Authors: Louis Auchincloss
Tags: #General Fiction
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN HARCOURT
Copyright Â© 1986 by Louis Auchincloss
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Diary of a yuppie.
43 1986 813'-54 86-2870
Printed in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
A signed first edition of this book
has been privately printed by
The Franklin Library
The Greatest Lawyer
I've Ever Worked With
HAVE BEEN WORKING
such long hours on this last corporate takeover that I have hardly made an entry in my journal for six weeks.
And right now I pull myself up.
Is that what I have finally decided this is? A journal? After all these years? That whole file drawer that I keep in the officeâaway from Alice's too curious eyesâthe accumulation of jottings on long yellow foolscap: letters written but unsent, "personalities," imagined dialogues, remarks I wish I'd made at parties (staircase wit), diatribes of hate, hymns of love, endless dissections of my own fears and neurosesâcould they all have been gradually melding into a form, a shape, a journal? And just what is a journal? A novel with a narrator, an "I"? Henry James disapproved of these; he said that they limited the tale to what the narrator could observe. The greater drama, according to him, was to see the observer observing. But people know more about themselves today than they did in Mr. James's timeâor at least they should. And they certainly know more about themselves than even their closest intimates know about them. Or againâthey certainly should.
My first papers go back a dozen years to my undergraduate days at Columbia, where I majored in English, as the best preparation for law. There are bits and pieces of stories and novels, for there was that brief period in freshman year when I actually contemplated becoming a writer. Soon I gave up the idea because there are too few financially successful writers; the law has a much broader peak. But I suspected even then that I was going to use pencil and paper on some kind of regular private basis to maintain my mental balance in a world populated by humans obsessed with their own illusions. For surely most people live more in their own fiction than in their own fact. Fact is too thin, too dry, too small, too passionless. And they? Why they, of course, are great tawny roaring lionsâat least in their own mind's eye.
But it is time I stopped meandering. That is, if I am really to follow the aim and drift that I think I begin to see emerging from the yellow mass in the locked file cabinet behind my desk on the fortieth floor of the Pan Am Building. A journal I have just now called it, and a journal, for a time at least, it will be. I am writing at home tonight, but I shall be sure to put this paper away in my pocket before Alice comes in from her Metropolitan Museum lecture. Alice would never go through my pockets, but she would not hesitate to read anything I left around. She plays the literary agent at home as well as in the office and insists that I have a book in me. Or is that just an excuse for vulgar female curiosity? But is male curiosity any less vulgar?
I suspect that what may be orienting my words now on the yellow page before me is my suspicion that the new crisis in my office life is not an ordinary one. Like a good lawyer, let me state the facts, or what Mr. James would call the donnÃ©e.
"I" am Robert Service, aged thirty-two, an associate in the law firm of Hoyt, Welles & Andrew (thirty-six partners, a hundred clerks), and I have been privately assured (not guaranteedâthey never do that) of my ultimate promotion on the first day of this coming January, 1980. Partnership has been my sole ambitionâyou might even call it my obsessionâthroughout eight years of driving work, including most weekday nights and many weekends. And what do I feel, now that triumph is nigh? Very little.
I have become a specialist in corporate takeovers. The one I am working on now, under Branders Blakelock, is the bitterly contested bid of Atlantic Rylands to take control of Shaughnessy Products. We represent the aggressor (I use the word advisedly), and the "target" is engaging in every defense of the game, including the "scorched earth" policy of encumbering its properties with debts and long-term leases to discourage the predator. It is also starting up new lines of business, closely allied to Atlantic's, so that the latter may be faced with the menace of an antitrust suit in the event of victory. In such warfare all is fair.
Or should be. Mr. Blakelock is my problem. It has come about this way. A routine procedure is the search, sometimes through paid informers, for evidence of improper conduct of the officers of a target company. Armed with such a find, one can sometimes blackmail the target into a compromise or at least, by means of a derivative stockholders' suit, get rid of a troublesome officer. Examination of "abandoned property," a euphemism for the contents of the target's trash baskets, is often rewarding. Mr. Blakelock finds these tactics offensive, and I try to shield him from awareness of them, but I had to tell him about one shredded document, which we had pieced together, to get his permission to bring a suit against Albert Lamb, Shaughnessy's president.
It was a memorandum from an accountant to the company treasurer about Hendrickson Lamb, Albert's younger brother, an alcoholic with a sinecure job and a salary paid by Albert personally. The interesting part of the memorandum dealt with what appeared to be an embezzlement of company cash by the brother. The memo read: "As you know, it is Mr. Lamb's practice to refund such defalcations promptly from his own account."
So there it was. Perhaps not much, but enough to start a stockholders' suit seeking the removal of Albert Lamb from Shaughnessy. And Albert was causing Atlantic's biggest headache in the attempted takeover.
I knew that I should have trouble with Mr. Blakelock, and I waited for some time this morning for the right moment to break it to him. He had called me to his office to discuss a motion in the federal District Court that I am to argue next Monday. He has great confidence in himself as a coach and likes to imagine himself as an impresario, a kind of Svengali who can inspire or even hypnotize a disciple into a brilliant performance. I always sit patiently and silently through these sessions.
Indeed, I hardly look up at him. It is enough to sense him towering above me, standing tall and bony in one of those baggy black suits that he has worn throughout the eight years I have known him, booming or shrilling alternately down at me from the mahogany lectern at which he likes to stand as if he were some Abelard of old preaching to students.
"And remember, Robert, when you have finished your oral argument, don't trail off, or glance at your notes for some afterthought or final emphasis, but obey the immortal command of the late John W. Davis, the greatest pleader it was ever my privilege to hear"âhere the reedy voice becomes suddenly stentorianâ"and
But this morning I am tired of it. The job has been too long and grinding, and it is not half done. The knowledge that I should soon be a partner has not brought the anticipated ecstasy but instead a quickening anxiety as to whether I have chosen the right firm. Of course, I have always been like that; foretasting is so much of my satisfaction that I rarely enjoy even a brief elation upon fruition. It seems to me that I am weary at last of Blakelock's paternalism. He has liked me, preferred me, perhaps even loved me. I have to some extent made up for the son he has never had, and that has been a fine enough thing while I was an aspiring clerk, but now that I am ceasing to be a clerk, should I not be promoted to the more equal status of younger brother?
That has a rather nasty look, even to my eyes, as I reread it. Imagine how it would seem to Alice! But was it my fault that Blakelock chose to crowd me into the vacuum of his heart? I have always liked himâI still doâbut he ought certainly to understandâwho better?âhow much it has been to my advantage to play along with a senior partner who has my destiny in his hands. Why do people persist in the illusion that their caring creates some kind of duty of reciprocation, or even respect, in the hearts of those they care for? Why do they kid themselves that there is something fine or noble or duty-creating in the fire of a passion that they have not only deliberately kindled in themselves but have huffed and puffed on to make it as large and crackling as possible? How many of them ever seriously try to douse it? They don't because they're afraid they might succeed. And they don't want to succeed any more than they want to face the fact that the object of their affections is usually the creation of their fantasy.
For what am I, Robert Service, to Branders Blakelock? Not what I seem to myself, anyway. I cannot be sure, obviously, just how he likes to picture me, but I hazard the guess that it may be as an Antinous on whose bare muscular arm the wise old leader of the ancient world does not disdain to lean. Should that not be enough for Antinous? What is he, poor Bithynian lad, if not the beloved of Hadrian? I do not suggest that Blakelock has lascivious designs on meânothing, I am sure, would shock him more, even in his most secret thoughtsâbut I do note that his protÃ©gÃ©s have all been handsome, and we know what a cesspool the subconscious can be. Or, to put it more innocently, perhaps he conceives of me as a kind of faithful wolfhound, crouched submissively at his side but ready at a signal to leap, to rush, to kill.
"Remember, also, Robert, that Judge Axeman, like so many of our federal bench, thinks of himself as a man who can change the world. While the president and Congress are paralyzed by party faction,
will ensure that discrimination shall be abolished, if he has to bus our youth a million miles a day; that votes shall be equal, if he has to redistrict all our states; and that the environment shall be preserved, if he must bring industry to a grinding halt! God bless himâI'm half on his side. But what, you will ask, can a reforming judge expect to accomplish in a corporate takeover? Is it not a case of two scorpions in a bottle? Perhaps. But remember that behind every judicial idealist there lurks a lover of power. Axeman likes to play with our big companies as a boy with an electric train. And that is where your role comes in. You must make him feel that the takeover of Shaughnessy Products is a more efficient way of distributing the loaves and fishes to the multitude! You must help him to don the toga of the public servant. Precedent must bow to the general welfareâthat is, when precedent is against us!"
But I have heard it all before. Looking down the long oblong sparsely furnished chamberâtwo rather fine English cabinets, a Colonial bench and some wooden uncushioned armchairs, signed photographs of judges on the walls and "spy" cartoons of British lawyersâit strikes me that litigation has survived in a world of computers like a Toonerville trolley on the track of a Metro-liner. Yet its very survival has made it curiously revered. The tricks and winks and chuckles of the courtroom technique, the voice of thunder, the sly insinuations, the throat clearings, the whispered conferences, the whole hammy vaudeville adored by judge and juryâand by television audiencesâhas become too sacred to be touched, has even in some crazy way taken the place of our empty churches as the shrine of the oldest American virtue.
It is now that I choose to blurt out my discovery about Lamb. It is not the right momentâit is never the right momentâbut at least I have his attention.
"Where the hell did you dig that up?"
I hesitate. "Do you have to know?"
"I suppose it was an 'abandoned property' search? Very well, don't tell me. I don't want to know. You're surely not planning to use it?"
"Of course I am. I plan to use it as the basis of a suit to remove Lamb as c.e.o. of Shaughnessy."
"You've got to be crazy, Bob. I knew about Al's brother. He's a kind of kleptomaniac. Al has always looked after the poor nut."
"Nut? Has he been judicially declared incompetent?"
"Of course not. Al was much too proud. He handles his family problems himself. He's supported that brother all his life and put his son and daughter through college. He even manufactured a kind of career for him in Shaughnessy, at his own considerable expense. I never heard of anyone who did more for a sibling."
"But a brother's hand in the till is still a crime, isn't it? And isn't Albert's covering it up another?"
"I suppose, technically. But it can all be explained."
"Can it? And even if it can, would Albert Lamb like the exposure?"
"Hell, no! It would probably kill the poor loon of a brother."
"Then there you are. Albert will have another inducement to settle. Isn't that what we're after?"
"Robert, I can hardly believe my ears. Is it really you talking?"