attention,"
"I wasnít in here that long," she complained, smiling.
"Long enough for me to grow an inch," Samantha remarked. "Give me a minute and letís get the hell out of here."
"About time," Phyllis answered, stepping past her and heading for the couch to retrieve her heels. She wished she didnít have to wear them but the one time she had slipped on sneakers to leave the building, she made it almost to the elevator. Jonathan came out of one of the last offices before the elevator. He looked pointedly at her feet and scowled. "Hardly the image for this firm, Ms. Donavan," he remarked then brushed past her. It was one of those heart-sinking moments you just knew should never happen again.
Sam came back to her desk, slipped into her jacket, and grabbed her purse.
"Letís go, before the roof caves in or something," she said as she headed for the door.
"Shush, Sam. Donít jinks us, for heavens sake!" Phyllis whispered urgently.
"Third time, Phil. Thatís the charmer, you know. Bye, Grace, go home," she said as she passed her PAís desk and grabbed the door handle.
"As soon as I finish the file you just sent, Ms. Coulter. Enjoy your vacation," she answered without looking away from her work.
Graceís phone rang. Both of them froze. It was after seven.
Grace automatically went into her lengthy spiel.
"Good evening, Pike, LeÖ oh, good evening, sir," she said, looking up helplessly at Sam, who shook her head violently. "No, Iím sorry, sir, they just left for the airport." She scowled. "Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Yes, I understand, sir." She gently hung the phone up as if she expected it to attack her.
"What?" Sam asked.
"He bought it, right?" Phyllis asked hopefully.
Grace tried to smile, but didnít succeed. "No. No, actually, what he said was, he cancelled your helicopter, and locked down the elevators, and if I didnít have you in his office in five minutes, Iíd better have a parachute because he would personally kick my ass out the nearest window."
"Gee, thatís too bad, Grace. I really liked you," Phyllis said. "Come on, Sam, letís go."
She sighed and turned to Sam in resignation. "Yeah, I know. Itís hard to get good help."
"Iím sorry, Phil," Samantha replied, actually looking like she meant it, which Phyllis hoped was true.
"I know. Iíd go myself, but whoíd drag my alcohol sodden body off to bed every night?"
Phyllis nodded, "Yeah, me too. Maybe next life."
"Look, it might be nothing, Iíll justÖ."
Phyllis held up a hand. "Itís okay. I have this lovely apartment with a bed I hardly ever get to sleep in, a nice bottle of wine and a huge wide screen TV Iím not even sure I know how to turn on yet. Go. Go see what the ogre wants this time."
"Iím really sorry," Samantha repeated.
"I know. Go, before you have to hire a new personal assistant."
Samantha mouthed sorry to her once more then slipped out the door.
Phyllis turned back to Samanthaís office. "Come on, Grace. Iíll buy. Weíll celebrate your continued existence."
"Iíll drink to that," Grace replied, saving her work and following the redhead.
Samantha stopped in front of the dungeon, the staffís fond name for Lester Maranzeís forbidding office. She pulled at the hem of her skirt, straightened he waist, then buttoned her jacket, and settled it a little straighter on her shoulders.
Marci Sowicki glanced up from her computer screen, her hard dark eyes peering over her reading glasses.
"Go on in, Ms. Coulter," she said crisply, her fingers already back at her task as she turned away.
She took a deep breath and opened the door.
Lester looked up and smiled.
He reminded her of Andy Griffith, the deadly version. His hair was full and thick and snow white. His rounded craggy face fairly beamed when he smiled. He looked friendly and a little soft, something he was not now, nor had he ever been. Behind that benign demeanor beat the heart of a cold-blooded lawyer, frighteningly intelligent and devastatingly ruthless, as many an opponent had found to their regret.
"Come in, Sammy, Come in, girl! My god you look good enough to eat. Sit, sit, let me get you a drink," he continued, lifting his heavy frame out of his comfortable chair surprisingly quickly.
"Thank you, sir," she acknowledged, ignoring his intentionally goading remarks and the suggestive eyebrows, but stiffening in apprehension at the familiarity. She had learned the hard way that Lester was always on. Nothing he ever said or did was irrelevant, or unintentional. She had balked once at his suggestive remarks and his groping hands. In this case he had put his arm around her waist then let it slide around to her butt, getting a good handful. She bristled and started to lay into him, but she had learned the habit of watching an opponents eyes early. His were filled with intense interest and shrewd cunning. It stopped her cold as she realized he had purposely baited her to see what she would do. He had smiled and nodded. "Good girl, he said approvingly. Remember that little lesson Samantha. Never let your guard down. Some guy grabs your ass and you go all female, you lose. Instead, you keep your cool and calmly cut his nuts off in court. Remember, I donít pay you to take offense and lose your cool. I pay you to keep your cool and make the other guy lose his." Sheíd never forgotten that.
He never touched her again.
She once asked him what he would have done if she had lost her cool that day. "Taken great pleasure in kicking your sweet little ass all the way down the back stairs, out the door, and into the street," he had answered, then laughed and turned to business.
"Here you go, Sammy." He handed her a glass of brandy. She wondered briefly why all the partners seemed to have a thing for brandy and expected you to agree. Maybe it was a requirement to become a partner. He returned to his chair and leaned back a little, lifting his own glass to his lips. She obligingly took a sip of the strong liqueur, waiting for him to get around to telling her why he had just ruined her vacation.
"Youíve been with us, what, four years now?" he asked. She nodded, knowing full well he probably knew her personnel file better than she did.
"Yes, sir, four years, last month."
"Um." He took another swallow of his drink then picked up his pipe, jamming it into the corner of his mouth, another warning flag she had learned. He was one of only five men allowed to smoke in this entire building, though customers were afforded the privilege as well, a privilege he highly enjoyed, but never indulged, though he did still smoke in his back garden at his home. She had been surprised the first time she had seen him actually light up. The pipe he held lovingly in his hands was an old retired favorite, an old friend, he said. She learned early it was something he used to distract, irritate or annoy others, but she hoped he was just enjoying the feel of it in his hands right now, not trying to distract her. Never could tell with him. No, the talk of her tenure was more his way of distracting her, relaxing her, before he moved in for the kill, the pipe seemed to indicate he was a bit nervous and uncertain about her reaction. She had no doubt she was the prey in this game of cat and mouse. He might be surprised if she let him know just how well she had learned to read him, but she had no intention of divulging that little bit of information. With Lester you needed all the help you could get. Even so, he was always unpredictable and she was wary. He wanted her to do something and for some reason he was unsure she would cooperate. Lester had one fatal flaw that he was apparently blissfully unaware of. When he was sure of his game, he pounced. When he was wary he dissembled.
"Youíve done well in those four years, Sammy. I have to admit, the first day I saw what old Jar foisted on me, I thought you would run screaming back to mamma within a day, two at most, in the snake pit, but you proved me wrong."
"Thank you, sir. I do try."
"Yes, you do indeed, Sammy." He sighed. "Unfortunately I have to ask you to take on a little task that could be your undoing. Iím not really sure you are quite up to the challenge yet."
"Try me, sir," she answered quietly then touched her lips to the brandy snifter and sipped the warming liquid, keeping her eyes on him.
He sighed. "Iím afraid I have no choice, Sammy. I was going to give it to young Garrison, but heís out sick. Then I thought maybe Benton was my man, but heís tied up indefinitely. I thought perhaps Rice could handle it, but I really am reluctant to give it to him. He tends to hare off on inconsequential avenues and I canít afford that kind of work on this one, Sammy."
She mentally girded her loins. He was laying it on thick. The three men he had named were the three that she had had the most problems with for one reason or another. Garrison was an egomaniac, Benton was a pompous ass and Rice was a smug, self centered little shit that thought women should be laid and not heard. Lester was really trying to push her buttons on this one. She wondered why.
"Iím listening, sir," she replied noncommittally though a knot was forming in her gut.
Lester sighed. "Itís for a friend, Sammy. A guy I grew up with. Iíve known the old bastard for more than sixty years."
"Whatís the problem, sir?"
"Have you been following the Stephanos scandal in the papers, Sammy?"
"No, sir. I donít have the time or much interest in current affairs, sir, unless it affects one of my clients. Grace sees to it that I see the things I should see."
"Hum, too bad. It would make this easier," he answered, but his demeanor told her he was relieved. "Iíll just have to give you the quick version. Demetri Stephanos and Antoni Marcos were two rather big names in the shipping industry. Demetri branched out into other areas but not Antoni. Ten years ago Antoni got into trouble and nearly wrecked the whole company, almost sucking poor old Demetri dry in the process. Demetri bought him out, when the company was practically worthless, heavily mortgaging all his other interests. In his struggles to get out of the mess his whole family, from his great uncle to his smallest sonófive-year-old Marcusóworked day and night to keep the company from going under. They nearly failed, but an old friend, whose ass Demetri had once saved, got him a very lucrative, strictly legit contract that got them over the hump. They made it, and two years later were able to return to a fairly normal life, though they still had a lot of debt. Thatís when trouble really dropped in on them." He sipped his brandy for a moment, gathering his thoughts.
Samís interest perked a little. The good friend was undoubtedly Lester himself. This was getting interesting.
"Elaina and Demetri were blessed with two strikingly handsome sons and two beautiful daughters. Within a year of their making it back from the brink of disaster, the youngest daughter was in an accident that left her, well, needy. Her physical injuries were nearly fatal and apparently her brain suffered irreparable damage. The striking, vivacious teen stayed a teenager, and her motor skills were mildly impaired. The eldest daughter took it on herself to take care of her. Her parents werenít handling the situation very well. It was tearing them apart.
The oldest son took to drinking, gambling, and womanizing. The youngest got in with a street gang and went pretty bad. Through all this Demetri and Elaina struggled proudly on, not really capable of handling all the problems with their children, or even understanding them. The Stephanos have been in this country for several generations, but they have remained true to their Greek heritage. Not so the children however.
Things got worse. Things kept getting worse. The older brother married a very demanding woman and he came back into the business because he needed money and his father had dried up the well he had been dipping in to. At that time the eldest daughter was Demetriís right hand, more actually. She is a very intelligent, insightful and hard working young woman. Something happened. No one knows what, but the daughter left suddenly and the brother took over the business. Nearly two years passed and one day the daughter returned. There was trouble between the two older siblings that threatened to turn ugly. Then the youngest daughter disappeared. The eldest daughter was beside herself looking for her sister but she was never found. There was constant fighting between the brother and sister for some six months, then the daughter suddenly left again for nearly eight months. When she came back she went into seclusion and the brother remained in control. Things got quiet for quite a while."
He stopped again and nearly drained his brandy glass then sat staring into the empty glass.
"What happened, sir?"
He sighed. "The oldest son has disappeared and their daughter has been accused of murdering him." He studied her for a moment, noting her interest in the story. "Demetri is about to lose his mind and Elaina had to be sedated. Sheís been hospitalized. Somehow the police have built up a case, not only for the murder of her brother Luca, but for the murder of her younger sister Juliana."
"Oh, god," Samantha sympathized. "Those poor people."
Lester smelled success and he struck quickly.
"I knew youíd agree, Sammy. Thatís why I picked you to defend Angela.." He tossed a folder into her lap.
"This case means a lot to me, kid. Not only is Demetri an old friend but Angela is my goddaughter. I want you to get her off. I donít care what it takes. I know you have pushed your caseload around and are presently free and I want you to dedicate yourself to this case and this case only."
"I, well sure. IÖ." She had opened the folder. The picture staring back at her stopped her heart. The color drained from her face and she thought she was going to faint. She couldnít breath.
"Oh," she whispered. Haunted eyes turned up to him. "I canít do this."
"You know Angela?"
"Yes," she said in such a faint voice he could hardly hear her. "IÖ. No." Her heart was pounding and there was a roaring in her ears.
"Samantha, Iím counting on you."
"Ms. Coulter, you are in good standing with this firm, on the fast track to a partnership. I need you to do this." His manner had become much colder.
"IÖ I canítÖ." she was shaking her head, her eyes large, her color pasty white, and her whole body shaking.
"Samantha!" he roared.
She took a deep shuddering breath and stared into his cold eyes.
"Samantha, this is killing my best friend. His wife is already in a sanitarium. If you wonít do it for Angela, do it for them. Do it for Juliana and Luca. Prove that their sister isnít a murderer."
Sam shuddered and took a deep breath, staring sightlessly in his direction, seeing the worst days of her life. Even now she heard the sound of the motorcycle fading off into the distance, the precursor to three days of living hell and a month of unbearable loss.
"Sam." He said sternly. "I need an answer."
Her eyes came into focus and slowly she nodded. "All right." Her voice had gone flat, devoid of any emotion.
"Good. Thank you."
She nodded and somehow managed to set the brandy glass down then stood on legs that had gone weak, turning to the door. The world around her seemed surreal. The door opened and she passed through, but she didnít remember turning the knob or opening the door.
She stepped out into the corridor, and then she was at her outer door, no time seemed to have passed between the two events, then she was opening the inner office door. Phyllis and Grace both looked expectantly at her and she could see that Phyllis was saying something to her but it wasnít registering. As she passed Phyllis a folder appeared in her hand, and then she was on he knees heaving her guts into the toilet.
Phyllis watched in stunned amazement as a ghostly white Samantha pass her, handing her a folder. Samantha seemed to fall into the bathroom and she heard her retching. She looked up in astonishment to see a look on Graceís face that had to mirror her own. With trembling fingers she opened the folder and pulled the file out. The sight of the picture on top was like an electric shock to her system.
"Oh, my god," she whispered. She dropped the folder and hurried into the bathroom.
To be continuedÖ.
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