In-House

 

Bradford Dewitt possessed the background and distinctive bearing you would expect to find in a partner at Marston and Thatcher, a Boston law firm that was almost as old as the city itself. He had grown up in an affluent suburb of Boston as the only son of a well-known surgeon, graduated from Dartmouth magna cum laude, and then, at Yale Law School, earned grades that placed him among the top students in his class. He also had the confidence and poise that came from being tall and pleasant looking, even though his jaw seemed a bit too large for the rest of his face and his v-shaped hairline had begun to recede by the time he finished law school. These defects, minor in themselves, were more than offset by Dewitt's voice, which was so rich and resonant that he worked part time as an announcer at a small radio station near Hanover while at Dartmouth and then at a larger station in New Haven when he was in law school. 

 

The partners at Marston and Thatcher who decided which law school graduates would be invited to join the firm did not hesitate at offering Dewitt a position. He met their threshold requirement of having excelled academically at a top-ranked law school, but of equal importance to them, he didn't make the mistake of trying to impress them with his intellect. They were drawn, in particular, to his warm and personable manner and the way he managed, at the same time, to convey a sense of authority. The partners were cautious about making predictions about the future success of young associates, but they were reasonably certain Dewitt would fit in well at a firm that wanted its attorneys to be seen by their clients as a wise and trustworthy friend who happened also to be knowledgeable in the law.

 

Dewitt himself was so anxious to join Marston and Thatcher that he turned down more lucrative offers from two large firms in New York. He had no desire whatsoever to live in New York, but more importantly, he felt that his father might finally forgive him for not going to medical school if he eventually became a partner in a firm as prestigious as Marston and Thatcher. Dewitt was well aware, however, that only a limited number of associates survived the somewhat mysterious vetting process Marston and Thatcher used in deciding which of its associates might some day be invited to become partners in the firm. He also knew that he would be competing with associates whose academic records were similar to his and who were as ready as he was to work nights and weekends, thereby proving that nothing else mattered as much to them as their commitment to serving the interests of Marston and Thatcher and its clients. 

 

Dewitt was quicker than his peers in realizing that in such a competitive environment it might take more than brilliance and competence for an associate to make it onto the partner track. Thus, his determination to find some way that allowed him to stand out from his fellow associates, and thus his decision to befriend, and then to become, the trusted assistant of Bill Findley, the firm's partner who specialized in resolving the problems of corporate clients that ran afoul of government regulatory agencies. Findley, who had once been speaker of the Massachusetts house and later served several terms in Congress, also used his influence with his friends at every level of politics to halt, or at least delay, legislation that might be harmful to various Marston and Thatcher clients.

 

Dewitt put himself at some risk by allying himself so closely with Findley since it was an open secret that certain partners at Marston and Thatcher had expressed reservations about asking Bill Findley to join their firm, reservations that were refreshed each time the garrulous Findley swept into a room, shaking hands and patting backs and acting as if he were still campaigning for office. Whenever Findley did this, the partners who didn't particularly care for him would notice all over again his ill-fitting hair piece and his expensive tailored suits, which never did properly conceal his ample waist line. These were the same partners who made a point of avoiding the loud, raucous office parties Findley threw whenever he had scored a major victory for one of the firm's clients. 

 

Other associates in the firm, anxious to emulate their superiors, sniggered along with everyone else at Findley's fondness for cufflinks that were large and shiny and his tendency, at the height of his victory parties, to render a loud off-key version of the Boston College fight song. But Dewitt didn't allow that to distract him from a more salient point, at least to him: Findley was the only the partner in the firm whose legal experience consisted of handling some personal injury cases before he ran for office. That meant, Dewitt guessed—rightly it turned out—that an associate who became Findley's assistant would be given more leeway and greater responsibilities than those associates who spent their days and nights drafting complex legal documents for partners who might end up claiming the work as their own. Dewitt's decision to become Findley's protégé—for that's what he quickly became—also took into account Findley's age and physical condition, as well as his refusal to heed his doctor's warnings on the need to cut back on his intake of food and drink. 

 

As for Findley, he considered himself extremely fortunate to have by his side a young attorney who was, in his view, the brightest and hardest working of all the associates in the firm. He also let it be known, principally to other partners, and in private, how delighted he was to discover that Dewitt, despite his background, never allowed legal niceties (or human emotions) to get in the way of serving a client. 

 

The "amigos," as Findley and Dewitt called themselves, perfectly complemented each other's respective strengths. Findley opened doors and called in the countless chits he had accumulated during his political career while Dewitt pulled together the legal work that made it look as if the favors granted to Marston and Thatcher clients were based on merit rather than political influence. The two of them were particularly adept at helping utility companies in gaining rate increases from state regulators. They were as invaluable to real estate developers, guiding them through (and around) environmental regulations that might have otherwise prevented the construction of shopping centers and high-rise buildings. In one notable case, which required months of hearings, the "amigos" also came to the rescue of an insurance company that was about to be barred from doing business in Massachusetts and New York because it had so egregiously overcharged its policy holders. 

 

Dewitt's career advancement plan worked out just as he had intended. Soon after the insurance case, when he had just turned 33, he was made a partner at Marston and Thatcher. That was more or less the standard amount of time it took for associates of Dewitt's age to become partner. But three years later, when Findley suffered a stroke and had to retire, the management committee named Dewitt to be Findley's successor. 

 

Dewitt's father, and his mother, who followed her husband's lead, congratulated him on his promotion, but neither did so with as much enthusiasm as Dewitt would have liked. He could only assume that their response had been muted, in part, by his second marriage coming to an end the same week he assumed his new position. 

 

The reason Dewitt's second wife gave for leaving him, that he cared more for his career than he did for her, was the same as that cited by his first wife. Though Dewitt never said so publicly, he didn't dispute what either of his wives said about him. He didn't broadcast, either, how little it bothered him that both his marriages had failed. He had been attracted to his first wife, who taught comparative literature at Wellesley College, because of her lively mind, but he had grown tired of her lectures, complete with allusions to Melville and Tolstoy, on why he and Findley should try to find a better balance between means and ends. He was even more relieved to be free of his second wife, a pediatrician who seemed to think that any lawyer who represented an alleged wrongdoer was complicit in the alleged wrongdoing. 

 

It was Dewitt's second wife who helped convince him that he was not suited for the give and take of marriage. The night she left Dewitt, just as she finished packing her belongings—which was right after she and Dewitt had reprised the themes from some of their more memorable arguments—she bade him farewell by mockingly thanking him for the one lesson she was taking away from her marriage.

 

"You know all those jokes about lawyers who lack any feelings for other people?" she said. "They're funny, of course, but having been married to you, I can now see that they are quite profound in their insight—and a bit sad also." 

 

Dewitt often let such remarks go unanswered, knowing it angered his wife all the more if he ignored what she had said, but he felt a need, this one time, to explain what he, too, had learned from his marriage. 

 

"And let me say that I often find quite charming your naiveté," he told her, "but when combined with your overly simplistic moral judgments it can become quite toxic." 

 

Dewitt also took note of the similarity in his wife's thinking—if you can call it that, he said—with that of her Unitarian minister father. In particular, he added, his voice never sounding deeper and more mellow, it was his hope that someday both his wife and her father would come to realize that self-righteousness was not, in and of itself, a virtue.

 

That's when his wife, whose father had been a conscientious objector during the Korean War, abandoned the principals of pacifism on which she had been raised and threw a ceramic vase at Dewitt's head. Dewitt easily ducked out of the way of the vase, but when it flew past its head, it smashed the glass on a framed painting of a hillside of sugar maples in full autumn dress. The painting had been a gift from his wife's aunt, an amateur artist.

 

Right after his wife had moved from their apartment, Dewitt retrieved the damaged painting from the garbage bin. He then hung it up, complete with the shards of glass remaining in its frame, on the wall of his living room. He thought that memento from his second marriage would remind him why he should avoid, henceforth, any relationship that might possibly lead to another marriage. 

 

Dewitt had a different story about the painting for visitors to his apartment, particularly the many women he dated and bedded through the years. The painting, he told them, had been done by an artist who could think of no better way to show his contempt for insipid representational art than by first producing a conventional landscape and then defacing it. Dewitt would even demonstrate how the painter used a brick to smash the glass covering his paintings once they were framed. 

 

It amused Dewitt no end that so many of his friends took him at his word. He particularly enjoyed watching the way well-mannered women he knew would actually squint at the painting, and then circle around, stooping and bending and studying it from different angles before agreeing that, yes, the distinctive framing did endow the painting with a meaning, a texture in fact, that it would have lacked had the glass been left intact.

 

Only when Dewitt, in his late forties, moved from his apartment to a condominium that he had purchased on Beacon Hill, did he finally dispose of the painting. By then, he was quite certain that age and ingrained habits had eliminated any chance of his embarking on another marital misadventure. 

 

 

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Dewitt's marital status alone—and his apparent determination never to remarry—was enough to set him apart from other male partners of similar age at Marston and Thatcher, but there was, in addition, the legacy of his association with Findley. That was not easily forgotten by colleagues who could make Dewitt feel that his work wasn't as demanding or as important as attorneys who were engaged in more conventional areas of law. For the most part, Dewitt brushed aside these remarks, even when they were quite pointed, but he did take note of how attorneys from Marston and Thatcher who triumphed in a major court case, or helped a client fend of a hostile takeover bid, were invariably praised for their brilliance and eloquence and knowledge of the law. 

 

Yet when he succeeded in performing a parallel feat, such as getting a piece of legislation amended so that a client was exempted from the bill's most onerous provisions, he knew that, at best, he would hear himself likened to a magician who had pulled a rabbit out of a top hat. Even Dewitt's colleagues who acknowledged his value to the firm were likely to include some light-hearted remark about the propriety of the methods he may have used in persuading a key legislator to change a nay vote to a yea, or vice versa. 

 

In refusing to make a more vigorous defense of his work, Dewitt was following the example of his mentor, Findley, who had made a point of being as convivial and accommodating towards his colleagues at Marston and Thatcher as he was towards his countless friends in the State House and City Hall and among the Massachusetts Congressional delegation.

 

"Favors and goodwill," Findley often said, "without either of these things nothing in politics works. Not much else in the world does either. Do nice things for people and sooner or later, even people who don't like you, have no choice but to be half decent towards you." 

 

Dewitt came to believe so firmly in what he called Findley's Theory of Good Works that he responded with laughter when his secretary told him another secretary had overheard a senior partner refer to him as "Findley but with more polish and much better manners." He was as untroubled when other partners, particularly those who most disliked Findley, grumbled among themselves, and occasionally to Dewitt himself, about his tendency to steer campaign contributions from his clients towards political figures who happened to be among his best friends.

 

Once, a senior partner at Marston and Thatcher, Ted Nottingham, asked Dewitt point blank if he hadn't become, as Nottingham put it, ipso facto, a political fund raiser himself when he advised his clients which political figures they should support financially. Nottingham, who was a fixture on the bar association's committee on standards and practices, managed to make it sound as if he was asking Dewitt whether he had become, in fact, the manager of a very busy brothel. 

 

Then, as if he felt a need to clarify the question he had posed, Nottingham said, "I'm only wondering if there isn't the appearance of a 'conflict' when it's known that you are close, socially, to those elected officials whom you so graciously assist. Moreover, should we—or you, to be more precise—be in the business of helping politicians who are more often than not simply adding more dollars to their already ample campaign chests?"  

 

Dewitt was not unprepared for Nottingham's question, which was why he had a smile on his face, when he said, "Oh, but you are leaving too much implied, my friend. Why not ask me outright if my 'political friends' cut me in on some of that money they don't need? Or maybe you think I could be more helpful to our clients if I urged them to support only those political figures who, for some odd reason, dislike me."

 

"Nothing personal intended," Nottingham said. "But isn't your influence in political circles related in some way to your political fund raising, however covert and well-intentioned it may seem?"

 

"Which is just another way of suggesting that I'm the middle man in a bribery scheme," said Dewitt, still smiling "But I'll take your word for it—that nothing personal was intended." 

 

That was enough to make Nottingham back off, but not before offering the observation that there was usually more than altruism involved when it came to campaign contributions. 

 

"I'll not disagree with you on that," Dewitt said, "but my clients are doing nothing illegal in assisting political figures they like and support. I assume you know that. Which is why I'll try to forget that you've wondered if there is anything untoward about the advice I provide my clients." And with that, Dewitt, like a boxer shrugging off a low blow, shook Nottingham's hand while assuring him he bore him no ill will.

 

Dewitt more than stood by the promise he had made to Nottingham not to take his criticism as a personal insult. If anything, he may have outdone Findley in dispensing favors and goodwill as freely within Marston and Thatcher as he did among the political figures whose friendship was important to him. Dewitt was the partner other partners could count on to get them the tickets they needed to take a client to sold-out playoff games of Boston's professional sports teams. On a typical day, Dewitt was likely to help one of the firm's secretaries take legal action against a landlord who failed to provide her apartment with adequate heat, and then, later in the day, prevail on a friend in the governor's office to get a Marston and Thatcher partner on to the commission rewriting the state's banking regulations. He willingly, eagerly in fact, arranged for the sons and daughters and nieces and nephews of his colleagues to land jobs at government offices in Boston and in Washington, just as he made every effort to acknowledge landmark events in the lives of his co-workers with a thoughtful hand-written note of condolence or congratulations.

 

Dewitt occasionally wondered if other partners would ever consider him anything but an outlier, but having witnessed the effectiveness of Findley's methods, he remained convinced that sooner or later he would be rewarded for his acts of kindness. It surprised him, nevertheless, that his rise to a position of influence within Marston and Thatcher began with a single favor he performed on behalf of Charles Bensonhurst, the firm's managing partner. 

 

It was 2 o'clock in the morning when Bensonhurst called Dewitt to tell him that one of the firm's young associates had been arrested, two hours earlier, for buying a small quantity of cocaine from an undercover detective. Bensonhurst didn't ordinarily concern himself with what the firm's associates did outside the office, but this particular associate happened to be a direct descendant of one of the firm's founding partners and his grandfather had been Bensonhurst's mentor when Bensonhurst was a young associate. Hence, Bensonhurst's request—which was, in fact, more of a demand—for Dewitt's assistance in rescuing an associate whose legal career, at that very moment, was in some jeopardy.

 

"You have friends at City Hall," Bensonhurst said. "See what you can do to make this thing go away. Twist arms if you have to. Kiss the mayor's ass if that's what it takes."

 

Bensonhurst's frantic call could not have come at a more propitious time for Dewitt. Just a few months before he had earned the gratitude of the mayor and his social-climbing wife by helping their son gain admission to a small but prestigious liberal arts college. Dewitt was able to assist the mayor's son because he had been instrumental in getting one of the firm's clients, a large chemical company, to improve its public image by making a major gift to that particular college's environmental studies program. To show his appreciation for what Dewitt had done, the college's president promised him—half-jokingly, he thought—to admit to the college, in perpetuity, all of Dewitt's heirs.

 

Dewitt, unmarried and in his early forties at the time, seemed an unlikely candidate to take advantage of the president's generous offer, but only a few weeks after it was made, the president had no choice but to accede when Dewitt requested that the mayor's son be awarded the "Dewitt slot" in the college's incoming freshman class. As a consequence, within hours after Bensonhurst had called Dewitt about the arrest of the associate—and Dewitt, in turn, had put in a call to the mayor—Dewitt heard back from the mayor. 

 

"That thing you talked to me about this morning," the mayor told Dewitt, "they tell me the paper work on it just got lost."

 

When Dewitt went to Bensonhurst's office to report on what had happened, he expected nothing more than a curt thank you. With his no-nonsense, closely cropped hair and with his mouth drawn so tightly that his lips were pursed even when he talked, Bensonhurst was one of those people who seemed to think his position required him to sit at his desk in the preferred pose, chin slightly elevated, eyes fixed on a distant horizon, of artists who painted formal portraits of distinguished statesmen and heads of multi-national corporations. Bensonhurst's rigid bearing, along with his height—he was well over six feet tall—his long pointed nose and his imperious manner, reminded so many people of Charles de Gaulle that Bensonhurst was often referred to, but never in his presence, as Le Grand Charles. 

 

But that day the customary dour expression on Bensonhurst's face eased slightly when Dewitt said, "You can tell our young friend that he doesn't have to worry any longer about his run-in with the law."

 

"Are you certain of that?" Bensonhurst said.

 

"I wouldn't say so unless I was, but I don't think it would be wise for you, as a respected member of the bar, to know more than what I've already told you."

 

"Well, I just want some assurance that weeks or even months from now—

 

"I told you. It's over and done with, finished, kaput. What more do you want, a sworn affidavit?"

 

Dewitt wondered for a moment if he had answered Bensonhurst too sharply, but it was Bensonhurst who sounded a trifle apologetic when he said, "You are a miracle worker, my friend. However you pulled this off—and you're right, I'd rather not know the details—the few of us who know about this are forever in your debt."

 

Dewitt didn't know what was more surprising to him, Bensonhurst's gracious reply, or his own reaction at hearing Bensonhurst, of all people, refer to him as a worker of miracles. But for the need to maintain the utmost secrecy about what he had done, he would have liked to break out a few bottles of champagne so that he could host the kind of party Findley used to throw when the "amigos" had scored another victory. 

 

Dewitt was no less pleased the next day when he boarded an elevator the same time as Nate Sheppard, one of the older members of the firm's management committee. Sheppard, usually cordial, seemed even more so that day, particularly when he first greeted Dewitt, but as they left the elevator, Sheppard, with a nod of his head, indicated that he wanted Dewitt to follow him as he headed towards his office. There, in a corridor that afforded them more privacy, a smiling Sheppard reached out to shake Dewitt's hand. 

 

"A fine piece of work, Bradford," he said. "and one not soon to be forgotten by those of us who knew what was at stake." 

 

Then, just as Sheppard was about to enter his office, he turned back, and still smiling, he threw a light left jab at Dewitt's shoulder. Maybe it was Dewitt's time at Yale and his awareness of the tradition of "tapping" students for membership in secret societies, but he felt as if Sheppard, with that gesture, had just informed him of his fitness to be admitted into a select group. 

 

 

 

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Two months later, this time on his own, Dewitt helped save the career of a partner, Tom Jameson, who had a well-deserved reputation for his knowledge of patent law and intellectual property rights. But because of his habit of nipping from the bottle of vodka in his desk drawer, Jameson, by late afternoon, had a tendency to slur his words and seemed constantly to trip over his own feet.

 

Most of the time Jameson, tall and lanky, was skillful enough to make his stumbles look as if they were something that happened to anyone who wore size l2 shoes, just as he managed to conceal his sloppy speech by constantly clearing his throat and speaking slowly, like someone carefully searching for just the right word. But one night, having worked later than usual—and having therefore drunk more vodka than he did on a typical day—Jameson was somewhat unsteady on his feet as he headed towards the bank of elevators in the outer lobby. A few yards short of his goal, Jameson tripped on a floor mat, and in an attempt to stop himself from falling, he reached out and grabbed onto a huge potted plant that was in reality a small tree. 

 

The plant/tree was not sturdy enough to keep Jameson on his feet, but fortunately for him, not only was the lobby empty at that hour, but it was Dewitt, who happened, a moment later, to find Jameson sprawled out of the floor, trying in vain to extricate himself from the greenery that had toppled over onto him. Within seconds, Dewitt had freed Jameson and pulled him to his feet. He then hustled him into an elevator before anyone else might pass through the lobby.  

 

In the elevator, Jameson put up a bit of struggle, actually throwing an ineffectual punch at Dewitt before finally agreeing that Dewitt should drive him home. Once there, Dewitt was forced to console Jameson's wife, who was quite distraught, while trying, simultaneously, to convince Jameson that he should curb his drinking, at least during office hours. Dewitt had better luck with Jameson's wife than he did with Jameson who was sprawled out on the living room sofa, with his hands covering his ears. But while Jameson's wife was profuse in thanking Dewitt for coming to her husband's assistance before anyone at Marston and Thatcher had seen him in his present condition, she had little hope that Dewitt, or anyone else, would ever keep her husband from his daily dosage of vodka. 

 

Ah, but Jameson's wife had never seen Dewitt when he was in the middle of proving to a government agency that it had itself violated its own regulations when it imposed sanctions and fines on one of his clients. Dewitt's arguments, forceful and nuanced, were further enhanced by that voice of his, which made everything he said sound as if it had never been stated so wisely or so well.

 

That voice, in fact, seemed only to add to Dewitt's imposing physical presence. In high school and at Dartmouth, Dewitt had been an outstanding lacrosse player, but once he began working with Findley, and was required to spend long hours making sure Findley's political friends were properly fed, he had started to put on weight. That prompted him to begin—and to maintain—a strict regimen of running and three times a week squash games that pared away his excess flesh and kept him, even as he aged, looking more fit than most of his contemporaries. Then there was Dewitt's habit of positioning his horn-rimmed glasses at the top of his forehead, but rarely using them. That gave him the appearance of a somewhat stern prep school headmaster who was busy, terribly busy, but had taken time from his hectic schedule to dispense the kind of advice that caused students, even those he was disciplining, to think of him as a caring friend. 

 

That night, for instance, while assuring Jameson how much he and other partners admired him, Dewitt also spelled out in vivid, unsparing terms, what might have happened to Jameson's career if some other partner, or maybe even Le Grand Charles himself, had found him sprawled out on the floor of the lobby. A skilled mimic, Dewitt also gave a convincing impression of Bensonhurst expressing disgust and disappointment at having come across a Marston and Thatcher partner who was too drunk to remain on his own two feet. 

 

Within the half hour, Jameson was sitting up rather than lying down and had taken his hands away from his ears. Finally, somewhat tentatively, and in a voice not much above a whisper, he conceded that, yes, perhaps it was time he should cut back on his drinking. Moment's later, with Jameson's acquiescence—and with Jameson's wife once again weeping, but this time with relief—Dewitt was on the phone to a Dartmouth classmate, a physician who was the medical director at a rehabilitation clinic that treated addictive disorders. Once Dewitt's college friend agreed to accept Jameson as a patient, Dewitt called Bensonhurst and got him to grant Jameson the medical leave he would need to complete his course of treatment. The next day Dewitt himself drove Jameson to the rehabilitation clinic and also visited Jameson weekly while he was undergoing treatment. 

 

Three months later, when Jameson had returned to work and was attending AA meetings, he met privately with each member of the firm's management committee to thank them for their forbearance. In each of these meetings, with tears streaming down his face, Jameson gave credit to Dewitt for helping him save both his career and his marriage.

 

Dewitt's act of kindness towards Jameson brought him commendations—very privately expressed, of course—from several members of the firm's management committee, and then, three months later, another request for help from Bensonhurst. One of the firm's younger partners had taken his own life, and Bensonhurst, shock and sadness aside, wanted to know more about the circumstances that may have led to the suicide. 

 

"Help the family in any way you can," Bensonhurst told Dewitt, "but try to find out what might be behind all this. My big worry is that our late friend feared something he had done for one of his clients was about to blow up in his face. Or maybe he was being blackmailed. I know one thing, however. We can't just sit here, twiddling our thumbs, while we wonder why someone with great prospects would wash down a bottle of tranquilizers with a pint of gin."

 

Nobody in the attorney's family would ever have imagined that Dewitt, so kind and understanding, was at the same time carefully probing into the background of the deceased. Dewitt not only helped organize the memorial service for his colleague, but was also responsible for putting together an obituary that made it appear as if Marston and Thatcher might not survive the loss of this particular partner. That alone made him a life-long friend of the attorney's widow and her parents. Dewitt further gained their confidence by speaking movingly at the memorial service about the respect and affection everyone in the firm had for their former partner.

 

After the funeral, since Dewitt still hadn't learned what may have led to the young partner's suicide, he continued his close friendship with the widow and her family. Eventually, the widow became so trusting of Dewitt that she told him her husband had suffered bouts of depression dating back to his college days. Medication had helped him cope with his condition, she said, but recently the drugs he had been taking were no longer as effective as they once were. Moreover, the new medications prescribed for her husband had side effects so severe that he feared his colleagues might learn of his mental illness. The widow was convinced that her husband had taken his own life because of this fear that his illness might become more widely known. 

 

Having said that much, the widow then asked Dewitt never to reveal to any of her husband's colleagues what she had just told him. That, she said, would dishonor his memory. Dewitt, with a good bit of solemnity, promised the widow to abide by her wishes, but with his skill for crafting (and finding) legislative loopholes, he determined that there was a difference between other lawyers in the firm, who were, by his reckoning, the young attorney's colleagues, and Bensonhurst, who, as managing partner in the firm, had been the attorney's superior. With that semantic sleight of hand, Dewitt was able to assure Bensonhurst that the young partner's suicide was unconnected to his legal work at Marston and Thatcher. 

 

 

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From that time on, Bensonhurst came to rely on Dewitt to resolve, as discreetly as possible, any problems that arose from the wayward behavior, professional or personal, of other partners in the firm. If the slightest hint of a scandal wafted through the offices of Marston and Thatcher, Bensonhurst would summon Dewitt to a private meeting at which he revealed the breach of manners or morals—or law even—that required Dewitt's immediate attention. 

 

It was Bensonhurst's custom to begin these meetings by announcing first the name of the offender. He would then pause, almost as if he needed a moment to collect himself before he provided Dewitt with a brief description of the transgression itself. That unpleasantness out of the way, Bensonhurst invariably announced that he and the management committee felt this was a matter best handled, as he liked to put it, in-house. With these two words, Bensonhurst authorized Dewitt to take whatever measures were needed, including the payment of hush money, to contain the fallout from some partner's misconduct. 

 

Dewitt never left one of these meetings without feeling that Bensonhurst, indeed, the entire management committee itself, had just acknowledged, in a quasi-official way, that he was the only partner among the l00 or so at Marston and Thatcher who possessed the requisite skills (and guile and contacts) it took to serve as their in-house counsel. True, there had never been a day when Bensonhurst had formally named Dewitt to serve in that position, and yes, for obvious reasons, only a few of the firm's partners were aware of the assignments he carried out on Bensonhurst's behalf. But once Dewitt became, in a sense, the protector of Marston and Thatcher's reputation for probity, he found it easier to put behind him all the snide remarks ever directed at him and at Findley, too. 

 

Dewitt's gratitude for the trust placed in him was never more evident than when he met with the "accused." He could be congenial, but he could become, instantly, the prep school headmaster who was asserting his authority when he explained that he was acting at the behest of the firm's management committee. In doing so, he emphasized that his job was to arrive at a remedy that was in the best interest of the firm. Then, as if that point required even greater emphasis, he would explain that the best interest of the firm—and only the best interest of the firm—was all that mattered both to him and to the management committee. At times like that, when he wanted to indicate great seriousness, Dewitt would take his glasses from his forehead and carefully fold them before placing them in the top pocket of his suit jacket. 

 

Over a period of several years, Dewitt untangled the complications that ensued from two inter-office romances that had gone awry, thus saving the reputations of two partners, one of whom was the city's leading criminal defense attorney. With pay raises and reassignments and confidentiality agreements, he defused the threats of three sexual harassment suits, only one of which had any merit. He also became the intermediary who negotiated a truce between a Marston Thatcher partner and his estranged spouse just as their divorce battle, complete with mutual accusations of sexual deviance, was about to spill onto the gossip page of a tabloid newspaper. That intervention came only a few months after he used his close friendship with a former district attorney to work out the difficulties that arose when a senior partner at Marston and Thatcher had been caught shoplifting in a store that sold pornographic videos. 

 

Dewitt, replicating somewhat his experience with Jameson, made use once more of his doctor friend's rehabilitation clinic when Bensonhurst asked him to deal with another partner whose appetite for mid-day martinis had begun to interfere with both his professional competence and overall deportment. He relied on the clinic, and the doctor who ran it, yet again when a Marston and Thatcher partner was arrested during the police sweep of a neighborhood that had become a gathering place for male prostitutes. 

 

In that case, Dewitt, less than an hour after posting bail for the partner, delivered him to the rehabilitation clinic. Dewitt's doctor friend then determined that the partner's behavior had been caused by the interaction of alcohol with painkillers he took while recovering from back surgery. That finding, as well as the attorney's vow to seek counseling help for his drinking problem, helped him to escape with nothing more than a stern warning from the judge who adjudicated his case.

 

Dewitt was not always so successful. He could do nothing to save the colleague who was arrested twice within six months for drunken driving. He didn't fare very well, either, when Bensonhurst sought his assistance in trying to ease into retirement Cyrus Dunstable, a partner who had become so forgetful that he was no longer allowed to meet with a client unless a younger attorney was present. Dewitt tried his best to convince Dunstable the he might want to consider a reduction in his work load, possibly a shorter work week, but the older man became so angry that he ended up in a state of near collapse, literally gasping for breath as he vowed that nobody, not Bensonhurst, nor any "errand boy" of his either, was going to force him to retire. Dewitt liked to think it was pure coincidence that only a week later Dunstable suffered a heart attack so severe that his doctor ordered him to retire. 

 

 

 

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The encounter with Dunstable was the only time Bensonhurst was less than pleased with Dewitt's performance. Bensonhurst's criticism, somewhat indirect, came when he told Dewitt that Dunstable's wife had sent him an angry letter, accusing the entire firm of having carried out a campaign of harassment against her husband. 

 

"She's completely misinformed, of course," Bensonhurst said, when he told Dewitt of the letter. "In my response to her, I expressed regrets, but it wasn't as though I meant it. What I could have told her, but didn't, was how careful we were, too careful, I think, in the way we handled Cyrus this past year or so." 

 

"I can see what you mean," Dewitt said, "but I wish I had known beforehand how strongly Dunstable felt about staying on. The way he exploded on me, I worried, for a moment, that he might keel over and expire right there in his office." 

 

"I'm sorry, but I thought you were grown up enough to handle that job. Now that I think of it, though, perhaps this was something I should have dealt with myself."

 

Dewitt, unaccustomed to being criticized by Bensonhurst, wanted to say that, yes, the firm's managing partner should not expect someone else to do those chores that he found too unpleasant to do himself. But uncertain about what Bensonhurst's reaction to that might be, he settled instead for a harmless generality about how Dunstable's wife should have realized that her husband was no longer capable of practicing law. He then promised himself to be more selective in the future in responding to Bensonhurst's requests for help.

 

Dewitt tried to do just that a few months later, when he expressed his reluctance to become involved in what became known, appropriately enough, as the McAllister affair. This was one time Bensonhurst didn't follow his usual pattern in asking for Dewitt's assistance. Instead, he opened his meeting with Dewitt by asking him how well he knew Sebastian McAllister, a partner who specialized in tax law. 

 

"We've never been close, personally," Dewitt replied, "but I've worked on several things with him. The man knows tax law inside out. That I can attest to."

 

"Oh, McAllister's a genius," Bensonhurst said. "There isn't a better tax lawyer in Boston. This is a man who can recite the salient facts of every significant tax case brought in this country, including their disposition on appeal and the whys and wherefores of the appellate court rulings. Yet he's a goddamned fool when it comes to something as simple as marriage."

 

"Who ever said there was anything simple about marriage?" Dewitt said. "In my two tries, it was too complicated for me to figure out" " 

 

Bensonhurst either didn't hear what Dewitt had said, or he didn't think it important enough to respond, because he was already saying that he didn't care if McAllister had fallen in love with a woman other than his wife, or if McAllister was so lovesick that he wanted to leave his wife for this other woman. No, what Bensonhurst did care about, and what was bringing a flush to his throat, a flush that was beginning to work its way upwards towards his face, was that the wife who McAllister was ready to cast aside happened to be the daughter of Jefferson Blackwell, the chairman of Boston's largest bank. Blackwell had "grown" his bank with a series of mergers and acquisitions that left in their wake any number of shareholder suits and challenges from banking regulators—all of which provided an enormous amount of very lucrative legal work for attorneys at Marston and Thatcher.

 

"How well do you know Jeff Blackwell?" Bensonhurst said.

 

"I'm more acquainted on a day-to-day basis with the people in his legal department, but I've seen him in action. He's one of these people who's easy to work for, provided you never disagree with him. I'm also slightly acquainted with Cecilia Blackwell—or Ceci, as she calls herself—because way back she was friendly with my second wife. What I recall about her is that she's something like her father. In other words, it isn't wise to go against her wishes."

 

"Well, Ceci recently discovered, having hired a private investigator, that McAllister's gone and found himself a young girl friend. That's made Ceci quite unhappy, even vengeful. More to the point, Jeff Blackwell doesn't like it when his daughter's unhappy."

 

"So is Blackwell ready to take his business to a firm where his two-timing son-in-law is not a partner?"

 

"No, Blackwell hasn't said any such thing. He simply called to say that McAllister is a cad. Then he began telling me what a wonderful woman his daughter is and how she's raised two fine boys, but that now, when she's closing in on middle age, her husband's ready to run off with a younger woman. He left it at that—hung up on me, in fact—but it's clear that one word from Ceci and Blackwell will do whatever she wants in order to get even with McAllister."

 

"Personally, I'd like to think it's nobody's business beside McAllister and his wife what's going on in their marriage," said Dewitt.

 

"I agree, provided what's going on in McAllister's marriage has no direct bearing on the well-being of this firm."

 

"Before we go any further," Dewitt said, "I hope you realize that I'm without any doubt the least qualified person around here to do marriage counseling." 

 

"Look, this has nothing to do with love and romance, or marriage for that matter. I simply want you to use your god-given skill as a lawyer to remind McAllister that being a partner in a law firm means he doesn't do anything to harm other partners. More simply put, we're not about to risk losing a major client because some goddamned fool of a partner decides to have a mid-life love affair."

 

"And what makes you think I'm the person who can remedy this situation?" Dewitt said. 

 

"Because you have a long history of making people who don't know any better to suddenly see the light of day. Isn't that what you've done all these years at the State House?"

 

"But what happens to McAllister if he doesn't shape up?"

 

"First, this firm could get hurt. He's part of it, isn't he? He cares about it, or he should. That alone is a good reason for him to come to his senses. Second, you can guarantee him this: Jeff Blackwell—and the lawyers he hires—will go after him like a wolf attacking a poor defenseless little lamb. By the time Blackwell's lawyers are finished with him, McAllister will be lucky if he can afford a room at the Y."

 

"I don't disagree with what you're getting at," Dewitt said, "but I still don't see why you think McAllister is going to listen to me, particularly if the subject is marriage." 

 

"Maybe because you aren't one of his close friends. I've tried that, twice, and neither of them could get anywhere with him. He wasn't particularly receptive towards me, either. So I'm counting on you to make him understand that he must cease and desist, forthwith if not sooner, his tomcatting around. Furthermore, he should apologize to his wife and then promise her that he's never going to look at another woman the rest of his life." 

 

Then, Bensonhurst added, by way of a postscript, the importance he attached to the McAllister affair. 

 

"This is one of those times I'm reminded of what Churchill said when expressing his dislike for the rule about never ending a sentence with a preposition. 'This is something up with which I shall not put,' he said. Well, that's my feeling exactly about this thing with McAllister."   

 

Dewitt disliked even more having to involve himself in the McAllister affair once he heard that Bensonhurst had turned to him only after two other partners failed to break up McAllister's extra-marital romance. Being relegated to second class status also caused him to wonder if Bensonhurst, after the Dunstable debacle, was looking for a way to test him. If so, what was likely to happen if McAllister also rebuffed him? Would that make Bensonhurst look for someone else to be his in-house counsel? That possibility alone caused Dewitt to accept the challenge of saving McAllister's marriage. 

 

Dewitt arranged a meeting with McAllister by telling him he had learned from a Congressional aide that several members of Congress were discussing changes to the tax code that might have an adverse effect on the telecommunications industry. Since one of McAllister's clients happened to be a large telecommunications company, he agreed quite readily to have lunch the next day with Dewitt so they could plan how to counter the proposed legislation. Indeed, Dewitt had the impression that McAllister was so grateful to him for this piece of inside information that he wouldn't object if they eventually got around to discussing the need for Marston and Thatcher partners to avoid messy divorces. 

 

Dewitt's bait-and-switch maneuver backfired on him when McAllister began the lunch by bringing up his marital problems. Specifically, he wanted Dewitt to know that he was not open to negotiations on matters relating to his personal life. 

 

"Whoa, hold on there. Don't I get a chance to explain myself?" said Dewitt, sounding very much like a man trying to regain his footing. 

 

McAllister, with his thick neck and barrel chest, looked as solid and unyielding as when he had been a stalwart defenseman on a championship Harvard hockey team, but he was known then, and now, for being soft-spoken and extremely courteous. Even when delivering his very blunt message to Dewitt, he had done so, without raising his voice or showing any sign of belligerence.  

 

"Explain to your heart's content," he told Dewitt. "But I'm assuming you're here on behalf of Bensonhurst so you can tell him—as I have myself—that I don't care to have my law partners barging into my personal life. I don't hold it against you, by the way. I know what's at stake here." 

 

"On that score, I should tell you this isn't an assignment I asked for, nor is it one I enjoy." 

 

"I'll buy that," said McAllister, "but I know that Ceci, on the warpath, will stop at nothing. And therefore, you, and several other people have been drawn into something that shouldn't be of concern to anyone outside my immediate family."   

 

"Your private life is one thing," Dewitt said, "but is it completely private when your actions might cause harm to your associates? Need I remind you that you are part of a partnership, and that as such, we rise and fall together. Don't you think that puts a burden on each of us to balance our own interests with that of the firm?"   

 

Rather than reply, McAllister nodded his head towards a waiter, indicating that he was ready to order. Then, when he and Dewitt had placed their orders and the waiter was walking away, McAllister said. "I take it from what you've just said that my father-in-law is upping the ante."

 

"I've haven't talked with your father-in-law," Dewitt said. "But I gather that he's not too happy about what you've been up to. I'll leave it at that." 

 

"I just want you to know," McAllister said, "that Kristen is not some floozie and I'm not another middle-aged guy who's gone ga-ga over a cute young thing." 

 

"The details aren't important to me," Dewitt said. "I care only about the larger issue and its consequences."  

 

"In other words, the entire Blackwell family is ready to declare war. Well, in that case, welcome to the field of battle." And with that, McAllister, still grinning, raised his glass of water in a mock toast to Dewitt.

 

It took a moment for Dewitt to decide whether he should return the toast, and when he did so, his half-hearted gesture reflected his discomfort at finding himself on the defensive. But since he was obliged to continue with the argument Bensonhurst wanted him to make, he told McAllister there was one more point he needed to make. 

 

"So, what is it? Besides, that Jefferson Blackwell has you and everyone else at Marston and Thatcher half scared to death." 

 

"Yes, everyone but you, Sebastian. How brave you are—and how foolhardy." 

 

"You're overstating the case," McAllister said, his voice, for the first time, rising slightly. "Jeff Blackwell, once he blows off some steam, is going to stick with Marston and Thatcher. We've done good work for him. His board might even wonder why he's suddenly decided that he doesn't like us any more. Oh, he'll raise a fuss and that's going to frighten Bensonhurst, but eventually he'll settle down." 

 

"You, my friend, are ignoring something very fundamental about all this. Put aside for a moment the scenario you've spelled out, which may be nothing more than wishful thinking. Consider, instead, the price you're likely to pay, even if Marston and Thatcher emerges unscathed. What happens, for instance, when Ceci unleashes her pack of lawyers on you? They won't stop until they pick you clean." 

 

"Message delivered. Message received. Message doesn't change a thing, as far as I'm concerned. 

 

"Have it your way," Dewitt said, literally throwing up his hands to show he had decided, for the moment at least, to give up on mending McAllister's marriage. "That doesn't mean I agree with you. It doesn't mean that Bensonhurst is likely to give up, either."

 

"Fine, as far as that goes. But now, as for that other matter—is there really anyone in Congress talking about this bill or is this cocktail party chit-chat? It's certainly the first I've heard of it."

 

"Well, I can't say for sure if this is likely to emerge this session, but since we're here, why not tell me what you can live with and what's beyond the pale, as far as you and your client is concerned."

 

McAllister then outlined the elements in any bill that might be harmful to the telecommunications industry and which provisions, if modified, might be tolerable. Dewitt then took over, laying out the background and political beliefs of the committee members who might have a say in any bill that was written and who among them was most likely to respond—and why and how—to outside pressure. 

 

Dewitt was so pleased with the latter part of his lunch that he almost forgot for a moment all that had transpired before the discussion of legislation which had yet to be written. But once he and McAllister had finished lunch and were heading out the door, McAllister alluded once again to his affair with Kristen. 

 

"One last thing," McAllister said. "Tell Bensonhurst that I have no intention of backing down. Maybe if he hears it from you he'll start to believe it. Remind him also of what I told him when this first came up. In dealing with Jeff Blackwell, you can't show that you're afraid." 

 

 

 

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Dewitt put off for a day giving Bensonhurst a report on his lunch with McAllister because he knew Bensonhurst didn't want to hear what he had to say. Then, on the next day, when he spoke to Bensonhurst, he tried to make it seem as if he had made some headway with McAllister. 

 

"I've got him to think hard about what he's doing," Dewitt said, "but the big problem is his ego. He knows that he's courting disaster, but he's too proud—and too stubborn—to admit that he's wrong. Maybe, over the next few weeks, he'll see that he has no choice but to back down. Until then, I expect he'll continue to rant about his father-in-law and gripe about how we're invading his personal life." 

 

"He's stalling," Bensonhurst said, "hoping all this will go away. And from the way you sound, you think that leaving him alone will make him come around. I don't, which is why I want you to give it another try. Blackwell, as we all know, doesn't have a lot of patience."   

 

When Dewitt heard that, he simply nodded his head and left Bensonhurst's office, but he had no intention of meeting again with McAllister. At the moment, in fact, he wanted to go back into Bensonhurst's office and announce his withdrawal from the McAllister affair. He even felt—but only for a brief second—an urge to tell Bensonhurst that he was tired of being bullied by him and tired also of having to bully others on his behalf. And while he was at it—and again this was a thought that lasted only a second—he would have liked to let Bensonhurst know that he rather admired the way McAllister was standing up to his father-in-law. 

 

Later that evening, Dewitt was sorry that he had not followed through on his impulse to resign from the effort to save McAllister's marriage. He had attended a book party for a former United States senator who had published his memoirs and when he arrived back at his apartment house he found that an attractive young woman was sitting, quite literally, on his doorstep. The three stairs leading up to the doorway of Dewitt's apartment building were wide enough for him to have avoided the young woman, but before he could do that, she got to her feet. Then, with a big smile on her face, and thrusting out her right hand, she said, "Hello, I'm Kristen."

 

Dewitt, caught off guard, responded by shaking her hand and saying his name. Then, realizing that Kristen obviously knew who he was, he tried to make up for that bit of clumsiness by saying he was pleased to meet her, which wasn't at all true.

 

"If you have a moment," Kristen said, "I'd like to ask you something." 

 

"Here?" he said.

 

"Why not?" she said, before proceeding directly to the question she wanted to ask. "Sebastian has told me that you're known as the man who fixes things. Why, then, have you involved yourself in something that doesn't need to be fixed?" She was not smiling when she posed that question. 

 

Dewitt never expected to find Kristen lying in wait for him, but he was even more surprised by what she had asked him. In the moment it took him to respond, he saw, with little more than a cursory glance—and that, under the dim light of the faux gas lanterns of Beacon Hill—why McAllister was so attracted to Kristen. She had light brown hair, swept back into a somewhat ill-defined bun, but the untidy arrangement of her hair was more than offset by facial features so distinct and so beautifully proportioned that Dewitt could picture her profile gracing a commemorative coin. 

 

"I'm sorry," Dewitt said, "but I'm not in the habit of discussing this sort of thing while standing on a street corner. So, if you don't mind." And with that he gestured towards the doorway of his apartment building.

 

Kristen, without answering, stepped aside so that Dewitt could unlock the door to his apartment house, and he, in turn, stood back so that she was able to enter the lobby before he did. Going through the doorway, she looked back at him and said, "By the way, Sebastian doesn't know I'm here. And I'd rather that you not tell him." 

 

"That, too, is something I'd rather not get into right here," Dewitt said, as he led Kristen up the one flight of stairs to his apartment. It had been one of the first cool days of fall so Kristen was wearing a heavy coat sweater that was loosely tied at the waist, and Dewitt himself had found it necessary to put on a light coat when he had left for his office that morning. Ushering Kristen into his apartment, he asked her if she wanted to take off her sweater, but she declined. "As you wish," he said, hanging up his own coat and then pointing her towards a short hallway that led into his living room. 

 

Once in the living room, Kristen seated herself in one of two large black leather chairs that were angled towards a fireplace. Dewitt turned on the lamp next to the chair and then headed towards the other end of the room, to a table on which there were several bottles of liquor and a tray of glasses. Along the way, he turned on two more lamps.

 

"Sherry," he said, "or something stronger?"

 

Kristen indicated that sherry was fine with her and after Dewitt poured a glass for her and one for himself, he returned to sit in the chair opposite the one occupied by Kristen. Both chairs were the kind you would expect to find in the reading room of a private men's club, and while someone Dewitt's size was able to settle back in comfort, Kristen, with her slight build, might have been swallowed up by the chair if she did likewise. Consequently, she sat on the front half of the chair, with both feet planted firmly on the floor. Perched that way, she looked as if she had indeed stopped by long enough only to get an answer to the question she had asked Dewitt on his doorstep.

 

Dewitt had barely brought the sherry to Kristen and sat himself in the chair across from her when she said, "So, are you ready now to tell me why you go around trying to rearrange other people's lives?" 

 

Not only had Kristen's friendly smile faded away, but now, her features were set in a way that made her look as if she was unwilling to leave until Dewitt answered that question to her satisfaction. 

 

"I thought I covered that during my lunch with Sebastian." 

 

"You also told him that this was a job you didn't enjoy. But that's something I very much doubt." 

 

"For your information, I was extremely reluctant to get involved in this, uh, well, in this affair, which is the best way to describe it, I suppose. But for a number of reasons I didn't have much choice. And isn't that what we're talking about here, the choices we'd like to make versus those we have to make? Haven't we all had days when we feel other people are asking too much of us? I've had clients, for instance, who I would like to—" 

 

"But that's just it. Maybe it's time that you, and Sebastian, too, follow your instincts for once. You know, issue a personal declaration of independence. Cast off your chains. Act on impulse." 

 

"And what, exactly, would that accomplish?"

 

"It might mean, for instance, that you tend to your own business and leave other people alone." 

 

"I understand what you're getting at, Kristen, but it so happens that I'm more in agreement with you than you think. Who you fall in love with, for instance, that's no business of mine. But what Sebastian is up to, that's another matter entirely." 

 

"This is a power thing with you, isn't it?" Kristen said. "What fun! You get to run roughshod through other people's lives." 

 

"Look, I'd rather not be the villain of this piece—or rather I don't appreciate you and Sebastian trying to make me into the villain. I've made my arguments to Sebastian. I'm sure he's repeated them to you. Now, it's up to him—and to you, too, I suppose—what happens next. You think I'm the man who fixes things? I'm much more the man who shuttles between warring parties. You may not like it, but there's an element of war here. More sherry?"

 

Kristen, who had barely sipped from her glass, shook her head no while Dewitt got up to refill his glass. She waited until he returned to his chair and then said, "Tell me, how do you get chosen for an assignment like this."   

 

"I'll pass on that," Dewitt said, "I'm sorry if any of this is upsetting to you, but I can't undo what's been done. As for our own little tête-à-tête here, I'm delighted to have met you, but that does nothing to change a situation which is troublesome to say the least."

 

"I'm delighted, in a sense, to have met you also. It would have been nice, though, if I found you to be a bit more understanding. Apparently that's never going to happen." 

 

Kristen then took two quick sips from her glass of sherry and rose from her chair. "Thank you for the sherry," she said, as she put the glass down on a small table next to her chair. But just as it appeared as if she was about to leave, she paused for a moment to take a deep breath and then exhaled.

 

"I have one last thing to say," she said. "It's more of a question, actually. What if I told you that I've given serious thought to leaving Sebastian?"

 

"How far along are you in your serious thinking?" said Dewitt, taking his glasses off his forehead and putting them in his suit pocket.

 

"This far—what I've just told you is more than I've told Sebastian. Mostly though, I just keep going over and over again the pros and cons of what I should do. I've been doing that for days now. It's all so confusing that I'm going off this weekend to sort it all out." 

 

"With or without Sebastian?"

 

"That's a good question. Having Sebastian along would be a help since he's got such a logical mind. But having him close by means he'll try to talk me out of this when I tell him it doesn't look as if it's going to work." 

 

"It sounds to me as if you've already made up your mind," Dewitt said.  

 

"Let's just say that all the people who lined up against us have pretty much succeeded in mucking things up. I don't doubt Sebastian loves me, but at this point it seems as if he's more interested in proving to himself that he can stand up not only to Ceci but also to his father-in-law and everyone else who's trying to come between us. In that sense, I feel that I've become little more than a pawn in a power struggle. That's what so sad about this."

 

"I sympathize," Dewitt said. "I mean that. And since candor begets more candor, I want you to know that bullying people isn't as much fun as you think it is."   

 

"That's nice to know," she said, "but, as of now, what I most care about is this coming weekend. I've decided that Provincetown, in the fall, is the perfect spot for breaking off an affair." 

 

"I couldn't agree more," Dewitt said. "I like it when those places at the Cape and on the Maine coast shrink back to their proper size in the fall." 

 

Kristen responded with a nod and then turning and walking quickly, almost at a trot, she headed towards the doorway of Dewitt's apartment. Dewitt quickly rose from his chair and followed along, hoping to bid a more formal goodbye, but Kristen had gone through the door and was on her way down the stairs before Dewitt reached the top of the staircase. She was near the bottom of the stairs when she turned around and waved at Dewitt. "I'll give you a call as soon as I get back," she said.

 

 

 

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The following day, a Friday, Dewitt did not go to his office. He wanted to avoid running into Bensonhurst since he was hoping that by Monday, or Tuesday at the latest, he would be able to inform him that the McAllister affair, if not dead, was certainly dying. But by Sunday evening, Dewitt had convinced himself that he might not receive proper credit for having disrupted the McAllister affair if he didn't deliver the news himself to Bensonhurst first thing Monday morning. 

 

On Monday morning, therefore, he went to his office earlier than usual. That would give him a chance to speak with Bensonhurst before the business day began. Otherwise, Bensonhurst, who was notorious for keeping a tight schedule, might not grant him the time he needed to lay out his version of how he had gone about breaking up McAllister's extra marital romance.

 

Dewitt planned to tell Bensonhurst once again that no amount of pressure from anyone at Marston and Thatcher was going to stop McAllister's "tomcatting" around. Knowing that, Dewitt intended to say he decided on his own to open a "back channel" to McAllister's girl friend, and that's when he got Kristen—for that was her name—to confirm what he suspected all along, that this was a one-way romance. Why, it was Kristen herself, he would say, who admitted that McAllister was primarily concerned in proving to himself that he was capable of standing up to his father-in-law. As a result, poor Kristen—a charming, level-headed young woman—felt as if she had become nothing more than a pawn in a power struggle involving McAllister, his wife, his father-in-law and various of his colleagues at Marston and Thatcher. 

 

At that point, as Dewitt was prepared to say, he asked Kristen a simple question. "So, is that what you want to be, a pawn?" and Kristen, rather than answer, reached into her purse for a white handkerchief. First, she tried to make a joke out of it by waving the handkerchief back and forth, but a moment later, she was using it to wipe away her tears while talking of how she had known for some time that Sebastian had no choice, from a professional or personal point of view, but to remain with his wife. Thus, while still wiping tears from her eyes, she nodded in agreement when Dewitt suggested that the time had come for her to break up with McAllister. 

 

No doubt, Dewitt's presentation, if he had been allowed to make it, would have delighted Bensonhurst. He might have even ended up hailing Dewitt, as he had once before, as a miracle worker and maybe right after that he would have granted him, in a more formal way, life-time tenure as the firm's in-house counsel. But Dewitt was unable to carry out his plan because on Monday morning Bensonhurst had a meeting out of his office and wasn't expected to return until shortly after noon. 

 

At noon, Dewitt himself went off to have lunch with a friend who had once been head of the legal department at the agency that ran Logan Airport. Midway through the lunch Dewitt's friend mentioned the crash that morning of a plane from the small airline that flew between Provincetown and Logan Airport. Dewitt's friend then took a moment to discuss the questionable safety records of feeder airlines that flew between resort areas and major airports before saying that all five passengers and the pilot of the plane had perished when it crashed soon after taking off from Provincetown airport. 

 

Dewitt managed to get through the lunch by telling himself that he had no reason to think Kristen and McAllister were among the passengers on the ill-fated flight. More than likely, he decided, they had driven to Provincetown and were probably at that moment already back in Boston. But when he returned from lunch, just as he entered the reception area in the Marston and Thatcher offices, he saw a cluster of secretaries dabbing at their eyes with tissues. Two of them, in particular, were trying to comfort a secretary who was very upset. 

 

Dewitt headed immediately to Bensonhurst's office, but before he ever got there he heard from two different people that McAllister had been on the plane that crashed into Cape Cod Bay. Then, when he reached Bensonhurst's office, his secretary told him that Bensonhurst and Nate Sheppard and another of the firm's senior partners, Jack McElroy, had just left to pay a call on McAllister's wife and family.

 

The next morning Dewitt had barely arrived in his office when he received a summons from Bensonhurst. He was prepared to give a full account of what had taken place between him and Kristen, but before he could ever begin, Bensonhurst said, "Ceci." Then, after a pause, he said, "She's in a bad way."

 

"You know what makes this doubly hard, at least for me?" Dewitt said. "Yesterday, I was about to tell you that McAllister's girl friend—whom I met with last week—had decided to break off the affair. That was the reason for their trip to Provincetown. She wanted quote, the right setting, unquote, to break the news to him."

 

"You're sure of that?"

 

"I wasn't getting anywhere with McAllister, so I decided the next best thing was to have a talk with his girl friend, Kristen, who turned out to be an extremely charming, level-headed girl. It took only minutes before Kristen confirmed what I had already told you—that this affair was mostly an ego trip on McAllister's part, a way to prove to himself that he could stand up to his father-in-law. Why, Kristen herself admitted that she had become nothing more than a pawn in a power struggle between McAllister and Jeff Blackwell. So in the end, after our little tête-à-tête, as she called it, she took out a white handkerchief from her purse and waved it in the air. The last I knew she was going to tell him this weekend, in Provincetown, that it was all over." 

 

Bensonhurst needed a moment to absorb that news. He actually lowered his head for a few seconds, and bringing his hands up to his face, slowly massaged his eyeballs. Then, he said, "Not now, but maybe in a week or two, Ceci might find some comfort in hearing that the great love affair had burnt itself out." 

 

"It might work better if we fine tune it," Dewitt said. "You know, we can say it was McAllister, after his lunch with me, who came to his senses. I can have him telling me the affair was a mistake and that he intended to break it off."

 

"You're serious?"

 

"I learned a long time ago, from Findley in fact, that you can never go wrong by telling people what they want to hear, even if you hedge and trim it a bit. Findley was talking about politics, of course, but I'd say it's a precept we might do well to follow ourselves, in certain situations. In any event, who's in a position to deny what I've just said? And on the plus side, this may be of some comfort to Ceci." 

 

There was a long pause before Bensonhurst responded to Dewitt's proposal, and when he did, he said it might be something he would want to discuss first with the firm's management committee. On that point, Dewitt ventured an opposing view. No, he told Bensonhurst, if you do that, someone on the committee might consider this approach to be too crass.

 

For a moment, it looked as if Bensonhurst himself might be having second thoughts about Dewitt's proposal, but he seemed more inclined to agree with Dewitt, or at least a flicker of a smile flashed across his face, when Dewitt gave him another reason why they should assure Ceci that her husband, at the urging of a colleague, had decided to break off his affair with Kristen. 

 

"Think of it this way," Dewitt told Bensonhurst, "wouldn't Jeff Blackwell like to hear that he can count on Marston and Thatcher for more than legal services when the situation calls for it?"  End of Story