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Benjamin Kincaid glanced at his watch.
It was 9:05. Well, the recruiting coordinator had warned him that orientation might start late. Ben's stomach growled—rather loudly. The other young lawyers looked up. Ben looked away, as if he had heard the rumbling noise somewhere on his far left. Should've gotten up early enough to fix breakfast, he thought. Professionals always eat breakfast. Strong body, strong mind, and all that. But he hadn't risen until the third blast of the snooze alarm; he couldn't risk being late on the first day of work, so he had to do without.
He drummed his fingers on a tabletop. A gnawing sensation, unrelated to hunger, was eating away at the pit of his stomach. He felt uneasy, and he didn't know why.
He surveyed the room. The new class of associates at Raven, Tucker & Tubb were sitting in the office lobby, discreetly appraising one another. Six of them were men; two were women. The men wore suits that came in two colors: blue or gray, with the occasional daring leap to blue-gray or perhaps blue with a gray pinstripe. Every shirt was stiff, button-down, and white. The women were dressed in complex pseudo-suits with scarf ties and high-collar blouses; the kind of suit, Ben supposed, that didn't threaten male colleagues, probably because women don't look very good in them.
There was no conversation. Each young lawyer watched and waited.
Ben glanced at the thin, toothy young man in the gray suit sitting next to him.
"You suppose they've forgotten about us?" the man asked.
Ben smiled faintly. "I doubt it. They're just busy. This is a very busy law firm." What a pompous thing to say, Ben thought, immediately embarrassed by his third-rate small talk. As if he knew anything about the work load at Raven, Tucker & Tubb.
"That's a fact," the young man agreed. He had a drawn, pasty-white face, close-cropped brown hair, and a wispy beard covering a bad complexion. Every whisker was working overtime to create the illusion of a full beard. "Productivity is up by an average of eighteen percent, with variances for different departments. Litigation is up almost twenty-five percent; environmental, of course, is in the sewer. Gross revenues are up half a million dollars over the previous fiscal year. Given the current economic slump in the Southwest, that's an extremely impressive financial performance."
Ben stared at him. "How do you know these things?"
"Oh, I've done my research. I had numerous offers of employment, you know. I was in a position to be selective." Ben was relieved to find his brief moment of pomposity completely eclipsed. "I see. By the way, my name is Ben Kincaid."
"Nice to meet you. I'm Alvin Hager." Alvin took Ben's hand and gave it a nerve-dulling handshake. "Maybe we'll get to work together. Are you a Tulsa native?"
"No," Ben replied. "Just moved."
"Got any family here?"
"No. Well, not really. A brother-in-law. Ex-brother-in-law, actually. He's a cop."
"Left Mom and Pop back home?"
"Mom and—" He closed his eyes for a moment, then began again. "How about you? Any family in town?"
"No," Alvin answered. "I'm on my own. Of course, I wanted it that way. I want to pull myself up by my own bootstraps, or not at all."
"Excuse me, but didn't you used to work at the D.A.'s office in Oklahoma City?"
Ben turned and saw a brown-haired woman in her mid-twenties wearing rectangular tortoiseshell eyeglasses.
"Yes, I worked with the district attorney," Ben answered. "How did you know?"
The woman leaned forward. She was dressed in a two-piece gray suit with a paisley scarf wrapped tightly around her neck and a small ivory cameo in the center. Ben wondered if it was difficult for her to talk with a scarf and cameo clutching her throat. "I was clerking at the public defender's office during my third year of law school. I was at the D.A.'s all the time. What made you decide to leave and go into private practice?"
"Oh ..." Ben searched for words but didn't find any. "A variety of factors."
"Like forty-eight K a year, right?" Alvin said, grinning. "C'mon, Ben, we're co-workers now. You can play straight with us. We understand."
Ben smiled pleasantly but said nothing.
"I am incredibly ill-mannered," the woman said abruptly, slapping herself on the side of her head. "I haven't even introduced myself. My name is"—she hesitated—"Marianne Gunnerson." She shook hands with Ben and Alvin. "Tell me, guys, confidentially. Do you think Marianne is okay? I mean, for a name."
Ben looked at Alvin out the corner of his eye, then back at Marianne. "It's ... your name, isn't it?" he said.
"But don't you think it's too feminine? I mean, for a lawyer." She picked up a magazine from the coffee table and rolled it into a tube shape. "I don't think it's a good lawyer name."
"What would be a good lawyer name?" Ben asked, genuinely curious.
"Oh, I don't know," she said. She began to beat time on the coffee table with the tubed magazine. "Lilian. Claire. Margaret, maybe."
"Forget Margaret," Alvin said. "The firm already has two Margarets. Three, if you count middle names. You'd be lost in the shuffle."
Ben peered at him in amazement.
"Really?" Marianne said. "That's interesting. I didn't know that." She reversed the magazine and tubed it in the other direction. "This probably seems inane to you guys, but they're going to ask us what name we want written on our doorplates today, and I don't know what to say. What are they going to think of a lawyer who can't even tell them her name?"
Ben couldn't imagine a suitable answer.
"Hey, can I join this conversation? I've stared at the rug for about as long as I can stand."
Ben turned and saw another of the new associates, a tall, good-looking man, perhaps a few years younger than himself. His hair was dark, but his face had a bronze cast. He was wearing a blue suit, very similar to Ben's, with a white handkerchief in his breast pocket. He was carrying a white camel's hair overcoat.
His handshake was firm but not crippling; "I'm Greg Hillerman," he said. The other three associates introduced themselves.
"I don't remember coming across your name in my research," Alvin said. "Are you a TU graduate?"
Greg smiled a perfect smile. He had dimples on both cheeks. If the law didn't work out for him, Ben thought, he could get work as a male model, or perhaps a game-show host. "No, I went to law school at UT Austin. Undergrad at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque."
"Oh, an out-of-state hire," Alvin said. "That explains it."
"I did a year of undergraduate at UNM," Ben said.
"Really?" Greg smiled that marvelous smile again. "Frat man?"
"No. Well, not for long, anyway."
"You hang out with any frat guys?"
"Actually, I tried to have as little to do with that crowd as possible." Ben hoped he didn't sound rude. He didn't want to alienate the one relatively normal person he had met so far.
"Personally, I like Marianne," Greg said, shifting his attention to her. Marianne's eyes brightened. "You think it sounds professional?" she asked.
"No, it reminds me of that good-looking wench Gilligan's Island. Man, I used to love her."
Marianne was not amused.
By 9:15, Ben had examined every detail of the Raven, Tucker & Tubb reception area with microscopic scrutiny. The lobby was decorated in a style that seemed both ornate and direct, the look of a firm that wanted to tell its clients it was both no-nonsense and expensive. Dark brown hardwood floors with rich burgundy accent rugs. A white wool sofa defining a continuous semicircle around the entire reception area. And in the center of it all, the bronze, human-size statue of Justice, a tall woman dressed in a toga and a blindfold, with her scales balanced in perfect equanimity.
"This really isn't how I envisioned spending my first day at work," Ben said, glancing again at his watch.
Greg arched an eyebrow. "You were expecting maybe tea and crumpets, with a personal address from Arthur Raven?"
"Not likely. Raven is in semiretirement," Alvin informed them. "Of counsel."
"Thank you for setting us straight, Alvin." Greg winked quickly at Ben.
"Do you know who your supervising attorney is, Alvin?" Ben asked.
"Yes. Thomas Seacrest."
"How did you find that out?"
"Well, I conducted an analysis of likely candidates, based upon the firm's historical distribution of assimilation assignments."
Ben took a deep breath. "Yes, but how did you find out?"
Alvin cocked his head slightly. "I asked the recruiting coordinator on thirty-nine."
Ben suppressed a smile. "Have you checked in with your supervisor?"
"Yes," Alvin said, leaning back against the sofa. "I got here early."
"Yeah, well, I didn't. I think I'll run upstairs for a moment and find out who mine is. Don't let them start without me."
"You got it, buddy." Alvin slapped Ben on the back as he rose. Whatta guy, Ben thought.
Ben walked to the elevator bank and pushed the UP button. He was relieved to be out of the reception area. Despite the apparent amiability, the tension in there was thicker than the statue of Justice. Eight overambitious cauldrons waiting to spew forth their juices and prove themselves. What a nightmare.
The elevator did not come. It seemed foolish to wait for an elevator just to go up one floor, especially when orientation might start at any moment. Ben opened a door to the right of the elevators. It was the stairwell. He climbed the flight of stairs leading to the thirty-ninth floor and tried to open the door.
The door wouldn't budge. It was locked from the outside. A sinking feeling crept through Ben's body. He ran up another flight of stairs and tried to open the door to the fortieth floor. The doorknob would not turn.
Ben began to panic. Somehow, he had known this would happen. He didn't know exactly when or exactly how, but deep down he had been certain he would make an utter and irredeemable fool of himself before his first day of work was over. He bolted up another flight of stairs. The door would not open.
His first instinct was to shout and pound on the door, but he checked the urge. What if someone came? Was this really the image he wanted to present on his first day? True, not every floor of the tower was inhabited by Raven, Tucker & Tubb, but about ten floors were, and in the flush of panic and adrenaline Ben found it impossible to remember which were and which were not. He was on the forty-ninth floor before it occurred to him that he was running up a dead end.
Ben remembered Alvin. Alvin was his buddy, right? Alvin would be looking for him. If not Alvin, then Greg. Well, it was possible, anyway.
Ben turned and began to race at breakneck speed down the eleven flights of stairs between himself and the other new associates. He glanced at his watch and saw that it was now 9:24. Great. Orientation had surely begun by now.
He began to feel sweat soaking through his starched shirt and trickling down his collar. His heart was pounding like something out of Edgar Allan Poe. Finally, he jumped the last flight of steps and slammed down on the thirty-eighth floor landing. He pounded his fists against the door and bellowed: "Alviiiiin!"
A tall, elderly man with a crown of white hair opened the door and peered down at him. Ben recognized him in a heartbeat. It was Arthur Raven. As in Raven, Tucker & Tubb.
"Yes?" Raven inquired.
"Oh, God." Ben exhaled all the air in his body. He slapped his hand against his forehead and wiped away a layer of sweat.
"Speak up, would you, son? I don't hear as well as I used to." Raven chuckled. "Nothing works like it used to."
"I—I—" Ben swallowed and tried to catch his breath. "I'm sorry, Mr. Raven. I was trapped in the stairwell. I—"
"Stairwell?" the old man repeated. "You shouldn't be in there. Doors only open on the outside."
"Really? I'll remember that." Ben looked into the lobby. All the other new associates had vanished. "Sir, I need to—"
"Well, that's not true, strictly speaking. You can get out on the first floor and the fiftieth. Fire codes require that. But it's a long way down to the first floor. I remember when we first moved into this building, I thought there ought to be some kind of a back door, so a lawyer could slip out while some client he's trying to avoid cools his heels in the lobby."
"Sharp thinking, sir." Ben tried to edge himself through the door. "Well, I really must be going—"
"But I was overruled. The Executive Committee was afraid the associates would use the door to slip out without being observed by their supervising attorneys." The old man grinned. "You wouldn't do that, would you, eh ... what did you say your name was?"
It was the crisis point. No matter what Ben did, either the orientation attorney or Mr. Raven was going to be angry. Raven was undoubtedly higher in the firm hierarchy. He also seemed less likely to remember anything about it tomorrow.
Ben gave the old man a gentle push and forced his way through the door. "Sorry, sir. Must dash. Let's talk again." Ben waved cheerily and ran toward the reception desk.
"Which way did they go?"
The receptionist smiled. She spoke in a soft, soothing British accent. "Orientation is taking place in the northwest conference room."
She pointed. "There."
Ben bolted. He had no use for subtlety now. There was just a chance that if he arrived before the meeting was truly underway, he might be able to slip in quietly and wouldn't have to explain where he had been. Ben cruised down the long hallway, zeroed in on the open conference room door, and was just about to scramble through the door ... when a blond man carrying a coffee cup stepped through the door and began scanning the hallway. He saw Ben a split second before impact.
The two collided with a force that would have left a crater on the moon. The blond man fell backward into the conference room. Both coffee and cup followed a parabolic arc into the man's face. He screamed.
Ben leaped to his feet and gave new meaning to the phrase apologized profusely.
"Never mind the apologies," the man grumbled. The coffee had stained his shirt, his tie, and his suit in countless places. His face was dripping. "Give me a towel."
Ben grabbed several paper towels from the box next to the coffee pot warmer, then helped the man up from the floor. As he did so, Ben noticed that the man was wearing a toupee and that it had been so dislodged by the collision that it hung over his forehead like a sun visor.
"What are you staring at?" the man asked angrily.
"Nothing, sir. I mean—" Ben saw the sixteen young lawyer eyes trained on him. "I mean—nothing, sir."
"I take it you're Kincaid?"
"Yes, sir. Well, I can't deny it, can I?" He laughed awkwardly. And alone.
"No," the man replied. "Much as you might care to." He brushed off the front and back of his suit trousers. "Where have you been, Kincaid?"
Ben watched the toupee droop even further forward. He could tell from the jabs and whispers around the conference table that he was not the only one to have noticed. "It's really a long story, sir. I was trapped."
"Yes, sir. In the stairwell. And then there was Mr. Raven."
"You were trapped in the stairwell with Mr. Raven?" The hairpiece slipped another inch. It seemed as though it must be dangling before his eyes.
"No, no, I—"
"Never mind!" he barked. "Let's get on with the business at hand."
"Great," Ben said, taking an empty seat next to Greg. He smiled enthusiastically. "What's on our agenda toupee? I mean today—"
It was too late. Ben's slip was followed by suspended silence, as the other associates sucked in air and tried to control themselves. Ben saw Greg cover his face with his hand, while Marianne looked absently out the window. It was no use. All at once, the room exploded with laughter.
The man with the toupee gave them all a stony glare, and the laughter quickly dissipated. Wordlessly, the man raised his hand to his hairpiece and pushed it back to approximately its original position. His expression defied anyone to mention what they were observing.
"To answer what I perceive to be your actual question, Kincaid, I had just told each associate the name of the partner who will be acting as their supervising attorney."
"I see," Ben mumbled, not looking up. "And who was I assigned to?"
"Me," the man replied. "My name is Richard Derek. I'd like to see you in my office at ten o'clock. Sharp. And Mr. Kincaid ..." He paused. "Walk, don't run."CHAPTER 2
Ben sat in the chair opposite Derek's desk and mourned his existence.
He was trying to shake the feeling that his first day was already a disaster. Try not to think about it, Greg had told him—perhaps the most idiotic advice he had received in his entire life.
Derek chose the crudest of all ways of referring to the catastrophe in the conference room—namely, not to mention it at all. At least not directly.
Excerpted from Primary Justice by William Bernhardt. Copyright © 1991 William Bernhardt. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted May 14, 2014
William Bernhardt captured me by surprise. What an author. He kept me in suspense; guessing, and couldn't put the book down. I ordered the other books that I could find. Please get more.
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