Free Souls, Chapter 6

Free Souls

by KAH

(Produced ca. 1983, revised 2013, all rights reserved)

Chapter 6

“Trick or treat!” exclaimed Eric as he came into the office one morning towards Halloween.

“You’re in luck, you ghoul. I brought donuts.”  Sandy pushed the box his way.

“Great! Any messages?”

“Only one from Mrs. Ryerson. I can’t swear to it, but she seemed worried.”

“Wonder what about. Well, I’ll call her and see.”

He pushed the buttons with firm, even strokes of his long artist’s hands. Sandy reflected on what a great pleasure it was to be able to listen to him talking to someone else on the phone, to bathe in the cello-like inflection of his voice without having to worry that it might be distracting her from some important instruction.  Their drafting tables standing against opposite walls, generally their backs were to each other as they worked. But even deprived of the actual sight of him for so many hours of the day, the music of his speech could console her for the loss. It didn’t seem fair to him that her own speaking voice (in her opinion) was nothing special, and her very ordinary appearance did not make up for the deficiency. “Poor man,” she sighed in affected melancholy, “he has to look at me!”

“Yes, Annette?” he was saying to the maid, “Is Mrs. Ryerson in? Tell her Eric Baumann is returning her call.”

He waited while Annette relayed the message.

“Hello, Sheila? Eric. What is it? Sandy said you sounded worried.”

Mrs. Ryerson, never a quiet person, often forced Eric to hold the earpiece at a safe distance when she phoned.  Today was no different: Sandy could hear her voice distinctly, its anxious excitement amplified into shrillness over the wire. “Eric, it’s that terrible thing that happened, that I’ve heard happened, and I wanted to hear your side of it.”

“My side of what?”

“What? You don’t know? I heard about it at a party last night. A woman, a mere acquaintance, but reputed to be reliable, you know, was telling me there was a terrible accident over at your Weisman construction site!”

Eric looked at Sandy with blank horror.

“No! What happened? When? Why didn’t–?”

“She said the roof tree, or whatever you call it, fell in and killed one of the workmen! She said they’d checked the drawings and you, well, you hadn’t made the beams or the joists or whatever you call them big enough!”

“Hey, wait a minute. When did she say this happened?”

“Just last week! That’s why I’m so appalled you don’t seem to know about it! And when I think that you redesigned our house, nothing structural, to be sure, but still, I just can’t bear to consider that–!”

Eric cut her short. “Mrs. Ryerson– Sheila– look, I don’t know where that woman got her information, but she’s wrong. I was there just yesterday and the roof is solid and strong. The shingles are on, the insulation is in. Even if it had collapsed last week, there’s no way they could’ve gotten all that repaired in so short a time.”

“Well, I admit I don’t really know her all that well . . . And I suppose she is a bit of a gossip
. . . “

“Listen, Sheila, if you’re worried about it, the contractor’s Bill Worthington. He’s the same one who did your interior. You know how good a craftsman he is. Call him up and tell him to take you through the Weisman house. You’ll see nothing has come down, I promise you.”

“Well . . . yes, he is good. And forgive me, so are you. That’s what shocked me so much: Something like this seemed so unlike Eric Baumann’s work! Will you forgive me?”

“Oh, don’t worry about it. Be sure and call Bill if anything’s still worrying you.”

“Well, if I do, it’ll be because I’m just bursting with curiosity to see your first magnum opus! It was silly of me to believe a story like that even for an instant. If I hear it again, I’ll kill it where it lies, ok?”

“I’d appreciate that, Sheila. Thank you. Goodbye.”

He replaced the receiver. “Did you hear that?”

“I really couldn’t help it,” Sandy admitted.

“Where do these crazy rumors get started? Party gossips!  Oh, well, they’re not worth losing your appetite over.  Want another donut before I finish these?”

“No, thanks. Eric . .  . ” she began hesitantly, “I maybe should’ve told you this yesterday afternoon but I didn’t think it was worth your while.  But with what Mrs. Ryerson just said . . . “

“What is it?”

“I was in the deli yesterday noon, getting lunch, and I ran into another architect, a girl I knew at college.”

“And?”

“And immediately she saw me, she came rushing up and exclaimed– so embarrassing, I thought the whole counter could hear–‘Oh, I hear you and Baumann are getting sued for architectural malpractice!’ I was as blown over as you looked a couple minutes ago. I asked her what on God’s green earth she was talking about, and she said she’d just heard we’d been caught taking kickbacks from a contractor or something like that. No specifics, of course, and she couldn’t for the life of her tell me where she’d heard this report, just that it was sort of floating around her office.”

“What did you say?”

“I pulled the Aggrieved Artist act. I said I considered such an accusation beneath the dignity of a reply and pointed out that if the guys in her office spent more of their time reading and discussing the history and theory of Architecture instead of the latest building scandals they’d profit greatly by it.”

“Whoo! A little harsh, weren’t you!”

“Yeah, maybe.  But I could’ve said that maybe then they’d stop turning out those misbegotten Post-Modernist abortions they’re so fond of.”

“I congratulate you on your charity and restraint,” he said, bowing in mock gravity.

“Eric . . .  I was kind of wondering . . . Do you think Nick Hardt . . . ?”

“I’m afraid that’s entirely possible. But let’s not jump to conclusions yet.”

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