“This case is gonna kill me.”
I stared down at Chip Westin and tried to think of an appropriate response. Actually, I would have been happy withanyresponse, but nothing came to mind. This was my immediate boss, and these were the first private words he said to me after McGillary, one of the senior partners at Ishmael, McGillary and Gold, had introduced us.
What does thatmean?I thought miserably.
Westin looked to be in his early fifties, balding, wearing an expensive suit that had probably looked good when he was thirty pounds lighter. His complexion was pasty, but he wasn’t a vampire. His cluttered office’s one window was blocked by a stack of books and files, and I suspected he didn’t get out much. His jowls looked like they were melting toward his collar, but this seemed to be caused less by gravity than by bone-grinding weariness and frustration.
Thus far my first day at Ishmael, McGillary and Gold, one of the premier White-Fang law firms, had consisted of signing my insurance and pension papers, designating who would receive said pension should I die while still employed by the firm, being shown my small cubbyhole of an office, and being introduced to Westin. “You’ll be helping with his cases,” McGillary had said as he led me toward Westin’s office. Then he’d amended that, adding in a peculiar tone of voice, “Well, one in particular.” I could only assume Westin’s prediction of imminent death was related to that case.
“Okay. Maybe you should tell me about it,” I said. I would have liked to sit down, but there was no available surface that wasn’t covered with papers, books, and files.
“It’s a probate case. Back in sixty-eight, Captain Henry Abercrombie was serving in Vietnam when a werewolf went rogue and bit him. That was just after the spooks went public, and the military had to admit how many hounds were actually serving in the armed forces.”
I blanched a bit at the pejorative term but let it pass. After all, I’d just met the man. Westin continued.
“Anyway, he had a wife and three kids back in Newport News, and shortly after he came home on medical leave he separated from his wife, Marlene. He didn’t divorce her because of the kids, and he kept helping with expenses, but he never lived with them again. Then three years later, he left the marines and founded a company, Securitech.”
I choked. Securitech was the largest private military force in the world, worth close to a billion dollars. They had serious clout. The last time Securitech had been in the news was when they’d received a thirty-million-dollar, no-bid contract from the DOD. A crusading senator from Minnesota had tried to reopen the negotiations, but the investigation was closed down by the White House and the Justice Department, and the senator abruptly resigned from Congress, stating the ever-popular need tospend more time with his family.
Westin continued. “In 1980, Abercrombie decided to sire a werewolf heir, and he picked his second in command, Daniel Deegan. At this point the kids were grown up, so Abercrombie divorced Marlene. Then seventeen years ago Abercrombie was killed in a car wreck in Somalia. His human ex-wife, Marlene, and the kids—though they’re not really kids any longer, they’re in their fifties—retained us to challenge the will that left the company to Deegan.
“In the beginning we raised the issue of the wording about progeny in the will. The lawyer who drafted the will for Abercrombie threw the wordnaturalin front of progeny. We wanted to argue that sex resulting in pregnancy and birth is more ‘natural’”—he made quote marks with his fingers—“than biting somebody.”
A Supreme Court decision came floating to the front of my mind.Geislerhad established thatprogenycould mean the werewolf or vampire the testator had sired. In fact, the court had contended, that relationship was closer than the relationship with children produced by sex and birth, because the act of Making showed such a high level of intent.
Mr. Westin nodded. “Yeah, kicked us right in the nuts. Sometimes I wonder if there’s a secret spook on the high court.”
There it was again—the pejorative term for vampires, werewolves, and Álfar being used by a lawyer working at a White-Fang law firm. I assumed he had as-yet-undiscovered talents that made him valuable to the senior partners despite his atttitude. Judging by the piles of papers in the room, he was probably the firm’s resident research monkey, a highly esteemed position since most lawyers hated the role. Then I wondered if he had any idea that I had been fostered in a vampire household and thatImight find this offensive. Again, I hid my reaction. Calling my boss out for being a bigot was not a smart move the first day on the job.
“So, where does that leave us?” I asked. It felt good using the plural.Our case.It made me feel like a real lawyer.
“In arbitration,” Chip said.
“Geislerwas years ago.”
“Yeah, we’ve been in arbitration for seventeen years.”
I stared around at the paper towers and felt my gut sinking toward the soles of my feet. “So all this…” I gestured.
“Depositions. Interrogatories. Transcripts of arbitrations. I got a few other smaller cases…”
His voice trailed away and he looked around the office with the air of a confused dog. I was reminded of the old basset hound my foster liege, Mr. Bainbridge, had owned. Dilbert constantly forgot where he’d hidden his bones. Mr. Bainbridge had spent many a night out with a flashlight, Dilly lumbering alongside and tripping over his ears while his well-trained owner searched for the lost bone.
I pulled Mr. Westin back to theAbercrombiecase. “Why is this still going on?” I asked.
The response was blunt. “Because our clients are crazy. The wife and kids are demanding the entire company.”
“And the court hasn’t shut this down?”
“They don’t give a shit. As long as we’re in arbitration it’s not their problem.” He picked up a stack of papers and set it down. Picked up a file, flipped through it, set it aside. “We’re about to start another round, and I yelled for help. One of our witnesses died last month, and Deegan’s lawyers are challenging his deposition. I need somebody to help me prepare for this meeting.”
“And that would be me?”
“Yep. Your lucky day, huh?” Westin suddenly realized I’d been standing for a long time. “Oh, I’m sorry.”
He left his chair, hurried around the desk, lifted a stack of folders off the client’s chair, and offered it to me. He then stood looking around. Once again I was reminded of Dilly. Westin tried to find a place for the stack of folders. There wasn’t one. I stood back up and he set the folders back down on the chair. Even that much exertion left him short of breath. Pants punctuated each word as he said, “Sorry my office is a mess. Maybe now that you’re here I can start to dig out. I’m really, really happy to have you on board.”
“Thank you, I’m very excited to be here,” I said, and it wasn’t a lie.
Or at least I wasn’t lying about my pleasure at having been hired by this particular firm. Only Gunther, Piedmont, Spann and Engelberg down in Washington, DC, had a better rep, but my folks—my real folks, not my vampire foster liege—hadn’t wanted me to go that far away from home this early in my career.
“I’ll need you to read through everything and see if you can think of any other witnesses or arguments we can use to bolster the idea that Abercrombie actually loved his wife and kids and wouldn’t have cut them out without a dime.”
“Despite abandoning them,” I said somewhat acidly.
“No, no, no. He left them because he loved them too much to risk them, or warp his children by having them grow up with a werewolf daddy. It’s all in the presentation.” He gave me a grin that made him look like a delighted, fat-faced baby. “Our job is to present bullshit like it’s filet mignon.”
I decided I could work with him despite his prejudice, and I made a conscious effort to start thinking of him as Chip rather than Mr. Westin.
Chip rooted through the office, gathering up papers and files and piling them in my arms. When the stack was almost up to my chin, he said, “This should give you a sense of where we’ve been and where we’re at.”
“Great. I’ll get started reading.”
“We’ll drop those in your office, and then I’ll give you the dime tour. Also, I could use a snack, and the food’s better up in teak heaven.”
It took me a second to figure out what he was saying. We were on the seventieth floor, where the human associates resided. On the seventy-third floor was where the partners dwelled. Things were fancier up where the partners worked.
People said that working for a White-Fang firm was like stepping back to the sixties, but since I wasn’t alive back then, I couldn’t attest to the accuracy of the statement. I just noticed as we made our way across the common area housing the assistants that I didn’t see a single male secretary, and it seemed that the male associates had the nicer, larger offices on the outer walls.
Chip kept leading us in and out of offices, as I tottered along behind like a pack mule with a precariously balanced load and he tossed out names like confetti. I have a terrible time remembering people’s names unless I can pin the name to a face, but the only way I could see their faces was if I peered around my stack.
Only a couple of introductions stuck, because I was so worried about dropping the papers and causing a humiliating mess. One was Caroline Despopolis—blonde, tall, slender, and beautiful. We were both wearing Yves Saint Laurent skirts and jackets, but on her it looked fabulous while on me it looked dowdy. I wondered if the sage green jacket really complemented my black hair.
The only other introduction that made an impact was David Sullivan, and that was because he was a vampire. His luminous white skin made his eyes look like dark brown velvet. His taffy-colored hair was carefully styled into casual disarray, and it was pretty clear his suit had never hung on a rack. Definitely bespoke. But here he was down on the human floor. Vampires were partners. Partners didn’t have offices on a human floor. Which meant he’d screwed up majorly to get banished like this. He saw my mental wheels turning as I did the analysis and reached my conclusion, and he rewarded me with a look that would have killed me on the spot if vampires really had that power.
But he still had the intimidation thing down pat, and since I’d grown up in a vampire household I immediately reacted, offering a submissive and wordless apology by tilting my head to the side and shaking my hair off my neck. Not that he would ever have bitten a woman, but Sullivan neither accepted nor acknowledged the apology. He just snorted and disappeared into his office.
The door to my office beckoned, and I managed to get through the door and deposit the stack just before the top files went sliding like the leading edge of an avalanche. As Chip helped me gather up the files he asked, in a too-casual tone, “That thing you did.” He cocked his head awkwardly to the side. “That’s like spook etiquette, right?”
I cringed and Chip looked contrite. “I don’t mean any harm. It’s just the way I was raised. My mom worked here, but my dad never did like it, and didn’t much like the”—he made the mental correction and used the politically correct term—“powers, either. I hope you won’t mention that I used that term.”
I wondered if Chip would also say his use of the n-word didn’t mean anything, and that it was just his background. But I didn’t want to start out my tenure by ratting out a coworker. “Sure. No problem.”
“I heard from Shade that you were fostered in a spook—er, vampire household. Is that true?”
“Yes, I was.”
“How does a parent swing something like that?” Chip asked.
“I’m not exactly sure. My family’s been pretty closely allied with the Powers since 1963. My grandfather was a lawyer, and he helped with the integration after the Powers came out—went public. However you want to put it.”
“Sure does help your profile if you can establish that kind of relationship.” Chip ran a hand across his face. “I sure would like my kids to have that advantage, even if it meant that the boys might turn into inhuman creatures.”
I gave a mental sigh and decided that this was a habit Chip wasn’t going to break easily. I also had to wonder why he was working in a vampire-run law firm, given his feelings. Had to be the mother thing. Vampires took loyalty to servants very seriously.
I gave a noncommittal answer. “I’ll ask my dad. See if I can give you any pointers.” But I doubted it would do much good. If there’s one thing that can be said for the Powers, it’s that they’re snobs, and I had a feeling that neither Chip nor his offspring would pass muster with those households. I wasn’t exactly sure how we had rated. Maybe it had to do with my family’s illustrious past rather than our rather mundane present.
We once again passed through the reception area on our way to the elevators, and I noticed that the secretaries and assistants went into a huddle after we passed. Maybe the word had spread further than Chip that I had been fostered in a vampire household. That would inevitably result in them thinking I had gotten the job through connections, which I had—sort of. All of this meant I was going to have to work that much harder just to prove I deserved to be here.
I could feel the determination settling into my jaw as we stepped into the elevator. I almost suggested we take the stairs, but then I remembered how moving files and walking to my office had winded Chip and decided against it. Killing my boss on the first day was not a way to impress.
The seventieth floor was nice. Mahogany and cherry wood, slate tiles, green glass partitions to separate the assistants, private offices for the attorneys. The seventy-third was opulent. Teak furniture, polished Carrera marble floors softened by elaborate oriental rugs, an antique sideboard where an attractive and obsequious assistant would mix the beverage of your choice. A client might have to wait, but they would have a cocktail to sip while they waited.
And if said client wasn’t tempted by the wide selection of magazines, both foreign and American, they could drift to the wall of windows (all carefully treated with heavy UV screens for the protection of the vampires) and look out across the shimmering patch of green that was Central Park. Right now the early morning sun danced on the skyscrapers on the far side of the park and Columbus Circle, turning them into crystal spires and pulling rainbow colors from their windows.
The receptionist looked to be all of twenty, and he was gorgeous in that pouty way that only a really handsome male can achieve. He ran a bored eye over me, and I could see the rejection. I tried to figure out why.Because I’m not seventeen? My outfit is dowdy?Then I caught his expression as his eyes drifted over to Chip.I’m with Chip. That’s why I’m being dismissed.
“Anybody in the conference room?” Chip asked, pointing toward the heavy, carved-wood double doors.
“No. I guess you can go in there, but be quick about it.” The kid’s tone was curt to the point of being rude. The level of disdain set off my alarm bells. Chip might not be a vampire, but he was still an associate in the firm.
We stepped through the doors and were in a long hallway with offices to either side. The aroma of coffee hit my nose and my stomach gave a loud growl. I had been too nervous to eat this morning. Chip walked through a doorway on our left, and we were in a kitchen.
The fluorescent lights glittered on stainless-steel appliances and granite countertops. My apartment didn’t have a kitchen this nice. A young woman was toasting a bagel.
Leaning casually against a counter and wolfing down a powdered-sugar donut was a stunningly handsome man dressed in blue jeans, a silk polo shirt, and a blue blazer. His hair was a mix of white, gold, and black streaks of varying widths, as if a hairdresser had gone mad during a highlighting session. His eyes were green and he sported a spectacular shiner.
Now that I was looking more closely, I realized he had a long grease stain across the back of his coat, which had one elbow ripped out. He was also pretty clearly an Álfar. Among all the Powers, only the fey folk possessed such devastating beauty.
“… saw me taking a scraping off the bumper, and came flying out the front door and down the steps. He threw back the screen so hard he broke it,” the man was saying, punctuating his words with little puffs of powdered sugar.
“What did you do?” the woman asked, pausing from smearing cream cheese on her bagel.
“Ran like hell, but he was fast for such a fat guy. He tackled me.” The man ruefully regarded the rip in his coat. “He tried to grab the Baggie with the sample, but I had it someplace safe.” The Álfar patted the front of his pants and leered at the woman. She blushed. “He popped me once, but he got the worst of the encounter,” he concluded with satisfaction.
“Oh, you poor thing. Would you like to come over tonight? I can make dinner.”
“Sorry, but Jennifer has already offered tea and sympathy.”
Chip chuckled and slapped the man on the shoulder. “John, stop telling tales of your derring-do and pitching woo to all the secretaries, and come meet our new associate.” Said secretary blushed and slipped through the door. “Linnet Ellery, John O’Shea. Linnet comes to us by way of Radcliffe and Yale.”
We shook hands, and I found myself studying his. Despite a scrape on the knuckles, they were beautiful, with long tapered fingers, manicured nails, and powerful muscles across the back. I am a sucker for hands. I have capable hands made even wider from years of riding horseback, but no one would describe them as elegant.
We murmured our how-do-you-dos, and I wondered why he’d assumed the human name. O’Shea was smiling in a way that made me catch my breath. I knew that smile was fool’s gold; in addition to inhuman beauty, the Álfar are also known for devastating charm and short attention spans.
“John’s our P.I. If you need anything investigated, photographed, stolen, or staked out, he’s your guy,” Chip continued.
I was startled and decided to say so. “Not the usual role for an Álfar. You’re usually in the entertainment industry.”
“I’m not your usual Álfar.” He gave me a genuine smile this time. “Most of the Fair and Crazy Folk couldn’t hold down a real job.”
I was startled by his dismissive tone, and I would have loved to talk more with him, but I wasn’t sure if the desire was from actual intellectual interest or if he was throwing a glamour on me. If it was a glamour, I decided to start breaking the spell. The best way is to perform a mundane activity, so I began to prepare my own bagel. Chip was rummaging through the big Sub-Zero refrigerator.
“There’s lox,” he said, and emerged with a package of thin-sliced salmon.
“I’ll leave you folks to it,” O’Shea said. “I’m going to go put in a requisition for a new blazer. Nice meeting you,” he added.
“And you,” I said, putting the finishing touches on my bagel.
Chip pulled down plates from a cabinet. It was real bone china, Wedgwood. No paper plates at Ishmael, McGillary and Gold.
“What’s his story?” I gestured toward the door and the now departed O’Shea. “O’Shea isn’t exactly an Álfar name.”
“It’s not. He is a changeling. Raised by humans, lived with humans, worked with humans. He was actually a policeman before he opened his own detective agency and we put him on retainer. I’m surprised more Álfar haven’t done that, or become really good crooks. They’ve got that whole walk-through-Fairyland thing they can do. When John’s on your tail, he’s almost impossible to spot.”
“Wow.” I really couldn’t think of anything else to say to this remarkable story, and now I really wanted another chance to talk with John O’Shea.
Armed with food and cups of coffee, Chip and I continued to the end of the hall, where five conference rooms occupied the far wall. The center one was magnificent, with an inlaid-wood round table and high-backed chairs.
“This is where the big boys meet,” he said, and I could hear the envy.
“Where’s the law library?” I asked.
“Just below us. They took out the floor between seventy-one and seventy-two to accommodate the shelves. Walkways and ladders everywhere so you can reach the top shelves.” He paused to gauge my reaction.
It was one of pure lust. I love books, especially old books. There’s a smell and a feel to old paper that makes me feel like I am shaking hands with people across time. Law firms measure their wealth in the quality of their research library, and it’s always a real point of pride in a White-Fang firm. During one of my summer internships while I was in school, the senior partner loved to wander by, notice what book I was perusing, and casually mention that he’d acquired the tome back in 1715.
I have the same reaction to portraits. Whenever I walked through a museum, I was always drawn to the walls of faces. I actually preferred the unknown subjects to the famous people. I’d look at the young girl playing with a puppy, or the young man wearing his dignity like a cloak, his hand resting on the sword hilt in a way that clearly said,don’t laugh at me.
I’d weave stories about them and wonder about their lives. And then I would look over at my foster liege and realize that Mr. Bainbridge had become a vampire during the Renaissance. The past had been walking among us every day, and it was only in the past forty years that most humans had learned of it.
“Want to see the library?” Chip asked, pulling me out of my reverie. I nodded in enthusiastic assent. We finished off our bagels and coffee, dropped off the china in the kitchen, and rode the elevator down one floor.
There were twelve-foot-tall wood and glass double doors to the left of the elevator bank. Chip pushed one open and allowed me to precede him into the muted light thrown by glass-shaded brass lamps. It was so quiet that I could hear someone turning a page in a secluded carrel.
For my high school graduation present, my folks had treated me to a trip to Europe. The only other place I had seen a library like this was at Blenheim Castle. Stairs led to a catwalk at the level where the seventy-second floor would have been. On both levels the walls were covered with floor-to-ceiling shelves and rolling ladders were available to reach the upper volumes. There were desks scattered among the standing shelves, carpet underfoot, a beautiful inlaid round conference table, and even a large gas fireplace topped with a carved marble mantle to add to the sense of comfort.
Only one thing was missing. There were no computers. Instead, the index files were kept in an enormous antique file cabinet, and a table held a large stack of legal pads and pens. At least there was a copier so you wouldn’t have to hand-copy every citation you found.
I sighed, but I wasn’t surprised. Vampires were conservative. If something worked well in 1847, why wouldn’t it work just fine in the twenty-first century? It was something I had endured growing up in the Bainbridge house. If I’d wanted to surf the net, I had to make a trip into town and find the nearest Internet cafe. A laptop was no help because there was no Internet service. Eventually the neighbors put in Wi-Fi, and I discovered that if I sat near the edge of the Bainbridge property I could bootleg their signal.
Chip and I were just turning to head back to the door when a tall, silver-haired man in a rich gray-and-blue Canali suit emerged from between the stacks. He was frowning down at the open page of a book. Shade Shadrach Ishmael was one of the founding partners of the firm. He was close friends with my foster father, Meredith Bainbridge, and had often been a guest in the Sag Harbor house. Over the years we’d shared a number of rambling conversations about music, history, and law. I suspected Shade was the reason I had been asked to interview at Ishmael, McGillary and Gold.
“Linnet, my dear. Welcome.”
He bent, making the motion seem more like a bow. Vampires were so damn graceful, it made me feel all the more like a klutz. He kissed my cheek, and his lips were cold against my skin. Like most vampires, he wore a lot of aftershave and made sure to use mouthwash four or five times a day, but nothing completely masked the faint scent of blood that hung around him.
Deep inside, I felt that primal shiver of fear. Intellectually, I knew it was unwarranted. I was in no danger. I was a woman, and vampires didn’t bite women. I had also been raised in a vampire household. I had watched Mr. Bainbridge feed every night from the time I was eight until I graduated from high school. But the old lizard brain that had kept us safe when we first swung down from the trees was convinced that I was prey and that I was standing way too close to a predator.
“Thank you, Mr. Ishmael, I’m very happy to be here.”
He stared down at me, puzzled, and shook his head. “So formal, Linnet?”
I smiled. “I work for you now. I need to be respectful.”
He threw back his head and gave a sharp laugh. “I have a hard time reconciling that with the little girl I watched grow up. When I think of you, I think impertinent, cocky, brash—”
“Pert, flippant, cheeky, insolent, saucy, sassy, smart-alecky.” I broke off and gave him a quick grin. “I can play Thesaurus too.”
Shade laughed again and glanced at Chip. “You see what you have to contend with? You are forewarned.”
Chip had gone from looking aghast to grinning. He nodded. “I think we’re going to get along fine.”
Shade patted me on the shoulder. “You’re in good hands. Chip is the most meticulous lawyer I’ve ever known.”
An image of his cluttered office flashed through my head. Shade seemed to read my mind. “Don’t be fooled by his surroundings. He keeps everything.” Shade tapped his temple. “Up here.”
As we walked back to the elevator, I said softly to Chip, “Don’t get hit by a bus. At least not until I know where all the bodies are buried.”
I spent the rest of the day beginning to read through seventeen years of pleadings, depositions, and interrogatories. Chip packed it in around seven o’clock. I hung on until eight p.m. and felt I’d made the right choice. Most of the human associates were just leaving.
The assistants’ desks, wooden ramparts guarding the doors to the lawyers’ offices, were unmanned at this time of the night, but the central reception area was awash with departing lawyers. Expensive suits and snap-brim fedoras on the men, pencil skirts and elegant jackets for the women. Goodbyes were exchanged; a few people made plans to meet for drinks. There didn’t appear to be a lot of office romances, either brewing or actually up and running. If you were male and hoped to make partner and be made a vampire, you knew marriage and a family weren’t in your future. If you were male and weren’t interested in making partner, you probably lacked the ambition to be hired at a White-Fang firm. Thus, most of the women attorneys knew their male coworkers were a bad bet.
David Sullivan stood in the doorway of his office and watched the humans mill with an expression of sublime indifference. He caught me looking at him, turned on his heel, and closed the door of the office. I joined the mass exodus and stood in a clump of people awaiting the arrival of an elevator. The moment of Briefcase Comparison had arrived—the ultimate legal version of dick measuring, or whatever the female equivalent would be.
There were Forzieri and Brunelleschi cases with leather like butter. Caroline had a pale green leather Dior bag that she had thrown nonchalantly over her shoulder. She looked poised and elegant. Mine was a roller bag that held my small MacBook, up to four files, a legal pad, pens, a book to read at lunch, and sometimes a lunch. I looked like a geek.
The elevator arrived with a melodicding.People crowded in. I tried to follow. “I don’t think there’s room for the both of you,” Caroline said with a nod at my roller bag, and she let the door to the elevator close in front of my nose. I could hear the laughter as the elevator began to descend.
Why did there have to be one like that in every office?
Copyright © 2012 by Melinda Snodgrass