Chapter 1: Don't Trust Him
The sign on the door warranted a pause. A tacky black paint against the fissured glass, the middle had been rubbed out, and not by a very skilled hand. "Law Offices of _ Murdock." The chipped remains of the missing letters felt ominous in their disregard for aesthetics or formality.
Still, she knocked, and at a soft sound from within she entered.
The inside was as decrepit as the sign. Barren of anything that might have been considered décor and white-walled, its sole features were the rickety table and chairs in the center of the room, a number of scattered boxes and papers, and the man standing amidst it all, back to her, hands on his hips.
Slim, but solid, hips, she noted.
"Hello?" she said tentatively.
The man turned, and she noted the fine figure ended in a pair of dark, red-tinted glasses and a boyish haircut. As if in contrast, the jaw beneath the glasses was severe.
"Hello," he said politely. "How can I help you?"
"My name is Gloria Dunham," she said. "I'm here about the secretary position." She started to hold up the newspaper carrying the ad, then stopped herself as she realized this was as futile as reaching for his hand.
"The secretary position."
"Yes, your ad states you're…" she surveyed the room again, "looking for some help."
He chuckled. "That's one way of putting it." He held out his hand, and she shook it, feeling a little better for the contact. "Matthew Murdock. Have you done this kind of work before, Ms. Dunham?"
"No, I'm afraid not."
"What made you want to apply?"
Another quick glance. Half a second. Enough to confirm brutally honest was the best approach. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to find work in a new city in January?"
He smiled, honestly, though there was still something dim about it. "I can imagine." He turned towards the office to her left. "Job's yours, if you still want it."
"What? Just like that? –Oof." Turning to follow, her shin connected with one of the larger boxes. "You don't want to know anything else?"
He moved above his desk in careful strokes, arranging one or two things. "You're been honest, Ms. Dunham, so I will be too. No one else showed up."
She had come to New York at the suggestion of a friend. A friend who thought a change from the demanding pace of her life might be good for her. New York City might not have been the ideal place to slow down for most people, but in her case it turned out to be the perfect arrangement. Not knowing anyone meant fewer demands on her free time, and Murdock's clients were so few and far between, her working hours were rarely anything but quiet.
No clients might seem like there wouldn't be much to do, but the Law Office of Murdock's biggest problem – or at least its most obvious – was its disorganization. She spent several weeks just going through everything, sorting and organizing, then even more time digitizing. Handwritten notes and paper files weren't much use to a blind man.
She found, to her surprise, that her friend had been right, and the simple goal of putting things to rights lifted her spirits in a way she'd have been hard-pressed to explain.
The other office, the one Murdock never went into, became a library. She dragged the filing drawers in there, stacked the shelves with law books, backed the old desk against the wall. It was less of a presence that way, she felt.
She spoke to her landlord, who knew a guy, about the sign, and two weeks later had replaced both the outside plaque and the lettering on the door for a small fee that she worked into the accounts in such a way that Mr. Murdock wouldn't take too much notice. Then again, he seemed to notice very little.
It was in the middle of the digitizing project that she met the absent partner.
He came in without a knock and with a frown and stopped at the sight of her.
"Can I help you?" she asked, rising.
"Franklin Nelson, former partner," he said, coming forward to shake her hand.
"Gloria Dunham, new secretary."
Something about his smile was uncomfortable, but it didn't slow him down. "Jeans. Bold move."
Murdock appeared in his office door, frowning. "You're wearing jeans?"
"You have no clients," she reminded him.
"Love what you're done with the place," Nelson remarked. "It was never this clean when I was here."
"Right. It was lovely to meet you, Miss…is it Miss?"
"As I said, lovely to meet you, Miss Dunham." He followed Murdock into the office, leaving her to wonder about, among other things, the previous secretary.
The atmosphere had noticeably thickened by the time Mr. Nelson left. His farewell nod to her was what she suspected was uncharacteristically curt. And her boss lingered outside his office longer than was his wont.
"Can I get you some coffee, Mr. Murdock?"
"What? No – uh, thank you. I think I'm going to head home. I'll finish up there tonight."
She didn't ask, finish up what?
"You can close up, if you like."
"I don't exactly have anywhere else to be."
"Yeah, but it's a cold night, and I can't afford to keep the heat on." His lips twisted up at the edges.
She smiled back, though it wasn't any more sincere, and she couldn't imagine why, as he couldn't see it. "I'll lock up."
She was only about ten minutes behind him, but it was clear from Mr. Nelson's continued presence in the street that they hadn't run into each other. Or perhaps they had, and Mr. Nelson had simply chosen not to acknowledge it. But then, why linger?
He regarded her after a couple of blinks. "Matt still up there?"
"I'm afraid not. Is there something I can help you with?"
"No, I'm just being…" He sighed, then glowered up at her. "I've made a few mistakes. Sometimes not speaking up was the worst of them. I like to think I don't make the same mistakes twice, so at the risk of a very unlawyer-like breach of confidentiality, don't trust him. You wouldn't be the first person he's hurt. I know I've only known you about an hour, but I think it's safe to say you don't deserve that."
She waited until she was sure he had said all he needed to say. "Mr. Nelson, if you're implying that there's some sort of inappropriate or unprofessional relationship between Mr. Murdock and myself, rest assured, there is not. He is a very attractive-"
"Believe me, I'm well aware of that."
"-man, I grant you, but so are many other men in New York. To be perfectly clear, he hardly even speaks to me."
Nelson was quiet for a time. "Maybe he's learned his lesson then."
"Maybe it's the jeans."
He laughed, through his nose, but it reached his eyes. "Maybe. Can I walk you somewhere?"
"I'm going home, which is conveniently above a bar."
"May I compliment you on your excellent taste in accommodations?"
"Thank you. I'll even buy you a drink if you'll answer a question for me."
"I'll have to hear it first."
"Spoken like a good attorney." They were moving, and she felt a little of the loneliness she hadn't know was there lift from her shoulders. "The previous secretary?"
"Ah, Karen…What you're thinking. Though in Matt's defense, maybe not entirely his fault, and not for any reasons you're thinking."
"Let's just say, some of us prefer simple lies to complicated truths."
"Some of us, including you?"
"If I'm honest, which I'm not liking so much right now."
"Fair enough. No more questions for today."
"Finally, someone in my life who's not pushy."
"You're just getting to know me, Mr. Nelson."