Five years since Ava had seen the ad in the paper. Five years since she’d written – and rewritten, and rewritten – her resume. Five years since she’d mustered the entirety of her hopes, her dreams, her ambitions to throw at this one job.
“Your first job is where it all starts,” her father had said to her once. “It’s gotta be at the right place. It’s gotta be under the right people. The first rung in the ladder. Get on it and start climbing.”
So Ava had started climbing. Her ladder was Mr. Richard Alderman’s law firm – the finest in the city, where careers went to blossom. Where attorneys billed more hours a day than were, in fact, in a day. She’d arrived on her first day, five years ago, as an earnest but badass paralegal. From there, she had envisioned climbing her way to becoming a high-powered and successful attorney.
Five years were all about to unspool before her, because Ava was a hair’s breadth from killing her boss.
“Hey precious!” Mr. Alderman’s oily dulcet baritone snapped her from her reverie – and provoked an inadvertent snapping of her pencil. “What’s an old guy gotta do to get some help around here?” The question was rhetorical, which was the only fashion in which he ever posited questions to her. “Where’s my coffee?”
Mr. Alderman strode across the office, abandoning his trademark limp at the door. Some unfortunate college boy had hit him with a car in a crosswalk last year. He’d crowed with anticipation when he came into the office the next day wearing a walking cast. Alderman had gone after the kid and his family for pain and suffering. They didn’t have any money. But Alderman relished the symbolic victory and used the limp now, like he used everything else, as a tool to get what he wanted. Some days he was the frail old man just needing assistance. Some days he was the sleeping bulldog daring you to cross him and eager for fresh meat.
Just ask him, Ava thought through her perfect simile. Its been two years since the last one. Gotta keep climbing.
She stood, extending a cup of steaming cup of black coffee. “Good morning, Mr Alderman. Discovery is on your desk. The court called – Jensen’s case is continued until next month.”
“Thanks, dollface,” Alderman grabbed the coffee and brushed past her into the office. Ava could see the opportunity slipping by.
“Actually, I wanted to see if we could set a time for my annual rev -” The door would have hit her in the face if she had followed him just a little closer. Ava drew a slow breath in through her nostrils. She’d known it would be hard. She was ready for the long hours, the work weekends, even the moral ambiguity of getting people off for murder who may have been guilty. She practically had road rash from trying to claw to the top of this shit heap on hands and knees, barely making any progress. But what she wasn’t ready for were the paper cuts.
This is just the first rung in the ladder. Get on it and start climbing. Stay on and keep climbing.
Ava had gotten lost in her computer screen and didn’t see her next assailant come in.
“You should smile more.”
Ava looked up and assumed her receptionist face – it only fluttered once when she saw who he was. The man sounded like a Hemsworth and wore a tailored Gucci suit with red and gold cufflinks glittering at his wrists. She recognized him from one of the pictures on Mr. Alderman’s wall.
“I’m sorry,” Ava flashed the requested smile. “I was…” she trailed off as he flashed her a roguish twist of his lip. He’s gorgeous. “Did you have an appointment with Mr. Alderman?”
“Nah. We’re old buddies. I just wanted to say hi and see if I could chat with the guy who wrote this brief.”
Ava looked at the outstretched paper in his hand. Prepared by A. Macintosh, it read. She broke into a real smile.
“Thats me!” She extended her hand to shake his. “Pleased to meet you, Mr…?”
Gucci man barked a laugh and took her hand but instead of shaking it, he raised it to his lips and kissed it. “Oh, that’s great, hon! I needed that. No, really, who’s Alderman hiding back there?”
“No really – that’s me!” Ava jerked her hand back and ducked under her desk to grab her handbag. In her haste the contents ended spilling all over the floor, but she had found what she was looking for. Ignoring the clattering mess, Ava extended her driver’s license. “A. Macintosh. I’d love to talk to you about it more.”
Gucci’s expression had shifted from charming to genuinely surprised. “Well…How about you meet me and the partners for a drink?
“It would be an honor. I’d love to!”
Ava’s face fell. “I can’t tonight. I have an important… class. I’m so sorry. Would tomorrow work?”
“I’ll let the boys know.”
Even Gucci’s gaze traveling up and down her figure as couldn’t dampen the electric expression of triumph in her eyes.
“Little tip, they love a little red dress.”
“Oh, I know just the one.” This is it. Keep climbing!
Alderman’s door swung open with a bang, cutting the moment short.
“Bob! It’s been too long, how are you?” the grinning proprietor asked warmly. “I hope this pretty little thing was keeping you entertained.”
“She’s sure something else, Alderman. Were you planning on keeping her hidden here forever?”
“Aw, she loves it here. Makes a mean cup of coffee too! And just look at that face.”
Ava was still beaming from ear to ear. My next rung. She could see it all rolling out before her. Drinks. A job offer. Or a raise. Or BOTH. Recognition. Law school, finally… Dad will be so proud when I tell-
“Hey Ava, can you grab us a couple coffees?” The two men were meandering into Alderman’s office.
“Absolutely, Mr. Alderman. Anything else?”
“Yeah, are you still leaving early for that workout class tonight? If so, I need you to come in early tomorrow morning. Thanks, doll.”
Ava’s plans froze in her mind’s eye. Everything slowed down and the rosy glow around her future shriveled into the mud brown of Gucci man’s eyes as they smirked at her. He shook his head.
“Go tighten that ass, A. Macintosh. Boys got to talk some business. Hey Alderman, you want to grab drinks with the boys tomorrow night? I had an appointment fall through.”
“Sounds great, Bobby.” The closing door muffled Mr. Alderman’s last words. “Don’t forget the filings, Ava!”
This is it.
Ava stood for a moment.
This is it.
Mechanically, Ava reached for the stack of papers Alderman had left for her that morning. The white edges bit into her skin and when she pulled her finger away, a red dot blossomed on the corner of the page. She stared at it. And something snapped.
Ava poured the bottle of water over her face, feeling the water drip down her neck. She spread it with cold fingers across her burning muscles.
“Ok. Let’s go again,” she said, pulling her gloves back on. Kevin looked startled.
“Are you sure? You’ve been going on two hours now -”
Ava hit the buzzer and charged Kevin. He blocked her barrage of blows, unready for the onslaught of energy. “Hey, okay, hold on-“
She hit him in the face with a jab and he came after her.
For the last year she’d been taking every combat sport she could. Jiu jitsu, Muay Thai, kickboxing, CQC. Dad always said be ready for anything. It was the only time she got to let go. I wasn’t ready. Her entire life was rigid order. I missed! It all aimed her at one goal. I missed! As she traded blows with Kevin, memories flooded through her mind. Someone else’s name on my legal briefs. Skipped raises because “it just wasn’t in the budget.” Empty social life. Empty vodka bottles. Condescending comments. Pats on the head. Pats elsewhere. Sleeping medication. Training nights-
BAM! Her head snapped back from a blow she hadn’t seen coming. Ava stumbled and rebounded with a low tackle. Kevin wasn’t expecting that. Nor was he expecting the rapid manic scramble to his back and arms around his neck.
“Wow – you’ve been prac-” his voice trailed off in a strangle. Kevin began tapping, but Ava didn’t let go. Pats… briefs… vodka… “Sweetie”… smiles… silence…
Ava realized that Kevin had stopped patting and was slumped in front of her. She let go. Kevin lay there, limp. Ava stared. A feeling welled up in her chest. It surprised her. She felt powerful. Lying there, Kevin’s profile looked just a little like Mr. Alderman. They have the same nose. Ava smiled slowly…
Suddenly, Kevin gasped. Ava just watched him writhing on the floor. There was blood on his nose.
After a minute Kevin caught his breath. “I think we’re done here. Bitch.”
Before he could regain his feet Ava’s arm shot over and around his neck. With lightning speed she twisted, placing both hands on either side of his temples and yanking first one way, then the other. The crack of his vertebrae separating was the most satisfying noise she had ever heard. Kevin slumped to his knees, his face slamming into the floor.
Ava rose and grabbed her phone. Before she could dial, a call blinked to life on the screen. “ALDERMAN,” the caller ID read.
“Hello, Dick!” His first name felt good rolling off her tongue. She’d wanted to call him that from her first week at the firm. “…Yes, of course I can run those briefs by your house…. No, it’s no problem at all. I just finished here…” Ava gazed with a smile at Kevin’s still body contorted like a piece of figure art. “I’ll be right over.”
This is it.