General Fiction posted October 20, 2014


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A Salon Vivant mystery

Cut and Run, Part Two

by Writingfundimension

Story of the Month Contest Winner 

PREVIOUSLY:
The owner of a busy downtown hair studio, Salon Vivant, finds out one of her employees has called in with a fake emergency in order to spend the day at the Beach. Since this is not the young woman's first offense, Nikki Rhodes, the owner, is now in a position to determine whether she will terminate the woman's employment.

The crisis comes in the midst of plans to expand the business which calls for renovation of a hundred year old building. 

**********


The benefit of working decades for other people was learning the best approach to driving the engine of my own success. Before opening Salon Vivant, I developed a mission statement for its growth. I listed out the attributes of people I admired and determined they all had one thing in common: Honesty.

Now, five years into the realization of my dream of owning a salon, I'm grateful to have employees who are both honest and team players. Before coming across Deidre Keller, I was, as they say, knocking them out of the park. Now, I'm questioning my ability to read people. 

Deidre's a good actress, I tell myself by way of excuse. How could I have known she'd be a flake? After all, her previous employers spoke well of her, and the clients all seem to like her. That she claimed a family emergency today when, I've learned, she plans to spend the afternoon tanning at Bayshore beach, caught me by surprise. As I sit in my office, trying to enjoy my coffee and bagel, I swallow around the tight knot in my throat. Are there others of my staff who aren't what they appear to be?

The image of long-limbed fitness fanatic, Sydney, pops into my mind. She joined my staff as a massage therapist three months ago. She's buff and doesn't hesitate to use her strength to ream out knots that would flummox a sailor. I've noticed she and Deidre hang out together, often speaking in low tones. The situation makes me unaccountably uncomfortable, but I abhor owners who snoop on their employees.

It's Sydney's day off. I wonder if she's in on Deidre's plan to blow off work today? I could call her under the guise of setting up a massage time for myself. Except, I know she attends a Wednesday morning yoga class. So, no answer doesn't mean she's with Deidre.

My lips are tingling from the jalapenos in the cream cheese, which brings me back to the moment. And just in time to take in the crooked grin and chiseled features of the area's most sought-after bachelor, Justin Alder. He's wearing a burgundy V-neck sweater with a black tee underneath and tan chinos. Over his heart is the gold embroidered logo of his business.

I can smell his cologne from where I'm sitting, and it sets my nether regions tingling. His eyes glitter like those of a wily old mouser, and I remind myself to remember my vow not to end up in the graveyard of his kicked-aside conquests.

“Have I caught you at a bad time, Nikki?" He shifts the tube containing the blueprints from under his arm to the front of his chest. “I finished my other job early and decided to take a chance you'd be free.”

Despite the way my body reacts to the sound of his voice – a combination of confident and lights-out sexy – I play it cool. He's the best architect in town, and I'm lucky he's willing to take on a small project like mine.

“You're fine, Justin. C'mon in.”

I move my laptop off to the side and clear a space for him to spread out the plans for my addition. This is awkward. Where do I place his chair? Next to me or across the desk?

He makes the decision for me by hooking his foot around the leg of a swivel chair and guiding it to a spot next to mine. Rolling out the plans, he looks around for something to hold down the corners.

Great, a chance to get some air and pull myself together. “I'll get a stack of magazines to hold down the corners, Justin. Plus, I have a staff matter to address. Won't take long.” Pointing to a small alcove across the hallway, I offer, “Help yourself to coffee. I'll be right back.”

I round the corner of my office and stop short of colliding with the woman I'm looking for. Pulling her off to the side, I lower my voice. “Jeanette, I need you to take care of something for me. Deidre called in with a family emergency. I was about to contact her clients and reschedule when my architect arrived early for his appointment. Can you take care of calling them?”

“Not a good time, Nikki. My first client's in the chair.” She gestures towards a woman fidgeting beneath her black cape. “It's Ingrid Meyer, and you know how she likes first-class treatment.”

“Who else is on the floor?”

“Portia came in through the back door a few minutes ago."

“Okay, will you see if she can take care of it?”

“Yes, of course, but why don't you just have the receptionist make the calls, Nikki?”

“Because this needs to be handled with delicacy.”

“Right. Not the first time Deidre's clients have been stood up.” Jeanette's hand went to her hip. “Have you ever noticed that her emergencies seem to coincide with perfect summer weather?”

“That's been pointed out to me. I'm calling a staff meeting for tomorrow at 8:30 A.M. The situation will be addressed with everyone present.”

Jeanette's chin lifts and her eyes gleam with strong emotion. “Good. I was beginning to wonder how long she'd get away with playing you.”

A flush creeps up my face and across my scalp. Am I the only one who's been blind to Deidre's true character?

Keeping my features neutral, I push on. I'll be with the architect for about ninety minutes. After that, I'm available to cover any of Deidre's clients you're not able to reach.”

“Okay, Nikki. You know you can count on Portia and me to help however we can."

I brush her shoulder with my palm. "Sorry I let this situation go on for so long. But I promise you, it ends tomorrow.”

“Your only fault, if you want to call it that, is trying to help a young woman who is the sole income for her family. Maybe people like Deidre are suffering from the growing phenomenon of irresponsibilititis.”

A snicker slips out. “That's a new one. You make it up?”

“Yup.” Jeanette sweeps a hand down the line of her sleek black hair with pure, dramatic flare. “I'm a woman of many talents.”

I catch Ingrid Meyer's dark look. “Yes, you are. If only people like Ingrid would take time to acknowledge them. Anyway, her highness looks ready to explode. We'll talk later.”

**

“The plans look to be in order, Justin. Are we going to be able to proceed at the end of August as planned?”

“Yes. I've received your check for half payment, the rest to be collected at the end of the project. The contractor has you on his calendar. We're not expecting any blocks to delay our going forward as planned.”

A sudden, cold breeze passes between us. I can see the hairs rise up on my arms. Justin makes a half-turn with his stool, then stares at the ceiling above my desk. Shaking his head, he levels his gaze on me.

“That blast of cold air just now... where'd it come from? Your air conditioning vent is on the other side of the room.”

“The temperature in this room has always been hard to control. It's over the old part of the basement, and I've concluded that has something to do with it.” It's gotten worse since firming up plans for the renovation, but I'm certainly not going to admit that to you!

Justin's narrowed eyes bore into mine. I'm the first one to look away. Rising from my chair, I reach out to shake his hand. He looks down at my proffered hand and back up at my face. “Do you know the history of this building, Nikki?”

I drop my hand and step back, no longer willing to make physical contact with him. “I know the foundation dates to 1906.”

“Yes, but that's not what I'm talking about. There was a speakeasy at this location back in the 1920's. Al Capone used to come down from Chicago. He liked this area. Had a special suite on the second floor of this very building.”

“There's no proof Al Capone ever stayed here.” Shit, now he knows I know.

“Oh, there's proof. My great-grandfather met him here one time. Thought he was an elegant and well-spoken gentleman. Lots of folks did in those days.”

Time to end this conversation. “As fascinating as all this is, I need to get back to work, Justin. Maybe you can tell me more about the building's history another time?”

“Suit yourself.”

Turning back to the desk, he begins to roll up the blueprints. Though his words, when they come, are pitched low, I feel as if he's screaming them. “There're bodies that have never been found, Nikki.” He glances up at me. “Be prepared for anything once we start tearing out the walls and pulling up the floors.”

Placing the blueprints back into their tube, he tucks it under his arm and exits the room.

I drop into my chair and stare into space. Is this place haunted by restless ghosts? Could that explain the feeling I get that I'm being watched whenever I'm here alone? Or why things go missing, only to turn up in crazy places no one would think to look?

I take a deep breath and steel myself to take care of my foremost problem. The ghosts can wait. Right now, I need to call Deidre.

A part of me hopes she'll answer the phone, but it goes into message mode.

“Deidre, this is Nikki. I want to see you in my office tomorrow at 8 A.M. It's imperative that you be here on time, so make sure you have child care coverage.”

I drop my phone on the desk and lean back in my chair. My mood sprints upward, and I realize how much I need to resolve this staff problem.

I'll hear you out, Deidre, but there's no longer any doubt that you're a troublemaker. I don't care if I have to get a lawyer to sever our contract or how many clients you try to take with you, I won't associate with a liar. After tomorrow, you'll be someone else's problem.

~~ to be continued ~~

 



Story of the Month
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Recognized


Cast of Characters:

Justin Alder: Architect and eligible bachelor.
Al Capone: One of the most famous gangsters in history. He is reputed to have 'owned' most of Chicago at one point. Like many of the wealthy from Chicago, he enjoyed spending time in the Northern Michigan area that borders Lake Michigan.
Deidre Keller: Employee of Salon Vivant.
Nikki Rhodes: The Forty-Five year old owner of Salon Vivant.

Terms:
Jalapenos: hot green pepper.
Mouser: A cat that excels at catching mice.
Speakeasy: An establishment that illegally sold liquor during the U.S. Prohibition (1920-1933).

Thanks much to Avmurray for the great artwork: Sophisticated.

As always, thanks for reading!
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by avmurray at FanArtReview.com

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