by Mike Bottos
Occurs after IICY.
Helen blitzed through her morning routine, stopped in front of the bedroom mirror, and looked over herself one last time. She rhymed off the mental checklist, eyes imperiously sweeping over every detail. "Hair, makeup, collar, clothes, shoes, briefcase, purse, laptop, cell, briefs..." she rummaged through the briefcase making sure everything was in order. "Good." she muttered to herself, and turned to the bed to say a goodbye to Jake. Except he wasn't there.
"It's Saturday..." she mumbled to herself as she strode down the stairs, "now why would Jake be up at 8am on Saturday..?"
The answer presented itself at the table. Daria was home for the weekend from college. Helen shook her head, taking in Daria and Jake companionably reading the paper. Daria was dressed in her usual clothes, and Jake had a coffee mug to complement his terrycloth bathrobe.
"Ah there you are Jakey! Good morning Daria! I'd love to spend some quality time with you, but the firm calls, and the potential partner must answer!" There was no response from the readers. She frowned at this, as she filled to a mug to near full and poured the coffee down as fast as her lipstick would permit.
Jake turned a page. "Big sale at the hardware store today. Drill bits at half price." He said with a hint of wonder.
"They get more promising than delivering," said Daria from behind the paper, and then lowered it, looking directly at Helen, who stopped mid-chew of bagel to look back. Daria continued to look at her, expectantly. Not a dig, or a joke, Helen thought. Daria raised the paper again. Helen frowned, remembered, and continued chewing.
"I should be back at three, and we'll all go out for supper okay? There's some potato salad in the fridge, so help yourself for lunch." Again, no response from the paper readers. Helen's mood soured, as she dashed toward the door. She called back over her shoulder as she crossed the threshold, "Daria, could you move your car? I've.." Helen looked forward, and saw that Daria had already moved her ancient Chevette to the curbside. "Oh... never mind." Daria's paper never stirred.
"Good morning everyone," Helen said in her best friendly and official voice, looking over the sea of surly faces. "Over the past few days, some of our major cases have had unexpected developments...."
"SNAFU..." whispered someone in the back.
Helen continued, pretending not to hear, "and with the partners on their regular executive retreat..."
"...to the golf course." another wag added.
"...we are going to have to pull together and clear up these changes, so we are ready for Monday. I've arranged you into teams..."
"If you're the best slave, you get to crack the whip..." Helen heard someone whisper. Helen managed to suppress a sigh, and handed out the mountains of paper.
"Helen, is your computer working?"
"I just turned it on, Marianne, let me check. No, nothing's happening. I've got a blank screen."
"That's what exactly happened to mine."
"Turn it off and try it again."
"Same as before Helen."
"Helen," a far off voice shouted from down the hall, "my computer's screwed!"
"Oh crap." Helen wondered if she could drown herself in her coffee cup.
"Yes, I UNDERSTAND your contract doesn't include weekends. This is an emergency....NO, no one is on fire! It's a LEGAL emergency! We have a lot to do, and we need our computers working!"
"You're going to charge us HOW MUCH?!? That's insane! I don't care what you're time is worth! For that much, I'd expect you to repaint the building!"
"Where the HELL are you? .... Walking your dog? For what you're charging us, get your DAMN RUGS SHAMPOOED!"
"Where the hell is the Forier file? Why didn't Jamison get it back to me? JAMISON!"
"No, you cannot take an hour for lunch. Just eat at your damn desk!"
"Wendy, this is sloppy work. If you're going to present it to the judge, you should at least spell his name right..."
"Hellooo, Jakey, Daria, I'm afraid things are not going well here today, and I'm going to be late, so head out to dinner without me. I'm sorry. Umm bye."
Helen lowered the phone, and looked over at Marianne, who was frantically typing on her now-repaired terminal, and cursorily examined the low riding jeans on the pierced, dyed, and tattooed woman who squirmed underneath her desk, fiddling with the tangle of wires.
"How much longer are you going to be?" Helen asked the jeans.
"At least half an hour. Why don't you work on another machine?" a muffled voice replied.
"They're all in use. Besides, I'd need someone else's password."
"I fixed the one next door, and no one's there." A hand with at least ten rings shot out from the darkness and pointed toward Eric's office. "And your password works on any machine."
"Yeah. Means you can work from another terminal, but still only have network access to files you're passworded for."
"Oh, well, I'll do that." Helen jumped out of her chair, grabbed her notes and hustled to Eric's office. Surely he wouldn't mind, firm business... Thank God Daria and Quinn never got any of those ...modifications, she thought.
As Helen moved to Eric's office, Daria's comment this morning came back to her. "They often get more promising, than delivering," Daria said that in response to Jake's comment about a sale, but Helen thought Daria was speaking to her.
Helen realized she was standing in Eric's office, sat down in the chair, and tried to ignore the Friday, Saturday and Sunday circled on the calender, and GOLF written in large red letters.
Helen rummaged through the drawers of Eric's desk. "Paperclips, damn him, paperclips..." she hissed.
Back in her own office, Helen shooed Marianne out of the office. "Get going. Go." Helen waved her out, her other hand still making notes.
"Thank you Helen, umm, see you on Monday."
"Sure, unless Mr. Forier decides to "test-market" another experimental pharmaceutical tonight, in which case I'll see you tomorrow."
Marianne tried to laugh, settled for a smile, and fled.
Helen pushed herself back from her desk. Anything that could possibly be done without a partner was done. Briefs were arranged, injunctions were submitted, notes were prepared, and claims were ready for signatures. She ran through her mental checklist one more time, trying to think of some minor detail overlooked. She massaged her temples.
She gathered her things in slow motion. "Partnership. Think of the partnership," Helen reminded herself.
Her eyes strayed to the picture on her desk. Daria and Quinn, Jake and herself. It was surprising that family portrait turned out. Her cell had been ringing incessantly that Saturday afternoon, driving the photographer to distraction. Daria had called it her "electronic leash" that day, and truth be told, it felt like one, a long length of chain that was given a jerk, upsetting whatever life she tried to arrange outside the workplace.
The picture was over two years old.
But she wasn't a partner.
She had been lured to Lawndale with promises of a partnership, "Soon, we can't talk about specifics here, but soon..." were the words she remembered. Nothing on paper of course.
Daria's crack hit home. Helen scowled. As much as hated to admit it, she had been promised a lot. Nothing delivered. Just endless hours, handling low-return cases in Sisyphean volumes, sprinkled with the occasional new client.
Three days ago, the quarterly figures for the law firm were distributed. To the partners only, of course, electronically.
Being an associate meant that Helen never got to see them. However, Eric being Eric...
Helen stormed through the two floor office building, quickly, looking in every cubicle, every office, making sure it was all the doors were locked and the file cabinets were locked. In other words, to ensure she was alone.
Bathed in the warm yellow glow of the desk lamp, Helen strode into Eric's office like it was hers, and fired up the computer. ESCHRECTER as the login. Now the passwords. When the system was installed, everyone's password started as their first name, and they were all instructed by the bored teenage tech to change them immediately. Eric being Eric...
Helen pecked in ERIC, stabbed ENTER like a concert pianist and smiled smugly when the computer accepted it.
The report was in his email, and it was eye-opening, to say the least.
Helen stayed for three hours, going through the figures, finding out exactly how much of Eric Schrecter's performance bonuses were directly attributable to Helen Morgendorffer, Associate. Finding out exactly how much of Vitale, Davis, Horowitz, Riordan, Schrecter, Schrecter, and Schrecter owed to the promised-but-never-delivered partner.
Every minute was like a slow burn.
Helen was responsible for a lot of new business. MOST of the new business, mostly up-and-coming entrepreneurial women, and a few men, tired of the old boys network of golf and expensive lunches in restaurants with a lot of dark wood. They liked Helen, she was a no-nonsense type. She did the work, and got them results, with a minimum of wasted time and no $100 lunches required.
Helen looked at her watch, 10 o'clock and sighed. She knew it was unethical (as in lawsuit material) to swipe your client list when you changed jobs.
That's why she spent the next two hours memorizing it.
Helen padded as quietly as she could into her house, discovering Jake and Daria watching an old black and white monster movie. Daria was watching anyway. Jake was asleep. Daria turned to look at her as she shucked off her shoes, and pointedly looked at her nonexistent watch.
"So Mom, they let you go early for good behaviour?"
Helen looked at Daria, hung up her coat, dropped her briefcase, and sat on the couch, mindful of the sleeping Jake.
She once again regarded her eldest daughter, this girl, no, young woman of silence and intelligence and perception.
Daria looked back, a little cautious. Helen had not said anything yet. In fact, her steady gaze was beginning to get unsettling.
"Daria, you were right."
Daria barely suppressed blinking in surprise. Instead, she said, "Of course." And turned her attention back to the rubber suited menace.
"I'm leaving the firm."
That did cause Daria to blink in surprise. "The Monster that Challenged the Earth" suddenly became a very distant second.
Daria ran through that statement through her head. Helen didn't say it in exasperation, in anger, in defeat. She said it calmly. Like a fact.
"What brought that on?" Helen and the firm were inseparable in Daria's experience. Ever since they moved, the firm owned Helen, and she was occasionally lent out to her family.
"I got a look at the quarterly accounts."
Helen leaned forward as if imparting a secret in home room.
"I'm responsible for a significant portion of business in that firm. And have not been justly compensated."
"So are you going to sue?" It seemed like the natural thing to do, thought Daria.
"No. I'll leave. The good clients will come with me." Helen spoke smoothly.
Daria looked at her again. Helen had an otherworldly calmness. Like being the only person with a car in car show. She didn't need the lawyer shark aggression. She wasn't going to win the game. She was leaving, and taking the ball with her.
Helen looked back at the screen. "Oh, I remember this one. At the drive-in."
Daria turned her attention back to the screen. It was what she was doing before Helen walked in. She couldn't think of anything else to say.
Six months later.
The living room had been converted into a dual office/conference room. She and Jake worked side-by-side, and this had produced some decent business synergy, as advertising consultees occasionally needed legal advice, and vice versa.
Naturally, close proximity produced romantic synergy as well. They were more careful scheduling, ahem, synergy, after a two o'clock appointment nearly walked in on their afternoon delight.
Helen loved it. It was poignant reminder of their time together in the commune, two people against the world. Their new closeness seemed to calm Jake somewhat too. Helen could send silent support if the clients got a little pushy, and could play the "wifey doesn't understand the computer" if he needed a break. He still suffered the occasional blowup, but these were reduced in intensity and frequency.
Jake had found a new niche, designing promotional material and campaigns for local business. Jake's style was cool, for 1978. Which made it perfect for those desiring calculated irony. He was happy, working, and calmer.
Helen leaned back in her chair, surveying the spread of folders and printouts before her. Routine work, but rewarding in it's own right. It wasn't perfect life. Clients did stupid things and had to be bailed out, but it was better than handling the scut work and refuse of an entire firm. She was making less money, but had much more time.
Helen had three photos on her desk. A recent one of her and Jake, hugging in front of some nearby waterfall. In a gilded frame, Quinn was shamelessly posing for the camera. By contrast, Daria's photo in a plain plastic frame seemed bland, humourless, emotionless. No hint of a ghost of a twitch of a smile on her face. But the eyes, behind those thick lenses, spoke.
You could lie to yourself, equivocate, justify, and make up all sorts of excuses. But when Daria looked at you with that cool gaze, any stupid house of cards you built fell over. Helen was glad of that.