Page 9 of The Firm

One secretary dug through a file cabinet in search of something Avery needed immediately. The other secretary stood in front of his desk with a steno pad, occasionally writing down the instructions he gave when he stopped yelling into the receiver of his phone and listened to whoever was on the other end. Three red lights were blinking on the phone. When he spoke into the receiver the secretaries spoke sharply to each other. Mitch walked slowly into the office and stood by the door.

"Quiet!" Avery yelled to the secretaries.

The one in the file cabinet slammed the drawer and went to the next file cabinet, where she bent over and pulled the bottom drawer. Avery snapped his fingers at the other one and pointed at his desk calendar. He hung up without saying goodbye.

"What's my schedule for today?" he asked while pulling a file from his credenza.

"Ten A.M. meeting with the IRS downtown. One P.M. meeting with Nathan Locke on the Spinosa file. Three-thirty, partners' meeting. Tomorrow you're in tax court all day, and you're supposed to prepare all day today."

"Great. Cancel everything. Check the flights to Houston Saturday afternoon and the return nights Monday, early Monday."

"Yes, sir."

"Mitch! Where's the Capps file?"

"On my desk."

"How much have you done?"

"I've read through most of it."

"We need to get in high gear. That was Sonny Capps on the phone. He wants to meet Saturday morning in Houston, and he wants a rough draft of the limited partnership agreement."

Mitch felt a nervous pain in his empty stomach. If he recalled correctly, the agreement was a hundred and forty-some pages long.

"Just a rough draft," Avery said as he pointed to a secretary.

"No problem," Mitch said with as much confidence as he could muster. "It may not be perfect, but I'll have a rough draft."

"I need it by noon Saturday, as perfect as possible. I'll get one of my secretaries to show Nina where the form agreements are in the memory bank. That will save some dictation and typing. I know this is unfair, but there's nothing fair about Sonny Capps. He's very demanding. He told me the deal must close in twenty days or it's dead. Everything is waiting on us."

"I'll get it done."

"Good. Let's meet at eight in the morning to see where we are."

Avery punched one of the blinking lights and began arguing into the receiver. Mitch walked to his office and looked for the Capps file under the fifteen notebooks. Nina stuck her head in the door.

"Oliver Lambert wants to see you."

"When?" Mitch asked.

"As soon as you can get there."

Mitch looked at his watch. Three hours at the office and he was ready to call it a day. "Can it wait?"

"I don't think so. Mr. Lambert doesn't usually wait for anybody."

"I see."

"You'd better go."

"What does he want?"

"His secretary didn't say."

He put on his coat, straightened his tie and raced upstairs to the fourth floor, where Mr. Lambert's secretary was waiting. She introduced herself and informed him she had been with The Firm for thirty-one years. In fact, she was the second secretary hired by Mr. Anthony Bendini after he moved to Memphis. Ida Renfroe was her name, but everyone called her Mrs. Ida. She showed him into the big office and closed the door.

Oliver Lambert stood behind his desk and removed his reading glasses. He smiled warmly and laid his pipe in the brass holder. "Good morning, Mitch," he said softly, as if time meant nothing. "Let's sit over there." He waved to the sofa.

"Would you like coffee?" Mr. Lambert asked.

"No, thanks."

Mitch sank into the couch and the partner sat in a stiff wing chair, two feet away and three feet higher. Mitch unbuttoned his coat and tried to relax. He crossed his legs and glanced at his new pair of Cole-Haans. Two hundred bucks. That was an hour's work for an associate at this money-printing factory. He tried to relax. But he could feel the panic in Avery's voice and see the desperation in his eyes when he held the phone and listened to this Capps fellow on the other end. This, his second full day on the job, and his head was pounding and his stomach hurting.

Mr. Lambert smiled downward with his best sincere grandfatherly smile. It was time for a lecture of some sort. He wore a brilliant white shirt, button-down, all-cotton, pinpoint, with a small, dark silk bow tie which bestowed upon him a look of extreme intelligence and wisdom. As always, he was tanned beyond the usual midsummer Memphis scorched bronzeness. His teeth sparkled like diamonds. A sixty-year-old model.

"Just a couple of things, Mitch," he said. "I understand you've become quite busy."

"Yes, sir, quite."

"Panic is a way of life in a major law firm, and clients like Sonny Capps can cause ulcers. Our clients are our only assets, so we kill ourselves for them."

Mitch smiled and frowned at the same time.

"Two things, Mitch. First, my wife and I want you and Abby to have dinner with us Saturday. We dine out quite often, and we enjoy having our friends with us. I am somewhat of a chef myself, and I appreciate fine food and drink. We usually reserve a large table at one of our favorite restaurants in town, invite our friends and spend the evening with a nine-course meal and the rarest of wines. Will you and Abby be free on Saturday?"

"Of course."

"Kendall Mahan, Wally Hudson, Lamar Quin and their wives will also be there."

"We'd be delighted."

"Good. My favorite place in Memphis is Justine's. It's an old French restaurant with exquisite cuisine and an impressive wine list. Say seven Saturday?"

"We'll be there."

"Second, there's something we need to discuss. I'm sure you're aware of it, but it's worth mentioning. It's very important to us. I know they taught you at Harvard that there exists a confidential relationship between yourself, as a lawyer, and your client. It's a privileged relationship and you can never be forced to divulge anything a client tells you. It's strictly confidential. It's a violation of our ethics if we discuss our client's business. Now, this applies to every lawyer, but at this firm we take this professional relationship very seriously. We don't discuss a client's business with anyone. Not other lawyers. Not spouses. Sometimes, not even each other. As a rule, we don't talk at home, and our wives have learned not to ask. The less you say, the better off you are. Mr. Bendini was a great believer in secrecy, and he taught us well. You will never hear a member of this firm mention even so much as a client's name outside this building. That's how serious we are."

Where's he going with this?Mitch asked himself. Any second-year law student could give this speech.

"I understand that, Mr. Lambert, and you don't have to worry about me."

"'Loose tongues lose lawsuits.' That was Mr. Bendini's motto, and he applied it to everything. We simply do not discuss our client's business with anyone, and that includes our wives. We're very quiet, very secretive, and we like it that way. You'll meet other lawyers around town and sooner or later they'll ask something about our firm, or about a client. We don't talk, understand?"

"Of course, Mr. Lambert."

"Good. We're very proud of you, Mitch. You'll make a great lawyer. And a very rich lawyer. See you Saturday."

Mrs. Ida had a message for Mitch. Mr. Tolar needed him at once. He thanked her and raced down the stairs, down the hallway, past his office, to the big one in the corner. There were now three secretaries digging and whispering to each other while the boss yelled into the telephone. Mitch found a safe spot in a chair by the door and watched the circus. The women pulled files and notebooks and mumbled in strange tongues among themselves. Occasionally Avery would snap his fingers and point here and there and they would jump like scared rabbits.

After a few minutes he slammed the phone down, again without saying goodbye. He glared at Mitch.

"Sonny Capps again. The Chinese want seventy-five million and he's agreed to pay it. There will be forty-one limited partners instead of twenty-five. We have twenty days, or the deal is off."

Two of the secretaries walked over to Mitch and handed him thick expandable files.

"Can you handle it?" Avery asked, almost with a sneer. The secretaries looked at him.

Mitch grabbed the files and headed for the door. "Of course I can handle it. Is that all?"

"It's enough. I don't want you to work on anything but that file between now and Saturday, understand?"

"Yes, boss."

In his office he removed the bar review materials, all fifteen notebooks, and piled them in a corner. The Capps file was arranged neatly across the desk. He breathed deeply and began reading. There was a knock at the door.

"Who is it?"

Nina stuck her head through. "I hate to tell you this, but your new furniture is here."

He rubbed his temples and mumbled incoherently.

"Perhaps you could work in the library for a couple of hours."

"Perhaps."

They repacked the Capps file and moved the fifteen notebooks into the hall, where two large black men waited with a row of bulky cardboard boxes and an oriental rug.

Nina followed him to the second-floor library.

"I'm supposed to meet with Lamar Quin at two - to study for the bar exam. Call him and cancel. Tell him I'll explain later."

"You have a two o'clock meeting with Gill Vaughn," she said.

"Cancel that one too."

"He's a partner."

"Cancel it. I'll make it up later."

"It's not wise."

"Just do as I say."

"You're the boss."

"Thank you."

* * *

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