Thursday, March 27, 2014

Free Souls, Chapter 2

       Three weeks passed before the man reappeared.
       Sitting together in animated discussion over a point of design, Eric and Sandy had more pressing issues in mind than a caller who would not leave his name. But happening to glance up toward the doorway she again saw the wordless figure standing just inside. With an inward jolt she realized who he was and, somehow compelled to equal muteness, alerted Eric to his presence only by a gesture in the visitor's direction.
       Eric stood up and briskly approached him. "What can I do for you?" he said, smiling and offering his hand.
       Ignoring the outstretched salute, the man sat down without invitation at the conference table near the door. "My name is Nick Hardt," he stated flatly. "You were told I had come?"
       "Yes . . . I believe my assistant told me something about it."
       "I'm going to lay my cards on the table at once," he began crisply. "I don't like people." (Sandy saw the surprise flash over Eric's face.  ''What does he think we are?" she wondered.)  "And I'm an egoist. I plan to build myself an empire."
       Assuming a hearty air of confidence and support Eric replied, "Good! That's what architects like to hear!  We'll help you build it, if we can."
       "I'm serious," Nick Hardt said icily. "I've had your card for years but waited until you had your own office to come to you. Before I say any more, what are your terms?"
       Eric told him.
       "All right. I have amassed some land, never mind where--as yet. I intend to build a large house on that land, only part of which is to be seen above ground, to shield me from the prying eyes of the neighbors. I want absolute privacy, do you understand?"
       "Yes, Mr. Hardt," Eric said meekly, playing along.
       "I want you to design this house, but I can't tell you anything more about it at this time. I have other consultations to make. I'll get back to you."
       He rose to go. "And remember this, Baumann: you are to tell no one I was here, or about this project."
       "I'll have to let my assistant in on anything that goes on," Eric said frankly.
        "Who?" inquired Hardt, looking around the room as if failing to find a third person there.
       "Well! I like that!" Sandy thought. "You'd think I were a piece of furniture, or a scrap of floor tile!"
       But Eric without hesitation reaffirmed her, saying, "Miss Beichten. She works with me on all my projects."
       "I see . . . " It was almost insinuating. "Well, listen to me, both of you: I don't care who it is. If you're married, you don't tell your spouse. You don't tell your father, mother, brother, or even your priest when you go to confession. No one is to know I was here, or what I came about. Do you understand?"
       Eric and Sandy exchanged a glance that said, "We swear nothing devoid of honor." Then Eric nodded, as much in placation as in promise.  "How may I get ahold of you?" he asked with forced cheer.
       "My number's unlisted. It's staying that way. If I want you to see me, I'll come see you."
       And without ceremony, he showed himself out.
       Eric followed, and gingerly closed the door after him.  "Who the hell is Nick Hardt?"  He kept his voice low.
       "And do we want to work for him?" 
       "I've seen some strange ones, but--! Did you hear that about not liking people? Well, I guess he doesn't have to like us, only our work. And it could be a good-sized job, from the sound of it. We could use that. We need to do more than these little interiors, even if they do keep us busy."
       "There's the Weisman house," Sandy reminded him, a little worried.  "That's all our design."
       "Yeah, but it's still pretty small and we're almost done with it anyway. This could be a real chance to do something important architecturally. We don't have to like him . . . "

        His musing raced on, its career cut short only by the phone. He answered it and Sandy returned to her table and plunged herself into the intricacies of the Weisman casework as into a cleansing stream,  Compared to the thought of working for the man who had just left, this project seemed almost holy.
by Catrin Lewis, written 1983, revised 2013, all rights reserved)

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