CHAPTER TWO

© 2016/Seaver

CHAPTER TWO

The sun had barely crested the horizon and already the morning traffic was beginning to thicken. The limousine exited Interstate 93 and rolled seamlessly onto State Street, but still four blocks shy of its destination and running 15 minutes late because of a traffic accident involving a tractor-trailer truck and a Prius. It did not look good for the Prius. Katherine Hanson had folded her laptop more than five minutes ago. Irritated with both the driver and the accident, she tapped her fingers on the small metal cage next to her.

The rabbit was a sixteen-week-old, lop-eared kitten. It burrowed itself in a corner of the cage, furthest away from Katherine. The rabbit’s body of gray fur quivered and its beady eyes darted warily as if it sensed what was about to happen. After all, it was a Tuesday.

Katherine Hanson buttoned her coat, ignoring the rabbit beside her. She was a punctual woman and she loathed arriving late at the office, even a few moments late. She was a precise woman who didn’t like surprises, scheduling conflicts or heavy traffic. She made it a priority to anticipate those things. There would be no holiday bonus for her driver this year.

Until only 10 years ago, the flagship office of Weston, Jeffries & Kendall was located on Tremont Street, where the firm’s founding partners established their practice in 1865. Today, the firm’s new home on State Street was much more luxurious, a 43-story modern-style tower that featured columns of tinted glass and brownstone mortar. Like Katherine Hanson, the building was defined by its sharp, angled edges.

The building’s lobby was expansive with marbled floors, leather-wrapped cedar furnishings, floor to ceiling windows and a waterfall that cascaded into a Koi pond. A reception kiosk served as a barrier to the glass elevators that lined both sides of the lobby. Two security guards, dressed in white linen shirts, navy-blue ties and charcoal-gray jackets, were stationed at the kiosk. A receptionist would not arrive until 7:30.

Both men watched as Katherine Hanson entered the lobby through the revolving glass doors. Her steps were pronounced as her heels ticked along the marble tile, the rabbit cage dangling from her left arm.

The older guard was seated at the kiosk, which featured a panel of security monitor screens. The younger guard was leaning on the kiosk, apparently more than ready to end his shift and head home to Revere. Each of the guards had been working at Weston, Jeffries & Kendall for more than 15 years. “Good morning, Ms. Hanson,” they said in near unison, silently noting that she was arriving nearly 30 minutes later than her usual time.

Katherine barely acknowledged them with a curt nod. She knew their names. In fact, she knew the name of every one of the firm’s 2,775 employees across the United States and in seven countries. But she never addressed any of her subordinates by name.

Once the elevator doors closed, and knowing there was no chance of being overheard, the younger guard said to his colleague: “Fucking Tuesday, huh?”

“Yup,” the older man replied, barely looking up from the Herald’s sports section. “Hanson and her fucking rabbits. That is one twisted bitch.”

Katherine punched the button for the 41st floor. The rabbit was still quivering as the car ascended rapidly.

Katherine Hanson was 56, and she was recruited by Weston, Jeffries and Kendall nearly 20 years ago when she was working in the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit at Quantico. Standing five feet, eleven inches, she was a dominating figure with an athletic body that was punctuated by sharp shoulders. Her pale skin framed an elegant face with crystal blue eyes that were now further accentuated by her gray hair, which she kept short. Her appearance was the least of her worries. She wore only a minimal amount of makeup and avoided jewelry. No rings, no bracelets. No necklace. Just two diamond stud earrings that had belonged to her mother. There was nothing warm or inviting about Katherine Hanson.

The elevator doors opened and she marched toward her office with purpose and a building sense of relief. It was here, at the office, where Katherine felt in control, where things made sense and where people feared her. She liked that people were intimidated by her. It gave her an upper hand. And in her current occupation, it was imperative that others felt uneasy in her presence.

It was 6:15 and already many of the associates that worked on the 41st floor were busy in their cubicles, which were lined in rows along the center of the floor that contained three conference rooms and 12 private offices. None of the associates greeted Katherine as she strode past them. They knew better. They also knew why she was carrying a rabbit to her office but they pretended not to notice, instead staring at computer monitors, reading reports or assembling case files. Most associates at WJK were in their cubicles no later than 5 a.m. The firm’s partners were generally in their offices by 6:30. Senior partners were afforded the luxury of sleeping in and generally arrived around 7 a.m.

Unlike so many law firms, the long days at Weston, Jeffries and Kendall were not based on billable hours. Instead, arriving early and leaving late was a show of dedication and loyalty to the firm. The billable hours were certainly important, but not nearly as much as the loyalty.

Katherine was a senior partner and ran the firm’s research division. Most of the other senior partners in the firm’s Boston headquarters had spacious offices on either the 42nd and 43rd floor. But not Katherine. Her office was rather small and sparsely furnished. In the center of the room was a large mahogany desk but only one chair. Her chair, a high-back swivel that was centered between the desk and the rear wall, which featured a 175-gallon terrarium. Pressed against the wall closest to the door, there was a 55-gallon aquarium. A row of file cabinets lined another wall.

There were no pictures, no plaques, no testimonials or framed degrees. Katherine’s office gave the impression of a barren, cold and unwelcoming space.

She punched the key code to her office and quickly shut the door behind her. It was Tuesday, and there was a lot to do. She mindlessly placed the rabbit cage on the floor near her desk, hung up her coat, sat down and pulled out her laptop as she waited for the knock on her door.

_________

Katherine Harrison started her career in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office as a forensic psychologist. Working on a full scholarship, she had graduated magna cum laude from Bates College with a degree in psychology before attending Boston University, where she earned both her master’s degree and PhD in forensic psychology. While working in the DA’s office, she attended night classes and earned her law degree from Suffolk University Law School.

Within a year of passing her bar exam, she found herself working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The work was rewarding but the pay was minimal, and Katherine Harrison was determined to never again be poor, white trash. So she took kindly to the invitation for an upscale dinner meeting in Alexandria, Virginia with Bill Hager, the managing partner of Weston, Jeffries & Kendall. Between her stint at the DA’s office and three years at the FBI, she figured that she had done enough public service. It was time to make some money.

Hager’s initial offer was more than generous, but Katherine didn’t flinch when she demanded that she be hired as a partner if she was going to leave the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. She could still recall Bill Hager’s slight grin as he sipped his Scotch.

There would not be another interview. Hager was impressed. Katherine Harrison was hungry, and that’s what Weston, Jeffries & Kendall wanted most: hungry employees with voracious appetites and a solid sense of loyalty.

That was 20 years ago and Katherine had proven her loyalty to the firm in the most meaningful ways possible.

From her laptop bag, Katherine extracted a blue folder that contained the resume and previous interview notes for one Henry Barnes. The folder also contained a background report that was compiled by members of Katherine’s research division: background checks, interviews with teachers, professors, classmates, friends and family members and hard-to-obtain medical records.

The firm knew everything there was to know about Mr. Barnes. Now it was Katherine’s job to finalize the interview process. Henry had already been interviewed three times. The first interview was at the Washington, D.C. office with a partner in the firm’s international law division. Having aced that interview, Henry then faced a grilling session by an interview committee, which was composed of five of the firm’s senior partners in New York. From there, Henry met with Walter Anderson who had taken over as the firm’s managing partner when Bill Hager retired more than 10 years ago.

Henry’s upcoming meeting with Katherine would be the last step in the process. Katherine would make the final decision about whether Henry Barnes was going to begin a career with Weston, Jeffries & Kendall or whether he was going to hit the streets with a stack of resumes and his off-the-rack gray flannel suit.

Katherine had been meticulously reviewing Henry’s file for the last five days. Without meeting him in person, she had already summed up a rather detailed and comprehensive psychological evaluation. That evaluation was based on the words Henry used on his resume, the answers he gave during his prior interviews, the information gleaned from people who knew him.

Now Henry needed to pass the rabbit test.

Katherine only conducted interviews on Tuesdays. She did not work on Mondays. On every other day, she spent 12 to 15 hours at her office, including Sundays and most major holidays. Mondays were her days to run errands, or more accurately, to have errands run for her.

For Katherine, Tuesdays were the beginning of the work week; and the work week always began with the interviews.

The first knock on her door came precisely at 6:30 a.m. The courier didn’t like Katherine. She was the most unpleasant woman, and he wondered why he was always the one assigned to make these deliveries.

Katherine opened her door halfway and extended her arms for the box. Tucking the box under her arm, she grabbed the clipboard from the courier and wordlessly signed for the package before closing the door. The courier breathed a sigh of relief before heading back toward the elevator. Another Tuesday was over, as far as he was concerned.

Katherine set the box on her desk and removed the seal marked CONFIDENTIAL. As usual, the box contained a packet of colored dossier folders. There were eight blue folders that contained background information on prospective employees for the firm. There were nineteen green folders, which contained background information on various individuals, including politicians, journalists and government bureaucrats. And there were six folders that contained information about carefully targeted individuals who could possibly be of great use to the firm.

The blue folders would be filed and indexed in Katherine’s office. The green folders would each be reviewed and then returned by courier to an offsite location. The contents of each of the yellow folders, however, would be on the premises for less than one day. Generally, the yellow folders and their contents were ultimately shredded and incinerated. In the rarest of cases, one or maybe two of the yellow folders would be shipped to a destination that only Katherine and three other people knew about.

The interview for Henry Barnes would begin at 8 a.m. Katherine had 90 minutes, and as always, she began a cursory review of the yellow folders and their contents.

______

At 7:15, there was another knock on Katherine’s door. She knew who was on the other side because it was a ritual. She set down one of the folders that she was reviewing. “Come in,” she barked.

“Good morning, Katherine,” said Walter Anderson. He had a copy of the Washington Post rolled under one arm and a Starbuck’s coffee in his left hand. “Have you seen the polling numbers this morning?”

“Yes,” she sighed, glancing at her laptop.

“Well, we’re exactly six weeks away from the Iowa caucuses, and I’m less than enthusiastic.”

“Iowa is never a real bellwether for the nomination,” Katherine responded turning her gaze back to the man standing in her doorway.

“Well, that may be true, but I’m hoping your analysis holds up,” Walter said, shooting a quick glance at the rabbit cage on the floor. “Who is being interviewed today?”

“Henry Barnes. You interviewed him in November.”

Walter shook his head, taking a sip of coffee. “Yes, I remember him. Highly recommended. SC Law. Nice kid.”

“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of,” Katherine said, closing her laptop.

Despite the fact that Walter Anderson was her boss, Katherine treated him with the same indifference that she showed to most people. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to finish with some of these files before the interview.”

Walter nodded. “Never let it be said that I would interrupt someone’s work,” he said, pulling the door closed and turning back toward the elevator that would carry him to his office on the 43rd floor. And Katherine put her reading glasses back on and reopened the file she was reading before Walter’s obligatory stop at her office.

___________

Henry Barnes sat in the lobby on the 15th floor of Weston, Jeffries & Kendall. It was 7:42 and he had only been there for 12 minutes, which felt like an eternity. He clutched his leather portfolio, fighting off the urge to check his phone.

He had silenced the phone the night before just in case he forgot. He had been up since 4 a.m. because he knew that today’s interview would define the rest of his life. He was 26 years old and passed the bar exam only four months ago.

Weston, Jeffries & Kendall was Henry’s top pick. He had interned at the firm’s Columbia, South Carolina offices for two years during law school at the University of South Carolina, and had been working on getting rid of his southern accent since.

His girlfriend, Mia, helped pick out the tie and shirt for today’s interview. Dutifully, she had also awoken at 4 a.m. on this particular morning because she knew that Henry’s interview was as important to her future as it was to his. If Henry was hired, she could expect a nice engagement ring on Christmas morning, which was now less than two weeks away.

The firm had paid for the hotel room and Henry’s airfare, but the young couple was forced to use their savings to buy Mia’s ticket. That $383 expenditure left them with only $1,400 remaining in their savings account. Henry was hungry. Mia was hungrier, and they both knew a lot about loyalty.

Actually, Henry had arrived at the firm some 45 minutes before his scheduled interview. The security guards made him wait in the main lobby until the reception and clerical staff arrived at 7:30. The guards had seen a lot of young men and women like Henry. Eager beavers who wanted to prove that they were ready to do whatever it takes to get hired.

As it was with every Tuesday morning, the two guards took wagers on whether Henry would pass the “rabbit test.” The wager’s stakes were $20. Lou, the older guard, sized up Henry quickly, taking special note of the shine on his shoes. Mike, the younger guard, bet against Henry. In Mike’s mind, Henry’s southern accent made him weak. And Mike knew that Katherine Hanson despised weakness. She could smell it from a mile away. There was no way that this southern boy in his cheap suit was going to make it past the wicked bitch of the east, In fact, Mike wondered how Henry had survived the previous interview steps that were necessary to land him here on a cold, Tuesday morning.

Henry had spent the last three weeks rehearsing for this day. With Mia’s coaching, he tried to anticipate all of the interview questions. What was his greatest strength? His greatness weakness? Did he prefer working alone or in a team environment? Why should he be hired? On and on and on.

Now there was little more that he could do than wait. And the waiting seemed impossible. He closed his eyes and tried to regulate his breathing. After all, breathing — his father repeatedly told him since he was a young boy — was the most important thing. “If you ain’t breathing, nothing else matters, son.”

The 15th floor receptionist walked past Henry, arranging some periodicals and the latest editions of the Boston Globe, New York Times and Wall Street Journal on a mahogany coffee table. She looked up at the young man and noticed that he was hunched over, rubbing his eyes. “It shouldn’t be too much longer, now,” she said.

Henry opened his eyes and sat up straight. “Thank you.”

She returned to her desk that featured a single hanging wreath with a red bow. Other than that singular wreath, there was no way that anyone inside the building could discern that Christmas was only days away.

It was 7:54 a.m. and the receptionist picked up her phone. A few brief words and she looked over at Henry. “You can take that elevator to the 41st floor and you will be met by an escort,” she said. “Good luck.”

Henry stood and wiped the creases from his jacket. This was it. Make it or break it time. Her grabbed his overcoat and folded it over his arm. He carried his leather portfolio binder in his other arm and smiled warmly at the receptionist. “Thank you for your patience and hospitality.”

“You just relax. That’s the main thing,” she replied. “Be yourself. Don’t pretend.”

Henry nodded, finding it odd to receive such sage advice from a lower-level employee. “Thanks again,” he said, turning for the elevator.

_________

Within 45 seconds, Henry found himself in yet another lobby. The third one of the morning, although each of the lobbies seemed to decrease in both size and splendor. A man about his own age was waiting for Henry at the elevator.

“Good morning, my name is Josh Rubenstein,” the man said, extending his arm. “I’m one of the associates here.”

Henry shook his hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Rubenstein.”

“No need to be so formal,” Josh said. “You can sit on the bench right over there. I’ll hang your coat for you. Ms. Hanson is extraordinarily punctual, and she knows you’re here.”

“Great. Thank you.”

Henry couldn’t help but to glance at this watch. 7:56. Only four minutes remaining before his interview. 240 seconds until do or die.

Through a closed-circuit television monitor app on her laptop, Katherine Hanson had been studying Henry Barnes for the last 20 minutes. She also watched the footage of his arrival and noted the time. She listened to his brief conversation with the guards. She watched him fidget in the main lobby without ever so much as glancing at the koi pond. Usually visitors would take a peek over the railing to admire the giant koi that swam in the pond.

So far, Henry matched his profile perfectly. Restless, intelligent and hungry.

Katherine knew what time he left the hotel that morning. She knew that he skipped breakfast. She knew that he usually drank coffee but not this morning.

She cleared the top of her desk, closing her laptop and placing the remaining files in a drawer. The only visible trace of work on her desk was the closed laptop computer, Henry Barnes’ blue dossier folder, a blank legal pad and a pen.

She walked around the rabbit cage and opened the door to her office, standing halfway in the doorframe. “Mr. Barnes.”

Henry stood up from the bench and smiled.

“You may come in now.”

Henry had done diligent research about Weston, Jeffries & Kendall. Strangely, he was unable to find any profile information about Katherine Hanson on the firm’s web site. An exhaustive search on Google yielded similar results. It was as if Katherine Hanson was a ghost. According to the world-wide web, she did not exist.

The first thing he noted was that she was almost as tall as he was. Her stare made him uncomfortable and he awkwardly extended his hand to shake hands with her. She did not return the gesture, instead opening the door to her office a bit wider.

Henry was taken aback by how sparse her office was. He noted that there was no chair to sit in, and wondered why there was a rabbit cage on the floor next to her desk. He positioned himself in the center of the room. It looked as if he would be standing for this interview.

Ironically, the most striking part of Katherine Hanson’s office was the 175-gallon terrarium that was centered behind her desk. A native of South Carolina, Henry immediately knew the species of snake that lived in the terrarium. It was an Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake coiled under a heat lamp. He shifted his gaze back to the rabbit on the floor. Now there was no question in his mind about the bunny’s presence in Katherine Hanson’s office.

Perhaps it was symbolic, he thought. He was the rabbit. She was the snake. In such combinations, it rarely worked out for the rabbit.

Katherine strode around Henry picking up the rabbit cage. “I hope you don’t mind,” she said. “It’s just that I overlooked feeding Lucifer this morning.”

Henry could feel the sweat breaking out on his brow. This lady is a psychologist and she has a pet rattlesnake named Lucifer in her office? She’s a fuckin’ psycho. I am so screwed.

Henry instinctively knew that if he thought his previous interviews with the firm’s partners were difficult he was wrong. This was going to be the real test. This was going to be a nightmare. A story you tell around a campfire or over a round of beers with your college buddies.

Katherine removed the quivering rabbit from its cage, nuzzling its nose with her own. “You’re a good bunny, aren’t you?”

The rabbit could sense its fate. Henry tried to look away, but there was nothing else to focus on. The office was barren.

Katherine lifted one section of the terrarium’s lid, gently pacing the rabbit behind a glass partition that separated it from the still coiled snake, which was now aroused and shaking its rattle. With her back to Henry, Katherine replaced the terrarium cover and gently lifted the glass partition so that the rabbit was now completely exposed to its predator.

The snake began to uncoil, slithering it way across the floor of the terrarium, weaving left and then right across the rocks and gravel. The rabbit instinctively turned its back to the snake, clawing desperately on the sheer glass of the terrarium wall, desperate and frightened.

It was only a matter of seconds before Lucifer struck. Katherine seemed mesmerized, watching in delight as the snake begin to make small work of its prey. The rabbit’s eyes were half closed, its body now limp, and the snake begin feeding.

Katherine turned from the terrarium and took a seat behind her desk.

It was precisely 8 a.m. and time for the interview to begin.

____________

Henry shifted his weight to his left leg, but he couldn’t help but to watch Lucifer slowly devour the rabbit. The action was happening right in front of him. He shifted his gaze downward, watching Katherine take a seat behind her desk.

Katherine opened the blue folder that contained the firm’s background workup on Henry Barnes. She started her questioning slowly, reading from the file.

“So, Mr. Barnes . . . may I call you Henry?”

“Yes, that’s fine,” Henry replied, wondering why he was forced to stand and still trying to avoid eye contact with the terrarium.

“Let’s skip the usual bullshit, okay?” Katherine said, still focused on the file. “You have interned with this firm for two summers. You have already had two interviews, so I think we can dispense of the typical interview crap. Is that okay with you?”

“Yes, ma’am. That’s fine.” Remember your posture. He rolled his shoulders back slightly, trying to imagine that it was Mia sitting behind that desk like they had rehearsed so many times before.

“What are you feeling as you watch my snake eat its meal?”

Henry didn’t hesitate with his response. “Honestly, I find it a bit disconcerting,” he said.

“Honestly?” she inquired, still focused on the file and yet to look at him.

“Yes.”

“As if there were a dishonest answer you were considering?”

“No ma’am. It’s just an expression.”

“I would call it a cliché,” she said, looking up from her file and studying Henry’s face.

Lucifer continued devouring its prey. What remained of the rabbit’s body was on its side, its head and torso still intact.

“Do you have any resentment about the war?” she inquired, after a long and awkward pause.

Henry cocked his head. “What war, ma’am?”

“Which war?” she corrected him.

Blew the first two questions. Not a great start, Henry was thinking. “Yes, which war?” he said.

“You’re from the south,” she said, turning back to the file. “The Civil War.”

Henry was ready to take a risk. He wanted to lighten the mood and take back some control of the interview. “The war’s not over,” he smiled. “It’s just halftime.”

Katherine looked up from her desk, and Henry quickly lost his smile. “Interesting answer,” she said. “Are you a racist?”

“No ma’am. I have many friends of color.”

“Of color? Don’t you mean black?”

“Not necessarily. My roommate in college was Hispanic, and several of my closest friends are African Americans.”

“So, because you have black friends that is supposed to mean you’re not a racist?” she asked.

“Ma’am, my part of the country has a pretty ugly history when it comes to race relations but that does not make every white person from the south a racist. In fact, I think every person, no matter where they are from, black or white, carries some small, almost undetectable hint of racism in their heart. It’s a natural thing for the human brain to segment things of similarity and things of difference. It’s part of the natural order, but humans are capable of overcoming those hidden, core instincts.”

“You sound defensive.”

Henry shifted his weight to his right foot, hoping for an easier question. “Not defensive, ma’am. It’s just what I believe.”

“Part of your value structure?”

“You could call it that,” he said, wondering where this thread was leading.

“I just did,” she said, giving him another steely gaze.

Henry knew better than to respond. He was in the deep end of the pool and only three minutes into the most important interview of his life. He decided to tread water.

Katherine looked back at the folder. “How long have you been dating your girlfriend?” she asked.

Henry’s answer was crisp and delivered with absolute clarity. “Five years, seven months,” he said, feeling better now.

“Are you planning to get married?” she asked.

“We have talked about it. I would like to once I get my life settled.”

“Is your life unsettled now, Mr. Barnes?”

“Yes,” he said without hesitation. “Otherwise, I would not be in this room with you.”

Katherine made a notation on her legal pad, but Henry could not make out her scribbling.

“Hypothetical question, Mr. Barnes. It is 10 years from now, and you are married to Mia. You are on a cruise ship with Mia and your parents. There is a tragedy, and both your mother and Mia are drowning. You can only save one of them from certain death. Whom do you save?”

Again, Henry did not hesitate with his response. “I would save Mia,” he said.

Katherine made another notation on her legal pad and again rested her eyes on Henry’s face. “Why?”

“Because Mia is younger and according to your hypothetical, she is my wife,” he said.

“I understand the first part of your response, but I need some help understanding the second part of your response,” she said.

“Well, ma’am, the first part of my response was pure logic without emotion. The second part of my response comes from my core values.’

“Again, your core values. Interesting theme, Mr. Barnes.” Katherine made another notation on the legal pad before turning her gaze back toward him. She saw him flinch in the most subtle of ways. “So please explain this core value.”

“It’s from the Bible, ma’am. Genesis, Chapter 2, Verse 24: For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”

Inwardly, Katherine admired the response, but Henry was unsure of whether he should have played the religion card.

“You are Catholic,” she said. “Catholics must be pretty rare in South Carolina.”

Not as much as Jews or Muslims, Henry wanted to say, but he knew better. She was trying to rattle him, and he refused to be the rabbit. He squared his breathing and rolled his shoulders to relax. “Yes, contrasted to Boston, Catholics are a pretty rare breed in the south, ma’am.”

“Yet, you quoted the Bible almost verbatim. I didn’t think Catholics studied the Bible.”

“I grew up in a working-class family,” Henry said. “Our parents could not afford to send us to camp, so instead, my sister and I were sent to summer Bible camp that was run by the Baptist church. We were supposed to memorize Bible verses. I never made it past the Book of Genesis.”

Katherine made another notation on her legal pad, and Henry immediately regretted showing a weakness by admitting that he did not take his studies seriously, even though he was only 10-years-old.

Now his hands were clammy and the leather portfolio he was holding felt moist.

“You are Catholic,” Katherine said again. “And you talk a lot about core values. You and Mia have pre-marital sex, which is forbidden by your church. Do your values always fluctuate so freely?”

Again, Henry was caught off guard by the question. This was no ordinary interview.

“I am not a strict Catholic,” was all he managed to say.

“So, you’re an ala-carte Catholic. You pick and choose your core values to suit your own needs and desires?” It was much more a statement then a question, and Henry decided to let this one slide.

“You see the aquarium behind you?” she asked.

Henry turned his head, and inhaled a sharp burst of air. Fucking piranhas. Can this interview get any weirder?

“Do you know what kind of fish those are?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am. They are piranhas.”

“Right. Now I want you to stick your hand into that tank for just two seconds. Two seconds only. In and out. Do you understand?”

Henry turned back to face her. This was his moment. “No ma’am.”

Katherine leaned back in her chair, studying him for several moments.

“You understand that this firm places great emphasis on loyalty?” Again more a statement than a question.

“Yes, I do,” Henry said, feeling increasingly confident.

“Then why not honor my simple request? Just two seconds?”

“Because I know something else that this firm values,” Henry said, allowing a smile to cross his face. “You want attorneys with good judgment. It would be poor judgment to stick my hand in a tank full of piranhas. Furthermore, it would expose both you and the firm to potential litigation.”

“If you intentionally stuck your own hand into a tank of piranhas for financial gain . . . well, I wish you luck with that lawsuit, Mr. Barnes,” Katherine said, fighting the urge to smile.

“Well, it seems a moot point because I’m not going to do it.”

Katherine rose behind her desk. “Thank you, Mr. Barnes. Please leave my office and take the elevator to the 16th floor. There, you will find our personnel office. They have some forms you will need to complete. Welcome to Weston, Jeffries & Kendall.”

Henry beamed. He had no idea what those words implied.

 

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