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In the beginning, the overriding goal had been justice for their clients. Now, six years later and a few million dollars in the bank, it was all about the money.
Kendall stood just inside his law partner’s office, hands at his waist—cop style—trying to think of some persuasive argument to put a stop to this snowball of greed headed straight for the nearest jail.
“Look, Cedric, it’s time to call it quits,” Kendall said, venturing further into the office. “We’re lucky that we’ve gotten away with it this long.”
“Man, you gotta cool it with all the gloom and doom. It’s bad for business.” Cedric rested his massive forearms on the desk. With his shiny bald head and hulking frame, he could easily pass for a bouncer.
“And luck has nothing to do with it. We’re rich because I know how to pick my clients.” He winked and flashed a gapped-tooth grin.
The two law partners’ approach to the practice of law had always been at opposite ends of the reasonableness spectrum. Cedric had a hustler’s mentality. If making a buck was even a remote possibility, he was quick to roll the dice. Kendall, by contrast, shamelessly described himself as risk averse. He typically jumped to the worst-case scenario long before he’d heard all the facts.
As thin as Cedric was thick, Kendall at 33, was of average height with decidedly Nordic facial features. He hailed from a real-life legal dynasty: a brother and father at L.A. mega-firms, an aunt on the federal appellate court bench, and a grandfather and great-grandfather who were legends in the legal community decades before he was born. Kendall ended up in law school because it was expected of him. And he’d hated every minute of it.
While Kendall grew up constantly hearing that the sky had no limits, Cedric—raised by his grandmother—had been bred to aim low. A decade older than his law partner, Cedric defied the odds and graduated from Long Beach State in six years and spent the next eight with the Long Beach Police Department. Law was not his dream career either. He’d tried twice, but had been unable to pass the psychological portion of the detective’s exam. Too aggressive, separate teams of psychologists had noted. After his sixth excessive force complaint, he quit before he was fired. He’d ended up in law school on a dare.
Both men had a tough time learning the law—Kendall at UCLA, Cedric at an unaccredited online university—but somehow earned the necessary grades to graduate.
They’d met at a Bar review course after Cedric had taken a seat next to Kendall, cosmically drawn together by their mutual insecurities. Cedric had failed the Bar exam once, Kendall twice.
When Cedric Paine formally introduced himself to Kendall Fear at the first break, the same sly smile instantaneously graced their lips. The Law Firm of Paine & Fear. The decision to jointly hang out a shingle had begun to percolate in both of their heads that very day.
“We only have two pending cases left,” Cedric said with a frown. “I’m not leaving that money on the table.”
“You don’t have the money yet,” Kendall pointed out. “If one of these guys calls our bluff and goes to the police, we’ll lose our license and end up in jail.”
Kendall took a reluctant step closer to Cedric’s desk. He had always been repulsed by his law partner’s office, which like Cedric, gravitated toward the outrageous. The south wall was covered with a loud, gold wallpaper. Two red velvet Queen Anne chairs sat in front of a mirrored desk rimmed in gold. A circular table large enough to seat a family of eight had been jammed into one corner of the room. Giant sculptures shaped like phallic symbols were positioned on opposite sides of the door. The ego wall behind Cedric’s desk boasted poster-size photographs of Cedric with Mike Tyson, Eminem and Michael Jordan. Vegas meets South Central.
“We’ve been doing this for three years without a single glitch,” Cedric reminded him. “It isn’t illegal.”
Perhaps not technically, Kendall thought. But ethically, no way.
Kendall was not proud that he had allowed himself to be enticed into his partner’s easy-money scheme. A mortgage, three kids under ten and two alimony payments, left him no real choice. Being able to rake in more bucks than the pompous, Ivy League lawyers in his family was another significant motivating factor.
But now, with his half of their six million in legal fees properly invested and hidden from both his current and former wives, Kendall had announced his desire to dissolve their partnership. He wasn’t a genius, but he was smart enough to get out while the getting was great.
“Okay, let’s compromise,” Kendall offered. “Go ahead with today’s meeting at Simpson Pharmaceuticals, but let’s forget about going after Barry Mantel.”
“Here we go again,” Cedric sighed, hanging his head. “That guy’s really got you spooked.”
Barry Mantel, CEO of American Financial Investments, the nation’s largest investment banking firm, was not like the other men they had threatened to sue. He wasn’t only wealthy, Barry Mantel was powerful. And powerful men weren’t easily played. Kendall understood that because he’d grown up with an entire family of them.
“I just don’t think it’s wise to go after a guy like Mantel,” Kendall pressed.
Cedric ignored his partner’s angst and glanced at his watch.
“I gotta go. It’ll take me more than an hour to make it to Irvine in traffic. We can finish this conversation when I get back. You’ll feel a lot better about Mantel once you see how well it goes today.”
Copyright© Pamela Samuels Young. All rights reserved.