I give him an expression that is noncommittal.
"Fine, then tell me you wouldn't scratch it."
"She's your wife," I tell him. "I wouldn't scratch it."
"But if she wasn't my wife?"
"I don't think I have your stamina."
He laughs. "The secret is to pace yourself."
"You'll have to show me sometime."
"Yeah, well. I admit it can be a problem." He looks at me. Wrinkles an eyebrow. Wrinkles on wrinkles. "All the same, if you gotta go, what better way?"
It's the kind of expression you could get from Nick just before he told you what your fee was going to beand always up front. Nick has made a religion out of tracing the source of his clients' money to make sure that it will not be confiscated by the government as the fruits of some illicit deal.
"She wants me to quit," he says.
This catches my attention and Nick notices.
"Not the practice," he says, "just the heavier criminal stuff. So I'm getting it from both ends. Screwed over by the firm and Dana putting pressure." He grabs a bottle of antacid tablets from the desk, unscrews the cap, pours some into his hand without counting, and slings them into his mouth, chewing and swallowing, then follows it with something in his coffee cup.
By the time he swallows and comes up for air, he's back ragging on Dana. "She's angry that they haven't come through on their promises. She wants me to talk to Tolt. Press him to get the big civil cases. Like he's gonna turn these over to me. He hates my ass."
"I don't know."
"There must be a reason?"
"Hey, you know me. Even-tempered. Easy-goin'. I get along with everybody. I'm learning how to climb the corporate rungs. You may not believe it, but I'm becoming discreet, diplomatic, political," he says.
"Lose your knife in somebody's back, did you?"
"There you go again. This dog's tryin' to learn new tricks and you keep running me down."
"No, I know this dog. He may be calling it a bush but he's trying to pee on my leg."
"How can you say that? There's talk that some of the partners want to put me on the management committee."
"I take it these are some of the partners whose pictures are on the walls out there in reception with brackets around the dates under their names?"
"I'm serious," he says.
"I know you're serious. It's their mental state I'm worried about. If they're serious, they're in the grips of dementia."
"You think so?"
"Nick, putting you on any committee would be an act of anarchy. The only administrative position for which you're qualified is emperor, and that would only work in hell and then only if there were bars on the windows."
He laughs. "Well, they're thinking about it. Tolt's the only one standing in the way. From what I hear, half the partners in the firm are ready to walk." He says it with a little glee as if burning his own place of employment to the ground is his ultimate objective. Nick gets off on blood, especially if it's somebody else's.
"Don't say you heard it here, but they're pissed at him." He's talking about Tolt. "Rumor is there will be no year-end bonuses. He wants to plough everything into a new branch office in Chicago. They're already overextended. That's what happens when you grow too fast," he says. "I stay here long enough and Tolt starts doing some creative accounting, I might pick him up as a client."
Nick is having fantasies. Adam Tolt is the firm's managing partner, for all intents the CEO, Yahweh, the higher power of what is now Nick's universe. He chairs a management committee, but according to anyone who knows Tolt, he's the man who makes the decisions. He is on a dozen corporate boards, two of the companies that make up Dow-Jones.
Reprinted from The Arraignment by Steve Martini, by permission of G. P. Putnams Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2003, Steve Martini. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Blood at the Root
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