Their moment of truth came sooner than they anticipated. Nick Hardt appeared the very next day, swung himself with his version of insouciance into 'his' conference chair-- and directly noticed the ten thousand dollar check lying exactly as he had tossed it down the afternoon before.
"What's this?" His eyes narrowed.
Eric spoke with resolution. "Mr. Hardt, we can't do your job for you."
"You mean you're incapable."
"No, we're not incapable, not in the sense you mean. But we can't do it from a legal, and a moral, standpoint. And I'd advise you against pursuing it further yourself."
"Don't be a damned imbecile. You seemed eager enough before. What's got into you? Unless . . . Is it that bitch you use for an assistant?"
Sandy sucked in her breath.
"Damn you, Baumann, if she's in the way, get rid of her. If you don't have the guts, I'll get rid of her for you. Be a man! I will have this job done, and you're going to do it!"
Beaming Sandy a look of comfort, Eric repeated quietly, reasonably, even pleasantly, "I'm sorry, Mr. Hardt. We will not do this job. That is final."
"You have the sense of this doorknob! Listen to me. You know too much, both of you. Believe it, refuse me and you'll never have another client in this city!" The words speared in like the swordblade of unalterable truth. "I can arrange it. Don't trifle with me. You work for me, or I'll ruin you. I'll ruin you!"
"Mr. Hardt, we will not do this job. Kindly take your check and go."
His face a stone mask, his rage darting only from his uncanny eyes, Nick Hardt stood up, crumpling the check between his fingers. This time, they heard him go, stalking furiously off down the hall and out to the elevators.
"Well, at least he is human," Sandy whispered irrelevantly.
Eric closed the door as against a dreaded pestilence and sat down in his chair, hard, his head in his hands. "Oh god, oh, god!" he groaned.
Finally looking up he said, "I'm sorry about what he called you. And that I didn't, well, defend your honor. I had to keep on the subject, you know. You're a brave woman."
"You're a brave man. You did wonderfully."
"Not as much as you. You saw it a long time ago, didn't you? You were right. I don't think I could ever work for that man, even if what he wanted was squeaky-clean legal." He shuddered with horror. "Better the firm should fail than survive on someone like that."
"Eric," she ventured, "what about what he said about, you know . . . ?"
"About driving off the clients? I don't know. He was in earnest, I could tell. But whether he has the influence to pull it off, I really can't say. We'll just have to wait and see."
"'Jump off that bridge when we get to it'?"
"Exactly!" His laugh made fair approach to merriment. "Hey, listen, we've been through a hell of a lot this afternoon. Why don't we go get us a hamburger and go to my place and listen to some Bach? I could use cleaning out my soul.''
"'Magnificat anima mea Dominum'," she replied, softly. "My soul doth magnify the Lord!"
"The Magnificat? Yes, we could listen to that if you like.''
He had not understood her, but standing there loving him she knew exactly what she had meant.
by Catrin Lewis, 1983, revised 2013, all rights reserved)