ROBERT E. TANNER
Throughout the automotive bailout, the law firm of Fitzpatrick, Hughes & Keating hummed with a giddy voyeurism that had not been present during the financial bailout, which was understood as interesting and important to the lobbyists of Bear, Goldman, Lehman, and the rest, but which lacked the delightful, schadenfreude-filled missteps of the presidents of Ford, Chrysler, and GM first arriving in DC from Detroit in their private planes with their hands out then being sent by their (surely embarrassed) handlers back to Washington for follow-up meetings in the cramped, miniature hybrid cars the environmentalists wanted Congress to force the re-made Detroit to manufacture and which, everyone at Fitzpatrick agreed, their lobbyists needed to remove from the debate that Vanessa, in agreeing naturally with her coworkers as her opinions unconsciously shifted to support whoever was in power, followed only incidentally, mostly through headlines on the nights she'd dismissed Luke or he'd fallen deeply asleep, the intern's young, replaceable body, whose possession nonetheless made her feel as successful as the partners, so easily exhausted, and her own restiveness pushing her out of bed and to the computer, where her fatigue would be too great—even with a cup of coffee, whose aroma always risked rousing an eager, sexually rejuvenated Luke—for her to be effective at much more than surfing the internet, finding out that John and Jamie Reilly were planning to go on a Caribbean cruise, as if they were still a couple of newlyweds, or tracing the influence of the new movie 300, about the valiant Spartans, who were not really three hundred, but closer to three thousand, with all of the mercenaries and contingents sent from other Greek city-states, but still many fewer than the one hundred to three hundred thousand estimated to be the force of their Persian adversary Xerxes, whom they held between the water and the mountains at Thermopylae until the traitor Ephialtes, whose name remains infamous in Greece to this day, led the Persian armies through another pass, allowing them to outflank the Spartans, who had nonetheless known from the beginning that they would be holding Thermopylae until their deaths, as King Leonidas had told his wife on his departure to find a good husband and had selected only men with living sons, an action in itself that proved, according to Luke, their excessive testosterone, which was represented in the movie by the muscular actors whose physical fitness was on full, homoerotic display in the scant armor of greaves, codpiece, helmet, and long red cloak and became a part of the movie's publicity in the internet popularity of the ferocious training regimen of weight-bearing cardio, in which the actors would perform push-ups, various barbell movements, and more unconventional exercises, such as pulling a giant truck tire or performing snatches with Russian kettle-bells at a place called Gym Jones, where the fitness adherents possessed a fanaticism that would not have been unfamiliar to the eponymous cult leader Jim Jones, whose relocation in the 1970s of his People's Temple from San Francisco to Jonestown, Guyana initially caused a schism with the political leaders who had protected and publicly praised his quasi-religious organization and eventually led to the deaths of over nine hundred people through drinking cyanide-spiked Flavor Aid, the non-cyanide variant not coincidentally listed as the favorite drink of Gym Jones' founder, who'd opened a parallel schism when he returned to Salt Lake City from his own time in California at the headquarters of Crossfit, a similar gym of which, Vanessa noticed as she scrolled through the updates on Carey Bolton's feed, Madison Baxter and her girlfriend were the latest proselytes, praising the philosophy (between descriptions of their involvement with a civic group that intended to keep Brooklyn a good place to live through the two-pronged approach of neighborhood meetings and city council harassment) so effusively that Vanessa was certain they'd already drunk the Kool-Aid, which she could not personally understand, never having been one to follow the mass hysteria or collectivism that got people to go along with an idea simply in order to realize some leader's vision, like the video going around the internet of several hundred apparent strangers simultaneously freezing in place for five long minutes in Grand Central Station, where a baggage cart is caught amongst the motionless people and must radio for the help that doesn't arrive before the actors return to whatever it was they were doing, be it walking, pretending to kiss a just-arrived partner, or talking on their cell phones, probably to each other or to the artistic "genius" who would get all of the credit that the Baron, for one, would've argued that he—for invariably it would be a he—deserved, as the genius was the one with the idea, the bud from which the rest blooms, and Vanessa began to think that it was no wonder that when the economy collapsed, the Baron, with his own "ideas," could no longer convince those at Goldman, Lehman, and Smith Barney (or whatever their southern equivalents) to spend the money, which everyone knew they still had, on such ethereal things, then realized that that couldn't have been the reason the Baron had closed his New Orleans gallery—as far as she could tell—for he had been able to imbue even a bamboo floor, temporarily installed by the artist Omar Takahashi, with a narrative spun from the gossamer of bullshit such that it had become, with her first resounding step upon it, something Vanessa herself had wished her parents would buy and still, despite her subsequent sophistication, imagined owning one day, but not until she moved from this starter condo to the permanent Georgetown house she knew she deserved, and not for the facile reason that she desired a passel of kids like Carey, whom, she'd read, had just had another, evoking a momentary pity for the wife and the whole lot of 'em out in Seattle, what with the three kids and Carey's obvious pining for the ever-unattainable Madison, a thought that Vanessa had posted on Facebook, where Luke had pointedly not responded, preferring to wait until they were together to corner her with a question about why she cared so much about these people from high school, which she'd answered with the solecism that she couldn't very well talk to him about work, which he hadn't taken well, apparently having foolishly believed that since they were sleeping together they would have no secrets, despite his well knowing about attorney-client privilege and the sensitive nature of all of their work at Fitzpatrick, where, she would have told him had he not left in a snit to go tell someone else their problems (which was exactly why she couldn't talk to him about work), the rumor mill was churning with fears from Dubai, whose emir had been summoned to Abu Dhabi in order to beg for the money that would forestall his emirate's financial collapse, which, although the emirate wasn't a client of Fitzpatrick's, highlighted the situation of the resource-poor Yemen and Oman, whose former largesse had provided Vanessa several trips to the Middle East, with stopovers in Europe where she had finally seen the Berninis that had stuck in her mind since studying the photos on the Baron's couch, and which she felt as an imperfect parallel to her own relationship with Luke, who, habituated to their dinners together, returned the next night to Vanessa, allowing her to take him out for a steak and buy him an iPhone, with which, she joked with a look over the top of her tiny glasses, she wasn't bribing him, only buying the access she enjoyed as she watched the excitement evident in his frowning concentration on the phone during dinner, when he was buzzing her own phone from across the table, smilingly leaning over to show her the fastidious detail in the illusory momentum of scrolling images or the simplicity of controlling the device through gestures, and snapping pictures of the steak, the restaurant, himself (but not the forbidden Vanessa with her laughing cleavage) that he simultaneously posted to Facebook, as though his life were more meaningful if he could share it immediately, no matter the existence of an audience, and later, the phone still in his hand, awaiting the chirp of an incoming message or the full ring of a call that Vanessa would surreptitiously, her phone held down at her side, place throughout the evening, Luke spoke about his boss's work (perhaps out of a sense of quid pro quo) and immediately regretted the indiscretion, swearing her to secrecy on the matter even as she began probing him for information about the upcoming meeting he had heard concerned the grand strategy for securing GE's nuclear power account, which Vanessa could now see, from the general drift of everyone in the office towards the belief in the low environmental impact and limitlessness of nuclear power, to be the future, if not of the world's energy needs (for rarely did people in the firm think so far abroad) but of Fitzpatrick, Hughes & Keating itself, what with the dwindling resources of their clients Yemen and Oman, whose lack of oil conveniently wouldn't put them in opposition to the GE deal, of which Vanessa was determined to be a part so spent the rest of the week looking for a way to insinuate herself into the grand strategy meeting, a process that quickly became an engrossing puzzle, pleasing both for the potential rewards and the encompassing left-brain/right-brain nature of its potential solutions, and after social engineering the time and the location from a secretary who knew an up-and-comer when she met one, Vanessa crashed the meeting in the large conference room, where she, buttoned conservatively into her best suit, greeted the other younger associates' smiles of delight at the prospect of her being ejected with her assertion that, because her physics background gave her the only actual knowledge in the entire firm of how nuclear power worked, which, she added, would probably be important in the strategy for securing GE's nuclear power account, she thought it best to include herself in the discussion, an audacious move that was appreciated by several of the partners, much to the frowning chagrin of those associates who had gleefully prepared themselves for the downfall that only arrived privately, when Luke should've been celebrating the very rightness of her daring success but instead rebuked her for using the information he'd given her in confidence, to which she responded that this was why she couldn't talk to him about anything from work, a response she'd intended more as a statement of fact than as a reproof, but which he apparently took to be the latter, as he didn't return that night or the next, and during the breaks from further background research on nuclear power, when she worried that Luke wouldn't return with his delectably thin body except to drop off the iPhone and pick up his single, contained drawer of stuff, she read on Facebook that Adrian Fisher was planning something big then dissolved into a contumelious certainty that Adrian's fancy plans were probably along the lines of being part of a crowd that was protesting the future by pretending to freeze in place around a nuclear power plant, because from what she remembered of Adrian Fisher, she could see a little of the Spartan in him, which momentarily reminded her that she didn't regret what she'd done to Luke, necessary as it was for her career, before, imagining that Adrian would do well in the cult of Gym Jones, she responded to the Facebook post with a link not to their website, which had gotten lost in the progression of her surfing, but to the Crossfit site that was linked, amongst personal records for physical fitness and various videos of people exercising, all over Madison's page, through which Vanessa subsequently learned that the Russians, following Napoleon's 1812 defeat at Moscow, pursued the emperor and his dwindling army back to France, where their occupying forces did what comes naturally to any with time on their hands in that great city: they drank coffee—whose aroma was probably at that moment waking the virile Luke to some slut's smile—in the famous Parisian cafés, where, as has been the custom since time immemorial, the French garçons treated them as if they did not exist, provoking an outrage in the (justifiably) arrogant conquering soldiers, who called to the waiters in their native Russian, "beestra! beestra!" a demand meaning, "quickly! quickly!" and which soon became the generic epithet for all such cafés in the Frenchified "bistro," a theory that was interesting but, if Vanessa's memory of Tolstoy's account was any guide, incorrect (as the Russians did not pursue the French to Paris) and hardly merited Madison's linking or Vanessa's reading while being called to bed by the young, replaceable intern whose possession made her feel as powerful as a partner.
Robert E. Tanner lives in the Pacific Northwest and is currently working on a contemporary re-imagining of Crime and Punishment.