This is chapter four of my novel CHICAGO TIME. It will be available for purchase from Amazon.com and Smashwords on Monday April 2. You can read more about the novel here. Previous chapters are can read here: One, Two, and Three.
4 – Dirty Bitter Coffee
Inside the law offices of Tinker, Evers, and Chance, Elise was sitting behind the long, wide mahogany-brown reception desk next to Carol Wolker, who was the other receptionist. With long, straight, light brown hair, gleaming blue eyes, a warm smile, and a calm clear voice, she made an excellent face for the firm. Carol was on the phone with a woman who wanted to sue the Mayor of Chicago for planting a tree on the street median in front of her house, thus blocking her view of the park across the street. Carol was calmly explaining that Tinker, Evers, and Chance didn’t handle those kinds of cases. When Carol had first begun working at the firm seven years ago she had been annoyed by those kinds of calls (people who wanted to sue the President or the U.S. Government for such heinous crimes as manipulating the weather to flood their basement or having men in black cars follow them around). Now, she found them entertaining.
Elise’s French skills were one of those things about her co-worker that Carol had found interesting. Though, as Elise’s final day got closer, Carol thought Elise’s fixation on France was unhealthy and that Elise would be better off staying in the U.S. and finding someone (man or woman) with whom to settle down. It was one thing to be fluent in a language. It was another thing to be obsessed with an entire country. She hoped her son and daughter, ages 12 and 10, would do exciting things like travel to Europe, but she did not want them getting hung up on moving to some foreign country, especially at an age when they ought to be thinking of settling down and furthering their career.
As Carol was politely extricating herself from the phone conversation with the Woman with the Obstructed View, Elise was reading a story in the French newspaper Le Figaro on her PC. It was about the French actor Vincent Cassel, but she couldn’t get past the first paragraph telling about him posing in a studio for promotional photos. She was still annoyed that the guy she had met in front of La Ville Venteuse didn’t think moving to Paris was original.
In between answering phone calls, guiding clients to the right office, and avoiding questions from Carol about her personal life, on a typical day Elise read French web sites on her computer. She also cursed herself for having chosen to learn French as opposed to Spanish (a more employable language skill in Chicago) and cursed the French for not having immigrated in significant numbers anywhere besides Quebec, an extremely cold place; a place that referred to itself not as a country or state but as a form of winter. After having lived in France, she had to admit that the French compulsion to stay in France was probably a good one what with the varieties of wine and cheese, art, culture, the beaches on the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, and free health care. A compulsion that mirrored the average U.S. citizen who also felt no desire to leave the U.S., what with 24-hour restaurants, big houses, numerous beaches, and great customer service compared to the rest of the world.
Elise had been plotting her return to France, despite her ex-boyfriend’s presence in the country. She had claimed to be the first of the two who had wanted to live in France, despite the fact it had been Patrick’s fellowship to study at the Sorbonne that had brought them to Paris. If she was going to be stuck the rest of her life answering a phone for lawyers, she wanted to do it in a Parisian law firm. Even Lyon would be better than Chicago, a city that prided itself on “working” and its grittiness. There was nothing elegant about Chicago, including that guy who started that argument with her on the L and his un-asked for opinions. Meanwhile, Patrick was living in Paris at that very moment in his Parisian apartment with his Parisian wife with their Parisian poodle and their Parisian infant in a Parisian stroller, with their Parisian jobs and their whole damn Parisian life, while she suffered a headache and answered phones and directed traffic for a bunch of attorneys.
Elise took a long sip of coffee, the dirty bitter coffee she had gotten in the break room and had filled with cream and sugar, wishing she had either gone to the Starbucks on the first floor or had made coffee in her french press back at her apartment. She set her mug next to her mouse and then saw Julian Foster walking very quickly toward the reception desk. He was tall, black, and lean-muscled, an admitted gym rat. He had a law degree from the University of Chicago and had just made junior partner.
“Elise, you speak French, right?” he said.
“How well do you speak? You’re fluent, right?”
“I am. I have a Masters in French.”
“Do you think you could help us out a bit? We have some people from France involved in some of the merger talks between RGB Bank and ALOI. The translator we hired canceled on us this morning. He says he’s sick. I know it’s last minute. We were hoping you could help out.”
“I can do it,” she said.
He smiled. “Wonderful. Thank you.”