tw: hazing, mentions of sexual harassment, drug use, lots of cursing and just generally spicy things
Somewhere in Lower Manhattan, nestled in between an overpriced bagel joint and a Starbucks, stands a tall office building. There’s not much that makes it stand out among other tall office buildings in New York — that is, if you’re not an expert on all the different flavors of scaffolding. Sharing the space are three major companies: Schmidt & Farley, an accounting firm; Davidson Libera, a consulting agency; and Kiprensky Lawyers. That one is pretty clear-cut.
We’re going to be focusing on Davidson Libera, mostly referred to as DL, since nobody has any clue how Libera is pronounced (FYI, the stress is actually on the second syllable). It all starts on the 23rd floor, with the reception area, frosted glass offices, black hardwood floors, and abstract paintings that most definitely cost about 50 grand apiece, but look like they were made by a four-year-old that somehow managed to get arthritis.
The first person you meet is usually the receptionist, a blonde woman with a face so forgettable you couldn’t confidently pick her out of a line-up of one. Right next to her, setting the tone with a blinding white serif font, is a “Davidson Libera” sign.
Suddenly, an older dark-haired woman in a beige jumpsuit zooms past it, the sound of clacking heels preceding her. Two men in black suits follow, struggling to keep up.
This is the pod. The wolf pack, the diversity crew, the gang. They’ve been called a lot of names over the years; not all of them stuck. Leading at the front is Nicole Garner, the alpha. She’s been here since the start, brought in by one of the co-founders, and made partner a few years ago.
“That motherfucker,” she says, fuming. “We’re practically paying for his second condo, and he doesn’t even have the decency to let us veto a fucking meeting.”
“Wait, he got a second condo? Now?” asks the man to her left. He’s tall and dark-skinned; a few stray hairs are sticking out from his pompadour, messed up from running. The top of his pink shirt is unbuttoned, and so is the suit.
This is Don Amiri. A couple years ago, he left a major firm to be at DL, working up to senior associate alongside Nicole. If the wolf pack hierarchy actually had merit — and if he wouldn’t rather die than be called that — he’d be the beta.
“I can’t believe we have to meet him on my birthday,” mumbles a guy behind them. He adjusts his glasses and runs a hand through his short, dark hair. His suit is on the cheaper side, buttoned up all the way.
This is Jacob Yang, one of the youngest people at the firm. He got hired straight out of B-school, making up for the lack of experience with a “how high” attitude and an inability to have a personal life outside of work. He’s at the bottom of the pecking order.
“Can you shut the fuck up about your birthday?” Don groans.
The trio steps into an elevator, ignoring the unlucky accountant trying to blend into the corner with a stack of papers.
“Easy for you to say, you forgot about it,” Jacob says quietly.
“I didn’t forget it; I just didn’t care to remember it in the first place.”
Nicole turns her head to stare the both of them down. The fourth person slides down the wall by a few inches.
“Are you two on your periods?” she asks, pointing. “Is that it? Have they synced yet?”
Finally, the resounding silence is broken up by the elevator ding. It doesn’t take long before they’re facing the office of Paul Davidson, DL’s co-founder. The assistant is nowhere to be seen, so Nicole knocks a few times and walks right in.
Which backfires spectacularly, as the first thing they see is Paul’s backside in some yoga shorts. The sight doesn’t leave much to imagination, with him being a chubby man in his fifties. It takes a moment, but he notices them and gets up from a compromising Pilates pose.
“Oh! Uh— Hi! Hello!” Paul exclaims, reaching for a towel.
“I would’ve asked your assistant to let you know we’re coming in, but…” Nicole trails off.
“Oh fudge. Sorry, I gave Sasha a day off to take care of some business.”
Don whispers to Jacob, “As opposed to this, a fun hobby we’re all really into,” to which Nicole shakes her head.
“I’m not working with Johnny Ferrari again,” she says, turning her attention back to Paul. “He’s completely unprofessional. You know this. The very fact that he’s our core client damages this firm.”
Paul plops down in an executive chair and rolls his eyes with an easy smile on his face.
“Oh, come on, Nicole.”
“You remember what he said the first time he saw me?”
“‘Nice tits, granny,’” Don pipes up.
“Aren’t you guys friends or something now?” Paul asks, wiping his forehead.
There’s some merit to the statement. Nicole has successfully closed multiple engagements for Johnny’s companies before, and even if they did end up failing or getting sold to the highest bidder, it’s because Johnny got bored. But between all the data collection, charts, and decks, there was courting. Lots of it. Sitting through lap dances, flying out to Lakers games, picking up his kid from school — one of his kids, anyway. Normally, that would at least qualify someone for the title of casual friend, but Nicole is good at compartmentalizing.
“He’s a walking midlife crisis!” she groans.
“He has money. He’s a whale. You know, like in poker—”
“Yes, Paul, we’ve all fucking played poker.”
“Hey, language!” he warns. “Listen, as long as the checks keep clearing…”
Nicole huffs out an incredulous laugh.
“Just talk to him,” Paul says softly. “He’s human underneath all that spray tan; he’ll get it. Just rip the bandaid off.”
Something inside Nicole snaps. Blind trust is Paul through and through, but it never gets easier to be around, being a painful reminder of people fortunate enough to keep their humanity intact after years of getting the shit kicked out of them. She swears that if he were a death row executioner, at some point he would see a serial killer and go, “Give this guy a chance.”
“Fuck you very much, Paul.”
Not waiting for her team to follow, she storms out.
“Un-fucking-believable,” Nicole fumes as the guys catch up to her. When she notices Jacob, she lets out a gasp. “You’re taking candy from him now?!”
“From his bowl. It’s pretty stale,” he says in between crunching. “Plus, he insisted, I told him it’s my birthday—”
“Jacob, I swear to Christ…”
“Yo, it’s your birthday?” calls out a nearby voice. “Congrats, man!”
The gang turns to discover Johnny Ferrari, with his orange spray tan and frosted tips. In an attempt to look professional, he wore a clip-on tie and a button-up under his racing jacket. The jeans and sneakers are still there, though.
“Fuck me with a fucking chainsaw,” Nicole mutters to herself.