November 2009


Day 29 in my novel-in-a-month effort

Chapter 23.1: A Novelist Sighs, Celebrates, Apologizes, and Returns to Work

Working from home had seemed like a good idea to the novelist, but it turned out to have its own difficulties.

Absent were the near-constant knocks at his door and the repeated rings of his telephone.

Present was the refrigerator, the bed for “just a short nap,” and the ability to stare into space doing nothing for long stretches, with no one to ask him what he was doing.

But because he was still getting over a cold, he had decided to write from his couch. And it was there that he completed the last words that put him over the top – sort of.

Let me explain.

The novelist was engaged in two parallel challenges that month. Their goals coincided, but in important ways, they veered apart.

His first challenge was to write 50,000 words in a single thirty-day period. No starting early. No throwing in things that he had written in the past. Just 50,000 words of extended narrative fiction.

The competition was part of a national effort, spelled out in a Web site: www.nanowrimo.org.  Take a look – it’s fascinating.

The site explained how the hare-brained idea had been launched back in 1999, when there were 21 participants (and six winners). In 2008, the number of participants had jumped to 119,301, and there had been 21,683 winners.

In 2009, he was in it to win it. And, with a certain amount of joy, he realized that he had done exactly that just last night.

For the record, he noted that his 50,000th word was “Tom,” and it appeared in Chapter 23. For the most Type A of readers, here is the exchange that put him over the top:

“I’m not sure where you’re getting your advice, Alan –“

“From Harvey Shinblock,” Alan responded without hesitation. “I’m not hiding the ball from you. Before Harvey was disbarred for playing law too hard, he knew all there was to know about conflicts. Tell me he’s wrong.”

“Well, not wrong exactly –“ Tom spun out as long as he could.

Word 50,000 was that last “Tom” in the sentence above.

Careful readers will already have determined what the novelist’s second challenge was – and indeed it was at least slightly at odds with the first challenge. For the rest of you, let me put it this way:

The novelist had just engaged in 30 days of writing In every free moment, and in quite a few non-free moments when he should have been doing something else. But he had completed his task. And now, he wanted to do nothing more than kick back, stow the laptop, and celebrate, or sleep, or something.

But he couldn’t.

If you still can’t figure out why, go back up to that “winning” sentence. Have you read it? Does it sound like a resounding ending to a novel?

Hmmm, no, it doesn’t.

The novelist imagined that every participant in nanowrimo began by thinking and hoping that the end of the word-count challenge and the last words of his novel would coincide, that they would be two parallel roads that meet up for a victory lap in the last mile, or at least the last chapter.

But it doesn’t work that way. Some stories may take just 50,000 words, but many others take more.

The novelist knew that many other novelist-participants simply close their laptops and claim they are done.

This novelist was different. He was unable to declare that his novelus interruptus was done simply because he was done in. He liked to think that was because he was a better person than all those other participants. But he suspected it was because he had decided early on to post his chapters to the world as he worked. Everything he had written was online, at www.azatty.wordpress.com. And the readers may be tired, or busy, or distracted. But they were not idiots. They would be able to spot a novel that stopped in the middle of a dark, deserted highway, and discern the disappearing form of the novelist as he abandoned his vehicle and walked off the road, through the crunch of the gravel, toward the distant lights of a beckoning watering hole.

The novelist licked his lips, and hunkered down. He had work to do.

By his reckoning, he had four, maybe five, chapters he needed to write to send this thing off right. Questions had to be answered, connections had to be made. OK, maybe six chapters. He could do that – he had done worse.

But his biggest fear was disappointing his readers. They had stuck with him through the hard times – remember Chapter 4, and, oh yeah, Chapter 14? A pecan yum yum? What the hell was he thinking? But what if those same readers had plunged into this endeavor on one condition: That the author would deliver, signed and completed, a novel from beginning to end in 30 days? Not 50,000 words – A NOVEL.

Maybe those same readers had lives that kept them busy, but they had decided to make some small space, in their time and in their hearts, for this ridiculous endeavor – so long as it was done in 30 days.

Was the novelist breaking a trust? He had no way of knowing. But all he could do was this:

1.      APOLOGIZE

“I am sincerely sorry for the piss-poor planning that led me to need four to six more chapters to complete my story, and to fail to deliver a complete novel in 30 days.”

2.      BEG FORGIVENESS

“Please stay with me. I’m still not entirely sure how this all turns out, but I have a really good, OK, a pretty good feeling it will all be worth it.”

3.      GET WRITING

And so, he did.

Day 29 in my novel-in-a-month effort:

Chapter 23: Free Assembly

In general. – The Secretary shall carry out a national scenic byways program that recognizes roads having outstanding scenic, historic, cultural, natural, recreational, and archaeological qualities by designating the roads as –

(A) National Scenic Byways;

(B) All-American Roads; or

(C) America’s Byways.

—Title 23, United States Code, Highways, Federal-Aid/Highways, National scenic byways program, Designation of Roads

The Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza, in downtown Phoenix, is, as they say, loosely based on the National Mall in Washington, DC. There, the comparisons come to a screeching halt, except as fodder for stand up comedy.

Like its cohort three thousand miles east, the Wesley Bolin Plaza is an open air affair, a public space that proudly displays monuments, gardens and memorials. In fact, it displays 27 memorials, ranging in level of viewer interest from the Armenian Arizonan Veterans Memorial, to the Police Dog K9 Memorial, to one of the two anchors recovered from the USS Arizona, sunk in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, with a loss of 1,177 lives.

Tom Paine had always liked Wesley Bolin Plaza, ever since it was established in 1978. Sitting just east of the historic state capitol building, it occupied only about two square blocks of acreage, but it provided ample room for the rare and occasional visitor to contemplate in silence.

Until recently.

A few years after the attacks of 9/11, a nonpartisan commission had plunged into a project to create and dedicate a 9/11 Memorial on the Bolin Plaza. All seemed to go well, until pedestrians and, even worse, nearby legislators, began to read the quotations inscribed into the concrete.

Titling toward the sky, the memorial is a 42 foot steel ring. Walking beneath, one can read the words set into concrete that had been suggested by many Arizonans and selected by the committee – to their regret.

Most all of the quotations were what one would have expected of such a memorial: “We will never forget,” “Day of infamy,” “Loss of the innocents.” But a few inscriptions created a fire storm, one that led to a seemingly permanent “under construction” fence that still surrounded the memorial today. Paine remembered some of the quotes:

“Congress questions why CIA and FBI didn’t prevent attacks.”

“Middle East violence motivates attacks in the US.”

The phrase that ultimately almost led to destruction of the monument was “You don’t win battles of terrorism with more battles.”

Seeing the forest fire sweeping down into the Valley, the commission acted to inscribe a few counter proposals, which originally had landed on the editing room floor, such as “Must bomb back.”

Too little, too late. The crowds of protestors had turned out in force, fanned to white hot anger by the legislators, followed by the TV reporters, followed by more legislators, in the eternal circle of life.

Why Speaker Alan Spinkter had wanted to meet Tom Paine here, Tom had no idea. Spinkter had identified the 9/11 Memorial as the meeting spot, but Paine decided he had no stomach to listen to speeches and tirades today. He avoided the swelling crowd, the cameras, and a man on a soapbox (“Really?” thought Tom. “A soapbox?”) who seemed to be chanting something over and over again. Instead, Paine stood by the peaceful silence of the anchor of the USS Arizona, and kept a watchful eye out for the client he knew by sight.

This kind of meeting sat poorly in Tom’s stomach. For although Spinkter had retained the firm as a whole to prosecute his lawsuit, the billing partner on it – Spinkter’s “own” lawyer – was Claude Dedrick. Though the founding partner of Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine would never refuse to meet with a client, he had inquired as to how he could help Alan, hoping he could avoid the necessity of a get together. But the Speaker was quizzical, and demanding. Tom figured he could keep the meeting brief, get Claude up to speed afterward, and stay out of it in the future.

Of course, it’s not like Tom Paine had no idea that Alan was unhappy. Tom had heard from Sarah Fujii and Sam Adams about an odd interaction they had with Alan at a downtown eatery. Tom recommended that they not share that story with Claude, who might blame the messenger. Instead, Tom decided he would do what he could do to salvage the lawyer-client relationship. Clearly, this was a client who would require special handling.

Even with the crowds and the chanting, it turned out to be relatively easy to identify Speaker Alan Spinkter in the sunny afternoon. For he was garbed, head to toe, in shades of red, white and blue. Even his head was topped with a sparkled tam sporting all three colors, and a patch that ordered all around, “Don’t Tread On Me!”

Tom Paine, winced, but he waved Alan away from the crowd and toward the USS Arizona memorial. In the distance, it Tom saw Alan frown and deliberately turn his back on the attorney. Alan was engaged in a conversation with a reporter, and Tom could wait.

Over the next fifteen minutes or so, Tom could see that Alan was urging Tom to join him next to the 9/11 memorial, numerous times. But the lawyer decided that two could play the ignore game, so he read for the fortieth time that day the inscription beneath the words “USS ARIZONA, BB39.”

Eventually, Paine heard the voice of Alan Spinkter, standing at his elbow.

“Hey, didn’t you see me over there?” he asked Paine.

“Oh, hello, Mister Speaker, I did. But you appeared to be engaged in conversation, so I thought I would just wait for you over here.”

“But the cameras, and the crowds, are over there –“

“Indeed, I can see that,” replied Paine.

“– and the, you know, voters,” said Spinkter, his voice growing higher, almost wheedling.

“Oh, Alan, I’d be surprised how many of the people standing over there ever actually vote,” laughed Tom. “They appear to be attracted by the cameras, the vitriol and the ability to speak in public intemperately without consequence.”

(“My people,” Alan thought. “He’s described my people.”)

“Besides,” said Tom, “it’ll be easier to speak quietly over here.” Although Tom wasn’t sure if that would be true. Alan’s outfit – including a flashing American flag lapel pin that Tom had not seen before – guaranteed a near constant stream of well wishers, reporters and homeless. Tom thought that some of the questions posed by the homeless were more pertinent than those asked by the professional media.

(“Fine,” thought Spinkter. “If Tom wants to avoid the media, I’ll keep this short and sweet.”)

And so he did.

“Let me keep this short and sweet, then, Tom,” Alan began. “Your man, Dedrick, is not what right looks like. I am terminating your representation of me in this lawsuit against the Governor,” Alan finished.

Tom knew that possibility had been brewing, but he had anticipated a more lengthy conversation, more avenues of discussion, more opportunities to reassure the Speaker.

“Well, Alan, I know that Claude is an acquired taste –“ started Tom.

That was a mistake.

“Exactly,” said Alan. “I’d say he’s a fruit loop, but I don’t want to insult the breakfast cereal.”

Spinkter continued.

“Don’t get me wrong – I deal with all types of people, some who are actually certifiable” – Spinkter glanced over his shoulder at the twin modern buildings housing the state House of Representatives and Senate. “But he doesn’t even pay attention to my case.”

Tom Paine then made a first year associate mistake: He asked a question he himself did not know the answer to.

“That can’t be the case, Alan. Give me an example.”

Spinkter obliged. Holding up one finger after another, he recounted phone calls unanswered, e-mails barely responded to, concerns minimized, fears dismissed out of hand, avenues of attack laughed at. Alan was on what would have been his third hand when Tom Paine cried uncle; he had heard enough to agree that Speaker Alan Spinkter had a point.

Spinkter concluded.

“It’s almost as if Dedrick does not even want my case. He seems distracted and occasionally loopy. Loopy I can handle, but distracted? Not on my dime.”

“I certainly hope you will give our law firm another chance, Alan,” said Paine. “I know for a fact that we have expended a lot of time to this case, and I would hate to see it all for nothing.”

“It won’t be for nothing,” replied Alan. “You guys can order some of those high priced associates to box up all the files and send them over to the new firm.”

Paine was shocked how bad this had gotten so quickly. He didn’t even bother to hide his surprise.

“What, you already have spoken to another firm?” he asked.

“If you must know,” said Alan, “I’m seriously considering Lowe, Witt & Howe. Now, they have a fire in the belly.”

Paine rubbed his forehead.

“You would have no way of knowing this, Alan, but that particular firm is representing Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine in an unrelated legal matter, so your retaining them would likely be inappropriate.”

“Don’t condescend to me, Chief Justice Paine,” Spinkter bristled. “Of course I know they represent your firm – in that matter of Claude’s insane pirating of a boat on Tempe Town Lake. What, do you think I live under a rock?”

“Of course not, Alan. And I have to add that we expect to have the entire simple matter resolved soon, so it will all be behind us.”

“Uh huh, whatever you say, Tom. But while Claude gets his jollies playing Captain Queeg, my case is going down the drain. And I need lawyers who care.”

“Our firm cares,” Tom replied, convincing not even himself.

“Yeah, got it. And as for the supposed conflict you’re suggesting, I have it on good authority that, because I’m suing the Governor and not your firm, there’s nothing unethical in Lowe, Witt & Howe taking over my case from you.”

“I’m not sure where you’re getting your advice, Alan –“

“From Harvey Shinblock,” Alan responded without hesitation. “I’m not hiding the ball from you. Before Harvey was disbarred for playing law too hard, he knew all there was to know about conflicts. Tell me he’s wrong.”

“Well, not wrong exactly –“ Tom spun out as long as he could.

“Yep, just as I thought,” said Spinkter.

“But it is, shall we say, unseemly for lawyers to take work from other lawyers, while they are representing those other lawyers in a serious matter.”

“’A serious matter’? Tom. I thought you expected that ‘entire simple matter’ to be resolved soon.”

Spinkter was laughing at Tom Paine, and not even choosing to hide it. He could see that coming to this meeting had been a mistake.

Alan continued.

“So I guess we’re agreed that I am entitled to take my legal work to anyone I’d like?”

“Of course, Alan. That is always your prerogative. There would just be the matter of our fee.”

Now it was Alan’s turn to look perturbed.

“About that, Tom –“

“You mean ‘Chief Justice Paine’?”

Alan laughed, trying to keep the moment light.

“Actually, Tom,” said Spinkter, actually poking the lawyer in the ribs jauntily, “I believe that this case will be so historically significant, your firm may benefit greatly just for having been associated with it.”

“Even though we’re getting fired,” deadpanned Paine.

“Fired, schmired,” continued Alan, “we’re going in different directions. But we’re all going to be in the history books.”

“And the fee?” Tom asked.

“Entirely too high and beyond the limited means of a simple country legislator,” said Alan.

“Six time incumbent legislator, who happens to be the Speaker of the House?” asked Paine.

“Potato, potahto, Tom, I’m no millionaire, I’m a mere servant of the people.”

Tom Paine had been around long enough to know what was coming.

“Our firm is legally entitled to be paid for the time and resources we’ve expended, Alan. We could pursue this in other ways.”

Alan smiled.

“In court, Tom? Please, the firm of former Supreme Court Justices is going after a client for a fee, for some filthy lucre? And they’re pursuing a client who left because Claude Dedrick sailed a boat off the edge of sanity? Is that the case you want to pursue? The papers would have a field day.”

Tom Paine knew he was right. He had a flash of the future, and it included an angry and hurt Claude Dedrick. For not only was the firm unceremoniously dumped overboard (Paine reminded himself not to use that metaphor). But far worse than that, this case, on which Dedrick had staked so much – and spent so much – was going to bring in not one cent to their coffers. This high profile case would yield nothing. Tom sighed as he predicted Claude’s reaction upon hearing that an associate’s dog bite case would mean greater billings to the firm.

Added to that, the managing partner thought, Claude was probably right on one important matter: Sarah Fujii’s representation of the Chinese American community would likely be pro bono. This all would affect the firm’s bottom line.

Tom Paine began to rise to take his leave, when another well wisher approached Spinkter. It was the man who had been chanting on a nearby soapbox. Most of the TV cameras had been switched off, so he took the opportunity to speak with the Speaker, one news hound to another. Up close, the homeless man looked like he could have used quite a bit of that soap.

“Speaker Spinkter, hello, hello.”

The man spoke as if a crowd was keeping him away from Alan, though the concrete around them was desolate.

“Yes, my good man,” replied Spinkter, in a tone and manner rehearsed and honed since the earliest lie was ever told in recorded history.

“I just wanted to thank you for all you’re doing for the people of Arizona.”

“No, thank YOU,” said Spinkter. “You are part of the heart and soul of this great state.” Paine noted with distaste that Alan adjusted his stance so that his flashing American flag pin was more visible to soapbox man.

The man blushed (“Really,” Paine thought, “BLUSHED? What sheep we’ve all become”).

“That means a lot coming from you, sir. I love how you, you know, fight the forces of evil, and bring sanity back NOW.”

Spinkter had been about to walk away, his standard three and a half second constituent interaction completed successfully. But he paused.

“That quote,” he said, “sounds familiar.”

Soapbox man smiled.

“Well, it should, your Excellency” – with no irony, Paine noted – “because that is one of the standard repeated Twitter posts you send out to all of us SpinkterHeads. I read that at least once a day, and it guides all I do.”

Alan almost teared up. Sure, it was great to hear from a true fan (or follower, as Twitter would call him). But even more, it was great to know that the $23,000 his office had spent with a Scottsdale branding agency had paid off. “SpinkterHeads” – now that was gold, baby, gold.

“Well, thank you again, my good man,” said Alan, finally deciding he had learned enough from this man. “If there is anything I can ever do for you, please do not hesitate to contact my office.”

The man beamed.

“Well, how about this for a start?” he asked. “Would you sign this petition that would strip the Governor of the right to veto legislation? I’ve heard that there might be something called ‘constitutional problems’ with that, but I don’t care: This Will Not Stand.”

“What’s that you said there?” asked Spinkter, his ear clinically designed to capture sound bites.

“’This Will Not Stand,’ he answered. “I’m not really sure what it means, but it has a nice ring to it, especially when you say it with capital letters. And it’s good at stopping any argument cold. It’s a guaranteed winner.”

Alan Spinkter’s training and experience were founded on the ability to locate and secure guaranteed winners, and his ear was tingling.

“Change ‘Will’ to ‘Shall,’” he said, “and you’re onto something, my good man.”

Spinkter took out his pen and reached for the petition.

“What did you say your name was?” he asked.

“William Blount,” he replied with pride. “But you can call me Bill.”

Tom Paine realized with a start that Alan Spinkter had forgotten that he was there, and he may have forgotten that they ever met. The Speaker was huddled in conversation with the soapbox man, who now could be called Bill, and there was no cause for Tom to remain any longer.

The retired Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court walked slowly back to his truck. As he passed through the remaining throngs of protestors and speakers and super patriots, no one recognized the former leader of one of their government’s three branches.

 

Day 26 in my novel-in-a-month effort:

Chapter 22: News & PR

As part of its duties and programs under this subchapter, Voice of America/Europe shall:

(1) target news and features in accordance with the findings and recommendations of the Young European Survey;

(2) conduct periodic audience evaluations and measurements; and

(3) promote and advertise Voice of America/Europe.

—Title 22, United States Code, Foreign Relations and Intercourse, United States Information and Educational Exchange Programs, Dissemination Abroad, Voice of America/Europe

While the novelist sat down an adjoining hall and cleared his desk top of tissues, Claude Dedrick sat at his own desk. Like always, it was spotless and clear of all paper and other objects. But this morning, one newspaper altered his typically desert landscape. It was the Arizona Republic from a few days before.

The story – about the boat crash – was stunning and debilitating enough. It had told in superannuated detail everything about their day at Tempe Town Lake. The “reporter” – so-called – had essentially penned a travelogue of the events from the staff’s arrival until their ignominious departure. He even had “quotations” from “unnamed sources,” ensuring that all the “facts” came out correctly.

Facts! FACTS! As if that was the goal of this yellow journalism. Where was the “fact” that Ted Castro had possessed his own God-given self control, and had opted not to use it? Where was the “fact” that Castro had not yielded when Claude wanted to nudge his boat to starboard, and he was forced into a narrowing gap between shore and hull? Where was the “fact” that Claude had made a remarkable announcement about a new client, one that had the potential to revolutionize law practice and governmental relations forever?

Nowhere.

But the managing partner of Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine could overlook all of that. After all, what could an educated and worldly person such as himself expect from such a rag.

But what he could not forgive – what he would never forget – was the headline: “DEAD DUCK.”

Claude was consumed with anger that morning, not only at the copyeditor, the reporter, the editor, the publisher, the press man, and the delivery driver – sure, all of them deserved to be strung up by their toes or, at the least, sued.

No, his anger was more local, more familial. His anger was aimed at his firm colleagues.

How could no one have spotted this problem with their firm name? HOW?

After a lifetime as a successful, respected lawyer and supreme court justice, to have his good name reduced to – Dead Duck? It was an abomination.

Such is the nature of the tyrannical that Dedrick never once gave thought to the possibility that he – the managing partner – should have vetted the name more closely. Instead, he considered only the traitors all around him.

After analyzing each offender in turn – Tom Paine, Drew Duckworth, Ted Castro, Sarah Fujii, and even those lesser employees who cluttered up the office with their presence – he was even angrier that no one had proposed any of the many other possible names: 

Dedrick, Castro, Paine & Duckworth

Dedrick, Paine, Duckworth & Castro

Dedrick, Castro, Duckworth & Paine

Dedrick, Paine, Castro & Duckworth

The best name – the very best – was the one that he had proposed so long ago to Tom Paine: The Dedrick Law Firm.

Paine, always the gentleman, had never told Dedrick directly that he disliked the name. Instead, he had asked Claude to consider waiting on the choice of name, until they had a better sense of who would be coming aboard the new firm.

To his eternal regret, Claude had delayed, and within a week, the two others were ensconced in their offices. Suddenly, proposing a single lawyer’s name as the name of the firm was more, shall we say, politically delicate. And so Claude had remained silent when Tom Paine had proposed his alternative at a meeting of the four men. And so what they had now was – Dead Duck.

It was not just that headline, Claude knew. The name had “stuck,” and he was treated to a near constant stream of e-mails from “friends” and “colleagues,” around the state and around the country, who shared with him follow up stories that included the newest firm moniker. Web sites and blog posts guffawed and chortled at the firm’s misfortune, never failing to use the “DD” name. It had been almost a week, and the deluge showed no sign of letting up. He was amazed – didn’t these people have jobs?

Unfortunately, the firm’s travails in the press and the blogosphere were not his only concerns.

First, among his own legal work that he could charge clients for, he had had to shoe horn in time to speak with his own attorney, who could address the little matter of possible criminal prosecution. How ridiculous, Dedrick thought: It was a silly boat, on a lake that wasn’t even really a lake. Why should society care? And to have to spend time with a criminal law attorney, one who represented criminals! It was almost too much to bear.

So distraught was he to have to consult a criminal practitioner, he refused to meet him at the criminal lawyer’s office. The address – in the Renaissance Building – looked respectable enough, but Dedrick couldn’t be sure. What if it adjoined a tattoo parlor, or what if he had to endure the taunts of juvenile delinquents slouching outside a pawn shop? It might be a very nice office, but Dedrick had seen “West Side Story” when it came to Gammage Auditorium – he couldn’t take the chance.

But he did not want the criminal law attorney to come to his office either. Claude assumed the man would be wearing a suit purchased at Sears, or, even worse, a sport jacket – he could not have that kind of attire in his office. But even besides that fear, Dedrick did not want his colleagues to see him in this predicament. He knew that they had been present at the boat crash, but there was no need to prolong that memory in their minds by dragging his legal matters before them.

(When he eventually met with the lawyer, Claude was surprised when the other man suggested they eat at the Ritz Carlton, and that his British bespoke suit made Claude’s own look a little threadbare.)

And it wasn’t just his criminal law attorney he had to deal with. It was the law firm representing his firm in what was shaping up to be a lawsuit filed by various parties, including the boat captain and the boat tour operator. And that caused its own brand of heartburn.

The firm Tom had retained was one of the finest in the state, but it was filled with lawyers who had previously appeared before Claude when he was an associate justice. He recalled, with some misgivings, that he had been, perhaps, a little brusque with those lawyers at times. Surely they would understand that his icy demeanor was all in the good natured back of the forth of the courtroom, and should not be taken seriously.

Claude predicted that those lawyers would be nothing but respectful and deferential in their meetings. But he also knew that there would be an underlying current of “just deserts” emanating from the counsels’ side of the table, an unspoken “I told you so.” And that, he could not tolerate. Therefore, he had managed to avoid the first meeting with the lawyers from Lowe, Witt & Howe, and he intended to miss all of the meetings, if he could – Tom Paine could handle those negotiations without him, just as he handled the hiring of name partners.

Add all of that to the fact that Claude had been staying at a hotel, at the insistence of his wife, who had muttered something about having “had enough” as she deposited his Samsonite luggage by the curb of Dromedary Road. He had acquiesced and checked in to the Biltmore, assuming it was a small hiccup in an otherwise serviceable marriage arrangement. But he began to have his doubts when she would not take his calls and when she had boxes of his cribbage trophies delivered to the concierge’s desk (“How embarrassing!”). Another clue, he thought, was the “FOR SALE” sign that sprang up outside their home. He really would have to look into this further. But the idea of paying money to see a third kind of lawyer – one whose offices were probably even worse than those of a criminal lawyer – was too much to consider right now.

There was no other way to put it: Claude Dedrick was having a bad week.

He set aside the newspaper and considered another matter. He opened his top drawer and removed a brochure.

Here it was only a few months into the grand adventure of the best new law firm in Phoenix (change that to “in Arizona,” Claude thought to himself), and he had the niggling feeling that there might be a simmering unrest at the firm.

These things are too easy to overthink and allow to become overblown, he reassured himself. After all, no one on staff had said a word of unhappiness to him. No one had tossed him an evil glance. In fact, people appeared to turn away as they saw him approach. That can’t be bad, can it?

Of course, there was that one brochure he held in his hand, the one he had discovered in the trash can. Perhaps it meant nothing, but ….

There on the cover was the most attractive photograph, Dedrick thought, of the four name partners. They stood in legally significant camaraderie, looking alternately approachable, thoughtful, distinguished, and maniacal, framed by the modern, psychedelic, loop-de-loop arch of the Phoenix Patriots Park. A shot so beautiful, Dedrick’s eyes still welled up as he stared at what he believed to be lawyer pioneers.

Soon after the photo was taken, historic Patriots Park was bulldozed to make way for some condos and a drug store. But that was neither here nor there, he thought. It was beautiful, truly gorgeous.

A few things troubled him about finding the firm brochure in a firm trash can.

First, those brochures were intended purely for the edification of clients and possible clients. They were never expected to be man- and woman-handled by employees of the firm. And aside from a staff person, he could think of no one who might have let one of these publications tumble into the receptacle.

Second, they were expensive. A five panel brochure, it was embossed and had a UV finish with spot gloss, or something. It also had die cuts to allow the insertion of a business card, and it even included a holographic representation of the firm’s logo, which would transform when viewed at an angle into a stunning view of the Phoenix Crosscut Canal (he had determined that the amount charged by the photo service for a shot of the Grand Canyon was exorbitant, and a reader had to squint hard to see the difference.)

He was not entirely sure what all of these printing features were, but he was assured by the man at the printing facility that only the most discerning customers of print services purchased all of these in this combination.

Most disturbing, though, and a point that he was rapidly deciding to ignore, was that the tiny eyeballs of his own image appeared to be, well, drilled out.

“Drilled” may be too precise a word, conveying as it does some skill and a touch that is light and sure.

No, Claude’s paper eyes had been removed individually, as if by a raccoon or angry opossum, but more likely by a paper clip turned outward, or by a pencil. The result was just a bit unnerving, but, if Claude had been in a different state of mind, he might have admitted that it was also laugh inducing. For there was his smile, a bit uneven and not entirely sincere, paired with what would appear to be Satan’s own eye sockets, bored through as if by minuscule parallel meteors.

Faced with the resentment that such an act would represent, he responded as many a managing partner has through the ages: He ignored it.

In his revisionist analysis, those two holes looked precisely like the perforations that would be caused by a staple. It was so obvious: A staffer had stapled something to the brochure, perhaps a letter to a client. When she saw that she had erred and stapled too low, she threw the brochure away.

Easy squeezy, Claude chuckled to himself.

But as Dedrick retrieved himself from the precipice of self-analysis, another oddity struck his view.

Just off the reception area, sitting on a small “occasional” table, was an object he could not at first identify.

Upon closer inspection, he could see that the piece was supposed to be a lamp. Oblong, its mass was formed out of frosted glass formed, to his mind’s eye, into the shape of an avocado, or perhaps a pear. Its base was stainless steel, and it emitted a low wattage glow that shed virtually no light at all.

Wasn’t there another lamp sitting in this spot just this morning? Dedrick specifically recalled a remarkable reproduction of a mission lamp, from the “Valley Forge” collection. It had a dull bronze patina and never failed to make him feel, just a little bit, like General George Washington whenever he saw it. And now it was gone and this … thing … sat in its place.

This kind of thing had been happening more and more, and it troubled him. The décor of the office – in an approved Colonial Nouveau – was something he took great pride in. And someone was undermining that with these modern monstrosities. Of more import, they were undermining his authority as managing partner.

He was about to summon Bernie Galvez for an explanation and replacement when Tom Paine wheeled around the corner.

“Beautiful piece, Claude,” said Paine. “Really cutting-edge. Keep up the good work.”

Just as quickly, Paine disappeared, leaving Dedrick to wonder – Do people really like this stuff? He looked at the piece more closely, trying to see through his partner’s eyes.

Just as quickly, though, he reverted to form. This man, Tom Paine, was the source of Dedrick’s uneasiness, he reminded himself. He had assured Claude that the managing partner would play a role in details large and small. But then he undermined him, hiring name partners and even Sarah Fujii. A woman! I mean, that may be OK for some of the other firms in town, but what was Paine thinking?

Ignoring the furniture debacle for a moment, Claude turned to a more immediate problem: the vehicular choice of an employee.

Driving into the parking lot every day – where the swing arm still had not been repaired, Tom noted to Claude, as if he should manage everything around here – Claude parked his Mercedes in one of a very few reserved spots. With his Mercedes out of commission, he drove his newly leased Jaguar. Staff other than partners fended for themselves in the remaining spots, jockeying for position among cars of employees of two other firms.

Claude always prided himself on the beauty and design of his car. He enjoyed the gazes of others as he passed. Ever careful to hide his pleasure in their admiration, Claude counted among his day’s most prized moments the few where he slowed his vehicle to turn into or out of the parking lot, and a pedestrian happened along to view him with envy. So enamored was he of the looks, Claude had been known to circle the block once if no pedestrians were in the vicinity.

It was also pretty well known that Claude’s vehicle was – let’s admit it – the most expensive car in the lot. Among his partners, Claude kept a strict mental accounting. Ted Castro drove a very nice brand new Lexus – nice, thought Dedrick, if you were on food stamps. Drew Duckworth somehow angled his large frame behind the wheel of an Audi TT. That car, Dedrick had to admit, was a head turner. But Drew ruined the effect – and brought joy to Claude’s score card – by driving slowly, rear hatch up, so that he could cram in the crate containing his corgi. Any glances of lust or admiration that might be directed Duckworth’s way as he approached were turned to smiles and sniggers as his car passed, the pink tongue of the dog drooling down the rear of the finely engineered automobile.

And don’t even get Claude started on Tom Paine’s Land Cruiser. What would possess a former justice – a Chief Justice! – to drive such a vintage behemoth was beyond Claude. Dedrick almost wanted to recommend a change to Tom, but he could never assure himself that Paine wouldn’t go out and purchase a Bentley, or an Aston Martin, forever upstaging the managing partner.

What troubled Claude today, though, was the car – or cars – of that paralegal, Stan Bersin.

The first sign of trouble that Claude spotted occurred just this morning. As he had wheeled to a stop in his assigned spot, he glanced to the right and was struck by the glint of what looked like a lollipop red roadster.

Upon closer examination, he was startled – it was a Jaguar.

Perhaps none of the ensuing problems ever would have occurred if the automobile had been of any other manufacture. If the car had been an Austin Healy, or a BMW, or even a Rolls Royce, Stan Bersin may never have come to such an unhappy pass with the firm’s managing partner. But, instead, it was a Jaguar.

A Jaguar XKE, E-Type, in fact.

Could this car, thought Dedrick, this car that is parked in a nonlawyer staff member’s space, be a coincidence? Why did this car appear today for the first time, the first day that Dedrick himself drove a Jaguar? Was this a joke? Was this some kind of challenge? And a STAFF member? How could a nonlawyer staff member be driving that car?

Claude tried hard to get the fact out of his head, and had almost succeeded, when he pulled into the parking lot two days later and saw – a pale blue Citroen 2CV.

And then his paranoia grew when, just a few days later: the bulbous beauty of a Porsche 356 Speedster.

And then his paranoia multiplied when, two days later: the sporty sexiness of a Triumph TR2.

His self centered focus on the slings and arrows of outrageous machinery leaped and bounded even more, when, over the next week, every few days, he witnessed the presence of:

the washtub cuteness of a Fiat Sport Abarth Berlina;

the raciness of a Shelby Cobra;

the quirkiness of a Studebaker Avanti;

the might of an Aston Martin DB5;

and the surprise of a Delorean.

Claude Dedrick had almost rounded the bend with anger and jealousy. For this employee had brought to a competition something that Claude was incapable of bringing: verve and imagination. If he could buy it, Claude Dedrick was the man; but if he had to BE it, Claude was up a seriously long river without a paddle.

It did not take Dedrick long to discover that it was Stan Bersin driving the seriously beautiful machinery. Most mornings, he could hear fellow staff members asking Stan what he was driving today. They oohed and ahhed over the vehicles, alternately envious of and pleased for the paralegal.

In all the time he had been at the firm, Claude thought to himself, no one had ever oohed and ahhed over his car. He discovered that the raw scent of rivalry and jealousy smells different from the sweet smell of joining in another’s good fortune. But to the managing partner, it was a distinction without a difference. Bersin had to be brought down.

And his opinion shifted not a whit when he learned that Bersin was not ultra wealthy, or that he had not hit the lottery. No, Bersin had an uncle who died, leaving the cars, not to his nephew, but to a charity. But the uncle wrote in a codicil that his nephew Stan was permitted the use of the cars for one month’s time, after which they must be delivered, in good working order, to the Corgi Rescue, Arizona Precinct (CRAP). He knew Stan loved those cars, but the uncle loved corgis more.

So Stan had made good use of his month, driving a different car every few days. So enamored was he of the wheels, that when, at the end of a day, he would deliver a car to the nervous possession of CRAP, he barely minded that he then took a city bus across town back to his apartment. This was the best month of his life.

But it was about to take a turn for the worse.

Although Claude very much wanted to put Bersin in his place, he wisely decided against his first thought: Torch them in the parking lot. With the lawsuits pending from Claude’s previous activities, he wanted to avoid a repeat of the legal fallout. But what could he do?

Little could he have guessed, but deliverance was about to come his way, all without his having to do anything. And it arrived courtesy of a firm nicety instituted by Tom Paine, an “employee benefit” that Dedrick had always detested.

Like many work places, Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine had an “employee of the month” award, a fact that rankled against Dedrick’s firmly held notion that pay – cash money – should be the only incentive workers need to keep their shoulders against the grindstone. But Paine apparently believed otherwise, that some sugar would assist them in keeping the means of production humming.

Claude Dedrick routinely ignored the EOM award; his own secretary had won it once, and he had never known. But this month, amidst the delightful stacks of faxed menus on his desk (which never seemed to stop, he enthused), there was a brief memo from Bernie Galvez, congratulating Stan Bersin on being named this month’s honored employee.

That alone would not please Dedrick, especially were he to discover that it was Stan’s generosity in sharing rides in the cool vehicles that had cemented his award. No, Dedrick’s revenge came about through the machinations of Matilda Hayes, the firm’s IT wunderkind.

Let me explain.

When the firm originally opened its doors, a simple push pin and push letter board had been used, on which the receptionist would post the day’s events. But Matilda – with Claude’s backing – had insisted that this approach was too backward for a top notch firm. She had purchased and installed a 42 inch plasma screen monitor in the lobby, which displayed a scrolling avalanche of information. It told what conference rooms were in use for what meeting (“Jefferson Room: Reparations for Past Harms meeting/Lowe, Witt & Howe”). It reported on noteworthy facts about the firm (“Justice Claude Dedrick to represent Arizona’s Speaker of the House in Historic Matter”). And it reported who had been named the employee of the month.

Much to Claude’s eventual benefit, Matilda Hayes (1) took the monthly photograph of the winning employee, and (2) viscerally disliked Stan Bersin.

Her distaste for Bersin sprang from temperature. The thermostat next to his cubicle also controlled her work space. He liked his space to be a temperature conducive to human life on an inhabited planet. She preferred a temperature at which rock turned molten and paper spontaneously burst into flame. After some initial attempts to placate Matilda in regard to her hell fire, Bersin had given up, and set the thermostat as he wished.

That would be a fateful error.

Bersin was a bright guy, and he should have suspected something when he arrived to work on the day Matilda was to take his photo. He should have suspected, because there were doughnuts in the office, which there never were. He adored doughnuts, perhaps as much as he adored cool cars. And all of the doughnuts were covered in powdered sugar. Stan Bersin’s adoration for the doughnut was magnified at least sevenfold when powdered sugar was present. He indulged mightily, never suspecting that a refined trap had been laid for him.

Stan was finishing his third doughnut when Matilda bent her head into his cubicle.

“Ready for you, Stan, whenever you’re ready,” Matilda chirped breezily.

She had never sounded so amiable. Stan Bersin, intoxicated by the demon sugar, was deaf to the warning shots.

He strolled into her ship’s cabin sized office. Even with the thermostat set at a reasonable level, her space was ablaze with the heat of six CPUs and two servers, not to mention her four monitors. What kind of she-devil, Stan thought, needed it even hotter?

“Won’t take a minute, Stan the Man,” said Matilda. “Stand right there while I take a snap.”

While she focused her camera, she offered Bersin one last clue that evil was afoot.

“Have you lost weight?” she asked, causing Bersin to blush in that splotchy way of his.

Matilda aimed the camera again, saying, “Let me get a few more,” but then she paused, in a way that Stan later realized was calculated.

“Stan,” said Matilda, gesturing toward his face with her free hand. “You’ve got some kind of schmutz there on your cheek. No, there. Higher. Yeah, it’s sugar. No, no, over a little bit.”

In a calisthenic that Stan Bersin would regret for thirty more days, he marched his tongue up out of his mouth and over his face, searching for the stray powdered sugar. He also – unwisely – used his eyes to help locate it, causing them to wander and cross like a hyena suffering a seizure.

All the while, Matilda was pressing the silent shutter, over and over, like a photographer catching the dying moments of the Hindenburg.

“That’s it, got it, get out now, gotta get back to work,” she suddenly exclaimed, pushing the startled paralegal out her door, which struck closed with a slam.

Within fifteen minutes, the result of Bersin’s misguided trust was posted on the electronic marquee.

 

“EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH – STAN BERSIN”

 

… it read, next to a larger than usual photograph of the EOM.

When historians show us the earliest photos ever taken, they are grainy, and mottled, and blurred. They feature their subjects poorly, grim faced and severe, and they seem to be moments from the grave, if not underground already.

Those photos were bright and happy wedding snaps compared to the monstrosity that was displayed in the firm lobby.

Bersin’s left eye gazed skyward, his right eye somewhere closer to the horizon. His tongue reached upward in a way that would cause viewers to wince at the enforced familiarity. His cheeks and forehead were wine-splotchy with effort, and the muscles in his neck bulged, frighteningly. A dab of white discoloration flecked across one cheek, making his pallor appear corpse like.

The overall effect was of a news photo of a man encountering his end while strapped into an electric chair. But just a smidge worse.

The chuckles began immediately. They grew throughout the day, eventually reaching Bersin’s own mottled ears.

He turned pale white when he saw the image, and he wasted ten minutes banging on Matilda’s door. Too late, he spotted a Post-It note on which she had scrawled “On Vacation – Back in Two Weeks.”

His next stop was the managing partner’s office. Stan was about to make Claude’s day.

“Have you seen the marquee?” demanded Bersin.

“I’m sorry,” said Dedrick. “Who are you?”

“I’m Stan Bersin, an estates paralegal. I work right outside your office.”

“Oh, yes, yes,” soothed Claude, all buttercream frosting. “Of course. What can I do fro you, Dan?”

“Stan. And I am the employee of the month – “

“Congratulations.”

“ – Thank you. But my EOM photo is posted on the electronic marquee, and it’s a disaster. I’d really like to have it changed or taken down.”

“Changed? Well, I’m sure you’ll understand when I tell you that the ‘EOM photo,’ as you call it, is hardly the highest priority at the Dedrick law firm.”

“Of course not, but – “

“And we’re unlikely to expend resources on changing a perfectly good picture.”

“It’s no extra resources. Matilda took a dozen pictures – and then she chose the worst one.”

“Did she, Dan? So you think an employee deliberately tried to choose a bad photograph of you?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Because – ? “

“Because she has never thought the thermostat was set hot enough.”

Dedrick paused and let that ridiculous statement hang out there for a bit. He knew that it was factually correct, but he had no intention of letting Bersin know that.

“Be that as it may, Dan, why not just ask Matilda to change the photo?”

“Because she’s disappeared on vacation for two weeks,” he replied, almost in tears. “I had no idea she even planned a vacation.”

Claude was pleased that he had filed away his approval of her vacation request, signed by him only fifteen minutes before.

“Well, it would appear, Dan, that’s there’s not much we can do right now. IT does have its procedures, you know.”

“But there must be something you can do,” said Stan. “You’re the managing partner.”

“There is much that I can do,” said Dedrick, standing up from his chair. “I am an extremely busy man, so I will return to work. I suggest you do the same, Dan. After all, people are still dying, are they not? At least often enough to keep an estates paralegal busy.”

Stan nodded in defeat and trudged back to his cubicle.

The indignities multiplied. Within days, the horror that was the photo had been shared via cell phone and social media, so that viewers in places as far afield as Iceland and Arkansas all knew there was an odd fellow employed at some Phoenix law firm. From there, it had gone viral and was featured in a YouTube collage of misfits titled “Buddy, Can You Spare a Clue.”

Spotting the marquee and misinterpreting the photo, the county bar association vice president nominated the firm and the managing partner for a prestigious award. Thus, in another month, the law firm of Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine, and its managing partner Claude Dedrick particularly, were honored for his commitment to the principles of diversity, and “for hiring those whom other firms may have overlooked.”

At the awards dinner, the powdered sugar-covered dessert was Claude’s favorite: the beignet, known as “the French doughnut.” He ate two. 

Day 25 in my novel-in-a-month effort:

Chapter 21.1: A Novelist Sneezes

If you were the casual person passing by his office, you would have thought that the novelist was tearing through ideas quicker than a legislator ruins a budget. Scattered across his desk top, and even tumbling onto the floor, were dozens of pieces of paper, each crumbled and left for trash.

As the managing partner walked past, even he thought:

“Now there is a hard worker. Messy, yes, but at least he is generating some thoughts that will make this law firm successful.”

How wrong he was.

A closer look revealed not productivity, but massive uckitude. For those were not pieces of work paper containing words; they were tissues, containing, well, snot. He was not making progress; he was making phlegm.

Some of those who had to work closest to his office began hoisting paper airplanes into his space. When he opened them, he realized that they were Claude Dedrick’s old memo on pandemic preparedness. He got the idea. He knew he should really go home. But for now, he simply shut his office door.

His concern and despondency were growing. For he had a deadline looming, and now he was sick.

He admitted that his deadline – five days and counting – was arbitrary and relatively self imposed. He knew that no truly bad consequence would flow from missing it. And yet he thought back over his month of writing. Were all those late evenings to be for nothing? Was his neglect of his real work and his dedication to novel writing on company time to stand for a big fat zero? He could not believe that. He could not let that happen.

And yet here it was Wednesday already. He had stayed home Monday, but had spent the day sleeping fitfully and wishing he could write. He was out half of Tuesday, with the same result. And now – MIDWEEK – and still nothing done.

The trouble was a simple one: He really and truly believed that his head might explode at any time.

Was it the flu, or even the swine flu?

No, he had no fever or chills or nausea. This was just a cold. He knew, because he had procrastinated by reading all there was on Wikipedia about the topic. But the main thing he had gleaned from all that research was that (1) There was little you could do about a cold, and (2) never – EVER – search Google Images for nausea.

OK, so it was just a cold, hanging on with all its might. His head, eyes, jaw and back hurt.

But his hands and fingers? Did they hurt?

No, they did not.

So he ordered himself to lift his head off the desk, to wipe the spittle from his lips, to dispose of the disgusting tissues, and to sit up straight. And then to type.

And what would best get him out his lethargy? What topic would be gripping enough to yank him back into the writing moment?

That’s easy, he thought. How about something on the character of Claude Dedrick?

He began to type.

Day 22 in my novel-in-a-month effort:

Chapter 21: First Date

No person or persons, company or corporation, shall introduce into any State or Territory of the United States or the District of Columbia from any other State or Territory of the United States or the District of Columbia, or sell in the District of Columbia or in any Territory any dairy or food products which shall be falsely labeled or branded as to the State or Territory in which they are made, produced, or grown, or cause or procure the same to be done by others.

—Title 21, United States Code, Food and Drugs, Adulterated or Misbranded Food or Drugs, Introduction into, or sale in, State or Territory or District of Columbia of dairy or food products falsely labeled or branded

The four of them walked, sometimes together, mostly apart, gazing at the art on display. The show’s theme was art work created out of recycled materials, which led to some odd reactions and even laughters of recognition.

Sarah’s favorite work was a coffee table constructed out of used oil filters. Because the filters had been removed from a variety of cars and trucks, the table appeared unstable, even though it sat rock solid on the concrete floor. The diversity of company names and labels on the sides made the work intriguing, even if the aura of greasiness that hovered over it made people unwilling to get too close.

Sam was more taken by a business suit – leave it to a man, Sarah thought – constructed out of newspapers. More specifically, they were all newspaper stories about the “roundups” of undocumented immigrants the local county sheriff had been conducting for the past few years. His campaign against illegal immigration had made national headlines, which means the artist was able to stitch together pages from the Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other papers around the country. Sam especially laughed that the suit’s vest was bright and colorful, completely manufactured out of pages from the Travel section of newspapers, all touting the wonders of Mexico.

It was right about then that the couple realized that they had not seen their daughters in a few minutes. In the span of time between “I’m sure they’re nearby” and “We should call the police,” they heard a crash, loud enough to be heard over the pulsing beat of “Hoof and Mouth,” the band currently playing.

Instantly, like all parents in the room, they knew that their kids were the source of the crash.

Unlike the other parents, Sam and Sarah were correct.

They raced toward the sound. Until a few moments ago, the largest piece in the art show had sat stolidly in the center of the gallery. From its broad base, it had reached up to a height of almost 20 feet. It had been playing a variety of songs and movies out of its embedded speakers and video feeds. It had been topped by a multi tiered wedding cake, crowned by a rooster. And, most striking, it had been constructed almost entirely out of toilet paper rolls, stripped of their paper.

From a distance, Sarah and Sam could see that the space in the center of the gallery now appeared empty. Fighting their way through the crowd, though, they saw that the work had broken into numerous pieces, and the formerly vertical art work was now largely horizontal.

“Olive, Mia, are you OK?” shouted Sarah, over Hoof and Mouth, who decided to play through what they thought was performance art.

Sam began to toss toilet paper rolls aside, thinking the worst. But then, rising from the disaster, he saw four figures emerge like zombies from the grave. They were children, and they were laughing.

“We’re OK, dad,” said Mia. “I’m sorry, we didn’t mean to do it.”

“Yeah, mom, really,” said Olive. “This thing was pretty tippy, and when Mia and I were looking at it, a guy on a unicycle bumped into us, and we fell. Claire and S.D. tried to catch us, but we all ended up falling.”

“Wow,” laughed a girl about Mia’s height, also standing amidst the wreckage, “this thing came down like a house of cards.”

To say that Sam and Sarah were shocked and disoriented would be an understatement. But before they could ask any questions, two things happened.

The first thing is that the gallery owner appeared, visibly distraught. Though she was understanding, and pleased that none of the girls was hurt, she made it pretty clear that someone – her eyes lingering on Sarah and Sam – someone was going to purchase an art work tonight.

The other thing that happened was that another couple emerged from the crowd, looking just as shocked and chagrined as Sam and Sarah, the new owners of “Totally Tubular Waste / Mixed Media, Audio, Video, Toilet Paper Tubes, 2009.” Sam, seeing their panic and exhaustion, pegged them right away as the parents of the other children.

As the crowd disbursed and the gallery owner returned Sarah’s credit card, the two couples stepped toward each other over the recycled materials.

“Hi, my name is Sam, and this is Sarah. Good to meet you.”

The young, attractive couple appeared relieved that something besides blame was coming their way, and they both smiled.

“Hi, I’m Ben Davenport. This is my wife Sabrina.”

As easily as Mia and Olive had joined forces that evening, the four adults relaxed into each others’ company. They laughed at the misfortune, were relieved that their children escaped injury, and marveled that toilet paper had become art. Sabrina offered to buy half of the scuplture – because it would have been easy to shovel up half from the floor – but Sarah declined, saying she had a special place in mind for it at work.

“So those are your kids?” Sarah asked.

“Yes,” said Sabrina. “S.D. only goes by initials, but she’s named after her grandfather. And Claire – “

“Claire is named after a school in the University of Wisconsin system,” interrupted Ben proudly. “We always thought it was the prettiest name. I mean, what were we going to call her – Oshkosh?”

“How about – Madison?” Sam mused.

Ben looked stunned.

“I hadn’t thought of Madison,” he said, his voice trailing off.

“But Claire is really pretty too,” said Sarah, shooting Sam an annoyed look, which he took to be proprietary and, therefore, very alluring.

S.D. poked her head into their circle.

“I call her ‘Ewww Claire’ after the school’s name,” she said, laughing and running off.

“S.D., it’s Eau Claire,” said Ben. But he and Sabrina were smiling.

As the adults sat cross legged on the floor, they watched their four kids interact. Olive and Claire, both thirteen, and Mia and S.D., both eight, spoke with each other as they sat in their own circle. The adults were pleased to see that the older girls didn’t exclude the younger. And the younger girls even appeared to be the jokesters in the circle, keeping all four rolling on the floor, which was littered with disintegrating art.

“Do you come out for First Fridays much?” asked Sarah.

“Pretty often,” responded Sabrina. “It’s easy, because we live acros the street.” She pointed out the plate glass windows toward a building. At first glance, Sarah took it to be a commercial storefront. But then she could see that there was a home behind it.

The kids must have been at about the same place in their conversation, because Mia and Olive shouted out in a rehearsed sentence, “Mom and Dad, we want to live in a house on this street too.”

Without pausing, Sam called back, “Maybe we will someday, girls.”

Then, trying to hide his panic, he tried again.

“I mean, someday, Mia, we might – you never know – I mean – you and me – “

Sarah tried not to laugh at Sam’s juggling act.

“First date?” Sabrina asked.

“Yes,” said Sam, miserable.

“But not last,” said Sarah, squeezing Sam’s hand. His spirits soared again.

Turning back to Sabrina, Sarah asked, “Did somebody park in front of your house?”

Sabrina paused, and said, “No, that is Jeeves, the World’s Largest VW Bus.” Her face was a pattern of conflicting emotions.

Ben’s face was less conflicted.

“Pretty cool, isn’t it? I did the steel work, and others worked on other parts. We’ll have to show it to you.”

“It is cool,” said Sam. Initially, he had thought that the truck was another structure, not a vehicle. “It must be remarkable to drive.”

“It is,” said Ben.

“That thing should be on display,” said Sam. “Now THAT is a work of art.”

Sam couldn’t take his eyes off it. How cool would it be to have created that, and to park it in your yard. Sam started to think about what kind of dollar offer he could make for something that was so one of a kind, for something that kicked ass so totally.

Sabrina saw the calculations behind Sam’s eyes.

“No need to think about it, Sam,” she said. “Despite my best efforts at persuasion, the beast is not for sale.” Her eyes closed as she finished her sentence.

“That’s right,” agreed Ben. “She’s a keeper.”

“I can see why,” said Sam. Two minutes before, he had no idea that on this earth there was a Volkwagen bus as large as a house. Now, he was surprised to find himself sad that he could never possess it. First Fridays could be an emotional outing.

They sat in silence. But that state never lasts long when there are children present. Within a few minutes, calls of “What are we going to do now?” and “We’re hungry” were shared with the adults. In short order, the new friends decided to visit the tiny restaurant next door.

The Chill Out Café was a bright, pie shaped eatery that adjoined the gallery. It contained about eight tables, and the group grabbed two of them. They quickly ordered some Calcutta wraps and tabbouleh and chipotle hummus wraps. The girls also asked for the red curried noodles and veggies and a Panini with brie and pears. They ordered ginger lemonade all around.

“This is perfect,” said Sam. “Just recently, Mia’s developed an aversion to gluten, so it’s good to find a place that indicates what has wheat.”

“Olive too,” said Sarah, “though for her it’s lactose more than gluten.”

They looked over toward their food intolerant children. Sam and Sarah still marveled at how well their kids were getting along. And Claire and S.D. made the group complete.

“You know, Ben,” said Sam, still thinking about the VW. That bus – “

“Jeeves,” reminded Ben.

“Yes, Jeeves. I was just thinking he would be really cool to take to Burning Man.”

“Burning Man?” said Sarah. “I’ve always thought it would be cool to go there, at least once.”

Sam was surprised, and Ben continued.

“I had never thought of that. But now that you mention it, it’s a great idea.”

As their food arrived, they heard a “bang” and a cry of pain. Instinctively, the adults looked toward their kids, whose activities had led to art deconstruction earlier in the evening. But it wasn’t the girls.

Instead, a man sitting at a two top against the wall was bent over, holding his head in his hands – and beginning to holler. The scene appeared tragic, with red liquid sprayed on his table and the wall and floor surrounding him. Only the overturned bowl revealed that it was gazpacho, not blood, that decorated the space.

“I’m going to own this place,” the man yelled. “You guys are in big trouble!”

Fellow diners crowded around, offering sympathy. They soon determined that a small framed picture, propped into a window space above rather than nailed to the wall, had tumbled through space following one too many slams of the restaurant door. The frame’s corner had grazed the diner’s head, causing a lot of shock but very little injury.

The owner came out and spoke with the man, who insisted he be given his meal free. The owner readily agreed, and people drifted back to their tables.

“You know who that is, don’t you?” Sarah asked Sam quietly.

“No, not really,” replied Sam, not needing to be inconspicuous in his stare, as the entire restaurant had been watching the scene develop.

“That’s Alan Spinkter, the Speaker of the House,” said Sarah. “And our firm’s client.”

“What a horse’s ass,” said Sam. “I mean – it’s unfortunate he had a picture fall on his head.”

“Yeah, unfortunate for us,” said Sarah, “if he realizes his law firm is sitting in the restaurant where he suffered such a grievous blow.” She could hardly get out the last words with a straight face.

“But that’s easy,” said Sam. “We’re witnesses – we couldn’t take this matter, even if we were silly enough to want to.”

“True,” said Sarah, “but I don’t want to have to explain that to him. Let’s hope he doesn’t notice us.”

All seemed well, until –

“Sarah Fujii, I presume,” announced Spinkter, standing suddenly at her elbow.

“Oh, hello, Speaker Spinkter,” she replied, hoping she sounded like she had just noticed him. “What are you doing out tonight?”

“The gazpacho,” he said. “That soup is about the best thing you can put into your body. Or ONTO your body, I guess.” Much to Sarah’s surprise, he was laughing.

“Yeah, I noticed the, um, mishap. Are you OK?”

“Oh, I’m fine,” he said. “It’s just second nature for me to yell ‘Lawsuit,’ I guess. All my years with Harvey Shinblock, I assume.”

Sarah smiled, not knowing where this was going.

“Do you mind if I pull up a chair?” asked Spinkter, dragging one closer without waiting for a response.

Sarah quickly introduced everyone at the table. After some small talk in which he also marveled at the VW monster outside – men and their vehicles, Sarah and Sabrina thought – Spinkter turned toward Sarah and lowered his voice.

“This Dedrick of yours – is he all right?”

Sarah’s red flags went up.

“Why, of course, I saw him just today, and he’s – all right.”

“No, no, I don’t mean is he injured. Although I did hear about the boat crash.”

Sarah and Sam – who could overhear – were startled, and showed it.

Spinkter continued.

“I keep close tabs on the media. I happen to know an Arizona Republic reporter was present at the lake, and he even got some pictures.”

They turned ashen.

“It’ll be in tomorrow’s print edition, I’m sure,” Spinkter said. “And it’s online right now.”

He held up his PDA, letting them read the headline and lede:

 

DEAD DUCK

An unauthorized race between two boats on Tempe Town Lake yielded extensive damage to a boat and the dock after one of the boats crashed. The boat was piloted by well heeled lawyer and former state Supreme Court Justice Claude Dedrick, who is the managing partner at Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine, Phoenix. Dedrick’s Mercedes Benz was also reportedly destroyed in the accident.

Check in later for updates, including possible criminal charges. …

 

Spinkter continued talking, but Sarah and Sam kept seeing the words “Dead Duck” and “criminal charges.” Their firm – their livelihood – had been reduced to a humorous sound bite. That could only mean bad things.

“Soooo,” Spinkter said, trying to regain her attention. “What I want to know is, is Dedrick all there, or is he a few elements short of a charge? You know: ‘All damages, no standing’?”

Sarah didn’t know what to say, so she fiddled with the straw in her ginger lemonade.

“Well,” he continued, “I know you’re going to be loyal to your colleague, but I need to know whether to go forward against the Governor with this guy, or whether to find somebody else. I need to know if he’s what ‘right’ looks like.”

Sarah wasn’t getting into the middle of that.

“So tell Tom Paine I need to get together with him. Feel free to tell him my concerns. He’ll be able to tell me if the firm is completely behind me in this lawsuit.”

He stood up to go.

“Nice boots, by the way,” he said. “If I were a younger man …”

His slam of the door was strong enough to make another picture tremble, and the owner quickly climbed on a chair to remove them all from their delicate perches.

“Work stuff?” asked Ben.

“Yes, work stuff,” replied Sarah. The exchange had deeply troubled her. She had her own case beginning in earnest in the next week; she didn’t want to have to think about another lawyer’s unhappy client – maybe unhappy enough to dismiss the law firm.

When the group finished their meal, Ben and Sabrina said they were heading home, but they all promised to get together again.

The four First Friday survivors – Sarah, Sam, Olive and Mia – began walking south, toward their cars. Sam agreed he’d return to retrieve the toilet paper art work, but he wanted to walk alongside Sarah Fujii once more that evening.

They drew to a stop in front of Chez Nous Cocktail Lounge. Its had recently shut its doors forever – even bars were affected by the economic downturn. The evening had wound down.

“You were really bothered by that,” said Sam, “weren’t you?”

She knew what he spoke about.

“Sure. I decide to join a firm, and it becomes a public joke only months later? Yikes.”

“Well, you should look at the bright side,” he said.

“Oh, and what is that?” Sarah asked.

“At least Dedrick refused to put your name in the firm’s title.”

Sarah had been close to crying, but now she broke out laughing.

“What a pisser you are,” she laughed through her tears.

“Ouch. Mind the mouth, counselor.”

“Oh, I will, counselor. I will.”

And with that, Sarah turned toward Sam, looked him in the eyes, and kissed him full on the lips.

Olive and Mia, skipping ahead, were informed by their children’s radar that something disgusting was occurring in their vicinity. They spun around and, together, said “Ewwww.”

Sam chuckled.

“Well, as long as we can hear the kids whine, I guess we know they’re safe.”

And so, in front of the former Chez Nous Cocktail Lounge, before the assembled smiling faces of the homeless, the prostitutes, Olive and Mia, Sam kissed Sarah back – more than once.

Day 22 in my novel-in-a-month effort:

Chapter 20: Art Detour

The Congress finds and declares the following:

(1) The arts and the humanities belong to all the people of the United States.

(3) An advanced civilization must not limit its efforts to science and technology alone, but must give full value and support to the other great branches of scholarly and cultural activity in order to achieve a better understanding of the past, a better analysis of the present, and a better view of the future.

(4) Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens. It must therefore foster and support a form of education, and access to the arts and the humanities, designed to make people of all backgrounds and wherever located masters of their technology and not its unthinking servants.

—Title 20, United States Code, Education, Support and Scholarship in Humanities and Arts; Museum Services; National Foundation of the Arts and the humanities

The broad and brightly lit store front beckoned passing cars and pedestrians as they made their way up and down the more than slightly seedy but increasingly cool Grand Avenue. Behind the parade of plate glass windows, one could see crowds engaged in conversation or examining the art on display.

The site was Flagg’s Cake Factory, so named for the business that once occupied the ancient building. Transformed in recent years by an artist entrepreneur, Flagg’s was the center of Grand Avenue’s renaissance. Its massive volume contained a tremendous gallery space, almost three stories high, and numerous smaller artist’s studios honeycombed behind. What once had been a dreary and quiet stretch of road way was now vibrant and worth seeing. Even the remaining homeless and prostitutes had to agree, this was a pretty cool joint.

Because of Flagg’s central location and recently allowed street parking, Sam and Sarah had agreed to meet there, thinking it would be easy to spot each other. The volume of the crowds on this sweltering Friday night surprised them, though, and it took each a good twenty minutes of strolling the gallery and sidewalks outside before they stumbled upon each other.

Secretly, both Sarah and Sam had their misgivings about the wisdom of tonight’s outing. They would have laughed to know just how much the other’s worries mirrored their own.

First, they thought, what the hell were they doing? They still worked together, after all. Neither had been born yesterday, and each had seen the negative results that could flow from mixing the sweet with the suite.

Second, neither had dated in quite some time and, frankly, they felt exhausted before they even began. Both Sarah and Sam believed themselves to be pretty difficult to get along with – for Sam, it was largely true – and their previous relationships had been an ongoing negotiation and accommodation to adjust to competing needs, desires, and quirks.

In that, they were like most everyone. But they each suffered more than most from a sense that making a new start with someone else might just be too much work.

How much did Sarah really want to nod with interest as Sam described where he was raised?

Would Sam be able to focus his gaze sufficiently as Sarah described where she had worked in the past, and what brought her to their current law firm?

Was Sarah prepared to feign interest as Sam parsed the difference between a puppet and a marionette, or the relative benefits and challenges of bait fishing versus fly fishing?

Could they really bear to engage in a discussion of whether each had gone out on First Fridays before, and the relative merits of strolling on Roosevelt or Grand Avenue?

For these and many more are the topics that sustain or more often drown a first date conversation. If we were honest with ourselves, all of us also would hesitate to plunge into that maddening endeavor.

For you readers of tender years, this may be a paradox that is completely foreign to you, but Sam and Sarah knew the truth:

Many, many, many people are simply boring. For reals: Boring.

Unlike the teenage years and even the twenties, when all seems new and bright and shiny and full of possibility, both Sam and Sarah knew that the truth was a little gray around the edges. Sure, everyone’s story may be somewhat unique, but how far beneath the surface do we have to mine to reach a glimmer of ore? And how many of us have the energy and bravery to once more don that ridiculous head gear with built-in flashlight to rumble beneath the surface, hoping to find gold?

“So, what kind of music do you like?” Sarah and Sam thought they’d rather throw themselves under a train.

(In fact, this “suicide over dating” impetus had long roots. For example, the history of attempts to legalize prostitution wrongly focuses on the proponents’ sense that adults should be allowed to do what they want. That was a factor, but closer examination shows that in every case of legalization efforts, from 1800 to the present, the proponent had been divorced or separated and was now being urged by his cohorts to “get back into the pool.” So distasteful and exhausting was the prospect that these men and women pioneers simply sighed, “Can’t I just pay for it?” and launched a reform effort – still largely unsuccessful).

Like most people, though, Sarah and Sam found a way to overcome their distaste for dating and showed up for the event. And that reason was the oldest one in the world: their ability to overlook their own knowledge and experience and to yield to their inner child-like interest and optimism. (There was a second reason, of course, but because this is a family friendly narrative, we’ll simply say it was “attraction.”)

To raise their courage sufficiently to allow them to arrive, though, they had to overcome something else related to children: Their own kids, Olive and Mia.

Because they were decent people, both Sarah and Sam had a concern that they were requiring their children to accompany them, not because the kids might love First Fridays, but because the kids’ presence would take some pressure off the adults.

But because they hadn’t dated in awhile – and because both had thought more than once that afternoon about their close proximity and rising temperature as they had lay entangled together on the deck of the Michael Brag – they dispensed with that concern without much effort: “Come on, come on, are you ready to go?” each had urged their daughters. The time for saint like niceties was passed. It was time to get out and ask those inane dating questions, and Sam and Sarah were surprised at how much they looked forward to it.

Like reluctant daters since recorded history began, many – though not all – of their concerns evaporated when they saw each other.

Sarah was pleased by Sam’s appearance, and she was a little embarrassed that she was so surprised that he presented pretty well.

That, of course, has to do with the work place, especially a law office. After all, who does not look good in a suit? Or, at least, whose appearance is not aided by the presence of a suit? It could be said that men are uniformly benefited by being able to wear a uniform.

Sarah, like all women, had come to understand that you have to view a man in various other guises before you can really make a determination about his eye and his judgment. And in this regard, things looked good.

Sam was wearing jeans, dark ones, but not leather or pleather or anything of that sort. They were fitted, but didn’t go overboard, and they were topped by a handsome leather belt with silver grommets.

But it was Sam’s shirt that impressed her most. A collared and buttoned garment, it was dark blue with black stripes. It was buttoned properly, the chest not demanding the viewer’s attention. And, most important, it was not simply a shirt he wore to work during the day with a suit; it was entirely different, clearly bought and used for different occasions. The “repurposed” shirt never worked, she thought, because it hollered “I have too little self respect and imagination to own a non-work shirt.”

His shoes, too, were ones she had never seen in the office. Black leather and coming to gentle points, they were not his grandfather’s shoes, but they didn’t better belong on a teenager. They fit him and who he was.

Sam had done well.

And “Sarah,” Sam thought. “Sarah, Sarah, Sarah.” He could see that she was going to make it extremely difficult for him to feign interest in the art work and to act as though their first date was a casual walk with two families.

She had thought a lot about what to wear, but had opted for something nice that was comfortable. Fortunately for Sam, “nice” and “comfortable” translated to “head turning” and “wow inducing.”

Her black leather jacket said “Saks” more than “Hells Angels,” and that was fine with him (“Target,” she would reveal later). Her dress, which considered going south of mid thigh but wisely stopped where it was, was black with randomly sized gold stars. It was made of a material he couldn’t place, but that he suspected would be soft to the touch. The portion of her legs that was visible were sheathed in black leggings. And reaching up from the ground toward a place Sam tried not to stare were two high-calf boots. The heels were modest height, but entirely befitting a woman who had lifted him from death’s door this very morning. Sam found himself more interested in the stars than he ever had been before.

“Wow, hi, you look great,” Sam said. Once again, the typically glib Sam Adams found himself tripping over his words.

“You, too,” said Sarah. “Nice shirt.”

“Thanks, I bought it this afternoon.”

Sam visibly winced, remembering too late that he had specifically instructed himself not to reveal that fact.

But Sarah smiled, which immediately turned his idiocy into a strength.

“Well, you chose very well,” she said, touching him on the arm softly. Her touch thrilled him but made him mourn the fact that she would likely withdraw her hand soon, which she did in just a moment.

“Actually,” he said, “Mia helped me.” With that, he stepped half a foot to the right, revealing a young girl.

“But you can call me Mum, if you’d like,” said Mia. “I don’t mind.”

The girl’s voice could barely be heard over the dull roar of conversation that filled the gallery in Flagg’s Cake Factory. But Sarah immediately knew that she liked this young girl, whose voice was soft but determined, and unafraid to chat with adults.

“Well, it’s terrific to finally meet you, Mum,” said Sarah. “This is my daughter Olive.”

Olive then stepped forward. She had been gazing about the gigantic room, her eyes taking in the masses of people and the odd art works, as well as the band in the corner moving through its set of original work as well as covers by Death Cab for Cutie, Paramore and Fall Out Boy.

Olive’s age – thirteen going on twenty – and her temperament demanded that she consume every bit of it. She was immediately fascinated by the space, the people and the constant motion around her. The adults in the room saw a large white walled space. She saw a rainbow of colors, each a different person in the room.

Sarah had been concerned that Olive would be indifferent to Sam and his young daughter. She knew that Olive was a very sweet kid, but her burgeoning teenage spirit meant that the sweetness was increasingly masked by a certain sourness. Sarah could never be sure if the tartness was affected and put on, or a part of her growing DNA. Like all parents, she had no way of knowing whether the self centeredness was more standard juvenile development or a sign that Juvie would be her future.

Also like most parents, Sarah worried too much about it. True to her essential nature, Olive stepped forward, extended her hand in greeting, and smiled a smile that added myriad new colors to the room around them.

“I’m Olive, Mia. It’s great to meet you.”

“You too,” replied Mia. “I like your blouse.”

And that was it. Except for the time it took Olive to shake Sam’s hand and say “It’s nice to see you again,” Olive and Mia hardly stopped holding hands the rest of the evening.

The two girls liked each other from the start. The pair of them – Olive in her combination of fashions from Wet Seal, a funky resale shop and Sarah’s own closet, and Mia, in anything that contained a skull or a monkey – looked immediately at home in the gallery. From the first, they laughed at each other’s jokes and gave each other a hard time. Olive, for instance, would never call Mia “Mum,” though she was later to enuniciate “Chrysanthemum” whenever she got annoyed. And Mia took great pleasure in mocking Olive’s interest in boys and featuring her own – Mia’s – superior spelling ability.

Maybe it was the speed with which Mia and Olive became fast friends, or maybe it was seeing them holding hands, but Sam took the initiative as their two daughters walked off, looking for adventure. Acting as if this was the most natural thing in the world, Sam took Sarah’s hand in his own and began walking next to her.

“Afraid of getting lost in the crowd?” Sarah asked with a  smile, not sure how firmly to return Sam’s squeeze.

“More afraid of losing you, Sarah,” Sam replied. “After all, if any boots were made for walkin’, those boots were.”

Sarah laughed, squeezed back, and didn’t mind – not at all, really – when the crush of the crowd forced them more closely together. Sarah could not have known it, but Olive was absolutely right: First Friday had never appeared so full of color.

Day 21 in my novel-in-a-month effort:

Chapter 19.1: A Novelist Dodges a Bullet

No one is falling for this, the novelist thought. I mean, this noveling effort has included some missteps and false starts. But that last chapter – what a disaster!

He looked back at Chapter 5 – the State Fair chapter – to be sure his memory was accurate. And sure enough, there it was:

As the girls disappeared into the crowd, Sarah said, “Now, that worries me.”

“She seems like a good kid,” said Sam. “Are they all yours?”

“No,” Sarah exclaimed. “Just the one. We just finished a week with a pretend baby, so we both deserved a break.”

“And her papa?”

“Divorced. You?”

“The same. But no kids.”

“But no kids.” “BUT NO KIDS.” Arrrgh.

How could he have typed that, and sent it out to readers? What was he thinking? How could he have closed a door like that, so finally. How could he have made Sam Adams childless, and in such an unthinking way?

He remembered his Learning Annex classes on creative writing: Keep your options open. Don’t close any doors. If you’re going to kill a character – or keep one from being born – be absoluterly positive of what you’re doing. And at the very least, don’t share your pages with readers until the first draft is complete.

The bottle of seltzer sat on his desk. He found it calmed his stomach, especially late in the evenings when he wrote, or avoided writing. He took a large swig and turned back to read Chapter 19.

Ten minutes later, he felt at least somewhat relieved. Most readers, let’s face it, gave up reading long before Chapter 19. And Chapter 19 was long, like sleep inducing, hand me another martini long. Those who stayed are probably only reading sporadically, he thought, or skipping every other sentence. They may not notice that an eight year old child who did not exist in Chapter 5 has been created out of whole cloth in Chapter 19.

And what especially drove him nuts was that he should have spotted the need for that little girl. Was there a novelist or a reader in the cosmos who didn’t detect that the characters Sarah and Sam were being drawn together? But where was the common bond? Where was the signal flare that demonstrated Sam was not a troubled loner who monitored sleeping fax machines all day, but that he was a highly functioning and engaged adult, someone worthy of an attractive character’s fictive attentions? That sign would be sent through the little girl, one whose very existence was now delayed by poor planning.

Now, he saw, he was committed to a chapter he had not foreseen at the beginning. Sarah, Sam, Olive and Mia were going out to an art fair. What the hell was he going to do with THAT? He decided he really did have to start thinking before typing. Honestly. The readers would certainly appreciate it. And it would do wonders for his indigestion.

He took another deep draught of the seltzer, and considered his next steps.

First, he wasn’t sure what all should happen on the First Friday art walk.

Second, he thought the boat crash required at least a little follow through.

What to do, what to do?

The first step to deciding is to decide, he decided. And so he did.

He figured the readers would forgive his delaying an addendum that explains the fallout from the crash on the lake. Instead, like the hearty soul that he was, he opted to plunge directly into the art fair events. He would send those four characters into the swirling and whirling dervishes that comprised one of the largest monthly art gatherings in the United States, and he would see what befell them.

He hoped it would be interesting.

And then he began typing.

Day 20 in my novel-in-a-month adventure:

Chapter 19: Flotsam

 The term “wine” means any fermented alcoholic beverage that–

(A) is made from grapes or other fruit;

(B) contains not less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume and not more than 24 percent alcohol by volume, including all dilutions and mixtures thereof by whatever process produced; and

(C) is for nonindustrial use.

—Title 19, United States Code, Customs Duties, Wine Trade, Definitions

Every person who saw the boat crash occur – whether they were on the boats themselves or on the shore – was shocked. But no one was more shocked than Sam Adams.

No one’s expectations for the success of this firm outing had been lower than Sam’s. Having spent his career either as a lawyer or working at law firms with lawyers, he understood that Tom Paine’s effort to craft a family out of the Mansons was a long shot. Lawyers and their staff work hard, and often have next to nothing in common with each other besides the contract, will or deposition they’re toiling on together. To take them out of the office and command them to interact about any topic except work – it’s a fool’s errand.

Besides Sam’s extensive experience with lawyers generally, he also had before him the specific examples of dysfunction who populated the offices of Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine. In fact, if Adams had been a noveling man, this firm would be a rich lode to mine.

This firm, he thought, was especially unsuited for such an outing. The rancor that gripped the firm was matched only by the pleasure some members took in that very rancor. And the existence of that pleasure meant that they didn’t want to stop fighting. A boat ride on a stinky reservoir was unlikely to change that. Not even the presence on the boat of Drew Duckworth’s corgi Rufus – whom Sam found adorable – could change that.

So when things between Claude Dedrick and Ted Castro had begun to devolve this morning, Sam was not surprised. He was just pleased to be spending some time with Sarah Fujii, whom he had barely had the chance to talk to since the State Fair.

When the two name partners kidnapped the assembled staff and force them to be participants in a high speed race, Sam, again, was not surprised. He simply made sure that he sat down, lowering his center of gravity; he urged Sarah to do the same.

The poor judgment and inability to gauge distances exhibited by Dedrick also did not surprise Adams. Nor, ultimately, did the crash into the dock. For Sam, it was the foreordained ending to a cursed day.

But one thing that day did surprise Sam Adams – the moments at the height of the crisis when Sarah Fujii, never losing her composure, calmly reached over and saved Sam’s life.

“Reached over” might be putting it kind of mildly, Sam admitted. Sarah’s actions had been far more super hero-like than that, and far more muscular.

Sam had had no way of knowing it when he took his seat in the boat, but the spot he occupied was an especially dangerous one, given the acrobatic maneuvers that Dedrick was about to perform. Though Sam appeared to be no more in peril than anyone else, he was seated at the bottom of a pendulum that would whip around in a circle more quickly than anyone expected. Sitting on the lake soaked plasticene bench, with no hand grips, Sam was in the death seat.

As Claude Dedrick cranked the wheel hard to avoid a collision, Sam could feel his rear end leave the bench and begin to go airborne. In a flash, he dropped his gin and tonic and grasped for a hand hold. But there was none.

Sarah was next to Sam. Again, she had no way of knowing that the physics of the turn would cause her body to experience some G forces, but far less than those exerted on Sam. In her seat, she was able to stay grounded.

As the boat wheeled suddenly, she hunkered down to brace herself. Out of the corner of her left eye, though, she saw what appeared to be Sam Adams rapidly being launched from the bench into the air. Of even more concern, he was headed not straight up, but southwest, toward the dock, the pilings, and the parked Mercedes.

Without hesitating, she raised herself to a crouch and reached out for Sam. Keeping her stance wide to maintain balance, she grabbed him – by his upper arm and right thigh – and held fast. With a strength and calm under pressure that she could only have hoped that she possessed, she turned her body – and Sam the rag doll – to her right, instinctively using the rotating motion of the boat itself to propel Sam back onto the water craft.

This all happened in a few seconds, the few seconds before the boat made contact with the dock. As Sam lay on the deck of the Elsie Moore – with his savior wonder woman lying on top of him – he looked with astonishment at the spot directly behind his bench, the place where the small of his back would have landed had he not been snatched from the heavens. And in that spot was a jagged wooden piling, punctuated by four rusty lag bolts, each weeping iron tears for missing an opportunity to take a human life.

Sam let his head fall back onto the deck, and closed his eyes.

“Thank you,” he said, staring up at Sarah, who was framed by the sun and sky. Even then, he knew that those two words were pathetically insufficient in matching Sarah’s actions.

“No problem,” she said, smiling. “I’m just glad you’re OK.”

What followed at the scene was an odd combination of pandemonium and shock. People felt their own limbs and heads, seeking injuries, reassuring themselves that they had survived the boys’ drag race. Passengers gingerly climbed off the boats, carefully crept across the sagging wooden dock and past the upended car, and finally sank to the hard grassy ground that bounded it.

Once they had their bearings, many began to berate the lawyer drivers, both of whom looked abashed and embarrassed. For the first time in months, Dedrick and Catsro joined together in a shared heartfelt message, this one being “We’re so sorry.”

The staff, who almost to a person were subservient to the two men, might accept the apology through gritted teeth. But the words were weak sauce for others, such as the boat captain who had just swum to shore after being tossed overboard. And they were woefully inadequate for the four Tempe police officers and eight firefighters who came braking to a stop, called by joggers next to the lake.

Reclining on the grass, Sam Adams, Sarah Fujii and everyone else gazed at the tableau spread out before them.

The S.S. Michael Brag had its blunt rear end turned to face them, and it aimed it upward and outward, presenting like a proud but injured orangutan. It was taking on water and soon would be retired forever from the fleet of Tempe Lake Tours LLC.

Next to the Brag, the S.S. Elsie Moore floated lazily at an oblique angle. The debarking passengers had stepped quickly from its deck to the shore, neglecting to tie it up. It had already floated 20 yards away from shore, and there was no sign that its unpiloted escape was ending soon.

The Mercedes had sunk even further into the water, leaving only its rear bumper exposed. It would eventually require two tow trucks and a winch operator with ample patience to extricate the car from the reservoir.

Oil and leaking fuel from the boat and the car had formed a growing slick on the water.

The wooden dock was a total loss. At least half of it was in splinters, many of which were floating in the water. The smaller portion that was intact had been yanked violently from the concrete curb, rendering it unsalvagable.

Scattered over the entire scene was the remainder of a best laid plan for a pleasant firm outing. Bottles and plastic cups bobbed in the waves, alongside decorative plates and napkins chosen for the occasion. Prime rib and smoked salmon sandwiches blanketed the lake around the boats. Already, what appeared to be thousands of pigeons had descended on the scene, gorging themselves on a windfall feast.

The middle ground of the scene was populated by the firefighters, who were examing the car and boat for possible fire dangers. A few could be seen taking cell phone pictures.

In the foreground of the tableau stood Claude Dedrick, Ted Castro, Tom Paine and Bernie Galvez. They were surrounded by the boat captain from the Michael Brag – whose face was as red as his polo shirt – and the police officers. The three lawyers and Bernie looked as though they were engaged in the negotiation of their lives.

Off to the right of the scene, the other captain sat cross legged on the grass, elbows on thighs, chin resting on hands. He had no misapprehensions: He would be fired, without delay. But what a story, he thought. What a way to go out in a blaze of glory. Ever the optimist, he glanced sideways toward that Sarah girl – maybe she was impressed by the whole scene. She was talking a lot to someone else, but he was a patient guy.

So surreal and detailed and tragic and mundane was the scene that it could have been photographed by Gregory Crewdson, famous for his seemingly real but elaborately staged views of odd Americana. But Crewdson would have been wise enough to omit the dog in the wheeled contraption. That oddity would make any piece of fiction seem unbelievable and over the top. And yet there the corgi was, panting after a trip she enjoyed immensely.

The three senior partners and Galvez would spend many more hours speaking with the authorities, and contacting their own lawyers. Eventually, the firm reimbursed the boat company for its losses. More difficult was negotiating a settlement with the boat captain for his unceremonial ejection from his boat, with the Tempe prosecutors who ultimately filed misdemeanor charges – later dismissed – and with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, which proudly touted publicly its first prosecution of a law firm for pollution of public water ways.

Staff watched a possibly firm dissolving event unfold.

“Our future is in their hands,” said one.

“But why is Bernie talking to the cops too?” asked another. “He didn’t cause this mess.”

Sam Adams spoke up.

“Bernie probably knows more law than most attorneys combined. He studied law eons ago, in Mexico, I think. Tom Paine is smart to have him involved.”

The remaining staff had no interest in sitting and watching those legal dramas unfold. Most got up and headed west to the parking lot.

“If anyone wants to relax and decompress,” announced Drew Duckworth to the backs of his colleagues walking away, “ Rufus and I are open to stopping someplace for a bite.”

“After all,” he added, “lunch broke up early.”

Most declined, saying they really just wanted to salvage what was left of their Friday. But a few signed on.

Sam and Sarah were in a strange netherworld. Sarah had saved Sam’s life, but she would have done that for anyone – wouldn’t she? Because they worked together and knew the risks, neither had expressed anything except the most circuitous interest in the other. And yet they each knew they were pleased to have an opportunity to talk together, without the burden of having to ask the other. Drew’s invitation was a perfect solution.

“I’d like to go,” offered Sarah. “Thank you, Justice Duckworth.”

“You’re welcome, Sarah, but only if you can that ‘Justice’ stuff.”

“Sure, Drew,” she laughed. “I’ll be happy to.”

“And I’d be interested too,” said Sam, hiding his smile when Sarah happily cocked her head at the news.

And then they heard, “Me too.”

It was the newly fired boat captain, who looked all of 20 years old to the three others.

Drew didn’t hesitate: “It’s good to have you aboard, mate. What be your name?”

“I’m Stew, Stew Shinblock. Nice to meet you.”

“That’s a unique name,” said Drew. “Are you related to – “

“Yup, Harvey Shinblock. He’s my dad. He used to practice law, but you probably know his story even better than I do. He sells hot dogs now.”

“Best in the city,” smiled Drew. “I always liked your dad. It’s good to know you.”

“So where should we go?” asked Sam.

“How about GreenVeg,” said Stew. “It’s straight up Scottsdale Road.”

“Sounds like it’s not exactly my usual fare,” said Drew. “But I’ve seen the place and I’m game for anything. Do they allow dogs?”

“Sure thing,” answered Stew.

“How about wine?” asked Drew.

“Yeah, they make their own lactose free gluten free cabernet. I think it’s OK.”

“Hmmm,” said Drew. “Why don’t I make a stop along the way, and Rufus and I will meet you kids there?”

When they arrived at GreenVeg, Sarah and Sam were immediately happy they had accepted.

The restaurant was a large space, painted in bright colors. Lining one entire wall was an art work constructed of the doors salvaged from Volkswagen Beetles. The precision of their straight and narrow bolted-on-the-wall procession was happily contrasted with their cockeye colors. Besides the many tables, a space on a raised platform contained two couches and a coffee table. Next to that seating area, a piano beckoned.

“Let’s grab the couch,” said Sarah, realizing too late that both Sam and Stew thought she was speaking to them individually. She added quickly, “for the group.”

They settled into the couches – the quicker Sam seated next to Sarah, with Stew facing her – and began to read the menu. By the time Drew arrived twenty five minutes later, they had ordered a wide sampling of almost everything. When they had walked through the door, they had still been in shock. Now, they were ravenous.

“What did you order?” asked Drew, setting four paper bags on the table, the squeak of Rufus’s wheels trailing behind him.

Stew read from the menu.

“We got some buffalo wings and samosas to start, and then some po boys: Argentine, mushroom, meatball, chicken parm, and their specialty, chicken with barbecue sauce.”

“And may I assume that none of that actually has meat in it?” asked Drew.

“No meat, no sir!” said Stew. “And better than that, it’s not just vegetarian, it’s vegan.”

Drew smiled.

“Well, why not? Here’s to trying new things.”

With that, he slid four bottles out of their bags and withdrew a corkscrew from his pocket.

“I selected a few wines that I think will go with anything.”

The three others surprised themselves by clapping spontaneously at Drew’s generosity and ingenuity.

They immediately opened two, a white and a red.

“What are they?” asked Stew, draining his glass.

“Well, the one you’re polishing off right now is a sauvignon blanc from Charles Krug. The other one is a zinfandel from Ridge.”

“I also brought a Beaujolais blanc, and an ll Frappato from Italy, kind of an Italian Beaujolais.”

“This is amazing stuff,” said Stew, sipping the red. “A lot different from the restaurant’s wine.”

“Better?” asked Drew.

“Way better,” laughed Stew.

As the food arrived, the four tucked in hungrily, each reaching into the others’ plates to sample something different. Drew ripped off small pieces of tempeh to share with Rufus.

“Wow,” said Sarah. “Olive would love this place.”

“Yeah,” said Sam. “So would Mum.”

Sarah raised her eyebrows and quickly reassessed Sam. Was he a man who routinely thought of his mother when he spoke to another woman?

“Mum?”

“Yes, Mum,” said Sam, smiling. “My daughter.”

Sarah leaned back.

“I thought you told me that you had no kids.”

“No,” said Sam. “Or if I said that it was a mistake.”

“A mistake?” asked Sarah. “A mistake about whether or not you have kids?”

“Yes, a mistake,” he responded. He could tell that a fuller explanation was needed.

“Remember how you said to me at the State Fair that you felt as though you were in a novel – “

“Yessss,” replied Sarah, the connection invisible to her.

“ – And that it seemed like the novelist had no plan, and just wrote willy nilly – “

“Yes, I remember.”

“ – like a moron, or a depraved idiot?”

“I don’t think I went that far,” said Sarah.

“ – or like a writer in way way over his head, making it up as he goes along.”

“Again, I think that’s putting it entirely too strongly. I’m sure she or he is a very good natured, well intentioned person who is doing the best she can. There’s no reason to attack the novelist.

“Yeah, OK,” said Sam. “But I’m just bugged because he – or she – wrote without thinking that I don’t have kids, and I spoke those words at the State Fair, as I was obligated to do as a character in a novel, and now it looks like I’m a bad dad for forgetting my kid, or like I was hiding something from you. But I feel like this all happened because of this novelist you were talking about.”

Sarah took another sip of the zinfandel and looked at Sam, steadily, for at least fifteen seconds. This was a deep and odd fellow, who bore closer examination.

“All right, fair enough,” she said. “Let’s start over and place the blame on the fates, or on the State Fair food, or on the ‘novelist.’ You have a daughter – named Mum?”

“Not really.”

“Now you’re just being annoying.”

“No,” he said quickly, “I do have a daughter, but her name really isn’t Mum. It’s Mia. But we call her Mum.”

“Because – ?” Sarah urged.

Her mom and I always loved a kids book about a character named Chrysanthemum –  “

“By Kevin Henkes,” Sarah said. “Olive and I love that book.”

“ – It is a great book,” Sam agreed. “But even in our youth addled state, we realized that name would be too big a burden for a kid. So we named her Mia. But we still call her Chrysanthemum sometimes, but usually just Mum.”

“How old is Mum?” Sarah asked.

“Eight,” Sam said. “And she’s packed with eight years of charm and personality.”

“I wish you could meet her,” Sam added, gazing at Sarah over the top of his wine glass.

“I’d love to,” said Sarah, “since you’ve already met Olive.”

Drew and Stew had been carrying on a conversation about Stew’s dad, but caught most of the exchange across the table. Drew smiled, but Stew grew resigned.

Sure, he knew he was too young for Sarah. He half suspected it when he heard her make some joke that morning about Newt Gingrich – whoever he was. Stew had no idea, but he sounded a lot like the know it all who wrecked the boat. But everyone in Sarah’s group had laughed, so Stew knew he’d have to step up his game.

But now, hearing Sarah and Sam talk about kids, and kids’ books, and the State Fair – yikes, he thought, that’s a world he didn’t want to occupy for some time.

So Stew leaned back in the couch and lifted his glass. He relaxed into a conversation with Drew, who was really interesting for an old man, and had once been some kind of judge. Stew even stopped trying to angle a way to see down Sarah’s blouse. He began to think that maybe he’d give his old girlfriend a call. Last he heard, she was in some sustainability program at ASU – maybe she’d like to revive and sustain an old flame.

Across the table, Sarah and Sam stepped up their own game. They decided to meet, with their kids, at that night’s First Friday in downtown Phoenix. The street fair and art event could be a great way, they agreed, to get to know each other better. They invited Drew and Stew, but Drew begged off, saying he felt achy and more tired than he expected he would. And Stew said no, thanks, but he was going to track down Rowena. Now SHE would be impressed by today’s boat crash.

Day 19 in my novel-in-a-month adventure:

Chapter 18: Piracy

 The term “crime of violence” means—

(a)   an offense that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, or

(b) any other offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.

—Title 18, United States Code, Crimes and Criminal Procedure, General Provisions, Crime of violence defined

The events that transpired on Tempe Town Lake over the next 20 minutes ended up being expensive ones. They cost Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine in money, hurt feelings, and even courthouse cred.

Like many ill fated adventures, this one began with a glance, from one man to another. It might be a fascinating accounting to tot up all of the money spent or wasted on endeavors initiated on the basis of an evil glance between two men. History’s ledger books, I am sure, would be heavy with the ink of their sums.

In later days and years, fair minded observers would admit that all of the blame for the day’s events could not simply be laid at the feet of Claude Dedrick. It may be true that he was the spark. But Ted Castro was pretty willing kindling.

The communication was unspoken, and began rather simply.

Dedrick stared – hard – at Castro.

Castro stared back, for just a moment, and went back to his conversation.

But Dedrick would not be deterred. He focused his eyes on Castro’s face, and waited. And waited. Finally, Ted Castro looked back, locked on, and would not release the gaze.

Castro assumed that Dedrick had begun the most childish of school yard games – to see who would break the stare more quickly. But he soon realized that Dedrick had other ideas.

Without once shifting his stare, Dedrick rose from his seat and walked purposefully back to the boat’s stern. He stood next to the captain, who was idly flipping through a magazine – it looked like Arizona Attorney – while he waited for his next orders, while the boat was at anchor.

Dedrick furrowed his brow and nodded toward Castro’s own captain. Castro looked back blankly.

Dedrick sighed and placed his hand on his boat’s wheel. His captain was still engaged with the magazine – some article about cruel and unusual punishment. The lawyer then furrowed his brow even more and stared at Castro.

It took just a moment, but Castro suddenly understood what the managing partner proposed. Without hesitation, he reached down inside himself, extracted his better judgment, and threw it overboard. He stood up.

The next moments were critical ones, from a strategic and a legal point of view.

Ted Castro retained a shred of lawyerly demeanor. Granted, he declined to reveal his ultimate goal, but he did ask his captain whether it would be all right for him to “take her for a spin.” That was not an uncommon request on the lake, and the poorly paid boat pilot depended on tips from his customers, so he readily agreed. He turned to begin winching in the boat’s anchor.

Claude Dedrick was more single minded in his approach. He was determined not to yield to his opponent, and it never occurred to him to inquire of his polo clad driver whether he could take the wheel. He simply did so. And when the driver looked at him with a raised eyebrow, he performed as a managing partner – a man of action – would: He pushed him overboard. In a brief flash of humanity, he aimed the poor man over the side, away from the propeller, and he tossed a life preserver in after him.

Everything happened very quickly after that.

Dedrick had been watching the captain ever since they left the dock, and he believed he had mastered all there was to know to sail the S.S. Michael Brag. So in what appeared to be a practiced movement, he started the engine and moved the throttle to drive. The boat leaped forward quickly, knocking staff members and their food and drink to the ground. Dedrick shouted “To the buoys” across to Castro, and smiled an evil smile.

But just as suddenly, the boat slammed to a stop, as if it were tied to a dock. Which, in a way, it was, for the boat’s pirate had neglected to raise the anchor.

Angry and distraught, Claude screamed to the associate attorneys for help. Because of Claude’s position in the firm, the apparent presence of an emergency, and the stream of invective pouring from his mouth, the two of them ran to the winch and turned it until the anchor had cleared the water line.

Because Dedrick had never returned the throttle to neutral, the boat surged forward once more, again sending to the deck most of those who had managed to right themselves.

His mistake with the anchor would doom him to follow in the wake of the Elsie Moore. He swore repeatedly to himself, cursing his lack of foresight. But he had not conceded defeat yet. But it was his error – and his redoubled effort to make up for it – that made Dedrick take chances that he otherwise would not have taken.

He was pleased to see Ted Castro glancing nervously behind him with fear in his eyes, as he watched the gap between the boats close. But the buoys were just a few hundred yards away – a hop and a skip for a boat that’s ahead by a length and a half.

Unfortunately for Castro, he had not considered two factors.

First, the S.S. Michael Brag was more powerful than the S.S. Elsie Moore.

And second, Ted Castro retained a semblance of fear and concern for the lives – the “souls” – of his passengers. Claude Dedrick, for all intents and purposes, had forgotten that there was anyone aboard. “Git ‘er done,” he muttered to himself over and over. “Git ‘er done.” He had the gift of single mindedness.

Until now, the captain standing next to Castro had not noticed that his boat was engaged in a race. Sure, he thought that Castro was going a little fast. But he decided he’d let him have his fun, maybe until they reached the buoys.

But when he glanced at his passengers, he saw something in their eyes that a captain never wants to see – fear for a rapidly impending death. They were looking astern, past him, and he turned to see what it was that they spied. And that’s when he understood the situation clearly. His boat was engaged in a race, which was a violation of nautical and company rules.

Being new to his job, and bored, though, he did not discourage Castro in his race dreams. In fact, when he saw that it was Dedrick at the other helm – the same chump who had banished him from the Michael Brag for chatting with the Asian chick – he egged Ted on. Maybe if they won, the captain thought, he’d still have a shot with her. And even if not, he considered with a grin, jackasses like that need to be put in their place.

He began to rethink that decision when he saw that the other driver sought to get around the Elsie Moore – come hell or high water. Dedrick dodged left, then right, and finally got alongside Castro on the port side. His eyes gleamed as they met those of his adversary. But as Castro began to look away from Dedrick, his eyes spotted something else that was even more disturbing.

Ted could see that by passing the boat on its left, Claude had placed his own boat far closer to the shore. In fact, as the shoreline raced by, it also closed in, as the Michael Brag raced headlong toward the crescent shaped land. To Ted, the curving, rock bestrewn shore was coming at them – and especially Claude – fast.

Castro pointed his finger toward the shore, but Claude just laughed and took it as a taunt. Looking more to his starboard side than straight ahead, the felonious boat captain was unaware of the disappearing water.

Ted shook his head in disbelief, but he also knew that he did not intend to lose this race. His pushed the throttle further forward, making the boat jump. Dedrick did the same, and only too late did he turn his head to the left and see the danger.

Such is the nature of human beings, though, that Dedrick did not slow down. Instead, he turned the wheel to the right, trying to carve a way into Ted’s lane. Ted would have none of it, though, and he drove dead on, forcing Claude to his choice: stop and lose, or certain collision.

Claude allowed his ability to judge time and space to be colored by his desire to win. If he could only reach the buoys first, he felt sure he could slow and turn, well before impact.

Of course, he was mistaken. As the bow of Ted’s boat slipped past the buoys first, Claude cursed, threw the throttle in reverse, and spun the wheel hard to the right. But his hard turn caused the boat’s stern to slide in a semi circle clockwise through the water. He was almost successful in avoiding a collision, but with a loud crash and crunch, the boat rammed the wooden dock where they had started the day. Timber and debris flew everywhere, everyone on board fell to the deck, and the Michael Brag came to rest at least partly on the dock.

In both boats, there was silence. All were stunned. The captain of the Elsie Moore quickly resumed command, and he drove alongside the beached boat to see if anyone was hurt. But it looked as if there were just some bumps and bruises.

Because everyone was in shock, it took awhile for anyone to notice anything amiss on shore. When he saw more and more people gazing toward the dock, though, Dedrick also looked – and saw his precious Mercedes, covered in debris.

More than that, it was listing dangerously close to the water, as the combined weight of the boat and the car added a strain to the dock that it was never engineered for.

Dedrick panicked. He ordered everyone off the boat, which would lighten the weight pressing down on the pilings. But still dazed and standing at a crazy angle themselves, no passengers were able to get off easily. Dedrick screamed as he watched his car inch toward the edge, and then lurch toward the edge, and finally launch itself into the Tempe Town Lake.

As the fine German engineering sank engine first into the lake, the boat also loosened itself from the dock, allowing passengers to watch the developing dramady relatively horizontally. They could see that Claude was near tears as he watched his front doors and then his back doors sink beneath the surface. As a final insult, the car came to a rest partially submerged, its tail pointing provocatively toward passers by. The license plate announced to all who cared that this was the final resting place of “DED LAW.”

 

Day 15 in my novel-in-a-month effort:

Chapter 17: Infringers

Anyone who violates any of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner as provided by sections 106 through 122 or of the author as provided in section 106A(a), or who imports copies or phonorecords into the United States in violation of section 602, is an infringer of the copyright or right of the author, as the case may be.

—Title 17, United States Code, Copyrights, Copyright Infringement and Remedies, Infringement of Copyright

On the other boat, chaos quickly ruled.

“Did someone fall overboard?”

“Or did a man jump?”

“Who was that?”

“Should we stop and look?”

“Oh, the humanity!”

It was Claude Dedrick and Sarah Fujii who had seen clearly what had occurred, and they each worked to calm the troops and assure them that no one had sunk to a watery grave.

“It was Justice Castro,” concluded Dedrick, “apparently dissenting.”

With that, Dedrick appeared to consider the matter closed, and would speak no more about the spectacle.

It was a beautiful day, they were not in the office, the anticipation of alcohol hung in the air, and so the assembled masses gave no more thought to Castro’s Leap, as it would be called in later years. A calm, sleepy, happy kind of silence settled over the boaters, who, with the thrum – thrum – thrum of the engines, enjoyed the opportunity to avoid speaking.

Finally, however, because a law firm partner despises a vacuum, Claude Dedrick rose to his feet. Even given his diminutive frame, it was clear that he intended to speak.

“I am happy to be able to report some good news,” he told the group. “I am sorry that we have to be split up on two boats, but the others will have to hear about this via memorandum.”

Listeners stifled their smiles, for they had detected a reduction in the number of managing partner memos that had been coming their way. It could be because Dedrick was distracted or tired, or because someone had pointed out that the memos were dreck. Either way, it was a welcome development.

“The news is good news not just for me personally, but for all of us here at the firm.”

The group nodded in anticipation –

“Just to be clear, though, it is primarily good news for me.”

 – and then shook their heads in consternation.

“Just the other day,” Dedrick continued, “I received a telephone call from someone in the highest reaches of government retaining my – our – services. The legal matter is a significant one, the principles are important, and I am confident that our – my – representation will be historic.”

The already quiet group drew closer, eager to hear the news.

“You have probably heard via the news outlets that a lawsuit is being threatened by the Legislature against our state’s Governor. The matter will lead, I am certain, to implications and rulings that guide the great State of Arizona for generations to come.”

Dedrick, as always, was speaking carefully, choosing his words to create the most accurate communication. To his dismay, though, the ship’s engine – as well as the shouts and laughs coming from the S.S. Elsie Moore – made it difficult for his listeners to hear clearly.

“The Governor?” said an associate, astounded. “Our firm is going to represent the Governor?”

“This’ll be great,” said another in a rush. “What an opportunity. I bet it’ll even get up to the supreme court.”

Dedrick, clearly agitated, did his best to right the ship.

“Excuse me, Mr. …, um, you associates. In all matters that come before a court, there are two parties, each equally entitled to excellent representation – “

The associates continued, heedless and headlong.

“I can’t wait to tell my folks. And they told me to go to business school!”

“I know. I wonder if we’ll get to meet the Governor, maybe help prepare her for a deposition.”

Dedrick had forgotten to remove his tricornered hat, and its lily white plume framed his beet red face. He even stamped his foot.

“We do not represent the Governor, we represent Speaker Alan Spinkter, and that is important too, and that should be enough for your parents, and associates should learn to speak when spoken to.”

Having reached the middle of the lake, the boat’s motor had cut out just as Dedrick launched his rant. As such, it had been entirely audible, not only on the Michael Brag, but also on the Elsie Moore, laying alongside. After the outburst, silence descended on the two boats.

Until Ted Castro spoke.

“Speaker Sphincter, eh, Claude? Now that’s quite a coup.”

Dedrick prided himself on being a patient and tolerant man, as only impatient and intolerant men can do so well. But even years later, he could never let himself be convinced that Castro had inserted the dreaded “H” by accident. Spinkter’s newest lawyer stared across the open water toward Castro, with daggers in his eyes.

Tom Paine was watching his firm’s restoration crumble before his own eyes. He had half expected such an outcome, but hoped that they would have at least reached lunch time before it all went south. And so he was forever grateful when Sarah Fujii cleared her throat.

Sarah hadn’t planned to do much public speaking today, what with the halter top and all. And she certainly hadn’t expected to share her own news.

“Congratulations to Justice Dedrick,” she said. “That’s a great accomplishment.”

Claude nodded her way in thanks, his plume fluttering in the breeze.

“And I guess this might be a good time to share my own news.”

Everyone leaned in, happy to put the uncomfortable silence behind them.

“I received a phone call the other day too, from someone who’d like the firm to represent them. The matter is a lot less earth shaking than a case between the Speaker and the Governor – “

She smiled at Dedrick, who stonily smiled in return, as a test proctor would, or an axe murderer.

“ – but it is still a case that is important to our client, and I’m looking forward to it.”

“What is it, Sarah?” Drew Duckworth asked.

“Well, you may have heard about a matter in which a large hotel chain wants to demolish a Chinese American historic building – “

Dedrick’s ears perked up.

“ – and I got a call from one of the parties asking me and the firm to represent them.”

Shocked from the peak of his hat to the buckles on his shoes, Dedrick stared stony faced at Fujii. She gazed back, confused, having no way of knowing that she had taken “his” case.

Recalling Dedrick’s misstep only minutes before, Sarah got ahead of any speculation.

“I should make it clear right away that I do not represent the Y Hotel chain. I know that would have been a bigger client and probably meant more financially to the firm. Instead, I’ve been asked to represent the Chinese American community in its efforts to preserve the last intact building from Phoenix’s Chinatown.”

The group, on both boats, broke out into spontaneous applause. The contrast with the reception Dedrick’s news received was stark. But he was at least slightly appeased by her news. At least she hadn’t been hired by the hotel.

“Congratulations, Sarah,” said Claude, as the clapping died down. “As you said, this matter is far less significant than mine, but it’s delightful news nonetheless. This will be a charming bauble, and the firm should be proud.”

Sarah swallowed – hard.

“Thank you, Claude,” she said, reserving, at least for now, the word “Justice.”

“I do wonder, though,” he continued, “how much this will cost the firm.”

“What do you mean, Claude?” asked Duckworth.

“Well, it’s pro bono, isn’t it?” responded Dedrick. “We can’t expect – what are they, farmers, or shopkeepers, or railroad workers – to pay our fees, now, can we?”

Before Sarah could counter with anger, Castro spoke from the adjoining boat.

“They are not railroad workers or shopkeepers, Justice Cracker. Those were the jobs of their ancestors. These people – our clients – are professionals of all kinds.”

Tom Paine decided to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and interrupted.

“Well, I’d like to lead a round of applause for both of our partners and their wonderful news. And then let’s have our wonderful lunch.”

The staff of the firm clapped enthusiastically, pleased to move on. It was 9:30, the food was served, and the bar was open.

But Dedrick seethed. Today was to have been his own day in the limelight. That light had been taken from him, first by two incompetent, soon to be unemployed associate attorneys, then by Ted Castro, and finally by Sarah Fujii. Tom Paine could try to put a good face on it, but Dedrick’s moment had been stolen.

He looked about him on the narrow boat, seeking some way to right the world, to reassert his place at the head of this firm. Which is when he looked across the water again at Ted Castro, relaxing and laughing with non-lawyer staff – staff! – on the stern of the Elsie Moore.

Claude decided that it was a good day for a race.

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