As Sabrina and Chris stood at the stairway, he was confused as to why this line of questioning had started in the first place. What was her game and what was she trying to prove? Her eyes were pleading with him, and her touch on his arm was soft.
“Come on, sit with me and I’ll explain, but I am not making you the villain.”
He turned and looked down at her, “If you’re not making me the bad guy, why does it feel that way?” He couldn’t hide the hurt.
Sabrina moved her hand down his arm, lacing her fingers with his and walked him toward the sitting area across from the kitchen. She motioned for him to sit on the couch, taking the seat next to him, she snuggled up to him and wrapped her arm around his stomach. “Since you came to town, Audrey has acted a little different. I can’t explain it and even if I could, it would probably sound funny to you. She is the one who mentioned that she met you in Vegas, and you two were friends only. I asked her if anything was going on between the two of you and she said no.”
“But you didn’t believe her?”
“No, that’s the thing, I did believe her. She suggested that I go out with you, I felt like she was sort of pushing us together, Chris, and I didn’t mind it all. For the record, I still don’t mind,” she looked up at him as she spoke those words, letting him know she meant it and trying to convey that he means something to her. “But ever since we started getting close, her attitude has changed a little.”
“How so? I guess I haven’t seen it, but you spend more time with her than I do.”
“She has these wild swings where one minute she is all for us going out and then the pendulum swings, and she is against it. Then it swings back, and she is for it again Then at the hotel she was fighting with you. Wait, sorry, you said you were having a spirited discussion,” she looked back with a smile, letting him know that she was well aware that it was a fight. “She’s calling you and texting you like crazy today, I think she has feelings for you.”
Chris had been listening to her intently and even found himself agreeing with her, until this point. Now he thought she was grasping at straws and being ridiculous. “For the record, I’m the one who put the brakes on things with Audrey. The fact that nothing happened sexually probably worked out better for our friendship. She’s one of the few people in my life, that’s not family, that has no problem being blunt and honest with me. I think you’re off base, there has never been any time in the last year where I’ve felt like she had feelings for me.”
“Really? And you think I’m off base now?” She didn’t need to look at him for his answer. Her head was on his chest, she could hear the beating of his heart and the fact that the pace was quicker than it was five minutes ago. “Tell me you don’t think it is ironic that she is trying to call you so much today when she thinks you are home in California.”
Chris moved, pushing her forward a bit so he could make her look at him, “Sabrina, did you ever think she is calling me looking for you? It could have absolutely nothing to do with me or whatever you think her supposed feelings are for me. What if she is trying to find you because she is worried about you?”
She gave him a confused look, tilted her head and raised her eyebrows, “She knows where I live, I left word with Alice, you heard me leave the message. Why would she be calling you to find out where I am? No, I think she wants you.”
Sabrina was not backing down, and Chris didn’t know whether to laugh at her or take her seriously and talk her off the ledge. The longer he looked at her, the more he believed she was serious, she actually thought Audrey had the hots for him. “Why don’t you let me just listen to her voicemail or read her text messages and find out what he wants? Better yet, I’ll just call her,” he reached for his phone and Sabrina snatched it from his hand, placing it back on the coffee table in front of them, “Or, I could leave it on the table, and we could continue with this ridiculous conversation.”
“Okay, so maybe she is looking for me, but why? You have to admit it seems odd, right? She argued with both of us in that hotel room, she’s just not herself.”
“You think she has unrequited love for me? You’re so sweet,” he pulled Sabrina back to him, she snuggled back into his arms, resting her head on his chest. “Let me be clear about something, I adore Audrey, she’s fantastic and a valued and trusted friend of mine. I could not imagine not having her around, but I do not have the same feelings for her that I have for you. I’m not interested in sleeping with her, do you understand?”
Sabrina nodded her head, deciding to drop the subject. So she knew that Chris wasn’t interested, but that didn’t mean Audrey wasn’t. It was plausible that Audrey was trying to get ahold of her through him; she could turn on her own phone and see if she had messages waiting. The problem was, she was afraid there were messages from someone other than Audrey, and those were the ones she wanted to avoid.
~ * ~
Audrey hailed a cab and made her way back to the Burnham Design offices. She was furious with Sabrina, she could not hide it, even though she should for the sake of those in the office. The two of them had been in nasty confrontations before, although never in the office or in front of co-workers. No, they had been behind closed doors and in private. However, this one was going to be particularly brutal.
The elevator was moving at a snail’s pace, and it was not helping her mood at all. When the doors finally opened, and she stepped into the reception area, it was almost 3 pm. She had decisions to make, and a meeting for the Boston RFI was starting in the conference room right now. She took off in that direction, making a dramatic entrance into the packed room. All eyes shifted to look at her.
“Sorry, I know I’m a few minutes late,” Audrey took her spot at the head of the table, dropping the binder, allowing it to make a loud thud. “The RFI is complete, I want to thank everyone for their hard work on this. I have done the final review and made sure all of the T’s are crossed, and the I’s are dotted. Everything appears to be in order, and it just needs to have Sabrina’s signature, that is where we have an issue.”
Misty Weiss, the Marketing Manager, cleared her throat and sat up in her chair, “I noticed that Ms. Burnham is out, and I’ve been told she won’t be in until late tomorrow. Are we going to get her signature in time for this to be submitted?”
All eyes had turned to Misty when she spoke, and now they had turned back to Audrey while they awaited her response. She dropped her head, tapped on the binder and contemplated how to handle the response. Finally, she decided to just tell them the truth, “I have no idea, Misty. She left a message on her Assistant’s voicemail saying she was out, and I’ve not been able to get ahold of her. She won’t return calls or emails, I’ve gone to her building, and I’ve been denied access to her apartment. If I can’t get in front of her with this binder, I can’t get her signature and then we can’t move forward. So, no, I don’t know that I’m going to get her signature in time, and I’m frankly beginning to freak out about it.”
Once again, Misty decided to speak up, Marketing was always full of ideas. “Audrey, you know Sabrina’s signature better than anyone. Can you just sign it and send the document on its way? I mean, save the deal, right?”
“I’ve considered it, but I’m not going to do it,” Audrey was pretty sure she heard the collective gasp in the room when she said those words. She turned and found the chair behind her, pulled it forward and took a seat. “Look, I sign it, and she reams me out for forging her signature. I don’t sign it, and she reams me out for not doing all I could to get the deal to go forward. I’m in a catch-22, and I don’t like it. I know I’m going to get blamed for this no matter what I do.”
The room was silent; the best way to describe it was awkward. After a moment, Audrey adjourned the meeting, and several participants excused themselves from the room. A few of the key managers remained, each one wanting to offer advice or guidance.
“Guys, before you start in, I know, I should sign her name to it, send it off and pretend this didn’t happen.”
“Audrey, do you know where she is?” Walter Helton, the Comptroller, asked. He rarely spoke in any of these meetings, but she could tell he had something on his mind, “I respect Ms. Burnham a great deal, I believe she deserves time off, and I believe this entire scenario slipped her mind. I think when she realizes what happened, the fact that we sent the binder off, even with a forged signature, will make her happy since she wants this project.”
“Walter, I disagree,” Daniel Hodge, the Manager of Design Implementation, chimed in, “She wants this project, she should have been here to sign the binder. Audrey’s right, the blame will come whether it is signed and sent off or not, we’re in a no-win situation here. Without Sabrina’s approval over every page in that binder, we run the risk of it going out unapproved and it biting us in the ass later.”
Within minutes, the skirmish between Walter, Daniel and Misty was well underway. Audrey sat back and watched, almost wishing she had popcorn for this. They did the arguing for her as to whether she should sign and send off the binder or just let it ride. After a good twenty minutes, Audrey elected to remove herself from the fray and go back to her office.
~ * ~
Kyle Chapman checked his bank balance, the wire transfer had hit, and he now had the $15k in his bank account. He quickly moved $14k of it over to a secret account, he knew he had to keep it safe until it was time to pay off his loan. With the money he kept in his account, he quickly booked a flight back home. He was lucky that his job provided him the opportunity to work on his plans and designs wherever he wanted; he wasn’t bound to the office.
Everyone he worked with thought that Kyle was, to say the least, different. He had been employed in a large firm in Chicago, had collaborated with well-known architects and suddenly gave it all up and moved to a small company in Austin. Kyle was a talented designer, he had a promising career ahead of him, but Chicago wasn’t working for him. The principals figured Kyle wanted to be a big fish in a small pond versus the small fish in a big pond; Chicago was a hard market to make a name for yourself, the competition was just too stiff. But the principals quickly realized that Kyle’s issues were deeper than that, they saw the wedding photo he displayed on his bookshelf.
It’s hard to make a name for yourself when you’re married to the biggest name in Chicago architecture. He was in a shadow he would never get out of as long as he was in the same city. Kyle had been in Austin for about a year when two Detectives from Chicago showed up in the office, wanting to have a word with him. The principals from the office, along with their counsel, joined the Detectives and Kyle in the large conference room.
“Mr. Chapman, I’m Detective Tuttle, this is Detective Owen, we would like to talk to you about the Maxson Title Building in Oak Park. Are you familiar with that building, sir?”
Kyle’s head snapped back, a confused look spread across his face, “Um, yeah, I designed that building when I worked for Percy Wolford in Chicago. I was overseeing the construction project, mind you I wasn’t at the construction site managing the build; I was just controlling the cost of the project. Why, what’s this all about?”
Owen sat forward, opening the file folder that sat on the table in front of him, “Mr. Chapman, the building collapsed three days ago, killing ninety-five construction workers,” he slid the photos across the table to a horrified Kyle. The reactions of the others at the table clearly showed their horror at the scene as well. “There were approximately twenty workers that were injured and several people nearby that were injured as well.”
George Denby, the principal in the firm where Kyle was currently working, sat forward and cleared his throat, “I take it the building was not completed? How close to completion was it?”
Tuttle decided to field this question, “It was about 85% complete, sir. It was set for a preliminary inspection next week, ironically enough.”
Nick McClain, the counsel for the firm, tossed his hat into the impending circus, “I guess you have some specific questions for Mr. Chapman in regards to his involvement in this building?”
Owen and Tuttle looked at one another, nodded, then Owen spoke up, “Yes, precisely, when did Mr. Chapman leave the project and why? Was he aware of any issues with the building upon his departure?”
Kyle hung his head, he would have to dredge up the painful part of his life, the part he was trying to bury. “I left the project about a year ago, the building was probably 40% done at the time. I quit my job at Percy Wolford, my choice, I was not fired, in case you’re wondering. I was going through a rather painful divorce and wanted out of Chicago.”
“Were there issues with the construction of the building? Any problems that you were aware of?”
“No, none that I was aware of, we were on schedule when I left. Inspections were good, we passed without problems and never had delays. Do you know why the building collapsed? I mean, what caused it?”
“That is still an ongoing investigation. There are a few theories, and we should know more in a day or so,” Tuttle and Owen both pushed back their chairs and stood up. They began to step away from the table and head for the door, stopping to thank everyone for their cooperation.
“Mr. Chapman, we will be in touch, I trust you will make yourself available for questions?” Tuttle asked, before walking out of the room.
Kyle stammered for a minute, “Um, absolutely, sure. I mean, I don’t know what information I can provide since I’ve been gone for a year, but I’ll make myself available.”
The detectives thanked them, and George Denby walked them out. Kyle sat back down, resting his head in his hands, shocked and sickened over what he had just been told. The problem was, he knew what caused the collapse, knew it would come back to him, knew it would not end well.
Kyle pulled himself together, walked out of the conference room and into his office. He quietly shut his door and began making a few phone calls. He needed to see what he could do to make this go away. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much he could do. Over the next few months, it had come to light that the Maxson Title building was going up with subpar steel and concrete; the project was under budget because Kyle was cutting corners. He was using mob-connected businesses and paying for less than premium product, figuring that no one would ever know. The inspectors that were being used were ‘on the take’ so they never had to worry about anything being discovered as less than quality work. His construction foreman, he didn’t approve of what was happening, but he was being paid to stay quiet.
It was true that Kyle left because of his divorce; Sabrina wanted him out of Chicago and was willing to pay him to leave. He wanted a piece of the Burnham legacy in the divorce settlement and wanted to go to court to get it. The problem was, she would bring up the domestic abuse and he couldn’t let that get out. Honestly, she couldn’t let that get out either; it would do damage to them both. Sabrina finally agreed to pay him a monthly stipend, the court would have never made her do it, but it would get the divorce over with quickly, and that is what she wanted.
The original amount, $1500 per month, was modest and would help pay Kyle’s living expenses. But with this building collapse, he would be on the verge of criminal and civil charges. He would be wiped out, and he knew it. He also knew it would cause him to lose this job. The only thing that could save him was that his design was sound, the construction wasn’t, but the design of the building was not flawed.
It had taken almost a year before the investigation was complete and indictments were handed down against Kyle, his construction foreman, and the steel and concrete providers. It had been determined that Kyle was negligent on both the design of his building and as the construction project manager. His design was flawed, he left out certain support beams that would have meant the building would not have been structurally sound even if quality products had been used.
Kyle’s lawyer was what you would call ‘connected.’ Roscoe Pollard was a well-connected lawyer who had a history of throwing motion after motion at the court and keeping cases from seeing the light of day. He was going to do all he could to discredit the State’s case against Kyle. Considering the mob was paying for Roscoe’s firm to get the cases thrown out for every one of the defendants, there as a lot riding on this.
George Denby had pulled Kyle into his office after the indictment was handed down. He questioned him about what was going on when the building in Chicago was designed, who had approved the design, and was anyone above Kyle overseeing the project. Denby was concerned over having his name connected to projects Kyle was involved with, and with good reason. If clients in Austin knew that a man responsible for killing nearly one hundred people had worked on their building, there were be hysteria. Denby could not afford to lose clients. For now, Denby wouldn’t fire Kyle, after all, there were only charges levied against him, and he had not been found guilty of anything. But it was well within his rights to relegate Kyle to working on projects and not having his name prominent on the plans. It was also within his right to have everything run past structural engineers and double checked before work was ever started on a construction site.
Kyle realized this meant he was on a very tight leash. He blamed Sabrina for the mess he was in. If the bitch had not filed for divorce, if she had not kept him preoccupied with that whole bitter mess, this would not be happening to him. She was the one responsible for those people dying, this was all her and by God, she was going to pay for it.
Kyle had material that would do hard to Sabrina, he had videotaped them being intimate for years without her knowing it. Those tapes would bring in a fortune! He called her and began blackmailing her, sending her small clips of the videos to prove what he had. His monthly stipend jumped from $1500 to $5000 right away. Over the course of the next few years, as the court case dragged on, he would make trips to Chicago and keep tabs on her. Lucky for him, she was a creature of habit, he could easily find her in the bars and restaurants where they would frequent when they were together. He would see her with men, photograph them together, and save the pictures for when he needed them. The stalking increased over the years, as did his gallery of photos and videos.
His monthly stipend increased as well, he was now up to $15,000 per month. His guess was that Audrey, her best friend, and attorney, had no idea about the payments. If she had known, he would have been shut down a long time ago. He was also fairly sure it would have been brought to light in the court case and used against him. Roscoe was able to get the criminal charges thrown out for insufficient evidence. There was no proof that there was malice or intent, it was tragic and an accident. Roscoe was slick, how he did it, Kyle was not sure. Honestly, he didn’t care, he was just glad he wasn’t going to jail. The civil cases, well that was another story. The families had all gone in together, and Roscoe had gotten them all to agree to a settlement, a lump sum to be divided equally among them.
Kyle didn’t have to pay for it, the mob boss, Vincent Saldonna, had covered it for everyone. Now, Kyle was in debt to him and had to pay him back his portion of the settlement; Kyle owed Vinnie a little over $12 million dollars. Vinnie knew there would be no way he would recoup that much money from Kyle Chapman all at once. No, he would expect regular payments from Kyle, as well as the occasional favor to help pay off the debt. Kyle was aware this meant he could never say no to anything that Vinnie asked for; if he did, it meant certain death.
~ * ~
Audrey gathered her things, picked up the binder, and began walking toward Alice’s desk. It was almost 6 pm, and she knew that Alice would be going home very soon. Just as she approached, she noticed that Alice was turning off her computer and desk light.
“Heading home for the evening, Alice?”
“Yes, Ms. Clarke, I think I am. With Ms. Burnham out, I have everything wrapped up, and I can get out of here on time.”
“Good, I’m glad to hear that,” Audrey took a few steps as if she was leaving. She then turned back to face Alice, “You didn’t hear from her this afternoon did you? I mean, she didn’t check in or anything?”
Alice shook her head, she hated to have to give this answer, “No, I’m sorry. I did send her an email to ask that she give a call to the office, but I’ve not yet heard from her. I’m sorry, ma’am.”
“No worries, Alice. Thank you for trying,” Audrey turned back and started for the elevators. She knew that all night long she was going to stew over this entire situation. She had not looked at her phone in the last two hours, but it had not chirped or rang so she was certain that no one had texted or called. But, for the sake of argument, she went ahead and confirmed. Nothing, no return calls from Chris or Sabrina.
Her mood was no better than it was earlier in the day, it was ridiculous to be this worked up. It was one project and honestly this was a business dossier, a request for information, nothing more than a permission slip to allow them to bid on a project when bidding opened. Sabrina had never been that worked up over an RFI in the past, had never been that worried about even completing them in the past.
Audrey had this inner debate the entire way home. She knew why this was important, two building designs, two cities, massive project and high profile. The kind of project that Sabrina thrives on, the project that would elevate her standing in the architectural world. While she might be well known and well respected in some circles, there were still some people who dismissed her out of hand because she was a woman. Audrey knew that Sabrina worked extra hard to overcome the sexism she encountered; it was far less common than it was when they first started years earlier, but it was still out there.
Audrey let herself into her apartment, dropping her things on the kitchen counter, heading straight for the bottle of wine that was sitting on the counter. She had purchased it the evening before when she went to the store, thinking she would fix a nice dinner and enjoy a glass. But tonight, she was not in the mood for the dinner, just the wine. She opened the bottle, poured a glass and took a seat in the living room, staring out over the river. A light rain was starting to fall, and she started her internal argument all over again.
Although this time, she added into the mix her anger over what Sabrina was doing right now that was keeping her from being around to sign the binder. Audrey would not deny that her best friend worked too many hours and put too much stress on herself. The pressure was immense, everyone had a breaking point. What was infuriating, was the idea that she decided to take time off when there were big projects that needed attention, leaving no way for anyone to reach her, and doing it all for a man. If Audrey was really honest with herself, it wasn’t that it was a man, it was because of who that man was. It was Chris, he was her man, he didn’t belong to Sabrina.
She knew this was her fault, she introduced the two of them. Hell, she even pushed the two of them to go out together. What was she thinking? She honestly didn’t think her feelings for Chris were this intense. She loved talking to him on the phone, having drinks with him, hanging out, and goofing off. Spending time with him, she knew she had feelings, the butterflies that fluttered when he walked into the room. It made no difference if he was dressed up or casual, longer hair or buzzed cut, he was perfection every time.
This jealousy, the rage of seeing the two of them together, didn’t start to bubble until she saw the glee and joy on Sabrina’s face when she put on the dress to go to the wedding. The anticipation she had of spending the evening with him, getting dressed up and wanting to impress him. Knowing she played a part in that put a knot in her stomach, and knowing she even packed a bad because she knew Sabrina would spend the night with him. The wine she was drinking was starting to taste sour.
The all out jealousy took over when Chris admitted to her that he was falling for Sabrina. That the sex meant something, they had a connection, he was sure Sabrina felt the same way. She hadn’t intended to start the fight with Chris, to say that Sabrina wasn’t capable of having a connection or a relationship. It was true, she hadn’t had a real relationship in years, but was she saying it because it was true or because she was trying to sabotage the relationship? Of course, it wasn’t like Sabrina stole him from her, Chris didn’t have those feelings for her, that was made clear back in Vegas. It didn’t matter, she had the feelings, that is what mattered.
So did her feelings play a part in what was going on with the binder and her decision? More than likely. Although, everything that was said back in the conference room was spot on. Sabrina would be angry if the binder were not sent in and she would be angry if it were sent with a forged signature. But, she would end up being angrier if it was not sent and she lost out on an opportunity to bid on the job than she would be if the binder went out with a forged signature.
Audrey continued the argument back and forth in her head, trying to keep her emotions out of it. Making sure her decisions for and against were based solely on the merits of the argument and had nothing to do with Chris. However, it wasn’t that easy. He was at the center of this entire debacle. If Sabrina were not off fucking him, she would have her head in the game, would be in the office and this wouldn’t be a concern. She would be around to sign the binder, the RFI would be sent off, and she would be able to bid on this project. Instead, she is off, shacked up with him, her mind on anything but this project and expecting that everyone will have her back and get it done.
That was her answer, Audrey had Sabrina’s back every day for years; so much so that she was taken for granted. There were times when she had wanted to confront Sabrina about it but had let it go. Electing to maintain the status quo versus setting off a tsunami that could rip them apart. Maybe it was time for the tide to turn, Audrey wasn’t going to play lap dog any longer. If Sabrina wanted to this project so bad, she should have made sure that she was available to review it and sign it. Decision made, the binder would not go. If she lost her job over it, so be it.
Audrey took a drink of wine, it still tasted sour, she was sure it was from the bitterness that was on her lips and tongue over this entire situation. She heaved the wine glass at the large picture window, sending shards of glass and red droplets of wine splattering everywhere in the white living space. She stared at the wine running down the window, mimicking the rain drops. She wished they could mimic tears, but she couldn’t cry, her emotions were raw, but tears were not something that she could ever shed.
Instead, she pulled herself out of her chair, flipped the kitchen light out and went to bed.