The Firm(4)


by John Grisham

She parked illegally on the hill nearest the apartment and walked two blocks. Their unit was one of thirty in a two-story red-brick rectangle. Abby stood outside her door and fumbled through the purse looking for keys. Suddenly, the door jerked open. He grabbed her, yanked her inside the tiny apartment, threw her on the sofa and attacked her neck with his lips. She yelled and giggled as arms and legs thrashed about. They kissed, one of those long, wet, ten-minute embraces with groping and fondling and moaning, the kind they had enjoyed as teenagers when kissing was fun and mysterious and the ultimate.

"My goodness," she said when they finished. "What's the occasion?"

"Do you smell anything?" Mitch asked.

She looked away and sniffed. "Well, yes. What is it?"

"Chicken chow mein and egg foo yung. From Wong Boys."

"Okay, what's the occasion?"

"Plus an expensive bottle of Chablis. It's even got a cork."

"What have you done, Mitch?"

"Follow me." On the small, painted kitchen table, among the legal pads and casebooks, sat a large bottle of wine and a sack of Chinese food. They shoved the law school paraphernalia aside and spread the food. Mitch opened the wine and filled two plastic wineglasses.

"I had a great interview today," he said.

"Who?"

"Remember that firm in Memphis I received a letter from last month?"

"Yes. You weren't too impressed."

"That's the one. I'm very impressed. It's all tax work and the money looks good."

"How good?"

He ceremoniously dipped chow mein from the container onto both plates, then ripped open the tiny packages of soy sauce. She waited for an answer. He opened another container and began dividing the egg foo yung. He sipped his wine and smacked his lips.

"How much?" she repeated.

"More than Chicago. More than Wall Street."

She took a long, deliberate drink of wine and eyed him suspiciously. Her brown eyes narrowed and glowed. The eyebrows lowered and the forehead wrinkled. She waited.

"How much?"

"Eighty thousand, first year, plus bonuses. Eighty-five, second year, plus bonuses." He said this nonchalantly while studying the celery bits in the chow mein.

"Eighty thousand," she repeated.

"Eighty thousand, babe. Eighty thousand bucks in Memphis, Tennessee, is about the same as a hundred and twenty thousand bucks in New York."

"Who wants New York?" she asked.

"Plus a low-interest mortgage loan."

That word - mortgage - had not been uttered in the apartment in a long time. In fact, she could not, at the moment, recall the last discussion about a home or anything related to one. For months now it had been accepted that they would rent some place until some distant, unimaginable point in the future when they achieved affluence and would then qualify for a large mortgage.

She sat her glass of wine on the table and said matter-of-factly, "I didn't hear that."

"A low-interest mortgage loan. Loans enough money to buy a house. It's very important to these guys that their associates look prosperous, so they give us the money at a much lower rate."

"You mean as in a home, with grass around it and shrubs?"

"Yep. Not some overpriced apartment in Manhattan, but a three-bedroom house in the suburbs with a driveway and a two-car garage where we can park the BMW."

The reaction was delayed by a second or two, but she finally said, "BMW? Whose BMW?"

"Ours, babe. Our BMW. The Firm leases a new one and gives us the keys. It's sort of like a signing bonus for a first-round draft pick. It's worth another five thousand a year. We pick the color, of course. I think black would be nice. What do you think?"

"No more clunkers. No more leftovers. No more hand-me-downs," she said as she slowly shook her head.

He crunched on a mouthful of noodles and smiled at her. She was dreaming, he could tell, probably of furniture, and wallpaper, and perhaps a pool before too long. And babies, little dark-eyed children with light brown hair.

"And there are some other benefits to be discussed later."

"I don't understand, Mitch. Why are they so generous?"

"I asked that question. They're very selective, and they take a lot of pride in paying top dollar. They go for the best and don't mind shelling out the bucks. Their turnover rate is zero. Plus, I think it costs more to entice the top people to Memphis."

"It would be closer to home," she said without looking at him.

"I don't have a home. It would be closer to your parents, and that worries me."

She deflected this, as she did most of his comments about her family. "You'd be closer to Ray."

He nodded, bit into an egg roll and imagined her parents' first visit, that sweet moment when they pulled into the driveway in their well-used Cadillac and stared in shock at the new French colonial with two new cars in the garage. They would burn with envy and wonder how the poor kid with no family and no status could afford all this at twenty-five and fresh out of law school. They would force painful smiles and comment on how nice everything was, and before long Mr. Sutherland would break down and ask how much the house cost and Mitch would tell him to mind his own business, and it would drive the old man crazy. They'd leave after a short visit and return to Kentucky, where all their friends would hear how great the daughter and the son-in-law were doing down in Memphis. Abby would be sorry they couldn't get along but wouldn't say much. From the start they had treated him like a leper. He was so unworthy they had boycotted the small wedding.

"Have you ever been to Memphis?" he asked.

"Once when I was a little girl. Some kind of convention, for the church. All I remember is the river."

"They want us to visit."

"Us! You mean I'm invited?"

"Yes. They insist on you coming."

"When?"

"Couple of weeks. They'll fly us down Thursday afternoon for the weekend."

"I like this firm already."

Chapter 2

The five-story building had been built a hundred years earlier by a cotton merchant and his sons after the Reconstruction, during the revival of cotton trading in Memphis. It sat in the middle of Cotton Row on Front Street near the river. Through its halls and doors and across its desks, millions of bales of cotton had been purchased from the Mississippi and Arkansas deltas and sold around the world. Deserted, neglected, then renovated time and again since the first war, it had been purchased for good in 1951 by an aggressive tax lawyer named Anthony Bendini. He renovated it yet again and began filling it with lawyers. He renamed it the Bendini Building.

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