Harold Finstermaker despised life. Not the state of being and life itself, but more in the pursuit of loathing of the human race. He detested being around people, but he had committed himself to become a “people-person” by trade.
One cannot choose to be a lawyer and expect not to come in contact with other people. Oh no, and certainly one cannot decree themselves an orator of the regulations of the people if they simply cannot abide to be in the presence of the lowest forms of those people.
But, Harold found comfort in the lives of his criminal clients. A broken basket of miscreants, thieves, and ne’er-do-wells with a generous smattering of sociopathic murderers to boot. For this was his charge at the prestigious law offices of Downey, Eaton, Albrecht & Dunne, which occupied the top 10 floors of the third tallest downtown Los Angeles skyscraper.
Harold had spent the majority of his morning after downing his third cup of coffee looking for his phone haphazardly set to vibrate and lost somewhere in his loft apartment. He scampered over bed sheets, decorative throws, and upturned laundry to fasten his ear to the light buzzing. An alarm set to find his phone was vibrating somewhere.
When, in between bites of his English muffin, he had located his phone, the next checklist item fell squarely upon the vacant hollowed coconut bowl on his entry table. The crystal-accented key fob of his Swedish electric SUV had been misplaced. Something he loathed about himself, having otherwise stuck to a rigid regimen to avoid such inconveniences.
However, he had already destroyed his routine this morning by losing his phone, misplacing the key fob, disregarding an omelet on his expensive cookware, and failing to locate the matching argyle sock to its pair. He scoffed at the wall clock, just a half-hour from his first meetings with clients and still a 45-minute drive from the office. An office that he could clearly make out in an almost arm’s reach from his loft’s balcony a few scant miles from Downtown.
After finding all of his lost items sitting in his misplaced briefcase left outside of his loft with a note from the doorman, Harold sulked against his door for a particularly long moment before he composed himself. He straightened up, draped his suit jacket over an arm, locked his door, and grabbed the briefcase to descend to the lobby of his building.
The doorman smiled as he greeted Harold with a tip of his hat and a hearty white-gloved handshake, “Mr. Finstermaker! If you give me your key, I’ll have Miguel bring up your car from the garage.” Harold handed over the fob and pulled out his phone, a gesture in an effort to discourage the doorman from the pursuit of conversation.
The suit jacket hung on a Volvo-branded hanger that snapped into a special slot on the back of his driver’s seat. He placed his briefcase in the footwell below the suit jacket. Miguel had started the seat warmers as he stepped out of the car, and at the last moment before transferring the fob back to Harold, he had switched on the steering wheel warmer.
Miguel watched with a forced but somehow “genuine” smile as his outstretched hand was ignored as yet another tenant failed to provide him with a tip. Harold asked the Volvo to start his drive playlist and recommend the longest route to the office. The car quipped back something about saving 20 minutes by taking the streets through East Los Angeles, but Harold’s hand reached out to the longest blue line on the route review screen.
With the sun to his side cresting into the perfect angle to constantly blind him during the drive, he leaned back into the appointed leather of his Volvo Recharge and rocked to the rhythms of stop-and-go Los Angeles traffic on the 110 freeway North. Harold could have taken the route using streets, but that wouldn’t have afforded him the few minutes he needed to smooth over the dusty blond hair falling over his forehead, back into a slick river of wheat field confidence. To meld over his meetings with Vickie Willow; the famed countess of the internet slayings, captured at long last by the heralded detectives of the Los Angeles Police Department after a storied three years of real and virtual pursuit.
The automatic braking system came a little too hard when a Tesla decided they really needed to be in front of him in the electric vehicle lane, evidenced only by the substantial trickle of brown imported Arabica on his pressed white dress shirt. A distinct river, as he dabbed at it with an Hermès handkerchief, that would have to be hidden away beneath the vest hanging behind his driver’s seat. He glowered at the red Tesla Model Y, muttering the license plate to himself before asking his voice assistant to jot down the number instead.
He’d make it a point to find that Model Y, at least in the fantasies rampant in his mind. The valiant act of ramming the monster into the divider wall, pulling the ruffian out of that vehicle, and beating him to a merciless pulp while the other drivers cheered him on. A testament to the horribly toxic culture that had enveloped electric vehicle drivers.
A smirk appeared on that youthful visage, stretching carefully upward and slightly wrinkling his brow as he continued to dart eyes between the meandering 10 miles-per-hour around him and the rear-view mirror cocked down to his neck. With a knee guiding the vehicle, he tied the silk cravat with a skill only attained from years of hastily doing up a tie before stepping forth into a courtroom.
The vehicle’s cabin faded out the Domenico Scarlatti “Sonata in G Major” that had been caressing his ears to replace it with the dulcet tones of his assistant, “Mr. Finstermaker, your eight o’clock is running late and has requested a reschedule for later this afternoon. As I understand that you are still in traffic on the 110, I’ve taken the liberty of reassigning her to your 2 PM slot.”
“Thanks, Meredith. Please make sure that I have the big conference room, the one that overlooks Pershing Square.” Harold waved off the call as if his assistant would be able to hear the gesture and hung up. He sighed, switching on the seat warmers and melting into the leather as Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in G Minor, Op: 23, No.5” bounded valiantly through the cabin.
Harold’s piano teacher had always been critical of his fingers when he played Rachmaninoff. He was never good enough for her spindly old ways to just enjoy that he could play the damned pieces at the age of twelve. She always wanted more and more and more. Faster. More precision. It almost ruined classical music for him. Fortunately, the old crone passed away from mysterious circumstances one stormy evening. And Harold resumed his love of the piano.
However, even that love disappeared as his interests shifting to law. The baby grand piano that sits in his loft living room is mostly for prestige during parties. He won’t let others play her, however. The days of play for those keys are reserved for cold rainy Los Angeles nights. Which are conveniently few and far between.
The valet greeted him when he pulled into the parking structure adjacent to the office tower, waited for Harold to remove his briefcase and suit jacket from the car, and hopped into the car. “We’ll get your car detailed, Mr. Finstermaker, and it’ll be in its usual spot on B3, next to the elevator.”
Harold nodded absentmindedly, setting down the briefcase to whirl the cape of his suit jacket on, pulling the sides to square off his shoulders snugly into the suit. He pulled a lint roller from his interior pocket and brushed down his sleeves and chest. From the exterior pocket, he pulled out a pair of leather driving gloves—which he never used in the car—and slipped them on. He stooped down to pick up his briefcase and walked off towards the tower.
“Mr. Finstermaker, I was unable to secure the big conference room as the partners are using it. Also,” his assistant began as she placed a delicate Prouna chain crystal bone china coffee cup brewed to perfection with his particular vintage of Nicaraguan imported Arabica on his polished cherry mahogany desk, gently atop a Fornasetti Soli E Lune coaster, setting down a matching chain hyacinth saucer with another buttered English muffin, “your two o’clock has arrived early and is waiting in the restaurant on the ground floor.”
Harold narrowed his deep hazel eyes and pursed his lips, “I don’t recall asking her to meet me for lunch downstairs, Meredith.” He drained half of his cup of piping hot coffee and took a healthy bite of the muffin. He had slipped off his shoes for the day and had taken to scrunching his toes over the carpet underneath his desk, and was not enjoying the prospect of having to put on shoes again. Let alone meeting a client—even for a high-profile client like Vickie—at the ground-floor level restaurant.
“I will head down in your stead and attempt to relocate her to the sky lobby restaurant. She was very adamant to have some form of a luncheon, Mr. Finstermaker.” Meredith pushed her glasses back up her nose, and brushed aside her black, well-ink, river of hair before standing tall once again and turning her back in a gesture of retreat, “Will there be anything else?”
Harold sighed loudly as he deflated into his leather chair, pushing back to his feet to walk to the windows, “My usual table. I’ll be down in ten minutes,” he removed his tie and shirt as Meredith held her position. The tailored shirt slipped off of his lightly tanned, broad shoulders and melted into a ruffled pile on the floor of his office, “please have this dry-cleaned.”
After retrieving a freshly laundered shirt from his office’s closet, redressed and begrudgingly replacing his shoes, Harold leaned onto the window overlooking Pershing Square and mulled over some themes in his head. Just a couple floors below sat THE murdering mistress of digital Los Angeles. She chose a victim, seemingly at random, and claimed their life as a self-proclaimed savior of the oppressed masses. Eluding Los Angeles’ finest men and women for thirty-eight months until her capture, her resolve emboldened from a victim a week to several in a week. A wake of victims numbering into the mid-hundreds washed over her remorseless body, disheveling and horrifying masses of loyal followers and horrified citizens, each group deafening the Downtown Police Station in counter chants on the night she was brought in.
Her final act before capture was to provide what every Angeleno craved: a high-speed chase daringly darting through traffic and streets around the entire environs of sunlight-starved dystopian Los Angeles. Even with her electric sedan, there wouldn’t have been anywhere to run. Los Angeles was still in an environmental lockdown and she had no ability to bypass those Environmental Protection Agency checkpoints on the outskirts of the city.
After a year in the Twin Towers county jail, Vickie became desperate to seek an audience with any lawyer from the Downey, Eaton, Albrecht & Dunne law firm. She was aware that she would be unable to hold court with any of the partners. Instead, her focus fell squarely on the prince of sentence reduction, a Mr. Harold Finstermaker.
Released on twenty-four-hour heavily monitored recognizance accompanied by armed personnel, she had initially chosen these law offices on track record alone and handpicked her legal counsel on the interest of name alone. But then she poured herself into knowing her lawyer for their first meeting.
“Finstermaker,” Vickie rolled the name across her luscious red lips as she sat across from the man at their table overlooking the City Target shopping complex, “there’s a power in deviation there. Not quite the popular ‘Fenstermaker’ but definitely a unique spelling of a name. I trust your lineage altered due to relocation at some point.”
“Sad to say it did not. We have been Finstermaker for as far back as our genealogy allows. However, Vickie, you didn’t ask me here for lunch in defiance of meeting within the office to consult upon my name.” He twirled his salad fork about in his hand, dipping the tines into the vinaigrette before stabbing his greens.
“First, Mr. Finstermaker, I understand I will never be granted parole, and this little freedom I have while consulting legal counsel is likely the last I will see in quite some time,” she began in between bites of her own salad, mirroring his tine-dip technique in intense eye contact. “I’d like to see if a member of the best criminal justice team one can afford can grant me some alternative luxuries while I serve my sentence.”
“What kind of alternative luxuries?” Harold’s interest had not piqued. While he was entranced by the command presence of Ms. Vickie Willows, he wanted to move this meeting along as fast as the lunch menu would permit. Other prestigious criminal clients were filtering through his calendar for the remainder of the day, and he was also looking forward to nestling into his car for the rhumba of the evening commute home.
“There are certain actions I would like to continue to execute, through a proxy, of course. However, it’s nothing that I can discuss in open court as this restaurant, or with the prevailing oversight of my personal thugs,” she glanced over at the burly, suited men with visible sidearms seated at the table behind them.
“Alright. You and I have a confidentiality clause, and I can exercise it within the confines of the law offices. Nothing I could possibly exercise here. However, you will remember that I asked for our meeting to be held within my office and not at a restaurant.” He forcefully stabbed his butter knife through a roll and pried it open on his plate.
“You can’t fault a girl on trying to secure an exquisite farewell meal, Mr. Finstermaker.” He raised irritated pools of hazel to meet those calculated browns, pushed his hair back up into its coif, and spread his napkin anew on his lap as the waiter replaced his salad dish with his lunch entrée.
A smirk formed, “I guess I can’t.”
The men hesitated on the request to wait outside of his office, “There is only one entrance and exit from my office, and you’ll both be sitting outside of it. I simply cannot allow you to accompany my client into this meeting. Meredith will get you some of the…coffee…from the break room.” He couldn’t even palate how people just drank coffee without the exquisite notes of a finely brewed blend. “Meredith, please bring in my coffee and a cup for Ms. Willows.”
After Meredith had returned with the bone china and its coffee contents and departed again to lock the doors, Harold removed his suit jacket and loosened his tie before settling into his chair. “We’re secure.”
“So you say, but can I be sure?” Vickie perused around the room and back to the frosted glass of Harold’s office door.
“We entrust ourselves completely to our clients, Ms. Willows.” Harold took a drink from his cup.
“Mr. Finstermaker, I’ve spent my salvaging career—as I prefer to call ‘the murders’—reading people and their intent. As you can well see, we are still living in an oppressive dystopian Los Angeles,” she gestured to the faint orange cloud of smog that enveloped the building. “I’d like to appoint a worthy proxy to continue my actions of salvation while I embark on this unexpected sabbatical in San Quentin.”
“You want a protégé to continue your spree, for lack of a better term, in your prolonged absence,” he shifted uneasily in his chair, draining his cup.
“That is the intention, yes,” she stood walking over to a credenza adorned with pictures of animals, loved ones, and decanters of liquor. She grasped the cut crystal decanter of aged scotch and poured herself a glass, “and I’ve spent quite the time narrowing a list of candidates. I’ve settled on a particularly interesting person, Mr. Finstermaker.”
Intrigued, Harold leaned forward resting his arms on his desk and setting the cup aside, “And you’d like us to contact this person for you, or ensure some form of legal waiver for them? I’m unclear on what you’d like this law firm to accomplish with this information.”
With glass cradled as she draped herself into his chaise lounge facing the windows, “There will be no need for you or your firm to inform the person I have chosen, for you see, Mr. Finstermaker, I’ve already informed my successor of their role. In a matter of speaking,” her eyes connected with his and held their gaze.