(Thursday Afternoon September 13, 2015 2:40 pm)
“I don’t care if it’s the Queen of fuckin England, no calls means no calls. You know better than that, Hazel!”
Dr Clark Arthur turned in his desk chair, to face the telephone on his desk, the better to project his displeasure at the proximate source of the interruption. Feeling the unstable pleasure that follows an outburst of self-indulgence, the newest full professor at Harvard Law swiveled his chair in the opposite direction, to face his laptop, which was sitting on a TV dinner stand in front and to the right of the ceiling-to-floor window overlooking the courtyard.
‘Shit’, he muttered, ‘this day keeps getting better and better. Now I have one pissed-off secretary and, of the few women who remain a factor in my life, Hazel I can least afford to push away.’
“So. That would be, ‘Dr Arthur is currently unavailable, please feel free to call in about an hour, or, if you would prefer I can take your name and number and he will return the call.’ Correct?”, clearly and without a hint of sarcasm, came the voice of his secretary of 20 years.
Smiling now, Clark wondered for the 100th time how he managed to get so lucky with certain women in his life. Hazel has been his admin since his days with the Public Defender’s Office in Providence. She chose to move north when her marriage began to go south. His wife Catherine, who liked Hazel from the first day she was assigned to her husband’s staff, often referred to her as his work spouse.
Leaning forward in the desk chair, he replied, “That does seem to capture some of the nuance of my preferred message. Thank you, Hazel”
“You’re entirely welcome, Dr. Arthur, will you be needing me for anything further this afternoon? I’ve a doctor’s appointment at 3:30 and would like to leave a little early.”
“By all means, Hazel. The only reason I came in today was to get a headstart on the mail that’s been piling up during the last 2 weeks, you take off, I’ll manage just fine.”
With a barely noticeable hesitation, Clark, caught his good humor fading, looked around at his office, noting the paper glacier of un-opened un-answered and, for most part, un-solicited correspondence that, although contained by the In-tray on the right edge of his desk, was clearly beginning to scour the surrounding area, pushing on the photos scattered along the top edge of the desk blotter. Hearing the outer office door open, called out, “No problem at all. If I get into trouble with the Department Chair, I know your cell number, that and I can refuse to answer the door.” Her brief laughter was his reward.
“Fine. You have a 4 o’clock appointment with your newest grad student and don’t forget, pick up Una at the dog groomers and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Clark could hear the outer office door shut, even as he leaned back in his chair, hoping that something in the Quadrangle below his office would provide a delay in tackling the pile of mail on his desk. Life outside went on un-eventfully, students walked into buildings, couples leaned together in earnest conversation and a squirrel sat on a limb, unimpressed.
Fifteen minutes later… Clark leaned back in his chair. On his desk were three stacks of mail. To the right side of the desk were packages and the larger envelopes that included: a galley proof from his editor, a bound galley of a new book by a friend that he promised to write a review, a FedEx box that he hoped contained the Seth Thomas Ship’s Clock that he ordered as a gift for his son’s 33rd birthday next week and among the periodicals were copies of the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Law Review. On the left side, not coincidently the side nearest the door to the Outer Office and Hazel, was the stack of obvious junk and/or solicitation mail and packages. In front of him were 3 letters (two were typed and one handwritten, looking all the world like a quill pen written address) and 2 square greeting card looking envelopes.
Glancing at the clock and seeing that he had only an hour before his last appointment of the day, Clark decided to have one last cup of coffee before opening his personal mail. There being only the 5 pieces, there should leave plenty of time to prepare for his meeting with Lisa, his newest Grad student.
“Hazel? Where do you keep the…” Clark stepped through the door to the outer office speaking but caught himself, remembering that she was taking the afternoon off.
The Outer Office, decorated in early Ivy League had the requisite leather sofa and two wingback chairs on the right side of the rectangular space, separated from the reception/administrative area in the middle of the room by a fish tank. The fish tank (sans fish) was in the office on the day that Dean Crombey gave Clark the tour of the faculty office suites. Thinking back, Clark recalls commenting on the fish tank and getting a reply to the effect that ‘most people find fish tanks relaxing’. Other than Grad Students, visitors and occasional alumnae, the seating area saw little traffic and even less demand for a relaxing aquarium. On the opposite end of the room was a door that opened onto a small kitchen, bath and storage room, which is where Clark kept the coffee maker. Hazel brought in a Keurig machine but left the Mr Coffee coffee maker, with off-white flowers, embossed on the handle alone. She never used it, but always keeping the coffee filter full of coffee, needing only to have water added.
Pouring the water into the opening in the top of the coffee maker, Clark smiled at the thought of Hazel. A very attractive woman, with eyes that possessed an alertness that, were you the object of scrutiny, could be make you feel very uncomfortable or very very good.
She began working as Clark’s secretary 15 years prior, during his time at the Public Defender’s Office in Providence. His decision to leave and accept the faculty position was not made easier given the move up to Cambridge, leaving Hazel behind in Providence was not something Clark liked to think about, however, her marriage, never overly sound, broke up and she surprised him by asking, on the day that he was packing to leave, if there was a place for her in his faculty position. His reply, ‘yes’ and she moved to Cambridge to work for him. Hazel expressed a very rare feeling of uncertainty, when she asked if he thought she would be of any value in a faculty administration position, Clark responded, “Well, you’ll be managing the office of newest tenured Law professor at a well respected university, given the intensity of the Departmental politics and the background of the students, nary a parent willing to tolerate anything but the highest of grades for their offspring. I believe you’ll be every bit as valued as you have been here among the out-of-work drug dealers, politicians and working girls, at Harvard University.
They both laughed.
Waiting for the water-into-coffee miracle to occur, (“this is my blood, drink of it, good to the last drop, hey boys?!), Clark glanced over at Hazel’s desk and immediately wished he had stayed staring at the Mr Coffee. Stuck in the triangular corner of the desk blotter, a half of a business card was visible ‘ …D. Freidman MD and (below that) …ncology’
Resisting the urge to look closer, Clark poured his favorite cup (“the Winner of the Ugliest Mug of the Year a record 3 Decades running” Hazel would remark at every opportunity), and returned to his desk. The day outside remained preternaturally clear, colors of the turning leaves almost garish in the afternoon light.
Sitting back down at his desk, Clark pulled the 5 pieces of ‘not-junk, not-business’ pile of vacation mail closer and using his favorite ‘letter opener’ (a steak knife that somehow ended up on his desk when he becoming managing attorney at the Public Defender’s office. Despite the best efforts of nearly everyone in the office to convince him that it really was not an appropriate choice for a practicing attorney. Well, everyone with the exception of Hazel, who would smile and say nothing), he opened the first letter.
Much as I would rather tell you this in person, I find that writing a letter not only helps me expresses myself better, it vastly increases the chances of my saying this to you….’
Without a thought, Clark folded the sheet of paper, put it back in the envelope, spun in his chair and flipped the switch on his shredder and, without thought, reflection or anything that might anchor an emotional response, slipped the envelop in and turned back to his desk.
The hand written letter was next. On closer examination it did, in fact, have the look of a old-fashioned quill pen. The return address was, Rumford RI. Opening the letter, he read,
It’s been at least 10 years since we met, I was the detective on the case where the Brown University co-ed was charged with manslaughter. You were successful in preventing an innocent young women from going to jail and I would like to think I played a role in justice being served. (I found ways of electing testimony from the victim’s friend.) Politics and the influence of politicians on the police and judicial system in a small State like Rhode Island are not always best dealt with inside the Court rooms.
I have a case that I would ask for your help.
Please call me.
(Thursday Late Afternoon September 13 2015 3:50pm)
“Hello? Dr Arthur?
Lisa Stromley, 2nd year graduate student, (concentration in Corporate Law), requested Clark as her Faculty Advisor against the advice not only of her Father ( Harvard ’85 ) but her on-again, off-again fiancee Stephen (Yale ’14), both of whom were of the opinion that Clark Arthur had lost something with the death of his wife that extended beyond his personal life and into his professional life. His decision to leave his position as General Counsel at a Fortune 500 to work for the Public Defender’s Office in Providence RI was cited as proof that he was not the best choice for her Faculty Advisor. She felt otherwise, but would not give voice to her reasons, judging it better to simply not discuss her decision, this both from respect for the imposing personality of her father and the tendency towards insecurity on the part of her fiancee.