UP FRONT FROM BEHIND
by James B. Kobak, Jr.
Miss Stanley was still applying her first layer of makeup at the reception desk on the thirty-fourthfloor as lawyers and staff of the firm of Mukaskey, Schwartz McIntyre & McReynolds began filtering past her. As usual, she paid no attention to any of them but marked them all absent for the day. Applying her makeup was a complicated operation consuming twenty minutes or more, and the heavily powdered, rouged and lip-sticked Miss Stanley clearly brooked no shortcuts or halfway measures.
The telephone rang. “You have reached Mukaskey comma Schwartz no comma McIntyre ampersand McReynolds small c capital R with an s at the end,” she nasally intoned. “A judicial nominating committee calling for Mr. Joad? Let me see if I have any record of him.” Then she hung up the phone and called her sister, another twenty minute plus operation. A stream of lawyers, visitors, office staff and passing vagrants exited the elevator and dispersed throughout the office, all passing Miss Stanley’s desk and the solid, unsmiling bronze bust of the firm’s founder, the long dead Supreme Court Justice McReynolds: all as unnoticed by the quick receptionist as by the dead jurist.
This pattern was repeated every morning at the main reception area of the MacSchwartz firm, as Mukaskey, Schwartz McIntyre & McReynolds was so often called, by its members, clients and adversaries alike. Even Leon the Pencil Man, on his endless rounds to sharpen lawyers’ pencils, repeat or invent their gossip, and take wagers for the office pool on the multiple of ten points by which the firm’s yellow-jerseyed basketball team, the Big Macs, would lose its next game—even Leon the Pencil Man passed unnoticed by Miss Stanley.
As receptionist, Miss Stanley had one forte, and one forte only (other than buying cosmetics in quantity): whoever called, regardless of rank, purpose or interest, was always given the full and correct title and spelling of the firm’s name. Not for Miss Stanley the shorthand appellation “MacSchwartz” nor the firm’s other nicknames, the “Muckety Muck Firm” or the “Wasp and the Jew in the Irish stew.” And having recited the name of the firm in full, Miss Stanley regarded her duty as done and would hang up the phone, put the caller on perpetual hold or indicate that she had no knowledge of the location, expected arrival or even existence of the person to whom the caller wished to speak. Miss Stanley was not one to divulge information that might allow one to pierce the veil or glimpse the inner mechanisms of anything, let alone those of Mukaskey comma Schwartz no comma McIntyre ampersand McReynolds small c capital R with an s at the end.
Past Miss Stanley’s desk sped the young, ambitious and rather red-eyed Marshall Loop, struggling to put on an overcoat with one arm as he hurried to catch an elevator going down. Loop was slightly top-heavy and off balance from the weight of the litigation bag and portable computer he half-dragged, half-carried with his other arm.
“I’m going to Cincinnati,” Loop called out behind him.
Miss Stanley displayed no interest whatever in this information and continued chatting with her sister.
“I’m working with Mr. McIntyre on the dog vaccination cases,” concluded Loop proudly, just barely hoisting his computer past the closing elevator doors.
Miss Stanley paid no heed, said goodbye to her sister and hung up on three more callers.
Marshall Loop rubbed his eyes and yawned in the elevator. Loop had not slept all night, but still his spirits soared as the elevator plunged downward toward the lobby and a waiting limo. Loop knew, from many meetings with the MacSchwartz Personnel Committee, that his career needed a boost, if not a catapult. Who better to boost it than Doug McIntyre, the chief sun and source of life in the little universe of Mukaskey, Schwartz McIntyre & McReynolds, the reigning Muckety-Muk in the Muckety-Muck firm? Who better than Doug McIntyre to keep Loop from being fired—or, as it was usually put at MacSchwartz, being put into the tube with a capital T?
And besides, Loop craved action in the field, not the endless ratiocination in which the many ex-law review nerds at the MacSchwartz firm endlessly engaged. They seemed to be forever manipulating abstractions, pushing old concepts in new directions to support what seemed at bottom rather commonplace ideas. Loop’s forte, however, was not abstractions; it was moving concrete objects and people.
Not for Loop in law school the life of the law review nerd. Loop had buried himself in activity, not footnotes, in his three years at Duke. Though far from the best advocate at the school, Loop had gotten himself elected president of the moot court board; he had presided over, even organized, several student societies and fora. Some called these positions that relatively few wanted. Loop, however, considered them opportunities. The skills and diligence that got him those plums had served him well in enhancing his resume so that he could even land a position at a firm like MacSchwartz. And they would, he felt confident, continue to serve him well in earning him new epaulets in his new role of aide-de-camp to Doug McIntyre, name partner, head of litigation and chief biller in the MacSchwartz firm.
As Marshall Loop passed unnoticed on one side of Miss Stanley’s reception desk heading out, Jeremy Joad passed equally unnoticed on his way in. Joad still shivered on this early winter day in a lumpy, lightweight suit. He squinted with what he thought a purposeful expression and strode with what he thought a purposeful gait past the walls lined with the rows of highly prized black and white photographs which depicted lions stalking and eating their prey on the African savannah. He gave a desultory wave in the general direction of his secretary, Mrs. Mount, and turned a sharp left into his modest corner office.
Mrs. Mount waved back in equally desultory fashion from her cubicle fifty yards down the hall. Mrs. Mount sat in the inconvenient location where she did because of a “personality conflict” with the tall Jehovah’s Witness who still occupied the other half of the cubicle outside Joad’s office. The more urgently Mrs. Mount had needed to get something typed, the more powerfully the Jehovah’s Witness had seemed to feel the need to proselytize; often he extended his long arms in the service of the Lord to place pieces of religious literature over draft license agreement riders or antitrust analyses Mrs. Mount was struggling furiously to complete in time for the Federal Express pickup. Sometimes, if Mrs. Mount was tired and hurried, fragments of religious discourse found their way into drafts of briefs and bar association presentations. These additions were sure to be noticed and remarked upon, if not by Joad, then by the lawyers on the other side of a transaction. And snide indeed would be the remarks should the lawyers on the other side of the transaction prove to be, as was so often the case, the smug, lifeless denizens of the MacSchwartz firm’s arch-rival, D’Uell, Douglas, Ulrich & Leichty—Dull, Dull and Double Dull or simply the “Double Dulls” in the parlance of its many jealous competitors.
Mrs. Mount knew from Jeremy Joad’s squint that this would be a difficult day, if not a difficult week. She knew the messages and memos piled up on Joad’s chair where they would be sure to be seen would not make his mood brighter. Mrs. Mount knew that another long, difficult day at Mukaskey comma Schwartz no comma McIntyre and et cetera was about to begin. Mrs. Mount put aside her crossword puzzle and waited for the first anguished buzz from Jeremy Joad. Already she had reflected on the likelihood that she would develop a headache by mid-afternoon, re-calculated her remaining sick days and half-resolved to take tomorrow off.
Out at reception Miss Stanley again gave the full name of the firm, hung up the phone and began another application of makeup. In the mail room, Leon checked his bets and sharpened thousands of pencils; in the library books stood at attention on their shelves waiting to be read by all the ex-law review nerds. Down in the lobby throngs of secretaries, paralegals and unrecognizable associates waited interminably for the elevators.
The coffee in all the pantries was warm and smelled as if Juan Valdez had made it. The bust of Justice McReynolds stared silently ahead. The Jehovah’s Witness praised the Lord outside Joad’s office. Another long, difficult day at the MacSchwartz firm was indeed about to begin.