Diane parks across the street, bracing herself for the night air as she slides out of the driver's seat. Crowley's hasn't changed, although Diane hasn't been here in at least five years. As she gets closer, her steps slow. She has caught sight of Stern through the window.
He is sitting at the bar, his shaggy, bearded head bent low over the counter. Scant yards from the window now, Diane can see four tumblers lined up in front of him.
She falters. He's here and everything is exactly as she expected. It's yet another reminder of how well she knows him and how close they were.
"This is about us."
"Of course it's about us. I'm gonna destroy your firm."
How did they get to this point? For a time, Stern and his first wife were like family. They included Diane at holidays – she remembers sitting next to their daughter, Rachel, at a Passover Seder and watching the little girl hide an entire matzoh ball in her napkin.
Naturally, there was the occasional spat. Perhaps the most heated argument Diane and Stern have ever had concerned the merger with Amundsen Law Group, the firm where Will was a partner at the time. Diane was uncomfortable with the whole thing, and wasn't exactly subtle about expressing her displeasure.
"What?" he finally snapped, after catching her rolling her eyes once again. "I want this merger to go through and I need your vote. So what is it?"
"These aren't our kind of lawyers," she said. "They'll change us."
"Change us? Sure, they'll change us. Two hundred million more a year. That's change I can live with."
"They don't have a vision," she persisted. "It's all about business to them. They won't let us take the risks we want to. I know it sounds corny, but – they won't let us follow our hearts."
Jonas laughed shortly. "I see. You're worried I'll stop being a good Liberal."
"No, I'm worried you'll be outvoted every time you want to take a case that's important to you."
"You think I can't hold my own against these stuffed shirts?"
"Oh, stop it, Jonas. This is about the firm. Don't make it about your ego."
"Sure it's not about your ego, my dear?"
She was taken aback.
"You're threatened. You're afraid some of these businessmen will be name partners before a visionary like you will."
Diane raised her voice.
"Oh, go to Hell. So I'm ambitious. So are you. That's not what we're talking about here. And I'm not the one putting rivalries with other attorneys ahead of the interests of my clients. We both know that's why you had to settle in the Murchison suit."
His face reddened with anger and she knew she had gone too far.
"Get out of my office."
"Jonas…" she was about to back-pedal.
"Get out of my office before I have you bodily removed," he hissed.
She left. The following day she apologized and in the end she voted for the merger. After all, to attract the clients they wanted, they needed funds.
Maybe Will and his people did change the firm, Diane muses. Maybe they even changed Diane herself. What was it Jonas said?
"The both of you treat the practice of law like it's used cars."
She wants to dismiss the accusation out of hand. Easy enough for Stern to be an idealist, traipsing from one exotic locale to another, riding across deserts by moonlight and buying Chinese perfume jars while Diane and Will weathered the recession. But after all, if Stern left managing the firm to his partners, it was because they urged him to do so. They did everything possible to encourage his absence. In recent years, Stern's behavior has become more and more problematic: drinking, off-color comments in the press, an especially nasty feud with a sitting judge that led to the entire firm being taxed for months. Embarrassed as his indiscretions multiplied, she and Will teamed up to convince him to take fewer cases and spend less time at the office.
For the last three years, Diane realizes with a pang of guilt, she has troubled Stern only when she's needed his vote to overrule Will. No wonder, then, that she overlooked what she is now almost certain must be a medical condition.
The DUI was the final straw of course. She argued with Will and the partners only half-heartedly. In the end, she too planned to vote to push Jonas out for the good of the firm. The ultimate betrayal of her mentor. It didn't come to that – Stern beat them to the punch by quitting. But he seemed to know anyway.
"I will bankrupt this firm before I let you push me out."
He spoke the words with such vitriol. Yes, he knew Diane was among those ready to throw him under the bus.
Well. Does anyone in the whole wide world know how to be a good lawyer and a good Liberal and a good business manager and a good friend?
Diane remains frozen outside the window for several minutes. She intended to speak to Stern, to press him for answers and to offer her support. But intuition tells her he won't want to see her now. Or rather, he won't want her to see him.
Only when she sees Jonas, who now looks like a small and tired old man, stand and put on his jacket does she turn away and walk off into the night.
She is early for work the next morning. She sleeps more and more fitfully these days. She lay awake staring at her alarm clock for an hour before it went off this morning.
As she exits the elevator, she stares for a moment at her name on the door, remembering the first time she saw it.
"What do you think?" Stern said, gesturing.
Diane knew what she should say, but the lump in her throat prevented her from speaking.
He raised a coffee mug in mock-toast.
"To you, my partner. The brains and the beauty of Stern/Lockhart."
"What are you, then?" she asked.
"The bluster," he bowed dramatically and she chuckled.
Although she promises herself not to waste anymore time today worrying about Stern, Diane remains a little distracted. Her attention wanders while Kalinda explains why a malpractice suit has hit a snag.
"Okay, thank you," Diane says finally. "Keep me updated."
But as the investigator reaches the door, Diane clears her throat. Kalinda doesn't miss a trick, of course. She spins on her heel.
"Something on your mind?"
Diane bites her lip, but she might as well come out with it now.
"I wanted to ask you about – and believe me, I know you would never betray a confidence, but – "
" – Stern?" Kalinda cuts to the chase.
"Yes," Diane says gratefully. "I've been wondering whether he might not be, uh, ill. Do you know anything about that?"
Kalinda gives her an odd half-smile. She speaks slowly, choosing her words carefully.
"I'm not saying I know anything. But – you're not wrong to wonder."
"Dementia?" Diane asks, aware she is pressing her luck.
The young woman doesn't answer but the gleam in her eyes speaks volumes. Diane has guessed right.
"I see. Thank you."
"Don't mention it."
Kalinda leaves and Diane sits down heavily. She could use the information against Jonas, of course, to try to poach his clients. But she won't do that. For one thing, she doesn't know anything. She has no evidence. And besides, for Stern – a Titan in a courtroom, a brilliant scholar, a consummate wit, a man with an ego the size of the Willis Tower – for someone like him to be losing his memory, his self-control, his ability to drive… He must be in Hell. No, no one will hear about this from Diane.
I'll call him, she tells herself. In a few weeks, when the newspaper lawsuit is no longer uppermost in his thoughts, I'll call him. But even as she thinks it, she doesn't believe it. She flips open the file folder on top of her desk.
Don't dwell on it. There's always another case.