A Legal Trap - Chapter 12

Final Chapter...

Author retains all rights to this original work of fiction.

March 13th, 2:35 PM
“I’ll come by your room at 7, OK?” I nodded and opened the door of the rental to get out, Paul reached over and caught my arm, “We good?”

“Yeah, we’re good…,” I smiled back at him, leaning over to give him a quick peck on the lips, then swung my legs out of the car. I smiled again as I closed the door and watched him drive away.

Paul had gotten two text messages near the end of our lunch date – which likely speed up the ending of lunch and our time together. They were both after our ‘deep dive’ into what we thought we were getting into as far as a relationship goes, so I had his full attention during all that. Each of the text seemed to take his attention away from our conversation about whatever we were discussing – for a few seconds it seemed. He tried valiantly to smooth the transition back to the subject at hand, but it was obvious something was up and I could tell his wheels were turning behind his smile across the table from me.

The first text was from Jacob and he ask him to call when he was free. Paul didn’t offer anything more than, “I’m not sure what that is about...” Sure, could have been anything, but I was no less curious and wished he’d have shared more on what he was going on regarding the firm – I assumed he was working on that front still. What specifically, I had no idea. Maybe I should have pressed… Too late now, maybe over dinner tonight I’d try to inquire subtly.

The other message was from Tim at the bureau and all Paul would say about that was he needed to show him something. When I asked if it was related to Amber he said, “No… He said he would show me a few tricks regarding the software I was using to backup data to the cloud.” He seemed excited about that – I just smiled in support while he rattled off some tech stuff that was over my head and I didn’t get or care to get. I wished there was more substance than tech talk – like, what data are you trying to back up? The Amber investigation stuff? Data from the firm? Oh well…

Maybe I’d get answers later tonight. Two opportunities missed at lunch – I would try to fix that over dinner. My immediate plan however – get back to my room and check in for my flight tomorrow morning at 7:58 AM. After that, pack, and then – burn off some excess stress by going out for a run. When I get back from that – shower, maybe a nap, then – get ready for our last dinner together in Arizona…

March 13th, 3:04 PM
Done… Checked in, confirmed seat assignment – 3A window seat, First Class. Kendal had arranged it all, even transportation from the hotel to the airport in the morning – a car would be here at 5:45 AM. At lunch, Paul said he would take me, but I mentioned the firm had already set that up – I think he was disappointed I didn’t try to get out of the car service in the morning. Once I got to Seattle, a car would be there to get me to my apartment in Kent. I’d be in familiar surroundings in just a little under twenty hours. Part of me was looking forward to that, but there was of course the ‘Paul’ factor I was still trying to get my head around. Would we be different on our home turfs? Would things change? Of course there would be change – everything changes! What am I doing? Augh… Don’t over think this… Just pack your shit already!

I looked around the room and gathered up a few things I’d laid out this morning to wear, until I’d decide on what I ended up wearing. I hated the indecision about my clothes choices and wished I could just pick something out and be happy with it. I blame the HRT and I’m positive all those chemicals made me scatter-brained at times. Certainly, they effected my mood and emotional balance – why not my ability to choose and stick with an outfit. Right… I’m sure that’s the root of my clothing issues. Geesh!

I took the trashcan liners from the bathroom and under the desk area in the living room – tossing dirty clothes in them. When I picked up my running gear from yesterday I was none to impressed with the stink – ode’ de stale sweat – good thing I was bagging my dirty clothes. I chose what I intended to wear tonight – a cute linen skirt, blouse, slip I was still wearing, bra, underwear, and flip-flops that didn’t exactly go with the outfit, but it’s the best I could do. For tomorrow’s flight – jeans, an Old Navy branded t-shirt, bra, underwear, socks, and my Sketchers – Oh, and a light jacket. OK – that should do it – I arranged the outfits on the dresser and looked everything over at least three times. Augh… Just move on!

Time to get out of here… I undid my blouse and stuffed it in one of the trash bags. I slipped out of my Calvin Klein skirt – which Agent Carr had said she had a similar one – still not sure I buy that. I put my slip on the pile of clothes I was wearing for dinner tonight with Paul. Bra, panties, and gaff joined tonight’s clothes pile – if I was staying any longer in Arizona I would have either hit a laundromat or gone out and bought some new clothes. I caught my naked form in the mirror across the room… Don’t go there… No time for a put down.

I grabbed a pair of boy short panties and slid them on, followed by my last clean pair of compression shorts, and then my last clean pair of loose fit running shorts. I checked the mirror again – better. I did have long legs and it was interesting Paul had mentioned them, even admiring them in a non-perv way. I smiled… Then frowned, shoulders are to… No! Get dressed, get running! Sports bra pulled on, loose fitting tank top after that… Running shoes… I was ready to go, it only took about two minutes. I so needed to get my head in a different space right now...

Bottle of water, key to the room in phone case, phone in its armband, headpho… I jumped when my phone began ringing on my arm. I fumbled to get the earbuds in and pressed the mic / volume button to answer, “Hello…”

“Elizabeth… Hello. You sound like I caught you in the middle of something…”

“Oh, a… Hello, Ms. Larson… No, I… I’m just, just hanging out,” my heart was racing. Why was she calling me?

“Excellent, so you’re set to return tomorrow, anything you need?”

“Ah, no… I, think I’m all ready…” She sounded like she needed something, “Is there anything I can do for you?” If she didn’t need something, was it creepy she was checking to see if I needed anything?

“I’m trying to get a hold of Jacob. He’s pretty good about answering his phone, but I’ve called twice now and he’s not answering. Have you seen him today?”

Oh crap… I wasn’t going to lie, but should I tell her everything that had transpired today? I stopped giving updates after she said I was free to unwind over these past two days since Amber was recovered. Did she already know about the interview with Amber today? “Yes, we were… The FBI conducted an interview with Amber this morning to get some additional information regarding David Lafleur.”

“Did she know anything that could help them?” she asked.

Ah! What do I tell her? If I try to guess what she knows and withhold that and she already knows, that isn’t going to look… Crap! She likely knows about the email from Lisa with the rumor about the firm being split up. What do I say? Shit! Shit! Shit! I didn’t like the position the partners had put me in, “No, she didn’t have anything that would put them on the right rack – at least that’s what the agent interviewing her told everyone.” That was the truth. I wasn’t going to mention I was in the interview – God I hoped she didn’t know that.

“That’s too bad, I’m sure the Carsons are frustrated that this thing can’t be put completely behind them with a conviction of those involved. As a sex trafficking case – extradition of David Lafleur would have been difficult to attain by the State Department. Best that this situation has some permanence they can be comforted by…”

She knew about Lafleur, she had too… Was she referring to him in the past tense? Permanence - which is an odd way to describe Lafleur having been murdered. Sex trafficking! I never mentioned that… She knows! What crumbs had Jacob left in emails for Janet and Martin to find? “Yes, I guess… There’s a lot of healing needed for the entire family still. I can’t imagine what that is going to be like…” I prayed she wouldn’t ask me any other questions about Amber…

“Oh, of course… What time did you last see Jacob, Elizabeth?”

I told her and mentioned he had stayed behind to talk with Director Keith. Did she know that? Did she know they were friends? Would she be worried about that? The call ended with her thanking me for being here to help Jacob and the Carsons, “We’re looking forward to having you back Monday…” No mention of changes coming, the email from Lisa and whether I had mentioned it to anyone, nothing… She was cool, calm, and matter of fact the entire conversation. Was something waiting for me Monday? Where was Jacob? What did he need to talk to Paul about? Augh! Too many questions…

I looked around the room, do I even want to run now? No… Wait, yes, go for a fucking run… I pulled the door to my room open and headed for the nearest exit. When I popped through the doorway the sky was still ablaze in a beautiful shade of blue, with the occasional pillow like cloud slowing making its way across the sky. I hit my music, then got going at a faster pace than I expected…

March 13th, 5:18 PM
There was nothing like taking a long shower after a good run. Since I wasn’t responsible for the heating of the water – that’s exactly what I intended on doing. I let the water flow and roll over my twenty months of chemically produced hips, that giggly ass due to generous fat redistribution, and of course my perky – yet small breasts. I had hopes they would naturally be larger, but… Whatever… I had to be pushing the thirty-minute mark under this powerful stream of hot water. My fingers were starting to show those water-logged wrinkles. I needed to get a move on it and quickly shaved my legs, rinsed a second round of conditioner through my hair, and finally called it good.

I reached for a towel, began patting my face in it gently, when my phone began to buzz and ring on the vanity. I pulled open the shower stall door, got the towel lodged under my arms, and looked at the number, it was Paul… “Hey you…”

“Hey yourself… What are you doing?” he asked sounding like he was in a good mood.

I hoped he was going to want to meet early, “Just getting out of the shower. Got about seven miles in I think, now just gotta get ready for later. What’s up?”

There was a pause, “Yeah… Well, gonna be a little later – any chance we can do dinner at 8?”

OK, at least he wasn’t interested in being late and was warning me… I wondered what was going on though, “Sure, that’ll work. What are you doing?” I tried making that sound as if I wasn’t probing.

“Ran long with Tim, having problems with my back up…”

“I saw some wonderful clouds out there while running today… They didn’t look to be having back up problems…”

“Ha ha… Very cute. Need this stuff done before I can unplug for the evening. You good with an hour delay?”

Jacob MIA, help from Tim at the bureau with some cloud computing stuff – what are you up too? “Sure, let’s play it by ear – come when you can,” I wondered if I could loosen his lips anymore, “Got an interesting call before going out for a run…”

“Janet?”

“And you knew that how?”

“We just pulled the entire stack from the firm’s network and are in the process of backing it up to the cloud. Tim got me pointed in the right direction after a failed attempt yesterday. Jacob is avoiding contact with Janet and Martin in case Blass has told them the network has been compromised – which there’s no way that message hasn’t reached them, Blass isn’t an idiot he knows someone’s pulled a copy of every file,” he outlined what he had been doing, “Figures she would try hitting you up looking for Jacob. Things are gonna be coming to a head pretty quickly I think…” A chime in the background caused him to pause, “Hey, gotta go… See you at 8.”

“Sure, but I want details…”

“I figured you would. I’ll come clean, promise. Gotta go…”

March 13th, 7:39 PM
Getting ready was the typical struggle. I hated my body, hated the way the blouse I had picked out looked with this skirt – but I had only one other choice for a blouse and it totally wouldn’t have worked. I thought about just wearing my outfit for the flight home tomorrow instead, but jeans weren’t going to make the lasting impression I wanted on Paul. The skirt showed off my legs, which he liked – I had more of a love / hate relationship with them. In the scope of it all – I just didn’t have a wide breadth of clothing options that were clean or, well I just didn’t have a lot of clothes – period. I certainly didn’t plan my wardrobe options very well for this trip. I should have packed more.

I had been watching a ‘Reload’ version of the TV show ‘Live PD’ since the top of the hour. It was interesting and even had police action from right here in Phoenix – though from a couple months ago. Some of these people captured on the show were none too bright. When there was a lull in the action, I reached for my Android tablet and checked my work email – nothing new. I thought about replying to Lisa’s email about the firm, but held off – hoping Paul was going to shine some light on things over dinner. Plus, Lisa wasn’t likely to see it until Monday morning and I would be back to work then anyway. That was my… There was knocking at the door and I jumped. Shit! Was I nervous? I closed up the tablet and went to the door, opening it to see Paul’s smiling face…

“Whoa… You look nice,” he said.

“Thanks… You’re early.”

“Caught a break, things just fell into place. You ready?”

“I’m starving, let’s go…” I grabbed a small clutch from the kitchen counter that had some basics in it, my phone, wallet, and of course the corporate credit card.

March 13th, 8:13 PM
The drive to the Brazilian steakhouse we’d decided to try didn’t take much time, maybe ten minutes. Paul had made a reservation for 7:15 PM, but was able to change it to 8:15 PM when he knew he was going to be late. There wasn’t a wait when we got to the hostess stand and we were seated right away. Drinks pretty much arrived within a few minutes of sitting and ordering them.

Paul was drinking a true IPA imported from Brazil and to be different I ordered a Caipirinha after the server described it’s distilling process as being similar to rum but the fermentation process being done with fresh sugarcane juice. The first sip was interesting; I could see liking these on a hot day out by a pool – not something you’d ever do often in Seattle.

We perused the menu, settling on two different cuts of steak – agreeing to share. To this point, not much had been said about Paul’s afternoon, I was getting impatient – do your mind reading thing… You know what I want to hear about…

“You packed?”

“I am,” I took a sip of my drink. “This is interesting, you want to try it?”

“I’m not a connoisseur of alcohol like you, but I’ll try it…” He sipped the drink, made a little face, and handed it back. “Think I’ll stick to the beer. Brazilian beer, not bad actually.” He raised his glass and we clinked our drinks together.

“You look tired…”

“Yeah, been an interesting couple weeks, months actually…,” he said rubbing his neck.

“Tell me about it…” Double meaning Mr. Kline, double meaning… Spill it before I ask you straight up.

“So, you know the score – Janet and Martin are making a play for the firm. They offered to buy Jacob out yesterday for fifty-million dollars, terms are five years for full payment.”

I gasped, “Oh my God…”

“Terms are pretty basic; everything stays the same in regard to the staff of one-hundred-sixteen lawyers, eighty-nine of those are partners, and one-hundred-thirty-two support personnel, the book of business, and a long list of other pieces that comprise the firm. The real change is in the name, they’d be dropping Jacob’s name,” he took a sip of his beer, put it down, and then picked it up to take another.

“How does he feel about that?”

“Not so good. He started the firm twenty-nine years ago and he’s not ready for retirement. I can certainly think of plenty of things to do with ten-million dollars a year for five years.”

“But, I don’t understand why they want him out…”

“Money… They want to restructure the firm to increase profit, to do that they need to realign staff. There’s talk about expanding to other metropolitan markets even.”

“They want to get rid of partners?”

“No, just the opposite. Look, from everything I can piece together each lawyer in this firm generates on average about seven-hundred-fifty-thousand dollars in revenues annually. Hack out twenty-million for overhead, office space, and support staff – that’s sixty-seven-million in gross profit before paying those generating those revenues for the firm. The math is funky – but for reporting purposes or the public’s perception of profitability, the profit margin runs over 70%. If you’re trying to bring in new clients – you want to look like you’re doing a better job than others.”

Numbers, OK I get those are big numbers, but I don’t understand the motivation yet. Add partners? Wait… Add partners, they’re salaries aren’t considered in the profit margin percentage calculation, but their generated revenue certainly is – look more profitable to potential clients. Shit… What the hell is going on?

“You in there…,” he waved a hand over the table.

I’d spent more time than I thought trying to understand what Paul was telling me. “I’m getting it, but it’s not making sense yet. Look more profitable…”

“Well don’t feel bad, I’ve been doing this seven months for Jacob and it was only through repetition that I began to get it,” he said thoughtfully, “Yes, look more profitable so if you had an want to expand – you bring in more partners, more revenue, and the bank accounts keep growing…”

Expand the firm? “So, Jacob doesn’t want to expand the firm?”

“Correct… He’s happy with the little kingdom he’s built in Seattle. Says he doesn’t need the added stress.”

“But they’re all managing partners, two to one vote against Jacob and they're in expansion mode, right?”

“Generally, yes – but when Janet and Martin were brought on as managing partners they split forty-nine percent of the firms voting power. Jacob holds fifty-one percent.”

Partner, managing partner, associate – all titles that dictated your compensation package of salary, bonus, and profit sharing. Our one-hundred-thirteen lawyers, not counting the managing partners, making on average two-hundred thousand a year in salary, plus – for giggles – half their salary in bonuses, a little thrown in for profit sharing and that sixty-seven-million in gross profit really shrinks to about eighteen-million to share among the three managing partners. Jacob getting fifty-one percent of that is around nine-million… “I… They low-balled him…,” I muttered aloud finally.

Paul was staring at me, “You’re better at math in your head than I am. I’d be like, ‘carry the seven, divided by zero’ and still be way off.”

His joke was lost on me, I was thinking too hard about the numbers, “The Port of Seattle contract alone generates ten-million annually I would bet… Expansion…” Then it hit me… Crap! Martin is always traveling, speaking abroad at various colleges! Recruits a plenty – cherry pick newly minted college grads. The markets he’s probably researched are likely all over the country and any city with port activities and a union… “Wow… Show some success negotiating with the new city council – which you helped get elected through generous donations – to circumvent the new mayors want for a better contract with the union favoring the city… You’ll pick up new clients with ease.”

“It’s a game within a game Liz…”

I was about to speak, but our server was setting down a plate in front of me, then placing one in front of Paul. The smell wafting from the beautiful steaks on our plates was intoxicating and being as hungry as I was it was hard not to switch my focus. We were asked if we wanted to refresh our drinks, we did. “Let’s eat, we’ve got plenty of time to talk business later – deal?” Paul asked.

I agreed… Little did he know the break in talking about the firm only gave me time to organize the things I knew to this point. So many questions…

March 13th, 9:37 PM
The walk from our table to the exit was nice. Paul had his hand at the small of my back the entire way and once out the door he took my hand as we made our way to the car. It felt unusual holding someone’s hand, but also comforting… Probably just feeling that second drink with dinner.

We decided to get a last drink at the hotel bar. I tallied up the number of drinks I had had on this trip and they were more than I had consumed in total the last three years. Mostly because I was perpetually broke and just didn’t have money to blow on alcohol. I did enjoy feeling effects from the alcohol, the buzz, and feeling more relaxed. I just needed to keep my tongue from getting me in trouble.

Paul opened the car door for me and I had an urge to kiss him. I turned into him, put a hand on his chest, and leaned in… He wasted no time reciprocating – our tongues telegraphed the urges. Telegraph? Does that even exist anymore? Wait… Oh, God… He wrapped his arms around me and I was melting, knees weakening. He pulled away and was looking into my eyes, “Where’d that come from?”

“I don’t… I...”

“It’s OK,” he kissed me briefly, “I wanted to do kiss you when I picked you up…”

“Well, then you should have…” I said bolder than I felt.

“Next time, I will.”

March 13th, 9:56 PM
For a Saturday night there wasn’t much of a crowd in the hotel bar, which is odd since the restaurant on site had a Michelin star and was seating it’s last guests at 10 PM. No matter, we found a booth and caught the eye of the bartender who came over to take our drink order. Paul stuck with beer, I did the rum and Coke standard.

“Alright, I’ve had an awesome evening, but it’s time to get back to some questions…,” I said with a pouty faced smile playfully.

“Oh, really? What do you want to know…,” Paul said playfully.

What did I want to know? “What have you been doing with all this cloud stuff? Oh, and no tech talk… Please.”

He chuckled, “Fine, ruin my whole answer… No, actually I’ve been gathering evidence of misconduct. Mostly emails between Martin and a couple of the players within the union.”

“Evidence for what? Is Jacob filing a complaint with the state board? Ethics violation?”

“Yeah, it’s a ‘Cover his ass’ move. Between the campaign contributions and positioning Martin has made via email with union representatives – Jacob feels there have been some ethics violations. Strike first – be transparent – hopefully save the union representation contract and any public backlash.”

Whoa… That meant a disciplinary board would convene, review the information, and hand down a ruling. Martin could be made to attend judicial classes at the low end of the punishment scale – all the way to being suspended or disbarred. Jacob’s move kept the firm above board, but made Martin look a little dirty. Throw in any of the city council or union representative connections and this was a serious play to save… “So, he’s not selling out. Did he make an offer to buy Janet and Martin out?”

“Exactly…”

What? What ‘exactly’? “And?”

“He did that this morning, via courier. He basically rejected their offer and is offering them the same deal they offered him.”

“Did he tell them about filing with the state board?”

Paul smiled, “He didn’t have too – the pulling of all the data today – caught them off guard. Blass has since shut the network down, parts of it at least. He’ll be let go tomorrow when Jacob gets back to Seattle. Jacob had me send an email request to the firm’s offsite data repository company for some specific periods – some of the Exchange email server data has gone missing. I’ll be able to get back anything deleted. Oh, and Landon sent an email to Jacob offering assistance with the states Attorney General – pretty sure everyone knows there’s a fight coming.”

“Janet?”

“She choose her side, she’ll be facing the same disciplinary board charges as Martin – though her work with the union is minimal, the city council contributions don’t shine the best light on her.”

“Do I still… The firm will continue to function then, I just go to work Monday and pick up where I left off?”

“Pretty sure that’s what Jacob expects from you. Look, nothing is gonna change overnight. The big dogs have all postured up. Janet and Martin might not even show up for a few days while they try to figure out their next moves. My money is on Jacob. Pretty much think they are on their way out though… The firm has plenty of clients and work going on, that can’t just stop.”

Of course, Paul was right, the business couldn’t just shut its doors without hosing hundreds of clients and jeopardizing cases in progress, but… Oh shit! I sipped my rum and Coke, “Where does that leave you?”

“Well, guess you get to see a little more of me than you might like…”

“Huh? You, you taking over for Blass?”

He smiled, “Temporarily, but I’ll be heading up a search for a new CIO. There are a couple guys there who work as network admins and do basic support – so I won’t be alone trying to keep the lid on the firms network…”

“But, you… You’re cluster phobic. How are you going to make it up to the office?” Why the heck did I bring that up? I shook my head… No more alcohol for me!

He reached across the table and squeezed my hand, “Guess you’ll have to help me with that…”

March 13th, 11:21 PM
The walk back to my room was nice, no hand holding, but there was a calming connected feeling I had about being with Paul. At my door, he said he had to get back to work – his kiss goodnight and the firm grasp on my ass during that kiss said he wished he could stay. I had to be up in like four hours, so while it might have been fun to do a ‘Netflix and chill’ kind of end to the night – I was good with how it ended. Alone in a quiet room with just the AC humming away – I did feel a little empty. Get over it…

Time to get my face ready for bed, one last check to make sure everything was set for tomorrow, teeth brushed, two alarms set, and t-shirt only sleeping attire… My mind was spinning from all that had happened today. I hoped I could get to sleep before the alarms went off… Phone on charger, ‘click’ the light out, very quiet in here, very…

March 14th, 12:55 PM
My apartment was cold, more to the fact of it – the general Seattle area was cold. I’d been up since 4 AM and pretty much to this point the day had gone exactly as expected. The surprise of the day – not getting any additional screening at the airport full body scan machine. Granted my jeans were maybe a little too tight and being tucked in tight jeans, while not comfortable, must have been enough to fool whomever was behind the screen looking at my naked form. Little boobs and all, I smiled thinking that was pretty cool. Thank God for penial discomfort!

Here and now though it was quiet in the apartment complex, and like a tomb in my unit. I’d picked up my mail – mostly junk, unpacked, changed into a tattered pair of sweat pants and a Pink! branded sweat shirt, and was about to call Paul. I texted him when I had landed. He said he missed me… Something as simple as that really was a boost. I pulled up his number and hit ‘Dial’.

On the third ring, “Hey! You all settled?”

It was nice to hear his voice and the cheer in his voice, “Yup, I look like a slob and I really don’t care… Probably take a nap after this, I’m wasted. Think that’s the most booze I’ve drank in a very long time. My body isn’t used to the poisoning… I can feel it coming out of my skin.” I heard him chuckle.

“I have a beer every couple days, takes the edge off…”

“Well, back to the real world for me and no disposable cash for that stuff.”

“Seriously, real world… I’m ready to get out of here and back to some norm.”

Did your norm include me? I hoped things hadn’t changed in the past twelve hours. “You done at the Carsons’?”

“Mmhuh, ‘little’ icy while I was there. Didn’t see Amber but once as she went to the kitchen for something. Stephanie was a ghost – didn’t see her at all. The boys must have spent the night at a friend's, and Gary – he looked pissed. I got what I needed done, explained it, and bolted…”

“Honestly, gonna be a while before that family see’s eye to eye. I hope they get the help they need and Amber gives up her porn star ambitions…”

We talked for about ten minutes more. I learned Jacob was probably just now getting to Seattle, so the Blass issue should be taken care of shortly. Paul said he would likely be in the office tomorrow late afternoon and hoped he’d see me. I was disappointed he didn’t ask about maybe having dinner, but as he talked about all he needed to do it sounded like he was going to busy into the late evening. He asked if I was running later. I said I was taking the day off. And after that the conversation seemed to peter out... I knew he was busy, but I missed him. Did he know that?

“OK… Well, gotta go finish up some things before Jacob cans Blass. Not the same around her without you kid…”

“Yeah… Well, I wish we were hanging out – with less drama swirling around us of course…”

“Me too… See you tomorrow.”

“Yup… Call me if you have elevator troubles…”

“Will do… Bye…”

“Goodbye…”

March 15th, 9:07 AM
I’d gone to bed early last night, having forgone the nap I thought I was going to take due to vegging on the couch and zoning out in front of the TV. Now I felt sluggish, like I’d slept too much. I should have gone for a run last night instead of wasting my evening away – I would be running tonight for sure.

The bus commute to the office was as it always was – long – yet uneventful. I wasn’t sure what to expect when walking in office, so it was comforting to see everything appeared to be ‘business as usual’. I went to my office, got my coat off, put my purse in my desk drawer, and jiggled the mouse to wake up my PC. I entered my credentials and was presented with my desktop. Guess our systems are still up. I started the Outlook mail client program and was greeted by a handful of emails in my inbox. Their titles all leading me to believe they were work related. Well, back to reality…

March 15th, 10:26 AM
I saw plenty of people walking past my office, got a few head nods and waves. I thought about stopping by Lisa’s office, but I knew we’d be doing coffee about now…

“Hey…,” I said when she poked her head in my door.

“Where’s the tan?”

“No time… I got out for a run every day though. The weather was amazing…”

“You see my email?”

“Mmhuh, not until Friday night though and I knew you wouldn’t see a reply until today. Thought I’d save the internet…” She interrupted me.

“You hear Bill was let go yesterday?”

“Bill?” I knew who she was talking about, but I wanted to make it look like I didn’t know much of anything.

“Bill Blass, IT Director, server God…,” she rattled off.

“Oh, they say why that happened?”

“No, but it probably has something to do with the partners fighting. I saw Jacob earlier, but no Janet or Martin yet…”

“Sure seems like a lot of drama has been going on since I left…”

“We getting coffee or what? Pretty sure Bryant’s been missing me…,” she said with a wolfish smile.

“Let’s go…,” I chuckled.

March 15th, 11:06 AM
It was good to see Bryant; I guess I missed their bantering. They were sorta cute together, but I didn’t think they had the chemistry to last if it ever progressed beyond the espresso stand. While we stood at a table in the atrium drinking our lattes, Lisa grilled me about what I was doing in Phoenix. I told her I was helping Jacob with a case he was consulting with that involved a potential extradition of someone from Canada. I had to cut her off from asking any more questions with the, “The case is confidential; I probably shouldn’t have said what I said about it… Promise me you won’t say anything to anyone.” She agreed.

The rest of our break was pretty tame, some talk about the partners, but nothing I didn’t already know or hadn’t heard from her at least once. When I got back to my desk there was a meeting request in my email: All-hands Support Staff – Cascade Conference Room – First Floor - 2:00 PM. Here we go… I checked the participants list – no attorneys, but Jacob would be attending. I had gotten a text from Paul when he got to the airport in Phoenix – it was likely he would be here for this meeting. I was excited and I hoped how I was dressed caught his attention. Lisa had mentioned I looked nice, and then asked if I had an interview. Haha – we both got a good giggle… She didn’t bring up her ‘Get laid’ comment from her email telling me about Janet and Martin – glad she didn’t bring that up.

March 15th, 1:54 PM
Lisa and I rode down the elevator to the first floor together and not knowing where the Cascade Conference Room was we just followed the herd. Couple times Lisa would have brief conversations with others in the office, I pretty much smiled a lot and stuck to her hip. Inside the theater sized auditorium like conference room we were able to get seats near the middle of the crowd of others attending, maybe forty-five or so of the support staff were gathered. I looked around for Paul, but didn’t see him – I did see Jacob, Gillian the office manager, and a few of the supervisors.

“Oh my…,” Lisa leaned over and said in my ear, “Stage left… Guy in the suit. Mmm…”

I looked to the left and saw Paul. My pulse rate increased a bit and a little nervous energy began to flow. He was looking around the room and when he saw me, he smiled. I felt flush, like a spot light had been turned on me from the stage area.

“Now that’s a good looking guy… Little older than I care for, but I might make an exception,” Lisa said.

I bristled a little, “Really? You think he looks old?”

“Mmm, maybe mid-thirties. I think five years either side of my age is the right spread.”

“Really? Why do you think that,” I asked.

“Five years and you’re dealing with someone who can’t name a song you used to jam to in your high school years, hasn’t seen a movie you love, and just is not in the same headspace, know what I mean…”

She said all that with so much matter-of-fact confidence I wondered if I should be worried about the age gap between us. Paul was thirteen years older than I was – was he in a different headspace? What did that even mean? “What do you think,” Lisa asked breaking my train of thought.

“I… I don’t know… I really haven’t given it a lot of thought. What if he was really nice and supportive?” I replied.

“Look, the man is certainly good looking. He’s probably married, or gay… No, married for sure.”

Lisa was annoying me pretty good right now – did she have no filter? Was this ‘girl talk’? “I think he’s cute…,” I finally replied to see if that might shut her up.

“OK… When this is over I’m introducing you…”

“No… No, that’s OK. Thanks…,” I said nervously. That wasn’t, I mean I didn’t want some awkward moment with Paul in front of Lisa. Grrr!!!

Jacob was climbing up the stairs near where Paul was standing and walked to the center of the stage. The room’s volume went from loud to nearly silent. “Good afternoon. I wanted to have a quick meeting with everyone to set things straight you may have heard floating around the office this past week. The firm is going to be transitioning over the next couple of months. Janet Larson and Martin Brandt have decided to pursue opportunities outside of the firm." There were murmurs throughout the conference theater.

" I want to assure you nothing we are doing today – be that the clients we represent or the day to day operations is going to change much. There will be a few new partners brought on board to take Janet and Martin’s places and likely some other staff additions," Jacob paused and the tension felt less suffocating.

"Everyone will be gainfully employed for as long as you continue to perform at the levels you’ve exhibited since you’ve joined the firm. No one is being let go and no reductions in staff are expect for the Seattle or Bellevue offices."

You could feel the room finally take a much needed breathe before Jacob continued, "We did let Bill Blass go, but that was part of a management change needed to move forward. His position as IT Director will be temporarily held by Paul Kline,” Jacob wave a hand toward Paul, who raised his hand for everyone to see.

“If you have questions or concerns please start by requesting a meeting from your supervisor or Gillian. Thank you for your continued support.”

The hush in the theater went on for a good twenty seconds before the first groups of people stood to exit the conference room and head back to work… Lisa was looking at me, "I wonder how sudden Janet and Martin's exit really were..."

I just shrugged and made my way with Lisa in tow to the aisle, then joining the line of people exiting. At the exit Jacob, Gillian, and Paul had gathered - Jacob occasionally shaking someone's hand, offering a smile or head nod, of a greeting of some type.

Paul was watching me and when I was just about to him I felt Lisa brush past me, and posting up in front of him, "Mr. Kline," she said with an embarrassing amount of cheer, "I'm Lisa Scott and this is Elizabeth Gallagher. We wanted to welcome you..."

I know my mouth dropped and if there was a rock nearby I would have made an attempt to get under it. Paul was all smiles, "The Elizabeth Gallagher?" He stuck out his hand towards me and instinctively I reached for it to shake it. "I've heard a lot about you from Jacob. I look forward to working with you, even if it's just temporary."

I was flush, could feel my body temperature rising, an air void in my throat making it hard to engage any sound... I couldn't speak so I just smiled. Paul let my hand loose after a longer than comfortable handshake and Lisa and I made our way out of the conference room theater towards the elevators.

"What was that," Lisa asked.

I shrugged, still not sure I could speak... I was smiling broadly - I couldn't help it.

"Oh my God... You know him! You..."

The End - Fin

::: --- :::
If you liked this chapter 'Thumps Up' me! If this story is worthy of a sequel - let me know. Thank You for reading my story!! I very much appreciate your time!

I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Bronwen Welsh in proofreading and giving me insightful advice. She is an accomplished author in her own right and I appreciate her time more than I can say - check her work out... Also a few others who reached out to help me correct minor Oops! on my part (check your Messages / emails). Thank You Everyone!



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