Structural Damage – Chapter 1

The conference call was not going well; the development deal for the new building in Honolulu was in jeopardy, and Sabrina was beginning to lose patience.  It was almost 8 pm in Chicago, and this call had been going on for nearly two hours.  She was pacing back and forth in front of the large glass windows in her office, watching the traffic below, along the river.  She guessed that the night must be warm, no one was bundled in jackets, everyone was in jeans and short sleeves.  Sabrina never watched the news or the weather; she hardly left the confines of her climate controlled office for that matter.  The arguments on the other end of the line suddenly stopped, the Hawaiian investor had abruptly disconnected the conference call, and Sabrina was left with nothing more than a dial tone.  She left out a long string of expletives and stormed over to her desk and slammed her phone’s handset down.  She then began marching toward her office door; the heels of her Louboutin’s clicking on the hardwood floors, she certainly walked with a purpose.  With force, she flung open her door and snapped at her executive assistant who was still sitting at her desk, clicking away at her computer.

“Alice, get me Audrey on the phone, right now!”

Alice’s head snapped up, and she could almost feel the fire coming out of Sabrina’s eyes, “Ma’am she has left for the evening.  She indicated she had plans and would be out of reach.”

“I don’t care, call her cell, that’s why I pay for the damn thing, so I can reach her when I need her.  Once she’s on the line, you can go home, I’ve kept you here too long today as it is,” Sabrina’s voice had softened.  She liked Alice, and she knew that she worked her too hard, and she did feel bad about it.

Alice nodded her head in response and immediately picked up the phone to dial Audrey’s number.  She was acutely aware that this deal in Hawaii was in trouble and knew the amount of money that was at stake.  When deals were at this stage, Sabrina’s stress level was through the roof.  She was used to her barking orders and then dialing it back and then ramping it up again.  It was a roller coaster to work for this woman, but Sabrina took care of her and paid her well and respected her which was more than she could say for previous male bosses she had.

Alice dialed Audrey’s number, and it rang several times before she picked up, the irritation was noticeable in her voice, “This better be important, Alice.  I told you I was unavailable tonight.”

“I do apologize for disturbing your evening,” Alice’s proper British manners were now on full display, “Ms. Burnham asked that I get you on the line immediately.”

“You did tell her that I was unavailable, right?”

“Yes ma’am, I did, and she was quite insistent that I call you,” Alice explained.

“Damn, I take it the Honolulu call didn’t go well?”

“She did not discuss the call with me; however, I do believe your assumption would be accurate, ma’am.”

Audrey let out an exasperated sigh, “Fine, put her on the line, I’ll hold for her,” Audrey’s irritation was evident.

Alice put the call on hold and buzzed Sabrina’s office to let her know the call was waiting.  When she noticed that the call was picked up and heard Sabrina’s voice boom through the room, she began to gather her things so she could leave for the evening.

“Audrey, where in the hell are you?   And why were you not here for this meeting?”  Sabrina began to bark into the phone, “You knew there was a chance this meeting was not going to go well, and you left me here to handle this on my own.”  She waited to see if there would be an answer. Instead, she heard nothing but music and muted conversation in the background, “Are you listening to me, Audrey?  Where are you?”

“Take a deep breath and calm down, Sabrina.  I told you that I had plans for tonight and I would not be on this call, I can’t help it if you elected to ignore me.”

“Plans?  With who?  What is more important than this deal?”

“I have plans with a friend who is in from out of town.  And yes, I have friends other than you, Sabrina,” she paused and took a sip of her wine, “Why don’t you come and join us?  I guess you could use a drink or six.”

“Join you?  I have a deal going to shit, and you want me to come and party?  Are you out of your ever-loving mind?”  Now her irritation was growing, “I need you here to help figure out how to save this project because I want this building built.”

“Chris and I are having drinks, we are not partying.  And I guess you’re pissed off because the developer hung up on just like he did last week,” she took another sip of her wine and tried to stifle a laugh.  “No resolution is being reached tonight so we might as well just work on it tomorrow when you are calm.  So, come down and have a drink with us at the Signature Room and unwind.”

“The Signature Room, really?  And who is this Chris?”

“He is a guy I met in Vegas last year when I was out there for a seminar.  He’s a great guy, and he’s in town for a wedding so we thought we would catch up.  Quit being a snob and come join us.”

Sabrina let out a huff and disconnected the call.  Audrey began to laugh and tossed her phone into her purse, “She’ll show up, she just has to throw a fit about it first.”

From across the table, Chris Evans just stared at the raven-haired beauty.  The two had met at a blackjack table in Vegas almost one year ago, to the day.  She was on a hot streak, and he was completely captivated by her; both by her winning and by her looks.    She was tall and had brilliant, emerald green eyes that were set off by her black hair.  He had to admit that he also appreciated the fact that she cursed like a sailor; it was quite a contrast to the beauty with a dirty mouth, and she did nothing to curb it when she spoke to him, she had no interest in trying to impress him.  As a matter of fact, he realized later that she had no idea who he was; she just thought he was a regular guy in the casino.

He found out she was a corporate attorney who specialized in contract law and real estate law; two things that sounded dull and he had absolutely no interest in.  She lived in Chicago and was in Vegas to give a presentation at a seminar; blackjack was her distraction because she had no interest in hanging out with other lawyers.  She met Chris the day after she had arrived in Vegas, so lucky for her, it came to pass that for the next few days she now had someone to hang out with.  They hit it off immediately, and if they weren’t playing blackjack, they were drinking.  However, amazingly enough, they never ended up sleeping together.  They had chemistry, or so they thought, but when they kissed there were absolutely no sparks.  They decided to move forward with friendship; although Audrey always wondered if the lack of sparks came because of lack of real chemistry or from an overabundance of alcohol.

Their friendship was strong, though; Audrey became a confidant for Chris, and he knew that he could tell her anything, and she would keep the secret.  She also helped him out with his contract review when he purchased his house in Concord.  He trusted her, and the feeling was mutual.

“I take it your friend is having a bad day?”  He asked, taking a pull on the beer bottle in front of him.

“Yeah, you could say that,” Audrey replied quietly, “I should warn you, in case she shows up, Sabrina and I very different.  I mean we are good friends, and we work together, but she is, shall I say, quirky.”

“Quirky?  You’re describing your friend and co-worker as quirky?”

“See, here’s the thing, she isn’t actually my co-worker.  Truth be told, she’s my boss.”

With this tidbit of information, Chris sat up in his seat and leaned forward.  This conversation had just taken an interesting turn, “Your boss?  Wow!  Ok, I will admit I wasn’t expecting that.  I always had the impression that you took orders from no one, Audrey.”

“Ha, yeah well, I am good at giving her lip and letting her know I am not happy, but she does sign my paycheck.”

Chris was sitting where he could see the elevators that opened into the bar.  He loved being able to people watch; in Chicago he was unrecognizable, and he loved it.  He was not hiding, he was wearing dress slacks and a dress shirt with the collar open and the sleeved rolled up.  He looked like a businessman having a drink and didn’t seem any different than any other man in the room.  For once, his longer hair did not have lots of product in it, and his beard was thinned out; it was unbelievable how different he looked from his Captain America persona.  The facial hair made all the difference in the world.

His conversation with Audrey was light, and he was able to watch the elevator and stay involved in the conversation without appearing to be rude or uninterested.  However, that all changed when the woman in the gray power suit with the red heels came walking off the elevator.  She held her head high and carried a long clean line as she marched into the bar; she had a commanding presence, and he could feel himself grow hard just watching her.  She also sucked the oxygen out of the room, every man’s head turned to keep an eye on her and to Chris’ shock, she was walking directly towards his table.

Audrey noticed the change in his demeanor and the flush in his cheek.  She leaned forward, “At ease soldier, you don’t want to embarrass yourself when you stand up and say hello.”

He snapped his head to look at her, “Huh, what?”

“I can tell by the sound of her shoes, it’s Sabrina.  Best be thinking about your mom naked to get that puppy to stand down because you don’t need to bring that out to play right now.”

“Great, thanks a whole hell of a lot Audrey.  I didn’t need ma’s naked image in my head, but I think it’s working.”

About that time, Sabrina is standing at the table, “Ok, Audrey, I’m here, does this make you feel better?”

Audrey turned and looked at her, “Get the stick out of your ass and sit down.  I assume you want a glass of white wine?”

Sabrina turned and looked at Chris, a glare actually, wondering if he was going to be a gentleman and pull out her chair.  “Of course, what else would you expect me to drink?”

On cue, Chris jumped up, pulled out her chair and waved over the waitress, “Can we get a white wine for the lady, please?”

The waitress looked over at Sabrina, her eyes went wide, and she quickly scurried off.  Chris found that to be odd, but he didn’t say anything.  Sabrina got comfortable in her seat and did a once over of Chris, who was still standing but not looking in her direction.  She had to admit, he was quite handsome.  She could see why Audrey had never mentioned him and why she was friends with him.  She would have to ask her later if they were the ‘friends with benefits’ variety because he would definitely be worth it.

The waitress appeared a moment later with a glass of wine and carefully set it down, “You should find this to your liking, Ms. Burnham.  Should there be a problem, please let me know immediately.”  Sabrina nodded and smiled, and the waitress bowed her head and walked away.

Chris went ahead and sat back down, stunned at that display.  He had not seen the waitress act like that with anyone else that she had interacted with that evening.  Exactly who was Sabrina Burnham?  He glanced quickly over at Audrey in the hopes he could try to get her attention, but she wasn’t looking his way.  Suddenly, it was like he wasn’t even there.

“Did she at least get a good year?”  Audrey asked, noticing that Sabrina was taking a sip.

“She did a good job; I’ll have to leave her a nice tip for that.  But I still hate this place, this building is shit, and you know it.  I think you make me come in here from time to time just to torture me.”

“It’s not that bad, get off your high horse.”

“There is absolutely no atmosphere here,” she turned and looked at Chris, “Audrey is rude and has not introduced us.  I’m Sabrina, and you are Chris, is that correct?”

“Yes, ma’am, that is correct.  It is a pleasure to meet you,” he tried to turn on the charm, but he could tell that his use of the word ma’am might have ruined that.

She turned back to Audrey, who was smiling, trying not to laugh.  “Did he just call me ma’am?  Oh dear Lord!”

“Sorry, it’s a force of habit.  If my mother heard me speaking to a lady and not using manners, well she would beat me, no matter how old I am.”

Audrey could not contain herself any longer and let out a full belly laugh; she knew other people in the bar were probably watching her, but she didn’t care.  “Chris, you are just too adorable.  I really do need to meet your mother.”

Sabrina was not paying attention, she was looking around the room and sizing up the entire space.  “Audrey, you know, we could add a luxury bar into the top of the building in Honolulu and make it an exclusive location.  That could be an extra draw for the developer, and the view would be exquisite.  That could throw a new spin into this negotiation and help get the building done.  I want this done and wrapped up before I have to leave for the conference in New York.”

“See, aren’t you glad I brought you up here after all?  It gave you inspiration.”

“Ha!  This place is incapable of anything other than providing me a window into how a chic dining experience or bar should be done versus how this place is done.  How in the hell is this place an elite location?  There is no atmosphere.”

“You said that already, Sabrina.”

“Well, it is so important it bears repeating,” she snapped back.

Chris sat up in his chair, deciding that if he was going to join in this conversation he should not slouch and look so relaxed.  “I think the atmosphere in this place is the view and not so much the decoration and design inside.  I mean, look out those windows and you have a fantastic view of the city.  That’s why people come here, to look out over the city.  The decorators figured they would go with a minimalistic design so you are drawn to look out the windows.”

Audrey and Sabrina just stared at him, unsure of what he had just said or how a coherent thought about design elements came from such a beautiful boy.  In all of her conversations with him, Audrey had never had that deep of a conversation on any subject with Chris; she wasn’t sure he was capable of that type of discussion.  Boy, did he just prove her wrong!

“So, besides being an actor, you are a designer too?”  Audrey asked, somewhat sarcastically.

“No, I’ve just been told that I have an eye for the aesthetic, that’s all.”

Sabrina just shook her head, “You’re an actor?  Seriously?  Oh man, I need another drink,” she waved down the waitress.  “Thank you for the wine, but I need something a bit stronger, can you please bring me Absolut and cranberry please?”

“I’ll take another beer if you don’t mind,” Chris chimed in, “Audrey, do you need another drink?”

“No, I’m good.”

“So, Chris, you have an eye for the aesthetic?  Let me guess, you think you are an interior designer, and you have an eye for what looks right?”  Sabrina was snarky, she knew it, but she just could not help herself.

He leaned forward, deciding not to take any guff of her this evening, “I like to think I can tell when something looks good, and I don’t think I need a fancy degree to tell me that something is attractive.”

Now Audrey decided to sit back and watch the verbal volleys between Chris and Sabrina.  He had no idea who he was messing with, and this could get ugly if he were not careful.  She might have to step in and save the boy if push came to shove; she didn’t want Sabrina to eat him alive.  She wanted to remain friends with him, and if things got too bad, she might lose that friendship.

“I see, and you think this building and this view are both attractive?”

“I think any view of the city of Chicago from a high-rise is a beautiful view.  This is a beautiful city with a gorgeous skyline; some of the most impressive buildings I have ever seen are in this town.  I can appreciate architecture, Sabrina.”

“You didn’t answer my question, Christopher,” she purred, “Do you think this is an attractive building.”

“Oh I have seen things that are stacked better than this building, that is for sure,” he growled back at her.

Audrey began choking when he made that comment because she was sure he was not referencing buildings.  Chris and Sabrina both glanced over at her to make sure she was okay; she waved them both off to indicate she wanted them to go back to their fighting.

“Come with me,” she said as she reached for his hand. Chris put his beer down and took her hand, she could not get over how large his hand was and how soft it was.  She could have sworn she felt a jolt of electricity spark through her when he touched her.  She walked him to the large windows on what would be the river side of the building.  She stood directly behind him, her hands on his waist, and her head at his bicep, “Tell me, Chris, which buildings to you see that you would identify as better stacked than this building?”

She could hear his breath hitch in his throat, “Well the building I saw earlier that caught my attention, you can’t see it clearly from here,”  he reached down and took her hand from his waist, pulling her around in front of him.  He wrapped one arm around her and used his other hand to point out across the skyline, “Over in that direction there is this unique building that has a rippled effect when you look at it from far away.  I believe I was told it was called the Aqua building.  Now that,” he said as he lowered his head near her ear and began to speak in a breathless whisper, “Building is a woman; elegant, beautiful and well stacked.”

It took a few seconds for Sabrina to realize she was holding her breath.  This man, who was clearly younger than she was, could flirt with the best of them.  The boy had game, and she had to give him mad props for that.  He also had a real eye for design since he picked out her building!  Surely Audrey had told him about the building, there is no way he came up with that all on his own.

He spun her around to look at him and before she could answer him, the Mayor was headed straight towards her.  He waved his hand at her, and she gave a polite wave back; Chris could see that she went back into business mode rather quickly.  He stepped to the side to allow her to greet whoever was walking in their direction; since his back was to the room, he had no idea the Mayor was approaching.

“Ms. Burnham, it is so nice to see you this evening.  I hope that I’m not interrupting?”

“Good evening Mr. Mayor,” Sabrina said as she took his hand and provided a firm handshake, “No, you are fine.  This is a friend of mine, Mr. Chris Evans, this is the Honorable Mayor of Chicago.”  Chris turned and provided a warm smile and a handshake.  He started to excuse himself to go back to the table, but Sabrina grabbed his hand and pulled him towards her; she wanted him to stay.

“I understand you have put in a bid to try and put a new building on the spire site?  I’m very excited to see the proposal and the renderings, but I haven’t heard if there is a meeting set up yet.”

“Indeed, I have, Mr. Mayor.  I submitted the plans and the drawings at the end of last week, but I’ve not heard back yet regarding their plans for a public hearing.  I would like to move forward right away, that site has been an eyesore for too long.”

“I understand you are working on a deal in Hawaii as well, are they trying to steal you from Chicago?”

“My heart is here, sir.  Right now, I’m not in danger of going anywhere.”

“That is good to hear, you are a city treasure, Ms. Burnham, and it would be a real loss if you were to leave.  I look forward to hearing about your new building plans.  Have a pleasant evening and it was nice to meet you, Mr. Evans.”

“Likewise, Mr. Mayor,” Chris acknowledged and had to admit he was a little dumbstruck for the moment.  The Mayor of Chicago just called her a ‘city treasure’ and doesn’t want her to leave.  “What exactly do you do, Sabrina?”  He had to ask because now he was curious.

“Chris, you’re familiar with the Flatiron Building in New York, right?  Or maybe the Field Museum here in Chicago?”

“Yeah, I’m familiar with both of those buildings, why?”

“They were designed and built by a man named Daniel Burnham,” she paused for effect, letting the information she gave him settle into his brain.

“Burnham?  Like your name, Burnham?”

“Exactly like my name.  Daniel Burnham was my great-grandfather, and he is quite legendary in the city of Chicago, he was the great architect of the city.  I’ve followed in his footsteps as well as the footsteps of my grandfather and father – I’m an architect and a damn good one.  I know run my own firm, not the one that my family owned but one that I started on my own with my own name and money.  And I am successful on my own merit, but I don’t change my name because it at least opens doors that would be shut in my face otherwise.  But I get the job because of my talent, not because of my name.”

“And that is why you are a building snob?  You design and build for a living so you are particular?”

“Yeah, you could say that; actually, that is what Audrey says all the time.  I’m not trying to be a building snob, but it is a curse.  So, you’re an actor, do you find that you judge the performance of others against what you may or may not do?”

Chris looked away, unable to make eye contact with her, “Ok, fair enough comparison.  I might be guilty of that from time to time.”

Sabrina turned and began to walk back towards the table, she didn’t say anything to Chris before doing so.  He fell in step with her though and followed her back.  Audrey was watching their every move, and both of them noticed it.  When they got back to the table, Chris held out Sabrina’s chair and then he took his seat.

“So, I saw the foreplay, are you two going to get out of here and fuck or what?”  Audrey asked the sneer was evident in her voice.

“No need to be crass,” Sabrina barked at her, “Chris and I had a conversation about buildings, Audrey.  Don’t worry, I’m not stealing your little boy toy.”

“Well he isn’t my boy toy,” Audrey snapped, her words were slurring just a little.  It was evident she had been left alone to drink just a little too long.

“I’m not a boy toy for anyone, and I am right here you know,” Chris replied.

Sabrina reached into her purse and took out some cash, tossing it onto the table, she then stood up.  The ice queen demeanor she walked into the bar with had returned, “Nice to meet you, Chris.  Enjoy your stay in Chicago.”

And with that Sabrina Burnham walked out of the bar and towards the elevator.  Chris wasn’t really sure what had just happened, but he sensed that he was now a problem between Audrey and Sabrina; how in the hell did that happen?  He wasn’t about to ask Audrey right now, she was a little intoxicated, and he was a little worked up.  Sabrina was not like any other woman he had ever met, and frankly, she wasn’t the type of woman he would be attracted to.  But she had a commanding presence, and that had him captivated and intrigued, and all he knew was that he wanted to find a way to see her again.

 

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