Page 12 of The Firm

The Capps crisis passed in two weeks without disaster, thanks largely to a string of eighteen-hour days by the newest member of The Firm, a member who had not yet passed the bar exam and who was too busy practicing law to worry about it. In July he billed an average of fifty-nine hours a week, a firm record for a nonlawyer. Avery proudly informed the partners at the monthly meeting that McDeere's work was remarkable for a rookie. The Capps deal was closed three days ahead of schedule, thanks to McDeere. The documents totaled four hundred pages, all perfect, all meticulously researched, drafted and redrafted by McDeere. Koker-Hanks would close within a month, thanks to McDeere, and would earn close to a quarter of a mill. He was a machine.

Oliver Lambert expressed concern over his study habits. The bar exam was less than three weeks away, and it was obvious to all that McDeere was not ready. He had canceled half his review sessions in July and had logged less than twenty hours. Avery said not to worry, his boy would be ready.

Fifteen days before the exam, Mitch finally complained. He was about to flunk it, he explained to Avery over lunch at the Manhattan Club, and he needed time to study. Lots of time. He could cram it in for the next two weeks and pass by the hair of his ass. But he had to be left alone. No deadlines. No emergencies. No all-nighters. He pleaded. Avery listened carefully, and apologized. He promised to ignore him for the next two weeks. Mitch said thanks.

* * *

On the first Monday in August, a firm meeting was called in the main library on the first floor. It was the meeting room, the largest of the four libraries, the showplace. Half the lawyers sat around the antique cherry conference table with twenty chairs under it. The rest stood next to the shelves of thick leather law books which had not been opened in decades. Every member was present, even Nathan Locke. He arrived late and stood next to the door by himself. He spoke to no one, and no one looked at him. Mitch stole a glance at Black Eyes when possible.

The mood was somber. No smiles. Beth Kozinski and Laura Hodge were escorted through the door by Oliver Lambert. They were seated at the front of the room facing a wall where two veiled portraits hung. They held hands and tried to smile. Mr. Lambert stood with his back to the wall and faced the small audience.

He spoke softly, his rich baritone exuding sympathy and compassion. He almost whispered at first, but the power of his voice made every sound and every syllable clear throughout the room. He looked at the two widows and told of the deep sadness felt, how they would always be taken care of as long as there was a firm. He talked of Marty and Joe, of their first few years with, of their importance to The Firm, of the vast voids their deaths created. He spoke of their love for their families, their dedication to their homes.

The man was eloquent. He spoke in prose, with no forethought as to what the next sentence would be. The widows cried softly and wiped their eyes. And then some of the closer ones, Lamar Quin and Doug Turney, began to sniffle.

When he had said enough, he unveiled the portrait of Martin Kozinski. It was an emotional moment. There were more tears. There would be a scholarship established at the Chicago Law School in his name. The Firm would set up trusts for his children's education. The family would be taken care of. Beth bit her lip, but cried louder. The seasoned, hardened, tough-as-nails negotiators of the great Bendini firm swallowed rapidly and avoided looking at each other. Only Nathan Locke was unmoved. He glared at the wall with his penetrating lasers and ignored the ceremony.

Then the portrait of Joe Hodge, and a similar biography, similar scholarship and trust funds. Mitch had heard a rumor that Hodge purchased a two-million-dollar life insurance policy four months before his death.

When the eulogies were complete, Nathan Locke disappeared through the door. The lawyers surrounded the widows and offered quiet words and embraces. Mitch did not know them and had nothing to say. He walked to the front wall and examined the paintings. Next to those of Kozinski and Hodge were three slightly smaller, but equally dignified portraits. The one of the woman caught his attention. The brass plate read:

Alice Knauss

1948-1977

"She was a mistake," Avery said under his breath as he stepped next to his associate.

"What do you mean?" Mitch asked.

"Typical female lawyer. Came here from Harvard, number one in her class and carrying a chip because she was a female. Thought every man alive was a sexist and it was her mission in life to eliminate discrimination. Super-bitch. After six months we all hated her but couldn't get rid of her. She forced two partners into early retirement. Milligan still blames her for his heart attack. He was her partner."

"Was she a good lawyer?"

"Very good, but it was impossible to appreciate her talents. She was so contentious about everything."

"What happened to her?"

"Car wreck. Killed by a drunk driver. It was really tragic."

"Was she the first woman?"

"Yes, and the last, unless we get sued."

Mitch nodded to the next portrait. "Who was he?"

"Robert Lamm. He was a good friend of mine. Emory Law School in Atlanta. He was about three years ahead of me."

"What happened?"

"No one knows. He was an avid hunter. We hunted moose in Wyoming one winter. In 1972 he was deer hunting in Arkansas and turned up missing. They found him a month later in a ravine with a hole through his head. Autopsy said the bullet entered through the rear of his skull and blew away most of his face. They speculate the shot was fired from a high-powered rifle at long range. It was probably an accident, but we'll never know. I could never imagine anyone wanting to kill Bobby Lamm."

The last portrait was of John Mickel, 1950-1984. "What happened to him?" Mitch whispered.

"Probably the most tragic of all. He was not a strong man, and the pressure got to him. He drank a lot, and started drugs. Then his wife left him and they had a bitter divorce. The Firm was embarrassed. After he had been here ten years, he began to fear he would not become a partner. The drinking got worse. We spent a small fortune on treatment, shrinks, everything. But nothing worked. He became depressed, then suicidal. He wrote a seven-page suicide note and blew his brains out."

"That's terrible."

"Sure was."

"Where'd they find him?"

Avery cleared his throat and glanced around the room. "In your office."

"What!"

"Yeah, but they cleaned it up."

"You're kidding!"

"No, I'm serious. It was years ago, and the office has been used since then. It's okay."

Mitch was speechless.

"You're not superstitious, are you?" Avery asked with a nasty grin.

"Of course not."

"I guess I should've told you, but it's not something we talk about."

"Can I change offices?"

"Sure. Just flunk the bar exam and we'll give you one of those paralegal offices in the basement."

"If I flunk it, it'll be because of you."

"Yes, but you won't flunk it, will you?"

"If you can pass it, so can I."

* * *

From 5 A.M. to 7 A.M. the Bendini Building was empty and quiet. Nathan Locke arrived around six, but went straight to his office and locked the door. At seven, the associates began appearing and voices could be heard. By seven-thirty The Firm had a quorum, and a handful of secretaries punched in. By eight the halls were full and it was chaos as usual. Concentration became difficult. Interruptions were routine. Phones beeped incessantly. By nine, all lawyers, paralegals, clerks and secretaries were either present or accounted for. Mitch treasured the solitude of the early hours. He moved his clock up thirty minutes and began waking Dutch at five, instead of five-thirty. After making two pots of coffee, he roamed the dark halls flipping light switches and inspecting the building. Occasionally, on a clear morning, he would stand before the window in Lamar's office and watch the dawn break over the mighty Mississippi below. He would count the barges lined neatly before their tugboats plowing slowly upriver. He watched the trucks inch across the bridge in the distance. But he wasted little time. He dictated letters, briefs, summaries, memorandums and a hundred other documents for Nina to type and Avery to review. He crammed for the bar exam.

The morning after the ceremony for the dead lawyers, he found himself in the library on the first floor looking for a treatise when he again noticed the five portraits. He walked to the wall and stared at them, remembering the brief obituaries given by Avery. Five dead lawyers in twenty years. It was a dangerous place to work. On a legal pad he scribbled their names and the years they died. It was five-thirty.

Something moved in the hallway, and he jerked to his right. In the darkness he saw Black Eyes watching. He stepped forward to the door and glared at Mitch. "What are you doing?" he demanded.

Mitch faced him and attempted a smile. "Good morning to you. It happens I am studying for the bar exam."

Locke glanced at the portraits and then stared at Mitch. "I see. Why are you so interested in them?"

"Just curious. This firm has had its share of tragedy."

"They're all dead. A real tragedy will occur if you don't pass the bar exam."

"I intend to pass it."

"I've heard otherwise. Your study habits are causing concern among the partners."

"Are the partners concerned about my excessive billing?"

"Don't get smart. You were told the bar exam has priority over everything. An employee with no license is of no use to this firm."

Mitch thought of a dozen smart retorts, but let it pass. Locke stepped backward and disappeared. In his office with the door closed, Mitch hid the names and dates in a drawer and opened a review book on constitutional law.

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