The blind trust is an age old ruse, if you will. Which is to say, you can always tell the blind trust what it can and cannot do. You give a blind trust rules. –Mitt Romney (1994).
It didn’t take an eidetic memory or a flair for numbers for Mike to know he had a problem. His signing bonus had covered the down payment and four months of care. For those four months, for the first time in more years than he could remember, he didn’t have to worry about money. He had a-whole-nother set of problems to worry about, but money wasn’t on the top of the list, not for a while.
It wasn't that that he suddenly stopped behaving sensibly. He put aside everything possible, kept his rent as low as he could, and never ate out, not unless he was forced to. Even then it was only to show that, in some twisted way, he ‘got it’. He put his grandmother on the firm’s medical plan. She was his dependant and, next to the deductions taken for taxes, and what he would have been paying, the extra premium payments were worth it, but they only covered drugs and medical treatment to keep her alive, not the largest portion of the daily, custodial, preventative care that actually kept her functional. If he could, in some unforeseeable future make it to partner, he could buy into that level of the plan too, but as a freshman young, he was supposed to have debts, not dependants.
Still, when the first of his monthly bills came in on month five, six thousand dollars, he had the money put aside to pay for it. The next month too, and the next. His margin was shrinking, though, and no matter how long he stared at the numbers he couldn’t find the extra grand he needed monthly to make care payments, pay rent, and eat on an ongoing basis. There was only so much you could do with bouncing balances back and forth on credit cards.
He needed another job; he needed something that he could cram into the chinks of his life, just until next year's raise kicked in. He needed to find a way to stop his whole house of cards from tumbling down.
Part 1: Rosewater Supper Club
Harvey made him meet the client, alone, at the Rosewater Supper Club (Supper Club, because it couldn’t just call itself a restaurant). The maitre’d had eyed Mike up and down as he’d stumbled over the name on the reservation, but the judgement in the man’s dark eyes hadn’t been derision. It hadn’t been respect either; he’d pegged Mike as something or someone that belonged there, but as one of the help not a customer. Mike could hardly object, since the man wasn’t really wrong, but he wished fervently that he was following, safely and securely, half a step behind Harvey, and not standing alone (independently, sure, but solitary) in front of the well-dressed, well-coiffed gatekeeper, uncertain as to his reception.
Harvey had said he had other things to do, but there were always other things to do, so this particular game was about priorities. What Mike couldn’t suss out was if this was low priority, something that he absolutely couldn’t screw up, or if he’d graduated to something of medium priority, something he absolutely couldn’t screw up.
The table was laid for two, but could easily have sat six. Two places were set in dark china, framing the crisp corners of the white linen square that overlaid heavy saffron cloth draping to the floor. Mike sat with his back to the rest of the room and stared at the entrance, at the back of the maitre’d, as he pressed his hands flat into the rough fabric, willing it to dissipate the dampness in his palms before he had to shake hands with the client.
It maybe-sort-of-kind-of-not-at-all worked, but the man who reached out across the table five minute later, with a shiny-shaved head and real smile-lines creasing his cheeks, didn’t seem to mind.
“Hi Mike,” Mr. Paul pumped their hands twice, then slid in to his own set place. He waved away the proffered, sparsely worded, card and spoke directly to the server. “Light supper, I think. Do you have any allergies that Harvey hasn’t told me about?”
Mike shook his head no, and that was that. No more interruptions, no more requests for preferences, just conversation about baseball and historical fiction over a tiny amuse bouche, then soup, then salad, then a medallion of bison that would have done for dinner (it really would have), then a fillet of salmon that Mike would gladly have taken home if it would have been at all appropriate, then finally coffees and fruits, and that was apparently a ‘light supper.’
“You seem fine,” Mr. Paul, (Charles, please), remarked as the coffee was poured. “Harvey trusts you, and I think - even through your nerves and that skinny tie - I think I do too. So then there’s this.” With just a few, faintly positive words of judgement, the knot of tension that had take out a long term lease between Mike’s shoulder blades got married and had kids.
Mike’s heart beat harder as Charles pulled out a file folder, a familiar logo gracing the front. The soft rasp of card stock against fabric felt too loud in Mike’s ears as he pulled it forward, but when he flipped it open, the room seem to tumble back into anticlimactic normality. It was a standard Pearson Hardman confidentiality agreement, printed on standard Pearson Hardman letterhead, and letter perfect to every other boiler plate he’d signed in the past six months. Except that Mike searched his memory, back through every single name of every single client to whom Mike had promised his eternal silence, and the words 'Charles Paul' or 'Paul Productions' hadn’t graced a single page.
“I haven’t signed one of these for you yet,” Mike blurted. It was a statement, not a question, but Charles nodded in agreement anyway.
“I’m coming in tomorrow, and Harvey says he wants you around,” Mikes chest tried to expand a little. He forced it back down and listened stoically. “I don’t just blindly trust every wannabe lawyer that Harvard churns out, even if Pearson Hardman hired them. But I like Harvey, and I’m willing to take a chance on you.” Charles held out a pen, a Pearson Hardman standard as well, and set it down firmly on the table. The vibrations excited circular waves in the black surface of the untouched coffee waiting in the cups in front of the two men.
As Charles released the pen to a spot on the table near the documents, it rolled. There was a soft thump, almost not there, then another, followed rapidly by a third, and an accelerating fourth and the pen danced off the surface and under the saffron table linen. As Mike dived after it, his ass vibrated - the cell phone in his back pocket ‘ringing’.
Sign the damn confidentiality agreement and get your ass back here already.
The silver metallic pen glinted dully in the dim blue glow of the text screen. Mike snatched they cylinder and slipped back into his seat, glancing around to assess how badly he’s screwed up by crawling around under the table like a five-year-old.
The diners were oblivious, Charles was smiling fondly. The maitre’d, he smirked as if he’d been proved perfectly right in every assertion he had ever made, ever. It was only a glance from the stand at the front of the room, but Mike could feel the red heating his face. He signed quickly, and popped to his feet. Charles caught his wrist with his right hand, long fingers completely encircling the narrow joint, and slid a plain white envelope across the table with his left.
“I know. You have to go. Your boss has commanded your presance. But, give this to Harvey tonight? Tell him the tickets were awesome, but I can’t accept them as a gift.”
Mike nodded sharply, the anticipatory tension of not having his ass back there already, building in his chest. As kind and as affable and as friendly as Charles was, as soon as he’d scooped up the envelope and slid it into his messenger bag and Charles released him, Mike was out the door and rushing to Harvey.
Harvey only needed him for Harvey’s definition of need. But Mike lived and died by Harvey’s definitions (except when one judge’s written opinion or another provided a better precedent), and so if Harvey said he had to familiarized himself with Paul Productions tonight, ahead of the client meeting in the morning, then Mike was damn well going to spend the rest of his evening pouring over those files. At least Harvey let him do it on the couch in his office.
“I see you’re opening my mail now?” Harvey waved the white envelope, which was clearly marked Harvey in dark black on the outside.
“I didn’t...” Mike started, then closed his eyes, leaned back a fraction, and took a deep breath. “It’s not what it looks like.”
Harvey’s smile was condescending, but there was a hint, in the way the skin folded at the corner of his eyes, that he was willing to be amused.
“The maitre’d at Rosewater opened it,” Mike offered. As Harvey’s lips started to twist into a grimace of disbelief, Mike added quickly. “I think he thought I was Harvey... He also told me not to be so obvious with a blow job.” Because that, right there, bringing up blowjobs in the middle of the office, made everything so much better. Mike blushed hard, and directed his face towards at the documents on his lap - the company financial summary from ... 2008. He couldn’t help but keep his eyes focused on Harvey though.
Harvey nodded, as if it was a perfectly normal conversation for Mike to be having with the maitre’d. “Wise man. So how does this end up with my mail being opened?”
“Well, he grabbed the envelope to make the point, examined the cheque and told me that I was way undercharging.He also told me that some escort agency was looking to expand into men, if I was interested.”
Harvey pulled his lips into a tight line and motioned for Mike to stand up. Mike stood, and humored Harvey’s next gesture to turn around. “And how much did he say you should be charging.”
“I...” Mike spluttered, but Harvey didn’t interrupt and didn’t rescue the conversation. “Five hundred,” Mike allowed. “How is that even relevant?”
Mike could almost feel the heat as Harvey stood and stared speculatively at the curve of Mike’s behind, but then he snorted, “as if I’d pay five hundred for that ass.”
Mike swung around. “I have a great ass,” he contradicted brilliantly. Harvey pushed open the glass door, but Mike could hear his chuckle. Harvey half turned. “Don’t quit your day job, and lock up when you leave.”
Mike cast after him, unsure whether in Harvey’s world the comment had been an insult or an admonition to stay, “I could so be a hooker.”
Part 2: Blackmail
“They aren’t me,” Charles insisted, gesturing helplessly at the glossy images strewn across the coffee table. “They have to be fakes, or mock-ups, or something, but I swear to G-d they aren’t me.”
“They look pretty authentic,” Harvey asserted, shrugging. “And the video....” Mike blushed, so brightly and so deeply that he could feel the blood rush in from his toes; the video was explicit and graphic and devoid of any obvious computer-generated effects. “What do they want?”
“A merger,” Charles exhaled. “Really it’s a hostile takeover. They want to fold Paul Productions in as subsidiary to Seventh Circle Entertainment. But Seventh Circle already has a production division. We’re the competition.”
“And you’re in a position to approve that?”
Charles tilted his head back and forth, prevaricating. “If I threw my weight behind it, yes, but...”
“But it’s a bad deal and you don’t want to?”
“What about the police?” Mike asked, and he couldn’t keep the incredulous confusion out of his voice. “I’ve been told that blackmail is illegal.” Harvey looked at Mike and smiled, slowly, like he was a cute pre-verbal baby just learning basic signs.
“I would, except,” Charles hesitated. “We’re just getting over a rocky patch; that’s what makes this believable. If Tamara thinks that I was cheating while we were working through – I - it would be catastrophic. We need to deal with this now – and next year... Next year I’ll go over the pictures and swear up and down I didn’t do it and it will be fine because I know, I just know she’ll believe me. Now? I’m not sure I’d be able to convince her before she filed for divorce.”
“We won’t ever let her think you cheated,” Harvey assured, his voice smooth and placating.
“And you know what, Mike?” Harvey hadn’t looked away, and Mike’s stomach dropped a little bit at the tight focus of the calm, sarcastic tone. “I’m pretty sure there is a clear description of the current state of affairs in the files you read last night. So before you make Mr. Paul here relive every childhood trauma, why don’t you finish getting up to speed on our client?”
“Finish?” Mike asked, straightening a little. “I’ve read all....”
Harvey nodded sharply at six banker’s boxes loaded onto a dolly by the door. “Financials and internal documentation from Paul Productions for the last six years. Let me know if there’s anything interesting.” The dismissal in his voice was clear, even if the implication was startling. Harvey thought it was an inside job.
Someone had thought that Blind Trust was a clever name for whatever sort of business resided here. Mike glanced up at the dull grey brownstone that was associated with an account from the Paul Productions files. The PP general manager, Cheryl Brice, had processed an invoice from ‘Blind Trust’, but the payment had never been made.
On the street there were people in sharp suits and kippot (mostly men but some women) slowly gravitating to the shul at the end of block. The sun had already tipped past the lip of the buildings, casting the entire street into shadow, and the golden light filtering in from the park to the west was getting redder by the minute.
Cheryl never mentioned using the ‘Blind Trust’ company in any of her reports and her payment wouldn’t have peaked his attention at all, despite the incongruity of the name, if it hadn’t been for the other executives. Mike had heard the phrase, in weird contexts and half heard snippeds, in the margins of some audio recordings of meetings. They audio files had been included in the box, presumably meant to assist in minute taking and never destroyed as they should have been. It was the sort of thing that Mike should have dismissed as the bored, inane chatter that didn’t make it into the minutes of a small companies business, but at least three of the men, and none of the women, had talked about setting up ‘a Blind Trust account’. There wasn’t a politician or judge among them. So the source of the potential for a conflict of interest, the need for a blind trust, was hard to pinpoint. And then there was this place.
Mike climbed the stairs and knocked on the door. Harvey would probably kill him if he knew the depth of Mike’s absolute lack of planning, but Harvey had been unavailable all day. Apparently ‘anything interesting’ meant ‘clearly relevant to blackmail’, and not ‘strange behavior of the local GROSS club’. But it was close enough to tomorrow that Mike could consider himself off the clock, if on call. While this place wasn’t exactly on his way home, it wasn’t as if Harvey had locked a GPS to his ankle. Mike shivered unexplicably.
After a moment, the dark eyed maitre’d from the night before (James, Mike’s memory supplied) pulled open the door, and his face broke into a wide smirk.
“I knew I’d see you again,” James said, “though you should have called for an appointment.”
“I....” The sparse few carefully practiced words that Mike had prepared skipped out of his head and any eloquence he might have mustered in the last six months sank down past the soles of his shoes. “I lost the card you gave me, but...” Mike grasped at the edges of his memory and saw the curve of letters and numbers; even if he hadn’t read them at the time, the data was there waiting to be accessed in the geometric pattern of an address in the corner of the slip of card stock James had handed him. “I remembered the address – next to a synagogue.” Mike nodded down the street.
James smiled magnanimously and backed up to let Mike into the main hall, decorated in rusts and reds layered on top of cherry wood and dark mahogany. “It’s fine. I have to get to my own clients, but I think Zoe has time to see you. If it all works out, we can have you set and ready to start taking clients by tomorrow.”
“About that... I have, I have a day job. This has to....”
James interrupted, his voice assiduously patient and bored. “It has to fit around your class schedule, or your shifts, or whatever pressing priority it was that drove you to this. Don’t worry,” James patted him on the cheek. “You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake.”
“Fight Club...,” Mike muttered. “That’s great....”
James shrugged but grinned. “The first rule of Fight Club....”
“...You do not talk about Fight Club,” Mike intoned.
“You’ll do fine.”
Mike followed Harvey into his office as the man arrived in the morning. Donna let him, even though Harvey was patently ignoring the puppy following him home.
“I know exactly what happened,” Mike crowed, slapping a menu of services he’d dashed off after his triumphant exit from the brownstone near midnight the night before.
“You know who’s blackmailing Charles?” Harvey drawled, after he’d sat himself at his desk, swivelled in his seat and fixed Mike in place with a bored gaze that somehow still froze his spine.
“I...,” Mike temporized, “not exactly.”
“Then you know why they’ve chosen to blackmail him with something he clearly hasn’t done rather than find something in Mr. Paul’s imperfect life that would hold up in court?”
“Uhh....” Mike shook his head, even as his mouth gaped open wordlessly.
“Then what, precisely, have you found?” Harvey asked dismissively, but pushed back from the desk and gave Mike the space and the breathing room to talk.
“How they faked the unfaked photos,” Mike replied, gathering himself and smudging Harvey’s desk with the application of a pointed finger.
“The ‘talent agency’ hires ‘actors’ that wear these perfect silicone masks. It costs some fee for an initial consultation, mask, and meeting,” Mike jabbed a finger at the menu. “They wear these shadowed contacts so that they basically can only see the client in silhouette.”
Harvey narrowed his eyes contemplatively. “Go on...”
“Well, after that, the actor can be hired to ‘perform’ according to the ‘scripts’ suggested by the client, or make their own creative contributions. Payment is made for the actor’s time upfront and can be adjusted from session to session based on performance and the actor’s ‘commitment’ to the role.”
“The client never sees the hooker’s real face?” Harvey slipped into the vernacular.
Mike shook his head. “Actor,” he corrected.
“Right, actor,” Harvey snorted. “And the actor never sees the client’s face?”
“They can, eventually,” Mike hesitated. “Apparently with the right confidentiality agreements, a veteran client/actor pair might request something off-site, in which case the contacts need to be left off, for everyone’s safety.
Harvey nodded, and a rare smile played at the edges of his lips. “It’s not everything, but it’s a good start. Where did you go to get this?”
Mike fought to keep the grin off his face. “I have my sources.”
Part 3: Rookie
Mike slid in the shadow-lenses, sat down in the chair, and just let the make-up artist do his thing with a silicone mask that might fit Mike like a glove, but that he would never see.
Harvey had practically thrown him out of the office earlier for having admitted to Charles that they knew for a fact that no post-processing had been applied to the pictures, as if a silicone mask wasn’t any less of a fabrication. But Harvey hadn’t let him get that far, just exiled him for twelve hours. So Mike had called in to Blind Trust.
It had been his third call; The first two evenings when he was out in enough time to take a client no-one had been biting, literally or figuratively. This time, Zoe had practically glowed about good fortune over the phone, even if Mike had felt anything but lucky.
She’d sent him to wardrobe while his mask was being crafted and what the props-master picked out for him looked suspiciously like work-wear, his work wear. A tie so skinny that even he wouldn’t be caught dead in it, and a dark black suit that could have passed for his, except that the man in the process of pinning the ad-hoc tailoring, in the too-bright fluorescent lights of the basement wardrobe, couldn’t hold a candle to Rene.
“Hold still,” the man, Marc, had growled from behind Mike. He wasn’t malevolent, but his manner had left no margin for argument, and what wiggle room there was was hemmed in by hard hands and sharp pin pricks that left Mike dazed and swaying.
Marc, eventually, had grunted in satisfaction, stripped Mike efficiently, and shoved him at the make-up artist, who was tittering just a little bit behind his hand. Mike followed meekly, resigned to the process.
After Mike was prepared, James led him to a client room, then let him go, to step across the threshold, unaided and shivering in the air conditioning. The soft click of the door closing, to give them their privacy, sounded far too loud in Mike’s head. He could see the outlines of furniture, a desk, an occasional table, an irregular wave of darkness that would be heavy draperies, and the dark lump of a form sitting in a sleek functional chair.
Mike could hear the soft whoosh of air as the man across the room breathed. He resisted the urge to peer forward, into the gloom, because the dimness of the space, as disconcerting as it was, was artificial, only in the eye of the beholder. So Mike concentrated on his own breathing, on a deep inhale and light release, and on the knowledge that if he could get through this, if he could say yes, then he was only a few hours, a few sessions, a couple of half-blind blow jobs (because he’d been quite clear that he wouldn’t agree to more) away from solvency.
And without his sight, the sharply dressed man in front of him could be anyone. He could be the quarterback he’d crushed on in tenth grade, or the boy he’d tumbled with that first orientation week at school, not so far from home, scrabbling and rubbing and rutting to orgasm. It could even be Harvey, calm and sarcastic, and startlingly moral at the strangest times. All they had to do was stay silent, and this world could be anything he imagined.
Please, Mike thought. Please don’t say a word.
The shadow stood and paced towards Mike with a steady, undeniable confidence. He stopped close, so close, and nutmeg, cedar, and rosewood filled Mike’s head with colour and comfort. He almost didn’t see the hand, rising rapidly, until the slight pressure of a caress on his cheek focused his senses and the dissonance made Mike’s head spin. He could feel the warmth of the shadow’s hand and he tilted his head, pressing the hand against his silicone jaw.
The hand pulled back and the shadow huffed, but didn’t speak. Strong, competent fingers stripped him of his blazer, and ran down his shoulders, across his back and chest. Mike wasn’t cold anymore. The man in front of him seemed to radiate heat and Mike could feel his own energy reflected back at him, growing and changing, enveloping and supporting him, making him feel excited, making him feel safe. Mike’s imagination filled in everything his eyes couldn’t see. As long as the man’s face remained a blank slate for Mike’s own desires, he knew he was going to be able to say yes.
“Whatever it was that Cheryl was trying to pay for, it wasn’t an introductory meet.” Despite his eyes having zoned in on his form the moment he appeared in the bullpen, it took Mike precious milliseconds to realize that Harvey was talking to him. “That only costs two grand.” It took still more time for Mike to realize that Harvey hadn’t stopped walking and was quickly leaving him isolated at his desk. “From what I could tell, basic role-play costs five hundred after that, six hundred if it's clothing optional.” A nearly fatal number of moments passed before Mike had scrambled around the wall of his cubical.”Seven fifty for accents, which I assume was a euphemism for oral, and a grand for light stunt work, which I assume meant....” Harvey grinned as Mike finally caught up, a little breathless and just in time to follow him into his office.
“But we have a $4357 payment to Blind Trust.” Mike stated, feeling like the unit commander for the obvious division.
Harvey cocked his head and smiled as he slid into his desk. “Well, I assume that there is some escalation in price proportional to the intensity of the activity.” Mike nodded, as Harvey simultaneously shook his head. “But that doesn’t fit this, does it? Why the invoice? From what I could tell, the meet and greet was a mandatory part of the process.”
“Maybe she realized that it was a mistake in the first place,” Mike offered. Harvey fixed him with a hard stare. “Or maybe,” Mike continued, trying to cover his misstep by speaking faster, “because it was actually legitimate company business. Paul Productions sources for filming in the city, and ostensibly Blind Trust is an agent.”
“So...,” Harvey prompted.
“So... there should be additional records covering the expense, records I haven’t seen. So, we find out why there isn’t more information?” Mike guessed.
“Should have. Mike,” Harvey chastised, but it was without heat. “Should have. Blind Trust peaked your interest. You figured out what they did, and you didn’t figure out how much? Poor follow-through.” Harvey redirected his attention to the paper work on his desk, giving Mike an opportunity to correct the... oversight.
“I, it wasn’t as if I could just ask how...” Mike broke off his protestations as Harvey glanced up again. Harvey raised one eyebrow into the silence.
Spock. Definitely Spock, and in no way Kirk.
“Are you asking if I particularly care why your delicate morality has issues with asking how much a fuck would cost?” Harvey asked dryly, and when Mike couldn’t even manage a shake of his head against his dry mouth, Harvey pressed again. “Were you afraid they’d think you were interested in buying?”
And of course that wasn’t it at all, but Mike blushed hard, let Harvey think what he would.
“Awww. You do know that law is only the second-oldest profession. And it does bear a striking resemblance to the first.”
Mike let his mouth gape for a moment. That... that was almost permission. “What are you doing, then?” he managed.
“Working the other end,” Harvey replied cryptically, as Donna appeared at his office door, her curiosity apparently peaked. Harvey waved her in. “Now, go. Off with you.”
The door clicked shut; the curtain rose; show time.
Cheryl wasn’t going to be available until the next day, in fact there was nothing pressing, nothing immediate, nothing good that Mike could do without tipping his hand. So Mike had decided to do this.
Mike wasn’t alone. As he stood in the center of the room, Mike could see movement in the flow of shadows across his visual field. The air hissed from vents overhead, but it wasn’t loud enough to hide the soft thump and scratch as something with a little bit of mass was set down, adjusted, focused.
“This guy is far too new,” James had told him, reiterating the principles Zoe had already explained to him, on how the law and sex and escorts existed in some sort of uneasy dance.
“He asked if you can do accents. You’re OK with that?” James had asked. Mike could see his shadow hovering to the right of the chair, bobbing up and down as he nodded.
“Direct cash for services, above and beyond anything that’s legitimately, undeniably, acting, will get you booted out of here for our safety. So accents only. You got that?”
The lights pulsed once, his cue, and Mike began to move. He removed his jacket and folded it, placing it neatly on the desk behind him. He’d been given a script; he knew his lines; he knew the motions, the ones that were supposed to speak louder than words. Mike’s fingers fumbled blindly on the buttons of his shirt, a little bit cold, a little bit numb, a little bit nervous.
“He can’t pay for anything extra.” James had asserted for the fifth time, clearly more nervous about Mike reverting back to his old, and unsubtle methods cash in hand and blow job under the linen, than any concern about Mike's performance.
“If you decided to do more, then that’s a freebie. I don’t recommend it.”
“Just me and my talented mouth,” Mike had quipped back, fighting down the butterflies in his stomach.
“Exactly,” James’s silhouetted head had bobbed in a quick nod.
James tapped him on the shoulder and sent Mike off for his first performance. Not that James had known that.
Mike breathed deeply as a shadow approached, the sharp, spicy cologne familiar, and already enough to slow sharply beating wings in to a pleasant flutter of anticipation. Strong fingers stilled his clumsy ones and brushed them to the side. The client was going off book early, but Mike wasn’t going to complain. Mike canted his head down hiding the one real part of his face. Even still, his lips parted as he imagined it was a familiar touch, skin against skin. It gently pushed Mike’s shirt back from his shoulders, tangling his wrists in the tails. Making a virtue out of necessity.
The shadowed head that was now in front of Mike said nothing, but firm pressure, fingers tight and tangled in his hair, guided him to his knees.
They held the pose for a moment, Mike’s breath quick and too hot but held firm an eighth of an inch away from what had to be at least some level of arousal.
And then, not abruptly, but with more speed than finesse, the man relaxed and released his grip. Mike mostly managed to hold back his sigh of disappointment.
The silhouette paused, and returned. He laid a hand in Mike’s tousled hair and stroked it, leaning over to put his lips close to Mike’s ear.
“Good boy,” a voice hissed, low and rasped and comforting. Mike was glad that he wasn’t performing in his own suit.
Part 4: Show Time
Cheryl was moderately unhelpful. That wasn’t completely surprising, but it was frustrating.
“I honestly couldn’t tell you what sort of product or service we obtained from ‘Blind Trust’. I guess I'm clueless.” Cheryl sounded neither honest, nor clueless, but she was walking faster in heels than Mike could generally manage in flats, and he was struggling to keep up and ask questions at the same time. Cheryl was apparently too important not to multitask when talking to an associate.
Mike wondered if Harvey could have gotten more. No, Mike corrected himself, of course Harvey could get more, the trick was to get enough.
“You say it was a one-off purchase?” Mike nodded and Cheryl shook her head. “I’m sorry. I don’t have that sort of space in my brain.”
Cheryl signed something, after glancing over it to make sure that it met with some basic standard, and then sent the production assistant on her way. With an impatient exhalation, Cheryl looked up and glanced around the room, actively looking for something.
“See those two men over there?” Cheryl pointed and Mike looked. “The blond one is Mitch, and the slightly olive-skinned one is Logan. They’re in charge of costuming. Over there,” Cheryl pointed again, this time to the other side of the warehouse, to a man who was bright red and yelling. “That’s Neil. He’s in charge of temporary personnel and occasionally casting when our extras company falls down on the job.” Cheryl tapped out a few lines on her Blackberry and looked up at Mike. “I don’t know what Charles has you going after, but if you’re looking for supplier details, those are the people to talk to. I’ve just told them that they are required to make time for you today.” She stared hard for a moment, trapping Mike’s attention.
“Just today.” Then, reassured that Mike got the point, she nodded once as a farewell and walked past Mike, into a mess of men moving stage equipment. Mike didn’t even try to follow. For a woman who couldn’t remember Blind Trust, she’d managed to neatly point Mike in the direction of the two departments that might utilize their service.
Neil made no bones about knowing what Blind Trust was. He let out a loud guffaw of surprise the moment Mike mentioned the company by name.
“You’re asking if I source actors from there?” Neil asked, with bare incredulity. “Wait, no, you’re telling me that someone charged that back to a PP account?” Neil snickered and his pale, freckled face went ruddy with amusement. Mike just barely managed to keep his jaw off the floor. In his limited sense of people, Mike was reasonably sure that Neil’s humor was as open and honest as the Atlantic Ocean.
When he finally caught his breath, Neil shook his head. “You know what they are, right?” Neil examined Mike’s face, and whatever he found in it, snapped his mood from almost hysterical to deadly serious in an instant. “The only thing I’m going to go on record as saying is that I draw clear financial boundaries between personal and business. Got it?”
“I got it, thanks.” Mike held up his hands and took a step away, just to be safe. “Thanks for your time.”
Neil nodded in response then his face slipped again into open high spirits. “Someone’s gonna get it, though.” Neil grinned to himself. The amused tone was back as fast as it had fled and Mike couldn’t figure out which was the mask and which was reality.
“You’ll have to talk to my wife about this,” Mitch told Mike, with a perfectly straight face, as he was shaking Mike’s hand. Mike blinked, and tried to imagine a world where that made sense. Maybe they went to Blind Trust as a couple, maybe he was the GGG partner?
“You want to talk about our blind trust?” Mitch clarified, and Mike knew his confusion must be showing on his face. “UBC holds it,” Mitch smiled a little. “The only thing I know is that there was some issue recently, with us being Americans and the company not wanting US investments or something.” Mike schooled his face into a mask of professional interest. “Other than that, I didn’t think there had been any problems. That’s the point of a blind trust right? That my wife doesn’t know the details.”
“And why can’t your wife know the details?” Mike asked, thoroughly confused by the about face. Maybe Mrs. Michaels wasn’t quite as sanguine about Blind Trust as Mitch was trying to imply?
“She’s an ADA. Lorna Michaels?” Mitch snorted fondly, then shrugged. “With an eye on a judgeship eventually, I guess. And I inherited. She wants to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, otherwise there wouldn’t be a need, right?”
“Right,” Mike fumbled for something to say to that, for some way of broaching the subject of hiring prostitutes, and came up with: “So you’ve never used an escort agency, then... for anything?”
Mitch didn’t say a word, but his eyes narrowed and he pulled out his phone. “Not for you,” Mike added hastily, wondering if his wife was first on his speed dial, or farther down, “for Paul Productions. A charge, Blind Trust, was found buried in the financials, without accompanying paperwork. I’m just trying to find out what’s going on.”
“And that’s important to our lawyers?” Mitch asked suspiciously, his walls skyrocketing so high Mike didn’t have a clue how to try to get past them.
“It’s just strange, and with the merger offer....”
Mitch’s eyebrows shot to the ceiling and Mike cursed himself for introducing new information into an already unstable conversation, “there’s a merger offer?”
“Only in theory,” Harvey’s cool, calm voice broke through the spiraling chaos, and he put a firm, restraining hand on Mike’s shoulder. The pressure was just this side of too firm, and his fingers curled in until it hurt.
“Mike’s new,” Harvey assured Mitch. “His skill in sorting the wheat from the chaff, even obviously ridiculous chaff, leaves something to be desired.”
“It’s just the flotsam and jetsam of doing business?” Mitch offered, improbably warming to Harvey. Harvey nodded. “What about the prostitutes?” Mitch asked.
“A talent agency with ties to a rather remarkable silicone mask-making operation,” Harvey responded, showing Mitch a photograph that Mike couldn’t quite get an angle on. Mitch’s eyes opened wide, darted to Mike for a moment, and then slid back to the photograph. “That would explain my potential interest their products.” Mitch nodded to himself the shook his head. “Why didn’t the kid say so in the first place?”
“Like you say,” Harvey shrugged, like it was no big deal. “He’s still a child... just a moment.”
Harvey pulled Mike away and to the side, and leaned forward, his voice harsh in Mike’s ear. “Lorna Michaels is dangerous. If you stay, you are absolutely silent. Do you understand?” Mike nodded.
“Good.” Harvey released Mike and pulled his suit straight, facing forwards, towards Mitch and an approaching Logan. Mike flexed his shoulders, testing what might become bruises, and fell in behind Harvey, half a step back and tucked in close enough to smell the rosewood in Harvey’s cologne.
Part 5: Controlling Interest
Mike wondered a the semi-coherent corner of his brain what the definition of ‘fake bruising’ was.
“He wants to spank you.” James had warned, when Mike had picked up his phone to find out if he had a client for the evening. “You can say no.”
The offer hadn’t done anything to soothe nerves that were frayed and worn from being left in the bull pen all afternoon. Mike had been immersed in work, sure, but that hadn’t stopped Louise from trying to re-prioritize his inbox. Twice.
Still, the price was right. Mike would be set for the rest of the month after this, and he’d been promised no real bruising.
It hurt, though. It really, truly, hurt. Flashes of warmth built to a burn, and then barely dissipated before the next strike came. Or else they were soothed to almost nothing as a hard hand skimmed over the surface of the silk boxers wardrobe had put him in. There was no pattern to anticipate, each sharp blow came as a surprise, an exhalation of air and an ill-controlled gasp, before Mike relaxed his chest back against the couch and into the arm restraining his waist.
That, apparently, was exactly what the client wanted.
The first strikes, when Mike had been calm, and controlled, and still trying to figure out how to make lying across another man’s lap seductive, had seemed to be all about the impact. The hand had risen, and fallen, and Mike had tensed against the strike, but the man beneath him hadn’t been moved.
That changed the first time Mike had cried out. Really it was more of a suppressed whine, high and vibrating against his voice box. It had been unintentional, but the hand had paused and crossed over Mike’s body. Sharp fingers pressed into the bruises from earlier in the day, and a low voice growled in his ear.
“Children should be seen and not heard.”
Mike had felt something then, a stirring matched by additional pressure against his right hip.
After that, his cries had been voiceless gasps of breath that bypassed the vocal cords. Somehow, proportional to the volume of air, the erection pressed against Mike’s side twitched and jerked and was never acknowledged.
Harvey made a ‘with me’ motion as he strode past the associates’ cubicles. He didn’t actually have to break his stride, say a word, clear his throat, or do more than simply exist to get Mike’s attention. Mike knew Harvey’s footfalls as he came towards him and all it took was a glance up (Harvey must have been waiting for it) before the command was given and Mike was on his feet with the files for the Paul case in his hands.
They barely missed Louis. If he’d been planning on giving Mike an assignment, for better or worse that now fell to some other associate. The man was too good a lawyer for any significant harassment to occur in the form of real assignments or with any sort of paper trail. Still, Mike felt like he’d dodged a bullet.
Tamara Paul was seated in Harvey’s office when they arrived. Her smooth, red hair reflected the light in the room into almost a halo. She stood as they entered and approached. Harvey stepped away, towards his desk, and yet somehow Mike remained the focus of her attention.
She came close, too close. Mike could smell the slightly floral scents of her shampoo, but surprisingly no perfume. Mike froze as she ran a finger down his face, almost mesmerized by the line of his jawbone. Mike’s eyes darted towards Harvey, but he seemed rather unsurprised by the molestation. When his eyes reverted to Tamara, she seemed to realize his discomfort and took a step back, dropping her hand.
“Have you ever – did you ever have a scar here, Mike?” she asked, and this time followed the line of his glance. It didn't matter though, because Harvey, aside from nodding his permission for Mike to speak, gave no help.
“No, not that I know of,” Mike replied, hoping the confusion spoke more eloquently than his actual words.
“For Halloween, maybe, then? Or as a favour for a boyfriend?” Tamara glanced at Harvey first this time, but he had the same serious mask on, and Mike just shook his head.
“I was Link one year, but there were no scars, sexy or otherwise.”
Tamara nodded to herself, then relaxed back towards the door, getting ready to go. Harvey stepped forward.
“Thank you,” Tamara shook her head and glanced over at Mike. “They all seem so young, like children.”
Harvey put his hand on Mike’s shoulder, resting against the bruises, but didn’t squeeze.
“Children that should be seen and not heard,” Harvey agreed.
Mike’s whole body convulsed. He recognized the tone; he recognized the hand; he recognized the scent; he was an utter and complete idiot. Mike wasn’t sure his legs could hold him. Seeing and understanding and remembering was one thing. This? This he remembered with his whole body.
Harvey tapped Mike's shoulder gently, recalling his attention to the conversation. “For the most part. Sometimes your input is tolerated. Like now.” Harvey gestured to the files Mike was holding. “What have you got for me?”
“I’m told I can do what I want with you,” Harvey’s voice was smooth and low, and unmistakably Harvey. It sent fine tremors down Mike’s spine, shooting out into every limb, and Mike didn’t know how he’d ever mistaken it for anything else.
Except that now? Now, Harvey was talking, not whispering or growling against an ear. He was speaking, openly amused and so confident that Mike would have known him from his aura alone.
It was almost true, too, that Harvey could do what he liked. Mike had called James and told him: for this particular client (for this one man that Mike liked and trusted and wanted and would take any way he could get, for Harvey), he’d go past oral and give permission for more... intense interactions. Still, it was far cry from writing a blank cheque, and Mike shook his head, hoping a little of the apprehension translated into his silicone face.
Harvey snorted, and closed in on Mike, his voice nearly overwhelming as he traced a finger down Mike’s jawline.
“You want precision then? Not anything,” Harvey amended. “But I can do this....” Harvey wrapped one hand around the too-skinny tie and dragged Mike down as he sat on the desk. With the other hand, he braced against Mike’s chest so their faces didn’t completely meld, but before Mike could register the heat in the touch or reorient himself, Harvey was kissing him. It was hot and hard and pressed tight against the mask. Mike’s teeth and tongue, they were his though, not some plastic copy, and he gave them to Harvey, touching him everywhere, breathing him in and tasting the whiskey on his lips.
Mike’s shirt was off, and his pants were a heap, but the silk boxers still terribly, horribly, confined him and, somehow, Harvey was still dressed. He was standing over Mike, tense and desperate and spread out on the desk. Harvey had resisted Mike’s attempts to strip him. He had loosened his tie removed his jacket. He had rolled up his sleeves, but not a single button on his chest was undone and his neatly pressed pants framed an impressive bulge that remained captive and untouched. But Harvey’s breath was fast, and Mike could feel his interest, even as Harvey’s fingers found Mike’s perineum through the dark silk and a single finger pressed on and over, stroking his balls and slipping around his cock.
Mike scrabbled to reach out, to return this – whatever it was – to Harvey with interest. But when Harvey announced, cool and curious, “I want to see you come,” he couldn’t hold back. The wave hit him and carried him so far out to sea that he almost forgot why he was trying not to speak the name.
By the time he swum back, Harvey had moved him to the couch, draped Mike’s feet over the arm rest and cradled his head in Harvey’s lap. He was stroking Mike’s hair, and when Mike turned his head, to press a kiss against Harvey’s still clothed erection, Mike heard, for the second time, something he’d only ever half caught, in a mumbled response chasing his back.
Part 6: Games
“Does your wife know how much stock she owns in Paul Productions?” Harvey asked gently.
Charles shook his head, but the response was unequivocal.
“Of course she does. She helped build the company. I manage it day to day, but we initially split it sixty-forty. When we had to raise funds to grow, we each sold off about half. That’s not hard math.”
“Will she come to the meeting next week?” Harvey pressed.
Charles nodded. “It’s her baby too, why?”
“Someone, some interest, owns about thirty-one percent of PP stock.”
Harvey shook his head.
“We don’t know.” Mike replied; Harvey had thought that the admission of fallibility was somehow better coming from the associate, so he was given a voice. “It’s being held by a couple of different trusts. The paper trail suggests that it’s a single controlling interest, but the trace stops at the management company. We don’t have any legal way of getting at their records.”
Charles glanced over at Mike and then back to Harvey.
“Whoever’s trying to blackmail me, will, what? Release the pictures if I don’t merge. We already know that. So?”
“So there’s a general meeting coming up,” Harvey said slowly. “You could chose to take the hit and they might still go over your head.”
“It’s not on the agenda,” Charles pointed out. “Those go out two weeks in advance.”
Harvey pressed his lips together and shook his head. “In this one case, lack of notice only means he has to get 51% of the total possible vote, not the vote present at the meeting.”
Charles nodded sadly and spread his hands out in front of him in supplication. “So what do we do?”
“Call his bluff,” Harvey asserted, standing with all the confidence borrowed from every opponent he’d ever crushed. “He won’t release the pictures – it would tip his hand. Blackmail is still illegal. But he may try to strong-arm through, regardless.”
Charles stood and let Harvey lead him to the door of the conference room.
“Stay strong,” Harvey assured him, and released Charles to the interstitial space between the Pearson Hardman offices. “It’ll be fine.”
Mike stood behind Harvey but leaned into the warmth of his space. He mumbled, for Harvey’s ears only, “You know, Louis could probably figure out who’s holding the stock.”
“I’m not asking Louis,” Harvey barely let Mike finished speaking before he was on top of the question, turning it around. “Do you want to ask Louis?”
“G-d no.” Mike’s response was instant.
“Well, I don’t need to,” Harvey asserted. Mike tried to pull a covertly skeptical face but Harvey’s eyes shifted left at just the right time and Mike knew he was caught. “But I could make you ask Louis.”
“Please don’t,” Mike begged, his plea understated but heartfelt.
Harvey nodded, pensive but confident. He met Mike’s eyes for a moment, then dismissed him with a wink, turned his back, and left Mike to his work.
Harvey attacked him without words, without thoughts, without hesitation, and without fear. Just a brilliant press of skin on skin, hand to back, and chest to chest. Mike could finally, finally, hear the beat of Harvey’s heart against his own.
Harvey mouthed a line down Mike’s neck, sucking at the pulse point below the blended border of the mask. It must have been apparent, if not obvious, with Mike fully stripped and breathing hard, but Harvey didn’t trace the line, didn’t acknowledge it in any way. Mike felt it as Harvey very carefully pressed his lips to Mike’s, avoiding the silicone and the makeup and the glue. He swallowed Mike down, their tongues warring until all Mike could taste was Harvey. Even if Mike was only seeing shadows, it was hard to imagine that it was anyone but Harvey, hard to imagine anyone but Harvey could feel that way. Harvey had to know, he had to recognize Mike. Surely, surely, there was something familiar in the way Mike’s fingers clenched open and closed against nothing, trying not to fight Harvey’s hands pinning Mike’s wrists above his head.
Mike felt the heat of a cock pressed against his, the tight slide of thin fabric, a strong hand pulling against the side, pressing them together. Pressure slid across two tips and smoothed down two shafts until a insistent, pulsing, thrumming vibration sent a travelling wave echoing between two bodies, building and growing, and then fading back to the soft rhythm of two synchronous heart beats.
There had to be something familiar in the cadence of Mike’s breath as Harvey hummed in his hair. Mike strained, and he looked, and he listened for some kind of sign, some hint of recognition, but there was nothing he could use to make a case.
The streets were dark when Mike stepped out of the brownstone, cleaned of the last vestiges of adhesive and dressed in his own suit with his own skinny tie and his own shoes. He had enough cash in hand that it was safer to take a cab home, but that meant he had to walk the block to the main street to hail one.
The door closed on the residence at the corner, a soft bang on a quiet street. It was enough that Mike’s focus was momentarily drawn to the figure that had emerged onto the steps. It hadn't been enough that the wouman should have held his attention for more than that moment, but Mike stared, transfixed by a familiar face.
The residence at the corner was a Blind Trust client door, Mike knew that much. No one had told him, officially, but the layout wasn't hard to figure out. The main client entrance was a block over, back to back on the U-bend stretch owned by Blind Trust. Actors’ entrances faced south and the clients’ faced north. There was a stretch of eastern entrances as well, less frequented but not unused, just a little more private.
Mike felt self-conscious, but he told his cabdriver to follow her taxi, and the man had no problems with doing it. In his mind Mike imagined that he had her wallet, or her phone, or something of hers that would warrant him, the good Samaritan that he was, tailing her. He tried to live in that idea, to relax into the role that he created. He managed to thank the cabbie when they stopped and paid him without overt embarrassment. Mike watched as the woman from the blackmail photos entered a walk-up apartment building on 3rd Street between A and B.
Without thinking about the hour, Mike texted the address to Harvey’s phone then dialed. Harvey answered after the second ring, alive, awake (of course he was awake), and serious. “Mike?”
“I...” Mike’s brain stutter-stopped over the story he was going to tell. Did it matter? Really? Would Harvey keep coming back if he knew? Probably not. Not to him, anyway.
“Spit it out, Mike,” Harvey admonished.
Mike shook his head. “I saw the woman, from the photos, from the Paul photos, on the street about 10 minutes ago. I texted you the address. I don’t know if she lives here or what, but I... I thought you should know.”
“We’ll do some research tomorrow. If she doesn’t live there, then someone who knows her does. She won’t be a mystery for long.” Harvey’s confidence was soothing, and Mike was almost ready to turn around, find another cab and go back home.
“Good work, rookie.” Harvey praised into the phone, by way of goodbye, and Mike knew it would be several minutes before he could turn around and face an anonymous public without embarrassment.
Part 7: Meetings
It was suddenly very loud. The executives had been discussing, in advance of the General Meeting, who should fill the second presentation slot. It really shouldn’t have mattered, not terribly. At issue, though, was the implication of seniority. That suggestion of status by theory, tradition, inertia, typically fell to Tamara Paul.
An outside observer, though, practical and adept at drawing conclusions from the available evidence of the past few years, would have told you that Cheryl was the true second-in-command. So the board was trying, with the ease and finesse of an elephant in a tutu, to rewrite guidelines to match practice. It was easier that way and it should have been fine, but Tamara was yelling.
Mike sat, kissing the marble wall in the back of the room with his shoulder blades. He was well away from the table and Harvey and the vessels of power, so he remembered watching the secretary come in. The young man had been well-dressed and Mike had chatted with him before the board meeting. He’d been with the company for three years, and someone, somehow must have convinced him that the package he brought with him was of immediate importance. He had slid, almost silently, into the meeting. Mike had watched in curiosity as he had attracted no other attention until he placed a hand on Tamara’s shoulder and, with a quiet word of explanation, slipped her a manila envelope. That was when the shouting had started.
“This was clever, really clever.” Tamara's voice was loud and utterly controlled. “Slipping me out of power, absconding with my legacy, before I could see this.” Tamara waved the envelope, but the glossy fronts of the photos were facing away from the rest of the table. “You want me gone?” Tamara asked the room, but she focused on Charles, her eyes bright and her hair a burning red halo. “I’m gone. But you might want to hold off on the celebrations.”
Tamara strode quickly to the end of the table and dumped the photographs on Charles’ lap on her way out the door. Harvey motioned for Mike to stay in the room, to make Charles stay put and not abandon the meeting. Then Harvey then pointed once each to Logan, Mitch, Cheryl, and Neil, and put his hand to his ear telling Mike to listen in. Not quite understanding, but trusting, Mike moved to cover Harvey’s position nearer to the conference table – to a point practically equidistant between four cell phone conversations.
Charles was more distraught than angry, and clearly aching to go after his wife.
“What do I do now?” Charles asked, showing Mike an entirely new set of photographs with the same beautiful companion, a companion whose address was resting in the text log of Harvey’s phone.
“You keep going,” Mike replied, listening hard to four conversations at once and more distracted than he should have been. “And you trust.”
“They trust me,” Harvey said, pulling Mike back from his worship. Mike had straddled Harvey’s ass and was working his hands across Harvey’s back, digging into his shoulders and pressing hard. The tight knots tensed and relaxed and Mike could see, he could really see, the shifting interplay of muscles. He was free of the lenses because ‘script’ today had come with a client confidentiality note.
It had been a surprisingly simple thing; even the most complex and ironclad of documents would have been essentially unenforceable given the nature of the actual transactions. So it was simple, such that the spirit of the agreement was quite clear, un-obscured by the ironclad clauses of detail and completely unsullied by a lawyerly hand. There was such a thing as reputation in this world, and apparently Mike had staked his on being discreet.
“Sort of...,” Harvey qualified, and Mike made a sound that he hoped was half inquisitive, but Mike had lost himself again, in the glide of his hand across Harvey’s back and the click of Harvey’s spine as it popped and cracked under firm pressure. It left behind a release that was less than Mike wanted to give, but more than he’d thought he’d ever get to.
“If he pulls out now, though,” Harvey mused, “I don’t know how to fix it.” Mike hated to hear the self-doubt; he didn’t know how to put it right, so he did what he’d been told to, trained to: he pressed until it hurt. Mike’s focused fingers drew a pained gasp from Harvey, but in a single breath relaxed into a sigh as the knot unwound.
“If I can get him to trust me, just for another week,” Harvey started again, and Mike drew down the length of Harvey’s back, sliding his hands along the muscles on either side of the spine and sketching miniature valleys into the small of Harvey’s back with his thumbs. He worked down the thighs and the calves, rolling them between his palms and resisting the urge to lean down and taste the skin under his fingers. It was enough to make Harvey’s words disappear, so it was enough.
Harvey had asked for a massage, changing the script almost immediately, “just a massage.” He’d held Mikes eyes, Mike’s unadorned eyes, the blue of his iris circling the deep abyss of his pupil. The deep neurons of his retina mirrored the energy back from Harvey’s gaze, amplified and focused through the cornea until it seared into Mike’s optic nerve and imprinted irrevocably in his brain. Mike had nodded, dumbly, unable to move his lips to speak, and Harvey had positioned himself face down on the chaise.
Mike dared, hesitantly, to press his fingers into the globes of Harvey’s ass. When he wasn’t rebuked, when Harvey groaned a little and angled himself so Mike could better attack first one glute, then the next, Mike pressed harder. He leaned into the motion, nearly resting his chest on Harvey’s cheeks before pressing up again and digging his fingers into muscle.
Mike pulled away quickly as Harvey flipped over, his erection obvious against the dark strain of his boxers. Unthinkingly Mike reached towards it, with an urge to slide his finger up along the shine of the satin, to trace the outline with his fingertips and then to press just a little bit harder, to make Harvey gasp out his name. Mike’s lips formed the answering prayer, ‘Harvey’, his mouth open in voiceless exhalation. If Harvey trusted, whatever actor Mike was supposed to be, enough to let Mike see his face, then surely....
Harvey batted the hands away.
“I trust you, within the sphere of this experience,” he told Mike’s mask, gesturing to the room around him. “Just....”
Harvey stood abruptly and gathered his clothes. “If I can’t tell him to his face, then confidence or not, I can’t tell a mask.”
Mike got a call from the care home; someone had asked after his grandmother, which wouldn’t have been a problem but that same person pressed hard for the release of her financial account status. Since they were his financials – his grandmother's too, but it was his money, his signature on the dotted line – they’d turned her away on the phone.
“The thing is,” the financial services representative told him, her voice apologetic but firm. “She visited. So your grandmother can say whatever she wants.”
“Can you describe the visitor for me?” Mike asked, trying to keep his panic from his voice.
“Tall, brilliant, beautiful. Really red hair. Impeccably dressed, and with the confidence of a lion.” The agent paused. “She only called this morning, and by this afternoon she’d been and gone. I tried to call you earlier, but you had your phone off.”
“I was in a meeting,” Mike allowed. “Thanks for calling back. I...” Mike glanced at his Pearson Hardman desk phone, the one he had been watching and mentally willing to wring. He had been someone – Cheryl specifically, but anyone from PP – to return his call. He just needed a hint, some answer or an e-mail or give him any clue as to the black mailer’s plans or processes. That didn’t seem to matter quite as much anymore. “I have to go.”
Mike walked directly into Harvey’s office.
“I think Tamara Paul is trying to mess with my life,” Mike announced, and Harvey actually looked up from his work. He shot a confused look at his intercom, but let Mike barrel forward. “She tried to get confidential financial information about me, and no I've been told she's....” Mike fumbled for words, trying not to get more personal than he needed to. "She's stalking me." he finished.
Harvey’s face hardened into an impenetrable mask. “I’ll deal with this, Mike. I promise you.”
“You don't know...,” Mike started.
“I need you to get a hold of Cheryl,” Harvey interrupted. “I told you, I’ll deal with it.”
“But…,” Mike tried again.
“Do you trust me, Mike?” Harvey asked, impatiently, and Mike knew there was only one right answer, as far out of Harvey’s normal sphere of power as this situation lay. Mike found himself nodding his head.
So then Mike waited... for something, for questions to start, for an interrogation, or a directive, because clearly he wasn't dismissed. But it never came; Harvey just stared back, waiting, as Mike was waiting, and somehow making it seem infinitely reasonable.
“Cheryl won’t talk to me,” Mike finally changed the subject, except it wasn't really a change of subject because Harvey had brought it up. Mike watched Harvey let his mask slip into something more thoughtful. “Logan says she’s absolutely focused on getting the material done for the GM and has absolutely no time for this particular ‘drama.’”
Harvey nodded. “Do what you can to bring her around,” Harvey’s tone was missing it’s now familiar mordancy
“But you don’t care either way?” Mike ventured.
Harvey’s eyebrows shot up. “I would never say that about a client,” he admonished, but he smiled. “Nor should you. Trust me, you should keep trying.”
Part 8: End Game
“Is there anything you want?” Harvey asked, his back to Mike as he poured himself a scotch from the client wet bar. Mike’s skin itched in the mask, the barely-there weight of the silicone oppressive and fake. Mike knew what he wanted. He wanted this. He wanted this, without a script or a sketch or an outline. He wanted this without the U-shape of the Blind Trust complex and the wardrobe and the make-up.
“You’ve offered me a lot.” Harvey sat down in the armless dark leather seat. He motioned Mike forward, and Mike came, pacing the white shag rug until he was nestled, tight against the chair’s edge, in the ‘V’ of Harvey’s legs. “You’re not very good at negotiations.” Harvey sipped at his scotch and drew a single finger up the inside of Mike’s thigh. The ice in the glass rang against crystal as it settled back in place, but Mike could barely hear it over the roaring in his ears.
“I could take everything.” Harvey pressed in, his fingers resting against the bulge of Mike’s balls, then slipping around to cup the curve of Mike’s ass where it met his thigh. Sharply, Harvey pulled his hand away.
“Or I could take nothing.” Harvey gestured at the wet bar. “We could have a drink; you could leave. I’ve paid for your time and I don’t mind.” Harvey smiled, his eyes locked onto Mike’s, and he asked again, clean and clear.
“What do you want?”
Mike closed his eyes and broke the connection. It was too familiar, too intense, too much of everything he wanted, not to know exactly what it was asking. Mike pulled away, but only just a bit, only enough to find his knees as he sank to the ground, to find his breath as he leaned forward into the warmth, and to find his voice as he almost spoke, deep vibrations into the base of Harvey’s cock, as he mouthed upwards against the blended wool of Harvey’s slacks, completely confident of Harvey’s reciprocated interests. There were things even a poker face couldn’t hide.
“Is that what you want?” Harvey asked, not quite as in control as before, but he drew Mike up and away, and Mike held back the whine un-vocalized in the base of his throat. Interest clearly wasn’t enough.
“But you’re a Golden Rule sort of guy aren’t you,” Harvey asked, hoarsely, and he placed the glass down hard against the lacquered black coaster. “Or you would be if....”
Harvey gripped Mike’s hips; Mike was spun and seated on the uneven quilting of the Barcelona chair. His legs sprawled wide as Harvey trapped his arms, tangled them in a jacket only half off, then set to work at Mike’s buttons. With skill that spokes to practice and enthusiasm and joy, Harvey opened his mouth, locked eyes with Mike, and swallowed him, body and soul.
“I was terrified,” Mike recalled, his voice half fond as he recounted what he could of the day, trying to spin it as the tale of intregue it felt like rather than the boring minutia it could be turned into. “Harvey couldn’t be bothered to tell me what was going on. Maybe he didn’t know what was going on himself.” Mike made a move on the checkerboard, took two of his Gram’s red pieces, even though he realized the gain was pyrrhic. “But I doubt it.”
They’d rented a hall for the General Meeting, since Paul Productions mostly operated out of a series of warehouses. It wasn’t a big meeting – a small gaggle of investors, representatives of private trusts, and a few individuals. They were the people who had bought in as a direct sale. They were then investors buying into a company that was doing well but needed to expand. They were fewer than a hundred in total.
“I’ve been offered a merger,” Charles had told the crowd during his presentation. Then he had stuttered slightly, flubbing a line Mike knew by heart. Mike had turned his head to see Tamara Paul walk in, Harvey grim-faced behind her.
“I declined the offer, but it may be presented again tonight,” Charles continued, as Tamara sat down. “I would like to take a moment to explain why we can do better.” Charles looked around again, but he avoided Tamara’s corner. Harvey sat down next to Mike and smoothed out his suit. To Mike’s familiar eye he looked confident, satisfied, though his expression was still tight.
Cheryl was the one to bring it up. Mike wasn’t completely surprised, though he saw disappointment on Charles’ face and Harvey’s mask slipped into something slightly pensive. She was polite but nervous, and she kept looking over to Mitch, as if for support. But Mike checked and Mitch was frowning, he was shaking his head, unconsciously disagreeing with her with his entire body.
And then came the decision. One by one the votes came in, expressions of opinion, weighted by share, lined up on opposite sides of the battle line. There was no absenteeism, no abstentions, and when Tamara passed her card in to the chair, Mike could see the despair radiating from Charles. His shoulders were slumped and he wouldn’t meet anyone’s eye. Harvey, though – Harvey was watching two slim brunettes, sitting in the third row, and their faces were glowing, one a complete unknown and one a woman he had chased across town in a taxi.
“Lorna Michaels and her sister-in-law, CEO of Seventh Circle,” Harvey mumbled, without shifting his eyes. He spoke to Mike, trusting without confirmation that Mike was attuned to Harvey’s center of attention, not the action on the stage in front.
“Are they involved with this vote?” Mike had asked. Harvey shook his head.
“Lorna Michaels’ interests are represented by some trust or other,” Harvey replied, waving vaguely at the crowd of venture capitals and managers. “But I have a suspicion.” Mike actually caught the moment when Ms. Michaels’ face dropped, fast, without warning, into a twisted expression of rage. Almost as quickly, a blank mask slid into place, and Mike looked to the stage, chilled and apprehensive.
The merger had failed, by 36 points, which was just enough, exactly enough, to be Tamara’s share. Mike glanced at Charles, who was staring with blank amazement at the results, then he looked over at his wife. She was glowing, on her feet, smiling, and walking towards Charles. Mike couldn’t hear what they said, but they looked towards Harvey.
For a moment Charles looked faint, confused and lost. Then it passed, and he was smiling again, and he pulled his wife to a seat by his side. They sat, with her leg hooked around his ankle until the chair adjourned the meeting and the crowd had dispersed.
Harvey slid to his feet as soon as it was possible to do so gracefully. “You can take the rest of night Mike, but I have to go make sure they don’t fire Cheryl,” Harvey fended off Mike’s attempt at pursuit with an out-stretched hand and a tidbit of information, “$4357 spells ‘help’ on a keypad.”
By the end of the evening, Harvey had another set of blackmail photos logged in as evidence. This one was of a Blind Trust client posing with a Cheryl look-a-like.
“So Cheryl had done what she could to tip us off the means of the blackmail without actually trusting us. Which, to be fair was smart. We worked for the company, not her, and if she’d needed separate representation it would have wiped her out. She was just trying to steer clear of lawyers. And even though Tamara saw the blackmail pictures, Harvey had already shown her how Blind Trust worked and she was willing to believe. Harvey managed to win on all counts,” Mike summarized, and he knew that a little bit of awe was creeping into his voice. “But the two counts of blackmail? That was a police thing. So Harvey left them to it.”
“Harvey’s a good man.” Gram nodded in agreement, with the solemn weight of experience. Mike smiled to himself. If Gram could live vicariously through his stories, then that was something he didn’t need to take away from her by challenging her opinions.
“Do you trust me?” Harvey asked and Mike nodded. He could feel the slip-skin of the mask bunching around his throat. At the back of his neck, where he had rushed the make-up artist maybe just a bit, the edge of the silicone had slipped free and was rubbing a little unpleasantly. It would be red in the morning, at the very least.
“I want so much from you,” Harvey mumbled, and he bound Mike’s ankles to the edge of the chair, his head at the height of Mike’s knees, speaking to Mike’s shoes in a low calm voice. Harvey looked up and he smiled, moving around to the back, leaning down, and smirking into Mike’s ear.
“I expect so much.” The weight of the expectation settled down around Mike's strained shoulders and Mike tried, he tried so hard to keep his head up and proud, but he was breathing fast, and his chest expanded hard, tight against the knot of his tie and the buttons on his shirt.
Harvey tapped at Mike’s cheek. “I would see these redden, blush, as I tell you what I’m going to do.” Harvey smiled and paced around behind. Mike tried to track him with his head. “And what you’re going to do.”
Harvey pulled up another chair, dragging it across the carpet, the legs catching in folds of the wool for a stutter-stop progression. “When I say it, whatever I tell you, you’re going to obey.” Mike nodded, agreeing, wanting, the cadence of Harvey’s voice hypnotic and seductive.
“Do you trust me?” Harvey asked again, cold and serious.
When Mike nodded, Harvey reached across, fast as lightning, and pulled Mike’s mask off. Even as every muscle in Mike’s body twitched to try to roll, to turn away, even as every instinct screamed to stop it, Mike was glad he was tied down.
Harvey’s expression barely shifted. Mike thought maybe he saw emotions flash across the curl of his lips and the twitch of his eyebrow, but they were buried, hard and fast. All Harvey did was nod once, hard and violent, then reach over to start to untie Mike.
“We need to talk,” Harvey said. He shook his head and Mike’s stomach fell to his feet. “I can’t do this here. I’m sorry, Mike. Hey.” Mike started to breathe too hard and his mind raced, trying and failing to hold onto the threads of his life that had been snipped with one sharp action.
“Hey,” Harvey’s hand cupped Mike’s face. “It’s nothing bad. I promise. Meet me at my place in an hour.” Harvey glanced down at the mask in his hand and grimaced at it, offering it back to Mike.
“Trust me,” Harvey commanded, but it was almost a plea. When Mike nodded his acquiesence, Harvey left.
Mike continued to nod slowly, as the room cooled and Harvey's aura faded. His fingers palpated the silicone that Harvey had laid in his hands, grotesque and misshapen now that it wasn’t formed around the curve of his head. Mike draped the mask over his knee, poking and prodding and curling it into an oval ball that sort-of-kind-of approximated the form of his head. The face was familiar, strangely so. It was a perfect optical isomer of something he saw every day, except for the long dark scar running down the side of the jaw. For long moments Mike couldn’t look away; he remembered the make-up artist's titters and James’ half hidden amusement, and wondered why they couldn't have said something. From his knee, without eyes or lips or teeth or tongue, Mike’s own features grinned lifelessly up at him.
Part 9: Epilogue
When Mike banged on the door, far too sober to be doing anything of the sort, Harvey answered without his suit, without his mask, without his armour, in a pair of jeans and a black undershirt.
Mike shivered. Harvey grinned. It was a confident expression, but somehow, lurking behind the eyes, there was tension, and maybe a little apprehension. Mike watched as Harvey killed the emotion, straightened his face, and opened the door wider to let him in.
Mike took the seat offered, and examined the papers, legal documents, assignment of Gram's care and keeping to Harvey and his Senior Partner's medical plan, with his grandmother’s signature liberally embedded, that Harvey passed over.
“This part is done, Mike,” Harvey said quietly. “It might hurt your pride some, but it’s better, I swear. Nothing in essence will change, but now her long-term care is covered.”
“It was Donna, then?” Mike asked, his world-view suddenly shifting. “Not Tamara.” Mike stared at Harvey accusingly. “How long have you planned this?”
“Since I knew you were wearing the mask,” Harvey answered, his face straight, his gaze intense. “Or, since I figure out why you wanted – required – the money. There had to be some reason, absolutely dire in your view of the world, that you would do something so monumentally stupid.” For a moment they were back at the office and this was a normal fuck-up. Major in the scale of the case, minor in the scale of the rest of his life. Something survivable. “Pearson Hardman has a strict policy against moonlighting,” Harvey reminded Mike.
“Only for law- or client-related work,” Mike qualified. “If I want to wash cars in my spare time, I’m pretty sure you can’t stop me.”
“The point is to prevent a conflict of interest that the firm doesn’t know about. I think we’ve demonstrated that whoring fits the bill. It has to stop,” Harvey bit out, then clamped his lips together, as if.... “I’m sorry, that was....”
“Harsh?” Mike supplied quietly, and Harvey didn’t disagree. “Untrue?” Mike pushed a little farther, and Harvey looked up. “Well, it was only ever you,” Mike started, and paused, caught in the burning intensity of Harvey’s focus. “And we didn’t actually....”
Harvey had covered the space between them in moments. Mike could feel the heat of his breath and closed his eyes in anticipation of Harvey’s hand, somewhere, anywhere.
It didn’t come. Between one breath and the next Harvey stopped, and held himself very, very still. Mike opened one eye.
“I don’t actually need to know,” Harvey said, but it sounded like there was relief behind his careful tone. Harvey pointed to the paperwork on the table, and continued in a slow, cautious voice.
“That stays regardless. There is nothing you can do to change it.” Harvey put his hand on Mike’s chest, heat searing through the fabric. “You show up tomorrow for work; if nothing happens here tonight, then nothing changes there.” Harvey pushed a little, backing Mike up, towards the bedroom. “You ask for something tonight, though?” Harvey grinned. “And it doesn’t leave this apartment, it doesn’t go to work, it doesn’t go out there, not ever again. Got it?”
Mike nodded, and grinned up into Harvey’s face, trying to lean forward, trying to ask voicelessly, to be both seen and heard.
“You’re not a child, Mike,” Harvey chided him. “Use your words. Do you understand?
“You’re going to do your damndest to keep work and life separate?” Mike summarized, grinning.
Harvey rewarded him with his lips, a light press to Mike’s lips that left them tingling, seared.
“Do you have something to say, then?” Harvey pressed forward, and they crossed the room, the lights of New York City spread out below them. “Is there something you want to ask for?”
“Let me suck you?” Mike asked, and Harvey rewarded him by pulling his black shirt over his head and attacking Mike’s shirt like it personally offended him. It might have, at that.
“Is that all?” Harvey asked, attacking his own pants, as Mike sprawled on the bed.
“Spank me?” Mike tried, less timidly and with more heat. Harvey grinned and finished stripping Mike. “Tie me down? Blindfold me?” Mike teased, babbling anything and everything he could think of as Harvey ran both hands up Mike’s chest, then down to his thighs, and dipped a finger into the cleft of Mike’s ass.
“We've done some of that,” Harvey murmured into Mike's litany. “Some of that requires a little more scripting than I have the patience for right this minute. What would you like? What do you want right now?”
“Touch me?” Mike continued, then gasped. One finger breached, slick and hard and perfectly insistent, “ just... oh please....” Mike gasped as Harvey pulled back, pulled out, and slipped over so he was completely covering Mike, shielding him, protecting him.
“Fuck me?” Mike gasped into Harvey’s skin, his voice raspy and barely coherent. But Harvey got it, Mike needed it. And in slow, strong strokes, he got exactly what he wanted.