By Scott E. Roeben
He entered the large conference room with his attorney, Dern Hiffenger, a few minutes after she did with hers. Her representative, Laura Muller, was almost obscured behind piles of documents spread out upon the long table in the middle of the room.
"Sorry we're late," said Hiffenger. "Traffic is really backed up. That Holorail hasn't been on time since--"
"I have a 4:30, so we'd like to get started," said Muller.
Hiffenger and his client exchanged glances and took their seats. It would appear that the rumors about Muller were true. All business. But it would take more than a curt demeanor to unnerve Hiffenger. He had been in some pretty tough negotiations in his career. In one case, he had actually convinced two neighbors warring over a property line to exchange annual backrubs as a condition of their settlement. Hiffenger was one of the best.
"I took the liberty of engaging a stenographer for this meeting," snapped Muller, gesturing to the sharply dressed woman on the far end of the table, tapping gently away on her keyboard. "Hiffenger, Hollyfeld and Horton will be billed for half the expenditure, naturally."
"Naturally," said Hiffenger.
"Your client has expressed an interest in commencing the courtship ritual with my client, is that correct?" asked Muller.
"Correct," said Hiffenger.
"Has he made any direct or indirect, overt or implied overtures, allusions or proposals to that end heretofore?" spit Muller.
Hiffenger's client whispered in his ear.
"My client believes he may have made eye contact with your client near the water cooler at their place of business," said Hiffenger coolly.
Muller pressed her index finger against her eyeglasses and urged them back up her nose, sighing deeply.
"What was the duration of the eye contact?" Muller asked.
Again, Hiffenger's client whispered to him.
"My client asserts that since he believed the eye contact to be welcomed, he does not feel he should--"
"Believed?" Muller said. "Belief has nothing to do with this. If we are to continue with this, I insist that--"
Muller's client tapped her on the shoulder gently. They shared a quiet look, and Muller relaxed slightly in her chair.
"Fine," continued Muller, "my client will not pursue the issue at this time. But I assure you, Mr. Hiffenger, if your client attempts any further such eye contact without express verbal or written consent, we will terminate this discussion."
"Agreed," Hiffenger said.
"Now, as to the specifics of the pre-coital social intercourse," Muller said, shuffling through her paperwork.
"Dinner and a movie," said Hiffenger, laying his cards on the table.
Muller just smirked.
"You're joking, of course," Muller said.
"Coffee is more appropriate. This will allow my client ease of egress should the encounter not be to her liking."
"Joint fiscal responsibility, I assume," said Muller.
"My client has authorized me to proffer full payment for the first outing."
"Implies control and an expectation of reciprocal fiscal or physical compensation," Muller said. "Unacceptable."
Hiffenger conferred with his client.
"My client is willing to sign off on that," said Hiffenger without so much as flinching. "No compensation expected. Though he will be allowed the standard mild resentment if your client doesn't at least hug him upon their parting after the encounter."
"Agreed," smiled Muller. "Sulking is unacceptable, of course."
Hiffenger and his client nodded.
"Fine," Muller continued. "Now, as for the second encounter--assuming all goes according to the timetable set forth in this brief."
Muller handed a thick wad of papers across the table. Hiffenger's client peered over his shoulder at the document as Hiffenger perused it.
"A meal, certainly," said Hiffenger.
"Yes," said Muller. "Lunch?"
"Dinner," said Hiffenger firmly. "Italian."
"Agreed, but nothing too fancy."
"Then a movie?"
"My client would like something a little more original."
"Maybe I didn't express myself clearly..."
"Not flattering. You wouldn't be trying to put my client in an unflattering light would you? Why not just ask her to go to the dermatologist with your client, or to the beach for that matter?"
"Sorry," said Hiffenger. "Dancing, perhaps?"
Suddenly, Muller's client tugged on her sleeve. There was a whisper, then a stern whisper in return. There was then a heated exchange between them, and finally, Muller turned to the men.
"Against my recommendations," Muller began, slowly, "my client has expressed interest in passing over Subsections B, C, D and E of the contractual timetable and would like fornicate with your client following the dinner--after a reasonable time to digest her meal, of course. She doesn't want to feel bloated."
It took every bit of Hiffenger's self-control not to leap from his seat.
"Fine," said Hiffenger. "You'll present my office with the required medical--"
The medical documents were already leaving Muller's hand and sliding across the table in Hiffenger's direction. Hiffenger passed across similar information on his client.
"The act should take place at my client's apartment," Hiffenger said.
"Agreed," said Muller, resigning herself to doing her client's bidding, no matter how much it rubbed her the wrong way.
"Will your client be wearing a front or back latching bra?"
"Back," said Muller.
"Form of birth control?"
"His responsibility," said Muller.
"Would your client prefer them to glow in the dark or not?"
"Fine," said Hiffenger.
The tapping of the stenographer's keys was speeding up.
"Foreplay duration?" asked Muller.
"Fifteen minutes," said Hiffenger.
Muller's client laughed out loud.
"Thirty minutes," said Hiffenger.
"Agreed," said Muller.
"Wet spot?" asked Hiffenger.
"Your client should--"
"Not negotiable," said Muller firmly.
"To be determined on site," said Hiffenger.
"I think that about covers it," said Hiffenger.
"I beg your pardon," said Muller.
"I believe we're satisfied."
"When will your client be calling?"
"The next day would be appropriate."
"My client refuses to be bullied into calling. He needs his space. He's busy. He will not commit to calling at this juncture--it would lead to his feeling smothered. Engulfed. Wholly unsatisfactory," rattled off Hiffenger.
"Well," said Muller, "I guess all agreements made here today are invalidated. Null and void. Let the record show that--"
"Wait, what are you saying?" stammered Hiffenger.
"Which part of 'null and void' did you misunderstand?"
"You mean you are willing to discard--"
"My client will accept nothing less than a call within forty-eight hours of the said sexual act."
"A call is not a commitment."
"Listen, Counselor," snarled Hiffenger, "our pre-negotiation agreement made it clear that all parties involved would avoid the use of the word 'commitment' during these discussions."
"Fine," snipped Muller. "My client and I have nothing more to say."
"Fine," said Hiffenger, rising. He slammed a stack of papers into his briefcase. Muller did the same, slamming her case shut loudly.
"It's not fine," said Brian.
All eyes turned toward him.
"Brian!" shouted Hiffenger.
"Look," said Hiffenger's client, suddenly gaining courage. "This is ridiculous. Susan, are we going to let them call this off?"
Susan looked frantically toward Muller.
"Brian, don't say anything else," said Hiffenger sharply.
"I want to see you Susan," said Brian.
"Brian," said Hiffenger, right in Brian's face, "if you say another word, I will sever all professional ties with you. Do you understand? I will no longer be your attorney and I will not be held liable for anything you say."
"Susan, please," pleaded Brian.
"Very well. As of this moment, I am no longer your attorney, Brian. I mean, Mr. Gottman. Stenographer, are you getting all this? Note the time and date. Three twenty-five p.m.! Friday, March 9! 2010! Are you getting all this?" Hiffenger screamed.
"What can I do?" asked Susan.
"Why can't we decide for ourselves?" asked Brian, moving closer to Susan.
"Susan, it would be foolish to communicate with this gentleman now that he no longer has representation. The law clearly states that any individual living in one of the 58 American states must at all times and in all social and/or professional circumstances be represented by legal counsel--"
"Shut up!" sneered Brian.
Muller's eyes widened.
"Now, all I want is a chance to talk to Susan. Just for a minute or two. I don't think that's too much to ask? Hiffenger, you're good at what you do, and I don't want to lose you. But I need you to step outside for a minute. And take Ms. Muller with you. Susan, tell them. Please."
They looked toward Susan. She nodded. Muller and Hiffenger reluctantly walked out the door, Muller scratching her head and Hiffenger shaking his.
Brian sat next to Susan on one side of the table.
"Finally," sighed Brian.
Susan smiled. Until she heard the clicking of a keyboard.
"You, too," said Brian to the stenographer. "Out, please."
The stenographer stomped out in a huff, her tall heels scraping the hard floor.
Brian looked into Susan's eyes, and Susan into his. A moment passed.
Brian gestured, as if to speak, but nothing came out. A few more moments passed. Susan began to play with her hair. And more time passed. Brian spent another moment removing a very important piece of lint from his pant leg.
The two looked at each other again.
"Maybe we should..." Brian began.
Susan nodded. Without another word to Susan, Brian went to the door and called the attorneys in again.
In hushed tones, Brian apologized to Hiffenger.
"I think we should reconvene at another time," said Muller. "My client and I would like some time to reassess this situation."
"Agreed," said Hiffenger.
Brian and Susan gathered their things. Each shook hands with their respective attorney. As Brian and Susan walked out the door, they paused and smiled awkwardly at each other. Then they were gone.
Hiffenger looked over a few remaining papers and noticed Muller looking at him out of the corner of her eye.
"Anything else, Counselor?" he asked.
"No, nothing," she said.
"Boy, I'm hungry," he said.
"Maybe we could get something to eat?" she said.
"I thought you had a 4:30," he said.
"I could reschedule, I guess," she said.
"Great," he said. "That's great. Let's make arrangements to get something to eat, then. In fact, I think my attorney is in the building already. He had a deposition today."
"I'll get mine on the line," she said. "She can be here in fifteen minutes. And we'll get something to eat."
© Scott Roeben, 2008. All rights reserved.