Practice Makes Perfect

Page 22


J.D. appeared no less furious. He stared Ben down coldly. “This is bullshit. Just last week you were practically promising that Payton and I were both locks.”
Ben shrugged this off, far too dismissively in Payton’s mind. After all, this was only her life—and J.D.’s—that they were talking about.
“So I embellished a bit . . .” Ben conceded with a self-satisfied grin. “We’re lawyers, that’s what we do.”
“How convenient that you tell us this after we land the Gibson’s case,” Payton said. “You used us, Ben.”
Ben held up a finger, point of fact. “Technically, I only used one of you. Because one of you is still going to make partner, and that person will lead the Gibson’s trial team as promised. As for the other of you, well . . .” he trailed off pointedly.
Payton didn’t need Ben to finish. She, like every other lawyer there, knew about the firm’s unwritten “up or out” policy. Associates who did not make partner were quickly transitioned off their cases and given a short grace period to “voluntarily” resign and find another job.
“I know this news probably comes as a shock to you both,” Ben said. “And it is extremely unfortunate that circumstances have caused things to end this way, but that is the Partnership Committee’s decision. I want to emphasize, however, that the choice between the two of you has not yet been made. It’s going to come right down to the wire. So for what it’s worth, I urge each of you to give it all you’ve got for these remaining couple of weeks.”
Payton resisted the urge to laugh bitterly at that. Give it all she’s got? What more could she give? A kidney? Her firstborn?
She glanced at J.D., sitting next to her. He looked over and met her gaze, and Payton could tell from the look in his eyes that they shared the same thought.
Only one of them would make it.
After eight years of practice, they were now truly adversaries.
J.D. MANAGED TO maintain an expression of unconcern the entire walk back.
When he got to his office, he stepped inside, shut the door behind him, and immediately began to pace. He was having trouble thinking straight. He took a seat at his desk, ignoring the blinking message light on his phone.
Merely ten minutes ago while sitting in Ben’s office and joking with Payton, he would’ve put his chances of making partner at about 99.99 percent.
Suddenly, those odds had plummeted. To 50 percent. At best.
He’d been torn, on the one hand wanting to yell at Ben, wanting to tell him what a chickenshit weasel he was, and on the other hand—cognizant of the fact that the decision had not yet been made and that he had not yet definitively lost out on making partner—he had felt pressed to continue playing along, to continue being the good little associate he was.
But the truth of the matter was, he couldn’t f**king believe this was happening.
Through the glass on his door, J.D. could see Payton hurrying into her office. He watched as, like him, she immediately shut the door behind her. It provided him no consolation that she had obviously been as stunned by Ben’s news as he.
After eight years, it had finally come down to this.
Him versus her.
The buzz of the telephone intercom, his secretary’s call, momentarily startled him.
“Yes, Kathy,” he answered in a clipped, brisk tone. He needed a few moments alone to think.
“Sorry to bother you, J.D.,” came Kathy’s voice through the speakerphone. “Chuck Werner asked that you call him as soon as possible to discuss next week’s deposition schedule.”
J.D. pinched between his eyes. He felt a headache coming on and was not at all in the mood to deal with his opposing counsel. “Thanks, Kathy. I’ll get back to him.”
“And one other thing,” Kathy added quickly, seeming to sense his eagerness to get off the phone. “Your father called and asked me to give you a message. He said you would understand.” She spoke slowly, confused by the message. “He said to tell you that he heard the firm was making an announcement today and wanted to know whether your mother just got her new mink coat.”
J.D. closed his eyes. His headache had suddenly gotten much worse.
PAYTON LEANED AGAINST her office door with her eyes shut. She slowly breathed in and out, trying to steady herself.
She wasn’t in her office five seconds before her phone began to ring. She tried to ignore it.
Then her second line rang.
Payton opened her eyes and headed to her desk. Glancing over at her computer, she saw that she had twenty-five new email messages.
There was a knock at her door. Without hesitation, Irma popped her head into the office.
“Oh, good, I thought you were here—you have Mr. McKane holding on line one, and Eric Riley waiting for you on line two. He wants to talk about the Middleton trial.”
Payton couldn’t breathe. She felt as though the walls were closing in around her. A third call came in, and the ringing of her phone seemed deafening.
She needed to get out.
She slid past Irma. “Tell everyone I’ll call them back. I . . . have to take care of something. An urgent matter.”
With that, she took off in a hurry toward the elevators.
THE FIFTY-FIFTH FLOOR housed the firm’s law library. With grand cathedral ceilings and sunlit stained-glass windows, the library’s grandeur befitted a different era, a time when—egads—lawyers consulted books for information. In the post-Internet days of online research, however, it was rare to find a living soul amongst the library’s elegant two-story mahogany bookshelves—save for Ripley & Davis’s lone librarian, Agnes, who had been with the firm since its inception.