The Chill of Night
Friday, December 23rd
Had number Ten Monument Square been set among the skyscrapers of New York, or even Boston, no one would have noticed it. But in a town like Portland it stood as one of the defining features of the skyline. Twelve stories of reddish brown granite with black windows set between vertical piers, number Ten towered arrogantly over the east side of the square, a big player in a small town. At its top, large white letters proclaimed to anyone who cared to look, that the building was the headquarters of Palmer Milliken, the city’s largest and most prestigious law firm. It was also, according to Palmer Milliken’s partners, one of the best anywhere in New England, including, they insisted, Boston. The firm’s one hundred and ninety two lawyers plus appropriate support staff occupied all but two of the building’s twelve floors.
At seven-forty-two in the evening, on the Friday before the long Christmas weekend, a young woman stood at the window of her modest office on the seventh floor, gazing down at the activity in the square. Elaine Elizabeth Goff, Lainie to those who knew her well, was one of Palmer Milliken’s senior associate attorneys. She’d already finished her work reviewing terms of a pending merger agreement between two small Maine banks. She’d pored over the documents half a dozen times, made a few changes and sent in her recommendations an hour ago. Now she was ready to begin her winter vacation, a two-week jaunt, away from the bone-numbing cold of Portland, to the small, elegant Bacuba Spa and Resort on the southwest side of Aruba. Only two last things remained. A FedEx envelope on her desk that needed to go out tonight. And a phone call that should have come twelve minutes ago. Its lateness was making her edgy.
Six years out of Cornell Law, Lainie was still in her twenties, though, as she recently and frequently began reminding herself, just barely. But even as the dreaded thirtieth approached, she took pride in her conviction that she, Lainie Goff, the scholarship kid from Rockland, Maine, was about to become one of the youngest partners in Palmer Milliken’s fifty-seven-year history. The offer, though not certain, was now so close she could almost taste it. She hoped word of the lucrative partnership would come tonight with the call she was waiting for. If only the damned phone would ring. She’d planned her life around that happening. Began spending money she didn’t have. The $500 Jimmy Choo shoes that were a torture to wear. The gleaming $40,000 BMW 325i convertible waiting in the garage downstairs. Not the bright red she really wanted but the platinum bronze metallic she thought more lawyerly. And now the expensive vacation on Aruba. All that money ponied up in anticipation of greater rewards lying just around the corner.
It wasn’t that Lainie was such an exceptional lawyer. Her intellectual and legal skills, while formidable, ranked her no higher than half a dozen others among Palmer Milliken’s ambitious pack of associates. But in the race for the top, Lainie enjoyed a key advantage not shared by any of her eager competitors. She was not only an able lawyer, she was also an exceptionally beautiful woman with shoulder-length dark hair, a slim athletic figure and penetrating blue eyes that most people, but men in particular, found impossible to forget. And she was sleeping with her boss.
Lainie glanced at the old-fashioned electric sign atop the Time & Temperature Building. Seven forty-six. Four minutes since the last time she looked. The temperature was fourteen degrees. Down five in the last hour. The cold that gripped the city for the better part of the past four weeks was showing no signs of letting up. It was a good time to be taking off for the sunshine. A good time to celebrate. Or would be if only Hank would get off his ass and call. Henry C. “Hank” Ogden, Managing Partner in charge of Palmer Milliken’s lucrative M&A practice. Her mentor. Her boss. Her lover. Elegant, rich, fifty-three years old and very, very married.
Hank told her he’d call at seven-thirty. She didn’t know why the call was late. But she didn’t like it. The Partnership Committee meeting should have been over hours ago. She strummed her long nails on the sill in front of her. Maybe Hank was just stuck in another meeting. He’d call as soon as he got out. Maybe. That was the charitable assumption. The best of three possibilities. The second was that he was keeping her waiting just for the hell of it. To provoke a little extra anxiety. One of the power games Hank liked playing. His way of letting her know who was in charge. Stupid and pointless, like a little boy poking a stick at a hamster in a cage. Well, she could handle his games, she told herself. She was tougher than that. The third possibility, the disaster scenario, was the one she wasn’t sure she could handle. That, in spite of Hank’s promised sponsorship and strong support, the partners in their infinite wisdom, had decided not to extend an offer. If that was the case, then Hank wasn’t calling because he’d be nervous about her reaction. He hated scenes, public or private, and knew there’d be one. She took a deep breath. She’d give him ten more minutes. Then she’d call him.
She pushed fears about the Partnership Committee from her mind and decided to think, instead, about her upcoming vacation. Far more pleasant to think about that. Two weeks of being pampered in the sunshine. Two weeks to either celebrate her triumph or salve her pride. Massages. Facials. Mud baths. Hanging out on the beach by herself with a bunch of trashy paperbacks. Well, to be honest, not all by herself. She’d find someone to play with. Someone with no connection to Maine or to Palmer Milliken. Someone European might be fun. Maybe she’d have a chance to practice her French. Patti LaBelle’s rendition of Lady Marmalade riffed through her brain.
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi.
If the news was good she supposed Hank would want a “performance review.” He’d probably want one anyway. He found the term amusing. Ms. Goff, could you stop by, oh, at five-thirty or so? We need to do a performance review. Thank you very much. We’ll see you then. Not an elaborate review either. Just forty minutes of snatch and grope on the red leather couch in his office. That’s really all there was to this so-called affair. That and the occasional “nooner” back at her apartment or a rare business trip to some out of the way hotel. Lainie wanted more. She wanted a real relationship. If it was with Hank, fine. If not, that was fine too. There were others she found interesting. One in particular she occasionally spent time with. Either way, she wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep this bullshit going.
It started a year ago as a one-night-stand after a few drinks on an overnight trip to East Millinocket to do due-diligence on the sale of a paper mill. But it had long since become a regular thing. For him, she knew it was totally casual. For her, things were more complicated. Sleeping with Hank as a means to an end was fine. She’d always been attracted to older men, powerful men, and, when they had enough time, Hank could be a skilled and attentive lover. Intelligent. Charming. Attractive. She knew he liked her. She toyed with the idea that she could somehow close the deal. Wouldn’t that be a hoot? Lainie Goff as the second Mrs. Henry Ogden. Elaine Elizabeth Goff Ogden. The trophy wife. It was a role she could play to a fare-thee-well and one she would thoroughly enjoy.
Deep down Lainie knew it would never happen. Divorce for Hank wasn’t an option. He was married for good or ill, till death do them part, to the plain, plump, immensely wealthy Barbara Milliken Ogden, the only grand-daughter of Edward A. Milliken, one of the firm’s founders. Once the partnership was safely tucked away it would be time to think of a good way to end the relationship without damaging her career. The idea of being free to pursue new adventures pleased her.
Lainie watched the activity below her window. Banks of dirty snow were pushed to the side and the center of Monument Square was filled with people. Small groups, mostly twos and fours, scurried in and out of the shops and restaurants that lined the pedestrian plaza on the south side of the square. On this last Friday before Christmas they were open late and busy. In the middle, near the monument, a brilliantly lit, sixty-foot blue spruce commemorated the season. A big, beautiful decorated tree. But not a Christmas tree. Lainie remembered reading that in the Press-Herald. These days calling a Christmas tree a Christmas tree wasn’t done. A city spokeswoman told the reporter that Portland was calling it a holiday tree. “We want it to sound denominationally neutral,” she said. “We don’t want to offend anybody.” Lainie snorted. She hated such PC stupidity.
At the base of the tree, a troupe of carolers in faux Victorian garb sang. A few dozen people gathered around to listen and sing along. Most were bundled-up against the cold and looked, from where Lainie stood, like little round Michelin men and women. Some held the mittened hands of even smaller Michelin children. Down, near the entrance to the bookstore, she spotted Kyle, the hotdog man, tending his pushcart, his trademark white apron wrapped tightly around a heavy woolen jacket. On his head he wore a leather aviator’s cap with the earflaps pulled down over his gray hair. He seemed to be doing a brisk business selling the gyros, hot dogs and Italian sausages he grilled over an open charcoal fire.
Lainie smiled. Kyle was her buddy. He always asked how she was doing, when they were going to make her a partner and, with a wink and a smile, when she was going to go out on his boat with him. He talked about his boat a lot. A 28’ Chris Craft. He’d have to sell a hell of a lot of hotdogs to be able to afford a thing like that. But, Lainie knew, because she was a customer, Kyle sold merchandise more profitable than snacks. Need a little happiness? Need a little joy? Go see the hotdog man. Either way, she enjoyed his flirting, enjoyed his easy Irish charm. Sometimes, when she was making a buy, she caught him looking at her a little too directly. Sometimes he looked away. Sometimes he didn’t. Once or twice he said with that wry little smile of his that he might let her have a bag or two for free. God, what a thought. Lainie and the hotdog man. There was no way in hell she would ever let that happen. Not now. Not ever. Still, he wasn’t bad looking.
She wasn’t sure how old Kyle was but guessed somewhere in his early fifties. It was an age she found attractive. The same age as Hank. The same age as her Contracts professor at Cornell, the one who gave her the A she needed to make Law Review. About the same age, she calculated, her stepfather would be today.
Lainie had been thinking a lot about Albright lately though she hadn’t seen him in years. Her mind went back, once again, to that time in their old house in Rockport. A year or so before his career started taking off. Two years before he divorced her mother and moved out. Without his income her mother couldn’t afford the old place. She sold it, used part of the money to buy the smaller, crummier place in Rockland and invested the rest.
She could see that bastard’s face now. The handsome, brilliant Wallace Stevens Albright. A lawyer whose parents named him for a poet, though she’d never known a man with less poetry in his soul. He never let anyone call him Walt or Wally or any other nickname. It was always Wallace. Or Mr. Albright. Lainie was seven when he married her mother and they went to live with him. He wanted her to call him daddy. She never would, though she knew it made him angry. He wasn’t her father. He even wanted her to change her name from Goff to Albright. She didn’t want to do that either. Thank God, her mother said no and made it stick or Lainie might be carrying that bastard’s name even now.
A strict disciplinarian and a stubborn perfectionist, Wallace Stevens Albright held himself, he said, to a higher standard. Lainie smiled bitterly at the memory. Yeah, right. A higher standard. Like pulling down her pants and spanking her when she was little for the slightest infraction. Bastard was getting off on it. But, oh, did he ever put on a righteous show. She was never able to please him or earn his praise, no matter how hard she tried. And, though she hated him, she did try. It seemed important to win him over, to impress him. Important but impossible. She remembered how once in ninth grade, she got a ninety-five on an algebra exam. It was an exam half the class flunked, even a lot of the smart kids. When she told him about it, proudly, he mocked her. ‘Oh really? A ninety-five? And what happened to the other five points?’ She went to bed that night feeling like she failed. Again. Fuck him.
She was fifteen when the really bad shit started. The day of the Belfast soccer game. Lainie closed her eyes and it all came flooding back, immediate and real. Her sophomore year in high school. Camden Regional, not Rockland where she had to go after the divorce. It was an afternoon in late October. One of those cold rainy Fall days that in Maine presage the coming of winter. It was an away game and it had rained on and off all day long. The field was a sea of mud. All the girls were slipping and sliding and, by the end of the game, their skin and hair were covered in drying brown gunk. Lainie scored two goals and just missed a third when the ball hit the left upright and bounced back onto the field. She knew, if she told him, Wallace would focus on the one she missed. Maybe if you worked a little harder you would have made it Lainie. You can always improve. You can always strive to be better. Yeah. Just like you, daddy dearest.
After the game, Annie Jesperson’s mom offered Lainie and another friend, Maddie Mitchell, a ride home. Both girls accepted. It was a lot more comfortable than riding in the team bus and they wouldn’t have to stop at school and catch a ride home from there.
“Get in,” Mrs. Jesperson told the girls, throwing a tarp across the back seat. “Just try not to get any mud on the upholstery. This car’s brand new and we’d like to keep it looking that way.”
“We won’t,” they promised and climbed in, shoving Dudley, Annie’s dopey golden retriever, over the seat top and into the cargo area. The girls giggled all the way home, pulling monster faces and rubbing mud balls into each other’s hair and fending off Dudley’s eager efforts to join in the fun. Mrs. Jesperson dropped Lainie off first, in front of her house. The big white colonial with the wrap-around porch and black shutters on Mabern Street in Rockport. The house they lived in when they still had money.
It was almost dark when they got there. There were no lights on in the house. That meant her mother and Wallace were still at work. Her mother managing her antiques shop in Camden, Albright tending his growing law practice. He stayed late at the office almost every night. You’ll never achieve anything. Lainie, never amount to anything. Not unless you’re ready to put in the hours. She fetched the key from where it hung under the back steps and let herself in. She pulled off her shoes at the door, stripped down and tossed her muddy uniform onto the laundry room floor. She walked naked across the semi-darkened front hall and climbed the stairs heading for the bathroom on the second floor.
About halfway down the corridor the door to her mother and stepfather’s room opened and Albright stepped out. Lainie gasped. She threw her right arm across her breasts and her left hand over her thatch of pubic hair. He’d never seen her naked before, not even as a little kid, and she wasn’t sure which way to run. Albright just stood there looking at her, surprise on his face. He was blocking her way to the bathroom door. Blocking her way to her own room as well. She turned and thought about running back down the stairs. But where could she go stark naked? She turned back and saw his expression change, morphing from surprise to something very different. She heard his breathing quicken. She knew she’d made that happen. Not to some boy in sophomore class. But to him. To Wallace Stevens Albright. The perfectionist. The man guided by a higher standard. For the first time since he’d come into their lives, Lainie felt a sense of power. It was amazing. Intoxicating. It lasted less than a second.
In the instant it took for Albright’s mouth to close, for his lips to draw back into a thin ugly smile, power turned to fear. And then to panic. She darted for her bedroom door, blindly hoping she could get there before him. Hoping she could somehow slip inside. Slam the door. Lock him out.
She never had a chance. As she reached for the knob, he grabbed an arm, turned her around and wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her into him, her back against his body. She could feel his erection through the fabric of his pants, pushing, probing at her butt. She tried pulling away but couldn’t. He lifted her off the floor and carried her, flailing and kicking and screaming, into her room. Across the oval knotted rug Grammy Horton made for her. He threw her down among the stuffed bears and bunnies that still populated the head of her bed. She tried a sudden bolt for the door. He grabbed her and pushed her down again. She screamed. He slapped her hard across the face. The pain was explosive, shocking. “Don’t try that again.” He spat out the words in a quiet voice that was, for all its quietness, full of threat. “This is your fault, Lainie. All your fault. You asked for it and you’re going to get what you deserve.” He slapped her again. She felt a thin line of blood trickle from her nose.
She closed her eyes and retreated into the corner, more frightened than she’d ever been in her life. She pulled her muddy knees up, wrapped both arms around them, hugged them tight against her chest. When she dared open her eyes, he was unzipping his pants, pulling them down over his high black socks. Her mind froze. This couldn’t be happening. Not in her own room. Not on her own bed. He pulled down his underpants. He folded the suit pants along the creases and hung them neatly over the back of her desk chair. She supposed he was thinking he’d have to wear them to the office the next day. He left his underpants on the floor. He didn’t bother taking off his shirt or black socks.
From a distance of fifteen years, the adult Lainie could still see Wallace Stevens Albright’s hard little cock poking out, peek-a-boo fashion, from between the flaps of his blue-striped Brooks Brothers shirt. She was crying now. Sobbing quietly. She could still feel his soft white hands grabbing her ankles, pulling her out of the corner, pulling her legs apart. Then he pushed her knees up and apart and knelt between them. He lowered his chest so all she could see was shirt. She remembered that shirt so well. The feel of the starched cotton, the smell of it. All his shirts had a little blue monogram on the pocket. A “W” and an “S” on either side. A big blue “A” in the middle. It was all she could see. She felt him open her with his fingers and push himself up and in. It still amazed her such a little prick could inflict such pain.
Afterward, he smiled and spoke gently. Told her she’d done very well. It was the first time, maybe the only time, he ever praised her. He told her if her eye turned black where he hit her, she had to tell people she’d been hit in the face with a soccer ball. Then he made her to go to the bathroom and wash herself out. He stood at the open door and watched as she did. Finally, he told her in the same gentle voice that if she ever breathed a word about what happened, either to her mother or to anyone else, he’d kill them both. “That’s a promise,” he said. She never doubted he would keep his word.
That night and many nights after that, he came back to her room for “a visit.” Each time it was the same. Except sometimes, instead of fucking her, he’d make her get down on her knees and give him a blow-job. Each time, before he left, he told her it was her fault. He did what he did because she was a dirty girl who tempted him. Then he would again threaten to kill her. And her mother. She sometimes wondered if her mother knew where he was going when he left their bed in the middle of the night. Downstairs for a snack? To read a book? No. Her mother knew. She must have known. But she never had the courage to say or do anything about it. Never wanted to talk about Wallace at all. And Lainie never asked. Finally, two years later, Wallace left her mother. He found a younger woman who was rich and beautiful and he filed for divorce. He gave her the white house in Rockport as part of the settlement. She sold it and she and Lainie moved to the little Cape Cod in Rockland. It was over. But the stain stayed with her. It could never be washed away. Her mother was dead now. She committed suicide two years after Lainie graduated high school and went off to Colby. Swallowed a handful of Xanax tablets to still her anxiety and slit her wrists in the tub. But Wallace Stevens Albright was still out there. Still married. With two little girls of his own. Respected attorney. Oft-mentioned candidate for the federal bench. Child fucker. Bastard.
Lainie glanced again at the Time & Temperature building. Seven fifty-five and still Hank hadn’t called. She hadn’t eaten since breakfast and she was hungry. Despite, or maybe because of her usual regimen of plain grilled fish or chicken and garden salads, she found herself lusting after one of Kyle’s plump garlicky Italian sausages, covered with sautéed onions and Kyle’s own special sauce. She couldn’t actually see the sausages cooking from her seventh floor perch, but she could sure as hell picture them, crackling away in the frosty air on their bed of hot coals. She could almost taste that first spray of hot fat bursting into her mouth as she popped the skin with her teeth.
Lainie realized her mouth was watering. For a brief tempting moment, she thought about running downstairs and getting herself one of the damnable but delicious things. Maybe score a little coke at the same time. A twofer. A dumb idea she supposed. But it would only take a minute. No longer than going to the ladies’ room. She might miss Hank’s call. But then he’d leave a message. Of course meeting Hank, literally face to face, with onions and garlic on her breath might just turn him off. And so what if it did? He couldn’t take away a partnership on grounds of bad breath, could he? And it might just spare her a session on the red leather couch. Of course, in less than twenty-four hours, she’d be sunning on a beautiful beach in a skimpy bikini where she didn’t want even the hint of an extra bulge ruining her nearly perfect figure. “Oh, screw it,” she finally said. She grabbed the FedEx envelope from her desk to deposit in the box on the square and headed for the elevator. She’d skip dinner.
When she came back from her coatless dash across the square, coke in her pocket and hot sausage in hand, Hank still hadn’t called. Lainie lifted her long slender legs up onto the desk and bit into the succulent snack. She practically moaned with pleasure. This was better than sex. Much better. As she ate, the image of the singers in the square came back and she felt a sudden longing for a child of her own to celebrate Christmas with. A little boy or girl to love and protect. Like her mother protected her? No. Better than that. Much better. No child of hers would ever go through the kind of hell she’d endured. She’d make sure of that. No child anywhere should ever have to suffer that. Or would if Lainie could help it. Anyway, it all seemed a stretch. Maybe someday, she supposed. But for now she had to be tougher than that. Ambition should be made of sterner stuff, Marc Antony told the Romans.
Yes, she thought, Ambition should be made of sterner stuff. Did she have what it took to get where she wanted? Lainie Goff from Rockport via Rockland. The over-achiever and star-student. The valedictorian of her high school class and winner of a nearly free-ride through four years at Colby and another through three years of law school at Cornell. Lainie Goff who everyone, including Hank, saw as a brilliant, tough, self-confident winner. Lainie Goff who was capable of anything, even fucking her way to the top. Did she have what it took? She wasn’t sure. So far at least, she’d fooled them all. Only she knew the truth. Superstar Lainie didn’t exist. The real Lainie was a woman unworthy of anyone’s love, even her own. A woman who could only achieve the success she so desperately wanted lying on her back, knees up and knickers down. Wallace Stevens Albright would be so proud of his creation. He wanted her to call him “daddy”. Once again, he’d gotten his way. She’d become his daughter through and through.
The phone rang. Lainie swallowed the last bite of sausage and picked it up.
Nearly nine o’clock. Lainie Goff’s teeth were clenched in quiet rage as she walked toward her car in Palmer Milliken’s private underground garage. The clickity-click of her heels against the concrete punctuated her fury in a rhythmic tattoo. He hadn’t turned her down. No. He was much too slick for that. In fact he hadn’t said much of anything at first. Just teased her with the possibility until he’d gotten his rocks off. Then while she was standing there, still half-naked, he pulled the rug out from under her.
“Lainie, I’m afraid you’ll have to be patient,” he said.
She said nothing. Just stood there seething. Staring at him with the same intensity of hatred she once reserved for Albright.
“Just a couple of more months,” he said, zipping his fly, pulling up his suspenders. “I’m working on it. It will happen. I promise. It will happen. There are a couple of other good candidates. Janet Pritchard. Bill Tobias…”
She wondered if he was fucking Pritchard too. Wondered if Janet was as good as Lainie at her performance reviews.
“You know as well as I do,” he continued, “the Committee almost never approves partnerships for anyone who hasn’t been here seven years and you’ve got a way to go yet. The three of you will probably all be invited at once.”
Didn’t he get it? She didn’t want to wait until the others were invited too. She wanted her recognition first. She wanted it now. But what the hell was she going to do? Yell? Scream? Hold her breath ‘till she turned blue? She couldn’t quit. She needed the job. She had car payments to make. And she sure as hell wasn’t ready to give up on her dream of a Palmer Milliken partnership. But she finally figured it out. As long as Hank kept dangling the promise without actually delivering the goods, he had her where he wanted her. Literally and figuratively. Down on her knees with her mouth around his cock. The minute she got it, screw him. He could find himself another eager young associate to fuck.
Her car stood waiting in its assigned spot in the nearly empty garage. Just her Beemer and Hank’s Merc remained. Everyone else had long since left for the holiday. She pressed the little button on her key ring. The car’s lights flashed. Its doors unlocked. Still distracted, she didn’t notice the absence of the accustomed click. She slid into the front seat. She sat there for a minute, still fuming, before starting the engine. Finally she turned the key. It smoothly hummed to life. She glanced in the rear view mirror. And froze.
“Hello, Lainie,” a familiar voice murmured. “There’re a couple of things we still need to discuss.”