Authors: Leigh James
© 2015 by Leigh James
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a long look at me and I saw the shadow, the despair, cross his gorgeous face. And then he just looked down.
“You don’t have to do this,” I said. “You don’t have to go out like this.”
He looked back up. “It’s me they want. What I know. What I have,” he said, and picked up his phone.
“They were after
just now,” I said. “They were trying to blow
“That’s why you need to go, to get away from me. And I need to turn myself in. Nothing I can do will save either one of us. Except for that,” he said.
, I thought.
Please. Because if this was going to be the end of it all, it was going to be the sorriest day of my life.
And I wasn’t ready to give up. Not yet. Not like this.
I roughly grabbed the phone out of his hand and clicked it off. “We’re doing this my way,” I said. And when he looked back into my eyes, I saw the man only I knew. The secret one. The one he hid from the world. The one who was worth fighting for.
I knew what they’d done. The people that they’d taken could never come back. And they weren’t going to get away with it.
“We’re not making that sort of exit. If this is how it’s going to be, we’re bringing them
down.” I took both of our cell phones and threw them into the trashcan at the end of the aisle. Then I reached across the table, grabbed his hand and squeezed it. The familiar heat shot through me at his touch; I let it course through my body, strengthening my resolve, giving me courage.
“Walker,” I said. My voice did not shake. “We can do this. Trust me.
“Now, let’s find a way to get that bracelet off you.”
I was sitting on my couch, tuning out the noise of the game Mike had on. I was watching him eat chips. My chips. The expensive, organic, blue corn ones. He only stopped eating to take a sip of his craft, artesian, or whatever the hell it was type of beer he’d brought over. I watched as he wiped chip dust off his face and casually looked around for the napkin he’d never bothered to get.
he said again, exasperated. I tried to pretend I hadn’t been staring at him for a really long time and nodded at him blankly.
“Earth to Nicole. Your phone’s buzzing,”
he said. I jerked my head around and grabbed my phone just as it stopped.
, it read. My heart almost stopped.
I screamed and jumped up, clutching the phone.
Mike asked, looking alarmed. “Is your dad okay?”
one of the partners —
actually, it was THE partner. He just called me and I missed it,”
“So call him back,”
Mike said, dismissing my big-deal phone call. I glared at him while he shoved another chip into his mouth. I checked the time; it was nine-thirty on a Monday night. Probably one of my mergers had blown up, people were screaming about filing suit and breaking contracts, and I’d have to go into the office to clean up the mess. I went into the bathroom, closed the door and took a deep breath. Then I called David Proctor back. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears: I’d only spoken to him once or twice, ever, in the whole history of my employment. And now I’d missed his call.
David Proctor didn’t seem like the kind of guy who liked to be ignored.
he said after the first ring. It sounded like he had a mouthful of food. He continued without preamble. “I need you to come in. Pack a bag. We’ve got a press conference in the morning.”
I said, my head continuing to pound. I only hung up after I realized David already had.
My merger was having a press conference tomorrow?
It didn’t make any sense. I
d have to wait to find out what was really going on.
asked Mike. I raced past him towards my room. “I have to go into the office,”
I said, and felt a rush of relief that I wasn’t going to have sit and watch him eat my chips and mess up my couch. I would also get to skip the part where we’d go to bed together, and I’d pretend to have an orgasm in the missionary position. Again. I went to the bedroom and proceeded to throw on a suit and my glasses; I pulled my long brown hair back into a ponytail, put on a little lipstick, and carefully packed some pajamas; I always kept a clean suit at work for when I slept over, so I didn’t worry about clothes for tomorrow.
I always dressed conservatively for work, and I always wore my glasses. It’s not that I didn’t want to look pretty; it was that I wanted to be taken seriously. “Make your own money,” my mother had said to me. “Don’t be one of those women who has to hitch her cart to a man. Not like me.”
So I was pulling my own cart. In my glasses.
I grabbed more makeup and threw it into my bag, too, even though I had extra makeup, toiletries, stockings, shoes, and jewelry at work. Since I’d started at Proctor & Buchanan, LLC, I’d had the privilege of sleeping there quite a lot.
“Lock up tomorrow, okay?”
I asked Mike, even though I knew he would. Mike was a lot of things, but irresponsible wasn’t one of them. I leaned down and kissed him on the cheek.
“Love you, too,”
I said back, automatically. A wave of guilt crashed over me as I looked at his pale face and fluffy blond hair. He looked like a washed-out version of the former
Phi Gamma Gamma
brother he used to be. Which I guess is exactly what he was. Even though he ran several times a week, his face usually looked puffy in the morning when he buttoned up his shirt, like if you stuck a pin in him, air would hiss out. He had gone from being a gawky high schooler to a gawky fraternity brother at MIT, who interspersed his studying with binge-drinking with his buddies, often from a germ-infested funnel. He’d graduated and calmed down, of course. He wasn’t gawky now, but he was still socially awkward. He masked this by making over a hundred- thousand dollars a year and acting largely superior to most people. Including me.
Even though I was twenty-five, Mike was my first real boyfriend. The first one who slept over regularly during the week; the first who
d seen me in my favorite ratty pink sweatpants, and the first I brought home for family dinner on a regular basis.
My dad didn
t approve. “Smart kid,”
Richie Reynolds had said when he met Mike for the first time. “But he’s too boring for you, hon. He’s gonna drag you down. Who talks about beer like that? Does he think I give a fuck?”
“I doubt it,” I’d said, and rolled my eyes at Richie. But I knew exactly what he meant.
Our relationship had worked in large part because I was always so busy, we were never together too much. That was fine by me. But part of me worried that if I didn’t do something soon, he
was going to end up proposing. Then I’d be screwed. Because what I’d learned about our relationship over the past three years was that, even though Mike was great on paper, in real life, he wasn’t measuring up. His sweatshirts and sports statistics and friends from MIT were boring. Our sex was yawn-worthy, like a mediocre sitcom that left you wondering how the series got optioned in the first place.
And the term “craft beer” — which Mike always insisted on drinking, and kept dragging me to certain restaurants to try
had suddenly become inherently, insidiously annoying to me. He was starting to plan weekend trips around micro-breweries he wanted to visit.
Just fucking shoot me.
As I left, I heard him yell at something at the game and I felt another pang of guilt. Mike was boring, and the micro-breweries he dragged me to too often smelled like mold spores, but he was reliable, and that’s what I’d wanted when I started dating him. I shouldn’t take that out on him.
Still, I was thrilled to get into a cab and go to work, even though it was almost bedtime.
I’ll sleep when I’m dead,
I thought, an old phrase we often used in law school, when we were still drinking coffee at midnight, studying for exams.
But at the rate I was going, I was probably going to be sleeping alone until I was dead
. The thought didn’t bother me as much as it probably should.
a warm diet soda and my laptop from my office and headed quickly to the conference room. I was surprised to find two of the other associates, Mandy and Alexa, already waiting. I wasn’t exactly close with either of them, but out of the two, I vastly preferred Mandy. She was curvy and had the sort of perpetually, naturally bronzed skin that would never wrinkle. She always invited me out with all of the other associates, trying to include me, even though I usually had some excuse. We went for Indian buffet sometimes at lunch. She was probably the closest thing I had to a friend these days; she slept at the office almost as much as I did, so she was practically my roommate.
Next to Mandy sat Alexa Blake. She had the honor of being one of my most un-favorite people at Proctor. A state senator’s daughter, she acted like this random advantage, coupled with her ridiculously good looks, entitled her to all sorts of things, like the best assignments and the newest office supplies and the choicest pastries at early morning meetings. Alexa had professionally-colored blond hair that she wore in a short, chic bob. Although I’d never had the opportunity to inspect her that closely, I’d heard that she’d had a nose job and that her breasts had been tastefully augmented from an A to an acceptable, non-slutty C. Her watch was a gold Rolex, a gift from her father —
just like her plastic surgery and her fully-paid-for law school tuition. She wore insanely expensive clothes from one of the stores on Newbury Street that I was too afraid to go into. But somehow, amidst her enormous diamond studs, her respectable C-cups, expensive watch, and fancy suits, Alexa still managed to look slutty.
I never could manage that, even if I tried. I sort of admired her for it.
“Hey,” Alexa said to me. “Do
know what’s going on?”
I shook my head. “I thought my merger blew up, but that can’t be it.”
“Duh,” Alexa said.
I felt deflated. Alexa always made me feel lacking. Sometimes she looked at me like I was some sort of wilted salad, when what she really wanted was rare steak au poivre.
“Well, did they tell
anything?” I asked.
She shook her head ‘no’ and bounced her leg up and down nervously. She clicked and un-clicked her pen. “All I heard were the words ‘press conference,’” she said. “But I can’t think of anything we’ve got going right now that could blow up like that. It’s gotta be something new.”
That’s when David Proctor himself sailed through the door. He was tall and thin, with a tuft of white hair on his head, a white mustache and round eyeglasses. He was flanked by Norris Phaland, one of the other senior partners. Most, if not all, of the senior partners were old, male, and balding. They were also excessively tan, even during the winter. David and Norris were no exception — even their balding heads were tan. I’d never worked with either of them before; David stayed mostly in his office on the phone, billing exorbitant sums to his clients, and Norris kept mostly to himself. Which I appreciated. Norris Phaland was not a friendly man. His tan skin was bumpy and he moved slowly but purposefully, doling out intermittent disapproving glares at the associates and secretaries. He was like a leathered orange crocodile in an Armani suit, lumpy and bumpy and in a perpetually sour mood, on his way to a meeting to ruin your life.
“Ladies,” David Proctor said, nodding and smiling at us. I nodded back, trying to make eye contact with him, because I was pretty sure he didn’t actually know who I was. “I need you to turn off your computers and your phones, please.” Mandy, Alexa and I looked at each other, shocked, for a nanosecond. They never told us to turn off our cell phones, except in court. They wanted us to be available, all day, every day.
David paced at the front of room, his hands in his pockets. “We’ve been retained by a high-profile client,” he said. “The client has been notified that he’s about to be indicted by a Federal grand jury on multiple charges. He’s being charged tomorrow morning at nine. We’re having a follow-up press conference afterwards, at the courthouse.”
The three of us looked at him expectantly. David Proctor started pacing again while Norris inspected his nails.
“It’s Broden Walker,” David said, stopping for a moment and looking at us. “The CEO of Blue Securities.”
My heart stopped for a second.
Blue Securities was a security and intelligence company that held thousands of government contracts. Walker was more like a rockstar than a private-sector CEO: tall, muscular, and drop-dead gorgeous, with thick black hair and wide-set blue eyes, he made a point of dating hot young actresses, models, and singers. He’d been photographed for all the weekly gossip magazines. His most recent pictures had shown him on the beach with a starlet named Minky Lucca. She was wearing a minuscule yellow bikini and he was grabbing her ass in broad daylight. I remember studying that picture, feeling jealous; she looked gorgeous and sexy and like she really enjoyed that hand on her ass. I couldn’t blame her. And Walker, he’d looked like he didn’t have a care in the world.
I bet he wished he was still on that beach. Instead of about to lose his company.
Magazine’s Most Eligible Bachelor?” Alexa squealed. She looked stunned. And excited. Like she might need to fan herself.
David Proctor blew out a deep breath and stopped pacing. “Yes — he was on the cover of
Magazine a couple of months ago. Boston’s top bachelor, or something.”
“After it came out, they actually wanted him for that dating reality show,” Alexa said, excitedly, “but he turned them down.”
“You don’t say,” David said, looking at Alexa with a neutral expression on his face. I’d heard he was friends with Alexa’s father, the senator. If I let myself be petty, I would let myself believe that Alexa’s father was the only reason she’d been hired. But alas, Alexa had graduated number three from Harvard Law. Right in front of Mandy.
But I was being a hypocrite and I knew it; I’d read all about Walker. First I’d read a profile of him in the
Wall Street Journal
, about how he’d leveraged his background in the military into a multi-billion dollar security company. But I’d also seen the profile in
Magazine — and every single one of the gossip magazines. Not that I’d ever admit to it.
“Blue Securities?” I asked David now, trying to stay on topic. “They’re one of the top ten companies in Boston. What’d he do?”
“Let’s remember that he’s been
of doing something. Or a whole lot of
. He hasn’t been found guilty yet,” David said, and I felt my face flame at my rookie mistake.
Innocent until proven guilty.
“If we do our jobs, he won’t be convicted. But he’s in serious trouble. He’s being indicted on Federal racketeering charges. In addition to that, they’re bringing counts of grand larceny, fraud, and conspiracy. If he gets convicted of any of them, it could be a very lengthy prison sentence,” he said, beginning to pace again. He looked back at me. “You’re right about Blue. It’s an enormous, highly profitable company. There’s a lot at stake here.”
We sat there, considering our hot new client and his precarious situation. My heart thudded in my chest — we were going to have the biggest, hottest case in Boston. Maybe even in the whole country. There were going to be cameras, reporters, Op-Ed pieces about corporate responsibility. This was the big time, and I was not sure that I was ready for it.
“He’s being indicted in the morning?” Mandy asked. David nodded. “What’s the statement you’re going to make?”