Day 2 in the novel-in-one-month challenge (a la www.nanowrimo.org):

Chapter 1: A New Partner Arrives

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, unless the context indicates otherwise … words importing the masculine gender include the feminine as well. … [T]he words “insane” and “insane person” and “lunatic” shall include every lunatic, idiot, insane person, and person non compos mentis.

—Title 1, United States Code, Rules of Construction

The opening of Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine brought smiles of contentment to the faces of florists across the Valley of the Sun.

The launch of any new business sometimes sparks a spike in sales of floral arrangements. The irrigation products company might get some tulips. The new preschool might receive some daisies. The payday loan dive might see a vase of black roses thrown through its window.

But a law firm launch was another thing entirely. Few entities are like the law firm. They are comprised of people who likely have worked many places, and left in their wake scores of fellows, most of whom want desperately to make an impression on the newest and nowest firm on the block.

Those fellows scattered through the lawyersphere may not care a whit for the lawyers hanging out a new shingle. They may even—secretly, in their heart of hearts—wish them ill will in this, their newest endeavor. But one word explains their appearance of pleasure and their bounty of flora: referrals.

Ah, referrals, the lifeblood of many a law practice.

Few people know that the individual who most often purchases or recommends the services of lawyers is the lawyer herself. And the referral—a recommendation—is a treasured tradition.

The lawyer referral is a beautiful transaction when accomplished adroitly. It subtly shifts a paying client from Lawyer A—who cannot or should not handle the client’s matter—to Lawyer B. No money changes hands in the shift (unless it’s done unethically). Instead, the value for Lawyer A lies in the communication of brotherhood (or sisterhood) with the other lawyer. The loyalty, the vouching for the other’s skills—these are the very mortar that comprises the efficient referral.

And Lawyer B knows it. Excessive thank-yous (with no money changing hands, remember) are expected, and an assurance that this grant of generosity will be recalled and repaid somewhere down the line. In a successful, long-term legal career, little is more important than that mental Rolodex. Friends with benefits, you might say.

And the commerce of goodwill grows even more heightened when the new law firm is made up of former Supreme Court justices. Most lawyers in the state had met at least one of the new partners, and many had appeared before their bench as advocates, some performing well, others not. The soupy mix of camaraderie, fear and embarrassment was a heady one, and the flower arrangement was its ladle.

That fact led to a veritable jungle of cut flowers and cut crystal in the new firm’s reception area. And that is one of the first things Sarah Fujii noted when she opened the glass doors and stepped into her new workplace.

“Good morning,” Fujii said, speaking through the foliage to what she could only assume was a receptionist seated in the bush. “I’m here to see Tom Paine; I’m scheduled to start work today.”

Fujii heard coughing and cautiously moved aside some crocuses nestled amid glass beads. That’s when she saw a young man, fingers glistening, quickly move a multicolored mass to the side of his desk. Fujii realized with a  start that the mass was an edible arrangement—the only one the firm had received—made of skewers of melon cut into floral shapes. Based on the state of his fingers, his face and his shirt front, the receptionist had been actively engaged in consuming the sticky blooms, all by his lonesome. Her visit had interrupted his breakfast gusto.

“Sorry about that,” he said, not quite sheepishly enough. “There’s a lot of flowers and, um, stuff here. It’s hard to see past everything.”

Fujii noticed with dismay that the man was wiping his hands on his pants and on the arrangement itself. Instinctively, she squeezed her briefcase and recalled with some relief that she had carried her own sack lunch, dented but edible.

“Sure, I understand. But could you let Justice Paine know I’m here? I’m afraid I’m a little late.”

As the gummy-pawed young man raised his eyebrows in judgment and lifted the telephone receiver, Fujii relocated a stuffed shark attached to a container of calla lilies and settled herself into a visitor chair. Things were not off to a swimming start, she thought, and the past weekend hadn’t helped.

Like all ships run aground, it had begun innocently enough, with smiles and visions of confetti.

Her daughter Olive had come home with great plans for the weekend. She and two friends from eighth grade had wanted to have a sleepover on Saturday. The main selling point was that those three were partners in a social studies project. And as long as they all had to work on Chile: Our Partner, it might be easier if they spend some time together.

Sarah was 45, so she had learned something about the best-laid plans of mice and teenage girls. But she told Olive it was all right, so long as the friends arrived around 6 on Saturday, and got picked up by noon Sunday.

It rapidly went to hell in a hand basket on Friday afternoon.

The first surprise was a plastic wailing thing that Olive had forgotten to mention. It was a frighteningly lifelike, accurately sized baby doll, which she carried home Friday as part of a school project. Dubbed “Baby Think It Over,” the baby and its Silicon Valley innards were designed to make teenagers learn firsthand what being a baby mama (or papa) was really all about.

“What is that?” Sarah asked Olive as the girl lifted what looked like an infant carseat into the back of her car.

“It’s my baby, Violet,” Olive said quickly. “Remember, I told you about Baby Think It Over? She comes home with me for a week? And I’m graded on how good I take care of her?”

“Well,” corrected Sarah.

“What?”

“You’re graded on how well you take care of it, um, her,” said Sarah.

Olive paused and stared at her mother’s obviously imbecilic eyes in the rear-view mirror. “That’s what I said?”

Sarah had been down this road too many times.

“Never mind. Why is it this week? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I did tell you,” said Olive, a bit too quickly. “Earlier in, like, the school year.”

Sarah rested her forehead on the steering wheel. The baby was already starting to cry.

That first night was a revelation, not only for Olive, but also for Sarah, who had managed to forget the many sleepless nights of Olive’s own infantdom. No one in the house got much sleep Friday.

Sarah awoke Saturday feeling a bit nervous about starting her new job on Monday—her first job after retiring from the state supreme court. She hadn’t been in practice for years, and had hoped this weekend would be restful and calm.

Olive’s friends arrived—at noon.

“Who’s knocking at the door, Olive?”

“It looks like Katie and Haley,” Olive said, trying to keep her tone matter-of-fact. She knew dangerous shoals lay ahead.

“They’re supposed to arrive at 6,” said Sarah. “For dinner!”

“Oh,” said Olive, “I meant to tell you, their folks called and asked if they could be dropped off earlier. They’re going to a spa weekend.”

Sarah moaned. “A spa weekend?”

“Yeah,” Olive said. “Something about calm and relaxation. Doesn’t that sound boring?”

Olive opened the front door.

“Olive, why is your mom resting her head on the wall like that?” asked Katie.

“Never mind,” Olive said, rushing the girls to her room.

“And you’re sure it’s OK with your mom?”

“We’ll tell her later,” said Olive.

Sarah’s ears prickled. “Tell me later what?”

“Well,” stammered Olive, “it’s just that a few more of us are working on Chile, and we divided up the parts, you know, like geography, and land masses, and religion, and —“

She stared at the ceiling.

“And food,” offered Haley.

“Yeah, and food,” yelped Olive, grasping for the lifeline. “So more of us need to get together like, tonight.”

Sarah paused. “How many are sleeping over tonight?”

“Just four more,” said Olive, her eyes glimmering in the knowledge that her own leaky ship had passed the rocks virtually unscathed. “And we’ll be really quiet.”

Sarah sighed. She waited until the girls raced down the hall to their private lair, and then she retrieved the pizza shop menu from the cupboard. She knew she’d have to order dinner in about six hours.

The rest of the weekend was a blur: No one slept, the baby cried incessantly, more than one slice of pizza landed sauce-side-down on the carpet. More than once, Sarah cried “uncle” and lifted the crying artificial infant herself to comfort it or change its diaper, which sent a message of approval to its chip-brain and, eventually, to Olive’s teacher.

To cap the irony, Sarah had to attend baby shower on Sunday for a friend who had just adopted twins from an eastern European nation Sarah couldn’t recall. Sarah had forgotten to buy a gift, and she fingered the layette that came with Olive’s devil doll baby enviously, but finally decided to go with a gift card.

At the shower, the real babies cried. She tried to tell herself that their little eastern European cries were more charming somehow, but even in her sleep-addled state, she didn’t buy it.

And that mental condition was the reason that Sarah had a hard time understanding what she was looking at as she sat in the reception area at her new firm. For there, about two feet in front of her, there appeared to be a pile of … well it couldn’t be.

But it was. Much to her surprise, Sarah was confronted by a sizable though no-longer-steaming pile of dog shit.

There are many things you are likely to find in a modern-day law office. To the uninitiated, you might be surprised to find out: Dog shit is not one of them.

And yet there it was. Sarah drew her legs in tighter next to her chair and began looking more critically at the space she occupied. Just past the receptionist desk, next to what appeared to be an abnormally large fax center, she thought she could see another pile of turd.

Sarah Fujii was thinking that this could be a bad sign, when a flash of fur swept past her chair, just missing her feet and the mid-carpet manure. She thought—she could have sworn—it was a dog.

As the blonde dervish wheeled around the fax machines, she confirmed that it was a corgi whose hind legs were supported aloft by a wheeled cart. The impression she had was that it looked, well, happy.

Almost as surprising, a tall man in suspenders and an untied bowtie huffed around the corner, this time failing to avoid Sarah’s feet and the dog’s detritus.

“Damn,” said Roscoe Duckworth. “That’s the second time today.”

Sarah suppressed the shooting pain by focusing on the surreality of literally running into a legal legend.

Justice Duckworth (retired) had been on the bench for 25 years, and had written some of the most-quoted opinions in the state’s history. Sarah had come on the bench after he had left, but Duckworth looked just as he did in his portrait at the Court—scholarly and just a little maniacal.

“So, so sorry,” said Duckworth. “It’s just a handful keeping up with Rufus.”

“Rufus?” said Sarah.

“Yes, my dog. You did see him, didn’t you?” Duckworth asked with some suspicion. “He ran right past you.”

“Oh, yes, I saw him, I just meant … . I meant … Hello, my name is Sarah Fujii, and I am your newest partner.”

“Welcome, welcome,” said Duckworth, suddenly beaming. “It’s great to have you aboard. And I hope you like dogs. Rufus is a handful, but she’s a sweet soul.”

“Rufus is a girl?” Sarah asked.

“Yes, I know it’s odd. I had a dog years ago named Rufus, and when he moved out with my second wife, I just named this one Rufus too. She doesn’t know she’s so modern that way,” he said with a smile that Sarah immediately liked.

“This past summer,” Duckworth continued, “Rufus suddenly had back leg problems. We’ve got her fixed up on the cart pretty good, and now she goes like the dickens. No problem.”

“Except —“ began Sarah, her eyes shifting toward the fecal matter on the floor and on Duckworth’s size 13s.

“Oh, yeah, she does drop a turd now and again. I try to get after that. But the hard part is the urinary tract.”

Sarah wondered what kind of follow-up question was required of her. Before she stepped into it, he bulldozed on.

“The tract is fine, but she needs help to make it work. So a few times a day, I have to help express her bladder. Y’know, squeeze her sides. It’s always great to have people around who can help with that.”

The receptionist, already hidden by a spray of hibiscus, shifted lower in his seat.

Sarah involuntarily let her eyes grow large in an alarmed expression.

“Oh, don’t worry,” said Duckworth, smiling and lowering his voice. “That’s what we have associates for.”

CHAPTER 2 is next.

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