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Crowning design, p.11
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       Crowning Design, p.11

           Leila Meacham
 
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  He thought he had been unusually understanding, but Deborah had withdrawn from him, gone into some sort of shell as if she didn’t quite trust him. Apprehension fluttered in his chest. Had she slipped away from him forever? He would not allow it. He must find her and bring her back in the only way he knew how. He had planned too long, too carefully, to lose her now. Tossing back the covers, he slipped into a robe kept packed for emergency trips. He had gone out to his car to get the bag after Deborah had retired, not wanting her to think he had come prepared to spend the night.

  Dan opened the door of Deborah’s bedroom softly, standing framed in the doorway for the benefit of Dempsey. Instantly he saw the outline of two alert ears, then the muscular rippling of the big body as the Labrador ambled around the corner of the bed to confirm Dan’s identity. “Come on downstairs with me, boy,” Dan whispered.

  After shutting Dempsey in the kitchen, once more Dan climbed the stairs and entered Deborah’s bedroom. Starlight bathed the room and her sleeping form with a luminescent glow. As he approached the bed, his eye fell upon a prescription bottle on the bedside table. He picked it up and examined the label, recognizing the name Midrin. He knew the capsules were prescribed for migraines. He had picked up countless bottles of the medication from the pharmacy for his father, who had suffered from them for years before he died. Glancing down at Deborah, his heart moved in pity. Now he understood the nature of her paleness, the faint discoloration he had noticed beneath her eyes as she bid him good night. She had been in the racking throes of a migraine. Maybe it had also been responsible for her remoteness, the detachment with which she had regarded him for the rest of the evening. Maybe she had not gone away from him at all. He leaned over to pull the covers up to her chin.

  Deborah, accustomed to a mantle of starshine, sensed the change in the light above her and stirred in her sleep. Dan drew up. Heavily, her lids fluttered open. “Dan?” she whispered, wondering sleepily if the tall man beside her bed were part of the dream from which she was emerging.

  “Go back to sleep,” he urged. “I’m sorry I disturbed you.”

  “Why are you here?”

  “I…was worried about you. You seemed so distant all evening. I wanted to bring you back from wherever you had gone.” He nodded toward the prescription bottle. “Why didn’t you tell me you were suffering from a migraine.”

  “It’s my problem.”

  “I want to share your problems.”

  “I gave you one this afternoon.”

  “That’s not what I mean, Deborah, and you know it.”

  She held out her hand and he took it. “Stay with me,” she asked.

  “Only to hold you, Deborah. You need your rest.”

  “I need you.”

  He removed his robe, climbed in beside her, and gathered her to him. Her flannel-gowned body was warm and soft against his bare skin. “And I, you,” he said.

  Because she had not wanted to spoil his weekend, Deborah waited until Monday morning to tell Randall about the theft. His expression registered quiet shock. “I am more concerned for you, Deborah. Are you all right? Where did you stay the last two nights? Surely not in a house with a broken window?”

  “Dan boarded the window for me, Randall, which made the house quite safe, and of course, I had Dempsey.” She had hoped to avoid mentioning Dan in the narration of the robbery.

  Randall looked put out. “You called for Dan’s help rather than mine?”

  Deborah sighed. “I was with him Saturday, Randall. We went on a picnic. Under the circumstances, I’m grateful he was with me.”

  “Yes,” Randall agreed, “thank goodness someone besides Dempsey was with you. What was Dan’s reaction when you discovered the drawings were missing?”

  Deborah hesitated. Was he asking on behalf of the firm? Or was he curious about Dan’s reactions when his business interests were thwarted? “He was surprisingly understanding,” Deborah answered. “He could have really raked me over the coals about having the drawings at the house rather than here under lock and key. He had already expressed concern about the security of the house.”

  “I see…” Randall said slowly, eyeing her as if he did not quite believe her. “What does this do to the deadline?”

  “We can still make it,” she said emphatically.

  Her mentor looked at his watch. “Let’s talk about it in the meeting. The others are already assembled.”

  In the conference room, news of the theft was met with a variety of responses. John Turner leaned back and crossed his arms. “So that means we’re behind the power curve, doesn’t it? Looks like I’ll be working from your preliminary designs after all, Deborah.” There was just the slightest trace of smugness in his tone.

  “No,” Deborah said, avoiding looking at Randall. This was one time she might not get his support. “I still want you to wait for my architectural details before you do the structural calculations.”

  John stared at her, his mouth open slightly. “You’re being bullheaded. “I’ve already calculated the loads for the second floor. Now I need to get to work on the computations for those columns.” He turned to the arbitrator of his disputes with Deborah. “Randall, help me out on this. I need to get started or I could fall behind in my own schedule.”

  “Deborah, I appreciate the fact that those columns are the focal point of your design for the headquarters building, but time does not permit us to wait for you to finish your drawings before John can begin his calculations,” Randall said.

  Deborah looked beseechingly at the engineer. “John, I’ll get them to you in one week. By working at night and next weekend, I can get them to you first thing Monday morning. You have other support structures to work on in the meantime, as you well know.”

  “Won’t that interfere with your social life, Deb?” asked Tony Pierson, grinning.

  “Her social life was the cause of all this,” John commented dryly.

  “Oh, John—” Tony admonished, supported by a murmur of protests from around the table.

  “Boys and girls!” Randall’s rebuke had the effect of a teacher rapping on a desk. “This bickering must stop. John, I must ask you to refrain from inciting this kind of discussion in the future. Do you understand?”

  “Yes sir,” said John, two dull red spots burning beneath the sallow surface of his cheeks.

  “Deborah,” Randall said with a sigh, “let’s compromise on this. If in two days you see that you’re not going to have your drawings ready for John within a week, then he’s to use your renderings. Agreed?”

  “Agreed,” said Deborah.

  “John?”

  “Agreed,” said John shortly.

  “All right, that’s settled. Now a word of caution to all of you: Since you’ll be working down to the very last minute of the deadline, there will not be time for the documents to go through an in-house quality control check,” he warned, referring to the department whose duty it was to check for detail and dimensional errors before plans were issued for a building permit. “You must check and double-check every figure, every detail, every dimension. That’s it for this morning.” He smiled mellowly.

  Deborah was hard at work with T-square and triangle when a call came through from Dan. “Can we meet somewhere for lunch?” he asked.

  “Oh, dear, Dan, I don’t know. We have so much to do here. I’d planned to work through lunch.”

  “I have to see you, Deborah. Something has come up that I don’t want to discuss over the phone.”

  “Let me meet you somewhere for a half hour or so, but not for lunch.” And not at the office either, she wanted to say.

  Dan seemed to have sensed her thought. “Whatever you say. Name a place.”

  “Glendale Park is about two blocks from the office. How about there?” she suggested. The day was too beautiful to spend all of it inside, and she needed to unwind a bit.

  “Sold,” he said.

  Dan was waiting for her at a picnic table in the deserted park when she arrived. He go
t up and walked toward her, tall and elegant and masculine in a camel’s hair sport coat and sharply creased trousers. Her heart began to pound—would it never beat normally at the sight of him? “You look a little tired,” Dan said after they had kissed. “I should have let you sleep.” He rubbed a soothing thumb beneath her eye.

  “You were better than sleep,” she assured him. “I’m not tired, just showing the strain of the office. The atmosphere is a little tense today.”

  “Was Randall upset with you about the drawings?”

  “Randall is never upset with me about anything,” she said, taking his arm.

  “Unlike me?” Dan’s large hand folded over hers in the crook of his arm.

  Deborah did not want to go into that. “That’s over now. What did you want to discuss with me?” They walked in ankle-deep leaves toward the picnic table. It was the last day of September; soon the trees would be stretching bare arms to an indifferent sky.

  “I have to go back to Phoenix for a while. Work is piling up to such an extent that my secretary thinks she’s being buried alive. For the time being, I’ve done all that I can do here.”

  Her throat felt dry suddenly. “Of course,” she said. “When will you be leaving?”

  “I have an afternoon flight out. I know it seems sudden, but something has come up that requires my immediate attention. Will you be all right?” Dan gave her a worried look as they sat down. “Feel free to use the town house if you’re uneasy about staying out in the foothills. I can leave you a key.”

  “No.” She tried to smile easily. “Thanks just the same, but I won’t be driven out of my home. Dempsey is all the protection I need. Actually, it’s just as well you’re returning to Phoenix now. I will be working late at the office every night and on weekends. We really couldn’t see each other.”

  Dan took her chin between his thumb and finger, turning her to look at him. “I am going to miss you, honey. And I’ll be back as soon as I can, probably in three weeks. Oh, by the way—” He patted his jacket pockets, taking from one a memo slip on which were printed several telephone numbers. He indicated one with his thumb. “This number belongs to a security systems firm. It installs burglar bars. I know you don’t like the idea of them, Deborah, but you really should get them installed on your windows. I arranged for a company representative to come out on Saturday morning and talk to you about them unless you call and instruct otherwise. These are the phone numbers of my office and house. Call if you need anything or if you get lonesome.”

  Deborah took the piece of paper. “Thank you for taking the time to do this for me and for coming to tell me that you’re leaving. It’s been a busy morning for you, I know.” She was succeeding in keeping her voice even, preventing it from giving away her feelings. She would not be clingy. She wondered if Dan would be seeing Alicia when he returned to Phoenix.

  “I seem to enjoy making time for you, Deborah. It’s a new experience for me, making time for a woman. Did you know that leaves have caught in your hair?” He removed one and held it close to her face. “They match your eyes,” he said in wonder.

  Returning to the office, Deborah forced herself to get down to work again, but the sun had gone from the day and a fog of depression settled in. Three weeks. Three whole weeks, maybe more, before she would hear that deep voice, see those broad shoulders, feel his arms around her again. The buzz of the intercom broke into her wistfulness. It was a phone call from Dan. “I have five minutes to catch my plane,” he said, “but I couldn’t remember if I told you that I’ll miss you.”

  Deborah smiled, her heart lifting. She could imagine him, too big for the phone booth, one leg crossed over the other, leather briefcase at his feet, silver-gray hair gleaming—an American success story in his custom-tailored coat. “Several times.” She laughed. “But I might have forgotten if you hadn’t called.”

  “See that you remember.” A pause followed, as if he had forgotten something, then he said carelessly, as if he had not, “See you soon, honey.”

  Just before five o’clock, Deborah was summoned to Randall’s office. He was carefully watering the luxuriant assortment of plants aesthetically arranged around the room. Randall tended well whatever he possessed, Deborah granted, warmed by affection for the now rather fragile figure bent over a brass container of flowering gloxinias. Whatever he cared for thrived. The longevity of his plants was legendary, and until last year, he’d had a Sheltie that had lived to twenty years of age. Under his care, the firm had flourished like his plants, but now a shadow had fallen over it. Deborah could feel its presence like a dark presentiment.

  “You wanted to see me,” she said gently.

  “Yes, dear child. Bea and I are going to the Ship Tavern for dinner. They’re featuring Kakanee salmon this evening. How about joining us?”

  “I’d love to,” she said immediately, grateful that she would not have to go directly home to face the first of many long evenings without Dan. “It’s sweet of you to include me.”

  “It’s been too long since the three of us dined together at the Tavern.”

  “It will be like old times.”

  “Not quite, my dear, not quite.” With a small pair of scissors Randall clipped off a discolored leaf of the gloxinia. After a small silence, he said, “The years have rewarded my faith in you, Deborah. Today when I look at the examples of your work, what they have contributed to the firm’s growth and reputation, I feel quite like the investor who bought the first original shares of IBM. We probably share a similar pride in our foresight and wisdom, in the success of our discoveries. We’ll leave from here right after work.”

  Designed around a collection of models from America’s clipper ship past, the Ship Tavern in Denver’s historical Brown Palace Hotel was one of the few restaurants—or public rooms, as Randall preferred to call it—that could live up to his Victorian view of graciousness.

  “I do so love this place,” Bea said as they were shown to one of the checkered-clothed tables. “I’m glad you could join us, Deborah.”

  “I am assuming the reason we have the pleasure of your company tonight is because Mr. Parker took himself back to Phoenix,” Randall said. “I can’t say that I’m surprised. He realized that in order for you to finish those drawings on time, he would have to stop distracting you.”

  Deborah’s heart stood still. Was that why Dan had gone back to Phoenix—to insure that she finish the drawings on time? The thought had not occurred to her. “How did you know that Dan had returned to Phoenix?” she asked Randall, striving for a casual tone.

  “He called to inform me. It was merely a courtesy since I am sure he had already told you of his plans.” His blue eyes were mild as they perused the wine list.

  On the surface, the evening was reminiscent of many such evenings in the past. Randall ordered Champagne, and they chatted familiarly while waiting for the delicately flavored Colorado salmon. But for Deborah, the evening had lost its blush. Randall had raised a doubt about Dan’s real reason for returning to Phoenix. Had he wanted to get out of her hair until the drawings were completed? In Denver he would have to see her; in Phoenix he would have an excuse not to. She couldn’t blame him if that were so, of course. The project was all important right now. The two of them could wait. But still…

  It was after midnight when she turned off the bright light over her drawing board in the studio. Dan had called earlier, and his deep voice still vibrated in her mind, in her heart. How she missed him! She could think of nothing else as she worked. He had sounded tired and wistful. “I’m going to bed now to dream of you,” he had said. “I miss you, honey.”

  But neither sleep nor dreams would come for Deborah. Something was disturbing her, some vague, formless something left over from the day—a comment, a gesture, an expression—that she should see, make some sense of, but could not. Whatever it was nagged at her, like an unidentifiable sound in a familiar place. Did it have to do with the real reason Dan had returned to Phoenix? She thought not. She had decided to la
y that doubt aside and believe Dan. Finally a possibility suggested itself. She had forgotten about the car she thought she had seen in the alley last week. Could that have been the burglar watching her house? That had to be it. That was the origin of her worry. She would install a more powerful light on the back porch.

  That settled, Deborah waited for sleep to come. Moments ticked by. She realized that she had not located the real source of the trouble. The sound was still there.

  Chapter Eight

  Snow had fallen almost continuously for a week. From the bay window, Deborah watched the soft, gentle flakes drift to the deeply blanketed ground and catch in the heavily weighted branches of the aspen tree. It was the kind of snow that meant money in the bank for the ski resorts, but for her it symbolized another day of sameness in a white, changeless landscape. She turned from the window with a sigh. It was so miserable to miss someone in winter. There was no escape from cold loneliness when the world outside seemed an extension of it.

  Frustration welled within her and expanded until she thought she would burst. She was sick of missing Dan, sick of the pressure of the deadline, sick of the project itself. How could such an exciting venture have deteriorated into such a dreadful chore? Tonight she would take a break from it. She would talk the office gang into going to Josie’s for the Friday night sing-along and barbeque. But no, that wasn’t possible, Deborah remembered with a heavier sigh. Fred and Josie, unable to abide the noise and disruption of demolition, had gone to Florida until construction on the project was well underway. Enterprising Josie had arranged to swap houses with a Florida couple who wanted to spend the winter months skiing.

  Disconsolately, she sat down at the curved cherry desk, propped her elbows on it, and with her chin resting on the heel of her hand, recalled life before Dan. What halcyon days they had been! If they were dull, she hadn’t noticed—or minded. They had been peaceful, that was the important thing. There had been no headaches, no tears in the night. She had been satisfied to have her work, Randall and Bea, the house in the foothills, and Dempsey. The security of a pleasant social life, generous income, and growing professional reputation had provided all the excitement she thought she needed.

 
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