Authors: Kim Linwood
“Mr. Cooper, no one is
here,” I say, trying to calm him down and get him back on track.
“However, I can’t deny that it’s a difficult case. There’s a lot of documentation stacked against you, and you haven’t been able to present us with any proof that their information is incorrect.”
Cooper sits back, arching his fat fingers over his belly. “I’m a businessman, Mr. Riordan. Times are tough. We all do what’s necessary to stay afloat.” He stuffs his cigar into his mouth for a moment before he remembers himself and pulls it back out. “You’re young, but this is a family operation. I’m sure you know what I mean. Everyone cuts a few corners here and there. Business as usual, am I right? Not like
worth all the news coverage.”
Claire’s been surprisingly quiet, but I can practically feel her tense a little bit more for every word that comes out of Cooper’s mouth. It’s like a crank gets turned every time he speaks, and I’m just waiting for the rope to fucking snap.
I wouldn’t blame her. From what she said about her dad, I’m impressed she’s lasted this long. I want to punch him and I don’t have half the cause she does.
Best to get him out of here before one of us loses the battle with self-control.
“Well, Mr. Cooper, there’s business as usual and then there’s legitimate grounds for a class action lawsuit. I’m not surprised the press is all over this. Your company employs a lot of people locally, so of course there’re going to be concerns. If the plaintiff’s attorney does their job, there’s very little we’re going to be able to do without evidence to prove that they’re wrong, or at least exaggerating. We’ll do our best to keep the news out of it, and if that’s not possible, to mitigate the damage.”
His pudgy face stares at me blankly. “Are you sure there isn’t anyone we can just pay to make this all go away?”
Jesus fucking Christ on a stick. I look to the ceiling for inspiration and try again. “Mr. Cooper, I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. I’m sure you know as well as I that—”
“Maybe you should consider paying that money to the employees who deserve it.” They’re the first words Claire’s said since we entered the meeting, and while I agree with every one of them, she’s basically telling Cooper to give up and fuck off.
Cooper’s little pig eyes go about as wide as they can, which isn’t very. “I beg your pardon?”
Time to mitigate our own damage. “Claire. We’ll discuss it after—”
She shakes her head, red curls bouncing. “I spent all yesterday and last night until almost five in the morning reading over your documentation. The most reasonable thing for you to do would be to allow us to go to their representatives and find out what sort of deal we could reach.”
She stops and looks at me, eyes hard and focused. “He asked if there was someone we could pay to make it go away. I’m simply giving him his options.”
Great, fucking great. “Come with me.” I turn to Cooper. “Please excuse us for a few minutes. I’ll send someone in to get you coffee or anything else you might want. We’ll only be a moment.”
Cooper waves his hand magnanimously, like a king granting a favor. “Interns, right? Go feed her a little dick, I find that reminds them to keep their mouths shut.”
My fist clenches and I think there’s a migraine forming behind my eye. I knew he was bad, but I’m starting to think that for once the complaint is actually underestimating the extent of the situation.
I guide Claire with my hand at her back, pushing her ahead of me out into the hall. She stays quiet, but her lips are pressed tightly together like she’s just barely keeping it in. Knowing her, I’m surprised she’s made it this far. Dragging her outside hearing range, I pull her into Dad’s executive meeting room. No one’s going to disturb us here.
The door closes, and she turns on me like a wild beast. “Did you hear that?
who we’re defending. You can’t seriously tell me that you’re just going to sit there and listen to the bullshit that lousy excuse for a man is spouting. He’s not even pretending to be innocent. He just wants to cover it up! And,
feed me dick!
“Claire. He’s our client. Assholes have the right to defend themselves too. You and I both know a settlement would be in his best interests, but he’s been clear from the start that he’d rather lose than negotiate. We’ll do our best, and hopefully figure something out to make everyone at least sort of happy. It’s how the system works.” I can’t believe I’m telling her to calm down when I want to beat his face in for what he just said about her.
Being the mature one sucks.
She growls in frustration. “I’ve
to see your side of it, but I can’t. Fighting people like him is exactly why I wanted to become an attorney in the first place.”
Now that she’s told me a little about her dad, her career choice seems obvious. Pissing her off enough to make her quit—and hopefully take mommy dearest with her—seems like it would be in my best interests, but I don’t actually want to do it. She’s smart, funny, and from what I’ve seen so far, will probably make a damn good lawyer.
I love making her angry, but not like this. This is fucked up.
“Listen, I can’t just kick him out. They’ve hired us, and as a company we’ve taken on the assignment. If you don’t get that, you’ll never make it far enough in the business to get to do what you want.” She’s got to understand that, right? That this isn’t about what I believe in, it’s a job.
She plops into one of the black leather chairs, fuming. “This sucks.”
I nod in agreement. “There are hundreds of these cases every year. You’re not going to be able to save all of them.” I want to stuff the words back in my mouth when I see the horrified look on her face. “I don’t mean
do hundreds of these, I mean the court system in general. No matter where you go, things like this are going to happen. See it as a chance to learn. How are you going to know how to fight back if you don’t know how these people operate under the hood? It’s an opportunity.”
She looks at me strangely. “You sound like my mother.”
“Jesus Christ.” I rub my face with my hands. “You can do this. And when you’ve got your own thing going, you’re going to be bringing these fuckers down left, right and center. They’ll crash and burn, and it’ll be all you. Claire ‘The Badass’ Anderson.”
“That’s a really crappy nickname.” Her face softens for a moment. “But for being an asshole, you say some nice things sometimes.” She takes a deep breath and pulls herself back together. “Alright. Let’s do this.”
“Good, but just for the record.” I open the door for her. “If he makes another comment about where I should stick my dick? I’m going to teach him a lesson about keeping
Claire laughs. “My hero.”
“I’ll find a way for you to thank me later.” I grin at the playful punch she lands on my arm.
The first thing I notice when we get back to the room is the acrid smell of cigar smoke. Oh fucking hell. “Mr. Cooper, I’m afraid there’s no smoking in this building.”
He looks up, his eyes going wide, like a schoolkid caught with his hand in a cookie jar. With a practiced motion, he grabs a sheet of paper from his documentation, folds it up tightly into a little cup and then quickly stumps his cigar in it. Miraculously, it doesn’t catch. He at least has the grace to look a little embarrassed. “Sorry. It was just for a moment.”
I sigh. The cigar is probably the least offensive thing he’s done all day and
what he apologizes for. Let’s get this over with. Claire takes the chair next to me. Her eyes are tight, but she’s shutting up, and that’s all I ask right now.
“That was quick. A pretty thing like her, I suppose I wouldn’t take long either.” Cooper indicates Claire with a nod of his head.
I look him right in the eyes, which are practically glowing with what he’s imagining Claire doing. “Ms. Anderson is a trusted employee of this firm and she is assisting me in this case. We’re going to do our best to ensure a favorable outcome for you and your company, Mr. Cooper, but if you make another comment like that again, I’m going to break your face. Do we understand each other?”
Dad’s going to fucking kill me, but I have my limits.
Cooper recoils like I’ve already hit him. “Jesus fuck. Is this how you treat all your customers? One of you insults me, then the other threatens me? What is this shit?”
He’s such a caricature of a sleazy businessman that I find it hard not to laugh.
“Sir, I’m only asking for a minimum of respect. Quite frankly, given your situation, you are lucky we’re willing to work with you. There will be no more outbursts from Ms. Anderson, and I apologize for those, but we’re all professionals here and we expect to be treated as such. You respect us, we respect you. Otherwise... I become unhappy. Alright?”
When this meeting is over I’m going to have to ask Carl to get someone to scrub down the room. The cigar is bad enough, but something about Cooper makes me want to bleach everything he’s touched.
Cooper nods quickly. He’s a bully, but like most bullies, when he meets a bigger one, he backs down. And I’m by far the biggest bully in the room. “Alright. Fine. So long as you get me off the hook.”
I lean back. “I think we’re done here. Unless you have anything else to add, we’ll end this meeting now, and get back to you next week. Deal?”
Cooper gets out of his chair, obviously eager to get out of here. “Deal. I’ll expect some results then.” He puts out his hand, and against my better judgment, I take it. It’s like shaking hands with a cold dead fish. I’m going to wash my hands after this.
The door shuts behind him and I breathe a sigh of relief. “Well, I feel like a shower. How about you?”
Claire leans back, shoulders relaxing for the first time in a couple of hours. “I think that’s the first thing I’ve agreed with you on all day.”
“You know, if you’re really serious about having a positive impact...”
She looks at me curiously. “Huh?”
“Forget it, it’s probably too much for you.”
“No really, what?” Claire’s expression is so serious I almost feel bad.
“There’s a gym downstairs, and since water conservation is one of the most important issues facing the world today, I was thinking maybe a joint effort was in order.”
“What are you—Declan!” She throws a pen at me, but it was worth it to see her smile again after the shitty afternoon we’ve had. “In your wettest dreams.”
“Yours and mine both, little sis.”
Her mouth drops open, but she doesn’t deny it.
And with that, I open the door and leave the room.
Fifty-fourth floor, we meet again.
I heft the box of donuts I picked up on the way to work, trying to avoid getting powdered sugar all over myself. Every day that shop has tempted me when I walked by, but it’s finally Friday, and I’ve more than earned a treat.
Massive overtime and dealing with Declan every day? I should eat the whole box.
Carl must have some sort of supernatural donut sense, because he’s already staring at the box when the door opens. He glances briefly up at my face before looking back down. “Are those... for sharing?”
I laugh. “Yeah, that was the idea. Invitation only though. If word gets around too far, there won’t be any left for me.”
“No, that would be a tragedy.” He looks at me with a grin. “I’ll keep quiet about it... for a price.”
With a smile I open the box and let him get first pick. He pulls out a cruller and takes an appreciative bite. “Ms. Ander—Claire, I think you will go far in this firm.”
“Thank you, Carl.” Yep, not above bribing the locals. “I’m considering making this a regular Friday thing. You’ll be the first to know.”
He laughs, straightening his thick glasses. “That sounds wonderful.”
“Alright, I should get to my desk. Lots to do.” I close the lid, ignoring his pout as he watches the donuts disappear.
He chews slowly, and swallows. “Wait, before you go.”
I cock my head, knowing what’s coming. “Yeah?”
“Why do they bury lawyers under 20 feet of dirt?”
Whatever the answer is, I know it’s going to be horrible. “No idea, Carl.”
“Because deep down, they're really good people.” He cackles at his own joke.
I shake my head and walk off to my desk. One day I’ll ask him whether he really dislikes lawyers, but it’s almost more fun not to know.
The door to Declan’s office is open when I get there, but he doesn’t seem to be in. I can deal with a morning of peace and quiet. I set the donuts down, plop into my chair and let my gaze settle on the picture of me and Dad.
Part of the reason I’ve been working so hard is so I don’t have to think. Well, that, and Declan’s given me so much research to do I’m not sure I’ll get it done if I have all summer. Still, I haven’t really come to terms with the case yet, and I can’t help feeling like I’m betraying his memory.
Half an hour later, Declan arrives and walks right by my desk, grabbing a Boston creme on his way to his office. Not even so much as a hi.
“Hey! How do you even know you’re allowed to take one?” I snap at him.
His head pops back out through the doorway. “I just figured you wouldn’t bring donuts to school if you didn’t have enough for the whole class.” He takes a bite, licking away the filling that spills out onto his thumb. “You weren’t planning on eating them all yourself, were you?”
I try not to think too much about how I’d like to be the one to lick that off instead. “No, but a hi would’ve been nice.”
“Oh. Hi.” He shrugs and disappears into his office, closing the door behind him.
He’s been more bearable since our meeting with Cooper, but maybe that’s just because we’ve been too busy to bother each other as much. I still can’t tell if he’s a nice guy with moments of jerk, or a jerk with moments of nice.
My phone buzzes. I don’t even bother to look. Messages have been ticking in from Michael all morning.
I <3 u.
I miss you.
Please call me.
I can’t let you go.