Forbid Them Not: The Mahogany Desk and the Helpful Copier

Forbid Them Not, pp. 53-70 (Chapter 6)

It is now April 25th—last week it was April 20th—and Cooper has gotten his first call from a reporter. It’s Greg Kachadourian with the New York Times. He wants to know about the UN case. Farris takes us on a boring merry chase of phone calls as Cooper tries to get a hold of the judge in the case—Judge Holman—to find out if he can talk to the reporter (and give him the parents’ phone numbers) despite this being a juvenile case, and as such, generally confidential.

After four pages of back and forth, Cooper finally gets some straight answers from Judge Holman himself.

“I don’t think there is an ethics panel in the world that would blink an eyelash if you simply talked about the legal issues with this treaty and so on, carefully avoiding anything about the family or their factual circumstances.”

“That’s more room than I really need, Your Honor. Thanks a lot.”

“We Loudoun boys have got to stick together a little,” Holman said warmly. “Can’t help you with any rulings on the substance; you’ll just be another lawyer on that level. But when our own boys start getting hit sideways by the New York Times and the big out-of-town firms, we can at least get a couple licks in for ourselves.”

“I appreciate it a lot, Judge.”

“No problem, Cooper. See you on Friday.”

We Loudoun boys. Cooper liked the sound of that when he rolled it over in his mind a time or two.

I seem to remember something like this happening in Farris’ other book too—the judge making friendly with Peter, that book’s protagonist, saying something about small town loyalty and old boys club camaraderie. And here it is again.

This does not feel right, ethically.

By a lot.

Scene change. It is now April 26th, one day later, and Farris gives us a window into the morning of one Randolph Suskins, esquire.

The coffee was steaming in the Yale Law School mug. The chilled cream was in its customary spot. His $58,000-a-year assistant had tended to the details immediately after receiving the call from the front desk that Randolph Suskins was on his way.

I can’t decide whether this is really thick laying on of show-don’t-tell or whether this is actually telling rather than showing.

He pulled a pair of gold reading glasses out of a leather holder on the left-hand side of his massive mahogany desk. … The sixty-year-old lawyer started to pick up the Washington Star from his stack of there morning papers, but he noticed that Brenda had clipped a photocopy of an article to the New York Times.

You see what I’m saying?

Anyway, Suskins is pleased with the article. His quote, Farris tells us, “was a good one”—and it should be.

The half-hour he had spent with the reporter honing the words for the quotation had paid off.

I’m pretty sure you don’t get to pick which specific quotation is printed. At least, I don’t think you do? Maybe if all the reporter wanted was a specific “statement”—but even then, I’d think you’d write that with your staff first, and then give it to the reporter.

Suskins reads Cooper’s quote—“The unprecedented application of a treaty to domestic family law is a dangerous invasion of both our families’ rights and our right to self-government. Parents, not the UN, should be the ones who determine how children are disciplined, what they are taught about God, and where they attend school.”—and deems it “Not bad for a small-town, small-firm lawyer.” Cool. So Suskins is also condescending.

Can’t say that I’m terribly surprised.

The article was far too long to complete while standing, so he sat his mug down, walked to the right side of his office opposite the bank of windows looking down on K Street’s busiest intersection, and placed his custom-tailored suit jacket on the cherry wood hanger.

This is … much.

I’m curious how the writers in my readership would rewrite this section.

Anyway, at that moment “a fortyish woman dressed in a  black pantsuit” walks in and greets Suskins. He’s “taken aback for a moment” because the woman calls him “Randolph.” That’s when he remembers that she made partner the month before, so she’s now allowed to be on a first name basis. “Partners and only partners were allowed to call him by his first name,” Farris tells us.

This has the effect of making Suskins sound all the more pompous. Also, I’ve decided I definitely don’t like him. Also, I think I’m going to call him Randolph too.

Throughout his book, Farris refers to the “good” characters—Cooper, Laura, Rick, Deanna—by their first names, and the “bad” characters—Easler, Stoddard, Suskins—by their last names. He did this in his previous book as well. In my reviews I’ve followed suit in using the first name for “good” characters, but using first names for “bad” characters can be confusing as it means remembering them even as Farris only and always uses their last names.

I think Suskins, though, needs to be Randolph.

“Good morning, Melissa,” he said with a smile. He walked deliberately back to his desk, dumped an additional dab of cream into his mug, and stirred it quickly with the spoon. Melissa VanLandingham sat quietly as the silver-haired leader of the firm prepared himself.

Silver-haired leader of the firm. 

Melissa is there to discuss the opposing counsel’s background and credential—or in other words, Cooper. After discussing Cooper’s participation in Peter’s law firm in Spokane—with its Supreme Court victor from Farris’ previous book—and Cooper’s work for Senator Parker, Melissa suggests that Cooper may be “more experienced than we might have guessed a Leesburg lawyer to be.” Randolph isn’t worried. He reminds Melissa that they have four former ambassadors and the former chief counsel for the State Department, as well as “all those law professors standing by.”

Melissa and Randolph talk a bit more about the case—there’s a hearing on Friday, we learn, and they’re going to submit their brief at the very end of the required period, giving Cooper only one day to respond. They’re also going to subpoena Laura, and require her to bring in her Sunday school lesson.

Two days later, Laura calls Cooper to tell her she’s been subpoenaed. The hearing is tomorrow. Laura doesn’t know what to do. Cooper tells her that … well.

“You’re going to have to come to our ttomorrow. And I am going to have to prepare you for that. It should only take about an hour. Can you come to my office? I have to stay here and finish the brief and exhibits. There’s no way I can get away.”

Smooth.

Laura says she’ll come at seven.

Oh, wow, we’re getting a lot of skipping around in this chapter—now we’re at Deanna’s house.

“Don’t stir so hard, dear, you’ll turn the potato salad into mashed puree,” Deanna’s mother directed her in soft refined drawl. Anyone else listening would have believed that the words were a quiet suggestion. Deanna grew up with her and knew better—these polite sounding words were a command.

“Leave the poor girl, alone, Beth. She’s just upset about the hearing tomorrow.”

Farris provides several additional examples as well—Deanna’s mother is an expert at being passive aggressive. “When is Richard going to be home?” means “Why isn’t Rick home already?” for instance. “He has to finish some things up at the office,” Deanna tells her. After all, he’s taking the next day off for the hearing.

Beth McGranahan wasn’t silenced that easily. “But shouldn’t he…”

Her husband cleared his throat loudly and glared at his wife. He stopped mid sentence and went back to chopping the ingredients for the tossed salad.

Well that’s that. I don’t like these people either.

In her own way, her mother’s disposition toward control and criticism actually helped Deanna gain some mental relief from her worry about the case.

It seems to me that Deanna’s mother isn’t the only one disposed toward trying to control other people. She’s not the one who just did the glaring and loud shushing.

Alone with her in the kitchen, Deanna’s mother takes the opportunity to urge her—in what is apparently a recurring argument—to stop homeschooling and send her kids to a private school instead. We learn that Deanna was sent to a private school—Briarcrest—herself. I can guess the reason for that, even if Farris likely wouldn’t. It starts with an I.

(Farris earlier dropped that Deanna’s father was a retired banker.)

It seems that Deanna’s mother thinks the lawsuit will go away if she stops homeschooling. Deanna tells her that that’s wrong, because that’s not the only issue in the case. Deanna’s mother says she thinks it’s the homeschooling that could get her in trouble, that no Virginia judge would side against her on the other issues. This conversation is boring.

Dinner conversation was light. Beth knew better than to take up any of the recent topics in front of the children with both Rick and her husband present.

Lovely.

And here the scene shifts again, back to Cooper and Laura. It’s 7pm.

“Hello, anybody here?” the female voice called. It came from the waiting area.

Cooper bounded from his chair and rounded the corner into the waiting area. Laura was dressed in jeans and a light blue oxford shirt with her sleeves rolled up a turn or tow. Her hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail with a pale yellow ribbon. She really is stunning, he thought.

I’m reminded of a time I was trying to explain to a guy why modest dress is so important—because immodest dress made men lust after women—and he pointed to a woman across the room wearing a turtleneck and jeans, something I considered modest, and said she was really hot in that outfit.

Immediately he was angry with himself. There were many reasons he wanted to stay off that path, not the least of which was his realization that he was facing a brawl with a major national law firm, and he needed to keep his concentration focused.

Cool.

Anyway, Laura brought supper for the two of them with her—she said she figured he wouldn’t have time to go eat, with all the work he was putting in preparing for the next day. She was right, of course.

“So where would you like me to set up dinner for us?”

Cooper’s heart skipped. He had assumed she had just brought some dinner for him to be eaten later. “Oh, sure,” he answered enthusiastically. “We can go in the conference room. It’s right down the hall.”

Steady there, Cooper.

Cooper looks at Laura’s subpeona and explains some of the issues. As Cooper explains the reasoning of the lawsuit—that teaching that all other religions are false and encouraging proselytization is intolerant—Laura says that she feels guilty because she didn’t vote in the most recent election. “And look what has happened.”

Cooper prayed for the dinner and then for the case. Laura saw that he was deeply concerned about the upcoming hearing, and she felt a spiritual depth in his prayer that she hadn’t yet seen in him.

Light conversation over dinner included exchanging conversion stories—Laura was seven, Cooper was a junior in high school. You know—the evangelical version of smalltalk!

After dinner Laura offers to help with the preparation, if she can. She asks how late he’ll be there.

“I guess until midnight,” he replied. “I have to finish my brief and then make copies of it along with several exhibits I have already prepared.”

“There’s nothing I can do to help you with the brief, but I do know how to run a copy machine. Is there anything I can do now for you to save you some work later on?” she asked.

Laura’s helpfulness was a little too much for Cooper to understand. There hadn’t been a hint of flirtation in her demeanor, but she was so warm and friendly.

Um. Cooper. Really?

Has Cooper not ever interacted with women outside of dating situations? Being warm and friendly is not weird. Wanting to help with a case that implicates yourself and your friends is not weird.

Still—I do remember spending no small amount of energy reading into every little thing a guy did, in high school and college. He asked me to move over and take the seat by him in orchestra because the person who usually sits between us is absent—does that mean he loves me?? He stayed late to help me clean up after the event—could it be love??

Somehow, we’re still not done with this chapter.

At 2am Deanna, unable to sleep, got up and went downstairs sat in prayer. Rick woke up and went and sat with her. They prayed together. When Deanna finally started drifting off, Rick carried her upstairs to bed.

Is this a thing? I’m the same size as my husband; he couldn’t carry me anywhere. Is it normal for a husband to carry his wife to bed like this, if size differences allow for it? Farris earlier described Rick as “a husky man fo about six-feet-two” and Deanna as “a pretty woman of average height,” so I suppose it’s at least plausible.

Either way, I do understand Rick’s tenderness here—when my partner is under a lot of stress, I do everything I can to help, whether it’s talking through something, trying to find solutions to a problem, or bringing him his favorite beverage, doing a chore so he doesn’t have to, or just sitting with him and being close to him.

Still—it’s interesting that it’s only Deanna who is showing stress here, and only Deanna who needs comfort. Rick, surely, is no less uncomfortable with this situation—i.e. the lawsuit their facing—than is Deanna.

There was a lot in this chapter. Cooper was inducted into the old boys’ club in Loudoun County—“We Loudoun boys have got to stick together a little”—we met Randolph and with his mahogany desk, of the significantly wealthier and more gilded old boys club in D.C., and we got to peak in on additional interactions between Cooper and Laura and meet Deanna’s overbearing mother and shushing father.

I’d like a little feedback, though. My review series of Anonymous Tip took ages, primarily because I went slowly—I usually spent several weeks covering each chapter. This time I’m trying to cover a chapter a week, but that does mean covering numerous ideas and having more to discuss each time.

Instead, though, I could have divided this chapter in two, covering the two old boys’ clubs one week, and the personal interactions of Cooper, Laura, Deanna, and her family in the second week’s installment. That would have allowed us to discuss each of these things separately, rather than mashing it all together.

What preferences do you all have? Would you prefer to have each segment cover a specific idea, or march on to the end of its particular chapter, even if that means scene changes in the middle?

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