LIFE ON THE SEVENTEENTH floor of the National Bank Building at Fashion Island was good. My office fronted on the view of the harbour, with its vast expanse of small craft idling in the gentle motion of the waves. While the nameplate on the outside wall by my door simply said 'Jake Mandel', anyone who understood the protocols of a successful law firm would have instantly known by my corner office that I was a senior partner.
Even though my office was isolated at the far end of our firm's floor, I could hear the underlying electrical buzz of the printers as they pumped out the paper documents that were the lifeblood of our firm.
The door to my office was slightly ajar and I could see the secretaries and paralegals as they scurried about to create more paper. Paper was good because it meant our firm was prospering and our lifestyle would be maintained. Our large corporate clients were the cannon meat that powered the engine. We were merely a petty expense that allowed them to perpetrate their corporate greed.
Conversely, those of us at the top of the food chain enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle and provided employment for the underlings. I guess it was a matter of whose ox was being gored.
I felt pretty good as the sun streamed in and warmed my office. I could sense the rhythm of the workplace and took comfort in knowing that entrepreneurial capitalism, as we practiced it, was alive and well.
Adjusting the volume on my stereo system, I listened to the haunting sounds of Rachmaninoff's First Symphony. It had a certain melancholic resonance that was reminiscent of bringing yourself close to a climax, suddenly stopping for a breath of air, only to resume again.
I wasn't really working hard anymore. I put in long hours, but I was now skilled at my trade, and on top of the learning curve. Work was more a matter of network management than anything else. I was looking forward to my tryst with Silvie in the afternoon. Married life had long ceased to be anything other than a matter of appearance. Our marital bed was cold. I actually enjoyed sleeping alone in the guestroom. I did not have to listen to my wife's snoring and occasional farting in the middle of the night.
Our relationship was polite and formal. It allowed me access to the old GOP guard in a community that harped on about family values. The relationship was a necessity because business was done at social events, and appearance rather than actual propriety, was the order of the day.
Romantic love and marital fidelity were merely matters of lip service and appearance. All that really mattered was personal satisfaction and the feel of soft skin possessed by the young.
Leslie broke my comfortable mood as she plunged into my office, newspaper in hand. I shifted my gaze to her and found myself staring at her presence. It took me a moment to bring her into focus.
Leslie was my eyes and ears in the office. I had long since ceased to trust the integrity of my partners, and recognized they would sell me out for a farthing, or less. Somewhere along the line they had become so greedy that the only end game was how much money could be accumulated. I needed Leslie to keep me apprised of the interactions and schemes that took place at the water cooler. She was a loyal retainer, but came with a price. Yet, I was more than willing to pay it.
I tried to sort out what she was saying but my head was still full from last night's Jack Daniels. Holding up the morning paper she asked, "Have you seen the headline? Charlie Stewart's son was arrested for murder."
I could feel the wheels begin to turn in my head as I blankly stared at Leslie.
"What the fuck? Give me the paper!"
She quickly walked to my side and obliged. Taking the front page in my hands, I read that the son of the local GOP Chairman elect had been arrested for the murder of a four month old infant whose mother was his girlfriend. All it mentioned was that the baby had been taken to Huntington-West Hospital with serious head injuries, allegedly caused by Trey Stewart. The Huntington Beach Police were cooperating with the Orange County Sheriff in the investigation of the crime.
I could smell trouble coming. Charlie Stewart was a facilitator. He wasn't a business man, more like a con-man who appeared to have access to all of the economic notables in the community. He bridged the gap between the rich and the rich, and brought them together under a shared ideology of profit and greater profits. The case was serious because Charlie was a one man band. Damage to his family could impact our practice. I immediately called a partnership meeting.
Orange County had always been a boar's nest of political alliances. In the days of the 'good old boys' the County was run by the John Birchers. They looked for communists under every rock and were suspicious of any rationally based political views. Their policy was to denounce and exclude anyone who did not adhere to the Bircher view. In a sense they were the ultimate extension of McCarthyism, cloaked in a garb of patriotism and love of country. The reality was they were just a bunch of bigots who wore suits instead of white hoods, and drove Mercedes instead of riding horses. The net impact was pretty much the same.
Their methodology was to divide, conquer, then exclude from the political process anyone who did not go along with their agenda. Their view of the world was consistent with Nixon's list of enemies.
Every family had its own skeletons, but a code of silence and failure of inquiry resulted in lack of exposure and papered over indiscretion and abuses.
With the influx of Asians, Hispanics and people of more liberal persuasion, cracks appeared in the old political structure. Those who were financially well endowed divided the political pie by seizing the party structure of the Democratic and Republican Parties.
As a practical matter, there was not a nickels worth of difference between the parties. Ideological differences were exposed to the public but, in the financial corridors of the county, the same families met and bred with each other as if there was no difference other than who was going to eat the political pie.