Authors: Nicole Smith
He thought about the day he'd spent with Holly, from the
scone-making to the visit with his grandmother. Spending time with Holly in
either activity had been comfortable and relaxed. He liked how she had gotten
along with Gloria. His grandmother had taken him aside, when Holly left the
room after lunch, to give her opinion.
"She's marvelous! Don't you let this one get
"Gloria, it's not like that with us."
"Ha. I see what I see, maybe more than you do. There's
something between you two."
He had grinned and she had poked him with a long fingernail.
"Young man, that's not what I was referring to, but I guess it's a
Now that he thought about it, it did seem a bit strange that
he'd never taken any other woman to meet Gloria. But it didn't mean what she
thought. He and Holly were just very good friends with benefits.
Marla Stone had arrived at work early for three days. She
spent the time reviewing old files to get a sense of how Jason's business
functioned and what he was responsible for in the building of such magnificent
structures. She was deep in the paperwork for the Golden Dome building complex
when a discrepancy had her frowning. That was odd, she thought. Throughout the
plans it had been clear what materials would be used. She'd noted it, since
they were part of the new building materials that Jason's plans were known for
using. Yet, this paper quoted a completely different substance at a much lower
cost. Would Jason have changed his mind just to save the client money?
She set the page aside and continued to review the file, but
her gaze kept being drawn back to the oddity. Something about it did not make
sense to her, particularly as she'd read on in the paperwork. If she understood
what she was reading, that change in materials was a serious potential problem
to the very stability of the structure. Surely Jason wouldn't have approved
such a change to his original plans.
But how well do I know the man?
She wondered if her
first impression of him could have been that off the mark. Would he have cut
corners like that?
Jason was out in meetings all morning, and Marla spent time preoccupied
thinking, until lunch when she met with Lana at the coffee shop. After ordering
salad, Marla stared at her iced tea.
"Okay, what's wrong?" Lana asked.
"Right. Now tell me the truth."
"It's just--I found something. Something that makes me
wonder, about Jason."
Lana frowned. "In what way?"
"It makes me wonder what kind of person he is when it
comes to ethics."
Lana's eyebrows rose. "What? I've picked up nothing
along those lines, in fact I'd have said the opposite."
Marla sighed. "I know! It doesn't fit with what you've
told me about him and with what I have sensed of him. But I found it right
there, in black and white on a piece of paper in the file."
"Marla, unless you tell me more, I'm not going to
"I don't know if I should tell you. Although..."
"I'm still in the trial period of my employment through
"So if I had concerns about my employer, I could tell
Holly, and it wouldn't be out of line."
"Yes, that's right. But are you sure?"
"No, I'm not sure, but nothing makes sense of it any other
way. And if he is capable of this, I'm not sure I want to be working for
Lana sat back, looking stunned. "Wow, Marla. I think
you'd better talk to Holly today then."
* * * *
Holly felt numb. She'd listened to Marla's explanation after
the woman had gotten off work. When she'd expressed doubt, Marla had produced a
copy of the incriminating paperwork and gone into detail explaining the dangers
of the materials substitution. Now Marla had gone home and Holly was sitting in
a cab on her way to Jason's office. She'd called ahead and arranged to meet him
How could she have been so wrong about him? Sure, she made
mistakes about people, but not this big. This involved the safety of everyone
who lived in that building. And now her family planned to trust their plans to
him--she needed to find out the answers to how and why this had happened.
She rode the elevator up to his offices and entered into a
quiet foyer. It looked like everyone had gone home for the day. Jason saw her
and smiled, waving at her to come on back to his office space.
"Holly, it's good to see you. Now what is it about
Marla that couldn't wait? She's a perfect find for me."
Holly set her briefcase down and opened it up. She wasn't
smiling and Jason's smile faded as he saw her seriousness.
"Marla came to see me today. She found
something--unbelievable--in your files. She didn't know what to do about it, so
she brought it to me because she's still in her trial work phase. Jason--"
She stopped and Jason frowned. "Holly, what is it? I
can't imagine what has you looking as though the world is ending. And why would
Marla bring you something from my files?"
Holly sighed. "Let me explain how this happened."
She recounted to him why Marla had been going through the Golden Dome files. He
nodded in understanding. Then she handed the piece of paper to him.
"Here's what she found that makes no sense--unless you are so unethical as
to cut costs in this manner to skim money off the top."
Jason's face looked carved out of granite. He thrust his
hand out to take the paper from her, standing stiffly in front of her. She
watched his fact carefully as he began to read. He looked confused and shocked
and a gusty breath of relief blew through her body. Somehow, he hadn't known.
"Holly, this is--crazy. No way would I ever use these
materials in that project. This is some kind of mistake."
"From what Marla told me, this is a huge mistake. The
question is, did it really happen? And if so, who caused it to happen? Because
this paper came from your own files."
He rocked back as if she'd slapped him. "That's
She shook her head. "Marla made the copy directly from
your file. Either you signed off on this--or someone here did. I think you'd
better pull the file."
He left the office and she sat down at the conference table.
If he really was innocent of this--how on earth would they prove it? She
watched as he carried in a box full of files.
"This is everything. It could take a while to go
through it all. Do you have time tonight to stay and do this with me? I feel
like I need a witness."
"Yes, of course I'll stay. Start at the beginning and
explain as you go, and I'll try and keep up. We need to figure out what
"If this is true..."
"Let's take it a step at a time. Then we'll figure out
how to deal with it."
He opened up the first folder.
Three hours later, Holly was sipping cold coffee and running
a hand through her hair. "Okay, let's go over it again. The paperwork for
the substitution had to come from this office because of who else signed here,
right? It has to have been the guy you had working as your assistant back then.
The only explanation that makes any sense is that he took a bribe and changed
the paperwork. Then the contractor skimmed the money off. With such a large
project, that would have been a lot of money."
Jason sat wearily in his chair at the head of the table,
elbows on the table and his head in his hands. "I can't believe this. Do
you realize that the whole structure could be undermined if this is true?"
Holly realized exactly that after so many hours of
explanation by him. And the results were going to be very unpleasant, particularly
for Jason. He didn't seem to have reached that point in his thinking yet.
"I have to contact...everyone I guess. The structural
integrity of the building has to be examined immediately. There could be a
Holly leaned toward him. "Listen to me. You need a
publicist to work on a statement with you. You need to talk to your lawyer.
Then you can talk to whoever needs to be told."
"What? Why on earth--"
"Think, Jason, think. Your office is going to be
painted as the villain in this. Your reputation is going to be under fire. Even
with you coming out with the information, they are going to try and crucify you
"Part of it will be out of fear. And part of it will be
out of that ugly malice that happens when someone reaches the top of his game.
Your buildings stand out far and away above the competition. Those jealous
people are going to come after you with a vengeance."
"We have the proof that it came off my assistant's
computer! It wasn't something I did!" He was practically yelling. She
"I know, I know. I'm just telling you what's going to
happen. People like to tear down those they've built up. Some people will
listen to your explanation of how and why it happened--and others won't give a
damn. You need to prepare yourself for it."
He leaned back in his chair, eyes confused. "This is
"No, but it will be difficult. Now I'd like to suggest
that you call your lawyer while I call Maggie Carter. I happen to know she's
available, and we could use some help crafting a statement for the
He nodded vaguely and pulled out his phone to call his
lawyer. She left the room to call Maggie.
* * * *
The following week was a version of hell for Jason. He'd
notified all the proper authorities and made a statement to the public. At
first, concern over the safety of the building took priority in the reporting.
By the second day, the blame game had begun. Jason's conscientious accounting
of what had happened was soon seen as a preemptive strike to avoid prosecution.
His lawyers assured him that he was not going to be brought up on charges, but
the impression in the public mind was already set. It didn't matter that the
contractors were the ones who had committed the potential crime. The link
between the buildings he'd designed and Jason's own persona was a strong one.
At first, he had focused solely on making sure the building
was safe. He'd skipped a Sunday lunch with Gloria to meet with building
inspectors and other officials of the city. Gloria had been entirely supportive
after hearing the story, and swore to address the issue in her blog. She'd
immediately seen that it meant trouble for her grandson, but Jason had brushed
that off much as he had done with Holly's warnings.
As the week progressed, it began to sink in that people
weren't willing to believe he was innocent. It was made worse by the fact that
he'd hired the guy who'd done the deed, and he blamed himself. He didn't know
how to handle an attack on his work. Work had always been his escape, his
meaning for getting up in the morning, his passion. Now he faced his mornings
with a kind of dread. By Friday evening, he was sitting slumped in his chair at
the conference table, staring out the window and wondering what the hell to do
with the rest of the night.
Marla walked in to say good night. She paused on the
threshold then came forward. "Jason, I wanted to tell you I'm leaving now.
Maggie is available this weekend if anything else comes up that requires press
attention, and you can reach me at home if you need me to come in. Can I get
you anything before I leave?"
He shook his head. "No, you have a good night. I'll see
She pursed her lips and looked as if she would say more, but
then she turned and left his office. His phone rang and he almost didn't answer
it. Finally he pulled it out of his pocket and saw that it was Holly calling.
"Jason, I'm glad I reached you. I wanted to ask you to
come over tonight. I'll cook you dinner."
He was silent as he thought about it. He hadn't seen her
since the night when he found out about what had gone so wrong. His life had
been swamped all week with meetings and people and phone calls and he'd dropped
into bed exhausted each night.
"You still there?"
"Yes. I'm thinking about it."
"I've got steaks and baked potatoes with everything on
them. And pie for dessert. Homemade pie."
"Hmm. Real pie. I could use some pie. Are you still at
"No, I'm home. Come over whenever you're done
He sighed. "I think I'm done here now, actually. Should
I bring anything?"
"Just yourself. I'll see you soon."
They hung up and he decided that pie was a good reason to
get up out of his chair and leave the office. There was nothing for him here
anyway, not any more.
* * * *
Holly took one look at him and knew her job that night was
not going to be easy. Jason's green eyes were dull and tired looking, his step
heavy. She took a deep breath and moved forward to greet him with a quick kiss
on the lips. "Here, let me take your jacket. Loosen your tie or get rid of
it altogether. It's time to relax."
He nodded and handed her his suit jacket and tie. Then he
unbuttoned the first two buttons on his shirt and rolled up his sleeves.
"Put me to work. What needs doing?"
"There's a bowl of salad in the kitchen that you can
divide up into the dishes I've set out." She went to the closet and hung
up his coat.
Jason was setting bowls of salad on the dining room table
when she came back. "Blue cheese dressing okay with you?" Holly
"Sure," he said. "Those steaks smell about
"Yep, they are if you like medium rare to medium."
She got the steaks onto plates. "Let's eat some salad
and let the steaks sit for a few minutes."
They sat down and Jason stared at the salad. "You know,
you promised me pie."
She stared at him for a minute, surprised, and then saw a
bit of a grin on his face. "You're right I did. How would you like to
start dinner with pie?"