Barb Goffman
Mystery Writer

WHOSE WINE IS IT ANYWAY?

By Barb Goffman

"Whose Wine Is It Anyway?"

was published in the anthology

50 Shades of Cabernet

(Koehler Books, March 2017)

I’d given the man forty years of my life, and he was replacing me with a husband-hunting hussy.

From my strategically placed desk outside his corner office, I watched Douglas McPherson striding down the long hall toward me, his quick pace typical. “A good lawyer was a busy lawyer, and a busy lawyer never had time to dawdle,” Douglas once told me. Of course, he always acted busy even when he wasn’t. For Douglas, appearances were everything.

“Arrange the Coulter depositions for early next week, Myra,” he said as he sped past my desk into his office, shutting the door behind him. He hadn’t even noticed that the extra chair beside me was empty. That’s where Jessica was supposed to be sitting. Jessica, who Douglas hired to take over for me as his secretary. Jessica, who I was supposed to be training before I retired at close of business tomorrow. Jessica, who I was slowly growing to hate with the white-hot indignation of a thousand innocent defendants.

“Oh, Justin, that’s so funny.” Jessica’s high-pitched voice carried through the open door of the office kitty-corner to my desk. She was sitting cross-legged in Justin’s guest chair, leaning forward with her hand on his arm. I shook my head. Justin was a nice boy. Conscientious. Just two years out of law school. He was no match for Jessica, who clearly had no interest in being trained or working. She wanted to become an attorney’s wife, and after shrewdly determining that Douglas had no interest in acquiring a trophy wife, she’d set her sights on Justin.

I could understand Justin’s naïveté—he was still young and idealistic—but you’d think Douglas, who headed the litigation department at a major Washington, DC, law firm, would see Jessica for the husband-hunter she was. Goodness, it was only her first week, and already she was wearing thigh-high skirts, low-cut blouses, and way too much make-up. But Douglas was blind to her faults, probably because Jessica resembled his daughter, so he wanted to help her succeed. It was sweet of him, really. And dumb. Really, dumb.

I walked over to Justin’s office. “Jessica, this is a good opportunity for me to show you how to set up a deposition.”

She turned her head toward me so Justin couldn’t see her face and scowled. “All right.”

Back at my desk, I began explaining the system Douglas and I used. I hadn’t been talking more than thirty seconds before she began tapping her long red nails on the desk. “I got it.”

I swallowed a growl. “I don’t think you do, dear. This is complicated, and I haven’t even begun demonstrating—”

“Look. It’s not that hard.” She smoothed her blond hair, as if she were looking in a mirror. “I get that it might be difficult for you to grasp things fast given your . . .  advancing age, but it’s not a problem for me.”

My advancing age, my ass. I may be seventy, but I wasn’t being forced out because of age or dementia. I was leaving my job voluntarily, having decided the time had come I saw the world. In a week, I was going on a tour of the Canadian Rockies that I’d heard amazing things about. And Douglas was going to be left with this bimbo who’d never be able to take care of him the way I had.

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll write it down for you. That way, just in case you end up with a question after I’m gone you’ll have detailed instructions to follow.”

“Great,” Jessica said, though her tone clearly meant “whatever.” I’d already given her several memos I’d written with directions on how to handle important tasks. She skimmed each one for about five seconds before pulling out her cell phone. Detail-oriented the girl wasn’t.

As Jessica ignored me, I arranged everything for the Coulter case depositions. At least I’d know something would go right in my absence.

“Hey, have either of you seen the Coulter interrogatory file? It’s not in the drawer.” Sarah, the fifth-year associate for whom I provided back-up secretarial support, towered over my desk. Long strands of brown hair had escaped from her ponytail, giving her a messy look. Understandable, of course. She was assisting Douglas on the Coulter case, which was heating up, keeping her quite busy. If she kept up her good work, she’d likely make partner in a few years.

“I’m sorry, dear,” I said, after thinking a moment. “I haven’t seen it.”

Sarah turned to Jessica, who was staring at her cell phone. After a few seconds, Sarah tossed me an is she kidding? look, and said loudly, “Jessica, have you seen the Coulter interrogatory file?”

Jessica slowly looked up, rolling her eyes. “Nope. If I had, I would have said so.”

I nearly sighed aloud. Jessica would be no help to Sarah at all. She didn’t even pretend to be professional around Sarah. But then I was pleased to see Sarah’s nostrils flare.

“Thanks,” she said. “But in the future, I’d appreciate a ‘yes’ or no rather than no response. Okay?” Sarah’s tone made it clear that only one response was permitted.

“Fine,” Jessica said in a grumpy voice, her eyes now narrowed.

Everyone here was usually so collegial. I’d never seen Sarah with her back up before. I’d have to keep in touch with her to learn how this played out. Oh, to be a fly on the wall.

“Great.” Sarah started to go but twisted back. “We’re really going to miss you, Myra. You’re the heart of this department.”

I knew she might have said that partly as a jab at Jessica, but I didn’t care. My heart fluttered as she walked away. All I wanted was to be appreciated a little before I retired. So while it might be self-absorbed, I was really looking forward to my goodbye party the next day. Every time someone left the firm—except for occasional layoffs in down times—we had a party in the extra-large conference room at the other end of the hall. Speeches were made. There was wine, a nice spread. I always arranged the parties for the litigation department. Lord knows how they’d turn out under Jessica’s direction.

Her phone dinged, and she practically jumped out of her chair. “Five p.m. Where did the day go?” she said. Had she set up a reminder so she’d be sure to leave the second the workday technically ended? What kind of work ethic was that? Jessica grabbed her purse and sashayed on her four-inch heels into Justin’s office. “I’m meeting some friends at the bar down the street. We’re gonna play pool. Want to come with?”

Justin swiveled away from his computer, appearing particularly wan under the fluorescent lights. “Oh wow. I’d love to but I can’t. Way too much work to do.”

“Too bad,” Jessica said. I couldn’t see her face, but I’d bet she was pouting at him. “We’ll be there for a couple of hours at least, so if you change your mind, come on by. I’m really good with a stick.”

Did she actually just say that?

I sometimes said things aloud that I meant to keep in my head, but I’d never be so inappropriate with an attorney here at the firm.

“You got it,” Justin said.

As Jessica strolled off, Justin’s eyes lingered on the doorway for several seconds before he turned back to his computer. Maybe over time he would become immune to Jessica’s rather obvious charms. One could only hope.

I glanced around my desk at the files for all the pending projects. Douglas represented so many clients with big problems. I couldn’t leave anything to chance. I’d thought I wouldn’t have to write memos about every aspect of my job, that I’d be able to teach my replacement some things verbally during her training week. But that wasn’t working. So I dug in and started writing memos about everything. I hoped Jessica would read them—and understand the big words.

***

“Myra, why are you still here?”

I glanced up. The floor was quiet. Lights were off in several of the attorneys’ offices. And Douglas was standing at my desk. I hadn’t even heard his door open.

“Just finishing up some notes for Jessica,” I said.

“It’s nearly eight o’clock. Go home. Don’t worry about Jessica. She’s smart. She’ll figure things out.”

I sighed inside. Maybe Jessica could figure things out, but I didn’t have any confidence she actually would. That would take effort. I’d tried to raise my concerns with Douglas three times this week, but each time he’d changed the subject immediately, too stubborn to admit he’d made a mistake. And maybe he was a little mad at me for leaving, even though I’d given him plenty of notice. But Douglas was right about one thing—it was late. Tomorrow was my last day. It was time to start letting go.

“All right.” I saved my file, signed off my computer, and lifted a box full of mementoes from the floor beside my desk. I’d been packing up my belongings for days. I’d accumulated a lot more stuff than I’d thought in my forty-five years with the firm.

Douglas reached for the box. “Let me carry that for you.”

“Thanks.” I swung my purse over my shoulder, and we set off to the elevator. I couldn’t help focusing on Douglas’s features. His hair had been such a rich reddish brown when we’d met during the Carter administration. Now it was gray and thin. And deep lines surrounded his hazel eyes. But his suit size probably hadn’t changed in all these years. That wasn’t a surprise, of course. For Douglas, it wasn’t enough to look busy. You had to dress the right way, and the right way was a sharp suit on a fit body. “To succeed in litigation,” he’d once said, “you have to impress your clients and scare your opponents. Show no weakness.”

It saddened me to contemplate not seeing Douglas nearly every day. Sure, I’d meet him for lunch occasionally. Douglas had always treated me like family. I didn’t expect that would change. But these quiet moments between the two of us, those would be gone. I’d miss them.

“I’m looking forward to your party tomorrow,” he said as he pressed the button for the elevator. “I hope you’ve planned a huge blowout. You deserve it.”

My eyes flew wide. “I’m supposed to plan my own goodbye party?” I’d never spoken to Douglas with that sarcastic tone before, but I couldn’t believe my ears.

His cheeks began flushing—unusual for him. “Oh, I’m such a dope. Of course you shouldn’t have to arrange your own party. I’m sorry, Myra. I wasn’t thinking.”

I nodded as the elevator arrived and we stepped inside. Douglas pressed the button for the garage.

“But—” he said.

But?

“It’s so late in the week already,” Douglas said, “and we’ve nothing scheduled, and you deserve the best party ever. Would it be too much of an inconvenience for you to pull it together tomorrow? You’re the only one who could do it so fast.”

Seriously?

“And you could show Jessica the party-planning ropes. I know she’ll never be as good as you, but I’m certain with a little time, she’ll be great at the job.”

With my mouth hanging open, I nodded. What choice did I have?

***

I spent hours trying to fall asleep that night. My brain couldn’t shut off, flitting back and forth between my ire over Jessica’s laziness and my outrage over Douglas taking me for granted. How could he think someone like Jessica could replace me? Or that I’d plan my own goodbye party? And when I’d pointed his thoughtlessness out to him, he’d had the audacity to ask me to organize it anyway and use it as a teaching tool for Jessica. Oh, he made me so angry sometimes.

My grandfather clock had just tolled twice when I decided that Douglas may be sixty-five years old, but he was like my little brother, and sometimes little brothers needed to be taught a lesson. I had a great one in mind for him, and it would show Jessica for the snotty slacker she was at the same time. That is what we in litigation call “a winning strategy.”

At seven thirty, high on adrenaline but short on sleep, I zoomed into the office parking garage and hurried to my desk, calling a quick good morning to two early-bird attorneys already at work as I passed their offices. In moments, I signed onto my computer and pulled up a memo I’d written to Jessica the prior evening about parties and events for the litigation department. It needed some adjustments.

IMPORTANT AND CONFIDENTIAL it said at the top. I decided to leave that as is. Then I started moving the guts of the memo around. I pushed to the beginning information on the types of parties that were permitted: wedding celebrations, baby showers, partner promotions, and, of course, goodbye parties. Then came information on the caterers, restaurants, and other vendors we used, and how we paid, followed by the types of decorations—balloons, banners, and whatnot—that were permitted and when, as well as the amount that could be spent overall and on a gift, depending on whether the person being celebrated was a senior partner, a partner, an associate, or a secretary or other administrative staffer. I followed that with information on the types of food and drinks typically purchased, and then, newly buried near the bottom of page three, was this detail:

"Douglas is allergic to nearly every red wine. It can cause him to itch terribly, and for his body, especially his face, to swell like a balloon. So he drinks only organic red wine, which doesn’t affect him as other red wines do. Therefore, for litigation department functions, make sure you purchase only organic red wine. Organic cabernet sauvignon is his favorite. Douglas doesn’t want anyone to know about his allergy. Make sure you don’t mention it to anyone ever."

This was all true. Douglas believed that if anyone—even his colleagues—knew about his sulfites allergy, word could get out to his opponents and it would weaken his position in court and negotiations. I’d long thought he was silly to hide his allergy from the other attorneys here. Yes, appearances were important, but no one would share that information outside the firm if he asked them not to. And even if someone did, lots of people have allergies. I couldn’t imagine anyone viewing it as a weakness. But these were Douglas’s wishes and I’d always ensured they were met. Until today.

With a few quick clicks, I removed the bolding and underlining from the information about Douglas’s allergy in the memo. When Jessica skimmed it later this morning, assuming she even did that, she’d surely never get to the end.

I paused for a moment, wondering if I was going too far, arranging for Douglas to suffer this way. But I didn’t think so. His expectation that I’d plan my own party had made me realize that however warm our relationship seemed, he had taken me for granted. And his insistence on keeping his allergy a secret so he could appear invincible was a bit of vanity he needed to shed. This was my last chance to try to make Douglas a better person and boss. If he had to itch and swell to make that happen, so be it.

***

By the time Jessica sauntered into work at five after nine, I was busy. Cleaning out your desk after forty-five years is a little like preparing to move after a lifetime in one house. You think you’ve packed up most of your stuff, but in reality, there’s a ton of things to handle at the last minute.

“Oh good, you’re here,” I said as Jessica approached our desk. “I need your help with—”

At the word help she rolled her eyes, dropped her purse on the desk, and turned back around. “Need coffee,” she said in a zombielike tone, walking away.

I took a deep breath and unclenched my teeth. I wasn’t going to let that girl ruin my final day. I gave her two minutes to get her coffee, then went to find her. As expected, she was leaning against the counter in the break room, sipping her drink as if she didn’t have a care—or a responsibility—in the world.

“There you are,” I said. “I have an important job for you. Follow me.” And without giving her a moment to complain or demur, I marched to a conference room where we could speak privately. Thankfully she followed, though I did hear her sigh. It must be difficult to be so lazy yet have to go to work each day, I thought as I shut the door. Well, I had a plan to fix that.

“As you know, today is my last day here,” I said, sitting.

She nodded and smiled. Looked like a real smile. She was looking forward to losing her keeper.

“Every time a long-time employee leaves, we throw a firm-wide party on the person’s last day. Unfortunately, due to a mix-up, my party has not been planned. I’m too busy handling final matters for Douglas, so you get to arrange the party. I know it’s last minute, but things often happen that way at a law firm.”

She leaned forward, actually appearing eager. “When you say party, you mean—”

“Have food and drinks brought in. Typically it’s hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and a cake, though Douglas did say to go all out, so if you have a better idea, feel free to up the ante.” Considering I’d been asked to plan my own party, I deserved it. “The festivities should begin around four o’clock. Here’s a memo with a list of restaurants and caterers we typically use. It also has other information. Make sure you read—”

“What account do I charge things to?”

“That’s in the memo, dear. Second paragraph.” She grabbed the document from my hand. “Now about the wine, Douglas likes cabernet sauvignon. Make sure—”

“Cabernet. Got it.” She jumped up, grinning. “If there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s throw a party.”

I smiled back as she hustled out of the room, crumpling the memo in her fist. I’d been counting on it.

***

I was busy all morning taking care of things for Douglas and hardly noticed the hours passing. I’d just finished typing up a letter for him—yes, Douglas could type them himself, but he preferred not to—when Sarah appeared at my desk.

“Rachel and I would like to take you to lunch,” she said, referring to one of the other associates in our department. “I’ve also invited your friend Gwen from H.R.”

“That’s so thoughtful of you, dear,” I said. And it would be nice to eat lunch with Gwen. Running Human Resources left her little time for dining out. “But Douglas and I have reservations at the Palm. In fact, we should be leaving soon.”

Sarah frowned. “Actually, he can’t make lunch. Some problem with the Coulter case.”

“Seriously?” I shouldn’t have said that, but my stomach felt as if it had just dropped three feet. No lunch with Douglas? On my last day? All the times I’d worked late over the years for him, busting my behind, and he couldn’t spare an hour for me today? He really did need to be taught a lesson.

“Please don’t be upset,” Sarah said. “Douglas feels really bad about it. He asked me to treat you instead. I’m happy to do it. You’ve been like a mom to me—to all of us. I don’t know what we’ll do without you.”

I forced myself to smile. “That’s very sweet of you, dear. Thank you.” I grabbed my purse. “Okay then. Let’s go.”

“That’s the spirit,” she said. “And be sure to order whatever you want for lunch. Steak, lobster. Or both. Go wild. After all, Douglas will be paying for it.”

Yes. He would.

***

My anger toward Douglas dissipated as the day went on and I began to grasp that this was it. I sent my last batch of files downstairs to storage. I re-shelved my last couple of books in the department’s library. I’d even felt melancholy typing up Douglas’s timesheet for the final time. So many tedious chores I’d done hundreds of times. Suddenly, I realized, I’d miss them.

But then, before I knew it, four o’clock came, and it was time to party. I’d touched up my make-up and combed my hair, then watched everyone head down the hall to the conference room. Now Douglas and I were walking together so we could make a grand entrance. He was looking so kindly at me, with that sweet smile of his. He didn’t show that smile to a lot of people. It went against his tough-guy image. I was glad he often shared it with me.

“You’ve been my rock all these years, Myra. I hope you know that.”

I patted his arm. “I do know. How green you were when you first started working here.”

He laughed. “And how far we’ve come. Remember when the firm had its fiftieth anniversary party, and you got me to dance. Peggy couldn’t believe it,” he said, referring to his wife.

“It’s a good thing she and I have always gotten along.”

“I’ll say. She calls you my daytime wife.”

“Ha!”

We stopped outside the conference room. “Ready?” he asked.

“Ready for lots of people to say nice things about me and then to eat cake? Of course.”

I smiled and he smiled and then we walked inside to a smattering of applause, a few calls of “hurray,” and some delicious-smelling food. The room looked beautiful, too. Elegant, which was hard to do in a law firm conference room. Color me surprised. Perhaps Jessica did have skills and a work ethic but was simply in the wrong job. As I looked around, taking in all her little touches, I noticed that the entire litigation department was there, plus many people from the rest of the firm, including Gwen, some of the other senior partners, and even the firm’s managing partner. I felt genuinely appreciated. This was what I’d been waiting for.

As I started to mingle, I edged my way toward the long tables with food and drinks, including an abundance of red and white wine. I got close enough to see the label on several of the bottles. Cabernet sauvignon. Not the organic kind. My heart began beating fast. So Jessica hadn’t read my memo, as I’d anticipated. It was all working out as I’d planned. But maybe, I realized, I’d been hasty.

“Myra.” Sarah approached me with a plate filled with stuffed mushrooms, lemony shrimp, and upscale-looking cheese and crackers. With her other hand she held out a glass of red wine to me.

“No way our guest of honor should wait in line,” she said handing over the food and drink.

“Thank you, dear.” I sipped the wine. “Delicious.”

It tasted so much like the organic wine we always had at department functions. Douglas surely wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Douglas, who thought of me as his daytime wife, who carried boxes for me so I wouldn’t strain myself, who was like my little brother. So what if he was vain sometimes? So what if he occasionally was lackadaisical with other people’s feelings? He was a good person. He never meant any harm. Besides, it wasn’t like I was God’s gift to the world. I could be pretty judgmental.

Oh, what had I done?

I twirled around, searching for Douglas. But I didn’t see him anywhere.

“Looking for someone?” Sarah asked.

“Douglas. Do you see him?”

“No. He went back to his office a few minutes ago. I think he got a phone call. The Coulter case. We all want to take time to celebrate and wish you well, but the work never stops, you know.”

I knew. “I need to go find him.” Chances are he’d picked up a glass of wine before leaving the party. I hoped he hadn’t drunk much of it yet.

“Are you sure you want to leave? This is a heck of a party, and it’s all for you.”

She was sweet. “But it’s not a party without Douglas. I’ll be right back.”

I hurried out of the room and down the hallway. It seemed much longer than it ever had before. When I finally reached Douglas’s office, I gave the fastest knock ever. Then I pushed the door open.

“Douglas!”

He was lying unconscious in his chair, his head lolling to the side, with his face flushed and lips swollen. The nearly empty glass of wine sat on his desk.

I ran to him, shoved my hands in his suit jacket pocket, and pulled out an EpiPen. He always carried them, though I’d never seen him need one. Until now.

I’d caused this.

I shoved the needle into his outer thigh, right through his fancy suit. “C’mon, Douglas. Wake up.”

Tears flooded my eyes. He’d never told me he’d react like this to nonorganic red wine. He always just said he’d itch. That his face would swell. I never realized the reaction could be this bad, that his life could be in danger.

I grabbed the phone and dialed 911. Once an ambulance was on the way, I called down to the firm’s reception desk, alerting them that the EMTs were coming and to take them straight up. We hadn’t a moment to waste. Then I turned back to Douglas. He didn’t seem to be breathing. As I dragged him onto the floor to commence CPR, I noticed his lips seemed less swollen, his face not as red.

“Please wake up, Douglas. Please.”

I hadn’t finished my first round of compressions when Douglas started blinking and pushing me away. Thank you, God.

“What happened?” he asked.

I choked back a sob. “I screwed up. I let Jessica plan the whole party and didn’t check if she ordered the right red wine. That’s regular cabernet sauvignon you just drank. Not your usual organic wine. I’m so sorry.”

Douglas half-laughed as he sat up. “That’s what I get for trusting you to take care of every single detail. Good thing it’s your last day or I might have to fire you for trying to kill me.”

“Ha-ha. Very funny.” And closer to the truth than I’d ever dare admit, even if it was by accident. “Why didn’t you ever tell me your allergy was this bad?”

“You know the drill, Myra. I have to appear invincible. Don’t worry. I’m fine now.”

“This way.” I heard someone call from the hall. The firm receptionist and two EMTs ran into the room. I filled them in on what happened. They assessed Douglas’s vitals and quickly got him ready to transport to the hospital. I knew Douglas couldn’t be as good as he was trying to sound or he’d insist on returning to the party.

“It looks like you’ll be okay,” one of the EMTs told Douglas. “But they’ll want to fully check you out at the hospital and probably keep an eye on you for a while.”

He nodded as they began wheeling him out.

“I’ll call Peggy and have her meet you there, Douglas,” I said. “And I’ll be by later.”

Once everyone filed out of the room, I collapsed into Douglas’s chair, staring at the ceiling. “How could I be so stupid?” I railed. “Purposely not telling Jessica about Douglas’s allergy. How could I be so careless with his life?”

“It’s a good question.”

I bolted up from the chair, staring wide-eyed at the door. Jessica stood there, arms folded, pushing up her boobs, as if I’d care.

“So Douglas is allergic to regular red wine,” Jessica said. “Funny you didn’t tell me that earlier and buried the information in your memo when you knew I’d be rushed and might not have time to read the whole thing.”

“I tried to tell you, but you cut me off. Wait a minute . . . You knew?”

She gave me a closed-mouth smile. “You may have figured out I’m not a big reader—except when it comes to things I’m interested in. Like party planning. So imagine my surprise when I read about Douglas’s allergy at the end of that memo.”

“You risked his life! What’s wrong with you?”

“Wrong with me? Well, aren’t you a hypocrite. You tried to kill him and set me up to take the fall. Everyone thinks you’re so great, but I see you for who you are.”

I bit my lip. I hadn’t meant to kill him. And I had put the warning in the memo. But since I’d complained to several people in the office about how Jessica never read anything . . .

 “Tell you what’s gonna happen,” Jessica said. “You’re gonna tell your friend Gwen how great I am and that I should be transferred to the open office administrator position, so I’ll be put in charge of handling firm-wide functions, including everything to do with the summer associates’ activities and the upcoming all-attorney retreat. And you’re gonna convince Douglas to do the same.” She stepped toward me. “I couldn’t get a foot in the door for that job before, even though it’s the one I actually wanted. Maybe now that Gwen saw how great a party I can plan, she’ll realize she shouldn’t have dismissed me so easily.”

“You couldn’t get Gwen to give you an office administrator job, but you got hired as the secretary of the head of the litigation department?”

Jessica smirked. “My dad plays golf with Douglas. Didn’t you know?”

No, I didn’t. That explained a lot.

“In exchange for you doing this,” Jessica continued, “I’m gonna keep my mouth shut about what you did to poor Douglas. And me. Have we got a deal?”

I considered it for a few moments, keeping my face unreadable. “Deal. But I want something too.”’

She widened her eyes.

“Don’t tell anyone why Douglas went to the hospital. The explanation should be his choice.”

She paused, then nodded. “Agreed. Now I have a party to get back to. The food is scrumptious, if I do say so myself. You should come. People have been asking for you.”

“In a minute. I need to call Peggy and tell her what’s happened. Oh, and Jessica, don’t waste your time buttering up Justin. We had to staff up a lot to handle the Coulter case. Now that it’s winding to a close, there could be some downsizing. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“Damn,” she said. “Thanks for the tip.” She fluffed her hair, turned on her heel, and was gone.

I sat there thinking about everything that had happened and began to laugh. Douglas was right. With time, Jessica probably would have been a great fit for him. She was as ruthless as he was. What a pity she’d be leaving him for the office administrator job. Of course, it would be more of a pity for Jessica than Douglas. I hadn’t been lying about the downsizing, though Justin’s job was safe enough. The Coulter case would likely drag on for years. But the office administrator job Jessica so coveted was already on the elimination list Douglas and the other senior partners had drawn up—though they hadn’t yet shared it with H.R.

Perhaps I’d delay that cruise I was planning to take.  It might be more fun to be in town when Jessica got her pink slip.