Chapter 6: Upstairs
Lawrence sat at his desk staring at the wall, a slightly wistful expression randomly flitting across his face. He must have been staring for quite a while because he was shaken out of his reverie by the insistent throat clearing of Patrick.
Lawrence turned and smiled broadly.
"Patrick, just the man I wanted to see."
Patrick's innate sense of self preservation was stronger than anyone might have thought because he instinctively took two steps back. But, of course, even the creepiest smiling idiot can't hold a good middle manager down.
"Well, I wanted to talk to Lawrence."
"You already are Patrick."
"Right...look, I thought we had a good talk the other day. I felt that we really hashed everything out and you were fully dedicated to Fielding and Fielding."
"Yeah sure, I remember that conversation."
"Well, it's just that we had that conversation on Tuesday."
"Tuesday, sure...and what day is it today?" Lawrence asked.
"Well, that's the thing Lawrence," said Patrick. "It's Thursday, and, as far as I can tell you left the office right after our conversation and didn't come back until about 30 minutes ago."
"And that's bad, is it?"
To his credit, Patrick's permanent half-smile only faded for the briefest of seconds, and it was at that moment that Lawrence decided he couldn't punch Patrick in the face. Well, he could, that is, he was capable, but it would be like hitting a puppy. Patrick wouldn't understand why he was being beaten senseless and, Lawrence had to admit, he was just a guy doing his best in a shit job. He probably didn't deserve to be beaten. He could be annoying as hell, but that's just who Patrick was.
"Tell you what Patrick," said Lawrence quickly. "I'll go see Walter right now, scout's honor, and get this all sorted out. I just had some shi...that is, some personal stuff, but it's all been sorted out. From this moment on, you have my word, I will be totally committed to Fielding and Fielding for as long as I work here."
The tension in Patrick's body evaporated immediately. Clearly dealing with Lawrence had taken its toll on the guy.
"That's great Lawrence, and you're going to go see Walter right now?"
"Absolutely!" said Lawrence as he stood up. "And you won't have to worry about me ever again, that much I promise."
The building in which the Fielding & Fielding offices were located was not a particularly large one, it was only six stories high, but Walter forbid the employees from using the elevators. Walter was big into "towing your own weight," Walter was. The building did have elevators, as required by ADA guidelines, but since none of the employees were, themselves, confined to a wheelchair, Walter saw no reason that they couldn't all use the stairs. All of them, except for Walter, of course. Since Walter had, in his own words, "towed my own weight for years, and now that I'm rich I don't need that sort of thing anymore"
Lawrence had never been able to come to terms with everything, good and bad, his uncle had done. And so, going to see Walter had always caused Lawrence equal parts anger, annoyance, and worry. As much as Lawrence hated Walter, the man had paid for his education and given him a job when, as far as Lawrence could tell, he had no appreciable skills. On this day, though, Lawrence glided up the six flights of stairs as if he were on a leisurely stroll in a sun dappled glade. It was amazing how free one felt when he knew that he wouldn't have to deal with bullshit the next day.
The sixth floor of Fielding and Fielding wasn't any smaller than any of the other floors, but the only office up there was Walter's. The elevators (if you could take them) opened up directly into a small foyer which contained a large marble desk sitting beside a pair of massive oak doors. The stairs, for whatever reason, actually let out on the same side as the desk and double doors, so that employees had to turn to the left in order to face Walter's assistance, Gertrude. Lawrence's best guess put Gertrude's age somewhere north of 116. Of course, this was a young 116, in that Gertrude was still fully in command of her mind, which was mainly concerned with being spiteful toward the Fielding and Fielding employees who had the poor misfortune of making their way up to Walter's office. In her opinion, the various "worker bees" didn't show enough appreciation to Mr. Fielding for gracing them all with employment in these trying economic times. In fact, Gertrude could often be heard in the employee break room wondering why it was Mr. Fielding didn't fire the lot of them and find employees who weren't "as idiotic and incompetent as a donkey on a moped." No one was quite sure what this meant, but clearly it wasn't a compliment.
Lawrence opened the door into the foyer and turned, slight smile still perched on his face.
"Hello Gertrude. How are you on this fine morning?"
Gertrude looked up.
"Oh, it's you," she muttered before turning back to the papers on her desk.
She probably knew Lawrence's name. It was a safe assumption considering he was Walter's nephew, and she knew every other employee at Fielding & Fielding, but in his four years at the company she had never called him anything other than "you." Actually, Lawrence considered that she was probably in a good mood today. More often than not, she simply ignored him until he walked through the large double oak doors. Lawrence was just a few steps from said doors when a thought occurred to him. He stopped in front of the marble desk and stared at the top of Gertrude's head. After a minute her face slowly swiveled upwards, a look of pure loathing etched across it like some demonic image from a gothic cathedral.
"Some day, probably years from now, my uncle won't have you around to take care of him, and before that day comes, I just want to take this moment, as a family member, to say thanks."
Gertrude blinked and her mouth unconsciously popped open in surprise.
"But, you know, that day will come, when you aren't around," Lawrence continued. "And it makes me happy to know that Walter will replace you as easily as he changes his socks, you bitter old hag."
Lawrence quickly opened the oak doors, which forestalled Gertrude from reply, as it might be heard by Walter. As he walked in, Lawrence turned back to the desk and winked.
Walter was sitting at his own ridiculously extravagant desk on the far side of the office. Though calling it an "office" was a bit like calling Notre Dame a church. There were four star hotels that weren't as lavishly appointed as the sixth floor of Fielding & Fielding. Walter was in the habit of playing smooth jazz all day, the sound of which wafted over toward Lawrence. The music, coupled with the fact that the room was large enough to screen movies, meant that Walter was unaware that Lawrence had entered. And now that he was here, Lawrence wasn't exactly sure what he was going to say. Should he be angry, self righteous, cold and calm, or maybe even happy? That would certainly throw his uncle off? As Lawrence was considering his plan of attack Walter looked up. Just for a moment, his face darkened before breaking into a much too big smile. Walter waved and said something that Lawrence couldn't hear. Having no other option, Lawrence walked calmly across the room.
"Lawrence my boy, I have been worried sick these last couple of days," boomed Walter once Lawrence was sitting in a large leather chair across from his uncle. "Patrick said you were all ready to go on the Jones portfolio, and then you disappeared for two days."
"Yeah, I had some personal things to take care of."
"I understand," said Walter consolingly. "I know first hand what it's like to lose someone you love, but you've got to move on, son."
Lawrence didn't even grit his teeth. Usually, when Walter took on his "paternal" tone, it was all Lawrence could do to not reach across the desk and squeeze his pudgy neck, but since Lawrence was already planning on doing just that in a few minutes, he realized that it didn't matter how "fatherly" or condescending Walter acted.
"And, anyway, I never liked that Angela girl in the first place. Always seemed too interested in the family's money, if you know what I mean. No, my boy, you're much better off without her."
Lawrence didn't respond. How could he, really? For someone as successful as Walter, he sure was clueless when it came to understanding people. Just as he had always thought that Lawrence's mother would leave Lawrence's father, Walter had also thought Angela was a gold digger. Little did Walter know that Angela had nearly broken up with Lawrence in college when she found out that he was, ostensibly, the heir to a fortune. True, Henry was from a rich family, but Lawrence believed her when she said that her relationship with Henry wasn't real. Angela wasn't looking to marry someone for money, she wanted to build a life with someone. Walter was still going on about something, though Lawrence had stopped listening several minutes ago.
"Hey Walter, shut up for a minute."
Walter's eyes narrowed but he did stop talking.
"You know what's most frustrating about you?" asked Lawrence.
"You're an asshole, but you don't know it. You can deal with an ass if he knows he's an ass because there's no pretension there. You know he'll treat you like shit, and he knows he'll treat you like shit, and there's an understanding between the two of you. But you, god damn, you think you're a saint."
"I'm going to assume you're drunk," said Walter. "You certainly look and smell like you are, so I'm going to put this down to the alcohol. Don't think I haven't noticed how low you've fallen. I understand the heartache, but you owe it to me to act with a little more maturity. I don't want to have to mention everything I've done for you..."
"You don't want to have to mention it, Walter," interrupted Lawrence. "But you mention it all the same. That's just the point. You feel bad about how you left things with my father and so you gave me money for school and a job. But guess what? Neither of those things actually cost you anything. You never had to actually apologize to my father, and the money means nothing since you have a lot more. Even the job doesn't mean anything since, as we both know, I've never done any work of consequence here. So you've been able to assuage your guilty conscious, and make me indebted to you, all without having to own up to your own faults."
"How dare you talk to me like that!"
"I know you're not used to it," Lawrence said calmly. "And don't worry, you'll never have to see me again. I quit, Walter. And I don't ever want to hear from you. Consider your debt to my father repaid, though you're getting off easy."
Lawrence stood up, and just a second later, so did Walter.
"You can't just quit. You owe me!" the older man fumed. "I paid for four years at that fancy school and all you did was waste your time with that whore and get drunk. You can't just walk out on me, I own you."
Lawrence as about to reply, but what was the point? He'd just be repeating what he'd already said and the message clearly wasn't getting through to Walter. If ever there was a moment to kick his uncle's ass, though, this was it, as Walter was standing, fists clenched, looming over his desk, his red face just two feet from Lawrence's.
"You know," Lawrence said eventually. "I came in here fully intending to piss you off and, once I had you good and mad, kick your ass."
"If you think you can, boy, give it try."
"Now I realize, though, that fighting you would actually make you happy. You have more repressed anger than I do, and you don't know what to do with it. Goodbye Walter, I hope the rest of your life is lonely, bitter, and unfulfilling and you die alone."
Lawrence turned and walked out of the giant office, his uncles threats mingling with the soft jazz.