"I can't help it that Joe was a tyrannical maniac. I wanted to like that job. I thought it was going to start a career for me in political analysis or something like that. It was my start to changing the world. I was as shocked as anyone that it didn't jumpstart my career. I knew I was going to be able to make a difference."
"I know." Sam said wearily. "But it doesn't seem to matter what you do. It always has a wrinkle. You want to change. I can see it start in you. First, things are great. Then, they are good, but you have a few criticisms. After that, you find more faults. Then, it starts to go horribly awry. You are desperately looking for a new job and leaping before you notice that it is the fire. Look at your time in the firm and tell me that isn't true."
* * *
The firm -- my experience was less like Tom Cruise's experience and more like Office Space. Once Sam asked me to move, I began my hunt. It wouldn't matter where I went, they would see how great I was very quickly and I'd be on my way to changing the world in no time.
I met with a lawyer in Albuquerque about job-hunting strategies.
"When you don't have any experience, and it isn't a time of year when firms are hiring new associates, I think you should take a contract attorney strategy."
"I'm not certain what a contract attorney strategy is," I responded.
"Send out a letter to firms in the area saying you are willing to do legal research, writing, whatever work they would give new associates for oh, say, twenty-five dollars an hour. That way, you can go into a number of firms, work for them, and get a feel for what they do and where you want to be. You should have no problem getting work. Firms are always looking for new, cheap labor. You might even get an associate position out of it."
The strategy sounded reasonable, so I went to Kinko's with a Martindale-Hubble legal directory in hand. Upon perfecting my cover letter, I went through the directory changing the address label, printing them out, adding a resume and stuffing them in an envelope. After a couple of days, I'd sent out about fifty letters. I sat back and waited for a response.
Within two weeks, a firm called for an interview. Eagerly, I went the next morning to meet with the only named partner.
"You're from my alma mater. Means you must be good. We need someone at least forty hours a week. Be here on Monday to start contracting with us -- exclusively."
I was so excited; I forgot to ask what I was going to be doing. The firm was well known around the state, so I figured it must be a good place to work. Besides, if it was known, then I could meet people and get started changing the world from here.
On my first day, I sat out in my car admiring the building before going in. It was an old New Mexican home redone as the law firm office. It was two stories. Chocolate stucco with a white balcony circled the entire thing, like a perfect postcard of what New Mexico should look like. The double blue doors completed the picture. I took a deep breath and got out of the car. I balanced my cappuccino on the top of the car while I put my new brown woven briefcase over my arm and picked up my Ralph Lauren handbag -- a starting gift from Sam. The purse was the cutest thing I had about ever seen. It was chocolate embossed leather. It was a perfect square with a silver buckle clasp. Sam was such a sweetie! The new purse gave me confidence about starting my new job -- and about the decision to move up here.
Inside, the entryway was tiled with little gold suns. It opened up into the reception area, two stories with an open balcony looking down over the area. The closed doors off the balcony looked ominous to me today. I was nervous and afraid of being a real lawyer for the first time. I took a long drink of cappuccino. I could still walk out, I thought. Escape right now. If I'm quick, no one will even notice that I walked it. As I turned a little toward the left back toward the door, my new purse bounced against my thigh. What would I tell Sam if I just left? Where would I work then? No, Jessica, you have to do this. You will never know if you don't try. One last swallow of coffee for courage, and I walked up to the receptionist.
"Hi, I'm Jessica Clark. I'm starting as an attorney today."
"OK. Let me call Tom and let him know you are here."
She buzzed the intercom. "Someone named Jessica Clark is here. She says she's starting today. Do you want me to send her back?"
A voice on the other end replied, "No, I'll send Tom up to meet her."
I smiled at her.
"I'm new too. My name is Becca."
"I'm Jessica. So, how do you like it?"
"It's all right. I hear they have a great Halloween party and give out five hundred dollars for the best costume. I know! Why don't you go as Monica Lewinsky and I'll go as President Clinton?"
I was speechless. I didn't know if she was kidding or not, but I was pretty sure that I didn't want to embarrass myself to the extreme that she was suggesting. "Uh, let's think about that." I managed, trying to keep my face and voice expressionless. I didn't want to offend her on the first day. Hurry up Tom! Don't leave me out here waiting with this crazy girl. I exhaled as I saw Tom walk out from the far side of the reception area.
I never knew I could be so glad to see someone, I thought smiling at him. I had met Tom during my interview.
"Hey Jessica. How are you today? We are so glad to have you. Come on back. I'm going to give you your first assignment and then take you over to your office. It is going to be in the annex. It's just about a mile down the street." He was talking a mile a minute. Shouldn't this be sort of a get acclimated week? At least a day? He was already talking about assignments.
Hmmm, I just clued in that he said my office was down the street. That seemed rather bizarre. Worry began to settle in the pit of my stomach. I knew I should have turned and run before they knew I had arrived. I followed Tom through the reception area. It looked cozy with a fireplace and leather chairs. At the far end, a door led to the offices in the back. The reception area had been calm, even tranquil, but behind the door, there was a flurry of activity. Secretaries and paralegal were all over the place. Their desks were in a large central space. There were doors around the central space, leading to offices, I assumed.
Tom turned the corner through the wide-open area and into a door in the left hand corner. I was right, there were offices through the doors. The office was beautiful. A plush oriental rug covered the floor, and there were overstuffed chairs in a beautiful tapestry fabric and large paintings of New Mexican scenes on the wall. I could see two bronze statutes of Native Americans in the corners. It was stunning to look at.
Tom's office also had an enormous fireplace between two floor to ceiling windows. He had a sleek black waterfall behind his desk. Mozart was playing in the background. I sat down on one of the tapestry chairs.
"Here's a motion to dismiss I've received in a case involving injuries in a car accident. I'd like you to do a response for me this week. Ask my assistant Sherry for the file so that you can become familiar with the facts."
"That sounds great. I'm really excited about this opportunity."
"We're glad to have you. I have so much work. I can't wait to get you sinking your teeth into motions that I am receiving. I need your help. Now, let's get you into your office." Wait! I wanted to scream. I'm not ready. I need a moment to look around, see what this place is all about -- at least want to be introduced to the other people that work here and have a tour. I have no idea where the bathrooms are. But Tom had already disappeared into the big room and was standing in front of his paralegal's desk.
I followed him back out of his office. I had bought the largest cappuccino available at the little neighborhood place I had stopped. Sam believed that chains were ruining the state; the mom-and-pop places just couldn't compete. So, I had banned Starbucks from my list of acceptable places. But today was no ordinary day, right? I really needed another cappuccino, and Starbucks had way more buzz for the buck than I'd gotten this morning. I'll give up Starbucks tomorrow. Or maybe at the end of the week, I might need a week of good coffee, seeing as it was my first week on the job.
"Sherry, can you get the file on the Muñoz case for Jessica?"
Sherry scurried around the desk. I didn't scurry; I hope that wasn't going to be expected!
"Hi, I am so glad you are here to help Tom. He is desperate for some help. Let me get that file for you." She pulled it right out of the file cabinet, it seemed without even looking down.
"Thanks. It's nice to meet you." I smiled at her. Tom was already moving away and through the reception area. Followed him back through the reception area and out the front door, I had to hurry to keep up. He stopped in the parking lot next to a black Porsche.
"Here we go." He said proudly as he opened the door and got in.
I slipped into the passenger seat.
He was continuing his running commentary. I didn't think he had stopped talking since he arrived at the front desk to take me away. I was trying to focus, but I was worried about where this office I had been assigned to was. Shouldn't I be in the big office with everyone else? I didn't want to be so far away. Calm down, I told myself harshly. The third floor at the Round House was so much better. You never know, this might be a blessing. Yes, that's it -- a blessing -- albeit in disguise.
"We have so much work that we hired three new attorneys. We didn't have enough office space for everyone so Bennett had his old storage space made into offices."
I opened my mouth, to say "Storage space?" but thought better of it. Don't start by criticizing the new boss. Besides, I hadn't even seen inside yet. I was being silly. This would be fine.
Tom parked in front of a rather nondescript building. It didn't look like it had been redone. Stop it, I told myself firmly. Don't jump to conclusions yet. I followed Tom in.
"Here we are." He announced as we walked in the door. There was a space for a receptionist in this front room. "This is where you are going to be." OK, now it was time to be upset. This was horrible.
He has to be kidding, I thought. He wants me to work in a completely open space? Basically, anyone who walked in the front door bumped into my desk. I walked around the desk to see a laptop computer that had keys half the normal size. The screen was about the size of the mini-TV my dad had bought me for my bathroom. I would guess six inches. I'll measure when he leaves, I thought. Sam will NEVER believe it.
"This is your computer for now. We're looking for something better."
The screen was smaller that I had initially thought when I sat down in front of it, about the size of the mirror in my compact case. My nose was almost touching it just to make out the words. I wondered if I could sue for worker's compensation for damage to my eyes right away.
"This is only temporary," Tom indicated. I guess he could tell from the look on my face that I was not too pleased. I've never been good at concealing my emotions. My face is an open book. "We're working on getting the entire firm in the same building. I hear it is really nice to work over here. You have a lot more peace and quiet. You'll have to come over to the main building at least four or five times a day. I will need to meet with you, and I'm certain you will have projects from other people."
I nodded and tried to smile. This was not what I anticipated when I had taken this job. I saw myself in a nice office with wood paneling, legal books lining the bookshelves behind my beautifully carved mahogany desk. My diplomas hanging on the back wall behind the plush leather chairs in front of my desk. That was my picture of my office -- not half a cube with a miniature computer.
"Well, I'll leave you here." Tom turned to go.
"Wait, you have to take me back so that I can drive my car over here."
"Sorry, that's right. I forgot all about that." Tom clearly did not want to take me back, but I wasn't going to get stuck here with no transportation.
When we arrived back at the main office, Tom seemed in quite a hurry. "Come back this afternoon when you have finished reading the file, and we'll talk about that case." He called over his shoulder as he strode off into the office without waiting for my reply. I stood there in the parking lot watching him go, wondering if he would notice if I just never came back. At least I could stop and get a real cappuccino on the way to my office. I might even get a chocolate chip scone -- I deserved it. I needed some treat to make myself go back to my mini-world.
It took me twenty minutes of driving around to actually find a Starbucks. I couldn't believe there was only one in the area. What kind of place was this? I wondered. I treated myself to a full fat cappuccino with a shot of caramel and a slice of lemon pound cake.
Feeling better, I drove back to the "annex" as Tom had called it. I would call it a warehouse. I sat down at my little desk with my little computer, feeling like Alice in Wonderland when she eats that cake or mushroom or whatever and becomes bigger than the house. I was a giant in comparison to the desk and computer.
The file I was supposed to read stared up at me. Guess I should get started. Once I started reading, I realized it was a normal sort of case, a couple in a car accident. They were injured and suing the insurance company to pay for their doctors' bills. The insurance company was claiming that the couple had waited too long to bring an action against them. I was supposed to write a response claiming that we were within the time limits.
Hungry, I realized as my stomach began to growl. Looking at my watch, I noticed that it was lunchtime, but no one was emerging from upstairs. Come to think of it, I hadn't heard anything since I had arrived over here. Maybe they weren't at work today.
Venturing up the stairs, I saw there were three offices. All the doors were open and people were sitting at the desks frantically working. It was total silence except for the sound of typing. I turned and went back downstairs. It did not seem the time to disturb them.
I didn't know what to do. I was hungry, but I didn't know anyone to have lunch with. I didn't really know this area of town very well, so I didn't even know what was available for lunch. I stood there hoping someone would materialize to take me to lunch.
Instead, I sat down, waiting for over half an hour, hoping someone would remember I was new and call about lunch. Then I realized I didn't have a phone at this desk. Resigned, I got my purse and went out to my car.
I drove down the street the opposite way of the Starbucks, having already learned that there was nothing to eat over by Starbucks. Starbucks itself had nothing but drinks and sweets, and I wanted real food -- a sandwich or a salad. A little ways down, I saw a tiny grocery store -- it was more of a market. I continued on, but it became a truly residential neighborhood, nothing but houses. Feeling sorry for myself, I turned around and went to the grocery store. It was a very trendy market, in other words, not much edible -- I am not really one for "organic" foods. I love processing. I grew up on the taste of processed foods, and I am quite happy with it. I found a package of peanut butter granola bars and bought that. Then, I drove back to my desk to eat them.
I sat down at my desk feeling lonely. I ate my granola bars and continued reading. Suddenly, the door opened and a tall woman in a Chanel suit walked in. I could not see her face because the sun was streaming in from the open door behind her and blinding me. She extended her hand.
"Nice to meet you, I'm Julia Williams." I knew instantly that she must be the wife of the senior partner who had started this firm. "I wasn't here when my husband hired you last week, but I wanted to introduce myself. I expect we will be working closely together. I have quite a few projects that I could use a new mind for."
I shook her hand. It was like porcelain, finely boned. As the door shut, I looked at her face; it too was very white. She bleached her hair platinum blonde and wore it in an extreme bob at her chin. Her light blue eyes were startling and her blood red lipstick was such an extreme contrast to the pale skin that I know I involuntarily stepped backwards. The overall effect of her appearance was shocking. I tried to keep myself from shuddering at her appearance.
"Come with me, let's chat." She turned on her high heel Manolo Bhlanik shoes and went back out the front door. I quickly got up and followed her out the door and into her enormous Mercedes Benz. Slipping into the passenger's seat, I thought "I didn't know they made a Benz this large -- it's the size of a boat." She started the car, backed out and turned onto the road. I wondered where we were going. I had mostly eaten my granola bars, but if she took me to lunch, I figured I still had enough room to eat something. I smiled. Someone had come to take me to lunch. I felt better about this place. I wasn't totally happy, due to the desk and computer situation, but I was feeling much better.
Julia was talking to me, but she never once glanced over at me. She drove and talked smoothly. I never even heard her breathe. It was kind of bizarre.
"I want you to work with me to complete our breast implant cases. We still have two hundred and fifty individual clients. We've had these cases for nearly seven years. I want to see a profit from them. Since we take them on a contingency fee basis, we only make money if we settle the cases for substantially more than the case has cost us to date. I want you to work with Debra, whom I will introduce to you, to see the costs in each case and determine what price we can reasonably settle for. Then, you and I will work on making those numbers happen."
When we arrived outside a convenience store, I followed her inside because she was continuing to talk to me.
"We don't have the best relationship with the defense counsel representing the breast implant manufacturers. I'm hoping having a fresh voice on the end of the phone will change that and benefit us. Excuse me for a moment, I need to do something personal."
Bewildered, I watched as she chose a pair of pantyhose, walked over to the counter and purchased them. Then, she disappeared into the bathroom at the back of the store. She emerged a few moments later wearing the new hose.
"Much better. Thank you for coming with me."
"No problem." I followed her out wondering how odd this job was going to get if this first incident was any indication. I told Sam all about it that night.
"Boy, that is weird. She really changed her pantyhose at Allsup's?"
"Yep. I couldn't believe it. Why would she even bring me with her?" I wondered out loud.
"Billable hours, I guess."
"I guess so, I never realized how serious lawyers were about that until today."
"Don't worry Jess. You are going to do great." He wrapped his arms around me and kissed me. "Isn't it worth it to be together?"
I had to agree that it was.
I started into a routine working for Tom and Julia. I wrote briefs for Tom. The issues were not terribly difficult, and I won one motion after another. Tom was thrilled.
Julia was another story. Her moods shifted rapidly. It was hard to know where she would be coming from at any given time, but we got on well enough, as long as we were having some success completing the breast implant cases.
In one case, I listened to the surgeon describe the sessions after the implant procedure where they used a rope to tie around the woman's breast to break up the scar tissue. Ouch. It didn't sound like anything I wanted to have done. The defendant wanted to give the woman five thousand for pain and suffering. Yeah right. Would he want to have a lasso tied around his breast and yanked until the underneath came apart? I don't think so.
"Five thousand seems a little low to me." I began, trying to resist the impulse to get up and stomp out.
"I think that is reasonable." He was such a condescending SOB. All right, I thought, you want to play that way. I am going to make you beg to settle with me.
"I'm sure you do, you are a man and a lawyer to a client that continually lies about its product."
I saw him blanch, just a little.
"What are you implying?"
"I didn't imply anything. I stated a fact and an opinion, which I can corroborate and make a fact, if you so desire."
He was getting a little flustered. I bit my cheek to keep from smiling.
"What are you trying to say, by saying I'm a man?" His voice was slightly raised.
"You are a man, aren't you?"
He just glared at me.
"No man could understand what impact a woman's breasts have on her. First, you don't understand the psychological need to have larger breasts. Second, you do not understand the pain that this woman had to endure once she obtained your client's product, because of your client's product. Thus, you could not make a sound judgment on what her pain and suffering is worth. How could you make a reasonable decision in that regard?"
"I understand what happened here!" He exploded. "Your client chose to put implants into her body, and she suffered the consequences of her action."
"So you agree that she suffered?"
He looked so taken aback, I snorted -- and tried to cover it with a cough.
"You are twisting my words. She made a choice."
"But you know that choice wasn't based on all the facts. She had no idea that her breast was going to be tied up with a lasso and yanked on for an hour or so at a time. Or that it would need to be done at least a dozen times. We've established that. You just stated that she suffered, even if it was a result of a choice she made. Your client's product is the reason this occurred. Five thousand is not worth our time." I reached down and got my briefcase.
"You're leaving?" He was incredulous.
"I don't want to go; I want to get this settled for my client. But I can't take such a ridiculous and callous offer to her. You are going to have to do better."
His scowl told me all I needed to know. He was authorized to go up, and I would bet that he had been told to get this done today! I was going to win.
"All right, fifteen thousand."
"Twenty. Take it or leave it." I demanded.
"Eighteen, my final offer."
"Done." The grimace on his face told me I had done well. I was quite pleased, but I could only hope Julia would be. I just never knew.
I returned to the office to tell Julia of our victory. She was pleased -- at least she didn't look like I had given her poison, so I figured that was a good sign.
That night, Sam and I celebrated. After all, I had just made the firm six thousand, of which three hundred was mine! We had champagne and toasted my success.
"I'm proud of you. You seem to be doing really well." Sam proclaimed as he sipped some Taittinger.
"Yeah, it was fun, but I don't know. I feel a little, well, slimy."
I was embarrassed to admit it, but I was becoming everything those jokes about lawyers say.
"You are going a good job."
"You know it is kind of slimy."
"Yeah," Sam conceded, looking down to avoid my eyes. "But it is kind of a turn-on that you are such a bruiser." I felt his stockinged toes tickle the top of my foot and proceed up my leg.
I smiled, "It is worth it, then." And I leaned over to kiss him.
The next week, Julia and I flew on the private jet to meet with experts and witnesses. It was a completely different lifestyle from anything I had experienced up to that point. I didn't know what to expect. Julia was in her element -- giving out marching orders to everyone. She had a two-, three-, four-martini lunch with the experts.
"Don't you want one Jessica?" She asked, eyeing me.
"I'm sorry, I can't drink this early. I would fall asleep in the afternoon."
She sniffed in response. I sighed -- she made me feel very uncertain. One minute, I thought she liked me. The next, she looked like I was gum on her new shoes. I tried to shrink into my chair. I was starting to wonder if they were going to notice my greatness after all. It wasn't that they didn't seem to think I was doing a good job, but somehow it didn't seem to be leading to me becoming a lobbyist or giving legal commentary on Court TV. I just knew I would be perfect for Court TV. I'm pretty, I have a law degree, what more could I need? The firm had some pretty high profile cases, so I assumed it was just a matter of time before Court TV would be there and once they met me that would be all that was needed.
The worst was that I had to fly back with her, just her, on that little plane that night after all those martinis. I was already dreading it. Thank God, her two-martini lunch and three-cocktail afternoon and produced the effect I had worried about for myself; she crashed, snoring and drooling, in her posh leather swivel chair in the plane. But at least I could read my latest issues of Cosmo and Glamour in peace.
Everyone at the firm had a peculiar character. The strangest guy, Marcus, sat in his office with the curtains drawn, the overhead lights off, and only a desk lamp because "the light hurts my eyes." His desk always had a bowl full of carrots on it, and he ate them all day. I avoided him at all costs. Marcus going postal was my constant worry every time I had to pass his office.
Soon I learned that no one went out for lunch because the office catered in lunch almost everyday. I started making certain I was meeting Tom or Julia near lunchtime each day so that I was around when the caterer arrived. It gave me a chance to meet most of the people in the office and eat for free.
We had our own soda fountain in the office. I could not image how the firm could afford all of it . . . then I found out. As we got closer and closer to settling the breast implant cases, I started looking at the costs associated with each case. They charged for everything. All the normal things like letters and phone calls, but copies were twenty-five cents a page, and faxes were thirty cents a page.
I took the cost sheets into Julia on the cases we were going to settle each week. She would sit down and start adding costs to each one. She explained to me that there was a general account that breast implant expenses came out of and each case had to bear its share of the costs from that general account. I never knew what those general expenses were, but I guessed they included catered lunches, private jet fuel and new art for the ever-expanding collection in the main office.
I had been in Albuquerque for a couple of months when one Saturday morning Sam suggested we spend the day in Santa Fe. I picked out some really cute black pants, my favorite high-heeled black boots and a red silk knit top. I finished it off with the black leather jacket Sam bought me for my birthday.
It was a crisp October day. We headed up I-25 around noon. But instead of heading toward the Plaza, Sam continued up the mountain toward the ski area.
"Where are we going?"
"You'll see. It's a surprise."
We rounded a steep curve and came to a little wooden sign that read "Ten Thousand Waves." Sam pulled into a parking spot and stopped the car.
"Here we are."
"What is this place?"
We walked up ten zillion steps. I could hear water running, but I couldn't decide what Ten Thousand Waves was supposed to be. We walked through a set of doors into a Japanese garden, which was absolute paradise. I took it all in, the wooden floors, the little lanterns, the rice paneled walls -- it was so beautiful. Sam walked to the front desk.
"I have a reservation for Romero, Sam Romero."
"Yes sir. Here are your robes. You can change in the dressing room next door. Then come back to the steam room. We'll call when your treatment rooms are ready."
Sam handed me a robe. "I'll meet you in the steam room," he whispered and winked.
I went into the locker room and put on a little Japanese kimono type robe. I slipped on the flip-flops they had given up and headed back to the main house. Sam was already sitting in the steam room.
"What do you have planned?" I asked.
He winked. "You'll see."
We sat in the steam room for about ten minutes before a small ting sounded. "Romero, your treatment room is ready."
I followed Sam down a circular staircase into a candle lit room. Two tables were in the center. There was a faint scent of lavender and cedar.
"Please lie down on the table." I was so startled. I hadn't noticed anyone else in the room.
I climbed up on the table. One of the assistants discreetly took my robe while wrapping me in mineral soaked linens.
"We will start with your body wrap. Once you have had a chance to sweat the toxins from your system, we will begin your massages."
I had never done anything so luxurious. I felt so snug in my linens and blankets -- I could feel all those toxins seeping from every pore. There were cool cucumbers over my eyes, and the assistant continuously offered me lemon water through a straw. Aromatherapy was a constant as cedar and lavender were sprayed in the air to relax us.
As the linens began to cool, I felt the cucumbers lifted from my eyes.
I did as I was told. The wrap came off, and a warm towel covered me. Massage oil was dripped over my back, and strong hands began removing the knots the firm had planted up and down my spine. I felt relaxation begin in my arms, then start down my back until even my toes were happy. I hadn't even noticed they had stopped.
"You may put your robe on whenever you are ready and retrieve your things from the dressing area. I'll leave your robe just here, so that you can reach it."
I got up feeling groggy.
"Better?" Sam asked as we made our way up the stairs.
"I feel like I'm floating."
We met in the lobby.
"Thank you so much, that was an amazing experience." I wrapped my jelly arms around Sam and kissed him.
"I thought you needed something relaxing."
"It was wonderful."
"I hadn't realized it, but I'm starving."
"Good, because I know a great place for dinner." He took my hand as we made our way down the mountain and back to our car.
As we headed for dinner, the sun was setting, the sky was ablaze in orange, purple and pink, as New Mexico sunsets can be. We had an amazing dinner at the Bishop's Lodge, with candlelight and champagne. We laughed and talked for hours. When it was time for dessert, the waiter brought out little chocolate boxes. I opened mine and inside was a huge diamond ring. I looked over at Sam, and he was down on one knee.
"Jessica, will you do me the honor of marrying me?"
"Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!"
I was so excited. I was marrying the man of my dreams! Work was definitely taking a backseat. I started working on the wedding right away. I knew we needed a date and a place as soon as possible.