It was eleven o”clock, and she felt like she’d been at work for a month when Sam Chase stood and walk to the window to stare out at the street below. People scurried past, traffic was beginning to grow heavy in anticipation of the noon rush; two police cars wove in and out of the rest of the cars and trucks, sirens blaring. Life in its rawest form existed here.
Sam thought there were city people and suburbanites. She knew she could never live out in suburbs in a house with a manicured green lawn and commute each day to work on the train. She’d miss the grittiness of the city. Here she walked everywhere from her apartment to work, to restaurants and cafes, to the theater. She didn’t need a car. She just loved that.
She started and turned. “Jim, I’m sorry. You caught me taking a break.”
“That’s a first.” Jim McDonough, the managing partner laughed. “Mind if I come in for a moment?”
“Not at all.” Damn, he would catch me starting out the window, she thought.
He eased himself into one of the leather chairs in front of her desk. “First thing, Sam. Your work on the Mester deal was a work of art. I wanted to personally congratulate you before the official hoopla.”
Sam smiled uncertainly. Jim McDonough seldom, if ever, came down to give personal congratulations to anyone. Good work was its own reward, especially for younger members of the firm. True she’d reaped some hefty bonuses and congratulations in official meetings, but almost never a private audience with Jim McDonough in person. Except after last summer, but that was exceptional in a lot of ways.
“That you,” she said. “I was so grateful to work on a project that important.”
“Well, you proved yourself repeatedly over the last few years, especially last summer. That’s why I wanted to tell you personally that we’ve decided to make you a partner. It’s not official yet, so I’d ask you not to talk about it. We’ll work out the perks and details later. I will say it involves a hefty pay raise.”
Sam felt as if she were being pumped with helium. Partner here in this city she always loved. She thought after last summer she’d be relegated to some rathole, even if she had saved the company from a disaster. Marks and McDonough didn’t like disasters. It was bad for business, even if they had the personnel to make disasters disappear.
Sam was about to answer when Jim said. “There’s more. We’re expanding our operations and looking for people we can trust to step in and get everything up and running.”
“Expanding where?” Sam felt a niggle of concern. Maybe this was the part about the rathole office. She swallowed hard.
She sat back in her chair. “Paris, France?”
She’d spent a semester in Paris when she was in college and dreamed of going back before life got in the way. She could already picture the narrow streets lined with little shops, the darling cafes, the boulevards, the shopping, the museums.
Jim was talking about the company buying apartments for the senior management, but she was scarcely listening. She was walking along the Seine pretending to Audrey Hepburn, except in her case there was no Cary Grant. Of course, in real life, there were no Cary Grants.
“Who else is going?”
Jim shifted in his seat a little. Uncomfortably, she thought. “Bob Kerrigan, Gordon Albright, Mark Levin, Rebecca Judson, Maya Lee, and you to start. Plus Tom Kestler. I’m sure there’ll be some other additions. Nothing’s final yet. Consider this a promotion with a huge perk.”
“But why us?”
“Well, for one thing, you all speak French.”
He stood, and she shook his hand, knowing the conversation was at an end. When he left she fell back into her chair. She spoke basic French, and it was rusty and Bob Kerrigan spoke Spanish. She didn’t know about the others, except she thought Maya might speak Japanese and maybe some French. Mark Levin was brilliant and probably did speak any number of languages. She didn’t know about Gordon or Rebecca. She didn’t know about Tom Kestler, except that she didn’t like him. The only other thing she knew was they were all involved in the incident last summer. They resolved it. They made it disappear. Were they being rewarded or exiled?
She saw Maya lee pass her office and waved her in, but Maya kept walking. She gripped the files in her arms, her face determinedly neutral.
Later Sam watched Gordon Albright walk to the elevator, his head bent down and his briefcase gripped in his left hand. Mark Levin strolled out ten minutes later, and she was sure they were meeting somewhere for drinks. They had always been close. Bob Kerrigan and Rebecca Judson worked upstairs, and she didn’t get a chance to see them. She didn’t want to see Tom Kestler.
Nobody was celebrating this dream promotion.
Sam took a breath, then another, and reached a point of clarity. She knew deep down this coming. Somebody always had to clean up messes, and then what? She’d been afraid of what she knew, but she wasn’t stupid. She put her affairs in order. She thought she’d been careful. Maybe the others had been careful as well, or maybe they hadn’t anticipated this day.
At seven o’clock Sam closed her computer as usual, though she’d accomplished almost nothing, and placed it in its padded sleeve. It was misting outside. That was good. She slipped into her raincoat, took the express elevator, and checked out.
The rain was light but persistent when Sam caught the T to Faneuil Hall, and she was grateful to grab a seat to herself. Before exiting the train, she left her computer wedged between the side of the car and seat. On a Friday evening in spring she knew the market would be crowded with all kinds of people. She wandered through the outdoor vendor stalls and up the stairs into the inside gallery. Teenagers pushed past her, eager to get to the open-air concert near the Hall itself, and she was able to slip out of her heels and into a pair of flats. Despite the cool air she took off her Burberry raincoat, shook it out, and brought a purple tote with BOSTON stamped on it in red letters. After transferring the contents of her briefcase into the tote she dumped the empty case in a trash can. Her coat was reversible, so she turned it inside out, shivering a little at the dampness.
Sam doubled back and slipped out into the main courtyard of the marketplace where the band was tuning up and managed to work her way through the crowd back toward State Street. In the process she let her cell phone drop to the ground where someone was sure to step on it, kick it about, or maybe even use it. It was conceivable an honest person would turn it in, but she figured it would take a while. She walked briskly to the nearest T-stop. She could walk to her destination, but this would be better.
An apartment in the North End awaited her, but she wasn’t going there to stay. Her bags were already packed and loaded into a Honda Civic. In an hour she would be heading for parts unknown. The thought chilled her. She had always loved the city; she might be leaving it forever.
She wondered if she was the only one making plans to escape or if tomorrow, the other honorees would have disappeared as well. They knew after last summer a price would have to be paid. Mark Levin had even said Kaddish.
He was right. Now Sam Chase was going to die. The person taking her place melted into the city night. She exited the T and made her way through the winding streets of the North End. Rabbits hung from butchers windows, blood staining the fur around their necks. The rabbits always made her uneasy. Sam walked quickly to her the garage where her car was waiting and opened the padlock. She started up the car and backed out. Just the sight of those rabbits made her too uneasy to even go near the apartment. She had enough to get away. Greed made you stupid. She took a last breath of the city she loved and melted into the night.