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Authors: Donna Simmons

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BOOK: Mourning Dove
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“That seems like a
violation of my privacy. I don’t think I like you having that ability.”

If you tell me not to
listen to your thoughts, maybe I’ll be able to tune you out, like I did when I
was a pimple-faced teenager.

“Carl Stafford, you
devil.” God, it feels good to joke with you again.

That’s right, Mom,
just think it. It’ll be safer.

What do you mean, safer?

 No one will be tempted
to put you in a padded cell.
  Or a grave. 
Just think of the image, in a
board meeting, or business dinner with your boss.  You will definitely look
certifiable carrying on a one-sided conversation with thin air.

I’m not crazy, am I?

No, but you’re definitely
communicating with the dead.  I don’t want to disillusion you, Mom; I won’t
give you false hopes.  I can’t change what happened, but, I can help you over
the rough spots, for as long as I’m allowed.

If you’re here for me
now, why did you end your life?

I didn’t.

Oh, my God!

Sleep now.  No more
questions tonight.

 

***

 

“What have you got,
Farrell?” Matthew’s contact asked through the phone.

“She spoke to her husband
earlier. She’s on the edge with this grief and she’s starting to talk to her
dead son. Not where anyone can hear her, just in her hotel room.” Matthew paced
his hotel suite with his cell phone to his ear.

“That’s just great!  You
told me to hire her. Don’t low ball the offer, you said.  I give her the third
most important position in the company and now she’s talking to the dead.”

“Cool it. She’s not
certifiable, she’s grieving. There
is
a difference.”

“Only you would see
nothing wrong in talking to ghosts. What about her husband? Did he have
anything interesting to say, or is he talking to the dead, too?”

“He’s found something.
I’m not sure what.”

“You think it’s the
information Carl took from the cult?”

“If not, it just might
lead us to it.” Matthew sat down at the desk in his suite. “I want to have
another look at Carl’s possessions.”

“Careful.  Don’t blow
your cover.”

“When am I not careful?
Keep an eye on her; sounds like the lady could use a friend.”

“She has one.”

“I was thinking of male
companionship.” Matthew ended the call.

CHAPTER 6

 

 

“Louise, will you hold
the door for me?” Sara pushed the office door open with her left hand and
pulled an overloaded flatbed cart with her right.

“What in the world have
you got, Sara? It looks like a combination botanical garden and furniture
sale.” Louise rounded her desk and grabbed the glass door to the accounting and
finance offices.

“Just a bit of green, it
helps to keep the air fresh. Did Jonathon Pierce give you the list of reading
material I want to study this evening?”

“I’ve got it on my desk.”

They pushed the cart into
Sara’s new office as a young man in a sky-blue shirt, red tie and black
suspenders entered the front room heading for one of the desks. “Looks like
somebody bought out a greenhouse,” he said.

“Hi Steve, you’re just in
time to help with the heavy work,” Louise said.

”Oh, my back is acting up
again.” He winced as he shuffled forward in a Quasimodo gait.

“Knock it off, you ham,
and help us get this stuff unloaded.”

“I don’t believe we’ve
met. I’m Sara Stafford.” Sara reached over the large peace plant with its white
pulpit blossoms to test his handshake. Admirable, straightforward, she liked
that.

“Glad to meet you, Ms.
Stafford. It appears things are looking up already.”

“Please call me Sara; and
thanks for your help. Can you pass me that first chair in front of the desk? 
I’ll use that to stand on.”

“Let me give you some
help.” And with that the young man plucked the screwdriver from her hand and
climbed up on the left side of the credenza. Louise and Sara smiled at each
other; it worked every time.

When the valences were
hung, plants in place, and new wall table set up, Sara brushed the dust from
her hands and looked around her new office.

“Thank you both for
making this light work. I just have a few things to place on my desk and I’ll
be done.”

Steve picked up one of
the straight back chairs. “Do you want these back in front of the interrogation
desk?”

“The what?” 

“That’s what Louise and I
called this desk when Ross stood behind it.”

Sara looked at them both.
They nodded in silent agreement.

“How very unproductive
that must have been. I want these chairs out of here. Steve, can you swap them
with the two conference chairs I saw just outside my door?”

“Oh nuts.”

“What’s wrong, Louise?”

Sara placed the last item
on her desk, a simple gold plate with her name engraved on it, then she turned
toward the window Louise was staring at and saw the twist in the fabric.
“That’s an easy fix. I’ll just climb up and straighten it.” Stepping up on the
last straight back chair, Sara walked gingerly in stocking feet across the
credenza and smoothed the folds that were askew.

“That view looks better
than a pasture full of cattle.”

“Hello Jonathon, what do
you think? Different from before?” Sara turned slowly with her last sentence.

“Let me help you down,
little lady. Words fail me as to the feeling I have with you silhouetted
against this office window.” He reached out with both hands around her waist
and lifted her to the safety of the floor.

“Should have let
maintenance do the hard work, you know,” Jonathon scolded gently.

“I thought of that, but I’m
not supposed to be here until tomorrow and wanted everything just right before
I start working in this room.”

“I believe this is
definitely an improvement, although I could have said that honestly without
your doodads.” He gave her another one of his lazy grins. “I like that silver
and gold print of the globe, gives a taste of class to the room.” He turned a
three-sixty and noticed the round chairs Steve had just brought in.

“Do you have enough
chairs? Anything else you want to add to the room, or take out of it?”  He
paused, “Other than the three of us.”

“I’m fine for the
moment.” She looked toward the door to her new office where her staff
accountants were standing. “Thanks Louise and Steve for your help. I appreciate
it.”

Steve turned back to his
desk when Jonathon gave him a final order. “Steven, will you call maintenance
to pick up the leftover packing and that cart out in the hall?”

“Yes, sir, consider it
done.”

Now that Jonathon and
Sara were alone in the office, she started brushing imaginary lint off her
black slacks, wondering how to continue this conversation. “I hope I haven’t
overstepped my bounds in recruiting the help of those two.” She looked up and
tried not to let him see any weakness in her statement.

“I’m sure they were not
forced into servitude. It was probably an entertaining diversion from staring
at computer screens and it gave them a chance to see the new boss is human. I’m
not sure if that’s good or bad. Don’t ever let them see weakness in you, Sara.
When you’re finished in here, join me in my office. I have something for you.”

Adjusting the two new
chairs off to the side of her desk, she picked up a few stray pieces of packing
and grabbed her tote bag. From Louise’s desk, she collected the reading
material and rapped on the outside of Jonathon’s door. A heartbeat later she
heard the command, “Come.”

Louise chuckled, “That’s
his usual response, get used to it.”

“I’ve got your contract
here.” Jonathon handed Sara one copy of the two-page document. “Have a seat and
look it over. Robert already signed it. I’ll add my signature after you. We’ve
included a start date of yesterday, September twenty, our agreed upon salary
package, confidentiality clause, and a three-year non-competition clause if, or
when, you leave Starr Shine. You’ll find it’s a standard employment contract
within the industry.”

After a few minutes
scanning the document, she signed it using the bone handle pen from his desk.
“An unusual pen.”

“It was a present from my
parents upon college graduation. They figured if I had a piece of long horn on
my desk, it would remind me where home was.”

“Did it work?”

“Yep, sure enough did.
You and Louise might like to share lunch tomorrow. There will be a pile of
reports for you to review in the afternoon. You’ll have access to the computer
files by then. Don’t get too attached to the security code. We like to change
them every couple months; it keeps the rustlers out.”

“Yes, sir.”

She made it halfway to
the door.

“Sara?”

“Yes?”

“Plan on meeting me here
tomorrow at four. We’ll discuss what you’ve reviewed.”

“Anything else before I
go?”

“Here.” He extended her
copy of the contract with his signature fresh at the bottom of the second page.

“Thanks.”

“Do you have framed
copies of your degrees?”

“Yes.”

“Find some space on your
office walls for them. It looks good when we have company.”  She looked up then
and noticed his on the wall beside his desk: Texas A & M, Princeton,
Harvard.

“Will do,” she nodded.
“See you tomorrow, Jonathon.”

She was half way across
the room again.

“Sara?”

“Yes?”

“Anything else troubling
you? Anything we can take care of here at the office?”

“Why do you ask?”

“You look a little tired,
and we haven’t begun to start dumping work on you.”

“Everything is fine. No
problems.” With that she finally got through his office door closing it quietly
behind her. She wondered what those last questions were all about.  Did she
look that dreadful?

 

***

 

Ron sat at his desk,
leaning forward on his elbows, with the phone to his ear. “Stacey, I’m calling
because we heard about the break-in you had at your shop. Sara was talking to
Jordie’s mom. She said they trashed your store in the process. Were you hurt?”

“Luckily, I wasn’t here.
They hit the store after closing on Saturday night. I went in on Sunday to work
on some orders and when I opened the front door, all the art work on the walls,
glass display cabinets, and supply cabinets had been smashed and ripped apart.
They took the cash register and the little safe I keep in the back room. They
slashed the boxes of new inventory I hadn’t even opened. It was a real mess.”

“Well, thank God you
weren’t in the building at the time. They could have hurt you, too.”

“Jordie came by when the
police were here. He stayed with me until they all left then helped me clean
out some of the debris. I’ve been trying to make a list of the stuff I lost.
It’s hard.”

“Do you think your
insurance will cover the loss?”

“I have insurance for the
shop and the contents, but not for my apartment.”

“What happened to your
apartment?”

“While Jordie and I were
down here with the police, somebody, I don’t know if it was the same person,
trashed my apartment.”

“My God, Stacey! This
doesn’t sound like a simple break-in. Is anything missing from your apartment?”

“I didn’t have anything
valuable enough to steal. They just trashed it. I keep thinking they must have
been looking for something; but I can’t think of what.”

“What do the police
think?”

“You know the police.
They think I had some drugs or money belonging to the burglar. I’m not into
that kind of stuff, Mr. Stafford. I don’t know why I was picked on. Now, the
police are suspicious of me and Jordie. That’s just not fair. I’m the victim
and Jordie is my friend. Why would he trash my shop at night and help me mop up
on Sunday. And, who would be trashing my place while Jordie and I were at the
shop with the cops. I don’t understand!”

“All right, calm down.
Let’s work on the problem one step at a time. You said you have insurance for
the shop and its contents. What about your apartment? Do you have a place to
sleep temporarily?”

“I’m sleeping on Jordie’s
couch until I can get new locks installed and another mattress.  Mattress
batting and feathers from my pillows are all over my apartment. The kitchen
space is full of broken glass. And the landlord says he’s not responsible for replacing
anything.  Says it was my own fault. I should make my friends pay for their own
wild parties.”

“Did you explain to him
that it was a break in, probably because the doors and windows in the apartment
he rented to you did not have proper locks?”

“He didn’t want to
listen. I think he’s afraid he’ll get stuck for part of the bill if he admits
to anything.”

“Okay Stacey. I have a
meeting in a few minutes. Then I’m coming down there and get you set up with
the basic necessities, at least. You make a list of your most urgent needs and
I’ll see what I can do to help you out.”

“Mr. Stafford, you don’t
have to do that.”

“Carl would have and he
wouldn’t have taken three days to get to you. I apologize for that. I should
have come right down after Sara told me. You make the list. I’ll be there by
one o’clock with the van. And Stacey?”

“Yes?”

“I want you to dry your
eyes, take a deep breath, and don’t worry about the money. Consider it a
donation from Carl.”

“Thank you, Mr.
Stafford.”

“Make the list. I’ll be
there this afternoon.”

Ron hung up the phone and
thought, Jesus, that poor kid! He leaned over the arm of the chair in his
office and looked into the display room. “Hey, Allen?”

“Yo!”

“Do we have any customers
we have to deal with this afternoon?”

“You just have an
interview with the latest victim from Account Temps.”

“I know, in about fifteen
minutes. Want to play Good Samaritan this afternoon?”

“What’s up?”

“We’re going to rescue a
damsel in distress down in Newburyport.”

“Okay. I’m game for
anything.”

They both turned toward
the front door when a stout middle-aged woman walked into the front office
carrying a quilted tote in her right hand, hitching up the strap of a large
black leather purse over her left shoulder.

She looked up at the two
of them through a set of bifocals and introduced herself. “I’m Margaret Alvarez
here for an interview with Mr. Stafford. Am I in the right place, gentlemen?”

Allen beamed a smile at
the lady. “Yep, you’re in the right place. I’m Allen.” He directed with his
hand toward the doorway behind him. “And this is Mr. Stafford.” He turned back
to Ron with a wag of his eyebrows and a jerk of his pupils toward the ceiling.

“Mrs. Alvarez, welcome.
Please have a seat.” Ron turned back toward the mess in his office and
immediately spun back to redirect her toward the bookkeeper’s desk in the front
room. “I’m glad you’re punctual. We have a busy afternoon and need to make this
interview short.”

She tucked her oversized
bag and tote beside the chair, “I’m not just punctual Mr. Stafford; I make it a
practice to always be a few minutes early. No telling what kind of traffic tie
up can get in the way of promptness.”

In the raging
megalopolis of Greenland, New Hampshire?
“Please call me Ron, Mrs. Alvarez;
we’re quite informal in this office. Did you drive a great distance to get
here?”

“Portsmouth, but you
never know about traffic.”

“Mrs. Alvarez, may I call
you Margaret?”

“If you so desire.”

“Well Margaret, we’ve not
had much luck in finding a replacement for our bookkeeper. The agency has previously
sent people I found to be too young and inexperienced for the position. I need
a bookkeeper who does not get rattled when the office gets busy. I need someone
I can count on to take care of the books and to act as receptionist, answer the
phones, and make potential clients feel comfortable. Have I got that person
before me?”

“You do, Mr. Ron. I’m
sorry Mr. Stafford. I’ve been taught by the old school that the boss is always
called by his surname. I’ll work on the adjustment.”

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