part one: A Diamond in the Rough
I was more worried, really, that Jason Flood wouldn’t hurt me — or not enough or not with sufficient intensity or not . . . sincerely.
We’ve confused men.
I understand that.
They’re all Charlie Brown; we’re all Lucy-with-the-Football.
We keep saying we want to give them something to really kick — well, some of us do, anyway; and we keep pulling the ball back at the last minute, with them ending up on their backs: thwarted — fooled.
And the fact that I’m a female attorney, specializing in sexual harassment lawsuits? I understand the irony of my position.
But . . . I’ve been skipping ahead.
I’ll spool back.
Jason Flood is an egomaniacal bastard: too much money, too much power, too much time on his hands — and a terrifyingly oversized . . . sense of his own importance.
What did you think I was going to say?
You read it dirty?
Take responsibility for your own wayward thoughts, expectations, and desires!
Like I’m . . . trying to.
But . . .
I’ll spool back.
To the beginning.
Caroline Heatherington is the sort of woman I am supposed to respect, admire; to some degree, even envy.
I do — all of those things.
But then there are some . . . call them “ragged edges.”
She’s a hard charger, Caroline: an MBA, PhD, with a sterling resume and sharp elbows.
Until very recently, she was the youngest Executive VP at Flood Industries and I have not the slightest doubt that she legitimately earned everything that’s ever come to her.
Ought to be a model to young girls everywhere: make your choices; fight for them; win.
I don’t like her.
I don’t trust her.
I don’t believe her.
So . . . there’s that.
“Two years severance pay?” I had to ask.
Caroline nodded, clearly both distracted — by I-wasn’t-quite-sure-what — and irritated.
“Vested stock options worth . . ?”
“I don’t — ” Caroline huffed, waving a hand around dismissively. “Maybe 4.3 million? Maybe five? I — It’s a market-timing thing. I’m sure my accountant can be more specific.”
I plowed on.
“Three years of medical coverage?”
She seemed to try not at all to keep a nasty edge out of her voice.
Given who she was?
That was clearly a decision — which is not to say that she was successful in whatever it was she thought it would accomplish. Alienating her own attorney? Most of that work had already been done.
“Yes,” she said, eyes cold and steady. “Medical, dental, optical, disability, and long-term care. The kind of package that you would perhaps like for yourself?”
The law firm was nowhere near that generous.
I held her gaze for a moment and then looked away.
No point in getting into silly staring contests.
“And your claim,” I said, riffling needlessly through one of the folders stacked in front of me, “is that you were harassed?”
I’m supposed to say that with some sympathy.
The core of my job, really: make the client feel both welcomed and understood; make the client feel that she will be supported.
When I looked up again, Caroline’s eyes were just snake-cold.
She didn’t answer for what felt like an eternity.
“Jason Flood,” she said, finally, voice clipped and clear, “is a monster. He should not be permitted to walk the earth. Harassment doesn’t even begin to — ”
Revocation of Permission to Walk the Earth?
Not actually a remedy available in a civil suit.
I suppose you could argue that, if he were to be found guilty of a capital crime, under federal jurisdiction . . . there was always the possibility of execution.
But that wasn’t generally where sexual harassment lawsuits ended up — however much I might, at least now and then, wish that things were different.
“Tell me,” was all I said, holding her snake eyes in my gaze.
Now she was in my wheelhouse.
And if I had this odd feeling that she seemed like she’d be more comfortable having an attorney with her — to protect her from the firm she was engaging to represent her?
That kind of dodge and dive, that kind of shuck and jive?
I saw that every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
Slowed me down not at all.
“Tell me,” I repeated, feeling like I was watching — through her suddenly-glass forehead — the clumsy operation of an old mechanical adding machine, toting up numbers, making crude calculations.
Caroline closed her eyes for a moment and took a breath.
“Alright,” she said, eyes still closed, “this is all — anything I say here is under lawyer-client privilege, yes?” She opened her eyes. Idiot question; of course it was. I nodded. “Alright,” she said, closing her eyes again. “Alright. I’ll tell you.”
“Maura Diamond!” Devya cried, seated across from me in our favorite booth, in our favorite diner. “Why would anyone want to be paddled or caned?” And then, before I could answer, closing her eyes, she smiled and nodded. “Well — okay, yes, understood — not, of course, anyone. Just, perhaps . . . some people. In your experience, yes?”
Close to two decades, now, we’d been having this conversation?
“Screw you,” I murmured with quiet affection. “Body wants what the body wants; soul wants what the soul wants. We’re gonna talk about sense, here? We’re not.”
Devya laughed, lightly slapped my hand across the table.
“Messing with you, Baby!” she said, quiet as well. “Just messing with you. The body, the soul, the . . . yes, yes, yes! Of course! Not being judgy — ”
“You? No, certainly not!”
She reached across again, pincered my wrist between thumb and index finger, made exaggerated sad-baby-eyes at me, as if in abject apology.
I almost spit my sip of water across the table at her, laughing.
“So, so, so!” she said excitedly. “Tell!”
Look: “Attorney-Client Privilege”?
I very much respect it; I do.
But Devya’s Devya, and she’s not an officer of the court.
Aside from her connection to me?
Her life touches this case not at all.
So . . . that I tell-her-things?
I pretty much file that under “being human,” rather more than . . . violating an ethical code.
Of course . . . we all have our own filing systems.
Devya comes from a very conservative Brahmin family.
As far as they’re concerned?
Yale just ruined her — in every possible way.
They fought like Hell to get her in, and get her through: she came out the other end almost unrecognizable.
“Supposed to” go to medical school, she’d “come into her own” and made a “mid-course correction,” tumbling instead down the rabbit hole of Comparative Literature, with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies.
Now she was a tenured professor at Columbia, and her parents were still trying to choke down this “success.”
Came in quiet?
She got loud.
And: Good for her!
Except . . . not here and not now, and —
“For the love of God! Don’t shout dungeon.”
She put her hand over her mouth — half-parody and half-serious.
“Oops!” she hissed between her fingers. “Did not mean to be shouting. So, so, so sorry.”
According to Caroline — and I have neither reason nor inclination to disbelieve her — Jason Flood has . . . a dungeon.
Beneath the Long Island mansion in which he spends as much time as he can.
“It’s not,” Caroline had been measured and careful, “like a stone-walled, dark, damp, lamplit hole in the ground.”
It was, she gave me to understand a Modern Dungeon!
In some ways?
More Velcro restraint equipped padded surfaces of various shapes and sizes than iron wrist-cuffs and hung-on-the-wall.
Nothing resembling a rack, on which to stretch and torture.
She did, however, describe a sophisticated “Genital-Control Panel” on which the options for clitoral stimulation included, but were not limited to: vibration, temperature, water jets, ultrasound, and . . . electric shocks.
I wondered how —
“He drugged her?” Devya asked, voice now low and urgent, expression distraught, trying to understand how Caroline could possibly have ended up in such a place.
I suddenly felt both utterly exhausted and completely abandoned, my ability to explain anything to anyone — myself top of the list — simply leached from my body.
“No. There are things that she seemed to think she wanted,” I said carefully. “And then . . . she changed her mind.”
“Anybody’s absolute right!” Devya cried, voice now loud again.
“Yes,” I said quietly, feeling inadequate to the task of explaining. “But . . .”
Excerpted from Zoë Zelig’s:
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