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Authors: Donna Simmons

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BOOK: Mourning Dove
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CHAPTER 2

 

 

From his motel room
window, Matthew Farrell watched the woman swimming in the pool.  She appeared
to be alone.  He slipped a key card into her motel room door, entered and
quietly closed the door behind him.  The room was neat, beds untouched, two
closed suitcases tucked under the clothes rack, a brown leather purse on the desk,
and laptop beside it. He slipped a listening bug under the lip edge of the
nightstand between a pair of double beds. Glancing out the window, he could see
she was still doing laps.

He opened the purse on
the desk and pulled out a wallet containing a driver’s license, social security
card, health card, VISA card and American Express. In the picture section was a
snapshot of a man and this woman, a family shot including a young boy, and one
of a young man in cap and gown. The last photo was of two young women laughing
into the camera. In a fold, a hundred-eighty bucks in twenties and a receipt
from the motel were neatly folded. He checked the window again, made a slice in
the bottom of the lining of the purse, and slid a tracker between the lining
and the leather.

He checked the bathroom;
a cosmetic bag sat on the counter. When he opened it, its contents included a
small bottle of ibuprofen, makeup, deodorant, toothbrush, paste, and a hair
pick. She traveled light, he thought. On a hook behind the door was a pair of
jeans and a sweatshirt. He checked pockets and came up with a handful of soggy
tissues and a set of keys – a Chrysler key with a remote and three possible
house keys. He re-stuffed the pockets, moved the bathroom door back into place,
set the suitcases on one of the beds, and swiftly worked his way through both
of them. An envelope tucked inside one of them held a grand in fifties and a
bank check.

He’d been in here too
long. Repositioning the luggage under the rack and purse on the corner of the desk,
just as they were, he unlocked the door joining the two rooms and locked the
door from the other side.

A few minutes later, he
walked outside from the room next-door wearing black bathing trunks, aviator
sunglasses and a black baseball cap on his head.  Stretching out on a plastic
chaise lounge, he picked up a copy of Time Magazine someone had left behind. In
the fading light he watched the woman as she slowed her pace.

When she finally stood up
in the shallow end, she ran shaky fingers through wet curls.  The lift of her
arms showed off her full breasts.  He admired her generous curves accented by
the black one-piece suit.  It had been a long time since he’d been with a
woman.  She climbed the steps out of the pool and came closer to where he sat.
He noticed a splatter of freckles across the bridge of her nose and green eyes
that looked bloodshot.

 

***

 

Reaching down for her
towel, Sara noticed a man with mirrored sunglasses sitting on a chaise by the
pool. She couldn’t determine his mood, but she could feel him watching her. 
The glasses hid his eyes and a baseball cap most of his head.  He had a black
beard and a mat of hair across his chest.  He was tan, lean and muscular, like
a panther resting before the hunt. In another time, she might have been interested. 
When she passed him he nodded to her with a slow grin on his lips. Two fingers
on the bill of his cap acknowledged her leaving.  She reached the room and
secured all the locks, just in case.

After a hot shower, Sara
sat on the bed wearing an oversized T-shirt, jeans and a towel wrapped around
her wet hair. Picking up her cell phone, she called the only friend who would
understand her position. “Cass, how are you?”

“Sara, I'm knee deep in
the chaos of a new school year. You know how it is with art teachers. I carry
my studio on my back from school to school and always leave something behind. 
More importantly, how are you? I’ve been thinking about you a lot.”

“I’m calling from a motel
in Portsmouth. I could use a friend. Oh God…wait a minute.” The receiver
dropped to Sara’s lap when she reached for a tissue.

“Sara, what’s wrong,
honey? Why are you at a motel? Where’s Ron?”

“Oh Cass, I left him.”

“When did this happen?”

“I’ve been coming
unhinged on the inside for months. I’m having horrible nightmares. Ron is all
wrapped up in his work, his committees, and his clubs; He’s just not there for
me. Everywhere I turn someone or something reminds me of Carl. What’s left of
my heart just keeps crumbling away.”

“Did you leave the
office, too?”

“This afternoon actually.
I went to the beach where Carl...I...said goodbye to him. I know that must
sound silly.” Sara swung her legs onto the bed and leaned her head back on a
stack of pillows.

“No it doesn’t. You know
spiritually he’s probably still with you. You always scoffed at the idea of
life after death, but there are a lot of recorded incidences to back up the
theory. Look why don’t you come up here?  My couch pulls out to a bed. Just
until you get your bearings. We can relax over a bottle of wine and a decadent
dessert, and try to make sense of your situation.”

“I’ll come for dinner on
Friday but I need to be on my own; I need to be
in
control
of my
life. I know that sounds crazy for a woman my age but I don’t feel in control
of anything right now. I’ve been making a list of priorities, a plan of
action.”

“That sounds like the
Sara I knew in college. What have you got on your list so far?”

“I need a place to live;
but I need to find a job first. I don’t want to look here in New Hampshire;
it’s too close to Ron.”

“What about Portland? You’re a good accountant, Sara, you always have been. Or do you want to try
something other than finance?”

“I better stick with what
I know for the time being. But, I like the idea of looking in Portland, at
least for now. I’ll check online.”

“A friend of mine got a
good management position from a place in Portland called
Executive Find
.
They might be a better first step for your level. Then if it doesn’t work out,
try an internet site.”

“I’ll look them up
tomorrow.”

“What about funds? Hotels
are expensive over the long haul.”

“I have enough for a
little while. Oh Cass, do you know what Ron did today?”

“Tell me.”

“I told him I was
withdrawing half the balance in our joint savings account for living expenses
until I start drawing a paycheck. I went to the bank to make the withdrawal.
When I got there, the teller told me my husband had just closed the account.”

“That’s what Charlie did
to me when he left me with two kids to raise. But, Ron doesn’t sound like the
type to do that. Just goes to show, men are all alike.”

“Of course I thought the
same thing you did when the teller told me he had closed the account. That’s
when the branch manager came over and asked to speak to me in his office. He
told me Ron had called and said I had underestimated the cost of the project
and after second thought decided I should take the whole amount. Ron is being
so nice about this and I feel like such a shit. He’s hurting, too.”

“I know Sara. I can’t
imagine how it must feel to lose a child. I think I’d die if anything happened
to one of my boys. Maybe this separation will be good for you both. Don’t do
anything drastic yet. Just give yourself time.  On Friday, I’ll do something
Italian and we’ll finish it off with cheesecake and wine like we did at UNH. You
can tell me about your contact with Executive Find and I can show you the place
next door.”

“The place next door?”

“Yep, the house next to
me is on the market. It’s a pretty little thing, two bedrooms with attached
garage. The man who owns it just wants to sell it and move to Florida to be
close to his kids. His wife died last fall.”

“Two bedrooms?”

“Sara, I’m only twenty five
minutes from Portland. If you find a position there, and you like the house, we
can be neighbors.”

“Twenty five minutes from
Portland, huh.”

“Just think about it.
I’ll see you at six on Friday. Okay?”

“Okay, but I’m bringing
the cheesecake
and
the wine, and, Cass?”

“Yep?”

“Thanks, friend.”

Sara closed her cell
phone and looked up at the door on the far wall. An adjoining room she supposed.
Wondering if the door was locked on her side, she walked over and checked. It
wasn’t.
This is not a time to get paranoid
, she thought. She opened the
adjoining room door to find a locked door on the other side. Closing it, she
turned the lock.

CHAPTER 3

 

 

The next day Sara
relocated to a hotel in South Portland that had an indoor pool. After she
lugged her bags up to her room on the fourth floor, she took a slow breath and
kicked off her black pumps. She anticipated a hot shower and a cup of tea, but
her mood was interrupted with the chimes from her phone.

She looked at caller ID;
it was Ron.

“How are you doing?” he
asked.

“I’m all right.” Sara
waited for him to continue, and then sighed at his silence. “Ron what’s up? 
Have you misplaced something again?”

“Just my wife, are you
still determined to leave me?”

“I have left you. I told
you yesterday, I wasn’t coming back.” She pulled out the padded chair that
faced the small desk in the corner of the hotel room, sat down, swiveled around,
and propped her feet up on the bed.

“Did Account Temps send
someone over?”

“They faxed over a couple
résumés. I’m no good at this human resource stuff. I just told them to send
over their best candidate. Some guy named Randy is coming tomorrow for an
interview. Damn, I wish you were here.”

“You’ll do fine, Ron. You
don’t really need me.”

“You’re wrong about that,
Sara.”

“We’ve been over this
before. I need to try this on my own.” She could feel the sting of tears again.
“It isn’t that I don’t want to talk to you; but it hurts too much right now.”

“If I love someone and
let her go, I will know she loves me, too, when she comes back. That’s what I’m
doing, but I don’t have to like it. I don’t want to break all contact with you…”
She could hear him clear his throat. “You’re still my best friend. I want to be
able to call you.”

“Ron, this isn’t easy for
me either. How did the Snowe job go?”

“Allen completed it. He
came back to the office with pizza and that sugary stuff he drinks to
celebrate. He wanted to know where you were.”

“What did you say?”

“I told him you left us.”

“Oh.” Her throat
constricted, she reached into her purse for a tissue. “I’m sorry.”

“Where are you now?  I
mean where are you staying?” His voice was whisper soft now.

“I’m at the Sheraton in South Portland.”

“Are you still okay with
money?”

“Yes. Thanks for what you
did at the bank.”

“If you need more, just
let me know.”

“My needs are simple. If
I get this job I’m interviewing for, I should be set.”

“Someone called to verify
references for you.”

“What did you say?”

“What could I say? I told
her the truth – you’re the best thing that ever happened to Stafford Sound
Systems.”

“You could have ruined it
for me.”

“I thought about that. It
would have driven you farther away; that’s not what I want. I still love you,
Sara. I always will.”

“Leaving you is the
second hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Don’t you understand? I need to do
this to survive!” Tears welled up in her eyes. She pulled the last tissue from
her purse and heard the click on the phone. He hung up on her.

 

***

 

 

Sara sucked in her
stomach as the elevator door opened on the sixth floor of the Starr Shine
Communications building. A slender young woman with black curly hair, dressed
in a dark blue power suit, walked toward her with a hesitant smile.

“I’m Louise Stevens.” She
extended her hand.

“Sara Stafford, I’m here
to meet with Mr. Pierce.”

“He asked me to escort
you to the board room.”

A door slammed shut down
a long hallway echoing like a gunshot. Startled by the sound, Sara and the
young woman both punctuated the moment with a pair of nervous grins. Without
explanation the woman led her to the opposite end of the hall, opening a pair
of paneled mahogany doors.

“Would you like coffee,
tea, or water?”

“Water will be fine,
thank you.” Sara watched the woman reach for a leather covered ice bucket, “No
ice, please. Are you Mr. Pierce’s secretary?”

“We do our own letters
and such. I’m one of two staff accountants. Mr. Pierce is the Chief Financial
Officer.”

“I’m sorry if I offended
you.”

“No offense taken. I
would have thought the same thing in your shoes. I was a nervous wreck when I
first interviewed here.”

Sara accepted the glass
and was directed to a chair at a conference table that could easily seat twenty
people. The conference room was impressive in its elegance with the polished
shine of mahogany, burgundy leather conference chairs, and gray watered-silk
wallpaper. The charcoal gray carpet silenced their footsteps; matching vertical
blinds covered a bank of windows shielding the room from outside distractions.
Sara wondered about the underlying tension in the young woman fidgeting at the
sideboard.

When the door opened
again, a tall cowboy type wearing a gray western suit strolled into the room.
His gray hair curled over his shirt collar; his face accented with a handlebar
mustache covering his upper lip. He greeted Sara with a smile that didn’t quite
reach the brown of his eyes; then he walked around to the end seat of the
table, laid a black leather notebook on top, and reached across to shake Sara’s
hand.

“Ms. Stafford, I’m
Jonathon Pierce. I hope Louise made you comfortable durin’ this unavoidable
delay.” His slow Texan drawl left Sara with the feeling he had all the time in
the world. His eyes never left her face as he continued speaking to his subordinate,
“Ross will be leavin’ the building within the next half hour,” he told Louise.

A strange comment to
make, Sara thought as the woman turned to Sara with her first warm smile and
extended her hand, “I’ll see you again.”

Sara turned back to the
man who held her future in his hands. He leaned back in his chair, crossed his
right ankle to his left knee, and dropped a bone-handle pen on the top of his
notebook. He continued to stare into her eyes as he brushed the first two
fingers of his right hand across his mustache. The room filled with silence and
she began to feel uneasy. There was now a twinkle in his eye as he continued to
stare. Was he trying to test her by playing mind games? Was she supposed to
respond to an unspoken question?

The silence continued a
few seconds more before he shifted his stare to look at the ceiling and break
into a rich baritone chuckle. “Sara Stafford, I like you,” he drawled. “You
don’t back down and you know when to hold your tongue.”

Mimicking his body
language, she crossed her legs at the knee, leaned back in her chair, and
smiled at this unorthodox interview. “If I read your challenge correctly, Mr.
Pierce, we are conducting this meeting in body language alone.”

“Touché,” he responded
and finally began the verbal segment of the interview.

“As Marilyn Margeson
should have told you, we need to fill two financial positions within the
company: corporate comptroller here in Portland and staff accountant in Chicago. I have three final candidates for the two spots available. I’m impressed with your
credentials. Why are you looking for employment? Why Starr Shine? What do you
think you can do better than anyone else?”

Sara thought this was
where she would lose the job. Interviews were sales pitches. You had to sell
yourself. She hated doing that. Why couldn’t she come in, show them her
credentials, and say take it or leave it. Maybe that’s what he wanted.

“I’m the best financial
analyst around,” she began. “I’m accurate and I can spot a pile of bull a mile
away. I know when to keep my mouth shut, and when not to. The reason I’m
looking is personal.  I’m interested in this location, and Starr Shine offers
the best position available.
And
, the staff accountant position is
beneath my expertise. From the description I received at Executive Find the
comptroller slot here in Portland is challenging, fast paced, and complex. It’s
also something I have years of experience doing. I want the comptroller spot.”
She laid her gold pen on the table, leaned back in her chair, and stared into
his
eyes with her challenge.

“Sara Stafford, you are a
pistol,” he roared through his laughter. “You’re waitin’ for me to call
security to remove you from the premises, aren’t you? Don’t deny it; I can see
it in your eyes. We’ll have to work on your poker face.”

He reached below the
table and pulled out a hidden phone. Punching in two digits, he winked and
waited for the phone to be picked up on the other end. “Louise, join us in the
conference room, please.”  He listened for a moment in silence then responded,
“Good, that’s fine.” He replaced the receiver and continued to speak.

“While we wait for
Louise, you need to know there will be a final interview included before I can
officially welcome you to the company. Management positions at this level also
need the blessing of Robert Starr, owner and president. We generally see eye to
eye with most decisions, but we should follow protocol. We also require a
pre-employment physical, drug screen, and criminal background check. Do you
have any questions I can answer at this time?”

“Several, but you need
not answer any of them.”

“Fire away, Sara.”

“Is Ross, the employee
I’m replacing?”

Jonathon Pierce paused
with his eyes narrowed and head tilted in contemplation. “He’s making a lateral
move to our San Francisco office. It’s his position we’re filling.”

“Doesn’t sound like a
lateral move to me. When did you tell him of the change? This morning?”

“Semantics,” he shrugged
his shoulders in response. “I told him last night.”

“What did he do to piss
you off?”

He covered his mustache
with the index finger of his right hand before answering. “You come right to
the heart of the matter, don’t you? What makes you think he pissed me off?”

“In a sophisticated
office like this one I would think the slamming of a door would be tantamount
to termination or transfer to the great beyond. My guess is that he slammed the
door and was given thirty minutes to remove himself from the premises.”

He smiled again then
shook his head. “It was suggested that a coolin’ off period commence
immediately. It isn’t something that should concern you.”

“If I’m offered his
position, my concern is the possibility of sabotage from the disgruntled
outgoing employee. Are safeguards already in place?”

“They were in place
yesterday which was the cause for the door slamming incident. Any other
questions?” he asked.

“Are you having second
thoughts about my employment?”

“I’ll let you know
upfront if I ever do. I like the way you charge right into the bullpen. You
don’t dance around the cow pies either. Shall we meet Louise at the door?” He
stood and extended a very long arm to direct her out.

Sara was amazed she was
still in the running for the job.  She didn’t trust him, but she liked him. She
watched him walk down a long carpeted hallway.

“Are you ready for a tour
of the facility, Ms. Stafford?” Louise asked.

“Sara, please.  I think
we can dispense with formal structure, don’t you?” They passed through smoke
gray glass doors with the logo for Starr Shine Communications, a shooting star
orbiting a blue globe with rays of light casting a golden net. Beneath the
logo, tight script announced the offices of Accounting and Finance.

“How long have you worked
here, Louise?” Sara asked to ease the silence building between them.

“I’ve been here three
years, the last two as a staff accountant.  Have you been working in finance
long?”

“On and off over the last
twenty five years.”

They walked between two
work stations and Sara asked, “Who works here?”

“My desk on the right,
Steve’s, he’s the other staff accountant, is on the left.”

“And this door leads to?”
Sara pointed to the mahogany door just before the desk on the left.

“The office of corporate
comptroller.”

“Is he in there?”

“He should be gone by
now. Do you want to take a peek?”

With a light tap on the
door just in case, and silent response, Louise and Sara walked into a stark box
of a room with gray carpets. The furniture included a mahogany desk, credenza,
and a burgundy leather executive chair, centered behind the desk. A flat-screen
monitor and keyboard decorated the desktop. Two straight back chairs with gray
cloth seats stood at attention in front of it. Pale gray vertical blinds
covered a four-foot high window that filled the back wall. The light filtering
between the blind slats reminded Sara of the bars to a jail cell.

“Nice space, a bit
austere, needs decorating badly. It gives me the impression that the outgoing
comptroller was very confrontational.”

“You could say that. He
was a tiny tyrant to work for.”

“Work for? Is part of the
comptroller’s job here to supervise the staff accountants?”

“In the finance division,
the bookkeeping people answer to the staff accountants, the staff accountants
and divisional comptrollers answer to the corporate comptroller, the corporate
comptroller answers to Jonathon Pierce, he answers to Robert Starr,
and
Robert Starr answers to God.”

“Where are the
bookkeepers?”

“They’re at the other end
of this corridor. That’s where payroll, accounts payable and accounts
receivable for corporate headquarters are housed. Are you ready to tour the
rest of the building?”

Sara nodded. “Before we
leave this area, tell me where the office of the CFO is.”

“See that door between
Steve’s desk and mine?  When he leaves the door open he can hear everything
going on out here. With both doors open there is no escaping.”

“I would think with the
right mix of people, it could be a very open, efficient set up.”

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