The party was winding down, and Don observed comfortably from his chair in the corner. He toyed with the notion of picking up a book, but thought it might be rude to be found reading at his own party. Throwing parties, he reconciled, was never about the host anyway.
Martha found him and sat on his lap, taking his drink from his hand to place it on the table on the end. "Thank you," she said, kissing him.
"For having our friends over. I know you've been busy with your big trial, so I know what it means to say yes. And also..." She brought her soft hand to his face and caressed his dark, well-trimmed beard with her long, dark-red fingernails. "Well, just thanks."
Don didn't need to say anything, and he knew it. His balls felt heavier when she talked to him like this. Sometimes he forgets why he became a lawyer, and she reminds him.
She smiled one more time, and then something else caught her attention and she was gone. "Let me get that for you," she was saying as she walked away.
The lights were dim in the condo, and he saw the lights of downtown Manhattan bouncing off of the peach-colored walls of his penthouse suite. Some folks were crawling, they were so drunk, and the sun would be up in mere hours. The music had ended, and some of the more chatty ones were still lounging around the coffee table in the den.
"It's people," one girl named Sarah was saying. "All they have to do is learn how to be nice. That's all. Is that so hard?" Others were nodding and offering up mumbling approvals. She went on for about five minutes longer, and by that time Don had been standing by the window.
There was a homeless woman on the streets below, sitting at a bus stop. He knew the woman well, and he had no pity on her.
He turned when someone said his name. She said it a few decibels louder than she had been speaking to get his attention. "Not that we mind, though," she continued. "We need people who don't trust anyone. Otherwise, how would the legal system work at all?"
Don remained silent, and did not move from his spot by the window.
"He trusts some people," he heard Martha chime in. "Just not very many." The others laughed. Don was not amused, but he wasn't irritated. Not like usual.
Don was surprising even himself by his recent tendency toward acceptance of things he didn't like. He was not a compromising man and he was often ill-tempered, but he was coming to find that removing himself from the situation of his discontent made him far more sane, hospitable and generally happy. His wife had much to do with that, though. She was far more egalitarian.
The woman below was gesticulating wildly to people who weren't there. He was still watching her when he heard someone say, "I would never do that in public. Not me. Have some self-control, you know?"
Don looked over to find two girls with their heads buried in a tabloid. They were giggling, and one sat back to take a puff of her cigarette. She is lying, Don thought. Smoking is her tell. Whatever it is, she would certainly do it.
Don walked over to them and asked to look at the magazine. The page they were looking at featured nipple slips and other wardrobe malfunctions. Some were topless completely, or wearing very thin clothing, and see-through dresses.
Don looked down at the girl. Her name was Harmony. Another puff of smoke came out slowly, and she crossed her arms.
She stared back at Don, who was studying her. Bleached white hair, zebra-striped mini-skirt and combat boots. And a face that stonewalled Don and his every attempt to read her.
Don handed the magazine back and sat down in his chair. He took a drink, while the others went back to talking.
Harmony brought the conversation back to Don with an insult: "I don't think Don wins because he's smart. He wins because he lies. You have to be a good liar to be a good lawyer, don't you Don?"
Don was only hoping the poor girl would attempt to challenge him, and his pride got the better of him when he accepted. She was playing with fire.
"And how easy do you think it is to lie?"
She knew on some level that she should not have challenged him, and she knew it from that question.
"Pretty easy. You just say something that isn't true. If you act like you believe it, then no one will suspect a thing."
"And how easy is that?"
"I don't know, I'm not a liar like you."
"Ahh," he said with a smile. She thought she was doing well. "But you said it was easy. Tell me, if I were to tell a lie and convince you to believe me, how easy would it be for that lie to be sustained? How long would you believe it before the lie leads to another lie, and how long before the whole lie collapses?"
"I don't know. If it's a big lie, not long?"
"Exactly. I'm currently defending a suspect in a double-homicide. Do you think that if I were to lie about my client's guilt, that this would be a big lie or a small lie?"
Everyone's eyes were fixed on Don like he was some guru. "A big lie, I guess," she responded.
"So is it possible that your premise is flawed?"
Harmony shot him a look of disgust and said, "Well if it's not lying, then what is it?"
Don smiled. "Well I do lie. We all lie, its what keeps us from killing each other. What's interesting, though, is that the liar is always the villain in any deception."
Some of them sat back, as if they had just taken a heavy hit of dope and needed to let it ride a bit. Harmony didn't know what to say, so she just changed the subject. "I just smoked my last cigarette, does anyone have an extra one?"
"What do you mean by that, Don?" It was Glen, an event coordinator for one of Martha's Art Galleries. Don liked Glen because he was curious, intelligent and respectful.
"No one takes responsibility for deception. We are taught to place the blame on the deceiver. We are not interested in readying our minds to the deceptive behaviors of dishonest people. This is because at our core, we can be made to do and believe just about anything."
"A Machiavellian view," Glen responded. Don was very glad Glen came to the party.
"Mockee-who?" Sarah was still largely drunk, and rather than explain any further to a drunk socialite, Don waited for Harmony to respond.
He thought she'd given up when she said, "That's stupid."
"I can prove it."
"That's cheating! Make me do something without hypnosis and I'll believe you."
"Do you know anything about hypnosis? There is nothing I could make you do under hypnosis that you wouldn't normally be willing to do."
"It's true," Glen added. "Some of the artists I work with are psychiatrists by trade. Some people have limits that others don't."
"Do you still think my theory is stupid?"
Martha knew better and tried to put a stop to it. "Don, don't." They've done this kind of thing at parties before, but Don figured Martha was only concerned because she had to actually work with Harmony on Monday.
"It's her choice," Don protested. "How strongly do you believe that? Would you like me to prove it?"
"You really shouldn't," Martha was saying to Harmony. But Harmony dismissed it.
"Go for it."
Don moved to sit opposite Harmony on the couch. "Tell me something you would not normally do right now with everyone in this room."
"I don't know, like what?"
"Would you masturbate?"
The tension in the room remained, in part because of the seriousness with which Don delivered this line. Martha said nothing, as she knew where it was heading the whole time. Her friend Sarah studied her with curious eyes.
"I'm not going to masturbate in front of everyone! What kind of girl do you think I am?"
"I'm being serious. If you say you would never do that, then fine, it will work. But if you would do it normally and I get you to do it, you'll never know if I'm wrong. It's up to you if you want to know if I can prove it. Do you still want me to hypnotize you?"
Harmony was not ready to back out, but she betrayed a hint of nervousness. Finally, she said, "Yes."
He pulled out a gold-plated ball-point pen and held it up. "Focus on this and count backward from 10."
In a matter of minutes, the process was complete and she was completely under. "How do you feel Harmony?"
"Good," she said, her eyes now closed.
"Do you remember the people who were at my party?" She said yes, and then started to name them. "Do you remember what Sarah was wearing?" She said it was a V-cut silver blouse with black jeans.
Don shifted and asked, "What do you think is the nicest object you've seen in our home?"
She thought about it for a minute, and then said, "You have a very nice vase in the hallway. It is a grayish blue. It has pictures on it. I really liked it." Don thought it was an amusing side-note that she picked the one object that had fertility symbolism on it.
"You really like that vase?"
"Harmony, listen to my voice. The next time you see that vase, you are going to feel an intense sexual desire. It is going to be so intense, that you are going to want to pleasure yourself. It will not stop until you hear me clap my hands. Do you understand?"
"When I count to ten, you will be fully awake and refreshed. Ok?" He counted back to ten, and she woke up. She had a nervous look on her face.
"How do you feel?"
"Good," she replied, apprehensively. "Did I...?"
"No," Don said. Harmony looked relieved, and she grinned proundly.
"I told you."
"Glen, would you mind getting that thing from the hallway?" Glen was only too happy to oblige, and Don watched Harmony's confidence begin to wane. She knew he was up to something. Finally, he produced the vase and placed it on the table before Harmony. Her eyes grew wide.
She opened her mouth to say something, but couldn't. She couldn't even look away. Her breathing became heavy and her palms started to sweat. She wiped them on her knees and sat up straight.
Sarah saw the changes clearly, and she was clearly in awe. Everyone wondered if she would do it, and watching in anticipation. Harmony's eyes were fixed on the object to the point she could not contain herself.
In one quick movement, she shot her hand up her dress and into her underwear. Her breathing became erratic, and she started to moan. She could not start slow. As soon as her hand was in her panties, she rubbed herself quickly. Pretty soon her eyes were closed and she was about to climax.
Don stood proudly on his feet and look down at her with a grin. She climaxed, but continued rubbing herself feverishly. She was screaming when Don finally clapped his hands and she stopped abruptly.
Beads of sweat dripped from her forehead and the pounding of her heart continued as she blinked her eyes open and looked around. She saw everyone watching her and she became dizzy.
She sat up to and noticed her hand was still in her underwear. She quickly removed it and looked for something to wipe her hand with. Sarah handed her a tissue with a smile on her face and said, "Looks like you wanted to do that after all."
Instead of taking the tissue, she just stood up and stormed to the bathroom.
And only Don was laughing.