On solid Ground
If ambition were a color, it would be reflected in the aura of Galileo Mitchell. Looking around his new corner office, the youngest partner at Stickle, Walton and Check patted himself on the back and laughed. Sure, he had to step over a few burnt out colleagues to get here, but here he was.
Damn that felt good.
Sitting down in the leather chair, propping expensive shoes on the mahogany desk, he let himself glory in the moment. With a single-minded focus, he had danced up the ladder in just five years and soon, soon, he would be leaning back in the leather chair of a corner office at Stickle, Walton, Check and Mitchell. He knew who he was and where he was going. He felt solid. He felt good.
A tentative knock on the door broke him from his reverie, reminding him that he couldn’t rest on his laurels yet. He buzzed in his new secretary with a scowl. A young man with black hair and blue eyes entered, a smile plastered on his pale face. Mitchell scowled in return. The young clerk swallowed hard at Mitchell’s look, his hand shaking ever so slightly as he put the coffee on the desk.
Gavin Quinn had been warned about Mitchell. He’d heard that this attorney liked to work all night and drag his secretary with him. He’d laughed off the warnings from the other secretaries, telling them that the overtime would be welcomed. Now, as he saw the man, he was no longer so sure.
Mitchell was clearly quite tall, probably about 6’2” with dark brown hair and sharp green eyes that seemed almost black in the dim light. As Gavin had entered, the man had dropped his feet to the floor and stood up slowly, probably recognizing that he was taller than Gavin by a few inches, and well aware of how to use the height advantage. He looked down at his new secretary, and then at the coffee on the desk, as if the two were about equal in his estimation of their usefulness. Perhaps the worst part was that it was only eight in the morning, but Mitchell looked as if he’d been up for hours. Gathering himself up, Gavin stuck his hand out, ready to introduce himself.
“Where have you been?” Mitchell snarled, lifting the coffee to his nose and sniffing. Before Gavin could answer, his boss cut him off with a wave. “From now on, be here at seven, and maybe I’ll won’t have to fire you. You get one hour at eleven for lunch, and another hour at five for dinner. My guess, is you’ll be out of here by nine most nights, unless I need you to stay longer. Overtime is, of course, to be added to your wages. Any questions?”
Gavin shook is head. He backed up a little from the desk, his hand dropping to his side, a little afraid of looking his new boss in the eye all of a sudden.
“Then type these up,” Mitchell stood and handed Gavin two folders full of documents. “Copy these and file them,” he continued, handing over two more folders, and a sheaf of letters, “and FedEx these out before nine. The FedEx guy knows to come by my office then, so be ready for him. Also, find the associates who are working with me on these deals,” a single sheet of paper with five names on it, “and send them to me. After that, I should have more work for you after lunch.”
Gavin blinked at the work in his arms, overwhelmed. He wondered if he’d missed something. Trying not to think to much, he nodded his head slowly, and began to back out of the office.
“And next time I need coffee, get me the French Roast. There is a special canister of my blend near the machine. Here,” Mitchell pulled out a large silver Nissan thermos from beneath his desk somewhere, “just fill this up with it. I don’t like mugs.”
Gavin balanced the folders in the crook of his left arm, and took the thermos with his right. Without a word, he slipped out of the office.
With an exasperated sigh intended to reach Gavin’s ears, Mitchell stood up, walked to the door, and slammed it. Just before it shut he saw his secretary opening his mouth to apologize for not shutting it himself. Turning around, an almost devilish smile played across Mitchell’s lips as he smoother back his thick hair. He thought about the book he was going to write someday about his success.
“When staring anew,” he mentally wrote down in his head, “begin by scaring the hell out of the permanent support staff.”
Outside the office, Gavin leaned against the shut door and looked down at the stuff in his arms. “Hi,” he muttered to himself, “I’m Gavin Quinn, your new secretary. Nice to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you…and damn if it ain’t all true.”
Gavin just finished the letters when the FedEx guy showed up. He turned out to be a girl. She smiled at him as he handed her the envelopes.
“So you’re Mitchell’s new secretary?” she asked politely, making conversation.
Gavin looked up, crease lines apparent on his forehead. “yeah,” was all he said.
“Then I guess I’ll be seeing a lot of you. My name is Tasha.” She leaned over his desk in a conspiratorial manner, strands of loose blond hair falling across her face. “I can cut you a little slack when you need it. Your boss makes me show up at nine, but most of this stuff won’t go out ‘til noon. If you’re not ready now, just send it down to the mail room with Mitchell’s name on it. I will swing by and pick it up. That’s what his last few secretaries did.”
Gavin smiled, and thanked her. Then, as she turned away he cleared his throat, unable to resist asking her one more question.
“Uh, just out of curiosity, how many secretaries has he had?”
“Oh, you're Irish! Sweet accent,” Tasha laughed, leaning back against the desk. Gavin blushed a little in response, and Tasha leaned closer.
“To answer your question, in the three years since he’s been here, eight I think. Course, you know he lateraled in from the law office above us, yeah? Darent Little? Well, he was only there two years, but I picked up his mail there too. He had at least three secretaries in that time. From what I saw, he’s a bastard to work for.” She jumped away with a flourish, the smile back on her face. “Good luck!” She laughed, and skipped away.
“Thanks,” Gavin replied watching her swing down the hall. “Wow, I’d love to be that chipper in the morning.”
Sarah Black was called into Celia Montgomery’s office as soon as she arrived. Celia was a senior associate and one of the lawyers who helped distribute work around the office. Looking up into Sarah’s expectant face, Celia began to feel even worse than she did when she received the call from Mitchell’s new secretary earlier. Sarah, a sixth level associate and Celia’s equal, sat opposite her old friend and smiled.
“So, Sarah, how’s your schedule?” Celia asked, by means of opener. Sarah leaned back, and shrugged.
“Average, I guess. I could add something I suppose, but it would depend on what it is.”
“Well, a great project came across my desk this morning. One of the partners has recently acquired a high profile client in London who is looking to expand their business over here. It would mean a lot of prestige and some travel. What do you think? Can I put your name down?”
Sarah’s eyes narrowed. “Uh, hold on. You haven’t said who the partner is, or what he expects.”
“Yes, well, um, he told me he only needed one associate to assist him, so I guess you’d be doing a lot of front line work. Great practice, and good for networking. And, London, how great is that!”
Sarah’s smile quirked, and her face registered understanding. “This partner,” she asked, pursing her lips, “he wouldn’t happen to be a new partner, would he?”
Celia looked down at her desk. “Possibly,” she responded.
“Oh no, no….” Sarah shook her head, a smile of disbelief crossing her face. Celia looked up at her with a hangdog expression, and Sarah stood, the chair rocking back with a singular fierceness, all smiles gone.
“Damn it, Celia, how can you even ask? You know how much I hate Mitchell! Hell, everybody hates Mitchell. Especially after….Well, you know. I wouldn’t work with him again if he were the only other lawyer in this office!”
“Now Sarah, you didn’t enter this business because you thought it’d be easy…”
“Easy? Oh come on now Celia. Why don’t you take him on and see what its like, huh? I’d rather lock myself in a padded room with a record player skipping on a Bee Gees song than work with him again.”
“No, Celia. No. Come on, you can’t be serious. You’re my friend, how can you even think….” Sarah stood in front of Celia’s desk, her hands on her hips, looking down at the other woman with anger and a little bit of confusion on her face.
Celia just sat there, her thin lips pressed in a line. She hadn’t looked at Sarah through her whole tirade, and still had trouble looking her in the eye. But when she did look up, it was to fix Sarah with icy blue eyes powerful enough to still her friend’s thoughts.
“I’m sorry Sarah. I know your dislike for him, but you have the most free schedule of any of the attorneys in the office. And I did ask some of them before I called you here. You’re right. Everyone dislikes him, but he is very good at what he does, and this client asked for him specifically. And this firm needs his client. You know that we’ve been on shaky ground lately, and this client should bring publicity and stability, not to mention a more international clientele. Mitchell needs an associate, and I’m asking you to please think about it. If not for the firm, then for me. Please.”
Sarah looked skyward, no longer looking Celia in the eye. “I’m sorry” she said, turning around a taking a couple of steps towards the door. You could almost feel the suspense radiating from the eavesdroppers hanging outside the door. She placed her hand on the handle, and hesitated. From behind her, Celia sighed.
“I understand,” she replied softly to Sarah’s retreating back, her voice broken and subdued. Sarah shut her dark brown eyes, and banged her head on the door. She berated herself for being such a pushover to guilt trips. Thanks mom, she thought to herself.
“Fine,” she spoke to the doorjamb, “okay. Whatever. But the minute he does anything, anything at all….” Her voice sounded strained as it came from her throat. She didn’t need to turn around to feel the tension leave the room. Celia’s voice came out with an almost bubbly quality as she cut Sarah off.
“Oh, of course. Thank you so much, Sarah! Listen I’ll call him right now. Can you go see him before you head back to the office? You know what he’s like. And, I’ll tell the seniors about this. I’m sure this will factor extremely well into your election next year! Really, you won’t regret this.”
“Believe me, I’m sure I will,” Sarah replied, and left the office without looking back.
Gavin was just finishing putting a signature onto some documents when he felt her presence. A tall dark woman stood over him, her arms crossed over her chest, animosity radiating out at him in waves. Beautiful dark brown eyes held him like a deer in headlights for a moment before he managed to say, “hello, may I help you?”
“I’m Ms. Black. I’m expected.”
“Oh yes, Black, right, the associate.”
“Senior associate, boy. And tell him I’m coming in.”
Gavin bristled a bit at the “boy” remark, but came back quickly. “Oh no, no, please, let me call him first I…” But Sarah had already turned away, striding confidently to Mitchell's door. She cranked the handle…and found it locked. She looked back at Gavin, surprised.
“Locked?” she asked, her brow furrowed. Gavin stood at his desk, his mouth a little open, and spread his hands wide. He picked up his phone and buzzed into the office. Sarah could here Mitchell’s voice from behind the door. Moments later, a little buzz came from the door.
“You can go in now,” Gavin said, quietly. Sarah raised her head and set her shoulders. After a moment, she smiled back at Gavin, and entered the office.
Mitchell leaned back in his chair as Sarah entered, his hands behind his head and a knowing look upon his face. It was not an ugly face when it smiled genuinely, the features were actually quite handsome, but to Sarah, he looked like a demon with wings fully unfurled. Even the lighting seemed to play on his features to deepen his eyes and elongate his nose. Without thinking, she sneered as she approached his desk.
Mitchell shook his head and “tut-tutted,” as she sat down in the hard chair in front of him. “Now Sarah,” he said, “is that any way to greet an old friend, especially one who is now your boss?”
Sarah sat iron-rod straight in her chair, unwilling to give an inch. She locked him in what she hoped was a steely gaze and responded in a quietly menacing tone. “Why, of course not, Mitch, I am pleased that I have the opportunity to work with you again. If you would be so kind as to fill me in on the details, and the deadlines, I will be happy to get to work on them straight away.”
“So professional, Sarah. Lovely. Okay then.” Mitchell shifted up in his seat, and shuffled some papers around on his desk. Even though he’d only been here a few hours, Mitchell had already subjected the office to typical lawyerly treatment. Papers covered his desk, and brown file folders had begun to pile up in corners and along walls. He planned to ask Gavin to come in on Saturday to help him set up his shelves, which were now haphazardly scattered with bound volumes of past deals. Give me three hours, Mitchell mused, and I’ll make any room look like a tornado hit it. Nevertheless, everything had its place, and it only took a couple of seconds before he was passing Sarah a copy of the company sheets.
“We’re working for one of the largest startup internet business companies in England called Blake's Tyger. They market mainly herbs, creams, other holistic/aromatherapy medicines and information. They are planning on expanding their business here by establishing offices and distribution warehouses in strategic locations around the U.S. At the moment, they are hampered by the fact that they don’t own any of their centers here, but are merely renting. They have chosen the sites, and we’re going to work the deals for them. It’s a fairly big project, but not impossible. Here,” he passed Sarah some more papers, these ones including site information. Glancing through she saw Massachusetts, Oregon, South Dakota, Northern California, Louisiana and Arizona were highlighted.
"Strange locations," she murmured, "No big farm states or business centers...."
Mitchell nodded, agreeing, “I know. Truth is, I’m not entirely sure how they picked these places, but we are nevertheless instructed to check out each one and ready them for final approval by the big boss, including all contracts, tax and regulatory aspects."
“And the big boss would be…,” Sarah flipped back to the first packet, “A woman named Lady Faith Jowett?”
“Yes, I’ve spoken with her only once, as part of a small deal I worked for them last year involving the Port Authority. Mostly I talk to the next guy down on the list, Arnold Jack, their American correspondent.”
“Arnold Jack, right. Heh, you know my mother once told me never trust anyone with two first names?” Sarah looked up and smiled, but then she remembered who she was talking to. Mitchell just sat there, looking at her, no reaction on his face at all.
“What his name is doesn’t matter. He will be the one we talk to, and as our client, we will trust him implicitly.”
Sarah rolled her eyes, “Oh come on, Mitch. You know I was just…”
“Whatever,” he said, cutting her off and waving his hand at her dismissively. “Well? What do you think?”
Sarah warned herself to be tolerant of his arrogance. She looked back down at the first packet, “What would you need me to do?”
“The usual,” he answered, leaning back again. “Be my front man with the client. I’ll split the work in half with you -- you start and I finish. Pretty routine.”
“And the timeframe?”
“Vague. Obviously, its only April now, and I doubt they expect us to complete this before the Fall. Still, I’m planning on completion by mid summer.”
“You’re kidding? That’s not enough….”
“Yes it is. This is my trademark, Sarah. I’m fast. We will get this done. You okay with that?”
“Would it matter if I said no? I do have other clients, Mitch.”
“According to Celia Montgomery, you’ve just finished off a bunch of work, and have the time to spare.”
Sarah made a mental note not to speak with Celia again for a long time, for fear of breaking her “friend’s” nose. “That may be true, but you can’t expect me to be neglectful of my other work so that you can better establish your trademark, as you put it.”
“No, but this deal will look just as good on your resume as mine. I know you’re a good little worker, Sarah, you can do this. But if you don’t agree…”
“No, no. A good little worker, eh Mitch? Kind of you to say,” Sarah sniffed, and pulled the papers in close. “Where do we begin?”
A few days later, Gavin was bringing in the coffee – the Nissan mug and its new companion, a large green mug with “I hate Lawyers” on the side. He waited for the door to buzz, then entered. He was asked to stay, so was forced to endure a couple of minutes in uncomfortable silence. Mitchell was talking at Sarah, and she was pretending to listen while she clearly did her own thing with her papers. Hands behind his back, Gavin stood and watched the charade with some amusement, the first he’d had since staring this new job.
“Got that?” Mitchell asked Sarah, who looked up with a little smile catching the corners of her mouth.
“Of course. Actually, I’d already moved on to the equity investment scheme. Are you ready for that.”
Mitchell hid an annoyed frown by pretending to clear his throat, and looked up at Gavin. “Certainly, Ms. Black. But first, let’s talk about the trip. Gavin, I assume you’ve had an opportunity to meet my new associate when she first arrived?”
“No, not formally, sir. Nice to finally meet you, Miss Black.”
“Ms.” Sarah corrected, and stood to shake Gavin’s hand. He noticed that she was taller than him, something he hadn’t realized before. She was probably closing in on 5'11" in height. She smiled, “I understand you’re only recently with us, Mr. Quinn?”
“Yes, ma’am. I was here as a temp for a few months, until I was offered this permanent position with Mr. Mitchell.”
“And before that?”
“Oh I bounced around Boston and, now, New York, for a while before this. I came over from Northern Ireland about five years ago.”
“Lovely country, I’ve heard, though I’ve never seen it myself.”
“Oh yes, ma’am, though….”
“Yes yes, good,” Mitchell interrupted, and stood up to come round the front of the desk. He leaned against the wood and crossed his arms over his chest. “What we called you in here for, Gavin, besides the coffee, is to invite you on a trip with us overseas. Our client has invited myself, Ms. Black and any others whom I may require to meet with her in London in a few weeks, and I would like your assistance.”
Gavin blinked a little. He knew this was out of the ordinary, and wasn’t sure how to respond. Before he could open his mouth, Mitchell started talking again.
“Of course, I realize this is not usual. However, you are new to me and the way I work, and, quite frankly, I like to keep those who work for me close. It would not be convenient for me to have you here as I should need your organizing abilities while we are abroad. And, of course, I can easily find someone else in the office to cover the phones while we are gone. Is there a problem?”
“Uh. No sir, I guess not. So long as it's okay with the head secretary…”
“It is. She’s had to agree to this sort of thing from me on several occasions. But, be warned, this is not a vacation, nor an excuse for you to hang out with your relatives. We will be working over there.”
“Yes sir. I understand. When?”
“Three weeks from tomorrow. Make the plans for myself and Ms. Black, today. First class, and make sure I get the vegetarian meal.”
“Make that two.” Sarah added.
Gavin nodded and quickly left the room. Sarah and Mitchell began their verbal dance again as he left. As he shut the door and heard the lock click back into place, he reflected on the situation.
“Ho yeah,” he thought snidely, “this is not going to be a right rollicking trip.”