Paul Morrison saw red. And he’d had insufficient opportunity to clear his head of the nonsense he’d just heard—something about being laid off, about business being bad, about one month’s severance pay—when Mr. Pope added something. If Paul had heard the old man correctly, he’d asked if Paul had any questions.
Any questions? Do I have any questions?
Paul assumed that Walter Pope—the only living name partner of Jackson, Thomson, Martin & Pope—had thought (or someone had suggested as much) that giving a just-fired eleventh-year associate an opportunity to ask questions would somehow soften the abrupt blow that the partner had just unceremoniously delivered to the back of Paul’s skull.
More curiously, though, a question did seem to be forming in Paul’s mind, something about the partner’s desk. Is it mahogany? Isn’t it sturdy? How can the company be in trouble if the desk is so secure?
And how the hell am I supposed to afford having a kid without a job? And do you really think that I’ll be able to find a job within a month? In this economy? Are you out of your mind?
But that wasn’t it, Paul knew. Mr. Pope didn’t expect Paul to land on his feet, sooner or later. Mr. Pope had simply no idea what Paul would do, and Mr. Pope didn’t care. It was lip service, nothing more. Paul knew that he would never find a comparable job with a comparable firm at a comparable salary. Any other firm would assume that Paul had been axed because his work product hadn’t been good enough. He’d only stayed at Jackson, Thomson as long as he had because he’d believed that partnership was inevitable. Now, dismissed from Jackson, Thomson, to which he’d been naïvely loyal, he’d be discounted by every other firm, which could hire much younger associates—with much lower salary demands—instead. He’d been rendered unemployable. And with a baby on the way.
They were building a nursery.
They had just taken a three-hour class on infant CPR…
They were going to have a baby. Paul Morrison was abruptly enveloped by a wave of reassuring calm. Bliss. Comfort. He might even have smiled, staring dumbly at Walter Pope. Walter Pope sort of looked like a baby, Paul Morrison thought. The old man’s head was for all intents and purposes entirely bald. His skin was blotchy and wrinkled. He probably drooled. He was physically weak, frail.
Mr. Pope was aged bordering on ancient, with well-known and whispered-about heart problems—he’d recently been out of the office and incommunicado for two weeks, ostensibly on vacation somewhere warm and sunny... but he’d returned as pale and liver-spotted as ever, and scuttlebutt had it that he’d gotten a new pacemaker (top of the line, no doubt), something Mr. Pope would never have admitted to, lest it show weakness.
Paul could almost certainly kill Mr. Pope with very little effort. And he would, Paul decided, sitting there across a large desk from the other man.
I’m going to kill him. Right here. Right now. If Jackson, Thomson, Martin & Pope had no use for him, then Paul Morrison had no use for Walter Pope, and he could join his former partners in Hell.
It took nearly no effort at all for Paul to remove Mr. Pope from his large, leather chair—it had to be leather, Paul thought—and to throw him to the carpeted floor. Paul kept a hand over Mr. Pope’s mouth, though he didn’t know for sure that the old man would call out for help. But had Heidi, Mr. Pope’s personal secretary and receptionist, just outside the closed door to Mr. Pope’s office, heard anything suspicious already? Paul pressed on.
He was going to kill Mr. Pope, and he was going to kill him with CPR, Paul had decided. Sort of, anyway.
Paul Morrison was pleasantly surprised by the quickness and clarity with which the notion had come to him: Mr. Pope had a weak heart; it would not have been impossible for him to have had a cardiac event during their closed-door meeting. And in that event, it would only make sense that Paul would try to save the old man’s life. Of course, CPR isn’t always successful—much less so in real life than on television, certainly. But the best part—the part that really pleased Paul—is that what killed Walter Pope would look like an effort to keep him alive.
Step one of CPR, Paul and his wife had recently been taught, is to determine whether the person in need is unresponsive. Check.
Step two is to direct someone to call for emergency help. If there’s someone else around, that is. If not, then you must begin chest compressions right away.
With his left hand still clamped over Mr. Pope’s mouth, Paul made a fist with his right hand and then punched Mr. Pope squarely in the sternum as hard as he could. Paul had read tragic stories of teen athletes dying of sudden cardiac arrest after taking a ball—usually a baseball—to the chest at high speed. Paul hit Mr. Pope again for good measure. Then he felt Mr. Pope go completely limp. Paul had stopped the old man’s weak heart.
The bruising would look like the effects of chest compressions—some hundred and fifty of them, give or take a few—administered by Paul before he could call for additional help.
Paul did in fact intend to call for additional help, but he couldn’t do it just yet. Not enough time had passed for him to have given the old man a hundred and fifty chest compressions. So Paul waited, sitting on the carpeted floor of Mr. Pope’s office, next to Mr. Pope. Paul began to catch his breath, but then he realized that he didn’t want to do that, didn’t want to seem too collected to have been trying to save someone’s life. So Paul stood up and started jogging in place, keeping an eye on Mr. Pope’s inert body as he did. To help pass the time, Paul played a little game with himself, thinking of what CPR could stand for in his current circumstance. Coldblooded Performance Response? Criminal Professional… Recrimination?
Crazy Person Reaction. Paul glanced down at the unmoving Mr. Pope and
thought that something didn’t look quite right, and when he realized what it was, he stopped jogging, bent down again, and tore open Mr. Pope’s dress shirt, revealing a simple, white, cotton undershirt beneath. One should not perform true CPR through clothing, Paul remembered. He was relieved that he didn’t have to look at what he imagined was some very pasty, very spotted skin.
Finally, Paul Morrison lunged toward the door of Mr. Pope’s spacious office, flung it open, and barked at Heidi, “Get help! Call 911! Mr. Pope! His heart——!”
Paul left it at that. Heidi didn’t panic. She made the call. Then she stood up and began to come around from behind her desk… but Paul stopped her. “No,” he said. “Stay here. In case they need more information. But where’s the machine?”
For Paul had had another good idea.
Heidi was already handing him the AED—the automatic (or was it automated?) external defibrillator—that he’d noticed hanging on the wall behind her desk when he’d arrived on the 47th floor. Paul took the device with him back into Mr. Pope’s office and over to Mr. Pope’s prone body. He turned the device on and followed the spoken instructions given to him by the machine, working with a calm that came from knowing that Mr. Pope was already dead. Indeed, Paul’s idea was to ensure that the old man stayed dead. If Paul remembered correctly, and he thought that he did, it was a very bad idea to use an AED on someone with a pacemaker....
What happened next was a blur. Paul was vaguely aware of voices behind him as he administered shocks to Mr. Pope’s body. He couldn’t—or didn’t—make out anything anyone was saying, whoever they were. Eventually, he felt himself being pulled away from the old man’s body and the machine. Someone led Paul to a couch outside Mr. Pope’s office, and someone else brought him a glass of water. He was told to “just breathe.”
“You did good,” someone said. “They’ll take it from here.”
Eventually, Paul was left alone on the couch outside Mr. Pope’s office. Not even Heidi was there, at her desk or otherwise. So Paul went home. And he stayed at home for the entire week, because just before he had dragged Mr. Pope from his leather chair and punched him in the chest, stopping his old heart, Mr. Pope had fired him. Paul figured he’d pack up the personal contents of his old office the following Monday.
And sooner or later he’d have to start looking for a new job.
The following Monday, Paul did return to his old office to collect his things—eleven years’ worth of accumulated mementos, papers, books, photos, and miscellaneous... stuff. He didn’t need most of it, and he threw out what he didn’t want to take home on the train. A single cardboard file box would be sufficient. Even after eleven years. Anything he’d need to show a prospective new employer was on his computer at home, anyway. All he’d really needed to do his day-to-day work was a pen and dozens of legal pads. The pads in his office belonged to the firm—along with the reference volumes and the artwork on the walls—and the pen, which was his, went into his trial case.
“Paul?” The voice of his secretary—his former secretary, whom Paul figured was probably going to be laid off herself soon—was coming over the intercom in his desk phone. “Mr. Bradley would like to see you in his office.”
“Why?” Paul asked. Mr. Bradley was a senior partner, on the most important committees of the firm.
“He didn’t say.”
“Fine. I’ll be there in three minutes. I’m just about finished here.”
Paul was outside Mr. Bradley’s door in under two minutes. Even though he no longer worked for Jackson, Thomson, Martin & Pope and no longer took orders from any partner, no matter how senior and on what committees, responding to a summons from a higher-up promptly was a hard habit to break. So was expecting to have to wait to be spoken to, but Paul was surprised to find Mr. Bradley waiting for him in his doorway, inviting him in with a smile.
“Mr. Morrison,” Mr. Bradley said, “please, have a seat.”
And when Paul had taken a seat at Mr. Bradley’s desk, and Mr. Bradley had taken his own seat, Mr. Bradley offered Paul a cigar from a desktop humidor—mahogany, of course—and said, “As a token of our gratitude. And not the last one.”
Paul was confused, but he took a cigar, waited to see what Mr. Bradley would do next, and then, when Mr. Bradley closed the humidor again without taking a cigar for himself, said, “Thank you, sir. I... I will enjoy this at home. But... why are you thanking me?” If Mr. Bradley—with whom Paul had interacted maybe six times during his tenure at the firm was thanking him for eleven years of service with a cigar, even a very good cigar, then he might be tempted to punch someone else in the chest, Paul thought with some amusement...
“For saving the life of Mr. Pope, of course,” Mr. Bradley said. “You do know that he pulled through, don’t you? Thanks to you.”
“No,” Paul said. “I hadn’t heard. That... that’s wonderful.” Paul broke out in a sweat he hoped Mr. Bradley couldn’t see. “Is he... can he....” Paul found it difficult to find the words to ask what he wanted to know more than anything. Does the old man remember that I killed him? And has he told anyone? Paul assumed that if Mr. Pope had told anyone, no one had told Mr. Bradley, or else Paul wouldn’t be sitting in Mr. Bradley’s office being thanked. He’d be at a police station, being questioned.
“He’s expected to make a full recovery,” Mr. Bradley said, anticipating Paul’s question one hundred percent wrong. “He’ll still be very old,” Mr. Bradley joked, “but he should be able to come back to work. Eventually. And of course he hasn’t really done any work, per se, for years,” Mr. Bradley volunteered.
“Okay,” Paul said. Then he thought that he should say more, so he said, “And you say that I...”
“You did, Paul. You saved the old man’s life. I have it from his doctor directly. I asked him to put it into words that we simple country lawyers can understand.” Mr. Bradley referred to a sheet of paper on his desk: “When you started CPR on Walt, you actually damaged his defibrillator, but you couldn’t have known that that would happen.”
“Defibrillator?” Paul asked. The defibrillator was the machine, though. Was Mr. Bradley confused anyway? “You mean his pacemaker?”
“They’re different,” Mr. Bradley said, looking again at the report from Mr. Pope’s doctor. “Walt had a defibrillator implanted recently, in place of the pacemaker he used to have. I don’t know the technology—maybe one of our patent guys does—but I know that they do different things, and what an implanted defibrillator might do under stress—like CPR-style stress—is go on the fritz. When it did that, it was giving Walt electric jolts from the inside, which had the effect, unless I’m getting this backward or sideways, of causing the external defibrillator machine to read the right kind of rhythm in the old man’s heart. Otherwise, that machine wouldn’t have let you shock him. They’re built with fail-safes now, so that they won’t kill someone, or something. Anyway, you saved the old man’s life, and we’re grateful.”
Paul thought he was going to have a heart attack himself. Mr. Bradley pushed the paper he’d been glancing at toward Paul. “Do you have kids?” Mr. Bradley asked him.
“We’re expecting our first,” Paul said, and he thought he might faint.
“Well, you’ll probably want to read this to him or her one day.” Mr. Bradley continued: “Of course I know that you were in Walt’s office in the first place because he was letting you go, but under the circumstances we’re undoing that decision.” Paul thought his hearing was going. “In fact, we’re going to make you a junior partner,” Mr. Bradley said. “It’s really the least we can do. The partnership committee can make that happen even in Mr. Pope’s absence,” Mr. Bradley explained, “not that we have any doubt that Walt would approve.”
Suddenly Paul felt underdressed for the meeting he was in. He’d come to the office in khakis and a dress shirt, open at the collar. He’d come to clean out his office, after all, not to be reinstated and promoted. Even without a tie, though, Paul felt a tightness around his neck.
Mr. Bradley stood and extended his hand to Paul. “Congratulations, Mr. Morrison. I understand that you’ve packed up your personal effects. You’ll find that they’ve already been moved to your new office on 45. It’s not a corner, but it’s still got a great view, they tell me. Enjoy it. Welcome back—I hope last week was at least somewhat relaxing—and welcome to the big time. We’ll get you on a committee or three soon enough.”
Paul Morrison left Mr. Bradley’s office as quickly and as graciously as he could manage to do without, he hoped, appearing to be in a rush, and then made his way directly to the nearest men’s room, where he threw up everything he’d eaten so far that day and maybe some things he hadn’t eaten yet.
When he’d calmed down, eventually, he called home to tell his wife the great news. He’d made partner! And he’d only had to kill one man—one old man... the old man—to do it. In a manner of speaking.
A month later, Walter Pope did die, and stayed dead. He had in fact never fully regained consciousness since the end of his meeting with Paul Morrison, and so he had never been able to tell anyone just what had happened to end that meeting—abruptly and criminally. Walter Pope took that secret to his grave, just as the party of the second part would, Paul thought at the old man’s funeral. It rained on the hundreds of mourners—every single employee of the firm and his or her spouse, plus scores of professional colleagues of Mr. Pope, amassed over half a century, all come to pay their final respects to a pillar of the white-shoe, private-practice legal community... but the rain didn’t bother Paul Morrison. Not any more than knowing that he’d killed the deceased, anyway. He even dispensed with an umbrella. Getting rained on, he thought, being uncomfortable... well, that would be his punishment. That and his having neglected to smoke the cigar Mr. Bradley had given him—or to preserve it—before it had dried out irreparably. Maybe Paul would get his own mahogany desktop humidor for his new office, which he was enjoying working in, just as he was enjoying all of the other perks of being a partner at Jackson, Thomson, Martin & Pope, may Mr. Pope rest in peace. Perhaps now that he had been reunited with his old partners—if that’s how these things worked—Martin Pope would forgive Paul. Paul had certainly forgiven Mr. Pope for firing him. Indeed, he seldom even thought about that meeting any more.
The mood at the firm’s offices were expected to be somber, even sad, for some time following the passing of the last remaining name partner, but for some the old man’s death was more keenly, more personally upsetting. Heidi, Mr. Pope’s longtime secretary, was let go. Some thought that she’d deserved better—couldn’t she be reassigned?—but the simple truth was that it had been a long time since she’d had to do any real work, being that Mr. Pope himself hadn’t done any real work for years. So letting a more recently hired secretary go and having Heidi take her place made no sense. Heidi didn’t know the new word processing software. She didn’t even have a computer at her desk. She hadn’t needed to do much more than keep Mr. Pope’s appointment calendar for years, and most of that calendar was committee meetings, which happened at regular intervals. Once a week, she ordered him lunch, but it was always the same thing. Still, although it was obvious that Heidi’s services would no longer be needed in the absence of Mr. Pope, everyone expressed some regret upon hearing the news through the grapevine.
Paul thought he should do a little better, though. The entirety of his interactions with Heidi in eleven years had taken place on the day of his own firing of sorts. And even that had been limited to her telling him Mr. Pope was ready to see him... and then her handing him the AED when he’d called to her for it. Paul thought it would just be the right thing to do to express his sympathy in person. And he was indeed sympathetic. For just little more than a month earlier he’d been in a similar position, except that he was much younger, with a baby (still) on the way. He didn’t know if Heidi was married. He hoped she hadn’t been married to her job.
Heidi was packing a cardboard box of her own when Paul reached her desk. He’d steeled himself to find a more-than-middle-aged woman sobbing into a succession of tissues as she packed up her belongings, but he was surprised—pleasantly, he supposed—to find Heidi in decent spirits.
“I’ve been meaning to pop up here for a month,” Paul said, helping Heidi place a framed photo of a cat into the carton she was filling, “but I’ve been really very busy.” It was a lame excuse, Paul knew, but he wasn’t lying: Partnership—junior partnership—wasn’t a cakewalk. There was still plenty of work to be done. It was just different work. It was better work, but there was always a lot of it. “I wanted to thank you,” Paul told Heidi. “For your help. That day.”
“I really didn’t do anything,” Heidi protested. “You were the hero.”
“That’s something of an exaggeration,” Paul said.
“Is it?” Heidi asked. “Is it true that Mr. Pope had called you up to tell you that you were being laid off?”
Did she really not know? Paul supposed that it was entirely possible—probable, actually, if he thought about it—that Heidi would not have known the specific reason for the meeting. Maybe she’d thought that Paul was going to be made a partner then, on the strength of the length of his service and the quality of his work, just as Paul himself had thought.
“It is true,” Paul admitted. “It’s funny how things work out, though. Not that I wouldn’t trade my good fortune to have Walt back.” Yes, in the old man’s death and Paul’s partnership, Mr. Pope was now Walt to him.
“Well,” Heidi said, “I’m glad something good came of it. I’d actually been meaning to have a word with you about that... fateful day, I guess we might call it.”
“Oh?” Did anyone really refer to a day, or anything, as fateful?
“You know that Mr. Pope didn’t need me to do much in the way of paperwork in recent years, I’m sure. It’s no secret,” Heidi said, and Paul might have imagined it, but he thought she might have put some emphasis on the last word, for some reason.
“Okay,” Paul said, noncommittally.
“But he used to dictate letters. Once upon a time I took dictation in shorthand, but then someone convinced him to use a tape recorder and have the girls in word processing do the typing. That’s why I haven’t had a computer for five years.”
“Interesting,” Paul said. It wasn’t.
“Mr. Pope still used that tape recorder, though. When he had a sensitive meeting, for instance. He used to tell me, ‘Whenever you have an argument, speak like you’re being recorded.’ That’s how you’ll be sure not to say something that will hurt you later on, he explained. He knew that most people didn’t follow that rule, and for that reason he made sure to record most of the meetings he held in his office. He kept the recorder out of sight. He turned it on before someone came in, and he turned it off after they’d left. Besides him, only I knew that it was there, because from time to time he asked me to listen to a tape and
transcribe a conversation. For someone’s file, sometimes. Other times, for his personal files. He wasn’t paranoid,” Heidi remarked, somewhat protectively to Paul’s ear, “just practical.”
“And... I take it you’re trying to tell me that Mr. Pope recorded our meeting? He had his recorder running out of sight when he fired me? That... that doesn’t bother me. I suppose I’m not surprised that Mr. Pope would have done that, that he’d have done that sort of thing most if not all of the time.”
“Here’s the thing,” Heidi said. “I don’t know why I thought to do it, since of course Mr. Pope didn’t ask me to do it... he was never able to ask me, of course... but I got the last tape he used and I listened to it. Only afterward did it dawn on me how disturbing it could have been, to listen to my boss having a heart attack,” Heidi said, “and you trying to save him. But that’s not what I heard, exactly, as it turned out.”
“What... what did you hear,” Paul asked, “exactly?”
“Well, I’m not entirely sure about what I heard, but I have to say that it sounds like the old man didn’t have a heart attack at all. It really sounds like he was doing just fine, until... well, something happened. But even then it was a lot quieter in the office than I’d have expected it to be, if you were trying to revive Mr. Pope. You can hear hardly any effort on your part at all. Until you started jogging.”
“That’s not——,” Paul started, but then he stopped, unsure how to finish or even continue. And why had Heidi said you can hear...?
“Let me put it this way,” Heidi said. “People have been telling me all day how sorry they are that I’ve been let go, that I’m now out of a job a few years sooner than I was planning to retire. Nobody’s said it, but I know that everyone figures I’m unemployable. I’ve had a good job—maybe too good—for a long time, and now I just don’t have what it takes to work in the modern business world. People expect that I’m going to just go home and pinch my pennies because even the generous severance package I’ll be getting from the firm won’t last forever. Not to put too fine a point on it, but folks think I’m going to be poor. And sad,” Heidi added.
“Folks are wrong, though, Mr. Morrison. Not because I’ve socked away a lot of money—I wish I could say that I did—but because Mr. Pope was prepared. He couldn’t have known what was going to happen when he called you into his office, and I suspect you didn’t know either. Of course, I can’t even say for sure what happened in Mr. Pope’s office that day. I can’t say whether something that everyone thinks happened didn’t happen. But maybe you’ll hear something interesting. And if you do, I hope you’ll let me know.”
Paul realized that Heidi was holding out her hand to him. To shake? No: She was offering him something—a cassette tape, the kind that went in an old recorder.
“That copy is yours,” Heidi said. “I have the original.” Of course she did. “Thanks for coming up to see me off, Mr. Morrison. I’ll look forward to speaking to you again soon. Mr. Pope’s death was unfortunate, untimely, and maybe even unnecessary, but I suspect that in the end it’ll turn out to be good for us both,” Heidi said. “Partner.”
“Making Partner” appeared in Crimespree Magazine no. 63, Summer 2016.