Day 14 in my novel-in-a-month effort

Chapter 14: Forecasting

In order to render aid to distressed persons, vessels, and aircraft on and under the high seas and on and under the waters over which the United States has jurisdiction and in order to render aid to persons and property imperiled by flood, the Coast Guard may … render aid to persons and protect and save property at any time and at any place at which Coast Guard facilities and personnel are available and can be effectively utilized.

—Title 14, United States Code, Coast Guard, Functions and Powers, Saving Life and Property

The day was bright, clear and warm as Tom Paine docked his 1970 Toyota Land Cruiser in the parking spot. He was pleased and excited that today, all the staff of the firm would join together in a day of relaxation aboard the S.S. Andrea Doria on Tempe Town Lake. Tom was old enough to know that the ship name was a bad omen, so he had assumed the words written on his order form were a rental employee’s version of a joke.

Tom knew that the law firm’s coherence had gotten off to a rocky start, and he was hoping today could go a long ways toward mending some fences. He still wasn’t ready to admit that Claude Dedrick had been a less than inspired choice to lead men and women. He still felt that Claude’s organization skills and focus on the bottom line were what a successful firm needed. Still and all, Claude’s actions – or inactions – sometimes tried the patience of even the easy going Paine.

But he also knew that his partners were not exactly going easy on the tactless Dedrick. And Tom had to blame himself, at least a bit, for going behind Claude’s back to hire people and make decisions. Today, he hoped would be the first step in rebuilding those bridges.

He climbed out of his car and strolled into Vox Coffehouse. Because he was headed straight to the lake this morning, rather than to his office as he always did far earlier in the morning, he had decided to treat himself at a favorite haunt of his.

Located on Central Avenue, Vox was a bright spot of modern vibe, surrounded by a city that thrived on suburban values. As such, it was fantastically successful, catering to a crowd who valued delicious coffee, freshly roasted, in a setting that hinted at Seattle if you squinted. Tom had enjoyed Vox since it had opened its doors, but had really started coming after seeing a series of photos shot in the coffee house, which appeared in the State Bar magazine. The story had featured the winners of the pub’s annual arts competition, and Vox had never looked better (“Damn, Arizona Attorney is a good magazine,” Tom thought to himself). In the brief period of Tom’s retirement, he had spent even more time here, and he was glad that he was beginning to fold Vox back into his schedule.

As he waited in line, Tom admired the art work that lined the walls. He also smiled when he saw the light table transformed into a reading table, and the eclectic mid century modern furniture that the denizens parked themselves in. If he hadn’t such a great day planned with his colleagues, he would have settled in for the morning.

Ahead of him in line, Tom noticed, was a well known restaurateur, one of whose eateries shared the building with Vox. A gregarious and friendly fella, he was as well known for his courtesy and kindnesses as he was for his caprese sandwich on hand made bread.

“How are you this morning?” the chef asked Tom when he saw him, sounding like a long lost friend rather than a man who had seen Tom about three times in his life.

“Fantastic,” said Tom. “Couldn’t be better.”

“No suit today?”

Tom was pleased and surprised that the other man recalled his usual dress.

“No,” said Tom. “The whole office is going out on Tempe Town Lake today.”

“Reservoir,” said the other man.

“Excuse me?” said Tom.

“It’s not really a lake,” said the chef. “They flooded a dry lakebed, so it’s a man made reservoir.”

“Well, that’s true, I guess,” said Tom. “But it sure is beautiful.”

“Maybe,” said the other. “But it’s not the cleanest tub of swill. I wouldn’t fall in if I were you.”

With that, the chef mimed a drowning man, eyes rolling – Tom’s second bad omen of the day. He saw with relief that it was almost his turn to order.

“What are you getting there?” Tom asked, eyeing his cohort’s plate of what looked like sugary goodness.

“It’s a pecan yum yum,” he answered. “It will change your life.”

Tom thought that might be overselling it a tad, but he was sufficiently attracted that he purchased one for himself.

As he paid, he said, “I must be getting old. When I was younger and started my day with a pecan yum yum, it meant something completely different.”

The chef laughed. “That’s for sure, but this is one yum yum that will blow your mind.”

As Tom got in his car and pointed it toward Tempe, he took the first bite of his yum yum, scattering nuts and crumbs onto his seat. He could taste right away that his line sharer’s review had been accurate. Tom resisted the urge to do a U-turn to buy a bag of these.

That, Tom Paine decided, was the most recent and most accurate omen of the day. All else passed into insignificance as the confection melted on his tongue. This day will be a success, Paine thought. What else could it be?


Chapter 15: After the Mast

The National Weather Service shall consist of such civilian employees as Congress may annually provide for and as may be necessary to properly perform the duties devolving on said Service by law.

—Title 15, United States Code, Commerce and Trade, National Weather Service,  Employees

National Weather Service part-time employees, appointed by designation or otherwise under regulations of the Director of the Office of Personnel Management for observational work, may perform odd jobs in the installation, repair, improvement, alteration, cleaning, or removal of Government property and receive compensation therefor under regulations to be prescribed by the Secretary of Commerce.

—Title 15, United States Code, Commerce and Trade, National Weather Service,  Odd jobs for part-time employees

Things at Tempe Town Lake began going sideways almost from the first moment staff arrived for their day of enforced revelry.

First, storm clouds rolled in from the east. Highly unlikely for late June, they hung above the partygoers like a great uncle notorious for his drinking. He kept things interesting, but he could turn brutal in a moment.

Second, Tom Paine discovered that the ship name was not Andrea Doria (the good news), but that the employee who had made the reservations had made a mistake: They had no water craft large enough to host the entire Dedrick law firm party. The best they could do was to provide two craft, each capable of carrying 12 “souls.”

(Paine knew that “souls” was a term that nautical and aeronautical experts liked to bandy about, as a sign of their elite status. But it had a foreboding sound in his ear.)

Having no alternative, Tom Paine agreed to the two craft idea, knowing that it would complicate his efforts to unify a fragmented firm.

The final event that suggested the party may run aground or strike an iceberg was the arrival of Claude Dedrick. Everyone else had parked in the public parking spaces, about two hundred yards west. Only Dedrick nosed his Mercedes onto the dock and parked directly alongside the larger of the two boats. The wooden dock dipped noticeably under the additional weight.

As Dedrick emerged from the car’s leather cabin, those on the craft and on the dock smiled and laughed, for Dedrick had arrived dressed in the regalia of a British Navy officer. Think Lord Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar. As he rose to his full height of five foot two inches, he donned a feathered tricorner hat.

Passers-by may have thought Dedrick was part of a drama troupe, but law firm colleagues knew that his attire was just the latest chapter in Dedrick’s protest against all staff- and team building activities, generally, and this party, specifically.

Weeks ago, when Tom Paine had broached the idea, Dedrick had scoffed, thinking that his old friend was joking. But Paine was, well, pained by that mockery, which had cemented the party as an idea in his mind, when before it had just been a notion. Paine informed his partners that the firm was moving forward with the plan, and that was that. Duckworth and Castro, unaccustomed to the founding partner’s acting so decisively, were pleased at the prospect. But Dedrick was dismissive, and showed it.

In the weeks leading up to the event, the most quiet of offices – Dedrick’s – became the source for the lilting strains of sea chanties, emanating loudly from CDs he had ordered his secretary to purchase.

Dedrick, who never passed on an opportunity to deride the presence of a microwave oven in the hallway, found it an ideal spot to site a cheaply constructed ship in a bottle. Next to it, he duct taped a stuffed parrot.

Tom Paine had expected – or perhaps had hoped – that Claude would cap off his protest by merely avoiding the event altogether. That would have prevented one bridge from being rebuilt, but at least it would avoid a battle on the high seas.

Claude Dedrick’s appearance as Lord Nelson ended that meager bit of Tom’s hope. He understood that they were in for it. His only remaining sliver of optimism dangled off the rickety hook that maybe Dedrick felt he had won simply by dressing as he had. Tom could compliment Claude on his outfit, praise him for his commitment to an ideal – and perhaps that would be the end of it.

Part of Tom’s wish came true. When Claude Dedrick boarded – after insisting that the polo clad “captain” grant him permission to board in a stentorian voice – he was in a supremely good mood. That worried Paine.

Dedrick’s mood wasn’t even tarnished by the dock worker telling him he’d have to move his car.

“Certainly not, my good man,” was all Dedrick would say. Perhaps it was the power and majesty of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, or perhaps it was Dedrick’s manic smile, but the dock worker simply shrugged, said “OK, whatever you say,” and sloughed off.

The food and drink had already been loaded aboard, so all that was left was to decide was how to divide up the staff between the two boats.

Dedrick sat quietly at the bow, uninterested in the conversation and the recommendations that ensued. But two preferences seemed to rise to the surface.

First, it appeared clear that the captains and crew of each boat would have liked Sarah Fujii to join them. She smiled and reminded herself to wear a halter top more often.

Second, Tom Paine had returned to indecision, knowing only that he really wished everyone could be together. He had never created a contingency plan that included division, and he was clearly tortured to relegate some staff to one boat and some to another.

Third, the staff cared very little either way. Most were there because this was a mandatory firm outing, and they were merely calculating how close to noon it had to get before it was appropriate to order an alcoholic drink. Without any consultation at all, most had arrived at 10:30 a.m. as a reasonable solution.

Finally, Lord Nelson rose from his seat and clambered atop its plasticized cushion so that he could be better seen.

“I shall now use my index finger to indicate those people who shall debark from this craft and join their compatriates on the other craft.”

Then, with the certainty that made “England” the “United Kingdom,” he silently pointed to person after person. Also without a word, they clambered down the gangplank, inched carefully between his Mercedes and the water’s edge, and boarded the second boat.

The resulting populations were far more along the lines of a world Dedrick preferred than a world Paine aspired to. Remaining on the larger craft were all of the partners, two of the associate attorneys, and a smattering of senior staff. The other boat was now populated by people Dedrick had never in his life spoken a word to. He also sent packing a crewman who had been trying to strike up a conversation with Sarah Fujii, as well as an associate who had once asked for “help on a project.”

Claude Dedrick then ordered the two captains to push off. Again, recognizing a higher authority, they did so without question. The Dedrick law firm Lakestravaganza had begun.

CHAPTER 16 is next.