Never Look Back

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Chapter 26

Wednesday, four days after Vesper Lake, Odera ambushed me coming out of the scaffold fabrication building. Hissing and crackling Tig welders, combined with punch presses that perforated lengths of metal pipes used to manufacture scaffold frames, cloaked her approach. Before I knew it, she walked beside me as I headed for the road. Off to our right, two employees loaded scaffold frames and platforms onto the back of Duraform’s five-tonne cube delivery truck. They stood within easy hearing range.

I increased my pace.

Odera matched my stride.

“Why are you ignoring me, Bruce?”

“Not now,” I declared as heads turned.

“Don’t you dare think that you’re going to avoid an explanation, or me.”

“There’s nothing to talk about. We made a mistake.”

“We have tons to discuss. Are you ashamed of what we did?”

“No, I’m pissed at myself for showing poor judgement.”

“It was poor judgement, but it was mine. Not yours. I won’t be treated as a one-night-stand!”

She stomped along beside me, hands fisted. It annoyed me that I respected her right to feel angry. Of course, she was correct. Of course, I was in error. And, of course, it did not make one damn bit of difference. Our relationship was a minefield. One false step and I’d find myself justifying all sorts of private thoughts and actions to Mike Beck. One unfortunate stumble contained the power to suspend my parole because I had not reported my relationship. My unwillingness to be utterly forthright and honest with Beck had become my Achilles’ heel. I had become the author of my own potential demise.

“Fine. Then let’s call it what it was, a mistake,” I said.

When Robert exited the administration building up ahead, I ducked into the warehouse before he witnessed me fighting with his daughter.

Two days later, after learning that one of the guys had the flu, I volunteered to scrape and clean the mud and kerosene coated cribbing forms. It was a greasy and dirty job that usually belonged to the newest employee hired. Mostly, it kept me far away from the administration building. The men’s change-room included washrooms and showers. Because it was my recent habit to go to the dojo immediately after work where Kira and I instructed young students, and because grease and mud covered me like icing on a cake, I showered at day’s end. Friday, six days after Vesper Lake, when I turned from sluicing soap out of my eyes, I found Odera standing in front of the open-faced shower stall, arms crossed, glaring throwing daggers that made me want to duck, dive and roll.

“You owe me an explanation and another apology. I’m not leaving until you cough up both.”

“You need to dial it back.”

“No. You need a towel!” Odera snatched the towel from the hook. “We can do this here, or over coffee: your choice, but I won’t be ignored another second. I’d rather you ranted and raved than pretended that I didn’t exist.”

Lest she went for my boxers, I claimed them first.

“We’ve already been over this,” I essayed struggling to haul boxers up wet legs and over damp hips.

“And we’ll keep going over it until you tell me why a little sex freaked you out. You’d throw away our friendship over that?”

“Back off, Odera.”

“I did, and you turtled on me. What’s come over you?”

“Common sense.”

“Jesus, Joseph and Mary, your stubbornness drives me up the wall. What did we do that was so unpleasant? Are you that much of a prude? It wasn’t a fucking commitment. Is that it? Are you worried about commitment? Don’t be. No one in their right mind could put up with your stubbornness.”

“Do I have to draw you a diagram? I don’t want to talk about it. For Christ’s sake. What happened, happened. There can never be more. What’s the point in going on?”

“You’d confront a bear, but you won’t face me? You jump off a friggin’ mountain, but you can’t deal with intimacy? Is that it? Talk to me. How did one little display of affection shake you up? What is it that you’re not telling me?”

I marched past her. She was right and that knowledge only made me dig in deeper. Odera’s most scathing rebuke has forever been to hold the truth up where I could not ignore it. Halfway to my locker, I sighted Robert through the window. Gravel beneath his feet crunched loud and clear. The door squeaked as it opened.

I called out in a loud voice, “I’ll be with you in a second, boss.”

Blood rushed from my face. Odera had begun to follow me, but when she heard the outside door open, she ducked into a shower stall. How did Robert not hear the tap of high heels or our voices? Prison’s cement walls closed around me.

I willed the anxiety out of my voice, “What’s up?”

Robert passed me, headed for the bathroom. He turned for the urinals. The showers were along the same wall, but further down from the urinals. Not ten feet away, when viewed through the sink mirror, Odera’s shoes were visible. Splashing urine and Robert’s next words explained his visit.

“The Church Street project wrinkled ten minutes ago. Demolition of the existing structure begins next month, and I only just now received extensive change orders that include repealed energy consumption legislation. Odera has told me that you’re maintaining the computer well and that we need updated hardware and a new software package, but what do you think? Can you work with the old software a little longer?”

“It’s lacking.” I slipped on running shoes. “I would normally write subroutines to handle those energy calculations and to cover the existing software inadequacies, but time isn’t on our side. Conservatively, we’re looking at two working days and another half a day to debug and test. How do I fit that in when substantial completion on the forty-storey office complex and the twin thirty-storey insurance towers are five workings days away from reno start-up? We’ve got a customer turnover date to keep and the glazers haven’t finished installing the photo-reactive glass on the forty.”

Robert admitted, “I know we’re in a crunch, but I can’t spare junior staff to assist me. Frankly, they haven’t proven themselves able to perform at the level this contract demands. We’ve bitten off more than we can chew, Bruce. I take full responsibility for our predicament. In a couple of months, we’ll be fine. But right now, we’re facing several crucial deadlines. It’s the hazard one takes to reach the next level. Can I count on you to do what it takes to help move us forward?”

“I’m still familiarizing myself with the last changes and now we have those new building code tolerances to consider.” My T-shirt came next. Robert moved to the sink. “You would be well-advised to buy updated software. With it, additional updates and releases come at a fraction of the original cash output, including the legislated changes. It is part and parcel of the appeal.”

I snapped my lock closed.

“I know,” said Robert tossing the paper towel into the garbage. He leaned against the doorframe, one hand in his pocket. Behind him, I saw calves and ankles. “Odera told me the same thing. We have seven weeks to revise and re-issue those drawings. This is an important job, Bruce. We just can’t fail on this one. It’ll take us past our metro licensing limits and open new budget parameters for next year. You know what that means. It’ll put in place everything we need to design and to build the structures we’ve always dreamed of. Can you write one of those little subroutines to chart the higher end equations?”

I almost grimaced when he described half a day’s work as a little subroutine. “Let’s review the repealed changes; see how many alterations there are to make, and then I’ll be able to answer more intelligently. It’s your lucky day, boss. Most of my evenings and weekends have recently opened up. They may as well go to a good cause.”

Robert’s shoulders relaxed. He came up off the sink.

“I knew I could count on you. Once we get through this, I’d like to talk to you about the construction operation’s management position. Odera’s intentions are right on the money and astute, and I know her degrees have prepared her better than when I started, but high-tech isn’t the only way,” he said stepping alongside me. “She can be so persistent I dare not seek her assistance on this project, and she’s swamped as it is. Let’s keep this between us. Get me through this job and I’ll seriously consider granting your mutual hardware and software requests. I also want to discuss installing the LAN Odera has in mind. As an operational site manager, you’ll need to schedule and phase installation without downtime at Odera’s end. You guys work well together.”

“Savings in time alone make it worthwhile. Low-tech is raising our bottom line.”

Robert looked over saying, “Odera shared similar thoughts. Now that she’s overseeing the accounting and financial commitments of both companies, it isn’t fair to expect her to maintain our hardware systems, but no one does it better. Between you and me, I think she landed these two newest jobs in a cluster to force me to take her deficient network predictions seriously.

“Speaking of worthwhile, thanks for revealing your prison experience to our congregation. I was quite intrigued by the whole presentation. Asking Mike along was a nice touch for balance. You know, you’re welcome to attend our services. Making friends can’t be easy. Trying to fit back into society must be an uncertain road with surprises aplenty underfoot.”

At those last words, I turned to Robert wearing a fugitive smile and a devilish twinkle in my eye. I could not help thinking that he referred to Odera barging into the bathroom to surprise and to confront me, entirely revealed and that I had successfully kept his daughter’s presence a damply crouched secret.

“I’ve made one or two inroads, but it’s like walking through a minefield. You never quite know when one will come underfoot.”

“Don’t let it get the upper hand.”

“Easy for you to say,” I muttered under my breath, unheard by Robert who clasped my shoulder to impart fatherly encouragement.

“There’s power in prayer. Don’t be afraid to look outside yourself for help. None of us may exist alone. We all need somebody at times to help us with perspective.”

“So, I’m learning.”

“That’s all any of us can do, Bruce.”

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