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 – “
“ – 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.