Her inner clock awakens Corey, as always, five minutes before the actual alarm goes off at 6:30 AM. She opens her eyes to an anemic November sun filtering through the bedroom windows and skylight of her East 67th Street penthouse, a pale watery sun that brightens without heat.
She has been dreaming again, losing deep sleep to twisted, erotically charged images, some vivid in memory, some hanging just beyond recall. It is one of the few aspects of her life she cannot and does not control. She finds the dreams disturbing, but as a matter of principle (and fear of inherited weakness) she will not take the tranquilizers or sedatives required to blot them out. But on those occasions when the dreams bring her to the point of real release, when she wakes, gasping and squeezing her damp pillow — then she must also concede Doctor Wilkins's point, that a pathological pattern is at work here.
Corey rises and glides about her small, elegant quarters with practiced efficiency. She performs her toilette while a single cup of fresh ground French roast coffee brews, then sits in a white terry robe, streaky blond hair loose around her shoulders, and gazes out over Central Park and the rooftops of the upper East side as she drinks her coffee and smokes a single Gauloise cigarette. (She loves the early morning push pull of the nicotine and caffeine, but it is the only coffee she will drink that day, and the only cigarette she will smoke). When her cigarette is finished, she crushes the butt, puts it in the garbage, rinses the ashtray and coffee cup. In the bathroom again, she gargles the smoke smell away with mouth wash, examines her teeth for tobacco flecks, and ties her hair back in a tight bun pinned by an antique silver brooch.
Understatement is her aim, but the severe hairstyle actually serves to accentuate her fine facial bones. The resemblance to her errant brother is startling — she is Cal, done as a woman (or is he Corey as a man?), same hair color, same blue eyes, full mouth, straight nose, but she is softer, less angular, like a symphonic theme repeated moderato. She steps out of her robe, momentarily embarrassed by the beauty of her own body, and dons pantyhose and bra. She chooses a business suit from her closet, a tailored gray pin stripe jacket and skirt that she slides over a creamy silk blouse buttoned to the neck. A burgundy silk scarf knotted with a rosette bow at the throat completes the ensemble. She picks up her coat and briefcase and tucks last night's rented videotape under her arm. As always, except in the worst weather, she will walk the twenty-two blocks to the offices of Barton & Ames, Attorneys at Law.
Three blocks from her building she swings into Blockbuster Video and hands her tape to the man behind the counter.
"Morning, Ms. Cross."
"Morning, Benny. Do you have my tape for tonight?"
"Which was that again, Miss Cross?"
"The Fred Astaire?"
"Right. I don't think it came in yet. I gotta great musical from the fifties. Pajama Game."
"I want to finish the forties musicals first, Benny."
"Right. I'll check on it. Stop by after work, or gimme a call."
Corey steps back briskly into the street. It is a 45 degree morning with gusting winds, but she does not notice the cold. She is reviewing the status report on the Collins-Alphadyne acquisition that she will present in an hour to Jake Black, who is both a senior partner at Barton & Ames and her mentor since she joined the firm six years ago. Collins-Alphadyne is turning into one of the biggest deals in the firm's history, a total asset play of $18 billion, and she has managed the legal team for Collins from the beginning with minimal oversight from Jake. The deal is worth an estimated $15 to $25 million in fees to Barton & Ames, depending on how big a fight Alphadyne puts up once Collins makes its offer.
Corey turns into the midtown tower that houses the firm's offices, steps off the elevator on the 28th floor, and through the mahogany outer doors with the brass B & A logos. She is silently greeted, as always, by twin portraits of the firm's founders mounted on the dark paneling behind the receptionist's desk. Mr. Barton and Mr. Ames are dressed in identical midnight blue vested suits with gold watch chains looped across their ample stomachs. The portraits are positioned so that the two appear to be staring rapturously at one other.
The receptionist is a young, elegant, expensively dressed brunette, which is precisely why she is sitting where she is. She is in awe of Corey, and once confessed in girlish gushes that her modest salary was spent almost entirely on clothes, and that her single goal was to marry a Barton & Ames partner or, failing that, a fast track associate whose partnership appeared guaranteed within a year or two.
"Good morning, Ms. Cross!" she trills. "Your meeting at 11:00? The people from Collins? It's been changed to tomorrow at 11:00. Oh, and Mr. Black's waiting for you? In your office?"
"Good morning, April." Corey does not like last minute changes to her schedule and wonders why Jake is an hour early for their meeting. It's especially curious, she thinks, because last night was the monthly partners' meeting, which usually turned into a late night affair. She walks past Chippendale chairs flanking a ball and claw foot tea table, all excellent reproductions, and down a burgundy carpeted staircase lined with sepia prints of 19th Century New York City public buildings. It's still too early for the secretaries, but some of the more ambitious associates are bustling about in shirt sleeves. She turns into her office to see Jake's tall patrician bones sprawled across her small guest sofa.
"Good morning, counselor," he says. "Banker's hours today?"
Jake looks stern. Corey grins. Jake grins.
"What is it, 8:15, Jake? Give me a break. You want to tell me what you're doing here this early after a partners' meeting? I thought you guys got ripped and chased bimbos all night."
"You'll know soon enough."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means you're going to be made a partner, Corey. It was more or less informally decided last night. They're just waiting for the Collins thing to go through."
"Oh my God." Corey drops into her chair as if shot.
"That is what I'm doing here at this beastly hour with a massive hangover. I wanted to tell you first, before some secretary leaked it."
"Oh my God."
"Come on, Corey. Are you really that surprised? Harvard law review, six years of outstanding appraisals...It's not as if we haven't talked about it..."
"But I'm a woman...oh, I know that's stupid, but I mean, I figured, maybe in a year or two..."
"We've had women partners before. Almost always in Litigation or Estates and Trusts. But you, my dear, are going to be the first female M and A partner in the firm. Also, I believe, the first female Corporate Law partner. Congratulations."
"What does this...how much..."
"Money? Not that much more at first. What's your comp now, $180,000? With profit sharing, you could be looking at $225,000, maybe $250,000 this year. But within two to three years — I'd say, $400,000 to $500,000."
Jake rises from the couch and shakes a stray lock of gray hair out of his eyes. He always looks like he needs a haircut, part of his boyish appeal.
"I'm blown away, Jake. Can I hug you?"
"Just once, counselor. Anything more would constitute sexual harassment on your part. Oh, and since the Collins meeting is off till tomorrow, I'm canceling our 9:30 status review. Why not take the day off?"
Jake hugs her, laughs, hugs her again, this time more tightly, congratulates her again, and lopes out of her office. Corey draws a long breath, exhales, stretches, still feeling the impression and warmth of his long frame against her body and the flush of blood in her cheeks. During recent working dinners with Jake she thinks she has sensed a subtle shift in his attitude toward her, some understated acknowledgement of her as a woman, but she does not trust her instincts in these matters. Jake has done nothing overt to confirm the feeling, and she is quite prepared to believe it is nothing more than her own projection, a fantasy where the good boss becomes the perfect lover. (Her mind jumps to her last session with Dr. Wilkins. He had asked her to detail her recent conscious sexual fantasies and she finally responded with considerable embarassment that when she masturbated of late, which was very infrequently, the faces of her sexual partners were featureless, blank. And he said he thought that represented progress.)
But these are uncomfortable and confusing thoughts and not to be thought about now when her mind wants to be full of the partnership and what it means. When she first joined the firm, Jake had counseled her privately on how to succeed as a woman: work harder and smarter than the hard nosed, cocksure men she would be surrounded by (but don't be too obvious about it), let her superiors take credit for her work, especially when they were inept, and, in spite of the numerous opportunities that would confront her, never have sexual relations with anyone remotely connected to the firm or its clients.
Which is exactly how Corey had played it, leaving behind a string of slightly bruised egos, men who found they could neither engage her on a personal level nor find objective fault with her work. But even optimistically, Corey had assumed she was at least a year or more from initial consideration for partnership; had assumed, in fact, that she might eventually have to move to a smaller, less prestigious firm to make partner.
Corey is hit with a sudden twisty rush of excitement, a feeling of finally being safe, over the top after almost two decades of financial insecurity following the death of her parents, years of loans and scholarships and low paying jobs to support herself in college and law school.
And then Cal's accident a year ago that took everything she had saved in her first five years with the firm.
The money-to-be is a wonderfully comforting focus, and Corey lets her mind play. I'm going to buy the beach cottage I've been renting on Fire Island, she thinks. And I can begin to really save again, save and invest so there will always be enough, enough for me and for Cal too, if he needs it.
And I have to get Cal into one of those places, a rehab, get him stabilized and sober and doing something other than gambling. He had such promise when he was young, such enthusiasm!
Corey takes a half dozen deep breaths. The feeling is elation tinged with fear, not altogether pleasant. On impulse, she calls the owner of her rented beach cottage, wakes him up, negotiates a purchase price and terms on the spot. She hangs up and writes a $20,000 binder check and a cover letter and leaves them for her secretary to type and mail.
Corey then calls the number Cal gave her for the Hotel Playa De La Madera in Zihuatanejo. Senor Cross is not in his room, but she cannot determine whether he has checked out of the hotel or is simply out at the moment, since the desk man appears to agree enthusiastically with both suggestions. Finally, she hangs up and calls Deanna's loft, something she does not like to do. The phone rings six times.
"Ummmnnn....what flaming anus is calling at this hour?"
"Uh, Deanna? It's Corey. Sorry."
"Corey? Jesus. Don't you know we play till two? Good Christ, get off me!"
"What? I'm sorry, I..."
"No, no, it's the fucking dogs. As soon as I wake up, they're all over me. And Archimedes farts. And then he looks at you with this dumb face, just like people do when they fart and don't want to admit it. Get off goddamnit !"
"Deanna? I'm really sorry to call so early. I was wondering if Cal was there."
"I wish he was, hon. He could take care of this fucking menagerie I'm living in."
"Is Cal still in Mexico? Do you know if..."
"Cal was toast down there, hon, truly dipsoid, you know? Heavy into the sauce. Scoring ten or twenty bucks off college kids. I couldn't keep him straight."
"Look, Deanna, I just..."
"Fact is, I don't know where he is. I've been back, what? Six days, I guess. I think he's still down there. This juicehead thing is so retrograde. Not that I don't love him."
"If he calls or shows up, could you ask him to call me?" Corey says this with all the sweetness and civility she can muster.
"No sweat. Hey listen, check The Voice this week. Big ad for Bitchcraft. When are you coming downtown to catch our act?"
"Well, I'll certainly try..."
"Oh, and try not to call before, like, noon, okay hon?"
"Of course. I'm sorry, I..."
"No problem. Bye, babe."
Corey stares at the phone, feeling, as always, slightly overwhelmed by Deanna.
"I will take the day off," she says out loud, surprising herself. She picks up her briefcase, bolts out of her office and up the stairs.
Soon, she is thinking. Soon I will no longer climb these stairs. Soon, I will have an office upstairs with the other partners, a large office decorated to my taste. Soon, almost all of the men in the Corporate Law Group, all of the men below partner level, all of those vain, posturing hotshots from Harvard and Columbia and NYU law that I have tolerated, assisted, out flanked and danced around for the last six years will be obliged to seek my approval, my largess, to advance their precious careers.
Oh, so very soon, she thinks, and feels the visceral tremor of excitement again as she breezes by the perfectly groomed, professionally smiling receptionist and out the mahogany doors.