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Tonight he was disappointed. He had been in the room for nearly fifteen minutes, and Harmon Smith had yet to get to the point. Just how much of this theatrical demonstration was for his benefit, he wondered as he swirled his untouched drink and eyed the opulent surroundings of the president of Stateside Broadcasting Company.
Dane suspected that he had been summoned to Smith's townhouse on the Upper East Side because of the briefs he had received from that attorney in Portland, Oregon. He had scanned the documents without much interest and passed them along to a junior associate in the firm. Now he wished he had paid more attention to the neatly typed pages.
Undoubtedly the McQueen decision was more important than Dane had originally assumed. Why else would Harmon have insisted upon this evening meeting with several of the prominent vice-presidents of SBC? Television people, Dane thought distastefully, they all love an audience.
"I think we're about ready," Harmon finally announced, motioning toward the far wall with his free hand. In the other he balanced his drink and a cigarette. A servant placed a cartridge in the video recorder.
The television seemed out of place to Dane. The twentieth-century machine was tucked between leather-bound editions in a cherrywood cabinet, and the rest of the room had been tastefully decorated in period pieces. Leather wing-back chairs, antique brass reading lamps and highly polished mahogany tables were arranged perfectly around a rare Oriental carpet of deep emerald green. There was little doubt in Dane's mind that the decorator who had created the stately effect would have preferred to exclude the television. But that was impossible. Harmon Smith lived and breathed for the tube and the six-figure income that television provided him.
Dane's deep-set hazel eyes fastened on the screen, as had all the other pairs of eyes in the room. Harmon Smith wiped an accumulation of sweat from his receding hairline before taking a long swallow of his Scotch and water. The muted voices in the room quieted as an image on the screen flickered and held.
"There she is," Smith whispered through tightly clenched teeth. He pointed a condemning finger at the woman who dominated the screen.
The object of Smith's contempt was an attractive woman who wore her smile and expensively tailored suit with ease. She descended the concrete steps with unfaltering dignity and managed to hold her poise despite the wind blowing against her face and the throng of reporters that had engulfed her.
"That's Kirsten McQueen?" Dane asked dubiously as he studied the graceful woman. His dark brows rose speculatively and a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.
"The bitch herself," Harmon Smith answered vehemently after taking a long drag on his cigarette.
"Now, wait a minute" Dane began to interrupt, but Smith silenced him by shaking his balding head.
"Shh I want you to hear this."
"Ms. McQueen?" A pleasant-featured woman reporter with long dark hair and almond-shaped eyes accosted the graceful cause of the commotion. "We know about the decision against KPSC. Would you care to comment on the fact that the judgment in your favor is a small victory for women's rights?"
Kirsten's even smile never wavered. Her clear green eyes looked steadily into the camera. "I doubt that the decision has anything to do with women's rights, Connie. I think mine was an individual case that was brought to an equitable conclusion." It was obvious to Dane that the slender woman with the soft brown hair and the intriguing green eyes was at ease in front of a camera. There was a quiet dignity about her that was captured on the film.
The reporter persisted. "Then you don't see the decision as a vote of confidence for feminism?"
"This was a lawsuit concerning age, not sex," Kirsten emphasized, holding her hair in place with her free hand. Raindrops had begun to shower on the crowd.
"But feminist groups throughout the state are supporting you and what you're fighting."
"And I appreciate it," Kirsten replied with the flash of even white teeth and the hint of an evasive smile.
"The women's movement could use a new heroine," the plucky newswoman suggested.
Kirsten laughed lightly. "I hardly think I qualify," she responded. Her eyes had warmed by the compliment she apparently considered absurd.
The reporter was placated. "All right. What about the rumors that the station might appeal the decision?"
Kirsten sobered. "It's their right."
"Do you think another jury would rule in your favor, considering the outcome of this trial?"
Kirsten hesitated. "That remains to be seen," she volunteered carefully. "At this point it's only conjecture and I never like to borrow trouble." The clear green eyes had clouded.
The thin blond man with the thick moustache who had been walking next to Kirsten took charge. "That's enough questions," he insisted authoritatively. His protective position of holding lightly onto Kirsten's bent elbow suggested that he was either Kirsten's husband or attorney. Dane suspected the latterthe neatly pressed three-piece suit gave the man away.
"Who is he?" Dane demanded with a frown.
"The prosecuting attorney," Frank Boswick, Smith's assistant replied.
"Is he any good?"
"Rumored to be the best Portland has to offer," Boswick allowed.
Dane's concern was evidenced in the knit of his brow and the narrowing of his eyes. "So why isn't he on our side?"
Smith waved off Dane's question with the back of his hand. "Are you kidding? Lloyd Grady has a reputation of working with the underdog. He's originally from Seattle, and apparently thought he could get some national attention through Kirsten McQueen."
The television screen darkened. Dane considered everything he had learned about Kirsten McQueen as he shifted his gaze from the television to Harmon Smith. The balding man's skin had flushed from the combination of alcohol and anger. He stubbed out his cigarette with a vengeance.
"I want to nail Kirsten McQueen," Harmon Smith spat out. His watery blue eyes lifted to meet Dane's inquisitive stare. "And I want you to do it."
"I'll consider it."
Harmon Smith's lips compressed into a thin white line. "I'm calling all of my markers, Dane. You owe me a favor a big onethis is it."
The amused smile that had tugged at the corners of Dane's mouth slowly disappeared and his square jaw hardened. "I said I'd consider it," he acquiesced before sitting in one of the stiff chairs. "I think you had better explain everything about this case to mefrom the beginning."
"Didn't you get the information from our Portland attorney?" Smith asked. Dane's gaze sought Frank Boswick. The young assistant seemed to have a more objective approach to the case.
"The attorney in Portland is Fletcher Ross," Frank stated.
Dane took a thoughtful swallow of his brandy. "I saw the notes, but I'd like to hear your side of the story." His dark hazel eyes had returned to Harmon Smith. Why was this so important to him?
Smith paced nervously to the window and fumbled in his pocket for his cigarettes and lighter. He looked into the dark Manhattan night before responding. "Basically, the story is this: Kirsten McQueen is a local gal. Grew up around Portland somewhere."
"Milwaukee," Frank clarified.
"Right. Anyway, KPSC hired her right out of college." Harmon Smith blew a thick cloud of smoke at the window as he reconstructed the events that had thrown him and his corporation into the middle of this mess. "She had all the right qualifications"
"Which were?" Dane inquired.
Smith shook his head as if it didn't matter. "You know, a degree in journalism, some work in another station, brains, interest in the news. Anyway, she worked her way up through the ranks. It was good publicity for the station to make her a full reporter because of her local connections. People eat that kind of thing up. Everybody likes to hear that a local girl made good."
Dane nodded pensively, his studious eyes never leaving Smith's worried face. Why did Kirsten McQueen get under Harmon Smith's skin? She was just a small-town reporter; he was the head of a national broadcasting corporation.
"So," Harmon Smith continued, warming to his subject, "as time went by she started throwing her weight around, making ridiculous demands, becoming a real pain in the neck. Finally she was let go."
"And she sued KPSC?" Dane surmised.
Dane thought it odd. The woman on the screen had appeared dignified, not likely to throw her weight around. In his profession he often had to size someone up by first impression. It helped that he had an intuitive understanding of most people's motives. In Dane's estimation, Harmon Smith must have gotten some bad information on Kirsten McQueen, or else he hadn't as yet completely leveled with Dane.
"But she didn't sue for sex-discrimination?" Dane thought aloud, conjuring mental image of the conservatively dressed woman with the slightly seductive smile.
"Hell, no! She wouldn't have a leg to stand on and she's smart enough to realize it. Even her replacement was a woman!" Harmon Smith declared.
"A younger woman," Dane guessed.
"Yeah, right," Smith grumbled. "I really don't know how old Carolyn is."
"Twenty-two," Frank supplied with an unappreciative glance at his superior. "Carolyn Scott is twenty-two."
"Whatever," Smith acknowledged with a wrinkled frown. "It really doesn't matter."
"And this new woman this Carolyn Scott she's qualified?" Dane asked.
"All the right qualifications," Frank agreed.
Dane tugged on his lower lip. "I really don't understand
something here," he admitted. "Kirsten McQueen doesn't look all that old to me."
"She's not!" Smith stated angrily. "My point exactly. That's why this whole goddamn mess is so hard to swallow!"
"How old is she?" Dane inquired evenly.
"Somewhere around thirty."
"Thirty-five," Frank corrected him. "You may as well level with Dane, Harmon," the young assistant advised. "He's onourside."
"Wait a minute," Dane interjected. "How can a thirty-five-year-old woman win an age-discrimination suit?"
"Beats me," Smith allowed. "Only in Oregon. Those people out there aren't in tune with the rest of the nation. They're always on some new crusade! It's either a bottle or a bill, or a clean-water act, or easier laws on possession of marijuanawhatever. I even think an Oregon woman prosecuted her husband for rape, for God's sake!"
"That's right," Frank agreed. "The competition made a television movie out of it."
"Figures," Smith snorted angrily. "Now it looks like it's KPSC's turn."
Dane set his drink on the table and stood to face Harmon Smith squarely. "So you think public sentiment won the case for Kirsten McQueen?"
"It sure as hell didn't hurt it!" Smith waved angrily in the air and shrugged his shoulders as if Dane's questions were irrelevant.
"How many women does KPSC employ?" Dane's gaze shifted to Frank Boswick.
"Eleven," the young assistant replied.
"And how many are over thirty-five?"
Dane's dark brows arched. "And neither of them is in front of the cameraright?"
Frank Boswick smiled and shook his head. "One woman who's forty does special interest stories once a week," he stated, shooting his boss a glance that dared the older man to dispute the facts. "However, she wasn't promoted until after Kirsten McQueen filed suit."
"Great," Dane muttered, starting to see the evidence stacking against KPSC. His eyes narrowed with the challenge and he concentrated on a premise for defense. "So why are you involved, Harmon? Isn't this a problem with the station in Portland?"
"It should be," Frank agreed.
Smith let out a disgusted sigh. "The reason Stateside Broadcasting is involved is because we own a percentage of our affiliated stations. Granted, that percentage is small, but we're still involved."
"And that includes KPSC," Dane surmised.
"Right." Harmon Smith thought Dane was finally becoming interested in the case. "And Kirsten McQueen's decision is dynamite. Not only will it affect our other affiliates throughout the country, it could have ramifications for the entire industry."
"A dangerous precedent?" Dane asked.
"Exactly." Smith refilled his drink from a well-stocked bar. "That clip you saw is three months old. We've appealed the decision and the State Court of Appeals in Oregon has ordered a new trial; the date is set for early October, I think. I want you to represent KPSC. You can work with the Oregon attorney for the station."
Dane eyed Smith warily. "How involved will I be?"
"You'll call the shots."
"That will be difficult from New York."
Smith's eyes turned cold. "Then you'll have to go to Oregon."
Dane was reluctant. "I don't know if I can spare the time. I've got several cases scheduled for trial this summer here, in New York."
Smith pursed his lips. "Can't some associate handle them?"
"One of the partners maybe, but you can't expect me to spend all my time working on this one case across the country in Oregon."
"I don't give a damn how much time you spend out there. I just want to win and end all of this. And I expect you to keep it quiet. We don't need any more publicity." Harmon Smith's icy blue eyes narrowed with suppressed rage. "Don't worry about your fee. I don't care how much this case costs, I just want to be certain that we overturn that McQueen decision once and for all."
"That might be difficult."
"That's why I want you!"
Kirsten ran her fingers over the rim of the plastic insert of her coffee cup. She twirled it in her hands while she waited for Lloyd. What was taking him so long? The building was unseasonably warm and Kirsten was nervous. She never felt completely at ease talking with lawyers, even her own. And the thought of facing Fletcher Ross again turned her stomach.
Maybe she was foolish to continue her battle against the television station; maybe she should give up. They seemed to have inexhaustible sources of money to try the case. She didn't. She stared unseeing at the watercolors adorning the walls. The seascapes she had once found fascinating didn't interest her today. Nor did the clean blond modern furniture or anything else to do with Grady and Sullivan, Attorneys-at-Law. She was wrung-outtired of lawsuits and even wearier of smug attorneys in stiff business suits. The less she had to do with them, the better.
Lloyd entered the room and Kirsten knew at that instant that something was wrong. His smile was tighter than normal, his brown eyes worried.
"Sorry I kept you waiting," he said as he slipped into the chair next to hers.
She returned his disturbed grin. "It's all right. What's up?"
He shifted in the chair and crossed his arms over his chest. "There's been a couple of changes in the strategy of the defense."
She arched her brows inquisitively. "Such as?"
"They've got another lawyer."
She wasn't surprised. Fletcher Ross hadn't been well prepared or convincing, even to her. "So they're replacing Ross ."
"Not exactly." He looked her steadily in the eyes.
"What do you mean?"
Excerpted from Risky Business: A Dangerous Precedent Double Exposure by Lisa Jackson
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