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Authors: Donna Simmons

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BOOK: Mourning Dove
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CHAPTER 2
6

 

 

Tuesday morning at the
conference, Lorna introduced Jonathon as if he was the second coming. The
applause died down and he cleared his throat to begin. Tucked into the curtains
at the back, Pam and Sara sat at a small table close enough to provide
logistical support. “What are you scribbling, Pam?”

“I’m doodling. If he
gives the same speech this year as he did last, he’s going to lose the entire
gathering in five minutes. I’m amazed he can stand up there with a smile on his
hung-over face.”

“You don’t like him much,
do you?”

“He made a pass at me
last year on the second night. He was in the same condition as yesterday. Damn
near got to the point of rape before I managed to bruise his family jewels.
Next morning he acted like nothing had happened.”

“Some day I’ll tell you
about the disaster after a cocktail party at his place. But, I had no idea he
had a drinking problem until last night.”

“He asked me a few months
ago to join the staff in Portland. No way was I going to work that close to the
bastard. I usually make myself scarce when he flies out; he probably thinks I
live at the dentist office. You have my complete sympathy, Sara.”

“He hasn’t been all that
bad to work with. The first couple of weeks of employment he was in my face in
what he called mentoring. Then things got crazy and...for the most part, he’s
been off chasing problems in California and Washington.”

“You probably end up
doing his job and he takes credit for it.”

“Robert Starr knows the
work I do. That’s the important thing.”

“I thought the big boss
was going to lead the conference,” Pam said.

“He had to explain to the
senate oversight committee why we’re behind schedule on production of the new
chip. He’ll be here on Wednesday. Jonathon Pierce is next on their
interrogation list and will be out of here tonight.”

“In that case, I just
might applaud his speech.”

“You better, I wrote the
damn thing. He’s just added a few Texas ranch jokes.”

“No wonder everyone’s
paying attention this morning. How long have you known Matthew Farrell?”

“We’ve been tossed into
the same projects the last couple months. He grows on you.”

“I wouldn’t mind if he
grew a little on me. But a blind man can see, even without Pierce’s crude
innuendos, the government man is tethered to you.”

“You think so?” Sara
looked past approximately two hundred and fifty people to the front entrance of
the conference room. Matthew was standing in the back, scanning the room. He
nodded when he saw Sara, and slipped into a seat at a back table.

Sara looked down at her
copy of the conference program and noticed for the first time, the spelling on
the name of the second conference sponsor, PaxTel Wireless. Circling the name
in pencil with a question mark, she tucked the paper into her folder. “I’ll be
right back, Pam.”

 

***

 

Matthew Farrell watched
from across the room as Sara stood, picked up a black folder, and disappeared
behind a curtain. Laughter broke out after another calf joke. He had to admit
Jonathon was nothing if he wasn’t consistent.

He scanned the room for
problems and looked back to the table at the end of the stage. She wasn’t back
yet. Pam Lawson seemed to have a tic in her neck. Is that a...?
Bloody hell!
He excused himself from his table partners and slipped out the front.

She wasn’t in the
hallway, maybe the restroom? At the end of the hall he knocked on the ladies
room door, no answer. He stuck his head inside; the room appeared to be empty.
Down on his haunches he scanned the stalls for feet, a pair of black geriatric
oxfords in the third stall, no one else. Back in the hall he worked his way
around to the back exit of the conference room and slid into the room behind
the curtain.

“Pam,” he whispered. No
answer. “Pam,” he called out just a little louder. Still no answer. He pulled
the curtain back just as another round of laughter erupted. Their table was
empty.

Back out in the hall he
headed for the railing and looked down from the mezzanine to the lobby below. A
woman in black with dark auburn hair was heading toward the Michigan Avenue
entrance. He raced down the stairs and threaded his way around several hotel
guests and a woman in a hotel blazer. On the lobby floor, he turned right
toward the exit doors and stopped when a sharp point was pushed into the middle
of his back. On reflex he spun to deflect the knife and disarm his opponent.

An elderly man in a
gabardine jacket was sprawled on the tile floor. His thick-rimmed glasses and
pointed umbrella lay several feet beyond him. “Sir, are you all right?” Matthew
knelt down to assist him. “Can you move all your limbs? Do you have pain
anywhere?”

“I’m all right, young
man. Did you get the number of that bus?” The elderly man with the English
accent looked up at him, confused.

“I’m afraid that bus was
me and my clumsiness. I was rushing to catch up with a beautiful woman and
plowed into you.”

A crowd was gathering and
the woman in the hotel blazer talked into a walkie-talkie as she trotted toward
Matthew and the elderly gent. “Give us some space, please. The situation is
under control,” she said with authority. “What happened here?”

“I’m afraid I backed into
this poor gentleman and knocked him flat. It was an accident.” Matthew looked
through the glass entrance doors as the auburn haired woman in black climbed
into the back of a city cab. She wasn’t Sara.

“Do you need a doctor,
sir?” The hotel employee asked the man trying to rise from the floor.

“I don’t think so. Just a
helping hand to right myself will do.”

Matthew reached down to
give him a hand and the hotel security officer said, “I wouldn’t move just yet,
sir. The ambulance is on the way, we have to fill out an incident report.”

“Oh bother, there’s nothing
wrong with me, young lady, and this floor is quite drafty. You should cancel
that ambulance as I do not need its services nor will I pay for the expense.”

He grabbed Matthew’s hand
and tugged to get his assistance getting up. “Are you sure, sir?” Matthew
asked. With a nod from the victim Matthew pulled him to a sitting position and
stooped to look into his eyes. “This was a bit of surprise this morning, wasn’t
it?” he added holding the older man’s fragile hand.

“It certainly was, young
man. It’s nice to run into a fellow countryman. I wouldn’t mind if we hadn’t
been so literal on our impact.  The lady you were chasing must be very special
to you.”

“Yes sir, she is.”

“Do you think we can find
my glasses?” He patted his face in search. “They appear to have fallen off.”

“Are these your glasses,
sir?” The hotel security handed them back to him.

“Yes madam. Thank you for
retrieving them. I should be getting up now. I’ve caused enough commotion.”
Matthew pulled him to a standing position with an anchoring arm beneath the old
gent’s elbow.

“Matthew?”

He turned toward the
lobby and there she stood.

“Hello, Sara.” A smile
beamed across his face. “I’ve been looking for you.”

“Is this the lovely lady
you were chasing, young man?” the elderly gentleman asked as he peered through
his thick glass lenses.

“Yes, sir, she is. Sara,
I ran this gentleman down when I was trying to catch up with you.” He turned
back to the man in the gabardine jacket. “Are you sure you’re all right, sir?”

“Name’s Alfred Carmody,
young man.”

“I’m Matthew Farrell.” He
pulled a card out of his suit jacket pocket and handed it to his unintended
victim. “This is my card if I can be of further assistance.” Then Matthew
reached down for the umbrella and handed it over with the gallantry of a knight
surrendering his sword to the enemy.

“I wondered where that
had gotten off to.”

With a smile, Matthew
added, “Be careful of the pointed end. I believe it might be perceived as a
weapon.”

“Oh my, I bet it would.”

Matthew ushered Sara back
into the lobby as the hotel security officer lead Mr. Carmody into an office
adjacent to the front desk.

“What’s going on
Matthew?”

“That’s what I was going
to ask you. Where did you go when you left the conference room?”

“I was looking for you,
but I turned the wrong way and ended up in the hotel staff area. I wanted to
ask you about something.” She pulled a green piece of paper from the black
folder under her arm. “What do you know about the other sponsor organizations,
specifically this one?” she pointed to the name she circled with the penciled
question mark. “Do you think it might have a link to the code we’re working on?
Or am I chasing shadows?”

“I’ll look into it, but I
don’t think it’s connected.”

“Ordinarily, I wouldn’t
either, but lately I don’t believe in coincidence. Do you know who I found in
the staff corridor when I went to look for you?”

He shook his head.

“Remember the fitness
club attendant yesterday when we were in the pool? He came through in the
afternoon with a load of towels for the men’s locker room just before you
arrived, then again late last night. Only last night, he didn’t have any
towels. He was in the utility hall this morning when I went to look for you.
Don’t you think that’s a little odd?”

“Odd about what?  He
works here.”

“On all three shifts?  In
the same twenty-four hour period? Something’s not kosher here, Matthew.”

“You’re sure he’s the
same guy?”

“Yes, can you have him
checked out?”

“I don’t have a name,
Sara. What am I going to say to the hotel manager?”

“That’s another thing. He
wasn’t wearing a name badge.”

“You stay by me for the
rest of the day. If you see him again, point him out. We better get back before
Jonathon winds down.”

They climbed the spiral
stairs to the mezzanine level just as the doors to the first conference room
opened. People spilled out onto the railed hallway. “I would suppose Jonathon
has wound down; either that or someone yelled fire. The herd is heading this
way.”

“Oh please, Matthew, no
more references to cows. I get enough of that with Jonathon.”

“There you two are, I’ve
been looking for you.”

“Hi Pam, did we miss
much?” Sara asked.

“It was a great speech,
Sara.”

“Thanks.”

“He changed the cow jokes
around. It got him bigger laughs than last year.”

 “Why is she thanking you
for the speech?”

“I wrote it except for the
ranch humor.”

“Pam,” he asked, “I got
to your table shortly after you signaled me. Where did you go?”

“Someone forgot to fill
the water pitcher by the podium. FYI he’s looking for you, Sara.”

“I better go connect.
Save us a couple places in the ballroom for lunch.”

Back in the conference
room they could see a swarm of people around Jonathon and scanned the room for
hotel employees. She shook her head at Matthew’s questioning look. The crowd
thinned out and they made their way toward the podium. Jonathon looked up with
a smile plastered on his face.

“The speech went over
well, Sara. It’s a shame you weren’t here to enjoy it. I would appreciate it if
you save the love fest for your own time.”

“Back off, Pierce.”

“A little sensitive are
we, Farrell?”

“That’s enough, Jonathon.
I’m here now, what do you want?”

The cowboy stared at him
for another minute like a bull with testosterone overload. “After lunch, Sara,
I want you to meet me in my room to go over the workshop you’ll be presenting
in the morning. It’s pretty straight forward, Financial Implications of
Government Contracts.”

“I know the topic,
Jonathon. I put the package together for you. But I thought Pam was going to
lead it.”

“She doesn’t have the
presence to carry it off. I’m counting on you, Sara. Don’t let me down.”

“You knew for an entire
week you had to leave tonight. It would have been nice to get more lead time to
prepare.”

“You just said it. You
put the package together, it’s your baby. Take the helm.” Jonathon looked down
at his Rolex. “I have to make a phone call. I’ll see you at 1:30 in my room. Be
there.” Jonathon stepped around them and out the front door of the conference
room.

“Sara, do you think Pam
already knows you’re taking over?”

“I’m not sure she even
knows she was supposed to cover for him, Matthew. She said nothing this
morning.”

“Show me the hall you
turned down when you went looking for me.”

Within minutes they were
scanning a space swarming with hotel employees. Eventually the novelty of
having guests roaming the service area wore thin and a man with shift
supervisor on his nametag approached.

“We’re trying to find the
waiter who was so kind to us this morning,” Matthew said. “We want to thank him
personally, but he doesn’t appear to be here at the moment.”

“Did you notice his first
name from his name tag?” the supervisor asked.

“I didn’t see his name
tag, sir. But he was in here this morning and in the fitness club last night
and yesterday afternoon resupplying the locker rooms with towels.”

“That’s not possible,
madam. No one works three shifts in a row.”

“We’re sorry to have
disturbed you. Excuse us.” Matthew steered her back the way they came.

Out in the main corridor,
he added, “Are you sure it was the same man all three times. I only saw him
once late last night.”

“Why would hotel staff be
loading towels or even checking on an empty locker room at one in the morning?”

 

***

 

At lunch, Sara said,
“Pam, Jonathon changed his plans for tomorrow morning’s lecture on government
finance. Did he mention it to you?”

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