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Bitter Business

Bitter Business

Titel: Bitter Business
Autoren: Gini Hartzmark
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    If Daniel Babbage hadn’t been dying of cancer, I would never have met the Cavanaughs. Looking back, that much at least seems certain, even if there are other things—important things—that I will never know and never understand. Babbage was notoriously secretive about his clients, and I have no doubt that under other circumstances he would have chosen to deal with the Cavanaugh family alone. For close to thirty years Daniel’s job had been as much about keeping secrets as providing counsel, and if nothing else, the years had taught him that there will always be some things that are best kept locked away.
    But now the cells in Babbage’s pancreas had betrayed him and the touchstones of his faith had become the radiation and chemotherapy treatments that took him from the office for long stretches and left him weak and exhausted. Finding themselves in his situation, other men, no doubt, would have abandoned the practice of law and used whatever time they had left to pursue their long-deferred dreams. But Babbage was a quirky and reclusive bachelor, and for whatever reason, he had decided to play out the last dramas of his life within the mahogany-paneled confines of Callahan, Ross, Peterman and Seidel.
    And so, after the initial shock of diagnosis, Daniel had begun to make arrangements. He ordered the famous octagonal conference table removed from his office and replaced it with a deep sofa of tobacco-colored leather. Gradually, he relinquished his administrative duties at the firm, including his seat on the powerful compensation committee, which sets salaries and allocates profits among the partners. Finally, and with the greatest reluctance—like a stripper working a very cold hall—he’d begun to assign his files, one by one, to other attorneys at the firm.
    I made the trip down the hall to Daniel’s office in answer to his summons and found him lying on the couch, propped up on pillows. Madeline, his longtime secretary—a stern woman who wore her glasses on a chain—hovered nearby. Daniel was reading a case file, holding the manila folder in front of his face like a choirboy. When he heard me enter he peered over the top of it, tilting his chin down to see me better above the half frames of his reading glasses. He was a small man, just this side of sixty, with a head of candy-tuft white hair and an affably jowly grin. His eyebrows were thick and licked up into pointy tufts above his eyes, which were moist like a baby’s.
    “Kate!” he exclaimed, laying down the file and making a token effort to sit up. “Thanks for making yourself available on such short notice. I understand that the services of our youngest partner are very much in demand these days. Skip Tillman was crowing about you over lunch just the other day. He said it was you who rammed the Norwich Industries deal through. You should have heard him.”
    Skip Tillman was the firm’s managing partner, and from the first day I’d come to work at Callahan Ross he’d never expected me to do anything but fall on my face— an opinion that he’d also taken no pains to conceal. It was strange, but I felt no flutter of victory to hear that he was now singing my praises.
    “So who’s doing what to whom?” I inquired, settling comfortably into the chair Daniel reserved for visitors. Babbage’s specialty was representing family-owned businesses, and as he was fond of pointing out, in his work the same themes were always playing themselves out-—love and hate, money and power, trust and betrayal, fear...
    “You did some work for me two years ago on the Superior Plating file,” he said. “What do you remember about the company? Anything?”
    I took a deep breath and ratcheted back through my mental inventory of cases.
    “Superior Plating and Specialty Chemicals,” I recited easily. “The company is a large metal plating and anodizing operation located on the near south side. It was founded in 1936 by James Cavanaugh, who died young and turned it over to his only child, Jack, who built it into one of the biggest operations of its kind in the country. Their main business is applying metal coatings like chrome, gold, and brass to manufactured metal products—everything from shower doors to streetlights.” I closed my eyes and cast my mind back. “If memory serves, they also have an unusual sideline for a plating company— a division that makes proprietary compounds for niche industries like film processing and embalming, hence the
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