Presently, Dennis excused himself and walked to the restroom. No sooner had he left than a man approached the table. I looked up to see the principal I had met at work earlier that week.
“Do you remember me, Miss Cervantes? I am Barton Hammonds,” he said.
“Yes, I do. How are you, Mr. Hammonds?”
“Please, call me Bart. May I sit down?”
The man lowered his frame into the chair that Paul had vacated and looked directly at me. Clearly, he was here with a purpose not likely to be social in nature.
“I couldn’t help but see that you are having dinner with two of our senior clerks, Mr. Chapman and Mr. Wilkins.”
“Yes. We ran into each other as we left the office and thought it might be nice to come here for dinner,” I replied. I took pains to sound bright and cheerful, even though I felt my defenses rising.
“Of course, you realize, you are far above either of them in terms of ability. Set your sights higher, Miss Cervantes.”
“I didn’t realize I was setting my sights, at all, except not to be rude to two colleagues.”
“That is why we discourage friendships at the firm. That way, you do not have to be drawn into the company of lesser individuals in order not to be rude.”
Lesser individuals. The term sounded sharp, harsh, even. I looked at the man beside me. Before I could speak, he did.
“I’m sure you have personal friends, whose company would be much more suitable than the company of these men.”
“I have very special friends, yes.”
“Of course, you do. The next time either of these men approaches you, why don’t you make a point of having other plans? Hm? You will be glad you did, I promise you.”
“Very well,” I allowed. What else could I say?
The man arose and departed as suddenly as he had appeared. Well, it seemed only natural for me to remain. After all, I had told Paul and Dennis that I would have dinner with them that night, and our dinner had been ordered. In fact, it would be served soon.
Paul returned then. “What did Hammonds want?”
“He didn’t seem to think it appropriate for colleagues to have dinner together,” I told him.
“Oh? How do you feel about it?”
“I’m not sure I know how to feel about it. I’ve never worked for such a company before. Always, the emphasis has been on establishing interpersonal relationships with colleagues. Teamwork. Everyone throws in a few dollars to order in something for lunch – at least, on Fridays.”
Paul nodded. As Dennis returned, he looked up at him and said, “Hammonds was here.”
“Sheesh! Do those people follow us everywhere we go?” Dennis retorted as anger flooded his face.
“So, it would appear. I say, we finish our dinner and leave,” I said.
“Separately, I assume you mean,” Dennis said.
I nodded. “What choice do we have? The rent’s due each and every month, after all.”
“Yeah. The rent,” Dennis echoed as he looked helplessly about.
By the time I reached my apartment, I had decided to call Tomás. He and I had gone through college and law school together. Now, he worked at a prominent firm in Los Angeles. He would be able to tell me whether this anti-fraternity attitude was normal in the legal profession.
“Not that I’ve ever heard about,” Tom told me. “In fact, we get together for lunch or dinner quite often. They followed you to a restaurant and told you not to have dinner with your colleagues?”
“Yes. Or, if he didn’t follow us there, he happened to be there, himself, but he did tell me in the form of a politely worded request, not to go out with my colleagues – Paul and Dennis or anyone else.”
“Hm… Maybe they’re planning to let them go?” Tom suggested.
“Except that they just promoted them to senior clerks and gave them raises.”
“Odd. Very odd. Well, do your time. Get the experience and their name on your resume. Then, come out here. It’s much friendlier, and I doubt whether you’ll stay any busier than you already are.”
“That’s another thing that’s strange. We put in a strict eight-hour day. I came prepared to burn the midnight oil.”
“I do burn the midnight oil. Are you sure that’s a law firm and not a kindergarten?” he asked me.
“Interesting. On my very first day there, I likened having to get permission to use the restroom to a line of first graders, who must hold onto a rope as the class makes its way along.”
“Stifling, at best. Well, it’s up to you, of course. Every firm is going to have ways you don’t like. But, no. I’ve never heard of a firm that operated that way.”
TO BE CONTINUED
(c) 2008, Virginia Tolles, All Rights Reserved