Stuffing his billfold and money clip in his back pocket, Michael Bennett could think of only one thing that morning – getting to work and tying up the loose ends that had dangled for weeks.
“I’ll call you when I get in,” he said, bending over to kiss Sandra. “Don’t forget, the window washers are coming today.”
“Oh yuck, I hate it when they’re here,” she said. “Can I cancel?”
“No. They’re so dirty, they look muddy.”
“Whatever,” she said, pulling the covers up to her chin. “I have a meeting downtown at two so I might be late tonight.”
“Okay. I’ll talk to you later.”
He left the bedroom, walking down the long, dark hallway. It was so dreary out, gray light on the gray carpet and gray walls. Everything looked dated, cold and uncomfortable. It might be time for a change. Pouring coffee into a thermos, he thought he’d keep his plans to himself. Sandra’s apartment was the most uninspired space. He wouldn’t ask for her decorating advice.
“I’m glad I caught you before you left,” she called from the living room, pulling a white silk kimono around her. “I forgot to tell you that Lang is giving me the Dutch house to finish.”
“They are? Wow, that’s an impressive coup, Sandra.”
“Like you didn’t know,” she said, smirking.
The Dutch house on First Avenue was owned by the medical center and housed their psychiatric offices, one of the few remaining structures left standing after the fire of 1845. Michael had come to Lang, Smith and Romney for help in its restoration. Sandra started the process, and although a silent partner bought her out, she was still doing work for the firm.
“I swear to you, I had nothing to do with it. But it makes perfect sense when you think of it. You started it, you should finish it.”
She threaded her arms around his neck and kissed him. “I’ll miss you today.”
Reaching into her robe, he ran his hands over her bare skin. “I’ll miss you, too. I can’t wait to get home tonight.”
His phone beeped. “My driver is here,” he said. “Goodbye.”
They kissed again, and he stepped through the elevator door while she stood watching. He willed her to open her robe but she didn’t, aware of the security camera that might catch a glimpse. After the doors closed, she went into the spare room she used for an office and leafed through papers, making notes and organizing. It hadn’t taken her long to win back the trust of her few customers she’d taken on before the arrest. It appeared she’d be busy for the next six months. A decision she had to make – should she open an office of her own and become a truly formidable competitor to Lang, or stay there, using their resources, and taking their cast-off business?
Bigger and more difficult was deciding how hard she should fight for custody of her son Brent. The attorney had arranged the first supervised meeting. Tim’s address was still being kept a secret from Sandra, which further infuriated her.
Compounding the anxiety, neither Pam nor Lisa returned her last telephone calls, convincing Sandra they were in cahoots with Tim.
The doorman buzzing interrupted her thoughts and she picked up the phone. The cleaning people were on their way up. She went back into the master suite and locked the door. The view from the door was straight shot to the Williamsburg Bridge, a beautiful structure, but leading to Brooklyn, a place she loathed. It reminded her of another project she was hell bent on acquiring.
Quickly dressing, she’d go downtown and work from the Lang office until her appointment at two. She sent a text to her driver, Damon, to pick her up at nine if he was available. It would be like any other work day for her, with the nagging worry about Brent in the back of her mind. Dressing for the weather with tall boots and a long wool coat, she was past the age of caring how she looked in the cold, and somehow pulled it off, like a model doing a nonchalant stroll on an arctic catwalk.
Ignoring the other tenants who got on the elevator after she did, they were curious about the beautiful young woman who stayed in the penthouse. But her head was down, looking at her phone with a frown. Texting her attorney to find out if there was any news, he replied that he was just about to call her with information for her.
Hold off, she wrote. I’m in an elevator.
He asked her to call him as soon as she was able.
Damon was at the curb holding the door for her. Nodding at him, she pointed further downtown.
“Exchange Place,” she said, when she was inside.
Dialing her attorney’s number, it angered her that she had to go through the switchboard instead of getting his direct number. She’d make a point of letting him know her dissatisfaction.
“What’s happening?” she asked when he finally got on the line.
“Your husband is holed up in Smithtown with your son’s aunt.”
It took a minute to sink in. “He’s living with Lisa Smith?” she said astonished, leaning forward to shut the divider between her and Damon.
“It appears that he’s in the guest house,” he replied. “Do you want the whole rundown?”
“Yes, what are you waiting for?”
“He’s dating his literary agent.”
“Yes, well since you’re not divorced or even legally separated, that will definitely work in your favor.”
“What about my son?”
“Brent is in preschool at the public school. He appears to be happy and well-adjusted according to the investigator.”
“I don’t know what to do now,” she said. “Does he have a restraining order out? I’d like to just show up there.”
“Why would he have a restraining order? You haven’t even seen the man in a month.”
“Just answer my question.”
“You know I’m lining up supervised visitation. It would probably be better if you stayed away for now. Don’t even let him know that you’re aware of his location. I’d limit your contact with any of your in-laws for now.”
“I wasn’t married to my son’s father,” she reminded him. “Those people that Tim is living with are Brent’s father’s family, not Tim’s.”
“Is that right,” the lawyer said. “That is even more problematic for him. Why would he be in collusion with your son’s family unless he was trying to purposely hurt you? I think I will be able to do something with this information.”
“Well hurry up, please,” she said. “I’m getting tired of waiting.”
The truth was it was easier not having Brent around. It also gave her and Michael a chance to get reacquainted. There was a little angst about Tim, however, that she was working around. He wouldn’t answer her calls or text messages, she even sent a messenger around to his agent’s office. They wouldn’t take the package which confused her at the time, but now it made perfect sense. He was screwing that pig face Elizabeth, pretending she was just going to Paris because of the available ticket. Bullshit. It certainly made things easier for Sandra if he was having an affair with Elizabeth before the police saw Michael leaving her apartment on the night Tim went to Paris.
For being less that a two mile ride, it was taking them long enough. “What’s going on Damon?” Sandra asked, sliding the window back open.
“Usual traffic,” he said. “We’re almost there.”
“I should have walked.”
“It’s ten degrees out there,” he said, frowning.
Traffic finally started to move and he pulled up at Exchange Place.
“Don’t get out,” she said. “I’ll text you later.”
“Be careful. It looks icy. I’ll be around until eight tonight. I have an airport run at nine.”
“Okay, talk to you later,” she said, slamming the door.
After sliding through a two foot high snowbank with a narrow opening of solid ice, she was at the office. As she walked through the familiar brass framed door, for the first time she didn’t think of Jack. His importance in her life had diminished with the buyout. She no longer sat at his desk, or looked at his black silk umbrella hanging on the coat rack. There was really little of him left in her life, apart from Brent. Suddenly, she missed her son. Moving off to the side of the foyer, she dialed her attorney again.
“What can I do to get my son back as fast as possible? I’m getting anxious.”
“You’re already doing everything,” he said. “I’ll make a notation that you’re starting to despair. I take back my warning about contacting your child’s family. Go ahead and call and tell them how anxious you’re getting but don’t let on that you know he’s there.”
“I’ve been leaving messages and they don’t return them.”
“That’s what voice mail is for. Use that to your best advantage then,” he said. “I trust you to be discreet.”
“Okay, thanks,” she said, the wheels turning.
When she reached the office, she didn’t go in back like she owned the place, but stood in line at the receptionist desk. When it was her turn, Jennifer gave her a big, false smile.
“Mrs. Hornby! How nice to see you.”
“Knock it off, Jen. Please ask Peter if he has a desk I can use today.”
“Sure,” she said, giggling, “Come on back.”
Sandra followed her and waited off to the side while she checked with Peter. He came out with a cat-that-ate-the-canary look on his face.
“You can use Ryan’s old office,” he said.
“My old office, you mean,” Sandra said. “Thanks. I’d better see about renting a space.”
“There’s no need,” Peter said. “You’re welcome here anytime.”
Not when you find out what I’m up to, thinking of her plan to compete with him.
“I thought I heard a familiar voice.”
She looked back at Peter’s office door and who walks out but Randy Braddock.
She sifted through reasons that he would be there, forgetting the television program Randy was doing about saving old New York architecture. Pulling out all her energy to be gracious, she smiled and extended her hand to the guy who didn’t try to hide his animosity to her. Sandra figured he was taking sides in her battle with Tim that had not yet started. If that was the case, she was going to prepare herself.
Who was Randy Braddock? Nothing but a reality TV host. She didn’t care how much money he had, she would make sure he didn’t interfere with the outcome of the impending custody battle. It was at the moment that she walked past Jack’s old office now occupied by Ryan, that their subterfuge became clear to Sandra. She spun around the looked at Randy, lurking in the doorway of Peter’s office.
“You bought me out,” she said, a triumphant smile on her face, pointing at him. “Ha! You spent all of that money to get rid of me, and I’m still here! Loser.”
“It’s not over yet,” Randy snarled.
“You threatening me?” she asked, walking toward him. “You have no idea who you’re messing with. I’ve already got a bald spot because of that goon, Clint. You know Pam refers to him as a goon, right? Ask her.
“Let me tell you something, Randolph. I don’t scare easily, in case you didn’t know that. You’ll have to kill me to get rid of me. Tell your step-daughter that, too. Tell Lisa that if she doesn’t want me to see Brent again, she’ll have to kill me. I’m not gotten rid of that easily.”
“You’re a lunatic,” he said, but she noticed a tremor in his lower lip. She was on to him, the knowledge filling her with energy, and she laughed out loud.
“Maybe. But crazy people don’t stop. Test me, if you’d like. Ask Peter,” she said. “It’ll take more than what you’re willing to dish out to get rid of me. I’d love to show you how we do things downtown.”
Peter put his hand on her shoulder. “Enough drama,” he whispered, following her back to her old office. “We don’t want this to get ugly.”
“It’s too late Peter. That small time punk just declared war. I don’t care how much money he has.”
“You have a lot to lose,” Peter said, standing in the doorway.
“No, I really don’t. I’m taking advantage of what you’re offering me here, Peter. But if it gets rough, I’ll go out on my own. Finally, you’ll have the competition you’ve missed.”
“There’s enough business for both of us,” he said, but the words lacked that confidence Peter usually blabbed. He felt the threat.
“Are you in on the two o’clock meeting?” she asked, unbuttoning her coat.
“Do I need to be?” he asked.
“Don’t trust me, Peter. I’m telling you right now, I’m not watching out for you. If you’ve invited that snake into this company, it won’t end well. You’d better stay on your toes.”
He shook his head and snickered. “Sandra, your arrogance is astounding.”
“Just wait,” she said, smiling, self-confidence surging. “You have no idea.”
She went behind him, shutting the door, and then got up in his face. He took a step back, not expecting the intrusion. He saw the whites of her eyes, how clear they were, her left eye had a green dot in the iris, surrounded by a pool of dark brown. Her eyelashes were so long, her skin ivory and clear.
“Peter, I won’t stop,” she whispered. He could smell her breath. Taking it in, the sensation skipped from his olfactory nerve and traveled to his balls and he felt for the doorknob behind him, scared to death.
“I’m not trying to stop you from doing anything,” he said. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You’re fucking with me,” she said. “Stop it.”
It pleased her, seeing him fumbling to get away from her.
“How much is Braddock into this?” she asked. “Did you sell out to him, too?”
“No. He wanted you out for Pam’s sake,” Peter admitted.
“I don’t get it. She said she loved me,” she replied, staring out the window. Then she turned back to her desk. “Well, he wasted his money. Are you in at two or not? If I’m doing this alone, I’d like to know.”
“I’ll attend the meeting,” he said, finally turning the door knob.
Trying to get out of the office, he backed into Betty, Sandra’s old secretary.
“Oops, pardon me,” she said, stepping around Peter. “Here are your files, Sandra.”
While Peter ran off, Sandra reached for the stack of paper. “I guess I lost you to Ryan,” she said.
“I can still work for you,” Betty replied.
“I’ll check with Peter about that. Thank you,” Sandra said, dismissing her.
Her heart still beat wildly in her chest. As much as she acted like she was in charge, that kind of confrontation with Peter frightened Sandra. Their yelling arguments were legendary at Lang. But no one expected them to be at each other’s throats now, after the buyout.
A tap at the door increased her heart rate. “Damn it,” she hissed. “Come in!”
It was Ryan.
“Close the door,” she mumbled.
“Jeesh, what’s going on?”
“Did you know it was Randy who bought me out?”
“No! No way. Are you sure?”
“Positive. Peter just admitted that he was did it purposely to get me out of Pam’s hair. Frankly, I’m stunned. It feels like such a betrayal.”
“Look, fuck Braddock. He’s a nothing. You have to remember that Jack brought you in because he trusted you.”
She looked up at him, her eyes glistening. The notion that she was finished with Jack just flew out the door.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with him anymore. At least not for me.”
“Are we still on for the weekend?”
They’d made a tentative plan to get together for a meal.
“No. I’m back at Michael’s. He wouldn’t appreciate it.”
“Okay, no problem. I guess I have to make amends to Jennifer.”
“Ryan, she’s a nice girl.”
“Yeah, but she won’t want to deal with the baby mamas.”
“Ugh, gotcha. Well, Ryan, you sort of brought that on yourself. Didn’t you ever hear of a condom?”
“Are you going to marry this dude?” he asked, ignoring the comment.
“No. I’m not getting married again. Actually, I’m still married to Tim, but as soon as that’s resolved, I’m finished. Michael is my equal in many ways. I can make some sacrifices for him.”
“Yes,” Sandra said. “That’s a starter.”
She rifled through files on the desk for a moment. “I’m not supposed to bring this up, but you know Brent’s at Lisa’s, correct?”
“I don’t know that,” Ryan lied.
Sandra looked up at him, and he had no expression on his face. “You’re as bad as Pam with your damn poker face. Well, it doesn’t make any difference. My attorney found out he’s there. Don’t run and tell Lisa now.”
“I won’t. She’ll barely talk to me.”
“Is she sleeping with Tim?”
“No. Tim made the biggest mistake of his life. He’s sleeping with his literary agent.”
Stay Tuned for More Pam #17!