I spent the morning in Conference Room D, working and watching wage slaves bring me a computer, a phone, and office supplies. I thanked them enough to be polite but not memorable. Between their visits, I studied Mark’s file, which was spread out at the far end of the conference table, shielded from view by a bunker of dead files from one of the other conference rooms. I kept the door closed, so the room was soundproofed against the losers trundling in at nine o’clock. Didn’t they know the day was half over by then?
My best friend Sam Freminet would have arrived at work bright and early. He would already be at his glass runway, billing time in his office just floors above me, on the polar opposite of the Loser Floor, the Gold Coast. The Gold Coast was home to Grun’s heavy hitters, rainmakers, movers and megashakers: the offices of high-density department heads and Executive Committee members, not to mention the throneroom of The Great and Powerful. Pay no attention to that man behind the client.
I scanned the computer printouts of Mark’s checkbook and found two additional cash payments to Sam Freminet, for one thousand each, in the months before Mark was killed. The midday sun edged onto the papers, but I wasn’t distracted. I was wondering why Sam, he of Gold Coast and gold card, had taken cash payments from Mark.Sam?
I powered up my new computer and fiddled around until I remembered how to find the New Matter Reports, the listing of the new cases opened each month. The New Matter Reports were supposedly put on the computer to alert the partners to possible conflicts of interest, but the real reason was so they could say, LOOK AT THE BUSINESS I’M BRINGING IN! I’M PAYING FOR YOU, CHUMP! And of course, the time-honored, MINE REALLY IS BIGGER THAN YOURS. YOU’RE GONNA NEED A CRANE FOR THIS MOTHER.
I selected number 4 from the menu.
SEARCH WHICH ATTORNEY? said the computer.
I tapped out Sam Freminet.
SEARCHING FOR NEW MATTERS OPENED BY MR. FREMINET, said the computer.PLEASE WAIT.
“Sure,” I replied, just to have someone to talk to. I thought of Grady, but pushed that thought away, and fast. There was no contacting him. The cops had to be watching, maybe tapping his phone. Then I thought of my mother. Dare I call?
THE INFORMATION YOU REQUESTED IS ALMOST READY. PLEASE WAIT.
I half expected to hear a littleca-ching. Maybe the screen would turn green.
HERE IS THE INFORMATION YOU REQUESTED. IT IS CONFIDENTIAL AND SHOULD NOT BE RELEASED TO THIRD PARTIES WITHOUT THE EXPRESS WRITTEN APPROVAL OF THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE.
“Kiss my ass,” I said, skimming the long roster of Sam’s new matters. Twenty-one corporate bankruptcies: Rugel Industries, Lafayette Snacks, Inc., Zaldicor Medical, Quaker Realty Trust, Genezone, Ltd., Atlantic Partners. Apparently solid, certifiable, and marked Approved, meaning they had passed the New Matter Committee. New business, each one a transfusion of fresh whole blood, keeping alive the body corporate. Sam was doing great. Why did he need cash from Mark? By the same token, why would he care about the executor’s fee?
Maybe the clients weren’t paying, or couldn’t. They were bankrupts, after all. Or maybe Sam’s receivables were low, and The Great and Powerful was withholding his distribution check. I needed more information, namely Sam’s monthly billings and his partnership distribution record.
I clicked around the computer menus, looking for the billing information, but no soap. It was computerized, but I’d never seen it because it was hidden. Associates couldn’t access those menus, Grun being as free with information as the Kremlin. So my first task was to convince the computer I was a partner, preferably Sam, since it was his information I was after. To do it I’d have to guess his password. I thought a minute and typed in:
WRONG PASSWORD, said the computer.
I tried:FOGHORN LEGHORN.
SYLVESTER THE CAT.
“Sufferin’ succotash,” I said, and got busier.
Half an hour later, I still hadn’t hit the password. Luckily there was no limit on attempts, because I’d gone through every Looney Tune I could dredge up, then tried TV characters I knew Sam loved: Gilligan, Little Buddy, Maynard G. Krebs. Jeannie, Master, Major Nelson. Lucy, Ethel, Little Ricky. Still, no show.
A woman from Grun’s kitchen brought me a tuna fish sandwich when I was in my rock ’n’ roll phase. Jerry Garcia, Bootsie, RuPaul. John Tesh, for a wild card. I gobbled half of the sandwich as I segued into show tunes. Rodgers, Hammerstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber. I had high hopes for Stephen Sondheim, but washed out.
Shit. If I sawwrong password one more time I’d scream. I felt rammy, cooped up. It was the golden retriever in me, I needed exercise. I stretched and walked around the conference table, then lapped it. I jogged to the window. I raised the Levelors and lowered them again. I was running in place when there was a sudden knock at the door, which gave me enough time to scramble back to my chair. “Come in!”
“Ms. Frost?” said a young messenger. “This is from Personnel.” He handed me the envelope, sniffing the air. “What’s that smell?”
“Kinda like a gym?”
“Tuna fish,” I said, waving him gently out of my lair. I opened the envelope and spilled its contents onto the conference table, where they slid out like precious emeralds and rubies. A Grun ID, a building pass, and a set of keys to the firm. Beautiful. Plus aLEXIS/NEXIS card. Good, it would get me online. I could read the newspapers on the computer and see how close the cops were to nailing me. It had been at the back of my mind all through the musicals.
I plopped down in my chair and typed in my newLEXIS number. Then I went intoNEXIS, popped in Rosato, and limited the search to the past week, which is when I got really famous.
YOUR REQUEST HAS FOUND345STORIES, said the computer.
“Terrific,” I mumbled, and punched up the first one, which would be the most recent. The headline told it all:FUGITIVE LAWYER SUSPECTED IN THIRD DEATH.
I read it, then the stories that followed.RADICAL LAWYER ON KILLING SPREE.WOMAN ON THE RUN. There were interviews with “highly placed sources in the police department,” but they didn’t tell me more than I already knew about the cops’ efforts to find me. No mention of sightings, no quotes attributed to Azzic. The party line was the same: she can run, but she can’t hide. Oh yeah?
I hit a key for the next story.
AND THEY ALL CAME TUMBLING DOWN, read the headline. The byline was Larry Frost, my long-lost cousin, and his story was a collection of interviews with R amp; B associates. A quote from “Rosato associate” Renee Butler, who said she felt “betrayed” by me. Bob Wingate “just wanted to forget about it” and was conducting an unsuccessful job search. Eve Eberlein was unavailable for comment but was reportedly preparing the defense of the Wellroth trial. Jennifer Rowlands had landed a job with another Philly firm. In a sidebar,SILVER LINING IN CLOUD OVER LAW FIRM, Jeff Jacobs and Amy Fletcher announced their engagement. Jesus.
I hit the button and the next story appeared. Its headline caught me up short.
MEMORIAL SERVICE TODAY FOR ATTORNEY
A memorial service was held at the Ethical Society today for Mark Biscardi, Esq., Center City resident and named partner in the law firm of Rosato amp; Biscardi. The service and the following interment were attended by many of the attorney’s clients and friends, and was organized by Eve Eberlein, Esq., an associate in the firm. A eulogy was given by Sam Freminet, Esq., of Grun amp; Chase.
I leaned back as if a weight had pushed me there. Mark was gone, really gone. I’d even missed his funeral. I fell into a fugue state, thinking about him, then what Grady said that night in the boathouse. Turning it over and over. Had Mark really loved me? Did Grady?
My heart ached. I sat staring at the story on the computer until the monitor was the brightest light in the room, a modern-day beacon. I checked my watch. 7:45.
The floor sounded quiet, all the losers had gone home. The cleaning ladies made their rounds about 8:00, but the sign I put on the door would have warded them off. It would be safe enough to go out at this hour, especially on a Friday night. I had lots of questions I couldn’t answer from a chair.
But first things first. I stood up, uncramped my legs, and turned off the computer. Then grabbed what I needed and ventured out of Conference Room D.