Chapter 1: Only your hairdresser knows for sure
It wasn't exactly a secret. Mike found a bunch of old photos of him online. A few of them misspelled his first name (the Union County News, serving Elizabeth, Linden, Plainfield and more!, called Harry Specter the most formidable fastballer in the New Jersey under-14 leagues), but black-and-white newspaper scans still made it obvious.
And anyway, he was blond as late as Harvard. Not tow-headed any more, but still more like a Ken doll than not. And he sure as hell wasn't blond now.
There was no way to ask that though, right? Mike had enough caution to think that one through. There was no smart way to say to an egomaniacal millionaire, "Hey, do you dye your hair?" As well ask Tom Cruise if he's had chin implants.
Really, Harvey didn't seem like the type. He was vain -- Mike hadn't known it was possible to spend that much money on a suit -- but he wasn't vain in that self-deluding way that keeps up a fiction anyone with access to Google Images can see through. Harvey Specter did not broadcast his insecurities like that. It was possible he didn't have any insecurities. Mike wasn't sure yet.
So he sat in Harvey's office and got yelled at twice weekly and observed his senior partner the way he usually observed words on a page. Moles on Harvey's face, slightly crooked bottom teeth, a scar on the underside of his chin. Mike never saw him do it, but Harvey obviously shaved at some point in the afternoons: his jaw was as smooth at sunset as at sunrise. His eyebrows and eyelashes were unremarkable matching brown, and anyway facial hair wasn't a great predictor of the hair on your head. (Mike's own beard grew in red.)
People's hair does change colors naturally, over the courses of their childhoods and even as late as college. But close observation caught it, in the end. In morning sunlight, Harvey's hairline in front developed a thin pale line over the course of two weeks, just enough for someone supremely alert to notice it on the second Friday. Not even that pale, just paler than the rest of his hair, just a curious reverse shadow that made his forehead seem higher. The following Monday it was uniformly dark. So he dyed it very often, more often than he got his hair cut. (Mike really didn't want to know what Harvey spent on a haircut.) That meant he dyed it himself, most likely. Mike didn't have any sisters or close female cousins. He knew nothing about how hair dye worked.
He planned his approach to Donna carefully, with a bribe and a compliment and an innocent-sounding query in hand, and of course, Harvey got in the way. Just as Mike was handing off an iced latte, a voice came from behind Harvey's closed door. "Hey Donna!"
Donna gave Mike a polite smile and put down her offering and stalked to the door and flung it open. "Did you just Hey me?" she demanded.
"Absolutely not," said Harvey, with unimpeachable innocence. "But you've got to see this." He stood in front of his bank of windows, arms crossed. Donna came to look, and Mike saw no reason not to follow suit. Harvey hovered behind them, and Mike could feel the imperious charisma at his back.
Three blocks north, in the middle of Park Avenue, a black horse stood loose in the intersection, dancing fitfully. A long rope hung from its bridle-halter-thingy and dragged on the tar. It wore no saddle. The taxis were trying to edge past it, and only drove it into a frenzy of rearing and extending its neck, teeth bared. There was no clear indication where it had come from.
"Hundred bucks says they have to put it down," said Harvey, over their shoulders.
Donna answered him without turning around, "You are a monster. Hundred bucks says some kind of horse whisperer will lead it away unharmed."
Harvey made a face at her behind her back and she reached back and swatted his arm without even needing to look. Mike stood there watching, and tried to reason out how you even got a horse into Manhattan. It was too small for a police mount (those things looked like cannon on stilts), and the horses that drew carriages for tourists in Central Park were the same kind of bulky. Some show at Madison Square Garden? But that was twenty some-odd blocks away, and implied that you would drive a horse on the BQE, or worse, over the Triborough Bridge.
Cops were already on the scene, pushing the gawkers back with arms wide. Someone in a bright shirt stood there arguing, maybe the horse's owner.
Mike asked, "Is it even dangerous? We're not talking about an elephant, here." Out of the corner of his eye Mike saw Harvey pull a billfold out of his pocket, and actually peel off a hundred-dollar bill. Mike mostly avoided hundreds -- too easy to trace, too hard to break --, and here was someone with one in his pocket on a Thursday in July. More than one, probably. Mike considered the possibility of a second career in mugging lawyers. He griped, "Why would they put it down? It's a public street. There's a City of New York right-of-way code specifically for horses."
Harvey laughed at him. "Who are you, Howard Cosell? Quit kibbitzing and place your bet."
Mike was making a lot of money now, but -- a hundred dollars on a game of chance.
"Who's Howard Cosell?" he asked, in cheerful misdirection. That the question implied Harvey was old didn't hurt either. He didn't place a bet.
Donna won in short order anyway. Whoever it was down on the street in the bright shirt caught the tail end of the rope, shortened it, and had soon thrown something over the horse's eyes to lead it safely away. Harvey handed over the hundred with a smile on his face. Donna accepted her due, snapped the bill in front of them, and pranced back out of Harvey's office, leaving Mike behind.
The business of gaining clients usually happened out of Mike's view: all the wining and dining and shmoozy events were the sort of thing to which freshman associates were not invited. (Even if they were invited, they had better be too busy to go.) What Mike got to see was the line being reeled in, new client already hooked. Today's fish was an aging, bulky man named Anthony Bardo, and from the bio Mike had hastily worked up that morning, it was clear he was worth a lot of money.
You can always tell a Wall Streeter because the first thing he looks at after your face is your shoes. They're weird about that, apparently. Because Mike had got the complete Harvey Specter Wardrobe Overhaul upon being hired, he was wearing black Oxford shoes when he met Bardo. Not custom-made by the finest child-labor of Paraguay or anything, but Bardo didn't sniff at them the way he did a few other associates he saw in the hallways. (Why open-laced shoes weren't good enough was a complete mystery to Mike. Harvey wore wingtips that day, to Bardo's evident delight.) Mike led Bardo down the hallway and into Harvey's immaculate glass office with every effort at pleasant chat withering on the vine. Pleasant chat was of no interest to a man like Bardo.
Unimpressed by the expensive furniture or the expensive view or for that matter the expensive outfits everybody was wearing, Bardo lit up at the sight of Harvey striding toward him, his suit finely pinstriped and his hand outstretched. He shook with Bardo enthusiastically and acted as if Mike were not even there. The only way Mike knew he was supposed to stay in the room was that the door was not closed in his face.
Mike had learned to take notes at meetings like these, because he did not look industrious if he sat physically idle. He perched in the corner with a notepad and listened to Bardo explain about the piles of cash he was going to make managing his own hedge fund. "The market doesn't know shit about technology," he told Harvey earnestly. "Not a goddamn clue. If they're going to be a bunch of fucking idiots about it, then I'm going to make a buck off those fucking idiots."
Harvey gave one of his enigmatic little smiles. Mike was learning: that was a smile that loathed what it was smiling at. He turned the conversation smoothly to the management structure and compensation plan. They spoke with interest but not awe about the trillions of dollars, with a T, that would be transacted by this fund. Bardo was looking at a performance fee of 25% on any profits, and that wasn't including the basic management fee he would get whether the fund made any money or not. Harvey was obviously in the wrong business if he wanted to make real money.
"I just want out from under the SEC," said Bardo at last. "Holy hell, I am so tired of them up my ass all the time."
"I'm afraid," said Harvey, with reptilian calm, "that government interest in hedge funds has increased since 2008. We're not in the wild west any more."
"It's a fucking tragedy, is what it is. As if I care --"
"Anthony." Harvey's vocal control was striking. He could stop a conversation without raising his volume, just by employing a particular pitch and tone. He folded his hands as if he sat at tea with the Queen. "I don't take on boring clients. When I have to send my clients trotting up two floors to Criminal Defense, they become much less interesting to me."
In his multi-thousand-dollar suit, probably more thousands that Harvey's, Bardo sat very still. His Italian collar seemed to fit him a little too tightly, and he fidgeted with his hands rather than loosen it. Mike watched in silence as Harvey stared him down.
Bardo patted his dark hair. "Ha ha, I always want to be interesting," he said.
"Yes," said Harvey, "you do."
The F-bombs fell sparingly after that, and Bardo got down to the details of the agreements Harvey would be setting up for him. Mike was there at the right moment to provide the standard paperwork, and then again with a pen (one of Harvey's, a fountain pen) for Bardo to sign. He caught Harvey's eye while Bardo bent to the page and tried to assess the power there, the reason why a pushy billionaire would be so intimidated. But Harvey only raised an eyebrow as if inviting Mike in on some ineffable joke. Mike couldn't quite suss out what the joke was supposed to be, except for the basic irony that Harvey clearly held finance people -- the majority of his clients -- in a cordial and distant contempt. Maybe that was why they liked dealing with him so much: he wasn't overawed by their money and their aggressive talk. Why Harvey dealt with them in return was -- well, they were about the only people who could afford to pay his fees.
After a last handshake, Mike was tasked to walk Bardo back to the elevators (and report back any comments made along the way, verbatim). The return trip was surreal, intimate, as if they'd just spent an hour in a foxhole together instead of in a sumptuously-appointed office.
"What a competitor," Bardo gushed. "Did you see that? I heard the trading houses tried to hire him away ten times. Total waste of his talent that he's not out there making deals himself. He says he likes the law. I still don't get his angle."
Mike was not born yesterday. He could deflect Bardo's implied question and answer it truthfully in the same phrase: "Yeah, he keeps it pretty close to the vest."
"He used to be a pitcher, he ever tell you that?" Bardo did not even notice the shoes of the associates who crossed his path. The scenery no longer had to impress him now Harvey had done the job thoroughly. Mike wondered suddenly whether Bardo dyed his hair, whether out of his suit he looked like one of those scary dentist from the neck up, bouncer from the neck down aging steroid guys. Finance people seemed like prime candidates for that kind of insane physical competition.
"Yes," said Mike, suppressing his dislike.
"Talk about your command of the field. I want that guy on my side."
Mike bit his tongue. The whole retro-tough guy baseball mythology thing was tiresome, not least because everyone brought it up. Everyone except Harvey himself. He carefully cultivated everything on the GQ checklist: the right watch, the right clothes, the right kinds of extracurriculars, but he didn't talk about baseball as if it were some kind of gladiatorial precursor to the business world. He really didn't talk about baseball much at all, unless someone else brought it up first.
"I'm sure he's glad to have you," Mike said at last. They were, mercifully, approaching the elevators and he would not have to manufacture cliches about a sport he'd never followed.
One last handshake and Bardo stepped onto the elevator. He turned and faced back at Mike as he waited for the doors to close. "The Yankees would kill to have a guy like that on their team," he said, as the doors began to move. "Wonder why he never went pro?"
Mike did not know why Harvey had never gone pro. Bardo disappeared from view and Mike headed back to Harvey's office to pick up the paperwork. Harvey was sitting in his chair again, deep in thought, his eyes on his bookshelf. Mike followed his gaze and noted (not for the first time, but with fresh interest) that a baseball glove sat on top of the shelf, with a ball in it, as if set aside after an afternoon of play. Mike had never seen Harvey touch it or put it on: maybe he didn't, or maybe he did it only in private. He stared at it though, moody, and shooed Mike out of his office so that he could stare by himself.
"So, about Harvey," Mike started. He'd rehearsed a few times, and came armed again with a bribe.
"You say that like you've got a crush on him," Donna teased. But she sipped on her gift latte and relented. "It's okay, most of the associates do. You don't have to question your sexuality unless you want to."
"I was going to ask," Mike strangled out, "How the two of you met."
"How do you think? Nothing exotic: I was assigned to him. We were young and dumb. We clicked." She neglected to mention where they'd met, and let Mike assume it was at Pearson Hardman. (He didn't realize it was at the DA's office till weeks later, and that one little fact changed the story in his mind.)
"So did you know him before he went brunet?"
Donna was smooth; Donna was prepared. It was possible she'd taught Harvey that bland, unrevealing smile. "Yes of course," she answered, without hesitation. "He did that about six months after we met."
As confessions went, this was skimpy. Mike abandoned his roundabout strategy. "He ever tell you why?"
This is where Donna paused. Her dark eyes traveled up and down his face, critical.
"Just don't --" she stopped and repeated herself, lower, "--just don't ever call him a golden boy."
"That was his nickname?" Mike laughed, then saw Donna's face and stopped laughing.
"If you value your dignity and your life and the respect of every person who has ever thought well of you --"
"Jesus, what happened?"
She sat back in her chair and ran her fingers over her keyboard. She didn't read the screen, just touched solid objects as if gathering evidence. "He was so meteoric. Everyone knew he was going places. Most of the other secretaries called him Hollywood behind his back, and he loved that." Mike loved it too. He would have to find a way to drop that into conversation someday. Donna went on and her absent smile faded. "I don't know who started the other name. One of the attorneys, I guess. After five months on the job, some jackass lost against him and had the nerve to say it to his face."
"Oh my god, did Harvey rip him to shreds?"
"No," said Donna. "He went home that night and put his hand through a television."
Mike waited for the just-kidding laugh. It didn't come. "He punched a television."
Donna eyed the closed door over her shoulder. "Yeah, the old kind with the glass and a tube in back. A 12-incher, I think."
Mike was suddenly recalling that time Harvey had yelled, really yelled, at Louis. He'd been so wrapped up in his anger he'd forgotten Mike was a witness. He'd knocked Louis back, but he'd been subdued for the rest of the day, ashamed and unwilling to admit to shame. It had baffled Mike then, and baffled him still. "Harvey. Punched a television."
Donna was regarding him dubiously. "I believe that's what I said the first time?"
"I just... he doesn't seem like the type."
"Well, it was 14 years ago. He's mellowed since then." Her voice was light, but a rueful smile spread across her face before she controlled it. "Anyway, after he got the stitches out, he asked me who cut my hair and whether they could make time for him. I talked him into doing it gradually instead of all at once. He's been doing it so long by now, he's probably forgotten what his real color is."
Mike thought it over. Harvey claimed disdain for emotions, or at least the willpower not to succumb to them. Such a weak, schoolyard taunt, like picking on someone for having freckles: of all the stupid things to get a rise out of him. His hair color? Surely he'd heard worse, rubbing elbows with the moral cretins of Wall Street.
"Any ideas why that bothered him so much? So I don't make the same mistake," Mike added hastily. The expression on her face showed he'd crossed the line between ordinary intelligence-gathering and prying. But maybe only by a little bit.
"You'll have to ask him," she said, and made clear that she was done entertaining clueless associates.
"Okay," Mike told her, still mystified. "Thanks for the heads-up."
"As long as we understand one another," sniffed Donna.
Mike walked three steps away, and then turned around and came back. "What's the story you tell to people you don't trust?"
Donna smiled at him with greater satisfaction than ever graced the face of a Persian cat. "What makes you think I trust you?"
Mike smiled back at her; he couldn't help himself. He was just restrained enough not to answer that. She was like Harvey: she liked you better if you could avoid stating the obvious. Mike was getting a lot of practice at it, and improving every day.
Chapter 2: He got all of that one
The way that Mike found out what was happening with Donna was by walking in on her in Harvey's office on a dull September morning. She was perched on the couch looking small and Harvey sat beside her with his eyes on the carpet. He stroked the back of her hand with his thumb. He didn't stop when Mike walked in. Mike stammered something and made to leave, but Donna raised her face to him and she'd been crying, the tip of her nose red and her eyelashes stuck together. Mike was busy thinking about what Harvey could have possibly done to her, and how he would be made to pay for it, and Donna said, "Mike. Hi."
She could say that as cruelly or dismissively as anything, but this time her voice was subdued.
Harvey took control of the situation. "Donna's going to be out a couple of days this week." He put her hand back into her own lap -- gracefully, Mike thought, as though guiding a bird to a new perch -- and stood. He straightened his jacket automatically. "And she's going to be working a reduced schedule for the next few months."
"Oh. Sorry to hear that. I --"
"My girlfriend," said Donna. She examined the carpet with as much alacrity as Harvey did. "Has a brain tumor."
Mike folded in two and sat on the couch next to her. "Oh shit," he mumbled.
"Succinct as ever," said Harvey sourly.
Donna had been crying, but was done with that now. "It's wrapped around her brain stem," she said, and stood up. Mike hadn't known she was dating anyone. He looked up at her, how she breathed in as if testing the fit of armor. He opened his mouth to say something nice, and couldn't think of anything that would be helpful. He closed his mouth again. She retreated to her own desk with stiff dignity.
Mike sat there for a minute, discombobulated, before he realized that he was sitting in Harvey's office (while the man himself stood) and wasting billable time. There was a reason he'd walked in; there were papers still in his hands. He gathered himself to get back to business, but Harvey shook his head and turned away. So Mike walked out again, and as he went he saw Harvey sling himself into his chair and stare moodily at the streets below.
Donna was reapplying her eyeliner (though it had seemed perfect to Mike before). Mike stopped at her desk and thought again about something nice to say. "I'm pretty good at research," he said at last. "If all the, you know, jargon and treatment options get too much. They throw a lot of jargon at you and they're not always good at explaining it."
She lowered the pencil and examined its point. "You're talking about your grandmother."
"Yeah. I mean, heart failure's not like cancer."
"Shelley had dizzy spells, since August. She didn't want me to worry, she said."
Mike watched her with her makeup, how she systematically put herself back together. "My Gram wouldn't see a doctor till after she passed out trying to climb stairs."
"She's doing okay now, though?"
Mike paused and glanced at the open office door. He wondered whether Harvey was listening. He didn't know whether Harvey's parents were alive or dead; except for the mythical younger brother, he'd never heard Harvey mention family at all. "Yeah, she's holding steady right now."
"We haven't talked about treatment options. Shelley and me. We have a lot to talk about." Donna finished her eyes and touched up her lipstick and did that thing with her finger in the divot of her upper lip to perfect the shape of her mouth. She looked like herself, less sunny, but not vulnerable the way she'd looked five minutes before. She put her hands on her keyboard and was ready to work.
Because he couldn't think of the right thing to say, Mike said, "Let me know if you need anything," and retreated.
There were enough big-time energy clients with the firm that Pearson Hardman officially frowned on global warming jokes, even when they made it into November before the first hard freeze. Mike was shocked the first time it snowed, as if winter had promised never to come. It happened over the weekend, so there wasn't the chance for a firm-wide snowball fight. Mike couldn't get any of the other associates who were there on a Saturday evening to take a break with him. Grinds.
It was a graying scurf on the sidewalks by Monday morning. Mike found a table near the main corridor on his floor, and kept an eye on what the attorneys wore when they first got in. The answer was: scarves were okay as long as they weren't wound or knotted around your neck; gloves were dark leather; no hat unless you were bald. Obviously people who didn't wait for a bus in the morning. (And definitely not people who would try to bike through snow.) Coats were dark gray or black, single-breasted, always wool. Nobody, it seems, wore a second-hand windbreaker.
"I don't pay you to dress like a homeless person," was Harvey's opening line that morning, as if he just knew, or maybe watched security footage over breakfast. Maybe he paid the guards to chronicle what Mike wore on his way in and out of the office.
"Will Macy's do," Mike asked with a sigh, "or do overcoats have to be tailored too?"
Harvey shook his head, already perusing his next case. "Do I have to teach you everything?"
Discretion was an important skill in an attorney. Mike kept his mouth shut and followed Harvey down the hall. But when they got to his office, Harvey paused and turned. "You know you can call ahead and they'll pull selections for you."
"Who?" asked Mike, who had moved his mental calculus on to the case at hand.
"Department stores. It's not a service they offer, but you can make them do it for you." He passed into his sanctum and settled into his chair like a king on a throne. Mike lingered in the doorway.
"Please tell me you don't walk into a chowder house and ask the waiter for steak." Mike had done too much time, too recently, in the service industry to let that kind of assertion go unchallenged.
"No," Harvey told him, with a how-dumb-are-you incredulity. "It's not necessary to be a shmuck to get what you want."
Many were the ways Harvey had been a shmuck to Mike. Or maybe he just calibrated things differently, and wouldn't dream of treating a waiter as peremptorily as he'd treated Mike. Sometimes working at Pearson Hardman felt like extended hazing.
"Act like you deserve it," Harvey went on, with a critical eye. As usual, he could guess what Mike was thinking. "Assume you'll get it, and pretty often you will. If you don't get it, be gracious about its absence. Graciousness is nothing but an understated guilt trip."
"Wow," Mike laughed, "are you sure you aren't Catholic?"
"Pretty sure," said Harvey, and as he lowered his head to his work he said, "and don't be stingy on the tip."
Well, that at least a service industry monkey could get behind. Mike went off to sort his paperwork, and to call Macy's.
The days grew shorter and Mike hardly saw them. His meetings in Harvey's office were almost the only daylight he encountered: the work was grinding and too much and it was a struggle to function with Donna out two days of every five. Harvey didn't say so, but Mike guessed he was struggling too by the sharpness of his voice. He turned down an offer to fill her chair with a temp, or even a short-term transfer from someone else in the firm.
Mike wanted to think of that as loyalty, but he was pretty sure it was actually just stubbornness.
One of the side effects of Donna's absence was that Harvey was all up in Mike's grill, and his cubicle, a lot more regularly. He interrupted Mike flirting with Rachel (and rolled his eyes) and being yelled at by Louis (and smirked) and being subjected to the ordinary hazing of the freshman class of associates (this he approved of heartily). The other associates stopped lapsing into awed and/or frightened silence when Harvey walked by. It had to be beneficial for him, to interact with almost-normal people on a regular basis.
But this also meant that he put himself in hazard for all sorts of strange and awkward things. The accounting firm with a joker for a temp, who faxed his own ass to Pearson Hardman three times before getting fired; the mug-napper, with whom all unattended cups disappeared; Kyle Durant's taste in smelly takeout; the former client who mailed dead flowers to Erica Washington. (That last, Harvey frowned, and told her to report it to the police.) Harvey's facade of disdainful calm was impervious. It was possible the associates had spitballed ideas for how to shock him, before Mike shut down the whole line of discussion.
They were literally spitballing instead, okay, throwing around a rubber squeezy toy, when Harvey came by one Thursday. They didn't do it very often, mostly just when someone had a tough technicality to work through, and they could toss around untried approaches as well as the little rubber alien with the bug eyes. Mike liked it; he liked to see the other associates work together rather than gnaw at each other's ankles; unfortunately, he had the hand-eye coordination of a blind moose. He was just lucky that he wasn't the one who'd done the throwing this time.
Harvey came by one Thursday, and Kyle had turned mean for no reason, and was holding up the little alien with the threat of throwing it at Harold's head. Harold, of course, panicked, and tried to sidestep, and thus was standing right in front of Harvey (impeding his way down the corridor, to Harvey's obvious irritation) when Kyle threw. Kyle, it turned out, had a pretty good arm, especially at only ten paces. Harold dropped to the carpet, and the stupid little alien was going to hit Harvey in the face.
(There was that one little moment in the middle where Mike thought, Yes! And Kyle will be fired! And my life will be easier!)
It did not hit Harvey in the face. He snapped up his left hand and caught it in midair about two inches from his cheek. It was instantaneous, pure reflex, and awesome right until you looked past his hand and saw his expression. Kyle went pale, of course, and Harold stayed in a crouch on the carpet, forgotten. Mike watched in silent fascination as Harvey examined the thing in his hand. He squeezed it once to make the eyes bug out, and then in a single coordinated motion he switched it to his right hand and whipped it back at Kyle.
He'd been a pitcher, of course. He didn't even throw it at where Kyle was, but at where Kyle was going to be once he'd ducked. The little rubber alien bounced off Kyle's forehead, its bug-eyes wide as it arced towards the ceiling. Ashley Rosenblatt led the other associates in stunned applause. Harvey ignored them, beckoned at Mike, and headed back to his own office.
Mike caught up to him just short of Donna's vacant desk. "Needless to say, that was sweet."
"Not really," Harvey told him, and handed off a file folder without looking. "Take a look at the last five clauses. Make sure they're in compliance, will you?"
He passed into his office and frowned at the mountains of paper on his desk. He did like things tidy (though Mike had never caught him tidying). His nonchalance was impenetrable, unconscious -- he really didn't think it was that big a deal.
Mike scurried back to his desk. The last five clauses of that contract lay unlooked-at. It turned out Mike really did know very little about baseball: YouTube gladly showed him video after video of games where the pitcher got a ball batted back at him at warp speed. Sometimes he could catch it, or knock it away with his glove; but YouTube's bias toward the sensational revealed shattered ankles, broken fingers, bloody noses. A few pitchers knocked clean out, splayed in the grass and transported off the field on backboards. As fast as the ball was going, there wasn't time for a pitcher to react consciously: reflexes were it in terms of defense.
Now that he knew what he was looking for, Mike skimmed the sports section of Harvey's college newspaper till he found it. Someone had hit a ball back at him in the middle of his junior year and snapped his right collarbone. Compound fracture, blood all over his uniform, a sight so shocking the newspaper mentioned that it could not run the photo. Harvey had only just managed to turn away at the last instant. The ball had passed within an inch or two of his face.
Instead of a scene of violence, the article included a stock photo of Harvey squinting in the sun, way too skinny to be the real Harvey Specter, way too blond. Those ridiculous pulled-up socks alone: not a Harvey look. A compound fracture in his throwing shoulder was the end of his season, and the staff writer worried that his recovery would impede his chances at being drafted into the pros that summer. He underwent surgery the following week; the surgeons took the opportunity, while his shoulder was open, "to clean out the bone chips" from the joint, possibly the most cringeworthy phrase Mike had ever read in a college newspaper. Thanks to his heavy courseload, Harvey graduated that May, a year early.
The pictures of his graduation didn't feature him, that Mike could find. If he did attend, he had to have done so with his shoulder completely immobilized in a brace. The timing also meant that he'd signed back his acceptance to Harvard Law left-handed. At Harvard, at least, the sticks and stones they threw were metaphorical ones, and couldn't literally hurt you.
Chapter 3: Menschkeit
"You can come or not," Donna said into the phone, testy, as Mike walked by one morning. "It's happening at 1:45 either way."
Mike had no intention of listening in on her personal conversations. He rounded the corner and let himself into Harvey's empty office for the book he needed. On his way out, he heard her hang up with more force than a telephone really needed. As his grandmother had gotten sicker, he'd had a lot of conversations like that, and had like Donna learned to do them on a landline rather than suffer the expense of a broken cell phone. Mike also knew how much he hated the idea of everyone knowing what a mess his life was, so he kept his head down as he started back down the hallway.
"Mike, hey Mike," Donna called over his shoulder. It was brusque rather than sweet. Mike decided not to notice that slip in her facade either.
"What do you need?" he asked, and balanced the law-book on his hip.
"I'm getting married in --" she checked her watch, "-- two hours, and I need a new set of brothers-in-law-to-be."
"You're? Congratulations," Mike told her. He leapt ahead to the obvious conclusion: care decisions, financial decisions... end-of-life decisions. A marriage license clarified a lot of responsibilities. "Tell Shelley congratulations from me. And make sure you fill out a durable medical power of attorney anyway, okay?"
Donna shook her head and stood up. "Already did," she said. "You know all the angles."
"I didn't marry my grandmother, though," he said, to make her laugh, and obediently she did. She was not dressed for a wedding, particularly. She wore a dress, but it was blue and to her knees and didn't have any sequins or lace on it. Maybe there was a corsage hiding in a fridge somewhere. Mike wondered who would help her pin it on. He realized he'd never even seen a picture of Shelley, and couldn't imagine what she would look like at the wedding. Or whether, at this point, she still had hair (probably not, thanks to radiation treatments).
It was a good day for it, bright and crisp but not too cold. The freakishly warm winter meant no crusts of blackened ice on the sidewalks, and no lakes of slush in the streets. You could wear high heels from here to City Hall and back, and not risk a single stain on them.
"I have something I need to teach you, in case the Simonowicz case goes to trial next week." Donna pulled something that glinted steel from her desk drawer, and led him into Harvey's office. She shut the door and made him put down the law-book and tucked them both into the spot where you couldn't be seen from the hall. Her face was absolutely serious. "So this is the can-opener trick."
"The...?" Mike glanced at her hand. She held a slim steel can-opener, the kind with a crank and gears.
"You do this trick in the morning before a trial opens. You can't do it the night before. And you have to do it in private, just Harvey and you."
Mystified, Mike watched her demonstrate: a chant, a weird little dance, mystical gestures with the can-opener. The idea of Harvey enacting such a ritual was hilarious. He had enough sense to stifle any laughter. "Shlemiel, shlimazel," she said. "Come on, in unison. Say it."
"Isn't that from Laverne and Shirley?"
"Yes, now say it." Donna was proof that the silliest thing could gain dignity if approached with the proper attitude.
Mike said it. She took him through it several more times, playing Harvey's role, till he knew every word. "Does it still work if he doesn't do it with you?" he asked.
"He can't do it alone," said Donna. "He can't raise his right arm above his head without hurting himself."
Mike had seen him reach for albums off the top shelf, and pull on a jacket, and any number of arm-raising activities. Either he lived with a lot of pain, or else he was uncommonly practiced at limiting his movements in a way that nobody noticed. Nobody, apparently, except Donna.
"You've got to be there to hold the can opener up over his head," she added.
"I meant," said Mike at last, "does it still work if it's somebody else instead of you? Because --"
Something in that sentence had Donna biting down on her lip, hard. Mike reached out to do something and he happened to do it with the can opener in his hand. She put her hand out to take it, and instead of his letting go they held onto it together. "Yes," she said, and her face crumpled. Her voice was squeaky as she added, "He'll be fine."
Her poise was excellent. She'd regained control of her features before Mike could even step forward. He hesitated to do anything like hug her: the last thing she would want would be pity.
"So is that what you're going to wear to the wedding, or is there a floor-length chiffon number hidden in Harvey's closet?"
"There is, but not for me," she quipped, only a little watery. Mike's free hand was on her elbow. They both still gripped the can opener.
"You need any more witnesses?" he asked, serious. "If your brothers-in-law punk out on you, I'm prepared to take a late lunch."
"Rachel already volunteered. You've got too much work to do." She paused. "Thanks, though."
He took a risk. It seemed worth it. He leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. "You'll make a lovely bride," he told her, and turned to go. Harvey was standing in the doorway with his eyebrows high.
Whatever cool points Mike gained in being able to stroll out nonchalantly, he lost again when he realized in the hallway that he'd forgotten the law-book and had to double back. Donna didn't laugh at him too hard, though.
Mike came back from lunch and pulled out his chair and discovered a person hiding behind it. A person by name of Ashley Rosenblatt, first-year associate, who was wearing a skirt, and crawled out from under his desk with a sheepish look on her face.
"Does this mean definitively that you're hacking my email?" Mike asked her. She stood up and the carpet-marks on her knees were visible through her pantyhose.
"Just hiding from Louis," she said, and made to walk away.
Mike didn't like Louis either, but he'd never hid from him under a desk. He chased after her. "What did he do?"
"Nothing yet," said Ashley, and paused. She looked him up and down. "No chance you're Jewish, are you?"
"No?" Of all the non-sequiturs. "Kind of Catholic, but not really."
Ashley shrugged. "Word is he only invites the gentiles he likes, or he thinks can get him something."
"Invites to what?"
"The totally non-mandatory mandatory Passover seder," said Ashley, and rolled her eyes.
New York had pretty stringent labor laws about protected categories in the workplace. There was a poster in the break room about it, in case you didn't get around to memorizing those laws in pursuit of the bar exam. Mike could totally see in his head the aggrieved, egotistical way that Louis would deny he'd done anything wrong. "That... sounds borderline actionable."
"You'd think so," she replied. She gave a little frustrated laugh. "It's some kind of backhanded networking thing. I think he can tell I'm a crappy Jew. You know, I eat bacon, I don't leave early on Fridays. The closest I come to Pesadic is the South Beach diet."
Mike chuckled. "Did he try to do anything for Yom Kippur?"
"I don't know! I spent three weeks having surprise crying fits and retreating to the ladies' room." Mike remembered that, suddenly: how sensitive Ashley had been in the fall. They were all walking balls of neuroses, without enough time to themselves to manage their personal shit; it hadn't occurred to Mike till that very moment that neuroses could have a strategic deployment. That meant Louis probably hadn't caught on either.
"So you're going to keep on hiding from him till April?"
"Got any better ideas?" The lightbulb went on behind her eyes. "Oh. Oh dude, you work for Specter, right? I can tell Louis I'm going to his seder."
"Harvey's Jewish?" Mike asked, puzzled.
"Isn't he?" Ashley seemed as puzzled as Mike, from the opposite direction.
It was in that incautious moment of mutual confusion that Louis pounced. "Ross, Rosenblatt," he sang out, as he bustled down the hallway towards them. "Ashley, I wonder if I could borrow you for just a moment. I don't know if you've looked at a calendar --"
"She's got a seder to go to," Mike blurted, impulsive. "I'm sorry, we didn't realize you had something planned."
Ashley was an able improviser. She threaded her arm through Mike's and stood with him, blushing. Mike was a little afraid they'd announced their engagement not just their unavailability for one evening in April, but Louis cocked his head at Mike, suspicious.
"You're Jewish now? Mike Roth?" It was possible Louis had trademarked that particular snide tone.
Mike bit his tongue. On the upside, if he converted, he could rewrite the lyrics of the Haunkah Song to include himself. A lot of things rhymed with Ross. "Uh, no, it's Harvey's thing. New this year, I guess."
"Haaaarvey," said Louis, like a cut-rate Sherlock Holmes. "He's observant now? He makes Senior Partner and he undergoes a change of heart?"
"I... guess so?" It bothered Mike vaguely, that he hadn't known his own boss's background. As if Harvey had been hiding something, or felt obliged to hide something. Having to find out from Louis -- But Louis ignored Mike's unease in favor of the politics of the situtation.
"Is he inviting all the associates?" His voice rose, panicky. "Is he angling to shut me out?"
"No, no," Mike assured him quickly. "Ashley and I are the only ones from the firm. His brother made him invite at least two people. To prove he isn't a complete psychopath." Ashley nodded brightly. As far as she was concerned, Harvey was a complete psychopath, and the Specter family seder was going to double as a murder mystery dinner-theater.
Louis narrowed his eyes. "I thought his brother lived in Chicago."
"He does? He does," blabbed Mike. "He'll be in town for two weeks. I think Harvey would fire me if I backed out now."
"He's really a terrible supervisor, isn't he?" Louis's face collapsed into theatrical sympathy. "He doesn't have the least idea how to use his assets properly."
"Terrible," Ashley piped up. "Terrible."
"I'll manage somehow," said Mike, and that made a good segue into the stacks of files he had to get through before the afternoon ended. He disentangled himself from Ashley and grabbed up a folder at random. "Speaking of which --"
Louis let him go, chin high. Over his shoulder, Mike mouthed to Ashley, You owe me bigtime.
She nodded at him with a professional smile, and turned her attention back to Louis.
"How is this night different from every other night?" Ashley asked, groaning, as she lifted the 400-page record of Quinn v. Quinn.
Mike stood by the printer as it spewed off affidavits and addenda to the tune of another 100 pages. "Speaking as a goy, and Harvey's associate, it's exactly the same as every other night," he told her. "For you, I guess the same except no carbs."
"Yikes." She thumped down her set of pages and pulled out a matched set of highlighters. "Why did I agree to this?"
"Because Harvey didn't want your firstborn child," Mike reminded her.
"Ha ha, Passover humor. Seriously, how bad can a seder with Louis Litt be?"
"Ask yourself that question again," said Harvey from the doorway, and Mike was gratified to see that Ashley was as badly startled as he was. They sat across from each other at the table like little kids expecting to get yelled at. But Harvey was in a good mood for once. "That's the Quinn file? On my desk by 8 AM."
If they finished it before midnight, that was 6 hours of the 80 Ashley had to complete per their agreement. When Mike had said You owe me bigtime, apparently what he meant was We both owe Harvey bigtime. Ashley twirled her highlighter (it had a purple monster attached to it, whose arms flailed wildly) and gave Harvey a speculative look.
"Does that mean you've actually been to one of Louis's things?"
Harvey gave her The Eyebrow and she shrank a little.
"Oh. So how did you get out of it?"
"I told him," Harvey said, clearly savoring the memory, "that if I was going to make partner before him, I needed to that time to get work done."
Ashley gave a scandalized laugh. It was a brazen thing to say (and prescient, as it turned out), but Mike thought it was kind of sad too. That Harvey was absolutely unfamiliar with the concept of work-life balance, even now he'd made Senior Partner and could relax, was not the sort of thing he should let get around. He waited for Ashley to stop laughing and said, "I'm out for oysters with the Hetherington people. Any last questions, you'd better ask them now."
"Oysters?" Ashley asked, her nose wrinkled up.
"Snot on the half-shell," Mike concurred, schooling his features to just the right shade of sanctimonious.
Harvey rolled his eyes. "Your juvenile opinions are taken under advisement." He turned on his heel, and left.
Eyes back on the page, Ashley squeaked her highlighter over a pair of lines. She chewed on her little purple monster and then marked a third line. Mike huffed out a breath and focused on the work in front of him. He was ten pages into Quinn when Ashley murmured, "Does he even have a brother, or did you make that up?"
Mike turned the page. Quinn and Quinn were suing each other because cousins apparently should not start accounting firms together. "He's real. I mean, I think he's real. Harvey tells stories about him sometimes." Harvey would not make up a fictional brother, not if a simple birth record search would give him the lie. But maybe they weren't close. Maybe they'd quarreled, or he lived way farther away than Chicago, or maybe Harvey's brother gamely invited him to a seder every year (and asked him to invite two friends, to make sure he wasn't a complete psychopath)and every year got turned down. It was just another thing Harvey didn't bring up. "I don't know the guy's name."
"You've worked for Specter how long? And you still don't know a thing about him."
There are times when it's okay to grouse about your boss, and times that you're obliged to stick up for him. Mike intoned, "He's an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, and smothered in secret sauce."
"Secret sauce," Ashley murmured to herself, as she scanned the financial records. "Client pays for dinner, right? You want Chinese barbecue? Char siu would hit the spot about now."
He laughed. "I am really sure that char siu is not kosher."
"Oh, whatever." Ashley swatted him on the arm. "Do you not realize that your Jewish boss is out for shellfish right now? Not even crab or anything: disgusting-looking shellfish. Besides," she sniffed. "We can order Pesadic Coke."
"Well that makes it all right," said Mike. They could order a whole roast suckling pig if they wanted to, and charge it to the client. They could probably order a takeout seder -- surely some New York entrepreneur had invented such a thing. He headed down the hall to fetch delivery menus from the kitchen.
Chapter 4: Golden Boy
Donna's wife went into hospice in the second week of April, and died ten days later. Harvey sent a note around by email that the funeral was family only (donations in lieu of flowers to some foundation or other), and then sent a second note only to Mike with the time and place and "She'll have a job for you" typed cryptically at the bottom. Amazed and more than a little flattered, Mike debated with himself how to get to the church, in Yonkers: if he wore his dress shoes and it rained, he'd have to take a taxi, and that would be expensive. But maybe showing up for a funeral in waterproof boots with your dress shoes in your hand was the kind of thing that Harvey would notice. Mike wasn't sure.
The day dawned full of sleet, so he made his decision. He arrived at the church early and was surprised to discover that he could just add his boots to a row of them in the foyer, slush melting around the toes. Clearly the funeral was not family only, or Donna and Shelley were related to the entire city. Whole pews were taken up with teary EMTs, wiping their eyes with white-gloved hands. Donna was there in the front row, lovely in black, her brothers-in-law by her side. They were younger and spoke to each other and not to her. She returned them the favor.
Mike was surprised (but not really) to find Rachel there. He sat with her, and mumbled along to a Catholic service he hadn't attended since his own parents had died twenty years before. (It had changed since then, or anyway, Mike kept getting the wording wrong, and kept getting elbows in the ribs from Rachel.) Harvey sat at Donna's side, silent in his impeccable black suit, and stroked the back of her hand with his thumb.
Mike hadn't even seen a picture of Shelley till he'd walked into the church: Donna valued her privacy. And so he got to know Shelley by the people who spoke in remembrance of her. Her kindergarten teacher, her basketball coach from highschool, two burly men from her firehouse. Her lieutenant carried her uniform cap and badge up to the altar, though cancer wasn't quite the same as dying in the line of duty, and the white-gloved back rows sobbed freely. The priest led the congregation in a honking Long Island accent, and did not stumble even a little bit over his mention of the deceased's loving widow. Whether or not the marriage had been consecrated by the church was a detail not to be examined today.
After the service came the food. It was a nice place by Mike's standards, which meant it was a dump by Harvey's. A VFW hall with a drop ceiling and not a lot of windows, it was tidy but not recently renovated. The steel chafing dishes held mashed potatoes, chicken wings, gray green beans: good food, lots of it, unadventurous. Mike thought sometimes about what kind of funeral he would hold for his grandmother someday, and recognized that this was better than anything he used to be able to dream up. (Like, that he wouldn't be in jail or broke when it happened.) His dreams had gotten a bit bigger, thanks to Harvey, and he resented a little that this painfully planned family event felt so small to him now.
Harvey had been right, and Mike had a job to do. His charge was to ensure the old ladies didn't drop their teacups (they belonged to the hall), and Mike spent a good hour chatting with the slightly hard-of-hearing and rescuing the china from hand-tremor. They were familiar voices, Shelley's elderly kin and aunties from the neighborhood, and though it was a different neighborhood from Mike's own -- more Hungarian and Czech, less Puerto Rican --, they had a cadence he responded to: they reminded him of his grandmother. It was the least he could do to help out, although it meant listening to halting and puzzled compliments about how nicely Shelley's... friend had done everything up. A strained, indirect discussion sprang up about Shelley's mother, and how hard she had been to please, and whether she would have liked Donna. (Mike thought yes, of course. Who didn't like Donna?) Those who could say lesbian could only say it in a stage-whisper. Two tables over, Rachel was helping corral toddlers, and sent him an awkward smile.
Donna circulated around the room in her black dress, playing the gracious host. Her brothers-in-law had joined a huddle at a table in the corner, the bastards. Mike touched Donna's arm, told her, "You did a great job with all this," and then headed over toward the corner to kick some slacker ass.
Two tables stood side by side, one full of uniformed EMTs drinking gravely and the other crowded with young men in jeans and hoodies, cohort of the jerk brothers-in-law. There were twelve guys at the second table, at a table meant for eight. Harvey was at the center of it, jacket off and sleeves rolled up, telling a story. Mike was in the middle of recognizing it (it was the one about a fight he'd been in in highschool) when he recognized something else: Harvey was talking funny. Mike hung back and listened.
"So I says to the guy, You wanna fucken try it with me or you wanna take your base? And the guy he don't say nothing, just gets the hell outta there." Harvey did not drop his Rs, as a general rule. He spoke like an actor or like a newscaster, crisp consonants and no hint of a regional accent. Now he was not only dropping his Rs, he broadened his vowels and simplified his grammar like he'd grown up ears-deep in some working-class North Jersey enclave. He sounded like My Cousin Vinny.
You don't get to live in New York without you pick up a word here and there -- stand on line, the Long Island way to say coffee, that curiously musical way that delivery drivers call Fuuuuck you to a snot-nosed bicyclist. Anybody with half an ear can put on two or three or four different accents, pieces of them anyway. Harvey sat a millionaire in a circle of working-class guys and told a story in their accent, or one they would recognize and identify with, unafraid that he might be caught out in a wrong vowel and exposed as a fraud. He talked as if his perfect lawyer diction were a jacket or a too-tight necktie, that he could take off when he got home. The idea that My Cousin Vinny might be home, and the fussy, cultured precision of Midtown the affectation, was unaccountably shocking.
Not more shocking than Harvey Specter peppering his casual speech with "fuck" the way he usually said "fiduciary," but close. The table of EMTs was strenuously ignoring the whole spectacle, morose expressions on their faces and beers nursed slowly. On the whole, Mike thought he would rather be at that table, and would otherwise have said that Harvey would too.
He slapped one of the posse on the shoulder as the punchline to a joke, and Mike noticed he wasn't wearing his (very expensive) watch. Harvey always knew the little details that would put someone at ease, or take them out of it.
"Hey guys," Mike intervened. "Donna let me know they're going to be bringing out dessert in a minute. And she wants to talk to Gary and Rob if you can spare a second."
Donna's new relatives let out put-upon sighs. Most of the table chuckled, but Harvey shot them a hateful look that was gone the instant Mike saw it. Only a little while later, Harvey stood up and excused himself -- to the genuine dismay of the young men at the table -- and sidled over to Mike.
"Jackoffs," he muttered in Mike's ear. "Keep them occupied or they'll get drunk and disruptive. I'll be back in a minute."
Clearly everyone deemed worthy had a job to do at this reception. He sat down in Harvey's chair. "He's my boss," Mike boasted, and let the eager young crowd tell him how lucky he was. Behind them, the EMTs watched with thoughtful disapproval, Shelley's own personal honor guard against the possibility of a fuss at her funeral reception.
"New case," said Harvey, and startled Mike out of a dream about being chased by semicolons. He dropped a folder onto the pile from which Mike had just lifted his head.
"Okay," said Mike, as he puzzled out whether it was morning or night. He was in the library, and it was midafternoon. Harvey stood there stiffly, like someone delivering bad news.
"It's an elder abuse case," he said, his voice neutral and his eyes elsewhere.
Harvey knew the basics, of course. Grandmother, only living relative, heart failure, nursing home. Probably Harvey could put two and two together and realize that heart failure in an elderly woman on the lowest rung of Medicare wasn't the kind of thing you ever got better from. Probably Harvey could figure out that beating up on old ladies was something Mike felt strongly about.
"Okay," said Mike, more slowly this time.
"Shelley's lieutenant bent my ear about it at the funeral." Harvey half-turned away. "We're for the plaintiff."
"I should damn well hope so," Mike mumbled, and got up to follow him.
Donna was at her desk, with a pinched expression that said she was probably working on stuff related to Shelley's death rather than anything for Harvey. Old medical bills, funeral costs, maybe ordering a gravestone. Mike averted his eyes as they passed her. He didn't want to know. He followed Harvey into his office and got out his notebook.
"Notes from a phone call with Nina Cevnic. Transcribe these, go out and interview her. Her mother Hulda is in a nursing home in Tarrytown, and you'll need to see her although she's not compos." Harvey spoke smoothly, as if he were reading off a list, although there was no paper on his desk. He'd been thinking about it a while already. "Lose the suit. Go in as the boyfriend of one of Nina's kids or something. Snoop around. I assume you'll know what to look for."
Mike's pen rested on the page, an eternal period at the end of a sentence. He did know what to look for, and had nightmares about the possibility sometimes. "If I find more than one victim?"
"You probably will. There are five police calls in the last six months, but no charges filed." Harvey's eyes were steady. He'd been a prosecutor once, and sometimes he still acted like one. The afternoon light lay bright over his shoulder, like a pitiless spotlight. "Eventually we'll subpoena the home's employment records, sort out whether they're conveniently overlooking their mandated background checks. But you want a good idea what you're getting into before you file."
A good idea. A good, graphic, glossy color-photo idea. A cringeing, confused grandmother idea. Mike stopped writing.
"Are you sure you want to assign this case to me?"
Harvey frowned at him. "To whom else would I assign it?" he asked sharply. Mike could not suss out from his voice alone whether he doubted Mike's self-control, or was annoyed that Mike doubted his own self-control. Mike decided that the better part of valor was to change the subject.
"That's going to be pretty much a whole day out of the city. Will Thursday do, or do you need me on that Fessenden thing?"
"By the Fessenden thing I presume you mean the contract negotiation. Have you still got the first draft with your illegible notes all over it?"
"Donna can read my handwriting," Mike argued, half-annoyed and half spoiling for the pleasures of combat. "Not my fault your eyes are going."
The steel glinted in Harvey's chair as he swung it around. It flashed in Mike's eyes and threatened to give him a headache. "Re-do it. In red pen. Two different highlighters at least. And make your notes illegible. Do you think I can just buy props like that at a joke shop?"
The Fessenden contract draft was 125 pages long. Mike put a hand to his head. "Sure. Whatever you say, golden boy."
Harvey stopped. Mike realized what he'd said, and wondered whether his face would do in the absence of any convenient televisions. Harvey stared at him like he'd grown two heads, though, not like he'd just called his boss a forbidden schoolyard name.
"I did not just say that," Mike told him.
"I was right here," said Harvey. "I'm pretty sure you did."
He sat in direct sunlight, shiny hair and sharply-tailored gray suit, silhouetted like a movie star. Mike opened his mouth to explain: "Donna told me never --"
"Since when are you reminiscing with Donna?"
"She wouldn't even tell me what it meant. Just never to say it."
Harvey gave him The Eyebrow. Clearly, he had mellowed in the past 14 years. "Crack job of following orders there, Mike."
"Yeah," Mike sighed, and stood to go re-do the Fessenden draft. "I'm bad at that."
Jessica opened her office door one afternoon as Mike walked by, and invited him in as if she knew his first name. As if they were friends. Mike sat on her sofa with sweaty palms and a pair of confidential files on his lap, and said a polite no to tea.
"I'm checking in with all the new associates," said Jessica, as she took her seat. She accepted a teacup from her assistant with the ease of long practice at being waited on. Mike took a relieved breath. Jessica went on, "I saved you for last, though."
"Oh great," he said.
"I know Harvey. Somehow I doubt he is providing you with specific guidance as to the strengths of your work-product. He is an arrogant, incommunicative asshole, and I say that with love." A corner of her mouth turned up and Mike bit his lip to keep a chuckle at bay. "So my question to you is, how do you think you're doing?"
"Okay, I guess? I mean, I still make stupid mistakes, but I think I only make each mistake once."
"Your productiveness has not gone unnoticed." Jessica's eyes were big, prominent in her face. One of her most devastating tools was how kind she could look, how empathetic, even as she dellivered the killing blow. "For a while Louis was convinced you were cheating it somehow: outsourcing or plagiarism or some other secret strategy."
Mike panicked. "I never --"
"I didn't say you did. I've heard you recite city building codes by number. I don't doubt you're doing the work."
"If you were working for anybody else but Harvey, you would have guessed that this little meeting is for us to chart out your future at this firm, not to call you onto the carpet." She nodded at him. "So tell me Mr. Ross, where do you see yourself in five years?"
"I --" Mike had no idea. It was not yet in him to plan that far ahead.
"Harvey being a closer has been able to expose you to a lot of different aspects of the law in practice. Is there a specific field you'd like to specialize in? Or follow in his footsteps? Because when I had this conversation with him, before he even started law school he knew exactly what he wanted."
Harvey was obviously confident in Jessica, more confident than he was in anybody else at the firm. He didn't seem to care that on her high-heels days she was taller than him (and Mike, and pretty much everyone else). Every other partner stood straighter on those days, and the associates scurried. Maybe Harvey just always stood up that straight.
Jessica was the only one at the firm who had known Harvey from before he became the Harvey Specter he was now. Other attorneys and secretaries might have met him when he was younger, surely, but she was the only one who had noticed him. Or the only one Harvey picked. It was weird, to think of him ardently seeking attention, rather than confident of every eye in the room upon him.
It was weird to realize that the woman in front of him had once asked Harvey the same questions, and gotten far more adequate answers than Mike's incoherent stammer. "Oh no, he declared he wanted to rule the world, didn't he?"
The delighted little smile on Jessica's face indicated he wasn't far wrong. She stood and pulled an archive folder out of her desk. Inside was a note on ruled paper, preserved in a plastic sleeve. "Read it," she commanded.
In spiky (hardly legible!) teenaged handwriting, it said, "I, Harvey Benjamin Specter, will make a gazillion dollars and have a corner office before I am 40" with his signature beneath and a date stamped on it. August 2, 1991. Jessica's elegant scrawl countersigned at the bottom.
He'd signed that paper when he was 19 years old. Well, and he'd done it, hadn't he? Made a gazillion dollars, had a corner office. He wouldn't be 40 for another year.
"I was a first-year associate busting my ass, just like you. The firm was Hardman Strand Mackey back then. I met this kid, gangly and blond in ratty sneakers, who hung out at my cube every day, reading over my shoulder instead of delivering the mail. I'm pretty sure I told him to get lost the first ten times, but he's nothing if not persistent." She smiled to herself in nostalgia. "He was a charmer. He also had drive you could see from space. I'm not sure he comprehends ambition any more subtle than a sledgehammer."
"Ratty sneakers?" That detail just didn't compute, not for the Harvey Mike knew. Not that delivering the mail did either: that wasn't the kind of job you got because your dad ran the company anymore. The mail was outsourced to a staffing company, and Mike was pretty sure the wages were terrible. "Is there pictorial evidence of this wardrobe gaffe?"
Jessica's look was keen. It was amazing how she could seem both sharp and serene at the same time. "People who are born into money don't show it off like he does," she said. "I think his mother cleaned houses for a living."
Mike closed his mouth. Harvey told plenty of stories about his life, but not that little detail. It re-ordered his persona in Mike's mind, that he came from as modest a background as Mike himself, or moreso. All those brusque little tips about how to behave among the powerful sounded different, coming from someone who'd learned them in adulthood the way Mike was learning. He wondered suddenly whether Jessica had given Harvey tips. Whether she'd been impatient with his blunders. "I heard him talking a few weeks ago," Mike said, strangely reluctant. "He had this accent."
"Oh, the accent!" Jessica laughed, a low warm sound. "I remember. I'm surprised he'd let you hear that. I made him take lessons before he started at Harvard. You know how it is there."
Mike did not know how it was there. He thought sometimes that if he had gone to Harvard, he would probably be bitterer than he was. The creepy social jockeying of his fellow associates, the class markers that went over his head, the aggressive denial of those class markers -- exactly the sort of thing to wear on the nerves of an observant working-class kid. But Mike hadn't gone to Harvard. Kyle and his silver spoon buddies dismissed him as a fraud, and he was. They looked down on him, and with good reason. It was kind of freeing, really. Actually having gone to Harvard would be a burden at this point.
Mike didn't have an accent, either. (His grandmother had forbidden it, although it had never occurred to him till now to wonder why.) Harvey, though. Brilliant, competitive, solitary Harvey, dogged by snide bridge-and-tunnel jokes and clueless moneyed superiority, carefully drilled in the elocution and social graces that his peers took for granted. How he must have burned during his early years with the firm, fought for power like it was air. Any implication that he was one of them, that he didn't deserve his accolades or coasted on Daddy's reputation -- it was the sort of thing that would inspire him to assault a television. Aha.
"He may deny it strenuously," said Jessica drily, "but he's not perfect."
"I don't want to criticize --"
"Yes you do. It's open season. What does Harvey do badly that you think you can do better?"
There are times when it's okay to grouse about your boss, and times that you discover a powerful urge to stick up for him. Mike had to think hard to come up with a criticism that deserved airing: "He doesn't take his pro bono cases seriously. I think it's a cycle: he doesn't seek them out, so he's assigned cases, so he doesn't have a personal connection to the clients or the work. So he doesn't seek out cases of his own."
"But you do," said Jessica, with no hint of surprise or disagreement. "Have a personal connection."
"I think, yeah." He breathed out. "I think so."
"There are considerable opportunities in handling pro-bono work at the partner level." She held Mike's gaze so firmly he couldn't look away. "You can get involved in working with teams of associates on a specific topic, or you can track into the administrative side, assigning cases to partners. Even reluctant partners. Is that something you'd be interested in?"
Mike shut his mouth in shock, and Jessica appeared to take that as a yes.
Chapter 5: The Landscape
The elder abuse case developed nine co-plaintiffs, and then it went nuclear. An hour in court had required ten fourteen-hour days in the office beforehand, and that was just so that the twenty-hour days could begin.
In all the time he'd worked at Pearson Hardman, Mike hadn't slept in the office more than twice, and now he was doing it twice a week, usually on the couch in Harvey's office. (Harvey hadn't said anything about it, but soon after it started Mike discovered himself in possession of a key, and didn't have to charm Rosa the cleaning lady to let him in any more.) He had no rank on the five other associates who worked the case, but Harvey gave him orders and told him to pass them along, and they funneled their work product back to Harvey through him. Mike read and annotated and read and slept and got up and read some more, Harvey beside him a lot of the time. Although Harvey got to go home at 10 at night.
And the worst of it was, it was about systematic dereliction of duty, so they got to plow through pages and pages of nursing home employees convicted of theft, battery, child abuse, a hundred other crimes their employers hadn't disclosed, or even investigated. It was all right there on the cross-referenced police records, officially documented, appallingly blunt. Mike started calling his grandmother every day, just to hear her voice. He never told her what he was working on.
He was pretty sure he hadn't let on how much the case was bothering him. He ate whatever takeout Harvey chose and his bike sat chained outside in the rain for three days before the security guards rescued it, and stowed it in their breakroom. They left him voicemail about it, but he didn't check his voicemail till a week after that. Harvey taught him to go home every other day, to collect the mail and pick up changes of clothes. Harvey let him into the locked Senior Partners' bathroom, which had a full shower and ridiculously expensive towels.
One Thursday in the first week of May, Harvey sent him home at midnight, and told him to pack for two nights. Mike slept in his own bed, and threw out most of the contents of his fridge, and got up at five the following morning to do it all over again. They were working like dogs for a deadline the following week, all the way through Friday night. But halfway through Saturday, Harvey put down the file he'd been reading (he read almost half as fast as Mike) and leaned back in his chair and stretched out his arms at his sides. "Almost done," he said.
"Mm," Mike responded, from the conference table. The stack in front of him had shrunk considerably, but it was still almost shoulder-height, and that was only through the Ls. (M-Z was farmed out among the other associates.)
Harvey rubbed his thumbs in his eyesockets and stood up and tucked his chair into his desk. "Okay, let's go."
Mike was concentrating. He didn't process what Harvey had said until the man stood in front of the table and repeated himself. "What?"
"We're going. You brought your overnight kit." That wasn't a question. Harvey went and pulled open the closet and hefted his own designer bag. He stood there staring at Mike till Mike got with the program.
"O... kay?" He fetched his bag and slung it across his shoulder and waited to be told what to do.
But Harvey didn't say. He just led the way. Out of the office, to the elevator, down to the lobby. They left behind the other five associates, still plowing through M-Z on a Saturday afternoon. It was hardly two o'clock. If Mike had been on top of his game, he would have started needling, or at least asking questions. As it was, he didn't have a question in him, just a relief that he was outside during daylight and not interviewing old ladies who'd been smacked around. It was perfect New York weather: bright, warm but not hazy. Real summer heat would not kick in for a few weeks yet. Mike raised his face to the sun, eyes closed, while they waited at a crosswalk. Harvey put a hand on his elbow when the light changed, and guided him down into the subway.
If you'd asked, till that very moment Mike would have told you Harvey did not know the subway existed, much less how to take it. A man who gets himself driven all over Manhattan is either really stupid or really afraid of going underground or really, really invested in how special he is. (And after all, he had to know how it worked: he'd ridden it as a teenager, PATH train and subway both, to get from New Jersey to the mailroom of Hardman Strand Mackey.) So there was Harvey, standing on the southbound platform, unperturbed, with old newspapers flying in the wind the trains made. It was weird, like seeing a live flamingo in the windows at Macy's. They rode only one stop, to Grand Central, and then got on a commuter rail train.
Caution started to wake up in Mike. He stowed his bag overhead, following Harvey's example, and they sat side by side on the left side of the train: when they came out from underground, the afternoon sun lay on their shoulders. They hadn't brought any work with them. Mike opened his mouth to ask where they were going and Harvey put up a forbidding hand. Yet another thing over Mike's head: he was too tired to resent it much. Out of the city, clearly, but if it was to go interview another old lady with bruises on her face, better he didn't know in advance. In the sunlight, the lines on Harvey's face seemed deeper. He looked every bit of his age.
Harvey sat quietly playing with his watch and Mike struggled not to fall asleep. Clearly he failed, because Harvey woke him somewhere near the end of the line, and signalled this was their stop. (Mike could not even name what county they were in; he could hardly name all the counties of Long Island, much less the ones upstate.) "Let's go," said Harvey in Mike's ear, and Mike looked out the window at some kind of quiet suburb in late-afternoon splendor. Harvey had sat there for two hours, patient while Mike slept.
There were leafy trees and wide lanes and unrestricted parking on both sides of the street. Harvey clearly knew where he was going. He led them to a garage and exchanged a few words with the attendant and up came a bay door down the row and Harvey beckoned Mike inside. There was a car inside.
Mike was not really a car guy: even if he hadn't lived all his life in New York, even if he hadn't been hand-to-mouth for the last decade, he just didn't know or care much beyond the basics. He'd never owned one, although he'd borrowed plenty (and kinda sorta stolen one briefly, at Trevor's instigation, when they were fifteen). But he had a general idea what kind of car Harvey Specter would keep, if he kept his own. It would be a show-off car, a classic Firebird or a Delorean or something else Mike had only ever seen on television. Not the car in front of him, which was a dinged-up white sedan circa 1982. An old-person car, the kind of Sherman tank cleverly disguised as a car that Mike's own grandmother had driven until she couldn't drive any more.
A Buick. Harvey Specter drove a white Buick. Mike rubbed his eyes and laughed.
"What?" asked Harvey, over the trunk. Mike waved it away and came over to stow his overnight bag.
Bouncing in the springy seats, they headed out onto the street and quickly into the real countryside, just trees in all directions on twisty narrow roads. Harvey drove comfortably, his elbow cocked against the door. Mike inhaled the smell of old leather and something like pipe tobacco and wintergreen gum, something resonant and comforting. Comforting to Mike: it reminded him of home, of his old lower-middle class neighborhood and the people he hardly ever saw any more. It seemed unlikely that Harvey derived the same kind of pleasure; sentimental attachment was not generally his bag. But here he was with a Buick, maybe the first car he'd owned and kept since college, or maybe just something he borrowed on the regular from whoever it was owned the garage.
As little traffic as they saw, Harvey didn't bother with turn signals. He changed gears effortlessly, just the two fingers of his left hand on the steering wheel as he worked the stickshift. One of those tree-shaped pine scent things dangled from the rearview mirror, and swung gently as they came around turns in the road. He knew the route, obviously, and sped along the flat sections 20 and 30 miles faster than the posted speed, a private half-smile on his face. Mike wasn't sure he'd ever seen him like that before.
There was time still to wonder where they were going (interviews with old ladies seemed unlikely), and to wonder why Harvey kept a car here but not one of his own in Manhattan. He could afford both, obviously. Mike looked at his feet in the well-vacuumed footwell and wondered whether anyone else had ever ridden shotgun in this car, or if Harvey had always come up here alone. Just him and his thoughts and the dapple on the maple leaves. The houses were small and aging, tin siding faded gray and paint peeling, rusty pickups in the driveways and sometimes another car up on blocks. Mike had been under the impression that all of upstate was palatial weekend estates for people who lived in Manhattan, but maybe not.
It was pushing 6:30 and the sun was on its way down when Harvey turned off the main road. They stopped at a general store, and Harvey bought food. Mike tagged along, dully mystified, and rode the last leg of their journey with a paper bag on his lap, his thigh getting cold from the orange juice. At last Harvey turned on the headlights and turned onto a packed dirt road, and they were there.
Mike did not know where there was. He carried the groceries as Harvey led him to a small, ramshackle house surrounded by spindly pines. There were old leaves on the porch, and the door stuck till Harvey kicked it. That corner of the door looked like it had been kicked a lot. Harvey led him in and opened a breaker box and flipped the circuits, and an overhead light came on.
It was a summer house. Or maybe a winter house, if the residents had fallen on hard times: a kitchen and a living room, with a ladder up to eaves. The windows were shuttered. Everything in the house looked old: not classic or antique, just old. The kitchen had a ridiculous wallpaper border along the top of the wall, and scuffed linoleum that curled up at the corners of the room. It looked like Gram's old kitchen, when she'd had a kitchen.
It seemed incomprehensible that Harvey should come here on purpose. Without any central heating or air, Mike was suddenly overwhelmingly conscious of the sounds of nature outside: crickets, maybe frogs, sad-sounding birds from far off. Harvey was not bothered. He took the groceries out of Mike's hands and set to work making them dinner.
The words they exchanged were practical: reach me this and can you find that. Mike leaned against the fridge when he wasn't needed, eyes closed. They ate side-by-side on the couch (Mike could not have told you what dinner was, only that it was hot and filling) and stared at the wall. There was no television or radio. When the washing-up was done, Harvey pulled open a closet door and pulled out a pile of mismatched blankets.
"Couch folds out," he said. They folded out the couch. There weren't any sheets so they layered blankets atop the saggy mattress. Mike was just cautious enough to wonder whether they were really going to sleep in the same bed when Harvey disappeared around the corner and came back with a wheeled cot, probably the newest piece of furniture in the whole house. He unfolded it and wrestled it into a clear space on the floor. He didn't mention, and Mike didn't remind him, Mike had slept a lot of nights on couches lately. Mike still did not know why they had come hours and hours north of New York just to do the same thing all over again. They unfolded more blankets together and Mike sat down to take off his shoes and that somehow made the larger bed his. He was still sitting there with a shoe in his hand when Harvey turned off the light and plunged them both into total darkness. No background aura, no streetlight far away, just you and your foggy brain and your invisible shoe in your hand. The absence of city noise was disquieting. It couldn't be any later than eight at night, though Mike hadn't seen a single clock in the place.
He lay down with the vague idea that he would find out at last whether Harvey Specter snored, but Mike was asleep so fast he didn't get the chance to listen for it.
He awoke suddenly with the sensation that someone was standing over him. His face was cold. He was alone in an empty room and his face was all that stuck out from under the blankets, and he inhaled cold air and tried to remember where he was. Aha: Harvey, car, upstate. Mike reached up a hand to touch his chilled cheeks. The sun hadn't risen yet, but it would soon.
Carefully so as not to wake Harvey (he'd seen Harvey sleep-deprived plenty now, and knew those black moods), Mike got up and put on his shoes. He wrapped a blanket around his shoulders and hunted in the kitchen for a coffeemaker. He found it after a while: a stained white contraption that belonged in a yard sale. There were only two mugs, five mismatched forks, exactly one cutting knife. Definitely not a place Harvey brought company to.
While the coffee was brewing, Mike discovered a photograph stuck to the fridge with nondescript black magnets. He'd been leaning on this very fridge the night before, and hadn't noticed a thing. But there it was: a faded square snapshot of two blond boys, taken someplace in the sun. Taken someplace in the 1970s, if their clothes were any indication. Mike realized slowly that he was looking at physical proof of Harvey's mythical younger brother. Five or six years younger, more than Mike had guessed. They were posed side by side, the toddler captured mid-laugh and Harvey wiry and tall and unsmiling.
Mike removed the magnets and checked the back of the photo: no names. If he wanted to know, he would have to ask Harvey directly.
Instead, he poured himself a cup of coffee and went exploring. Because they'd arrived at dusk, Mike hadn't gotten a good look the previous night. The building's exterior was gray, faded wood clapboards and the roof shingles flaking away. There was no lawn or decking, just trees and the shuffle of needles under his feet and enough tree roots to trip over. He was surprised to realize that the little house surrounded by pines was only a few yards uphill from a lake. He picked his way carefully down an uneven path and discovered a wooden dock that jutted out into the still water about twenty feet. There was no boat, only a chair at the very end of the dock. In the chair was Harvey.
Mike thought about retreating, and then took a fortifying sip of coffee and stepped onto the dock. The water below made ripples from his weight, and they seemed like the only movement in the gray light. The sad birds from the previous night were calling again, somewhere out of sight.
No acknowledgement came from Harvey as Mike approached. There was only the one chair, a ratty lawn chair at that. Mike stood for a while looking at the lake, and wondered what Harvey was looking at. It was a nice enough lake, pines on the far bank and a couple of hardwoods just filling out with their summer leaves. No other houses were visible, although a few docks showed they existed. After a minute Mike sat down on the dock next to Harvey's worn chair.
Harvey was wearing his shoes too, and a blanket like Mike's. His breathing was slow and even, and Mike glanced up to make sure he wasn't asleep. His eyes were open, steady, his face the calm of anticipation. But he said nothing, and Mike said nothing, and they sat there at the end of the dock while the light changed and the sky turned from gray to pearl to white.
Without any landmarks to orient himself, Mike didn't realize he was facing east until he felt the warmth of it on his face: the sun on its way. Mist curled on the lake's surface, and curled alike on the surface of Mike's coffee as he sipped it. The sun rose, orange and alive, and turned the lake to a fiery mirror. The mist burned away and the leaves and pine needles took on color and everything was bright and crisp and real, as if seen for the first time. Mike stared over his coffee cup. Something broke the surface a hundred yards out, a black beaked shape. It put its head to the sky and gave the sad-bird call again, and then dove under with hardly a splash. Mike breathed deep, and even the air felt new.
"That's a loon," said Harvey. His voice was very low, nearly a whisper. Mike had almost forgotten he was there. "They're twilight birds."
Harvey lapsed back into quiet after that. There was too much to look at, all of it ordinary and surprising. A water bug as it skated on the smooth sheen of the water, algae on the dock boards. Cold air, full of the smell of natural rot, and somewhere far off a wood-burning stove. They sat in the morning together till the sun was truly up and the magic turned to regular day. Gnats started up, dull buzzing clouds. Harvey shifted in his chair. They stood up by mutual assent, without talking. Mike drained the last of his coffee. Harvey folded the lawn chair and took it with him, back to the house.
They cleaned up. Washed the paltry breakfast dishes, re-folded the blankets. In the far corner of the living room, Mike found a few battered tools and a water-damaged book on home-improvement projects, but no sign of any projects in progress. Obviously Harvey could afford any renovations he wanted, or to just have the whole place torn down and some monster lakefront mansion built in its place, just like he could afford the latest car and gleaming matched silverware and a hundred other things absent from this little house. Maybe the tools belonged to Harvey's brother. Maybe they had bought the place together some years back, and had always meant to fix it up themselves but never found the time. Harvey, certainly, never had the time, or never made the time.
Harvey collected all the trash carefully in a bag and put it in the Buick's trunk: danger of bears, he said. Mike stood there in the yard vaguely alarmed: he'd only ever seen bears in zoos, and to imagine one trundling at you from between the trees was different. But Harvey didn't laugh at him or criticize his ignorance. He just pulled shut the trunk and asked, "Ready?"
Mike wasn't really ready. They walked through the house one last time and shut off the circuit breakers, and Harvey was locking up the door. There wasn't any talk of schedule or work or city, but by midmorning they were back on the road, headed south again. Mike rode in the passenger seat and listened to the dull roar of the case starting back up in his mind. Details to cross-check, questions to ask. Whether it could all be done in the next ten days and what would happen if it couldn't. After a little while Mike rolled down his window and put his hand into the wind, just to play, just to feel the air move against the shapes he made of his fingers and empty his brain for a little bit longer. He glanced over at Harvey and realized he was being watched.
"I needed that," he said shyly.
"After next week it should slack off some," said Harvey, and put his eyes back on the road.
Mike firmly set aside thoughts of next week. His head was still in the dilapidated cabin on the unknown lake, poised at that moment that the sun began to rise. Harvey caressed the steering wheel with an absent look on his face.
They rode the train back into New York, and this time Harvey was the one who slept. Mike watched over him all the way back into the city.