Monday, November 9th, 2009


Day 8 in my novel-in-a-month effort

Chapter 8: Data Transmission

The Secretary of State shall require a terrorist lookout committee to be maintained within each United States mission to a foreign country.

—Title 8, United States Code, Aliens and Nationality, Enhanced Border Security And Visa Entry Reform, Terrorist Lookout Committees

Dedrick hated it when he was required to speak directly to a staff member. That was  especially true when he could predict that the conversation required was to be a long one, or touch on difficult areas, such as firm management, insecticides, or the staff members’ personal life.

Based on that standard, Dedrick was not too concerned about his next meeting. For it was on a topic—law office technology—for which he felt himself supremely qualified.

“You asked to see me, Justice Dedrick?” asked Sam Adams, standing in his doorway.

Right on time, Dedrick noted with pleasure. And he also found appealing Adams’s use of the honorific “Justice.” As time went on, more and more staff dropped that and relied on “Mr. Dedrick.” Perhaps that should be covered in an upcoming memorandum.

“Yes, I did, Sam. Please come in.”

Much to Dedrick’s surprise, Adams did not walk over and seat himself in one of the managing partner’s two visitor chairs, ingeniously placed so that visitors would be squeezed into a small space, and sit lower than Dedrick. Instead, Adams strode over and sank into a leather, re-creation Colonial armchair in the meeting area of the large office. And, Dedrick thought with alarm, he may have opted to sit in the larger of the two.

“I brought some of the printouts your requested,” said Adams, “so I thought using the coffee table might be more convenient.”

Dedrick was placated by that explanation, but not entirely convinced that his authority hadn’t been shanghaied. Still, he rose from his desk and sat down in the other leather chair.

“Before we get to your ‘data,’” Dedrick said, “I have a question about the Facsimile Center.”

“Yes?” asked Adams.

“It doesn’t appear to be very busy, now does it?” Dedrick said.

“No, not particularly,” agreed Adams.

“Why do you think that is?” Dedrick pressed. “It seems as if there would be something you could do about that.”

“Well, Mr. Dedrick – “

MR. Dedrick?!

“ – when I started here at Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine, I believe I mentioned that large fax centers such as the one we have now are really a throwback to another time. I did warn that many lawyers might not have a use for faxing on such a grand scale.”

“I do not recall any sort of warning from you,” Dedrick said. “And the very finest firms use facsimile centers exactly like this.”

He added, “I just don’t think you’re trying.”

Sam Adams paused, not sure if he discerned a pout in the managing partner’s voice.

“Well, sir, it’s really up to the lawyers whether they want to fax. And they do have the fax software built directly into their computers. They can fax digitally without leaving their desks.”

“What?” barked Dedrick. “Why wasn’t I told?”

Adams paused again before continuing.

“You were informed, Mr. Dedrick. You approved the purchase.”

Dedrick crossed his arms and tried to look menacing, but Adams thought it looked as if the partner had stepped into one of Rufus’s turds.

As the silence grew, Adams tried another tack.

“And getting back to the concern you voiced to me, I think the data show that Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine has nothing to worry about,” began Adams. “Our transmissions via fax are completely secure.”

“Maybe, maybe not,” said Dedrick. “But that determination ultimately will be made by the managing partner of the Dedrick law firm.”

“Of course. You mean, um, you, right?”

“Yes, of course I mean me,” said Dedrick. “Who else could I mean?”

Whom, thought Adams, biting his tongue.

“No one, of course, Justice Dedrick,” said Adams. “May I ask what caused your alarm?”

“Well,” said Dedrick, “I read something about people stealing data out of the pages that have been faxed. Something about their protons or something. I think I read that even terrorists are doing that these days. And I will not expose the Dedrick law firm to liability like that. We will not stand by idly while foreign powers exert their influence on this nation using information that we have ignorantly allowed them access to.”

Dedrick knew that he was getting worked up. Adams stared at him.

“I can assure you, Justice Dedrick,” said Adams, “that our protons are entirely safe from exposure.”

Was that a smile Dedrick saw creeping past the corner of Adams’s mouth? Was he sassing me? The temerity!

Still and all, Dedrick was a bit worried that he might be treading on ground that ranged beyond his expertise, so to speak. He did recall some concerns of this sort—about protons—back in the 80s, when his former firm expanded its own Facsimile Center. That firm eventually had imploded, caught up in a scandal regarding the disclosure of client secrets. Now that he thought more about it, though, the revelations may have had more to do with prostitutes and cocaine than with the fax machines. He just couldn’t recall for sure.

“Well, that may be,” Dedrick said hurriedly, “but I am paid to be sure of these things, not to make guesses willy-nilly. I’m not sure what the data says or where you got it, but I’m still worried.”

“Fair enough,” said Adams. “But shall we look at the data?”

The papers Adams spread out across the cherry veneer coffee table confirmed the worst fears that gripped Dedrick—not the concern that the facsimile machines were dribbling out firm secrets. But that he, the managing partner, would be confronted by facts that were like the Russian language to him.

In a lot of ways, the path of human history has been characterized and blazed by the various ways that power structures confront information and cultures that are foreign to them—to their ways of thinking, their ways of acting, and their ways of reacting.

Unfortunately, history shows that those power structures are often flummoxed by the foreign. And when “the other” rises up to say “Hola” (or anything else), that power structure rears back in alarm.

Dedrick was alarmed.

“I’m sure you believe that these papers say what you hope they say,” said Dedrick with breezy confidence. “But I’m not convinced.”

“But you haven’t really looked at them,” said Adams.

“Are you saying that I haven’t looked at them?” alleged Dedrick, hoping that statements of the obvious, voiced in a rising voice, would terminate the conversation.

“Well, yes, I guess I am,” said Adams.

The two men sat staring at each other, Adams calmly, Dedrick with a heightened heartbeat and increasingly sweaty palms.

“So, if you’re concerned about the protons – “ said Adams …

Again with the protons! thought Dedrick angrily. Can’t a man ever speak off the cuff? Must he have all of the facts at his disposal before he utters a word? Is there no more room in this world for the passionate genius?

“ – or something, was there something that you hoped I could do about it?”

Now Dedrick was back in comfortable territory. He had moved beyond the detailed analysis of a problem, which required all kinds of information to sift and options to vet. He was where he preferred to be – at the order giving portion of the conversation.

“Yes, in fact, there is a strategy that I would like to see put in place,” said Dedrick, his confidence restored,

He paused for effect. Unfortunately, Adams stared back at him, unaware that the silent gap was meant for dramatic effect. Dedrick plunged on.

“I would like you to work with Mr. Galvez to hire a consultant to analyze this issue.”

To Adams, Dedrick appeared to be done. It had sounded like his sentence ended with a  period. And yet it also sounded as if nothing much had been decided.

“A consultant,” said Adams flatly. “You want me to hire a consultant?”

“No, not you,” said Dedrick. “You and Mr. Galvez. I expect you will have to meet with him many times to determine the issue, draft a Request for Proposals, decide where to advertise it, and so forth.”

Dedrick smiled at Adams.

“You truly have many months of work ahead of you,” grinned Dedrick. “I would really recommend that you hop to it.”

Adams stared, mouth slightly agape, as he lived through one of his life’s moments that would never be characterized as being in the top 10,000. He had received direction – but had he?

Sam Adams had met many people in life who were unswayed by argument and who were committed to their own view, despite countervailing evidence – He had been to law school, after all. But this was a new dish of pudding.

As he walked out of Dedrick’s office, his head was spinning. He had been battered and bruised, but to what purpose, what end? All he knew was that he had been ordered to expend firm resources to engage an electronics professional on mission that was ill defined.

The more he thought about it, the more Adams began to understand the quizzical old phrase “destructive compliance.” For the first time since the meeting began, he could see a strategy forming. As he walked between the silent and sleeping fax machines back to his office, there was a jaunt in his step. He even whistled.

 

CHAPTER 9 is next.

Day 7 in my novel-in-a-month effort

Chapter 7: No Spray

Any person may apply to the Administrator for an experimental use permit for a pesticide. The Administrator shall review the application. An application for an experimental use permit may be filed at any time.

(b) Temporary tolerance level: If the Administrator determines that the use of a pesticide may reasonably be expected to result in any residue on or in food or feed, the Administrator may establish a temporary tolerance level for the residue of the pesticide before issuing the experimental use permit.

—Title 7, United States Code, Agriculture, Insecticides and Environmental Pesticide Control, Experimental Use Permits

It was Saturday morning, and Drew (“Middle name Don” he always laughed) Duckworth was hard at work in the office. He already had been busy with two securities matters he had managed to bring in. They were complex and, honestly, they strained the resources of the small law firm. But he enjoyed the work, and Dedrick had promised more support staff and maybe even some associates would come aboard in the next month.

Despite his workload, though, Duckworth was toiling at another task this morning. He was bent over his desk, where two large pieces of white poster board lay, alongside an array of colored Sharpies. This, his newest project, had come to life only yesterday.

On Friday afternoon, Duckworth had been stooping near the trash can in Dedrick’s office to pick up some of Rufus’s shit (for some reason, the corgi often selected this venue to relieve himself). For despite Dedrick’s pained insistence that it was unseemly for a former Supreme Court Associate Justice to perform this task, Duckworth simply could not bring himself to require that of staffers.

Fortunately, a few paralegals and secretaries had come to find Rufus charming, and they would at times pick up his turds, all without being asked. But Duckworth refused Dedrick’s offer to send out a memo ordering turd pickup duty (though he had to laugh when he spoke about “doody duty” with Dedrick, who never failed to roll his eyes and walk away with a linen handkerchief pressed to his mouth. It was like shooting fish in a barrel, Duckworth thought).

So it was truly ironic that it was one of his managing partner’s unsent memos that led Duckworth to his current artistic project.

It was on Friday, while Duckworth bent to pick up poop, that he saw the tell tale font and composition of a Dedrick memo, curled like a nascent rattlesnake in the bottom of Dedrick’s leather bound trash can. That would not typically attract Duckworth’s attention. But the red word “DRAFT” caught his eye. This was a memo he hadn’t seen yet. In fact, no one had seen it. Duckworth read the memo with growing alarm.

 

TO: Attorneys and Staff of The Firm

FROM: Claude Dedrick, Managing Partner

DATE: May 29

SUBJECT: Pandemic Prepraredness Redux

As your managing partner, I have indicated previously my commitment to protect all of us (“us”) from incursions of virus, or germs, or preventable illness of any kind whatsoever. This memo is the next chapter in my strategy of protection.

Today, as I strolled through the suites of the Dedrick law firm, I saw what can only be described as a cockroach. It was a horrifying sight indeed. The creature was walking lazily through our west hallway. Upon seeing me or sensing my presence, it raced at breakneck speed under a door jamb and into an associate’s office.

A few observations and conclusions: 

1.      It may be unfair to assume that the cockroach was retrurning to its “home” as it passed into the associate’s office. Nonetheless, I cannot take any chance that one of our employees is harboring an illegal alien or providing safe harbor for parasites of any kind. The associate attorney has been terminated. Plesae contact my secretary if you are need of an excellent stapler or tape dispenser.

2.      When I first saw the cockroach, it was suspiciously adjacent to our Employee Refreshment Zone (“ERZ”). You will recall that I briefly entertained the petition to establish a full-blown employee kitchen in our offices, one that would allow staff to sit and enjoy a meal that they had brought from “home” or that they had created on our premises. I opposed that “idea,” stating that a kitchen would become in short order (ha ha) a haven for unclean dishes and the vermin that are attracted to them (as well as a location to provide succor to layabouts and scalawags). The appearance of this cockroach demonstrates the wisdom of my decision. Staff currently are encouraged to enjoy and utilize a toaster oven sitting atop reams of copier paper in the hallway, and a “dorm sized” refrigerator next to the storeroom. Even with this limited (but generous) eating facility (ERZ), we have a cockroach. Can we imagine, just for a moment, the legions of vermin that would populate our halls if we were to create a kitchen to rival a restaurant’s or a Kinko’s? Can we? I’m sure that I shiver for all of us at the very thought.

3.      When I last saw the cockroach, it was moving at a pretty good clip. Though it repulsed me, it did remind me that our own staff could pick up their pace a little. We and clients are not paying you to stroll like a retired “mall walker” looking for a Cinnabon shop. Hop to it.

4.      After seeing the cockroach, I exclaimed with surprise (any claim that I “shrieked like a little girl” is popycock and sheer calumny, which I will not brook). A paralegal, sweet thing, came to my aid. However, rather than drop to all fours to retrieve the fleeing insect herself, she asked me why I did not “just step on the bug”? Since our conversation, she has since left the employ of the firm to “spend more time with her family.” But for the benefit of staff still here at the Dedrick law firm, I shall inform you that we all have roles to play in this firm (and in this world), and that there are those of us who wear on their feet the finest footwear available today, the shoes manufactured by the Allen Edmonds Shoe Corporation. (I take the liberty to share with you a bit of information from the Corporation itself, which “takes shoemaking to the level of an art form. Allen Edmonds footwear is handcrafted in Port Washington, Wisconsin and Lewiston, Maine using a 212-step production process.”) Understand that those who wear that esteemed company’s “Leeds” line do not “squash bugs.” In the future, I will expect all those who wear shoes manufactured by the tiny hands of small Chinese children to engage in “bug squashing.”

5.      In response to this incursion, I have engaged the assistance of a “pest elimination service.” They will commence their operations immediately.

6.      Among the choices in pest elimination available to this law firm was a more “humane” and “less environmentally damaging” option. I am sure you will be pleased to hear that I have declined such a foolish and inconsequential choice. In the battle against insect invasion, only the strongest and most powerful weapons will suffice.

7.      The pesticides that will be used in our offices will almost certainly eradicate the vermin. They also may have a variety of side effects, which you are hereby advised to guard against. Animals, plants and human beings under, say, 125 pounds in weight should be especially careful to protect themselves against contact with the pesticides, either through touch or smell. Please speak with your own physician for medical advice.

8.      The pest elimination firm will begin their work in our offices this week. Thank you for your cooperation.*

CD, Justice (ret.)

*I am advised by outside counsel that staff may decline to have their particular work spaces sparayed with chemical pesticides. Though the leadership of this firm would be especially disappointed with any staff person who “opts out” of this sensible science based response to insect invasion, you are hereby advised that you may place a sign in your work space reading “No Spray” if you choose to forfeit the opportunity to be a good colleague.

 

Duckworth, still on his knees next to Dedrick’s trash can, was stunned. This may have been a draft memo, but what kind of insanity was in the works? Was the sonofabitch not going to be happy until he had driven the last sensible person at the firm screaming into the night?

Not for the first time, Drew Duckworth had to question the wisdom of his good friend Tom Paine. He seemed the wisest of the wise when he became the firm’s founding partner. His opinions had always been reasoned, his foundations strong.

But calling on his old colleague Claude Dedrick …Drew didn’t know what to think. At first, he was just mildly surprised, maybe amused. Dedrick could be a tough customer, but maybe that was the exactly the pairing that good firm management called for: a benevolent big picture leader, and a slightly tyrannical but detailed day to day man.

Since the original news, though, Duckworth began to grow concerned that Dedrick was, well, a bit tetched in the head. Drew knew others would find his worry amusing, for Duckworth himself may have been the one to bring “mal” and “adjusted” together like salt and pepper. But maybe it took one to know one, thought Duckworth. He had a surplus of sympathy and patience for the wayward soul and the meandering mind. But for the tyrannical? Not so much.

There were signs that Paine too was suffering some “appointer’s regret.” For it was soon after he took on Dedrick that Paine himself—without consulting his managing partner—hired on the other colleagues as name partners. And later, while Dedrick was still licking his wounds over that slight, Paine hired Sarah Fujii.

At that point, Dedrick put his foot down. He had never met Fujii, and would not tolerate her name being added to the firm’s already growing masthead. Dedrick was disappointed, but acquiesced.

Since then, Dedrick appeared to have been consolidating power. But the missions on which he chose to exercise it flabbergasted Duckworth: pandemics, pests? It was all getting to be a bit much.

Though it was Saturday and Duckworth knew he should be working on his cases, he immediately went to work on his posters. One would adorn his office door and boldly proclaim the injunction “No Spray.” At least he and Rufus would be relatively safe behind the oak door.

The other poster was aimed at his co-workers in the firm. It aimed to educate them a bit about the dangers that lay ahead. He set his Sharpie aside and began surfing the Internet, looking for accurate but fear inducing instructions. Three hours later, he posted his message to his cohorts next to the Employee Refreshment Zone:

CAUTION: PESTICIDE APPLICATION

KEEP OUT!

Danger: Toxic Chemicals

Wear Goggles, Rubber Gloves and Respirator

Insecticide should not be used around food or where children or pets can get into it. Children and pets should never walk or crawl on insecticide-treated surfaces until three days after application.

Avoid breathing sprays or dusts. You may want to wear a handkerchief fitted to your face to prevent excessive inhalation of these materials. If there is a chance of breathing highly poisonous materials, use a mask. Some insecticides may be harmful to persons with asthma.

If emulsifiable concentrates or concentrated wettable powders are spilled on the skin, wash immediately with soap and water. Remove contaminated clothing and launder separately. Thoroughly rinse the washing machine after use.

Any of the following may be present: Anhydrous Ammonia, Fipronil, Hydramethylnon, Prallethrin, Esfenvalerate, MGK-264 synergist, Pyrethrins, MGK-264, Permethrin, Tetramethrin, Phenothrin, Beta Cyfluthrin, Cyfluthrin , Bifenthrin, Abamectrin B1, Hydroprene, Prallethrin. Esfenvalerate, Abamectin, Disodium Octaborate Tetrahydrate, Orthoboric Acid, Acephate, Lambda Cyhalothrin, Deltamethrin, Chlorfenapyr, Sulfuryl fluoride and/or Imidacloprid

Fire Will Cause Toxic Fumes

And Let’s Not Forget Birth Defects

MAKE “NO SPRAY” YOUR SENSIBLE CHOICE

CHAPTER 8 is next.