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Paul’s Lost Another Will

A short story

Paul’s Lost Another Will

Apr 30, 2024 Books

The night no one goes home is a cool one with clear skies and quiet roads. It’s a Thursday in June. It gets dark early. Lydia wishes it got colder. She likes the idea of working through the night while snow falls outside, light at first, heavier towards the end, until they’d have no choice, they’d have to stay until morning. The problem is it doesn’t snow in Auckland. It has never snowed in Auckland.

Sue passes through the west wing, no doubt searching for Paul. Lydia watches her, waits to be acknowledged. Nothing.

She gently boots the bin over, paper floods the floor. Kneeling down, she thinks, it’s just not worth worrying. She is an island in a sea of white. For the last two years she has pushed for the firm to go paperless but, as with other things, recently she has given up. Like anyone who has ever considered the problem in the dusty half-light she knows it’s hopeless. Look at any printer; at any bin; at all the waste. And this is just a suburban office in Takapuna.

She scans five or six sheets, pauses, contemplatively sips her G&T. She’s 29 years old; she has a boyfriend named Danny who works in sales. She would like a dog. She would like a lot of things. All around her, grey-haired secretaries are searching through their desks. She thought everyone would be chatting, glass of wine in hand, but there’s a sombreness this evening, a heaviness she did not expect.

“Enjoying yourself?” Monica says from behind her.

At five feet two, she’s their little general, their fearless leader. She always has a dozen fires to put out yet never appears frazzled. She moisturises her hands on the hour, every hour; she won’t drink coffee unless it’s through a straw. More than once they have discussed the daily toil, the slow losing battle, of trying to keep your teeth white.

“Not particularly.”

Alongside being managing partner, Monica’s also mana whenua and Lydia has decided this is why she seems bigger than she really is. Wherever she goes, whoever she’s dealing with, she is in command. She dominates the main conference room, a room most tend to avoid because of the three walls of oppressive legal tomes. She sits on iwi boards and charities. She writes crisp, cutting emails to other firms. She holds their completely white staff to account. When one of them mispronounces Taupō or Waikato she lets them know and has a good laugh as she does.

“The sooner someone finds it, the sooner we can all go home,” she says.

“I know.”

When Lydia broke the news to her on Tuesday morning she was shaking and it wasn’t just the hangover. At first Monica had looked crestfallen but by the time she was ushering Lydia back out of her office it was business as usual. They agreed to hold off breaking the news until morning tea on Monday. Lydia hasn’t said it, almost hasn’t allowed herself to think it, but she expected more — grief, disappointment, a smoky sense of betrayal. Just about anything would have been better than her calm acceptance.

“Listen, about Monday.”

“Don’t worry. Everyone will understand. You are who you are until someone offers more.”


Donaldson and Erskine (D&E), a suburban firm housed in a concrete bunker across the road from Shore City, has been a refuge. They hired her when no one else would. They saw her grades, her work experience — usher, barista, sales assistant — heard her shaky voice and looked past it. Looked through it.

On a premonitory Skype call just a few months before lockdown they listened to what she laughed at, who she claimed to be, and saw a fit. They wanted someone they could enjoy a beer with on Friday night, who wouldn’t call out borderline comments, who wouldn’t be chased and harassed by the older generation — someone not squat and ugly, but also not too pretty — who wasn’t vegan or politically correct. It was these things, her moderation, which were most important; far more important than, say, her work history or her grades. D&E is general practice, you didn’t need a brain. All you needed was to be able to make a joke with the Barnes’s about their delayed settlement due to the bank’s new online signature rule.

Not that it was an easy ride. She spent six months in a lightless deeds room (she now wears glasses) wading through thousands of trust deeds. Her job, while the rest of the office pretended to work from home, was to review each one. It was tortuous. It was nothing. She has always done the work no one else will; she always will.

Besides, it paid off. At her first check-in with Monica she got a pay rise, access to Sue, and her first business card.

And now she’s been poached.

In two weeks, she’ll be out of here. She already knows she’ll ache for this place; for her office with its walls that almost touch the ceiling, for the relaxed hours, for the cashews and wine at 4.15 on a Friday afternoon. For Sue, her secretary, most of all.

Sue drops everything for her, at any time. She cares about her, berates her for working too hard. In the morning, hot coffee is waiting on her desk. If Lydia skips lunch she appears with a sandwich. On rainy days an umbrella is at the ready. And whenever Lydia has a question, and she always has questions, she stands quietly at attention by her desks and whispers, “Sue?”

And Sue whispers back, “Yes, Lydia?”

Then she patiently answers her questions, and she always, always knows the answer.

Sue is one of eight secretaries dotted across the open-plan spaces without a hint of natural light or privacy, while every bum lawyer sits in offices with big windows looking out at the world. She splits her time between Paul and Lydia. It’s not an equal thing. Sue has been working for Paul since Lydia was in diapers. She was typing up memos, looking for deeds, making him coffee while Lydia was bouncing on a trampoline below stunted pōhutukawa at the edge of a cliff in Northcote. Her father rented a bungalow framed by greenery he couldn’t afford. Their backyard overlooked the harbour. It was the best place she ever lived. She used to jump by herself for hours. While her dad was at work she was banned from going inside. She had no choice except to keep jumping. It could have been a cyclone or a brutal summer’s day in February. It didn’t matter. She kept at it. Those afternoons conditioned her, she often thinks. They made her unusually tolerant, gave her a patience others sometimes find unsettling. When she wants something she is happy to wait a long time to get it.

Sue has it in her, too. She’s been here so long her friendships are deep, her feuds longstanding. Take her and Carol. They sit at either end on the east wing and refuse to speak to each other. It’s left to Tania — a former pub owner who knows how to break up a fight — to communicate between them. Why? Because once, more than a decade ago, Carol told Sue she had been “acting off” since her son was killed in a pile-up on a bend on State Highway 16.

Sue didn’t respond. She never mentioned it again. But she acts like Carol died that day. She looks right through her.


Lydia’s back on her hands and knees when Paul comes around.

“Any luck, fella?” he says.

This is his catch-all for anyone, with or without a penis, who is not partner. He made partner 30 years back. These days he barely bills. The less he makes the louder he gets. The morning-tea consensus is he’s letting everyone know he’s still breathing.

“What’s his name again?” she asks, looking at a record of title like it might be what they’re searching for.

“Albert,” Paul says, not daring to believe it. “Albert Vickers.”

She makes him wait a little longer, a little more, then sighs. “Damn it. Sorry Paul.”

She drops the sheet back onto the carpet. She knows the name; she just likes to hear him say it, to watch him hope.

“Fuck,” he says.

Tonight he can’t yell, or rage, or splutter. His usual repertoire is off limits. All he can do is walk in circles, useless and bereft, because they’re all here for him. And, to make matters worse, it’s not his first time.

She sighs mournfully, like she cares. Then she looks up at him. She doesn’t know it yet but this view from the floor of thinning hair, pale eyes and a fleshy neck will stay with her for years. She will remember it every now and then, not with pleasure or regret, but with absolute clarity. On the surface it is a nothing moment and yet it may be the last time she ever fully feels in control.

“Sorry, Paul,” she says again. “My mistake.”

He grunts, slinks off to see if anyone has had more luck. 

When she tires of the charade she picks up the bin, stuffs the remaining paper back inside, then trots to the lunchroom.

“What time’s pizza?” she says to two depressed senior associates filling out a crossword. The air is stale. The sauvignon is out. The cashews are already gone.

“Who knows.”

There are, at least, a couple of G&Ts left in the fridge. She takes them down to George’s office. It’s almost 9pm and he’s still at it. He alone, as the firm’s top owner, was allowed to skip the hunt. She closes the door behind her, plops down in the client’s chair.

“I can’t look at you,” he says.

“I brought you a drink.”

“Give it here.”

George is one of the brightest people she has ever met and another of her favourites. Not that he’s perfect. For one thing he’s too loyal to D&E. Like her, he wasn’t so hireable so after they gave him a job he declared his undying allegiance. For another, he’s cripplingly shy. He’s one of those super-brains who freezes up around people. He never knows what to say or how to act. When he enters a room the whole place stiffens. Which is why nowhere else would hire him. He’s okay around Lydia though. When they’re alone, he comes out of his shell.



“Really? You’re going to keep at it?”

“Keep at what?”

He finally pulls himself from the monitor. “At least tell me how much.”

She shrugs. “More than I’m worth.”

“We already knew that.”

She thinks, one day he could be a judge. He’s that good. He has an innate sense for the law. He actually believes in justice and fairness and equality. But he will never get the call because no one will ever know he exists. He is going to stay here, in this desert, working as hard as possible for another 40 years. And for what? She honestly couldn’t tell you.

“How’d they find you?”

She knows what he really wants to ask. 

“I was in a few classes with one of the associates. Beat her at some useless subject and she never forgot. Besides, I think she gets a bonus if I last six months.”

“And Monica, how’d she take it?”

“Without blinking. She’s made a few brutal comments since.”


“I’ll keep an eye out.”

“No, no. Shortland St is not for me,” he says, reddening slightly. “Thanks though.”

She knew he’d say that. He doesn’t understand how good he is. He happily forgets every time she has run to him. She will never forget the first time. In her second month she drafted a will wrong, replaced a whole family with the RSPCA and it turned out the lady had Alzheimer’s. She’d seemed all right, but who was going to agree with a lawyer who described her sick old client as “seemed all right?” The lady’s family fired off legal and later physical threats and for a while she said nothing, hoping it would go away, but after a third day of calls and emails, she got up and ran through the office, barely holding back tears. She begged for his help and he saved her, and he has continued to save her, time and time again.

She wonders, how long before he tells them everything — all her shortcomings, all the things she’s swept under the rug.

Paul walks past now, mournfully calling out for Sue.

“He’s going to survive this,” George says.

“Once maybe, not twice.”

“You watch. She’ll bear the brunt. It’s how it goes.” He puts his monitor to sleep then looks at her thoughtfully. “You’ve never liked him.”

She shrugs. “I won’t miss him.”

“He’s not so bad. He’s just been… a little difficult since the accident.”


Lawyers and secretaries and Annie, their constantly ruffled office manager, gather around pizza boxes in the lunchroom. What’s depressing during the day — old lino, cracked plates and Arcoroc mugs, a humming fridge, a view of congested, never-ending Taharoto Road — actually feels all right at night. They could be anywhere.

Monica sent someone out for a 24-pack of beers and a few bottles of wine. Now everyone’s doing their best to get drunk. George and Lydia polished off the G&Ts as well as most of a flask of whisky he keeps in his desk. Everything’s all right. They’ve got that Friday afternoon glow. They’re tucking in with the silent intensity of the drunk and starving.

Chewing, Monica asks Paul, “So you don’t remember when you last saw it?”

Paul’s not eating. He’s leaning back against the dishwasher, making sure no one says a bad word about him. “I didn’t see it,” he says. “Sue says she left it on my desk.”

“When was that?”

Lydia never met him before the kerb. All she knows is the person who stood back up. It was autumn and the roads were wet. He was cycling past a KFC when a van came out of nowhere. He went flying. For a moment he might have felt okay, airborne, lifted off the tarmac the way he was. But then he came back down, headfirst against concrete. According to everyone the man who woke up was different. He couldn’t remember things. He still can’t. He gets agitated, he’s prone to moods. When you ask him something you can see the panic in his eyes; his mind searches and searches but so much is gone.

“Tuesday? Wednesday?”

Albert Vickers, 86, retired, died on Saturday on the way to North Shore Hospital. This would have been fine. Death comes to all, and here at least the paperwork was executed correctly.

The problem arose later.

After Paul was notified of the death, rather than undertaking the 60-step round trip to the deeds room and back, he dictated a memo telling Sue to get it for him.

She did so first thing on Tuesday morning. She says, and she’s sure of it, she’s almost certain, that she got it out and put it on his desk. Since then it’s gone missing. The Vickers want answers and he’s stalling, but he can only stall for so long. At some point unless it’s found he’s going to have to tell them he lost the will. Which is why the firm is here tonight, why some of the savvier staff have pillows stuffed under desks and sleeping balls shoved into drawers. Until it is found no one is allowed to leave.

“Sue,” Monica says thoughtfully, looking around. “Where is Sue?”


With a slice in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, Lydia finds her trembling 75-year-old secretary on her hands and knees going through every loose piece of paper on Paul’s office floor. Her heart aches, and it’s not just because Sue takes her calls and types her deeds and bakes her muffins. She is a good woman. Sweet, caring, fragile. She bears the mark of tragedy. 

Lydia thinks, he can’t keep taking it out on her. Maybe she was still drunk. She doesn’t know. It’s a blur. Monica ushered her out and she went looking for Sue. She wanted her to be the first to know. There was no plan. She just acted. 

The will was sitting there, under a small yellow Post-it and Sue had written: Here it is Paul. Anything else, you know where to find me

Her desk is right outside his door.

“Sue,” she says softly, crouching down. “Dinner’s arrived. Come on, come eat.”

She says she knows it’s here. “It has to be.”

Sue hasn’t looked at Lydia since she told her the news.

“It’s not,” Lydia says.

But Sue’s not listening. She’s under his desk. She’s searching for something that doesn’t exist.


At around midnight, when Paul yells “fuck” and slams his office door, it is almost a relief. No more tiptoeing.

“He’s done,” she says.

“He is not.”

George and Lydia are sprawled out on couches in reception. They have pillows and blazers for blankets. Others who didn’t plan ahead pass by searching for coats or cushions. Tania, wine in hand, is switching off all the lights.

George gives up trying to balance a mug of beer on his chest and asks, “So how long was it? How long did you last?”

She thinks. “Four years in December.”

“Is that it? Christ, everyone’s going to look at your LinkedIn and think, ‘Here’s a chick who jumps ship at the drop of a hat’.”

“Stop it,” she says, laughing.

He shrugs. She wonders if he knows. But then he says sleepily, “Come on then. Tell me one of your favourites.”

He often asks her this. It’s the reason he got into the profession. People. He wants to help them, to get to know them. But because of his inability to relax around people, to act like a regular guy, he doesn’t have many friends. He has clients and he has colleagues.

“Forget it.”


So she sighs and she thinks and finally she tells him about the Barretts, a couple from Whangārei who have no social grace or tact or warmth, who harassed her for answers for six weeks then refused to pay most of her fee, and yet for some reason she remains unreasonably fond of. She can’t help herself. They were honest and open in a way she hasn’t ever really encountered in her life. 

And it’s not her telling him that matters, but the way she tells him and the way he interrupts and asks for more details, for gems or nuggets of gold; it’s the way he agrees at times and shakes his head at others; the way he can’t help but laugh when Lydia makes a joke at their expense. It’s because of how this conversation goes, how she enjoys it even as they’re having it, that she knows she’ll miss him more than she misses almost anyone in her life.

If you asked her why tonight she couldn’t tell you. But later, after thinking about it over many long afternoons spent looking back across the harbour at Takapuna from the 28th floor of a skyscraper, she would say it was simple: they got each other. They were out of place here, they’d spent years together, fighting the current and that bound them close.

“Don’t worry,” she says, turning to him, sadder than she expected. “We’ll still see each other.”

He smiles. She waits for him to look at her, to tell her he knows, that he’s not worried. But he doesn’t. He’s staring at the ceiling. His eyes are fixed on something she cannot see.

This short story was published in Metro N°441.
Available here.


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Metro N°442 is Out Now.

In the Autumn 2024 issue of Metro we celebrate the best of Tāmaki Makaurau — 100 great things about life in Auckland, including our favourite florist, furniture store, cocktail, basketball court, tree, make-out spot, influencer, and psychic. The issue also includes the Metro Wine Awards, the battle over music technology company Serato, the end of The Pantograph Punch, the Billy Apple archives, a visit to Armenia, viral indie musician Lontalius, the state of fine dining, and the time we bombed West Auckland to kill a moth. Plus restaurants, movies, politics, astrology, and more.

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