Ten forty-eight and Kim was starting to get nervous.
It wasn't that Jimmy was typically punctual - even for court dates he had a habit of showing up just at the last moment, swooping in sort of, as though attuned to some cosmic schedule that the rest of the world could only approximate with wristwatches, or maybe cell phones.
But today, Kim was starting to get nervous, and she couldn't say why.
The dream last night maybe? she thought, but that was stupid. Even anxiety dreams were just dreams, and anyway she barely remembered what it had been about.
She glanced over to Howard, who was looking very relaxed, sitting on the bench outside of Judge Murray’s courtroom and chatting with Dolores Velasquez and Leonard Hubble of Davis and Main. Something about a new restaurant opening downtown, something French, but Kim couldn't concentrate long enough to catch the name. She looked at her watch. Ten forty-nine.
"Come on," she muttered, then started, looking around her, hoping no one would catch her talking to herself. She stood, knowing she shouldn't pace, but not able to help herself. Maybe just a few feet down the hall and she'd see him rounding the corner in that ridiculous Matlock suit with a paper cup of coffee from the machine in one hand. She'd heard a rumor from one of the bailiffs that the thing was filthy, that there were spiders in there, maybe roaches. She wasn't sure if she believed that, but then again, she hadn't gotten a cup from that machine since.
She reached the corner. No Jimmy. Ten fifty.
She bared her teeth and sucked in air through them. He was going to show. He had to show. He said he’d be there. Maybe he'd come through the front doors while her back was turned. Maybe he was there right now, shaking Dolores's hand, turning on what he called "the old McGill charm," clapping Howard on the shoulder like he hadn't called him an unwashed asshole a little over a week ago. She turned, holding her breath. No Jimmy, and now Howard was shooting her a look.
Kim gave Howard a tight little smile, took three steps toward him, changed her mind, and turned again. She rounded the corner, pulling her cell phone out of her jacket pocket and hitting her speed dial. Now out of view, she paced while the phone droned in her ear.
"Hello! You’ve reached the law offices of James M. McGill Esquire, a lawyer you-"
“Shit,” Kim hissed, before punching the button to hang up. That stupid fake British secretary voice - Kim didn’t know who Jimmy thought he was fooling with that, anyway. Maybe since most of his clients these days had hearing aids, they didn’t notice.
Kim debated calling again. Maybe he was parking his car, phone stuck in his pocket while he backed into a space. Maybe he was walking to the courthouse, too focused on the conversation ahead to get to his phone on time. Maybe he was there right now, shaking Dolores’s-
Kim peeked around the corner. No Jimmy. She ducked back again before Howard or Dolores could see her. Ten fifty-two. Come on, Kim thought, come on.
He’d seemed fine on the phone when they’d last spoken. Well - maybe not fine, but okay, considering the circumstances. She’d been so relieved when he’d picked up, since he hadn’t been answering his phone to anyone for over a week. Kim had figured at first that he just needed some time to himself after whatever must have gone down between him and Chuck. So she’d decided to wait, let him settle a bit, and call her when he was ready. She only began to worry when Ernie had appeared in her office to tell her that Jimmy hadn’t responded to Ernie’s voicemail asking about the cuts of steak on Chuck’s grocery list.
“He said strip steak,” Ernie said, “but does that mean New York strip or, like a skirt? Skirts look like a strip, so... “ he shrugged, framed in Kim’s doorway. Kim made a face, and Ernie threw up his hands. “I’m a vegetarian!” he said. “I’ve never eaten a steak in my life.”
“I think New York is right?” Kim said, “but you shouldn’t go by me. Have you tried Jimmy again?”
Ernie shook his head. “Voicemail. I’ll try the New York but man - if I get it wrong…” he lifted his palms again, indicating Chuck’s certain displeasure at the potential mistake.
Jimmy had been so adamant that they get the groceries right, and there was no reason for him not to talk to Ernie, with whom he’d been friendly since their mailroom days. So, Kim tried calling him herself, and was unexpectedly stung when the call rolled over to voicemail. That stupid British secretary voice. She didn’t leave a message, and let it go for a day and a half before her conscience nagged her, and she left work to drive to the nail salon.
The salon was bustling for a weekday, full of suburban housewives in capri pants, and UNM students who had the afternoon off of classes. It was slightly surreal for Kim to walk into the space when it was full of sunlight and chatter and bright colors. She knew it as dim, with only the light of the aquarium casting gradual and dual blue ripples onto the walls and ceiling. It made her a little sad, seeing it as a public place and not a secret one, where she was an accessory to the petty larceny of a few coats of nail polish and a cup of cucumber water.
She'd watched the cucumbers bob in the plastic cooler as Jimmy had drawn her a cup. "How long do they leave these cucumbers in here, anyway?" she'd asked.
"Oh, they changed these up this morning," Jimmy had said. "New concept - these are actually pickles."
"Mm, that's very appetizing," she'd said, squinting at them.
"Better for our purposes anyway," Jimmy had said, pouring a slug of cheap vodka into her cup. "This is one of the classic lost cocktails, second cousin to the Gibson."
"Vodka and pickle water," she'd said, accepting the cup. "bartending is truly a lost art." When she'd sipped it, she'd been almost disappointed to find that it was cucumber after all, with vodka corrosive enough to leach chemicals from the plastic cup.
"C'mon," Jimmy had said, "pick your color."
"You weren't actually serious about that pedicure, were you?" Kim had said, arching an eyebrow.
"Day I had, I figure it's time to diversify my skill set. You're my guinea pig. That's the price of drinks around here."
Kim could find no good reason to argue, so she'd passed by a row of reds and pinks in favor of a medium blue creme. She'd always preferred to wear less conventional colors on her toes as a tiny rebellion against staid law firm life - hidden, of course, under closed-toe heels at all times.
"Ah," Jimmy had said, "a very stylish choice, ma'am. That happens to be our finest shade of Hamlindigo blue."
"Oh, come on," she'd said, shoving him on the shoulder. "Are you ever gonna let that go? Tiffany's trademarked its own shade of blue, why not Hamlin?"
"Well that's appropriate considering the diamond industry's reliance on slave labor," Jimmy had groused.
"Hey, I'm not here for social commentary," Kim interrupted, loathe as she was to get into the unfairness of her life at HHM, which is where she knew this would eventually go if she'd let it. "These toes aren't going to polish themselves." She took a few steps to the row of pedicure chairs, then turned when she didn't hear him follow. "Come on," she'd said. "I wanna hear about this sex toilet."
Standing in the nail salon in broad daylight, Kim realized that the polish was still on her toes. It had smudged in the rush to get to the hospital, then chipped - Jimmy was an abysmal nail tech - but a few flakes remained that she hadn't bothered to remove last time she'd clipped her nails. She found this disquieting, as though one of the techs would be able to see through her shoes and recognize the theft.
Kim walked to the woman at the reception desk. “Excuse me, are you Mrs. Nguyen?”
The woman didn’t look up. “Yes? You have an appointment?”
“Um - no. I was looking for Mr. McGill, is he in?”
Mrs. Nguyen looked up then, and Kim felt a prick of worry. Jimmy had, after all, walked out of HHM three days ago with twenty thousand dollars’ worth of of-counsel fees in his pocket. Who was to say that he hadn’t put down a deposit on an apartment that very afternoon?
And didn’t tell me, Kim added to herself. A week ago, Kim would have sworn that if Jimmy had gotten the means to get a new place, she would have been the second person he’d call. And she’d very recently been upgraded to first - or so she'd thought.
“He has not been here, about three days,” Mrs. Nguyen said in a rapid clip, interrupting Kim’s reverie. “I have his mail,” she continued, and Kim’s heart lifted a little. He hadn’t gotten a new apartment - yet, at least. “You are picking up?” Mrs. Nguyen opened a drawer and held out a sheaf of envelopes - several of which, Kim noticed, bore red “PAST DUE” stamps on the front.
“Um - no,” Kim said, feeling more like a trespasser than ever. “Just wanted to see him, if he was in.”
Mrs. Nguyen opened her mouth to say something else, but Kim turned hastily and was out the door as quickly as her heels would allow.
Starting that night, Kim began to find excuses to drive by the salon on her way home from work, but Jimmy’s Esteem was conspicuously absent.
On the fifth day of Jimmy’s disappearance, Kim knocked on Howard’s office door, ostensibly to show him a Sandpiper data request set that had been served on them that morning. Howard had taken one look at the two hundred and seventeen interrogatories, and puffed out his cheeks. “This is ridiculous,” he said, “they must have every associate they’ve got churning these out around the clock.” He tapped his hand on the papers, fingers spread wide. “All of these are for Mrs. Landry?”
“Yeah,” Kim said. “I already have Daniel out at Sandpiper getting responses for the four we got yesterday afternoon, and I bet we get another couple of sets before close of business today. I thought you should see what we’re dealing with, especially since we have hearing prep for Wallace’s white collar case starting next week. He’s going to have to pull his team off of Sandpiper discovery, and there’s a chance we could start missing deadlines. I think it’s time to get some outside help. Maybe some contract attorneys for a start?”
“Maybe…” Howard said, trailing off the word as though he didn’t think much of the suggestion. “Contractors, I don’t know. Let me think about it.”
“Sure,” said Kim, knowing she was dismissed, but not able to leave quite yet. “Have - uh,” she said, “you haven’t heard anything from Jimmy?”
Howard raised his eyebrows. “I would have thought that you-”
“No,” Kim said, and shrugged. “I don’t think he’s my biggest fan right now.”
Howard considered her, frowning. “I didn’t mean to put you in that position, Kim.”
“Oh - no,” Kim said. “I’m glad you told me. Well - not glad.” She pressed her mouth tight, not trusting herself to say more on this subject. "I just haven't heard from him in a couple days, so-"
"Oh," Howard said, lifting his eyebrows and nodding once, as though he’d expected the news.
Kim was startled by Howard’s reaction. “Did you know about this?” she said. She hadn’t meant to - it had just come blurting out of her mouth, and she snapped her teeth shut before anything else could. It had been unexpected, Howard opening up to her with the truth about Chuck, but that certainly didn’t mean they were somehow friends now. He’d be perfectly in his rights to order her to get out and get back to work.
Howard didn’t order her out, nor did he answer her right away. He stood and walked to his desk, pulling out a folder and a single yellow sheet of paper. “Have you seen this?”
Kim walked over and took the paper he was holding out. It was from a plain yellow notepad, and covered, front and back, in Jimmy’s heavily slanted handwriting. “Gallon milk - whole,” she read off, “strip steaks, three by one pound, cold cuts - turkey, ham - groceries?”
“That’s the weekly list,” Howard said. “Read the daily - on the left.”
She read it. Ice was at the top of the list, underlined three times. “Five pounds daily, fuel-” she read. “This is Chuck’s list?”
“I asked Ernesto to bring me back the original after he had it copied. Every single day, for over a year.” He shook his head. “I couldn’t believe it when I saw it.”
“Me neither,” Kim replied. “How much bacon can one person eat in a week?”
Jimmy would have laughed, or at least smiled, anyway. Howard just looked a little puzzled. He held his hand out, and Kim gave the list back. “So, um,” she said, “what does that have to do with-”
“It’s a lot of work,” Howard said, folding the paper and tucking it back into its folder. “You know, I’ve known Jimmy for a long time - personally, but also by reputation. Chuck told Dad and me a bit about him when we first got started - not much, of course, but - well. He had to tell me a bit more when he asked that Jimmy be given a spot in our offices. I’m sure you remember.”
Kim remembered all right, but Howard seemed a little blind to the fact that as a lowly mailroom clerk at the time, she hadn’t been provided any information about the oddly exuberant man who'd shown up with a Chicago accent, rayon shirts and an unironic shag mullet, and introduced himself as "Jimmy." It had only been a month after her own hire, and he'd upset the delicate headway she'd made with the head of office services, a hardass woman named Lucille who stood about five feet even in heels, and whose pointed stare could make Kim's blood run backwards.
"Sure," Kim said, not wanting to get into all of this with Howard, especially with his unexpectedly magnanimous mood.
"Well," Howard said, "from what I understood from Chuck, he had the habit of - well, disappearing from time to time. Especially when he'd come into some money. We'd had to give him a pretty strict ultimatum when he came on board - pull a disappearance on the job, and he'd be out - no second chances. Chuck insisted on it."
"Okay, but Jimmy never-"
"No, of course he didn't," Howard said, sounding as though he were trying to mollify her. "And I'm not saying that's precisely what's happening here. But if you think about it - doing all of this for over a year, plus starting a law practice, plus building a class action suit - wouldn't you want to take a break, given the chance?"
"I just didn't think he'd take off without telling - his clients," Kim said, saving herself at the last minute. Howard, by the pitying look he gave her, wasn't fooled for a second.
"I don't know what to tell you, Kim," he said, and the tone of his voice made her regret opening her big mouth in the first place.
"Well. Speaking of clients, I should go see Mrs. Landry about these," she said, flapping the set of data requests so that the paper snapped.
"Didn't you want to wait to see if any more came in?" Howard asked.
"I'll just have Burt call," she said, backing toward the door as quickly as propriety would allow. "Thanks - thanks, Howard."
She didn't feel like she could breathe properly until she was on the highway driving to Sandpiper Crossing, cigarette dangling out the window. She usually tried not to smoke on the way to visit clients, particularly the Sandpiper clients - she was sure Schweikart would try their cute little restraining order trick again, citing the dangers of secondhand smoke on the elderly residents - but today, she felt she needed it. She felt rattled, as though her head had been rifled through by someone unfamiliar with its contents, someone who’d left abruptly, leaving her thoughts out of place. When Jimmy’d first gotten hired at HHM - she hadn’t thought about their mailroom days in what felt like a long time. But now she remembered, and it felt fresh and a little jagged.
She remembered that she’d been a little offended when Jimmy had been hired so soon after she had - she’d gone through a gauntlet of interviews, typing tests, drug tests and software proficiency tests to get a position as an office services minion. Not even minion - minion’s minion - as she reported to Burt, and Burt reported to Lucille.
She’d suspected that this “Jimmy” had not gone through any of the tests - particularly the drug test - and that the “McGill” part of his name had something to do with it. Still, she’d had trouble believing that Jimmy was in any way related to the co-founder of the law firm. Kim had never met Charles - Chuck - McGill, but had seen him once or twice in the hallways. He looked like the epitome of a successful partner - three-piece suits and somber expression. But if she squinted, she thought there might be just a little bit of a resemblance - or so she’d thought, as she’d stared balefully at Jimmy who was chatting with Burt. He said something that she couldn’t hear, and Burt burst out laughing. Just great. This Jimmy with his co-founder surname and his jokes or whatever - he was going to bro out, cast Kim as the ice princess of the mailroom, and then what would happen to her? Would she be let go as redundant? Fired outright in favor of the boss’s - what, cousin?
God. She couldn’t get fired. She’d still had six months to go before she got her certification as a paralegal. She’d socked away as much as she could from her paychecks into a savings account, but between student loans, rent, and other necessities of living, the balance was pitifully small. My law school account, she’d thought. Emptied before it even got started. And Lucille hates me - I don’t have a chance.
She’d been startled out of these thoughts to find both Burt and Jimmy looking at her - they must have caught her staring.
Well. Fine. If you’re going to make me be the bitch, I’ll be the bitch.
“We have a filing due by five,” she’d said, “so I think we ought to start making copies, don’t you?” She’d stared them down, and Burt had ducked his head. But Jimmy had kept looking at her, his expression indecipherable. So she’d marched right up to him, narrowed her eyes, and said “I don’t know what you think you’ve been hired here for, but if it’s to work, I think you should get to work.”
Jimmy had started back, swallowing so hard that she saw his adam’s apple dip. “Um - sure - yeah,” he’d said, and she’d turned and swept off, pleased, thinking that Lucille would give her some credit at rounding up the troops.
It didn’t happen. Within a week, Lucille was calling Jimmy “my Jimmy,” hugging him around the waist from time to time while he patted her on the shoulder, crediting him for the sudden productivity in the mailroom. Kim had clenched her teeth and waited to be fired.
She hadn’t been fired. Instead, Jimmy had been assimilated into the mailroom, bit by bit. After two weeks, the mullet was gone. After two months, the rayon shirts had been entirely replaced with dress shirts. He’d started wearing ties - really bad ones, one with Space Invaders pixel art on it in neon colors - but hell, they were ties at least. He’d chummed around with Burt, got Lucille cups of coffee in the morning, but with Kim, he’d kept his distance.
And that's fine, she'd thought, ignoring the resentment lurking within her brain. I’m not here to be friends.
But one afternoon, Lucille had rushed into the mailroom with a FedEx box in both hands. Jimmy had been at the copier and Burt had been making delivery rounds, so she’d shoved the package at Kim.
"Horace Hamlin," she'd barked. "Needs it ten minutes ago."
"Oh - okay," Kim had said. "What office is he using?" This was, Kim had thought, not an unreasonable question. Horace Hamlin, Howard's father and the first "H" in HHM, was retired, and while Kim had heard that he came back into the office from time to time, he hadn’t since she started, and he wasn't in the directory. But Lucille, who'd been halfway to the door, whipped on her like a snake.
"I'm not here to do your job for you!" she'd snapped. "Stop asking me stupid questions and get it done." She’d stormed out, leaving Kim open-mouthed and blinking fast.
Oh Christ, Kim had thought, as the first shock began to wear off. I’m going to cry. I’m going to fucking cry at work. She could feel it coming on and couldn’t stop it - the wet feeling in her nose, the hitch in her throat. I can’t be the girl who cried at work. Once you were the girl who cried at work, you never stopped being the girl who cried at work. Here it comes, she thought as Jimmy, who had witnessed the entire exchange from his place at the copier, came through the door. He’d look at her, pity and condescension mingled on his face, and he'd ask her if she needed a minute or wanted a tissue or-
“Three-twelve,” he’d said.
“What?” Kim had said back, trying to keep her voice from wavering too much, even on the one syllable.
“Horace is three-twelve. Next to Chuck. They keep it as a client waiting room for, y’know, the high rollers, ‘cos the view? But he uses it when he comes in.”
“How-” she’d started, intending to ask him how he knew, but realized that the casual way he’d tossed off the name “Chuck” had answered her question already. So she’d stopped, said “thanks,” and walked out of the mailroom as quickly as she could. At least, she’d thought, Jimmy had startled her enough that she’d stopped wanting to cry.
Horace Hamlin was duly grateful for his FedEx, and called her “miss,” which was funny in an old-timey sexist sort of way. When Kim got back to the mailroom, she’d found Jimmy arranging his finished copies into a filing, stacking the pages with slipsheets and clipping them, setting them in a stack. She pulled up a stool and took half of his unfinished stack, and they worked without speaking for a few minutes.
“You shouldn’t worry too much about Luce,” Jimmy had said, breaking the silence. “She’s mean, yeah, but inside she’s a cream puff.”
Kim had snorted. “Easy for you to say. You had her wrapped around one finger your first week.”
Jimmy had shrugged. “She’s used to dealing with guys like me,” he’d said. “You’re something else.”
Kim had bristled, ready to be offended, but Jimmy had seen and put a hand up. “Not - not bad, I mean. But, y’know. Guys like me’n’Burt, we’re not exactly the ambitious type. But you… well, she think’s you’re gunning for her job.”
“I’m - what?” Kim had burst out in disbelief. “I’m not after her job.”
Jimmy had just shrugged again. “Yeah? Well something tells me you’re not sticking around the mailroom long.”
“Well, no,” she’d said, took a breath, and added "I'm studying for my paralegal certification, actually." She hadn't admitted this to anyone at work yet, for fear they'd consider this a lack of commitment to her current position and fire her in favor of a mailroom lifer.
"Who-hoa," Jimmy had said, his face lighting up with what could only be, to Kim's eyes, genuine enthusiasm. "That's amazing! Are you gonna get a job here?"
"Wherever they'll hire me, I guess," Kim had said, suddenly embarrassed. "I mean, the goal is to get something that lets me save enough to go to law school."
This time, Jimmy looked not just enthusiastic but astonished, and he stopped tapping his stack of paper on the table to stare at her, eyebrows raised, and half smiling. “No kidding?”
Kim cast her eyes to her own stack of paper, her face going hot, but her mouth quirking up. “It’s not like it’s a short term goal or anything. Law school’s kind of expensive.”
"Well yeah, but - hey, you should talk to Chuck-"
"No!" Kim had said, alarmed, and when that came out a little too loud, modified her tone. "I mean, I couldn't. He doesn't even know me."
"He knows me, though, I could put in a good word."
"So you are related."
"Yep, big brother." He'd cocked an eyebrow and smirked. "What was your first clue?"
"Shut up," she'd said, but she was smirking herself. "I thought cousin."
"Close enough, Sherlock. He got me the job, I bet he'd hear you out about becoming a lawyer. Let me say something." When Kim gave him a skeptical face, he'd said "promise - just to him, and I'll make it sound like I just brought it up on my own. C'mon - it can't hurt."
"Well - I mean, it's very nice of you," she'd said, suddenly very conscious that she had not been so nice for the past few months. "Y'know," she'd started, "I thought you were gunning for my job. That they'd fire me to hire you."
"What? No-o, Chuck'd never let them do that, especially for my sorry ass. You're completely safe."
"Even from Lucille's wrath?"
"Well, maybe I'll talk to her, too. But fair warning, she might be a lost cause."
"Well. I can handle it. Better than today, I mean."
"You handled it fine today." He'd flashed her a quick, genuine grin that crinkled his eyes, and Kim had found herself grinning back. And while it had taken some time to work out the deal with Chuck and Howard by which they’d paid her way through law school, Kim and Jimmy had become friends instantly.
Mrs. Landry ushered Kim into her apartment, and Kim sat with her on a sofa that smelled like a shortbread cookie that had been sprayed with Pledge. Kim had to force herself not to glance back at the huge print of Saint Sebastian suffering dourly over her shoulder. "I'm just going to go through these questions with you," she explained, "and once we have your answers, I'll draft them to send back to the defendants' attorneys."
"This all seems very complicated," Mrs. Landry said, squinting at the data requests.
"Well, it is a little complicated," Kim admitted, "but we're trying to make this as easy on everyone as possible. I'll be doing all the writing, you just need to help me with anything I don't know. Oh - and before we get started, I did want to settle a date for your deposition prep next week," Kim added. "We could do it here, or if you'd like to come over to the HHM offices-"
"Oh - if we could do it here, that would be a help," Mrs. Landry said. "Oscar and Felix get a little rambunctious if I'm away for too long."
Kim nodded, glancing down to the scruffy Siamese cat winding around her feet, festooning the cuffs of her suit trousers with tufts of matted fur. Kim loathed cats, so of course any time one was in the vicinity it came straight to her, rubbing its face on her ankles or jumping into her lap to stick its hindquarters in her face.
"And will Mr. McGill be there?" Mrs. Landry asked, causing Kim to snap her head back up. "At the deposition meeting?"
"Oh - well, um, as we explained, Mr. McGill has referred the case to HHM," Kim said, "so he won't-"
"Oh, yes, you did tell me that," Mrs. Landry said, shaking her head at her own forgetfulness. "It's too bad. Well, if you see him, do let him know that we’d love to have another bingo game, would you? Even if the last one was a little unorthodox."
“Um,” said Kim, “how do you mean?”
“Well, it was very educational!” Mrs. Landry said with a smile. “I’d never heard of a Chicago sunroof before, have you?”
“I… don’t think so?” Kim said.
Mrs. Landry giggled. “I don’t think I could repeat it, it was a bit saucy! But,” she continued, sobering a bit, “he did seem a little upset about it. Do you know if he’s all right?”
“I’ll have to ask him, next time I see him,” Kim said.
“Oh, please do, dear,” Mrs. Landry said, smiling warmly now. “And you tell him I have a whole box of Hydrox with his name on it.”
“Sure. Yeah. I’ll do that,” Kim said.
She sat in her car in the Sandpiper parking lot once she’d finished with Mrs. Landry, her notes on the passenger seat, drumming her fingers on the steering wheel.
So guess who was just asking about you? Kim thought, not registering that she was aping the facial expressions she’d use when saying the words aloud. Said she had a whole box of Hydrox with - no. She pressed her lips tight. I heard your bingo games were getting educational. So, uh, what’s a Chicago sunroof? Is it like a Cleveland steam- no.
She wanted a cigarette, but not enough to move her hands from the steering wheel to go into her handbag and go through what seemed to her the monumental effort of getting one out, putting it in her mouth, lighting it. Mrs. Landry said you seemed upset, she thought, are you sure you’re okay?
She’d already asked him that, down in the parking garage when he’d given up the Sandpiper material, and he’d said he was fine. She hadn’t believed him so much as she’d convinced herself that she ought to believe him, ought to give him the benefit of the doubt. His face was open, his tone even, and the wastebasket by the elevator had gone unmolested. But undercutting all of that was the way he’d returned her hug - pressing her lightly and then letting go immediately, as though he thought that if he exerted any more pressure than that, she might crumble into powder between his palms.
Very different from the day she got her letter informing her that she’d passed the New Mexico State Bar exam. She’d been working as a paralegal by then for over a year, but she knew the postal delivery schedule cold, and she’d darted to the mailroom every afternoon for a week, terrified and thrilled, waiting for news of her ultimate fate. Jimmy, Ernie and Burt had gamely searched through every container of mail they received so she could get her envelope before intraoffice delivery began. It had been Jimmy who’d found it, and she’d snatched it out of his hand, tearing it open, holding her breath as she read - Ms. Kimberly Wexler, we are pleased to inform you-
When she’d looked up, Jimmy had taken one look at her face and had ducked to grab her around the thighs as she’d squawked in half indignation, half delight, lifting her so she could high-five first Ernie and then Burt with both hands. When he’d set her down, breathless from laughing, she’d thrown her arms around his neck, and he’d hugged her back tightly enough that her heels lifted from the floor.
“I passed,” she managed to gasp.
“Of course you did,” he’d said in her ear, close enough that she could feel him smile.
Kim picked up her phone and hit the speed dial, clenching her teeth as it rang. I’ll just ask him. I’ll just ask if he’s-
“Hello! You’ve reached the law offices of-”
She hung up and threw the phone onto the passenger seat, then folded her arms on the steering wheel, and rested her forehead against them.
The next day and a half were a rush as she and Daniel bundled their data responses together into file-able documents. "I cannot wait to return this favor," Kim seethed between her teeth. "I want to serve so many interrogatories on them, they have to deliver them in an eighteen-wheeler. Make that seven eighteen-wheelers."
"And then we get fourteen of them back, full of responses?" Daniel said, his voice quietly amused. "And then who gets to sort through them all?"
"We work that out when we get them," Kim said, though she had to admit that Daniel had a point. All of their team was running full steam as it was - a data dump wouldn't do any of them any favors.
"One thing for sure, I would not want to be a Schweikart associate right about now," Daniel said. "Oh, so hey, weird question - do you know what a Chicago sunroof is?"
Kim sighed through her teeth. "Don't tell me you heard that too? I've been trying to work it out all day. Everything I come up with is, like, Pink Flamingos level filthy." Kim paused, looking over her stack of paper at Daniel. "Let me guess," she said, "they're asking for Jimmy?"
"Mr. O'Connor wants a codicil to his will," Daniel said, "Ms. Turner wants to know if she can legally leave her entire estate to her Boston terrier. I told her I'd be happy to refer her to our T&E group, but no dice - she wants Jimmy. Oh, and Mr. Thomas wanted me to tell him it was a B9 and ask if he's feeling any better, something about bingo?" Daniel clipped another set of documents and added them to the stack. "You're friends, right? You know when he's coming back?"
"No," Kim said, sucking her teeth and suddenly unsure exactly which of Daniel's questions she was answering.
"Well, all right," said Daniel, adding one last set of documents to the stack. "This is the last one - let's box 'em up."
As Kim, Daniel and Ramona, their paralegal, hefted evidence boxes, Howard stuck his head into the conference room. "Kim," he said, "could you come in to my office, please?"
"Oh, uh-" Kim said, glancing at Daniel.
"Go ahead," Daniel said, "we've got this."
"Sure," Kim said, dusting her hands off on her skirt, and following.
Howard set a brisk pace, and Kim had to double-step to keep up. "I had dinner last night with an old friend from law school, and he mentioned a mutual friend - Dolores Velasquez, at Davis and Main - just got through a huge merger proceeding, big case, years of work, great victory. After the merger, she thought she'd be kept on as local counsel to the subsidiary, but-"
"They dropped her for parent company counsel?" guessed Kim.
"Who just happened to open a branch office in Santa Fe right after the merger closed," confirmed Howard, and Kim clicked her tongue at the unfairness of it all. "So, Dolores is sitting on a huge legal team, primed for work, and nothing to do."
"Meaning they can step in on Sandpiper?" Kim said, beginning to smile as visions of eighteen-wheelers full of interrogatories rumbled through her head, from Santa Fe all the way to Schweikart’s faux-New-York-gentlemen’s-club offices. The cocks.
“That is what I’ll be proposing,” Howard replied. “I have a call with Dolores in five minutes, and I’d like you to be on it.”
Kim stopped in her tracks. “But,” she said, as Howard turned around, “shouldn’t Jose or Francis or one of the other partners-”
“I’d like you to be on it,” Howard repeated, and Kim knew there would be no further argument on this point.
Dolores had a warm, raspy voice and a friendly manner, even on the phone. When Howard began to run her through the details of the Sandpiper class action, Kim thought she could hear Dolores start to salivate. "Jesus, Howard," she said, "this is jury fucking gold! Oh - sorry."
Kim grinned at Howard over the speakerphone, and he smiled tepidly back at her.
"It certainly is," he said, "but it's also quite a bit of work."
"Oh, say no more, I can't wait to sink my teeth into this one," Dolores said. "How’d you score this thing anyway? Your T and E catch it?”
“Uh - well,” Kim said abruptly, “this was referred by outside counsel.”
“Really?” Dolores said, sounding incredulous.
“Yeah, he’s a solo practitioner, building an elder law practice, and going through one of his clients’ contracts, he just caught all this, built up the case, signed sixty-eight clients himself,” Kim said. “It was incredible.” She stopped abruptly, suddenly aware that she was gushing. She cut her eyes up to Howard, and suddenly realized he was smiling at her.
That’s why he wanted you on the phone, she realized, and almost hated herself for being so obvious.
“Solo practitioner - are you kidding me?” Dolores said.
“It’s unfortunate,” Howard said, taking over, “but the case became a bit too large for him to take on alone, which is why he referred it to us.”
“Which is too bad,” Kim piped up, deciding she didn’t care about Howard’s smiles anymore. “Going over to Sandpiper and talking to the residents there? He’s all they talk about, they miss him. Mrs. Landry was even asking if he could be at her depo prep. I think he’d really be an asset to the case if we could - you know. Find a place for him.”
“He’s looking for a spot?” Dolores asked, then added “if he’s so great, why not hire him at HHM?”
“Unfortunately there’s a conflict of interest within the firm,” Howard said smoothly. “But I understand from Joshua that you’re potentially looking for someone?”
Dolores hesitated. “Well-ll, one of my senior counsel decamped for Steiner and Welk’s new Santa Fe office.” Her voice smacked of resentment, and Howard’s slight eyebrow lift signalled to Kim that this was the parent company counsel that had taken Dolores’s business. “I wasn’t going to replace him, considering three-quarters of my book’s gone,” Dolores continued, “but with this case - we might conceivably bring someone in. If he’s as good as you say, we could put him on Juan’s old track - partner within the next three years or so.”
Kim let out a silent burst of an exhale, not even trying to hide her shock from Howard. Howard just smiled in his unflappable way.
“Well, why don’t we arrange something?” Howard said. “You and Lenny’ll need to come down, put in your notice of appearance, we could set aside some time for you to chat.”
“We will need a formal interview,” Dolores added, “but that sounds great, for a start.”
The conversation continued - logistics, timing, schedules, team numbers, but Kim barely paid attention. And when Howard finally pecked the button on his phone to end the call, she looked up at him, pulling her lips between her teeth.
“Howard I-” she started, but Howard waved one hand at her.
“Please,” he said, “it’s the least I could do.”
“So, um,” Kim started, “are you going to let him know-”
“Don’t you think that should come from you?” Howard said.
Kim drew in a breath, but found she didn’t have anything to say. “Sure,” was all she could do, and she left without saying anything more.
It took her an hour to get up the courage to actually call. She had to leave her office to pace the HHM balcony, trying to figure out how to start the conversation - if, that is, he even picked up his phone. Hey, so while you were gone I just happened to find a partner-track position for you - no. She tugged at the ruffled hem of the peplum dress she was wearing. So remember how your brother basically sabotaged your career for years? Boy do I have the solution to - no. She paced, trying not to notice her co-workers, the ones who had a purpose, who were walking from one place to the other and trying to get something done - unlike her, who didn’t even know how to begin.
He won’t even pick up, she thought, he hasn’t picked up so far, why would he pick up now?
“So I have this thing,” Jimmy had said over - god, it must have been their third bourbon and ice, the night he’d admitted he was living and working in the back of a fucking nail salon of all things. She was buying the drinks, and they both were finally numb, free of whatever hesitation that kept them from admitting true things to one another. She liked seeing him like this - not quite drunk, but with the twitchiness gone, his confidence lubricated enough to flow forth, pouring over the conversation. He could be a real charmer, with enough drinks in him anyway.
“What?” she’d asked, rattling her ice. The bar was noisy, so he’d had to lean into her, half off his stool, his nose almost touching her cheek in an effort to be heard over the din.
“Magic fingers,” he’d said, putting his glass down, and wiggling his fingers over it. “Trust me, it helps.”
“So, you do that every time you check your voicemail?” she’d said, incredulous. “That’s not a real thing.”
“Well it’s a thing, it’s a thing for me,” he’d said. Suddenly he’d put his right hand flat between her shoulder blades and kept it there. It had felt like a warm, wild animal had landed on her, and she’d thought that she had to keep still so it wouldn’t fly off. “I had this friend,” he’d said, “back in Cicero. And he swore that there was just one thing that would cure a hangover - prairie oysters.”
“What - what the shit is that?” she’d said. “Is it like a rocky mountain oyster?”
“Nah, not quite,” Jimmy had said. “It’s a drink - kind of. Raw egg, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco. A little salt, a little pepper. Drink it down, like - shoot it, and it’s supposed to, y’know, clear your head.”
"Sounds kind of revolting to me," Kim had said, "is it supposed to make you throw up or-"
"No, but it's not the most pleasant part of waking up after a bender, for sure. Anyway, this buddy of mine, he mixes these up every time he has a hangover. Once a bunch of us crashed at his place and in the morning he had an entire carton's worth ready for us. So me and Marco, we're ragging on him, right, asking him why the hell he was making us drink this nasty shit, and he says, 'well, I never got over a hangover without one.'"
Jimmy had looked at Kim as though he was imparting a revelation. Kim had wrinkled her nose at him. "He does know that every hangover eventually goes away, right?"
"Exactly," Jimmy had said, grinning. "Same thing here. I've never gotten a voicemail without the magic fingers."
"Because you use them every time you check it," Kim had added, though in an odd way the whole thing was beginning to make sense.
"So why break the streak?" he'd asked, picking up his own drink. "When your ass is on the line, a little magical thinking never hurt anyone."
She thought about this, staring at her cell phone. "Fine," she muttered to herself between her teeth, "magical thinking it is." She cupped the phone in one hand, close to her body, and waggled her fingers at it with the other, praying that no one in the lobby would see.
"Come on you asshole," she whispered, "pick up your goddamn phone."
She punched the speed dial almost viciously and held the phone to her ear, counting the rings. Once. Twice. Three times.
And then, miraculously, there he was, saying "hey,” like he always did, as though the entire empty week had been a hallucination.
For a split second, her voice caught in her throat, and everything she'd planned to say fell out of her head. She thought about screaming at him to never scare her like that again, or maybe just bursting into tears. But thank God, when she opened her mouth, her voice was casual, light, as though she hadn’t missed him at all. “Is this - Ferris Beuller?”
And he’d sounded fine. Well, not fine, but okay, considering the circumstances. And he said he’d be there. And when she’d hung up her phone, she’d tapped it into her hand thinking that she could put the week away, pack it up and forget it had ever happened. It was just a blip, she told herself. Everything would go back to normal. Better than normal - everything would work out perfectly.
Except he didn’t call her when he got back to Albuquerque. She thought he might, just to say hi, maybe grab a drink, but he didn’t. She told herself that was fine. He didn’t have to check in with her for every move. And when Ernie told her that he’d seen Jimmy outside of Chuck’s house, she didn’t have the right to be angry that he hadn’t gotten in touch with her. It wasn’t like he was her boyfriend or anything. He didn’t owe her. She put her phone on silent and shoved it into the bottom of her handbag and pretended she wasn’t waiting for him to call. It didn’t quite work. She’d dragged it out an hour later to check her missed calls. There were none.
Should have done the magic fingers, she thought as she buried the phone again.
On Wednesday night, she was keyed up enough that she took a Xanax, forgot about it, and had a glass of wine, then two more. Halfway through the third glass the combined effect seemed to hit her all at once, and time stretched out, taffy-like in front of her. She was too medicated to be anxious; all she could feel was a vague sense of dismay.
Why? she asked herself, staring through rather than at whatever was playing on the television. There’s no reason. He said he’d be there. It’s going to be fine.
She tried putting herself to bed, but that only made it worse. The light from her alarm clock and the noise from the traffic outside nudged at the edges of her brain, and she tossed, feeling dizzy and a little sick. This is so fucking stupid, she told herself. Go to sleep.
She didn’t go to sleep, though her thoughts became hazy, muddled. They wandered, and she thought of Daniel, stacking the boxes, and Ramona helping. Ramona, who had been hired as a paralegal to fill Kim’s place when Kim finally became an associate, but Kim had been stuck in that pokey office in the cornfield when the younger associates who’d graduated in her year had been given spots on the second floor with windows. Unfair, but she’d had to take it. She was a charity case - she’d have to earn her windows. She had boxes instead of windows in that office. That office where she’d been when Jimmy had finally gotten the news that he’d passed the bar - after three tries, God that must have been expensive, paying the fees to take the bar three times. She thought she remembered the fees increased after a couple tries, how he scraped the money together on his mailroom salary, she didn’t know. Three times, three times but he’d told her third time’s the charm, but that was after she’d thrown her arms around him, and he’d hugged her tightly enough that her heels lifted from the floor and she’d kissed him on the mouth for the first-
No. Not the first. The first time was. The first time. The first
The first week she’d started work as a paralegal, she’d been run ragged. HHM had a shortage of paralegals, and when she’d gotten the job she’d been pounced on by practice groups almost immediately. She was new, but she could do the work, and once they realized the extent of her competence, the demand only increased.
Mostly it was okay. Cite checking brief drafts, helping with research, pulling cases from Lexis or Westlaw, running to the UNM library for anything more obscure to make photocopies. Taking care of filings, getting them to the court on time, with all required copies accounted for. She was proud of herself, that first week. She was building a reputation, she’d thought. And that reputation almost got her fired before the week was over.
She knew the associate - Chester Clark, his name was - by reputation. He’d gone to Stanford, and let everyone know it, but Kim suspected he hadn’t done very well at Stanford. If you did well at Stanford, you got a job in San Francisco or Los Angeles, New York at the outset - not Albuquerque. He couldn’t have been in the top half of his class, and certainly not on a journal - let alone Law Review. But he carried himself like god’s gift to HHM - he’d even thrown out all his regular dress shirts in favor of club collars, to be like Howard. All of this Kim knew from gossip among paralegals and staff, but she’d never had occasion to talk to him. So when he’d shown up at her cubicle at three-thirty on Friday afternoon, she’d forced a smile, and asked him what she could do for him.
“I have a filing for the Second District Court,” he said, tossing a document onto her desk. “Could you get it filed, please?” The way he asked the question, the “please” stood in place of a “now.”
Kim looked at Chester, baffled. “Doesn’t-” she started, “doesn’t the clerk’s office close at four-thirty?”
Chester looked unimpressed. “You’d better get moving, then,” he said, and sauntered off.
Kim was left open-mouthed and staring. There was no way she could get to the court on time. She’d have to have ten copies - plus one, for the timestamp - get to the court, get to the clerk’s office - it couldn’t be done, not in an hour.
And that’s why he gave it to you, a cold, appraising voice at the back of her head said. He can say he gave it to you to get it filed, and it wasn’t his fault you couldn’t get it done on time. Your word against his that he didn’t give you enough time to get it copied. And then you’re out on your ass.
She froze for five seconds, then snatched the document up, and ran.
The mailroom had a new copy machine, a big one - if it was clear, she could at least get a decent start. She had no idea what she’d do after, but one thing at a time. She dashed down the hall, fast as her heels would take her and skidded to a halt in front of the mailroom door.
Burt saw her first, breaking into a grin and a wave. “Hey-” he said, then stopped when he saw the look on her face. She thrust the document at him. “Second District!” she gasped, and Burt, Ernie and Jimmy all got to their feet. The mailroom was a whirl of activity as the four of them cleared the new printer and started the copies, grabbing one as soon as it was out to start it on another machine, clipping documents as quickly as they were spat into receiving trays and stuffing them into redwelds.
Kim glanced up as the last two copies completed. “I’m not going to make it,” she gasped. It was three fifty-five.
Jimmy looked up from the document he was tapping on the table. “What time’s the big partner meeting?” he asked.
“I don’t-” Kim started, but Jimmy waved her off.
“It’s at four, right?” he said, “south conference room?”
“I think so,” Kim said, “but-”
“We have time,’ he said, clipped his copy, and held the redweld for Burt and Ernie to place the last two documents in. “You got the rest? Come on.” He barrelled out of the mailroom, Kim running in his wake. When he turned to run up the stairs instead of into the elevator bank, she began to panic in earnest.
“Jimmy,” she hissed, “what the-”
But he held a hand out, and kept charging down the hall, turning left towards the attorney offices, and Kim’s heart caught in her throat - Chuck, Howard, Francis, and a gaggle of other partners were coming in the opposite direction, and Jimmy hadn’t seen them. He ran smack into Howard, dropping his redwelds with the filing in them.
This was it, Kim decided. She was done at HHM. She’d had a good run, she’d survived Lucille, but today was where her luck ran out.
“Oh my god,” Jimmy was saying, “I am so sorry, Howard, I wasn’t looking where I was going-”
“That’s - that’s quite all right,” Howard said, bending to help with the redwelds and returning them to Jimmy.
“You’re okay? Nothing broken?” Jimmy said, taking the redwelds, fumbling a bit, patting at Howard as though to make sure he was all in one piece.
“I’m just fine - now I really have to-” he trailed off, as Chuck swept by them both without looking at either of them, as though embarrassed to be in the same hall with these sort of shenanigans going on. Howard brushed himself off and followed, shutting the conference room door behind him.
Jimmy watched them go, then turned to Kim, smirking, and held up one hand. Dangling from it was a set of car keys linked with a keychain that held a carved silver jaguar.
“No-” Kim said, but Jimmy was already jogging down the stairs toward the elevator bank.
“Come on,” he said, “your car’s a piece of shit, my car’s an even bigger piece of shit, and I’ve been wanting to do this for at least a year.” He flashed a quick grin over his shoulder, and was down the stairs in a few more steps.
Kim followed, slowly at first, then faster as she reconciled herself to the situation. She was going to get fired, so if she ended up party to the theft of the boss’s car - well, she’d be just as fired, wouldn’t she?
Anyway, compared to this, jail might be relaxing, she thought as the elevator doors opened. She and Jimmy both broke into a dead run towards Howard’s reserved parking space, throwing themselves into the car, not bothering with seat belts as Jimmy tossed his redwelds to her. He peeled out of the space, jerking the wheel to steer them out of the garage and into the blaring New Mexico sun.
“This thing is amazing!” Jimmy said, slamming the gas pedal so hard it made Kim feel like her stomach had been left behind in the garage.
“Just don’t fucking kill us!” Kim yelled back, but her eye was on the dashboard clock. Jimmy weaved between cars with what Kim would have called criminal recklessness, if she hadn't been internally cheering with every car they passed. They were edging close to four-ten, and every second seemed to hang in the air like a drop of water before falling away. She clutched the redwelds to her chest, trying to remember what it felt like to pray - really, unironically pray.
Please, she whispered, please don’t let us die in the law firm co-founder’s Jaguar. And if we don’t die, please please don’t let us get caught having stolen the co-founder’s Jaguar. And if we don’t get caught, please God, let me get this filing in on time so I don’t get fired, pretty please with a cherry on top?
She had no idea whether God liked a cherry on top or not, and hoped with all her might that He did.
The minute hand had almost reached four twenty-five when the Jag had screeched to a halt, and Kim looked up, startled, to find that they were in front of the court. “Go!” Jimmy yelled, and Kim needed no further prompting. She went, running as fast as she could, clutching the redwelds to her chest and feeling like an awkwardly stumbling bird. Ohpleaseohpleaseohpleaseohplease she thought, a syllable per stride, dashing up the stairs toward the civil court clerk’s office. She ran through the door, and one of the clerks looked up. Seeing Kim, she beckoned her, a smile growing on her face. Kim slammed into the counter, grabbed one of the documents out of the redwelds, and shoved it under the partition for the clerk to stamp. The clerk, who seemed amused at Kim’s plight, grabbed her timestamp and stabbed it down. When it came up, the time read 4:30 exactly.
Kim’s knees almost went, and she had to hold onto the counter with both hands as the clerk took the rest of the copies, stamping them as admitted at 4:30. “It’s okay, baby,” she said, “you got this.”
“Yeah,” Kim said. “Yeah. I got this.”
She could barely walk down the stairs of the courthouse, her knees were shaking so badly, but she did it. And when she made it outside, Jimmy was there, in Howard’s car, pulling back around so he wouldn’t have to turn into the paid parking lot.
“Did you get it?” he asked as Kim plopped into the passenger seat. In response, Kim burst into tears mixed with hysterical laughter.
Jimmy didn’t ask any more, but drove away from the court. Compared with the frenetic pace they’d made on the way there, he was going very slowly, taking each turn with exaggerated care so as not to jostle Kim. When they stopped, she didn’t notice at first, until she heard the driver door slam shut. She started, looking up, to find that they were in front of a Dairy Queen, of all places.
Jimmy leaned to the passenger window. “C’mon,” he said, “pick your poison.”
“We have to get this car back,” Kim said, the hair on her arms prickling.
“Please,” Jimmy said. “What could happen in the parking lot of a-” He stopped, considered, made a face. “You know what? Don’t answer that. Just - just guard the car. What do you want?”
“Um,” Kim said, trying to decide whether to stand her ground or give up. She gave up. “Cherry dip?”
“Coming right up,” Jimmy said, and strode off. Kim kept her eyes on her timestamped filing, worrying, however irrationally, that if she looked away for even a second, the stamp would somehow change itself to 4:35 or 5:02, rendering the filing invalid. She didn’t take her eyes away, and the stamp didn’t change, until the passenger side door opened and Jimmy was back, handing her a cherry dip cone with the bottom wrapped in a napkin. Kim got out of the car, not wanting to drip ice cream on Howard’s buff-colored leather interior, closed the door and used the napkin to swipe at her face. It came away black from running mascara.
“What’s this for?” she asked, holding her cone up. Dairy Queen ice cream was so bizarre - its perfectly shaped bulges encased in an almost radioactive-looking red shell, and that little curlicue on the top - she wondered how long Dairy Queen employees had to practice to get that little curl just right.
“You just looked like you could use some ice cream,” Jimmy said, talking around the spoonful of Blizzard he’d just shoved in his mouth.
Kim thought that actually, what she needed right now was a cigarette, but considering she didn’t dare smoke right before getting back into Howard’s car - and anyway, she’d left her cigarettes back at the office in her rush to get the filing out - that wasn’t going to happen. Ice cream would have to do. She bit into her cone, and the shell shattered satisfyingly between her teeth. It tasted bright, artificial, sugar-laden, and absolutely delicious.
“Mom always used to take us to Dairy Queen, after we got report cards,” Jimmy said, between bites of Blizzard. “No matter what grades we got, even if she chewed us out for an hour beforehand. Well - chewed me out. Chuck always got the good grades in the family. He pretended he was too old to go by the time he was in high school, but in the end he always came along. Mom was a big believer in ice cream, she always said in victory you deserve it, in defeat you need it.”
“Isn’t that supposed to be about champagne? Kim said, licking a drip of vanilla off one finger.
“Champagne tastes, ice cream budget,” Jimmy replied. “So, uh - did you? Make it?”
“Oh,” Kim said, realizing her earlier reaction could have been interpreted a number of ways. “Yeah. We made it.”
“Well, all right! Victory,” Jimmy said, pretending to clink her cone with his cup.
“I’m not celebrating until we get this car back into the parking garage,” Kim said.
“Partner meeting goes until 5:30. They never leave early. We have plenty of time.” When she gave him a skeptical look, he cocked his head at her. “Trust me,” he said, “Have I steered you wrong yet?”
She admitted he hadn’t, so they both finished their ice creams before getting back into the Jag and driving the rest of the way to HHM.
“Look in his glove compartment,” Jimmy said as they drove. “I wanna know what music Howard listens to on his commute.”
“No,” Kim said. “I draw the line here. I will be party to the theft-”
“Temporary borrowing!” Jimmy shouted over her.
“Theft of Howard’s car, but I won’t look through his glove compartment so you can make fun of his music.” She paused, then said “I bet it’s The Best of the Eagles or something like that.”
“The Best of the Bee Gees,” Jimmy proposed.
“The soundtrack to Top Gun.”
“Every album Kenny Loggins ever made, and the soundtrack to Footloose.”
“And an appropriate selection of Norwegian death metal.”
They were both laughing, but even so, the tight feeling in Kim’s chest didn’t unclench until Jimmy had steered the car into Howard’s reserved space and cut the engine.
“All we do now is ‘find’ Howard’s keys in the hall, and we’re set,” he said, tossing the key into the air and catching it with one hand. “Might be better if you find them, just in case he remembers me running into him.”
“You don’t think he’ll check the odometer, do you?” Kim asked.
“Jesus, Cameron, would you get a grip? The bold survive, remember?”
Kim scoffed. “Thanks, Ferris.” Then, after a moment, “really. Thanks.”
“Just don’t tell Chuck, is all the reward I ask.”
“No problems there,” Kim said. Then, on impulse, she leaned over and kissed him. She’d meant the kiss to land on his cheek, but he’d turned, and she caught the corner of his mouth instead. This surprised her a little, but not nearly as much as when he turned fully and kissed her back, tasting like vanilla and toffee. Once he pulled back, he smiled at her, looking incredulous and almost embarrassed.
“What was that for?” he asked.
“Well, I mean victory, right?” Kim said. “You deserve it.”
He laughed, ducking his head, his face a bit pink. “Remind me to save your ass more often.”
For a brief, urgent moment, Kim thought she’d reach over, take him by the chin and kiss him again, for real this time, kiss him like she meant it. The thought was so strong that for an instant she felt the scratch of his cheek against her palm and tasted toffee on his tongue, felt his breath on her cheek. But before she could reach over the console, he’d opened the driver’s door and was out of the car, leaving her to scramble out herself.
So that was it. She’d made the filing, and the story ended with a kiss. It even had a happy ending. Kim had dropped Howard’s keys off with his assistant, saying she’d found them in the hall, and as far as she knew, he’d never found out that they’d ever stolen - temporarily borrowed - it at all. And Chester had been fired when Kim’s supervisor had found out about the filing and made a stink about how Chester wasn’t permitted to give assignments directly to paralegals. The word got back to his matter partner, and it was bye-bye Chester. If it had been a movie, the credits would have rolled on the implication that Jimmy and Kim would have gotten together, lived happily ever after.
But even though Kim and Jimmy had other - what were they, isolated incidents? - of affection, they’d never done much more than kiss each other in moments of high emotion. Nothing else had come out of it, and lying here, her brain sloshing, Kim couldn’t say exactly why this was. It wasn’t due to any coldness on her part. Any time something had happened between them, there had always been a sense of Jimmy stepping back, keeping her at arm’s length, as though he was waiting for something. And maybe she’d been puzzled by it, maybe a little disappointed, but she couldn’t very well complain. If he didn’t want to take things further, then she wasn’t going to make a fuss. They were friends, that was all.
At least, she thought they were friends.
Her brain drifted from consciousness to dreaming without her being aware of it, and she found herself back in Howard’s Jaguar. And instead of hesitating, she’d grabbed Jimmy between her palms and kissed him for real, and he held on, pulling her over the center console and into his lap. They were laughing and she was kissing him through his smile - it was victory, they’d made the filing, they hadn’t gotten caught, and she deserved this. He was saying something to her, something important, but she couldn’t quite make it out.
“What?” she asked, “what?”
He repeated it, she saw his lips move - felt his lips move on her skin, but she didn’t understand. But then he slid his hand up her skirt, and that’s how she knew it had to be a dream - she wore hose or tights with skirts every day, but there was nothing now between his hand and her, slick, anticipating.
A dream, so it’s all right, she thought, relaxing into it, pressing herself into his fingers. She thought she heard what he was saying then, just a snatch of words.
“Do you know what I’m going to do?” he asked. His mouth kept moving on her skin, as though he was trying to tattoo his words on her, but she couldn’t make out the rest. It didn’t matter, she’d stopped caring about words, she just cared about the two of them moving together, how he was teasing her climax out of her, carefully, stroke by stroke. It was a good thing the car was so big, she thought, writhing, otherwise her feet would be in the passenger seat and she’d kick the filing-
the filing oh my god
But she turned her head to find the passenger seat empty - without the redweld in which she’d been carrying her copy. She stiffened.
“Jimmy - where’s the filing?” she asked.
“What filing?” he asked against the side of her neck, not sounding very interested.
“The timestamped copy - I need it to give back to Chester.”
“Didn’t he get fired?” His hand, still moving, was distracting her. She shoved it away. Had the redweld with the copy fallen? She scrambled back into the passenger seat, leaving Jimmy panting and disheveled. The folder wasn’t on the floor, and she began to panic.
“Try the glove compartment,” Jimmy suggested, and even though she knew that she’d refused to open it on the drive, she tried it now. Cassette tapes spilled out of it, so many that she couldn’t figure out how they could possibly have fit into the compartment. They covered her lap. Every single one of them was The Greatest Hits of Kenny Loggins, his bearded face smiling affably in sepiatone. She sifted through them, but there was no folder, only more cassette tapes filling the passenger well. And that was when she realized - they’d never made the filing. They’d only just gotten to the car, and they’d left the redwelds in the mailroom.
“Jimmy-” she started, looking up at the driver’s side of the car. But Jimmy wasn’t there any more. The driver’s seat was empty. Panic welled in her throat. She wasn’t going to make it to the court - she’d be fired - law school was never going to happen.
There was a rapid tap-tap-tap against the passenger window, and she whirled around, gasping “Jimmy-”
But it wasn’t Jimmy. It was Howard, and he was giving her a sour, disappointed look at finding her in his car, covered in his precious Kenny Loggins tapes.
“I-” she started, trying to figure out a plausible reason for her to be there, but Howard just shook his head, and held up his wrist. She expected his watch to read four-thirty, but it didn’t. It was ten fifty-nine, the second hand ticking slowly toward eleven.
“It’s time,” Howard said, and Kim’s alarm clock rang.
She slapped it, feeling unexpectedly angry. She hated work stress dreams, but the sex dream on top of it felt like a special kind of betrayal by her subconscious. She’d barely be able to look Jimmy in the eye when they met up at the courthouse for fear that he could see it on her face.
God, that’s stupid, she thought. It won’t matter as long as you keep it inside your brain.
The dream wasn't worth dwelling on. She had to get her ass to court, after all. And going through the motions of getting herself showered, dressed, made up and otherwise presentable, the details of the dream began to dissolve. There were a few flashes that bobbed into her conscious mind - Howard with his watch, Kenny Loggins - but they too began to fade as the morning went on until, at the courtroom, her wristwatch reading ten fifty-eight, she found that she couldn’t remember the details of the dream at all.
Kim shook herself a little - she’d spaced out, leaning against the wall around the corner from where Howard, Dolores and Leonard were still sitting, still waiting, and there was still no sign of Jimmy.
He’s not going to show, she thought, and the realization made her head go light. What the hell was she going to do now? Couldn’t he have called, couldn’t he have given her just the slightest hint of warning instead of leaving her surrounded by partners with nothing to say?
She took her phone out of her pocket and hit the speed dial just one more time. This was the hail Mary pass, the last time she’d try.
Pick up, pick up, you bastard, you absolute shitfuck, pick up the goddamn-
“Hello! You’ve reached-”
“Fuck!” she hissed, the whisper coming out high and tight in her throat, a whimper instead. Why didn’t you say something? Why didn’t you just tell me-
“Why didn’t you just tell me?” he’d asked sitting on the bench by the HHM main staircase. Just thinking about that morning, the day before he’d disappeared, made Kim’s stomach clench so hard that she thought she might have to run to the bathroom. The cramp subsided though, and she was left with the memory. His face, his eyes radiating hurt, like an animal that had just been viciously kicked by someone it loved, and it thought loved back. Why didn’t you just tell me?
Her eyes had burned, and her throat had felt hot as she’d told him “because I didn’t want you hating your own brother.”
And that had been true - but it hadn’t been the whole truth. When she’d shut Howard’s office door and turned to face him, she’d been ready for Howard to shout at her - or worse, to have him calmly tell her to clean out her desk and be out by the end of the day. What she hadn’t been ready for him to do was cast his eyes down to his desk, as though he couldn’t bear to look her in the eye a second longer. She hadn’t been ready to see his mouth quirk downward, then settle back, as though he were holding in a sob.
“It’s Chuck,” he’d said, in a way that was almost onomatopoeic, and it had taken Kim the barest second to understand what he really meant. When she understood, it felt like the bottom had dropped out of the world - like she was the coyote in the cartoons, running, eyes forward, chasing something just on the horizon, until she realized she’d run herself straight off a cliff and there was nothing to support her underneath. She felt the sickening plunge as her body dropped into nothingness, stretching her neck like chewing gum, while her face stayed, frozen, in place.
The truth was, the whole truth was, she couldn’t do it herself. She couldn’t say those words, the two words that came out of Howard’s mouth like a chop, and watch the realization dawn on Jimmy’s face as he worked out what they meant. She couldn’t watch him fall the way she’d done, couldn’t watch his chin wrinkle, his mouth pucker, his throat convulse. But most of all, she couldn’t be the one to do it to him. It couldn’t be her tongue that cut into him, couldn’t be her teeth that bit through him, couldn’t be the back of her throat making the voiceless velar plosive that choked him.
Coward, she thought to herself, you fucking coward.
And all at once she was angry - furiously, righteously, explosively angry. Not at Chuck - for whatever reason, she felt only the vaguest disgust when she thought of Chuck - but at Howard.
You just had to bring me into it, she thought, back against the wall, her nails digging into the soft meat of her palms. You just had to tell someone so you wouldn’t have to be the bad guy any more. What harm would it have done just to keep it to yourself?
She saw it, what could have been, dance before her eyes. She could have gone to the nail salon, conscience clear, had her bourbon while sitting on one of the pedicure chairs, her laughter coming more convulsively as Jimmy’s metaphors gained color. And just as her joints went to jelly, he’d look up at her in that way he had, like she was something far off on the horizon that he was chasing
until he ran himself right off the cliff and found out there was no bottom, right?
“No,” she hissed, dismayed at finding she’d said this out loud, and clamping her mouth tight. You’ve got some kind of ego, she lectured herself. This has nothing to do with you.
But didn’t it? Didn’t it go all the way back to that day in the mailroom, when she’d finally admitted her dream of going to law school, and his expression went from admiration to astonishment? The day Jimmy told her he’d earned a law degree, his face pensive, waiting for her to dismiss his school as worthless? The days in July, then February, when she’d found the wastebasket in the parking garage alcove kicked to bits, and knew the bar exam results must have come in? The day she’d gone back into the mailroom to ask how his talk with Howard went, and he’d forced a wincing, painful smile and told her they’d assess in six months?
The day he took you to that new office space and said “partner,” she thought, her fists clenched so tight she felt her fingernails bending painfully beneath her palms. And every time, you chose Howard.
And in the end, Howard had claimed her for his own. He’d told her the truth, brought her into his confidence. And when she’d gone to Jimmy and told him to leave HHM behind - she’d meant he’d have to leave her behind, too.
I didn’t mean it that way, she insisted to herself, but the thought rang hollow.
And now she was lifting her wrist, looking at her watch, as the seconds ticked by. Eight seconds. Six. Three. One.
She took a moment to collect herself, letting her face crumple and then putting it back into place, part by part. Smoothing her forehead, wiping under her eyes and checking the pads of her fingers for mascara. Unclenching her mouth, pressing her palms to her cheeks. When she thought she felt presentable, she raised her head and turned around the corner, breath held against her one, final hope.
There was no Jimmy, just Howard, Dolores and Leonard, getting up, preparing to go into Judge Murray’s courtroom. Howard glanced up as Kim walked toward him, face neutral. Kim felt herself stop, then grope for her phone in her jacket pocket. She lifted it to her ear, and said “hello?”
She turned, clicking away from Howard again. “Yeah? Oh - oh my god. Is she okay? Uh-huh? Okay - okay.”
There was no one on the other end of the line, of course, and Kim forced herself to slow down, trying to think of what the hypothetical Jimmy would be saying, if he’d bothered to call her at all. Oh well, she thought, a little giddily. Howard always said that being a lawyer was like being an actor.
“Sure, I’ll let them know,” she said, “just give me a call when they get here, okay? Uh huh. Got it. Okay, bye.”
Kim turned, and advanced on Howard, Dolores and Leonard with a tight smile. “Hey, I’m so sorry, but Jimmy had an emergency - I guess one of his clients was hurt, and her family’s across the country?”
“Oh!” Dolores said, looking immediately concerned. “Is she all right?”
“Fine now,” Kim said, nodding - maybe a little too enthusiastically, so she toned the movement down. “But he’s staying at the hospital with her until her family can get in. So we’ll have to postpone.”
“Of course,” Dolores said, and she meant it - Kim could tell from her concerned expression. She couldn’t help but glance to Howard, however. His face, neutral but closed, told Kim that he knew exactly what she was up to. She wanted to give him a signal - a shrug, a wince, anything to ask him what else was I supposed to do? But she didn’t. Instead, she held the door to the courtroom for Dolores, Leonard, then Howard to walk in and take their place at counsel table.
There wouldn’t be a postponement, Kim knew. There wouldn’t be a partner track position, or a place for Jimmy on his own case. She couldn’t even cover for him anymore, not after today. She just hoped that maybe he’d call her up later, tell her what happened. Maybe after she vented her anger, they’d even laugh about it, perched in the pedicure chairs, drinking cucumber waters and vodka in their secret place.
She didn’t think so, somehow. In fact, at this moment, Kim was convinced that she would never see Jimmy McGill again - that he’d vanish from her life as suddenly as he’d entered it, and he’d leave her just as alone.
Kim took the seat at counsel table next to Howard, studiously not looking at him as she opened her briefcase and arranged her documents with overly scrupulous care.
Howard leaned into Kim slightly. “Are you all right?” he asked, close to her ear.
“I’m fine,” Kim said, tapping the bottom of her folder on the table. It was time to focus on Sandpiper, on notices of appearance, on the task at hand. All of her material was laid out precisely. She poured herself a cup of water from the carafe provided to them - carefully, not spilling a drop.
She folded her hands in front of her, face blank, eyes watching the doorframe where Judge Murray would come out to bless Davis and Main’s notice of appearance. Even this was a victory. She’d fought her way up from the mailroom, and now here she was - second chair to Howard Hamlin. She deserved this. Really, she should be proud. More than proud, she should be ecstatic.
“I’m fine,” Kim said again, even though no one had asked.