The Perils of Writing, or, A New Work-in-Progress

I haven’t posted much of anything the last day or so because I’ve been busy writing something else. Last night around 7:00, I sat down to write a new short story. I’ve been intending to release a story collection after my first round of books, comprised of my favorite short pieces from my Usenet days, plus one or two new ones. This was supposed to be one of the new ones.

Twenty-four hours later, I’ve got 10,000 words worth of an unfinished novel that I’m tentatively calling The Hunt. This is how things often go, but I really don’t need a new book right now. I need to finish creating the ebook files for the books I’ve already written (update: this is about 50% done). (Also: Did I mention that I write really fast?)

I’ve gotten to a stopping place, more or less. So in the interest of arresting this thing so I can get back to work on other stuff, I’m going to post a chunk of it here to see what the world thinks. If you like this, and think it’s worth continuing (or not) feel free to let me know. Herewith is chapter 1 and a bit of chapter 2. There’s no sex here, but you should be able to see the general direction this going.

N.b.: This is, as noted, a WIP, so is somewhat rougher than the other snippets I’ve posted.

1.

It was dawn. We stood in a clearing in the woods where Madeline had driven us in her Range Rover. Per her instructions, I wore khaki cargo pants, a gray t-shirt, and running shoes. My hair was tied back in a ponytail. At my waist I carried two bottles of water and a small pack with two energy bars and a bag of gel energy shots.

Madeline handed me a contour map of the woods and a compass. On the map, there were two marks, a blue spot, where we were now, and a green spot about ten miles away.

“You have until sunset to reach the exit,” Madeline said. “If you fail to get out by then, we will call off the hunt and start again tomorrow morning.”

“And they have no idea where I’m starting from, right?”

“Correct. The men know only where you’re headed, not where you are.” She looked past me into the woods. “You’d best get going.”

I turned and jogged off into the trees.

Jesus Fucking Christ, how did I get myself into this?

The card had simply read, “For Pretty Girls in Crisis,” with a phone number. I figured I had both covered: I was beautiful, and I was in a very large crisis.

Things hadn’t started out that way.

Two years ago, I graduated magna cum laude from law school at the University of Texas at Austin. I was Chief Managing Editor of the Law Review and had lined up a clerkship at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. I even got interviewed for a clerkship on the Supreme Court, but didn’t quite make the cut. The Dallas office of a big national firm had made me an offer at the end of my second year summer break, and I had taken it.

Things weren’t entirely rosy, of course. I’d grown up middle class, my family too rich to qualify for significant financial aid, but too poor to fund much of my higher education. Consequently, I had finished law school with almost $200,000 in student loan debt. I didn’t care that much though—my starting salary was $140,000 a year, and I figured I would have it all paid off by the time I made partner, if I kept my nose clean and was lucky enough at bonus time.

I wasn’t blind to the fact that my model-good looks, long blonde hair, and breasts that I didn’t mind showing off got me consideration that lesser mortals might not have, but I felt like I had earned my success and my entrance into big-firm Texas law practice. The partners could ogle me all they wanted just as long as I got my shot like everyone else.

At first everything went fine, if you define “fine” as working seventy hours a week and blowing through every paycheck I got because I was so giddy about finally having real money. A woman at a big firm, even an associate, is expected to dress to impress, and that goes double for Dallas. Not that I needed much encouragement to spend all my money—and then some—on looking the part. I rented a fancy condo downtown and leased a new Mercedes. It was fun, and I felt like hot shit. If my credit cards were starting to wear thin as the balances expanded, well, I was just too busy to give it much thought.

A year into my new job, I was the star of my associate class. I also had a $35,000 balance on my three Visa cards and had paid almost nothing toward my student loans.

That’s when everything went to shit.

It started innocently enough. One of the partners I’d been working for had been taking more and more of an interest in me, and I’d been subtly letting it happen because he was one of the firm’s biggest rainmakers and just about the number one person I wanted for a mentor. There were rumors he was thinking of taking off on his own and starting a boutique litigation firm, and in the event that happened, I had decided I wanted to go with him.

He was married, of course.

Did I care? I guess so, but at the same time, I figured it was his business, and it wasn’t like we were doing anything but flirting at work. Quite a few times we’d gone out for drinks with other lawyers in the firm, but I’d been careful never to get myself alone with him.

But the flirting got more and more intense, and in the back of my mind, I knew I was playing with fire. I should have cut it off, but things were going really well otherwise, and I didn’t want to fuck up a good thing. I didn’t care if he wanted to fuck me just as long as he didn’t try to fuck me.

In fairness, I’d been sending him all the wrong signals through this whole situation, so I couldn’t blame him for thinking what he thought. And he wasn’t the only one who thought it.

The day before my life blew up, one of the other women in my associate class came right out and asked me in the ladies room, “Are you and Steve Royall fucking?”

What?

“You heard me.”

No.”

“Well, that’s what everything thinks. You guys sure act like it.”

“I am not fucking him. He’s fucking married. Do you think I want to end my career?”

“Then what’s up with all the flirting?”

“We’re just working together.”

“It looks like a lot more than that.”

I gave her the finger and left. But on the way back to my office, it finally dawned on me what I’d really been doing and what a risk I had been taking. If the associates were talking about this, the partners surely were too. I had to shut this down somehow.

But Steve was out of the office that day. I lay awake that night working through one explanation after another that might cool things off without upsetting him too much. His wife was hardly ugly—she was married to a very successful lawyer, after all—and they had three kids. Surely he could see that somehow getting into my pants wasn’t worth throwing all that away.

The next day, I was all ready to make this happen. But when I got to the office just before 7:00 that morning, there was already a message from him asking to see me.

Fighting the knot in my stomach, I went down to his office.

“Steve? You wanted to talk to me?”

The way his eyes lit up when he saw me did not make me feel any better.

“Hi, Caitlyn, come in and shut the door.”

I did, and sat down.

“What’s up?”

He took a deep breath and started. “You may have heard the rumors about my leaving. They’re true. I’m giving notice this morning. I’m going off to start my own firm. It’s going to be an elite litigation boutique, and I want only the best people with me.”

Inside, I was in a hurricane of emotions. This was what I had wanted, but I knew now it was never going to work. But I was frozen into inaction, my speech forgotten.

“Okay.”

“I want you to come with me. I’ve got a big book of business I’ll be taking, and it’s more than I can handle alone. It will mean a bump in salary, potentially a big one once we’re settled.”

I swallowed hard. “Who else are you asking?”

“I’m hoping to recruit some other people, but things haven’t firmed up yet. So in the beginning, it’s just going to be you and me.”

Oh Jesus Christ no, I thought. This was an absolute disaster. There was no way we could do this without his thinking we would end up in bed. I could see that in his eyes plain as day. And the whole rest of the world would think I’d gotten the gig because I was fucking him. This could not happen.

I fought my pounding heart for a few moments.

“Steve, um, I don’t know what to say.”

“I know it’s going to be a big change, but it will be for the best. You’ve got so much potential, but you have to be willing to take some risks in this business. I want to help you get there.”

My skin crawled. What the fuck was I supposed to do?

“It’s just, you know, the firm has invested so much in me, I just don’t know—”

“Associates move around. You know that. I’m sure there will be no hard feelings.” He reached for a packet of papers on his desk and handed them to me. “This is the offer I’m making to you, and how the firm will be structured. Just go ahead and sign that and we can get things going.”

I stared down at it. He was offering me $195,000 a year. I knew how much business he brought in and knew that was actually reasonable for what he would be doing. But I could not do this.

“Steve, I . . .” I couldn’t bring myself to say it. So I chickened out. “Can I at least have some time to think this over?”

His face fell, but he recovered quickly, nodding. “Of course. Of course. It’s a big decision. But I’ll need that back from you before 10:00. That’s when I’m meeting with Brandon.” Brandon Hayes was the office managing partner.

I told him I’d think it over as quickly as I could.

But I never got the chance to decide.

An hour later, I was trying to lose myself in my work—ignore it and it will go away, right?—when I heard shouting down the hallway.

“No! You are not doing this! You are not! I will not let you!”

I thought I recognized the voice, and when I leaned out of my office, I realized I was right: It was Steve’s wife, and she was in an absolute rage.

Had I ducked back into my office at that moment and shut the door maybe none of what happened would have happened. But I stayed out there for a few seconds, and it was enough for her to see me.

Her eyes swelled, and her finger shot out in my direction. “You! You stay away from my goddamned husband, you little whore!”

Steve came rushing out into the hallway, where most of the rest of the firm was also emerging to watch this scene.

“Traci, please, not here, this isn’t what you think.”

“I know what the fuck you’re doing! You’re running off to start your own firm with that little slut! That slut that I know you’re fucking!”

That broke me out of my paralysis.

“Mrs. Royall, we haven’t done anything, I promise!”

“Oh, fuck you, you stupid cunt! You’re all he fucking talks about anymore! He won’t even fuck me because he’s too busy with you!”

Every eye in the entire firm was on me at that moment, and I would have given just about anything to be a million miles away.

I wanted to shout my innocence. I wanted to convince them. But I couldn’t think of a single thing to say. What could I have said that would have made a difference? The looks on their faces told me none of them would have believed me anyway.

Steve was still trying to calm his wife down, but she was having none of it.

“You are not starting a firm with her! I will divorce you and leave you in your underwear! I will not allow it!”

“Traci, please, this isn’t the time, I haven’t told anyone yet—”

“I don’t fucking care! You’re not doing it!”

That’s when I saw Brandon Hayes come around the corner, and he had clearly heard enough to know what was going on, because the two security guards who worked for the firm were following him.

The look he gave me made my heart shrink to the size of a pea.

They fired Steve, and they fired me, no matter what I tried to tell them. No one believed we hadn’t been fucking, not after that scene. The denials just made things worse, because it gave them the pretext of thinking we were compounding the offense by lying about it

Steve went off and started his own firm. He was just fine. But under the threat of divorce, he rescinded his offer. He promised, half-heartedly, to help me find another job.

The problem was that I was now poison. Word of what had happened got around town in a hurry, and no one wanted to hire a woman with a record of toxic office romances. I was pretty sure from the things I’d heard that Traci Royall was busy blackening my name to anyone who would listen.

No one was willing to even interview me.

I gave some thought to suing the firm for sexual harassment, but I knew enough to know I had a pretty weak case given my behavior with Steve. And worse, if I were to actually do it, my legal career would be over unless I planned to go into solo practice, something I hardly felt qualified to do. I had no clients anyway.

I had no job, and I was now almost $250,000 in debt. I had to surrender my car and get out of the lease on my apartment—moving in with a friend of mine—neither of which came cheaply. I wasn’t willing to give up being a lawyer after everything I’d done to get there, but I had to start bringing in some money somehow.

I considered leaving town, finding some place where no one knew me or Steve or the firm. But moving would have required money I didn’t have, and leaving Dallas seemed like the final surrender. Plus, I was only licensed to practice in Texas, and if I left the state, I would to need to convince someone to let me do grunt work until I passed the bar wherever I ended up.

As my unemployment stretched into several months, I began getting desperate. No longer having an income, I had fallen behind on my student loans and credit cards. I had to start selling my fancy work clothes at a consignment store just to have any money at all. I managed to get a couple of interviews for more basic jobs, but explaining how I came to be there was just too difficult given my academic record.

I considered declaring bankruptcy, but that would have done nothing for my student loans, which weren’t dischargeable. I would still owe the banks $200,000 in addition to wrecking my credit for years.

I began to wonder that if I couldn’t sell my skills, maybe I could sell myself.

Hating myself for it, I went to two different high-end gentleman’s clubs asking about how to become a dancer. I mainly wanted to see how much money I could make. But though it looked like I might be able to bring in a decent living—maybe even a lot of money—doing it, there was a problem. These were the types of places Dallas lawyers liked to hang out, and if I did it long enough, it was certain that sooner or later someone I had known would see me. And I just could not bear thought of the humiliation that would result.

That left becoming a call girl. I figured I was pretty enough to do it, but knowing what it would mean—likely several years of it before I could get back on my feet—just chilled my blood. And it wasn’t like I was hot shit in bed. I wasn’t the kind of girl who slept around in college. I’d had a few boyfriends here and there, but law school was demanding enough to largely kill my social life. That was one of the things that made Traci Royall’s accusations so galling—I hadn’t had sex in more than a year with anyone, let alone her husband. Could I really bring myself to sleep with a procession of strange men? Was I really that desperate?

That’s when the letter arrived.

2.

It was simply addressed to me at my friend’s apartment. A white envelope with no other markings beyond a stamp.

Inside was a shiny black business card.

For Pretty Girls in Crisis

I stared at it blankly for a few seconds. What the fuck? I didn’t recognize the area code. There was nothing else on the card, no indication what on earth it meant.

I didn’t show it to my roommate, who was getting increasingly impatient with my limited ability contribute to our expenses. Who had sent this? And why? Plenty of people knew about my predicament, and there were some who might feel inclined to amuse themselves with it.

But the card was professionally printed, the letters raised, the paper smooth and glossy. Would someone really go to so much trouble to prank me?

I let it sit for a few days, not knowing what else to do with it. Several times I almost threw it out.

Finally, one afternoon about a week later, after another abortive interview in which I was again asked why I wanted a job I was so overqualified for, I dug out the card.

What the hell, I thought. If it’s a joke, I’m too beat down to care anymore.

I dialed the number. A woman answered on the second ring.

“Hello, Caitlyn. I’m glad you called.”

Every hair on my body stood out.

“How do you know my name?” I gasped.

“Because you were sent the invitation.”

“What invitation?”

“I am aware of your current difficulties. I am here to offer you a lifeline.”

“You mean a job? At a firm?”

She chuckled softly. “Not that sort of lifeline. You’ll need to come in if you want to discuss it further.”

I gulped. “Come in where?”

She gave me an address in Highland Park. “Shall we say 5:00? Do you have the means to get over here? I know you no longer have a car.”

“How do you know that?”

“I know a great deal about you, Caitlyn. It’s why you were sent the invitation. Just take the bus, and I’ll see you at 5:00.”

The line went dead.

Did you get this far? Please let me know what you think.

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