Here’s this week’s episode of The Port City Chronicle, the continuing serial novel of Gretchen, a 46-year-old criminal defense lawyer, and her family and friends, seeking love and happiness in Portland the hard way:
“This isn’t Law and Order,” Howard said to our client. “We’re not going to win before the last commercial.”
He was trying to explain why even if we met with the prosecutor to tell Stewart’s side of the story, the investigation wouldn’t end there. The case was going to require more than one hour of programming from start to finish no matter what we did.
Stewart couldn’t see why. “I understand Williams is in trouble but I’m amazed he says I have anything to do with it. I only hooked up with him in the first place because I was looking to create a substrate for my company to grow business in the funds transfer space. Williams was the most proximate resource.”
Howard wasn’t persuaded, but for sound business reasons he never yells directly at his clients. Instead, he makes an example of his office staff.
“Why are you typing so loud?” he snapped at his associate, taking notes on his laptop at the end of the conference table. Kevin also breathes and swallows too loudly.
When he started ripping his cuticles off shortly thereafter, Howard came down on him for that too.
“I’m not going to sit here watching you flay yourself alive.”
Aside from Howard, Kevin was also worried about being behind in his work. “Once they tell me I have to work Sunday, I can’t do any work Friday,” he told me when I came upon him staring into space at his desk the week before. Instead of typing too loudly he was barely even breathing.
“Last night I dreamed my teeth fell out and I was holding them in my hand,” he said. “In my dream the doctor said it happens all the time and I just had to keep working.”
“What happened before that?” I asked, trying to help him figure out what it meant.
“I don’t remember,” he said. “The only other things I remember are an elephant, a broom, and four mushrooms.”
The elephant was obviously Howard but I wasn’t entirely sure about anything else. The mushrooms could have been any of us.
“This morning for a while I thought it was only Thursday,” Kevin said. “I was worried I’d done nothing all week and then I suddenly thought ‘How could I have done anything anyway, it’s only Thursday. Then I realized it was Friday and I had in fact done nothing all week.”
But what really got him down was the constant barrage of emails from Howard in all capital letters.
“I had so much trouble sleeping I couldn’t even ride my bike to work today. I don’t want to be killed on top of everything else I’m dealing with.”
At any rate, Stewart didn’t even get the message Howard was trying to send by beating up on Kevin in front of him.
“We were drinking from the fire hose,” Stewart continued obliviously. “We were just kind of blue-skying it, trying to create affinities, get to the table earlier in the process.”
So Howard tried to teach him a lesson again when we went out to get our lunch from the receptionist and found her sitting idly at her desk sipping a cup of coffee.
“This is a business,” Howard barked. “Not a club where you can go and sit in a nice comfortable chair with air conditioning and drink coffee.”
On top of that, she’d ordered the wrong lunch.
“I told you,” he said. “I can’t have salami or chips for the next couple weeks because of my annual checkup. Once my cholesterol’s been tested you can order my regular lunch again.”
“Right,” she muttered. “Because the main thing is to disguise your health problems from the doctor.”
Not that Diane particularly cared if anything happened to Howard.
“I have a hankering for a loaf of bread from Standard but I’m afraid I’ll eat the whole loaf,” he said, looking through her list of menus.
“Couldn’t you just eat half a loaf?”
Howard made a face. “In this case half a loaf is worse than none.”
Instead he took Diane’s salad and made her eat the salami sandwich, putting both of them in an even worse mood.
“Do you realize Memorial Day was the first day we had off since President’s Day?” she asked, when he went back to the conference room with her salad. “Not that either of us even got Memorial Day off. I always end up having to work holidays. In fact those are the only days I actually really do work, since none of the secretaries are here, which doesn’t stop me from being bitter I have to work those days.”
But Stewart still didn’t get the point, even after Diane got yelled at.
“We were trying to put our nose under the proverbial tent, if you will,” he said, continuing to explain his relationship with Williams. “In fact at one time I considered accepting an adjunct position there, just to put me inside their walls.”
It was the last straw for Howard, who was about to yell at Stewart after all. He figured whatever he said would be nothing compared to what the DA would say if Stewart went in to make a proffer and talked about drinking from the fire hose in the proverbial tent.
Stewart sensed something was wrong even if he couldn’t put his finger on it.
“Maybe we should talk to Alvin Rushfield,” he said. “He has experience in the funds transfer space. What do you think of Alvin?”
Not surprisingly, Howard was not enthused.
“Terrific lawyer if he’s over his drinking problem.”
Fortunately, despite breathing so loudly, Kevin had gotten a little more information out of Stewart in a quieter moment than Howard got with all his yelling.
Kevin pulled up a presentation on his computer.
“Don’t worry, it’s short,” he said.
Howard tried not to look pleased.
“Don’t say short, that makes it sound insignificant.”
“Okay, I’ll tell them it’s ten minutes.”
“Ten minutes makes it sound uninteresting.”
But a week later we were on our way to meet with the prosecutor.
“What’s the guy like?” Stewart asked.
“He’s a woman,” Howard said. “Young, blond, attractive, hot. A made-for-TV woman.”
In other words, the kind that impresses juries, like on Law and Order, Howard was trying to say.
Meanwhile Kevin was so excited at having a star role for once, he really was breathing too loudly.
Howard noticed it too. “I get it you’re excited,” he said, “but you’re peeing on your own feet.”
Ultimately we did as well as we could, but as Howard had said from the beginning, it was going to be a tough case.
“What’d you think?” Stewart asked, as we came back out on the street afterward.
“I think there’s reason to be concerned,” Howard said.
Stewart looked confused. “What do you mean?”
So Howard finally put it in language Stewart could understand.
“It’s a bet-the-ranch case. You know what that means?”
Stewart nodded. It was an expression they often used in the funds transfer space while blue-skying it with the firehose under the proverbial tent. And we were still very far from the last commercial.