Poison Pill by MA Granovsky (Excerpt)


Olga Mueller was thrilled to learn she’d be able to upgrade to business class on her flight to Istanbul. She took it as a sign that the rest of her airport and flight experiences would be just as easy, and indeed, she breezed through security in five minutes, leaving her with almost three hours to wander around the dingy corridors or sit in the worn out chairs near the gate.

Neither the shabbiness of the airport nor the ridiculousness of its ever-changing security regulations could dampen her mood at that moment. She had time to herself, a rarity in Olga’s world. The fact that she wasn’t at work and couldn’t reasonably be expected to cater to every whim of whatever stray partner who wanted something from her felt like an exotic luxury. She was giddy with possibilities. She could read a book; she could sit and do nothing; she could drink coffee and eat a donut without the crumbs littering a work document.

Olga was an attorney at Kress, Rubinoff & Twist PLLC. With a web of eight offices spanning six continents, 612 attorneys, 1058 support staff, and $2.8 M in average annual profits per partner, Kress Rubinoff was at the top of the global legal food chain. As an associate, Olga was expected to be available 24/7, carry her firm-issued BlackBerry at all times, and check it at least once an hour. There were few acceptable exceptions to this rule but an international flight still qualified as one such bona fide reason to disconnect.

The BlackBerry vibrated and blinked its red eye from the outside pocket of her handbag, reminding Olga that the international flight exception unfortunately didn’t encompass the time in the airport prior to embarkation. Her jaw clenched as she debated whether she could get away with ignoring the incoming messages. But reflex won out and, instead of shutting her BlackBerry off, she began scrolling through the twenty-seven new messages that had queued up while she was checking in and going through security.

Ignoring all firm-wide messages not directed at her specifically, Olga concentrated on the eight that were sent only to her. One was from her friend Cindy, asking if she had time to go to dinner that evening, and seven were from Eric McIvor, the partner she worked with most. Olga chose to read and answer Cindy’s message first.

“Would love to go to dinner,” she typed, “but am at JFK, flying to Istanbul, where will be pulling ten-hour days sorting boring, dusty & useless docs for pending litigation. Will be in Istanbul and will have no chance to see any sights. Can you tell I’m bitter?”

While waiting for Cindy’s reply, in which Cindy would be duty-bound as a friend and fellow attorney to offer unqualified commiseration, Olga began reviewing McIvor’s messages, by now numbering twelve, with the last four carrying a red exclamation mark denoting high priority.

Honestly, he’s like a child, she thought. When McIvor wanted something it had to be done that instant. She moved to the nearest seat, dropped the laptop case onto it, then sat on the edge of the adjacent seat. Chewing on a nail absentmindedly, she started reading McIvor’s messages.

They made no sense to her. They concerned some case she wasn’t involved in, one in which the parties had apparently finally settled. He was directing her to drop everything, review and mark up the draft settlement agreement attached to his first e-mail, and send him the marked-up version with whatever changes she thought were needed. The rest of the messages were iterations of the same thing, each more hysterical in tone than the last.

The man has some kind of chemical imbalance, Olga thought, not for the first time. Here she was, at the airport, ready to fly to Turkey on another of McIvor’s cases and she was supposed to review a 64-page settlement agreement negotiated in a case she knew nothing about, then opine on the suitability of its provisions in a neatly typed, well-reasoned e-mail, suitable for forwarding to the client.

Giving McIvor the benefit of the doubt, Olga decided he must have forgotten which of his associates worked on which of his cases. Therefore, she responded to his last e-mail by explaining that it wasn’t her case, that it was Robert’s. McIvor replied almost instantly. “I know. I want you to look at the settlement agreement. Do you have a problem with that?”

Olga did have a problem with that. Or several. She debated whether to elaborate by e-mail or chance a tongue lashing from the increasingly irate McIvor by calling him. Her fear of McIvor’s temper won. She spent the next several minutes explaining where she was and why she couldn’t do what he was asking of her. Then she changed the settings of her BlackBerry to “quiet,” so it only blinked but no longer vibrated with each new incoming message, and dropped it into the depths of her handbag. She knew that her refusal to further engage with McIvor was an act of grand disobedience and that her chances of continuing employment with Kress Rubinoff were diminishing with each such display of attitude, but she no longer cared. She was tired.

Olga tried to get back the sense of exhilaration she had before becoming aware of McIvor’s e-mails, but to no avail. She couldn’t rid herself of the mounting mixture of stress and anger that was by now shaking her physically. She decided to find a bar and down a double vodka to calm her nerves. Normally, she would have rejected this option for fear of slowly descending into the attorney alcoholic cliché she never wanted to become. But this time her state was unusually acute, coming as it did on the tail of a period in which she had worked thirty-eight fifteen-hour days in a row. She gathered her belongings and walked to the nearest saloon.

Climbing onto a bar stool, Olga reflexively fished out her blinking BlackBerry but willed herself to leave it on the bar rather than read the incoming messages. She rotated it so its evil red eye faced away from her and ordered her double shot of Smirnoff.

While waiting for her vodka to be poured, Olga swiveled around to survey her fellow patrons. The man sitting one seat over from her looked familiar. She noticed he was reading a book titled Advances in Turkish Metallurgy, Twelfth Century B.C. to the Present, and that helped place him as the man who had glared at her so disapprovingly while checking in at the business class counter. By his looks, she didn’t peg him to be Turkish.

As friendly a person as Olga was generally, she tended to keep to herself with strangers, especially the good-looking ones, like her fellow barfly. She’d already noticed his height and his athletic build and admired his easy gait as he walked away from the check-in counter, but now she had an opportunity to observe him in greater detail. By the lines forming on his face and his tan, she guessed he was in his mid-thirties and loved the outdoors. His hands were finely shaped, with long fingers, and no wedding ring or indentation or tan line where one would have been. Just then, the man turned to speak with the bartender and Olga was struck anew by the unusually dark grey color of his eyes, and by their coldness.

But the grey-eyed man was her only viable option for a conversation partner. She weighed her discomfort at speaking to someone that striking and unfriendly against her discomfort at drinking alone, and the latter won. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, she thought, while downing her double shot in one gulp. Taking a deep breath, she turned back to face her target.

“Hi!” she began brightly, only to earn a scowl and a withering flash of the man’s eyes, leading her to finish in a much quieter tone. “We’re on the same flight.”

“So are hundreds of other passengers,” the man responded and turned back to his book. Olga blushed and was mortified to feel her eyes smarting as she hurried to turn away. She hadn’t expected her opening to go that badly.

The man glanced over at her, taking in the empty shot glass standing in front of her just as it was making friends with a fresh, full one, and appeared to soften. “I apologize. That was rude even by my standards. Rough day?” he asked, indicating the shot glasses with his chin.

“You could say that. And apology accepted. For the record, I don’t make it a habit to speak to strangers in bars. Chatting with you was supposed to provide the illusion that this is a social drink and not an I-will-crawl-out-of-my-skin-with-stress-unless-I-have-a-shot drink.”

The man hesitated a moment, deciding between brushing Olga off and continuing their interaction. With a sigh, he marked the page where he stopped reading with a bar napkin and turned back to Olga. A hint of a smile lit his face as he extended his hand. “I’m Benedict. If nothing else, you do have a novel approach to conversations.”

“If you chat with me long enough, you’ll experience all sorts of nonsensical and non-linear discussions, I promise. I’m Olga.” They shook hands and Olga was surprised by the calluses on his palm. She didn’t guess him to be a man who earned his living by hard physical labor.

“Isn’t your BlackBerry company enough for you? It’s been blinking nonstop since you sat down.”

“The BlackBerry is not company, or at least not friendly company.” She picked up the device and scrolled through the new messages. “In fact, it’s the source of the trauma that has led me to drink this afternoon. I’m communicating with my deranged boss. Or to be more accurate, he’s communicating with me. Now in all capitals. Bolded.”

“What about?” asked Benedict, appearing genuinely interested in her answer. Olga obliged with a short description of her back and forth with McIvor. She heard her cell phone ring, but by the time she fished it out of her bag, the call had gone to voicemail. She recognized the number as McIvor’s and vacillated about whether to listen to the message.

“Was that him?” Benedict asked, then took a sip of his martini.

Olga nodded in response.

“Go on then, put him on speaker. I’d love to hear what this ogre sounds like.”

“If you insist.” Olga accessed her voicemail without much enthusiasm.

“Olga, this is Eric. I’m sick of the fucking attitude you’re giving me here. I don’t give a shit where you are, what you’re doing, how you’re feeling, or what else you’ve got going on. You’re my associate, and you do what I tell you to do. If I tell you to wipe my goddamned ass you ask what brand of toilet paper you should use. Now go find a fucking printer, mark up the proposed settlement agreement and get it back to me before your flight leaves. We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars of the client’s money here. For once, just show a little dedication to your job. Please.”

Olga felt rage welling up, but was distracted by Benedict’s laughter. She glared at him only to feel her anger dissolve as she realized just how absurd it all must sound to any sane listener. She couldn’t help but laugh then, too.

“I don’t know why it’s funny,” she said. “I could lose my job over this. It doesn’t matter how irrational his demands are. He owns me.”

“You must admit that the toilet paper brand comment is an interesting update on the ‘I say jump and you ask how high’ adage,” answered Benedict. “And he does not own you. As a lawyer you of all people should know that slavery was outlawed here a while back.”

“Sorry, I need to deal with this right now before it spirals out of control any further. When the bartender comes back this way, can you please order me another double shot and a Cobb salad?” She slid off the stool and headed to an empty corner with her cell phone, noticing with satisfaction that Benedict swiveled to watch her depart.


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Genre – Legal Thriller

Rating – PG

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