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:
“The board meeting starts at 8 a.m.,” my client said. “Let’s see if you can make it. I’ll check the flight schedule.”
He clicked a few keys on the other end of the phone. “Excellent. There’s a 5:35 a.m. flight from Portland on JetBlue. That’s perfect.”
It didn’t sound that perfect if you consider I’m technically a member of a diurnal species. Same as people who are not lawyers, I prefer to sleep at night and move around during the day. Otherwise I would have bigger eyeballs and more rods than cones.
But none of that applied under the circumstances, due to the existence in the case of co-counsel, that arch-nemesis of defense lawyers. If I weren’t willing to walk across hot coals blindfolded for the client, co-counsel would happily do it just to get there first.
“Who’s going to be at the meeting?” I asked, hoping it wouldn’t include Phil. But the client didn’t consider anyone with less than millions of dollars worth mentioning, much less mere lawyers.
“Tom from Able Capital, Bob from Whiterock, Jim from UBM. Everybody else is just cats and dogs.”
At least there would be other people who weren’t fully human besides myself. But I still didn’t know whether they would include Phil.
A couple of days before the meeting I called to try to find out.
“What’s Phil been up to?” I asked his secretary. I’d become friendly with her after spending so much time holding for Phil as part of his dominance routine.
“Not much,” she said. “Nothing really.”
He must have heard her.
“Just a minute, Gretchen,” he called out. “I’m wrapping up a $30 million settlement. Be with you shortly.”
So he was doing something between zero and $30 million.
“Are you coming to the meeting on July 28?” I asked, when he finally got on the phone after rearranging his pencils.
He hesitated. “I don’t know, there’s only so many things I can shift around. Maybe I can do it by phone if I step out of another meeting.”
He said he’d know more the day before. But when I called that day I only reached voicemail, which he’d been too busy to record himself.
“You have reached Phil Sanders,” said an officious female voice. “He is currently unavailable. Please leave a message at the tone and he will get back to you.”
Since that was highly unlikely in my case I turned back to the motion papers that had to be e-filed by 11:59 p.m. that night. One of the joys of courts going electronic is that whereas 11:59 p.m. and 12:00 a.m. used to be almost the same time, now there is a huge difference between them.
At 6 p.m, the woman who cleans our offices came in to empty my garbage and dust the two inches of empty space on my desk. She, too, is forced to be nocturnal due to the inhumanity of the world.
“Good job,” she said, as usual, seeing me bent over my work. It was the most encouragement I got all day.
Meanwhile I frantically tried to turn my boss’s stream of consciousness musings into something that could be submitted to the court.
“It’s ready to file,” he said, handing it to me earlier.
I took a quick look. “We should probably try to put some law into it though.”
That job fell mostly to Kevin while I ran out to seek new business so we could work even later every night.
By the time I got home it was 10 o’clock.
“Where were you?” Grace asked, as I came in the door.
“I was at a women’s networking dinner,” I said.
“Oh yeah?” she asked. “Who was there?”
I thought a moment. “I didn’t catch their names. One of them I think was maybe Laura something but I’m not sure about that.”
“Did you get their phone numbers?” Grace asked.
“I think they gave me their cards, one sec,” I said, rummaging in my bag. “I can’t find them.”
“Why did you go in the first place?”
“Somebody asked me to go a couple months ago but I can’t remember who it was and I must have deleted the email. I thought I could figure it out when I got there but nobody mentioned anyone I know.”
At any rate, I had to hurry up and get a few hours sleep to arm myself for the next day, especially since Phil might be there.
Sure enough, he was at the gate for the connecting flight, looking fresh as a daisy, having just showered after his run.
“I run every morning,” he said. “I do it for my head, to keep myself sane.”
Naturally he would never do it out of mere vanity, same as the manicure and the dye job.
“How far do you go?” I asked.
“8-10 miles, sometimes more.”
“Wow,” I said. “You must really be on the edge.”
But he’d already moved on to other topics so I’d know he’d been exercising his mind as well as his body.
“How about those photos of Pluto,” he said. “Really fascinating.”
I’d vaguely seen the pictures on the front page of the paper but had been too busy to even read the captions. Fortunately in my present state of exhaustion I wasn’t too concerned.
“For some reason I’d just not interested in Pluto,” I said.
He looked at me condescendingly. “You do know this is an historic moment, right? Pluto was about to orbit out of reach of the Earth. Do you know how often Pluto comes close enough to the Earth to be studied? How many times does Pluto orbit the Sun every thousand years?”
Not to be outdone, I tried to focus through the fog of sleeplessness. “Wait, don’t tell me. I should know this.”
I tried to tell myself there was no right or wrong answer.
“I’m going to guess 3.”
But he didn’t get a chance to lecture me any more about it because we’d arrived at the client’s.
“I’m here for the board meeting,” he said, standing at the reception desk, forgetting he had company.
The receptionist looked up from her computer haughtily.
“What you’re going to do is, you’re going to walk 8 feet toward the windows. Take a left and proceed another 10-12 feet toward the end of the hall, keeping the file cabinets on your right. When you reach the cubicles on the left, turn right, walk another 4 feet past the women’s bathroom until you get to a set of offices along the west wall. It’s the second conference room on the right.”
Phil managed to enter the room before me but it didn’t make any difference. The important people were already clustered around the head of the table and they had started the meeting without us. Knowing my place, I made for the first empty seat amongst the cats and dogs at the foot of the table. And in the end, there was nothing Phil could do but join me.