“You look like you really need this coffee, Nat!”
Rosie, the barista at the coffee shop near the office where I worked handed me a steaming cappuccino. She had started to make it when she saw me enter.
She was right. I had worked late. Again.
I took a sip of my coffee after I’d paid and started walking back to the lift and my office. That was the extent of my break for now. I was chief architect for a new shopping mall, and the pressure to progress construction was considerable.
It had been four months since my plans had been signed off, and the pace had been crazy since. Samuel Olsen, the owner of the project, was a hard man at the best of times, but he had the bit between his teeth and was determined to be finished.
There was a lot of money riding on this project and its completion, and most of it was Olsen’s. It was little wonder that he was pushing everyone; until the mall was finished and tenanted, he saw no return on his substantial financial outlay.
The lift doors opened, I stepped out and walked toward my office. Pete Larson, my boss, looked up from the computer on his desk as I walked past. He looked stressed. His tie hung loosely from his unbuttoned collar and his sleeves were rolled up.
I sat down in my office and placed my coffee cup on my desk. A moment later, Pete knocked on my open office door and stepped inside.
“Sorry to barge in on your break, Nat.” He wore an apologetic expression as he leaned against the corner of the desk.
He gestured at the coffee on my desk. “I shudder to think how many of those you’ve had today already.”
I smiled at him. “You know that coffee is the most important meal of the day!” Turning serious again, I asked, “What can I do for you, Pete?”
“It’s the damned footings again, Nat.” He sighed. “There’s still water seeping through the concrete in the lower carpark.”
“Still?” I asked, surprised. “The geo survey cleared it of that clay deposit. Maybe surface water leaking inside the membrane?”
Just before submitting the plans, I had double checked the geological surveys, as I had concerns about the location of the nearby clay deposits. The survey charts had shown that the clay deposit was a good fifty meters away from the construction area.
Pete shook his head. “Jack doesn’t think so.” Jack Myers was the chief engineer for the construction phase. “He’s not prepared to write it in blood, though.”
“I might go out to the site tomorrow and take a look. Best to know now if there’s an issue.”
“It’s probably not a bad idea,” Pete agreed. “I still think it’s surface water, but it won’t hurt to check.”
My phone buzzed in my handbag. Pete said, “You take your call. Say hi to Dave for me.” He winked and left my office before I could respond.
I fished inside my handbag to retrieve my phone. Pete was right, cheeky bugger. It was Dave.
“Hey, you!” I smiled as I answered. Years earlier, Dave and I had a thing but it didn’t work out. A couple of months ago, we decided to give it another try.
“Hey lovely lady, are you coming home at a decent hour tonight? I’ve been missing you!”
Dave was an ex-cop turned private investigator. He often worked odd hours so he was obviously hoping for a rare night at home together. I was too, for that matter.
“I hope so, babe,” I replied. “There’s still an issue with the drainage in the basement. I’m going to have to go out there tomorrow and take a look at it. Pete’s worried about it.”
“Pete’s not happy unless he’s worried about something,” Dave answered.
“Ha! Probably true,” I laughed. “he’s got every right to be concerned, though. His butt is on the line as much as mine and everyone else’s if there are delays or issues. If Old Man Olsen was watching this any more closely, he’d be sitting on my desk.”
“Speaking of butts, get yours home as early as you can, ok? I’m missing it. And the rest of you. I’ll even make dinner tonight!”
“Dave, we both know you could burn water, but thanks. I’ll try. Better get back to it, babe. Let you know when I leave.”
“All right,” he replied. “I’ll see you when you get home. Take care, lovely.”
The call ended, and I thought about how lucky I was to have found David Forrester. He was strong and dependable, and also one of the most thoughtful, gentlest men I knew.
I was very glad to have him back in my life. It clearly hadn’t been the right time when we’d last been together, but things seemed promising this time.
I checked my watch. 2pm. My boss, Geoff Anderson, and I had a progress meeting with Olsen at 3pm.
It promised not to be fun. Not that Samuel Olsen was nasty, he was just a very astute businessman who paid attention to his investments, and especially those in whom he invested trust. The firm I worked for, Anderson’s and Anderson’s was one of them.
Anderson’s and Anderson’s was originally started by Geoff Anderson’s father, James. When Geoff graduated as an architect some years later, he too was brought into the company. James was all but retired now, and Geoff was considered the senior partner.
Three o’clock rolled around quickly, and I barely had time to finish preparing the reports I needed to present for the meeting. As I copied them to the network drive, the lift doors opened and Samuel Olsen stepped out with a purposeful stride.
His imposing figure crossed the foyer towards the meeting room. He was dressed impeccably in a grey suit, crisp white shirt, and red tie. His aide, a young woman in a dark power suit with her blond hair in a severe bun, had to double step to keep up.
I met them both at the doorway to the meeting room. Ignoring Olsen completely for a moment, I said to his aide, “Is he making you run again, Sally?”
She grinned. “Always, Nat!” Sally was a quiet, intelligent woman with whom I had worked closely. I envied her flawless makeup; I’d barely had time to touch up my lipstick before the meeting. I sighed internally. I wasn’t there to look good, I had a job to do.
“Ms. Shaw. Good to see you again.” Samuel Olsen grasped my hand in a firm handshake.
Olsen was a man who believed in himself. To be fair, he had earned the right. He was self-made, coming from humble beginnings to be one of the most influential and respected business identities in the city. He also wasn’t known to suffer fools gladly.
He gave a dazzling smile. His silver hair was carefully trimmed and there was no trace of a five o’clock shadow, even at this time of the afternoon. There was talk that he was considering a tilt at politics, and he certainly looked and acted the part.
I returned the firm grip and smiled, “Hello, Samuel.” I gestured towards the door. “Shall we begin?” He nodded fractionally and we entered the room.
To my surprise, James Anderson was already sitting at the table. He stood and grasped Olsen’s hand.
I couldn’t remember the last time that James had been present in a meeting. He and Olsen had known each other for many years, but the job of managing his contracts had long since passed to James’s son, Geoff.
“Samuel,” James said as they shook hands.
Samuel Olsen clearly wasn’t expecting to see James either. “James. What a lovely surprise. You’re looking well.”
That was a lie. James Anderson had been ill for some years, and his skin was pale. His blue tailored suit clung loosely to his thin frame.
“No I don’t, Sam, and you know it.” Both men sat down. “But there’s still a bit of life left in me yet. I just want to see one more project through before I retire. Or drop dead, whichever comes first. Either way, Geoff will then take over the firm.”
It was distressing to see James look so unwell and to hear him speak this way. He was a good man and was always friendly and approachable. He’d been on my interviewing panel when I had first started with the firm seven years earlier. I liked him.
Olsen smoothly stepped into the awkward silence. “Let’s not dwell on such morbid thoughts any further, James,” he said with a disarming smile. “Shall we begin? I am certain that Ms. Shaw has much to show me with regards to the project’s progress.”
It was just after 5:30pm when the meeting came to an end. Olsen was mostly satisfied with the progress we had made, but he made a point of picking on a few issues, just to keep us on our back foot. It was a tactic he frequently used to his advantage.
I walked back to my office, exhausted. The meeting had added even more to the mountain of work that I had to do. I unlocked my computer and scanned the list of emails waiting for me.
“Screw it!” I said to myself. “That’s going to wait until tomorrow.”
“My Lordy, are you actually leaving there at a half decent hour?” Dave asked in mock surprise. “Will the world end if Natalie Shaw spends some time with her boyfriend and not working?”
“Oh my God, I’m not sure!” I laughed. “Let’s find out, shall we?”
“You’re not bringing that bloody laptop with you, are you?”
“‘Fraid so, babe. I need to take it with me tomorrow, and I have a few emails…”
“Stop right there!” Dave commanded. “If you even try that tonight, I will hack in and change your password.”
As a private investigator and ex-cop, Dave had some rather interesting skills. I wouldn’t have put it past him to be able to carry out his threat.
“If you touch my laptop, you are so busted,” I laughed. “I’ll try to leave it alone though, okay?”
“Best I’m going to get, I suppose,” he replied. “All right, see you when you get here, lovely. Be careful driving home.” He hung up.
I unplugged my laptop and stuffed it into its case before grabbing my handbag and walking out to the lifts and my car.