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:
“So can you come in Saturday and get this brief done?” Howard asked Kevin. It was less a question than a take-out order. “The client has some time to look at it on Sunday.”
Kevin was distractedly unwrapping a home-made sandwich at his desk.
“I’ll have to see. I planned to watch movies all day on Saturday.”
“What?” That was not the item Howard had ordered.
“Oh right, I meant I have to get a root canal.”
It was typical of how out-of-it Kevin had been recently, even more so than usual. He’d even been called in to Miller’s office for a discussion.
“This happens every once in a while when my numbers are down,” Kevin told me. “Miller’s the enforcer for Howard.”
“Really?” I said. “How do you know?”
“Because there’s nothing in Miller’s office except a desk, a chair, and a phone. He doesn’t even have paper.” There’s nothing scarier than an office with no paper.
“And what did he say to you?”
‘“So what’s the problem?”’ Kevin said.
But if it was a question apparently Miller didn’t wait for an answer. Instead, he told Kevin to connect the dots.
Not that Kevin was persuaded. “Anyone can connect the dots,” he said. “It takes a fine mind to create them.”
That didn’t go over very well with Miller.
“Why are you wearing a sweater?” he asked. “Where’s your suit? You’re not a kindergarten teacher.”
He wanted to know what Kevin had been doing with his time, including the book he had in his pocket.
“Why are you reading a twenty-year old book on Irish history?” he asked, turning the book over in his hands scornfully. “It’s out of date.”
“It’s a history book,” Kevin said. “That’s the essence of history, that it’s out of date.”
I thought some of Kevin’s problem might be that a client he tried to bring in got rejected. Howard didn’t think they had enough money, though apparently he was too polite to say so.
“We want to represent clients with access to liquidity,” he told Kevin instead.
When Kevin said we shouldn’t just focus on money, Howard disagreed. “There’s nothing wrong with money,” he said. “You obviously don’t understand Calvinism, what this whole country is based on.”
He pointed out that we also do pro bono cases to make sure we can’t be criticized as mercenary.
“I don’t know why you’re complaining,” Howard said. “You just won a pro bono case I gave you.”
“Right,” Kevin said. ‘“Sex offender wins custody.’”
Nor was Howard impressed that one of our competitors had been representing Kevin’s potential client for several years.
“They’re not even real lawyers,” Howard said, describing a deal he’d worked on that they’d almost blown up. “It’s like having a dentist pull your tooth and say, ‘Wow, this is hard.’”
I suspected Howard was actually annoyed at Kevin for other things. Among them was Kevin’s unwillingness to listen to one of Howard’s rants while Kevin was under a deadline to get something else out.
“You do know, right, that you’re only talking to one person?” he said to Howard, during the second hour of Howard’s speech.
It was a big mistake. Howard always talks to a large audience no matter who’s present.
Then Kevin was insufficiently appreciative when Howard put the prosecutor down in a case Kevin was trying to settle. First Howard made light of the case and then he mocked the prosecutor himself.
“I admire your enthusiasm,” Howard said. “But why not try a little restraint.”
It didn’t help Kevin much for the future resolution.
Meanwhile on the other end the client was constantly mocking Kevin.
“Ha ha ha,” the client’s in-house counsel said to her colleague during a meeting while Kevin was taking notes. “Look at his big loopy handwriting.”
“They just laugh in your face like that?” I said to Kevin later.
He shrugged. “Yes, I’m the fool for them as well as their lawyer. And they get all that for the low, low price of $350 an hour.”
When Howard finally got fed up with Kevin’s attitude, Kevin claimed he was just depressed about the fact that the Patriots lost their first round draft pick.
“I woke up at 4 and I was so upset I could only name 18 players on the Denver Broncos,” Kevin said.
“What’s the significance of the Denver Broncos?” I asked.
“They’re the arch-rivals of the Patriots,” Miller said scornfully. He’s never understood how I can be so dumb about football.
“And you could only name 18?” Howard said. “That’s really surprising. Have you been working too much?”
That led to a prolonged guy laugh and Howard even patted Kevin on the back. So it was a smart move by Kevin.
But by Saturday afternoon it fell apart while Kevin was in the office working on the brief.
Howard called to see how it was going.
“Not that well,” Kevin said. “My grandfather just died this morning and my grandmother’s got pretty advanced dementia.”
Howard was silent -- a very loud silence. “Wow, TMI. So when can you get me the brief?”
Instead he told Kevin the client asked to have a call at 2. Always blame it on the client.
But the client was very sympathetic. “I’m so sorry to hear about your grandfather. So let’s do the call at 4 instead.”
“That’s really thoughtful,” Kevin said. “I only need 2 hours to process it. Makes a big difference.”
Fortunately Howard and the client had already hung up.
So now I knew what had been bothering Kevin. “He’s been sick for a while,” he told me. “But I didn’t really know how bad it had gotten. I’ve been asking my grandmother for the last couple months how he’s been doing and she said she didn’t know, it was none of her business.”
Now it was too late and he hadn’t seen his grandfather before he died. He blamed working too much and it was probably true.
“What are you going to do?” I asked.
“I’m going to get this brief done and then I’m going to quit and go live in an ashram,” he said.
He looked anxiously at me. “If you visit don’t tell anyone I’m a corporate lawyer. Corporate lawyer is the worst possible insult in an ashram.”