Pari Passu (an excerpt from a detective novel in progress)
by P. Smith
Charters Nitor opened the bottom drawer of his filing cabinet and inserted his head partway into the drawer. He closed his eyes and inhaled the sweet smell of lavender from his scented drawer liners. “Ahhh.” He withdrew his head from the cabinet, straightened his tall frame to its proud-seated posture and opened his eyes. He smiled like a Cheshire cat at Beryl, the secretary across the hall. Beryl had lavished on more powder on than usual, which meant a possible lunch date.
“Good morning, Sweet Beryl.”
Beryl didn’t look up from her compact. “Don’t pretend we’re friends, Charters. You do half the amount of work I do and get away with it because you’re a man.”
“Pardon me?” Charters fired up his PC, tuned his Bose radio to classical music and took his phone off call forward. He watched Beryl finish her makeup with glitter powder, and then he fogged up his glasses and polished them with his monogrammed hanky. He pushed his glasses over his nose with his thumb and index finger and settled deeper into his chair to read his email. He had at least twenty new messages from Bardus, most of which he skipped for more urgent messages, such as the one from his boss’s boss asking where were the revisions to the merger agreement.
Charters leaned on his desk with his boney left elbow and cupped his chin into his palm. He used his right index finger to type t-h-i-s a-g-r-e-e-m-e-n-t. With over 20 years experience as a legal secretary, Charters could touch type 100 wpm. He had beat Rhonda last year at Meretrix Fulsome Baro & Dedecus LLP’s annual type-off, during staff appreciation week, to win a coaster and matching beer stein with the company’s logo. Charters kept few personal belongings at work, but he displayed the gift card in a prominent position on his desk. Every now and then he would pick it up and re-read it with a smile.
“Congratulations insert employee name here on achieving fine/positive/good/great results for the firm.” The small print at the bottom of the note read: *Alcoholic beverages are not to be consumed on the premises as per company policy Section 3.3(b)(ii). The recipient of this gift waives any liability recourse against the firm in the eventuality of a loss or injury involving alcohol use with gift.
A-C-O (the “Party A”) agrees to buy B-C-O (the “Party B”). WHEREAS, both are greedy companies subjugating their workers; WHEREAS, both are rubbing their hands together as they agree to divide the spoils and throw hard working people out of work; and WHEREAS, the board and its director are ready to retire and want to squeeze the most out of the shareholders. NOTWITHSTANDING, the depressing foregoing, we hereby agree to screw the little guy. Signed by – Asshole A, President fully and duly declared an asshole by his shareholders and staff, and Asshole B, fully and duly declared an asshole by his shareholders, staff and his wife.
Charters saved and printed three execution copies of the agreement. He held them up proudly, gave each a firm tap on the top, side, bottom, top and side again on the desk to align all three perfectly. He stapled blue corners on each and then placed them in the folder marked FOR NICHOLAS BARDUS’S SIGNATURE. He took them into Nick’s mahogany paneled office. On the return trip to his desk, Charters aimed a bright smile at his colleagues, Rhonda and Beryl, seated in opposing cubicles.
Rhonda sneered and Beryl gave him the finger.
“Good morning, Charters. Coffee.” Nick Ordan Bardus mimed drinking a cup of coffee as he rushed past.
“Good afternoon, sir.” Charters followed the trail of dropped gym clothes, squash racquet, sweaty running shoes, and crumpled documents into Nick Bardus’ office. “Mr. Bardus, the managing director has called you three times. The last time Mr. Meretrix called he said ‘Get that lazy ass to my office as soon as he gets in,’ and then he hung up. I am quoting, sir.” Charters waited with a broad smile.
Bardus hesitated for a moment and then dropped his briefcase on the floor. He threw his coat on his office chair and moved toward the door with his gym bag. “Cancel that coffee I ordered. I’ll be at the gym.”
“But what about the managing director’s, um, request?”
“You deal with it Charters. I'm not good at details, you are. That's why we make such a great team.”
The exterior door swooshed shut behind him and shot papers from the dropped folder across the floor.
Charters stared at them and then returned to his desk. He took a minute to meditate on a mantra about forgiveness and then sat up tall and dialed 6666.
“Hi Penny, may I speak with Mr. Meretrix, please? Yes, I know he only speaks with lawyers directly and not their assistants, but Mr. Bardus is unavoidably detained. I said he is unavoidably detained. Detained, I said, detained.” He looked across at Beryl and twisted his fingers near his ear, as if to adjust the volume on an earpiece.
Beryl stared through him as if he were invisible.
“Detained! Prison? Sure why not. Yes, I said he’s in prison. Pulled over for drunk driving - again. Of course he’s innocent Penny. He’s an upstanding member of the bar and next in line to be partner. Now I’m telling you this in the strictest confidence as one assistant to another. You are not to breathe a word to anyone, but you can see why I have to speak to Mr. Meretrix directly. Thank you.”
“Meretrix.” The voice boomed from the receiver.
“Mr. Meretrix, it’s Charters, Mr. Bardus’ assistant.”
“I thought I made it clear that I wanted to speak to the dog, not the tail.” Meretrix paused to allow the full weight of his witticism to sink in.
“Yes, I understand. However, Mr. Bardus has been up all night in negotiations over the ABCO merger – tough negotiations sir – and they only just broke to grab breakfast and a shower. Mr. Bardus, dedicated lawyer that he is, called from the shower to explain his delay. I know how busy you are, and I don’t want to inconvenience you, but if I could just jot down a few notes for Mr. Bardus, that would be great.”
“It’s very simple, Mr. Charters.”
Charters moved the receiver away from his ear to accommodate Meretrix’s bellowing. “It’s just Charters, sir. My first name is Charters and my last name is—”
“I don’t care about your life history right now Mr. Charters. I have a crisis on my hands. Mr. Baro’s not back from our Asian office yet. Lots to do there.” Meretrix cleared his throat. “Mr. Bardus will make himself available to take Mrs. Baro to the concert tonight. Understood, Mr. Charters?”
“Well, of course, sir. Except I don’t know how long the negotiations will go on—”
“Just give him the message, Mr. Charters. I'm not asking you to perform brain surgery. Do your job while you still have one!”
The line went dead, and then buzzed before Charters could replace the receiver. He pressed a button.
“Good afternoon Charters, it’s Leanne at Reception. Mrs. Dalmage is here to see Mr. Bardus.”
“Good. Give her a newspaper and I’ll be down as soon as I can.” Charters typed an urgent email message to Bardus: W-h-e-r-e a-r-e y-o-u? D-a-l-m-a-g-e h-e-r-e f-o-r 1:00pm m-e-e-t-i-n-g?
He waited. No response.
He went into Bardus’s office and picked up the strewn documents. He piled them neatly on the desk, moved a filthy coffee cup to the credenza and tossed some chewed pens into Bardus’ top drawer, on top of a dozen other chewed pens, floss, half unwrapped gum and change. Then he noticed the Dalmage file, neatly tabbed, indexed and untouched where Charters had placed it two days ago, next to Bardus’ phone.
He picked up the phone and speed-dialed Bardus’ Blackberry. He heard it ringing inside Bardus’ briefcase on the floor and hung up. Charters stood in front of the oval mirror on the back of Bardus’ door. He dusted his jacket, straightened his Parisian monogrammed cuffs, adjusted his bow tie and smoothed his auburn cowlick. Perfection. He smiled back at himself.