Authors: Magdalen Braden
Wally frowned. “No. Such visits have happened, of course.”
“And does the firm want ProCell as a litigation client? I ask because Georgia wasn’t very vigorous in her efforts to land them. Maybe that was a decision made higher up.”
Wally’s mouth pinched. “No, of course we want ProCell’s business.”
“Okay. Last point. Trioli’s excited about the chance that we’ll get his company out of the class action entirely, or at least severed from the big boys in the cell phone market. His best chance is if Meghan works on this case.”
“Now, Dan…” Wally looked pained.
“I’ll send up her memos, the ones she produced this weekend. You make the call, Wally. I doubt you can name a senior associate with better analytical skills. If, after looking at her work, you say she can’t go, then I won’t argue. I’ll travel to Boston on my own. But I’m taking her memos with me.”
Wally nodded. After a brief sigh, he turned to Darlene. “Would you excuse us? I need to speak to Dan privately.”
Darlene, whose mood had plummeted during Dan’s speech, perked up—presumably at the hope that Dan and Meghan might still get in trouble. Dan and Wally stood as she slithered out of the room.
After they resumed their seats, Wally said, “Here’s the thing. It’s not just Darlene I have to worry about. Forget the associates who’ll be pissed off that you’re taking the paralegal instead of them. Forget the other partners who’ll be annoyed if you land a major case on your own with only a paralegal at your side—although I need to remind you, you’ll want those partners’ votes when the time comes to apply for an equity stake in the firm.”
Dan nodded. He kept forgetting he still had hoops to jump through before he was admitted to the club. At Justice, once a case was assigned to an AUSA, no one much cared how you got the necessary result.
Wally shook his head wearily. “No, I’ve got Human Resources to worry about.”
“What the hell does HR have to do with this?”
“We had a case about fifteen years ago. One of the partners—I won’t say who—took a paralegal with him to see a client in Pittsburgh. I gather their affair was open knowledge, although of course the partner’s wife and children weren’t privy to that detail.”
Wally rotated his chair to admire the view. “The partner in question is a huge Phillies fan. Season tickets, the whole package. The Phils were playing the Pirates during the time he and his inamorata were in Pittsburgh.”
Dan smiled at Wally’s old-fashioned term for “bimbo.”
Wally sighed. “Bad luck for the partner—he and the paralegal made it on TV during the broadcast, which his wife and teenage son were watching back here in Philly. I didn’t see it myself, but I’ve been informed it was quite the close-up. No one could be confused about the nature of their relationship.”
“Shit,” Dan muttered. That wasn’t the ending he thought Wally was heading to.
Dan thought hard. He didn’t want to overstate his reassurance. “I live alone, so no one to betray.”
Wally swung back to face Dan. “You miss the point. Consider Ms. Mattson. You’ve dangled legal work in front of her. Oh, I know what’s really going on. She’s a gem in the rough and you’re thrilled you’ve found her.”
“Have you met her?”
Wally shook his head.
Dan leaned forward. “I did, back when she was at Franklin Law. She blew her opponent out of Moot Court, and as the opponent was Blackjack’s niece, it was an impressive performance.” Dan curled his hands around the arms of his chair. “I don’t know what happened to Meghan personally. I just know that her misfortune means I’ve been handed a Supreme Court clerk as a perk of my job. I have a lot of incentive to keep her happy as the team’s paralegal. I won’t screw that up, I promise you. Just don’t tell me I have to lock her in that paralegal role and not use her for anything else.”
“I’m not telling you that. I’m telling you to be very, very careful. You’ve already made an enemy of Darlene. Which…” Wally rolled his eyes. “Isn’t that hard to do. Nonetheless, you need to get with the firm culture. Don’t piss everyone off in your first month, okay?”
Dan nodded. He shifted, ready to leave, but Wally wasn’t done.
“One last thing. She’s staff. I appreciate that you and she are both unattached. Ordinarily, I turn a blind eye to internal romantic shenanigans. But Meghan’s situation is special. And you’ve just gotten here and already been handed a plum job. Before you know it, I’ll have more than Darlene interrupting my afternoon with complaints of how inappropriate you are being.”
Dan felt small. Young and small. A very unpleasant reminder of his childhood dealings with his father. He opened his mouth to say something—anything—when Wally went on.
“What happens if the two of you get close? Can you be sure she won’t misconstrue your attentions? Maybe she thinks it’s a quid pro quo for her being allowed to work on more interesting matters than data entry.”
Dan’s stomach was somewhere down around his knees. He couldn’t deny he was attracted to Meghan. And if he said she wasn’t the type to cry wolf, he’d look like a fool. “Wally, I just want to land ProCell, get the case against them thrown out of court, and come home. You forget, I’m still trying to get settled here. I assure you, the only thing I want is to generate billable hours for Fergusson and Leith.”
Wally stood. “Good to hear. Have fun in Massachusetts.”
As far as Dan could tell, the firm was nuts.
He tried to wrap his brain around the institutional insanity as he made his way from the rarefied air on the forty-fifth floor back to his modest office.
He didn’t regret the move from Justice, which—if he was being honest—had its own quirks and foibles. Mostly he enjoyed the people he’d met in his first week at Fergusson. The partners were cordial, the associates—apart from Vicky—were friendly and helpful. A lot of smart people worked at Fergusson, and as long as they used their intelligence in constructive ways, Dan was happy in their company. He had a vague awareness of people’s specific personality traits but mostly, his colleagues’ rougher edges seemed to slip by him without a trace.
This nonsense about Meghan as “unstable” came as an unpleasant surprise. How could an administrator like Darlene dislike Meghan and deliberately poison a partner’s opinion of his own paralegal? Meghan had figured out that being unusual wasn’t always a good thing. She clearly tried to keep a low profile, not making waves, concentrating on getting the work done. Dan’s actions—his defense of her—had muddied the waters, and that would make her work more difficult. He owed it to her to protect her from the Vickys and Darlenes of the firm.
As Dan trotted down the stairs, he began to understand how much leaving law school had cost her. Not just a legal career, although hopefully that was just a dream deferred—a brain like hers really should be better occupied than entering medical data in pacemaker defect cases. Instead of being one of the best and brightest on a partner track, she worked in a windowless office and seemed not only surprised when a partner wanted her opinion, but worried that she’d get in trouble for offering it. It was an injustice that Meghan Mattson wasn’t allowed to feel good about her own contributions.
Injustice. Dan felt that familiar burn inside him. He
injustice. He couldn’t right it all—even he wasn’t that stupid. When it was smack-dab in front of him, though, it made him crazy. Darlene McAndrews made him crazy. When a law firm allowed a kiss-ass like Vicky to make it as far as she had, Dan refused to play along. Let someone else mistake that sort of eagerness for real enthusiasm.
Well, he was going to take full advantage of Meghan’s legal mind. If he was the only lawyer in the firm who saw her potential, then he’d happily exploit her for his own purposes. She could dazzle him with her legal acumen any time. He’d protect her from the vipers in the firm. He welcomed the challenge.
He strode down the hall, still fuming about Darlene’s effort to bad-mouth Meghan. He nearly ran into Meghan, he was that annoyed.
“Sorry.” He reached out to steady her, then thought of Wally’s cautionary tale. Even an innocent gesture might reveal how attracted to Meghan Dan was. His arms dropped.
“Oh, hi,” Meghan started. “I wanted to talk to you.”
He felt awkward all of a sudden, like he was about to hear something he wouldn’t like. He’d had those conversations before. They made his stomach sour.
She followed him into his office. “If you don’t want—what I mean is, if you’ve changed your mind about having me work on the ProCell case… You know, writing memos, and… Well, if you don’t want me to go to Boston, for example.”
He stared at her. “You heard?”
She gave him the kindly look a patient kindergarten teacher might employ. “It’s a law firm, not the CIA. Word gets around pretty quickly.”
“Darlene should be shot. No, wait, she should die from a thousand paper cuts.”
“Hey, I’m the problem here. Don’t take this on for my sake. I’ll stay in Philly.”
He didn’t know whether to laugh or get mad. He decided on anger. “Look, I don’t know all the details of what happened to make you drop out of law school. I respect your privacy. Just—stop being such a martyr about it. I’ll run interference with Darlene and the partnership. If anyone asks you, tell them you’re following my orders.”
“Uh. Okay.” Her voice squeaked a little.
Oh, hell. “I’m sorry. You’re just trying to do the right thing. I get that.” He stared out at the office buildings to the south. He wondered if lawyers in those offices were having the same problems he was. He tried another tack. “Let’s have a deal, you and I.”
“What sort of deal?”
“I want you to behave like a lawyer when you’re around me. Think like a lawyer, talk like a lawyer, act like you own the room. I’ll protect you from Darlene.”
“That’s the deal?”
“Part of it. Here’s the rest. Help me negotiate the law firm politics. You’re a quick study. I got it wrong with Darlene. I don’t want to make that mistake again.”
“You’re a partner. You’re her boss.”
“Even I know it doesn’t work that way. Never piss off the administrative staff, never annoy someone in the mailroom, and never
incur the wrath of the paralegals.”
Meghan laughed. “Lest the file you desperately need mailed to opposing counsel unaccountably goes missing.”
“See? I knew you’d understand.” He felt like he could breathe again.
“Okay. If you really want me working on this case, here’s who you have to talk to. Anne van Oostrum,” Meghan said. “She’s the litigation administrator. She knows all the players, and all the politics. If there’s a problem with an associate, a partner, even a case aide—she’s the one to go to.”
“She’s out today. Wally mentioned that.”
“Right. Because there’s no way Darlene gets onto the forty-fifth floor if Anne’s around.” Meghan’s tone was jaunty but her frown hadn’t gone away.
“I’ll talk to her tomorrow. Better?”
She smiled. “Thanks. I’ll feel less like an outlaw if Anne says it’s okay.” She stood up.
He walked her to the door. He knew this was his cue to wish her a good night and let her leave. Then, just as it had on Monday, Dan’s flip book of possibilities—
ask her out to dinner, suggest they have lunch tomorrow, kiss her…
Wait a minute—kiss her? Where did that come from?
—riffled through his mind. The vivid image of kissing her delicate lips startled him so much he backed away slightly.
“Uh, okay. Well, I’ll get going then. See you tomorrow,” he blurted out. He watched her walk away, the image of the two of them kissing on a Jumbotron haunting him.
The next day, Dan called Anne van Oostrum and asked if he could stop by her office. Either she made time for partners or didn’t have too much else on her mind because she told him to come see her right away. Or—more likely still—she’d heard about Darlene and Wally and Dan and Meghan.
He sighed. He needed a guide book to the law firm, like it was a foreign country and he didn’t speak the language.
Anne’s office was along the north wall on Forty, just off the secretarial space near the elevators. She stood as he paused in the doorway. She was a tall, striking woman with dark hair streaked with gray in a surprisingly chic manner. He’d remembered her name almost immediately because she reminded him of Anne Bancroft, albeit from a role a good bit later than
“Dan,” she said. She seemed happy to see him. “Close the door and have a seat. How are you settling in?”
“Great. Apart from not understanding why I need to have my office redecorated, it’s all good.”
She looked at him shrewdly. “Well, it can’t be all perfect or you’d never have come to see me.”
He laughed. “Surely partners stop by all the time to tell you what a great job you’re doing.”
“Never.” Her expression was so solemn, he couldn’t tell if she was kidding. “So tell me what your problem is.”
Could he trust her with the truth, or did he need to fashion some story that was a close enough approximation of the truth for his purposes? Before he could decide, Anne broke in.