Dylan walked into the space that smelled and felt of home.
It began as a typical Manhattan loft, an open space with industrial windows. When Renee was done, there were rooms, some with a few stairs leading up, all with walls reaching toward the high ceiling. Their bedroom had little lights and prismic glass ornaments hanging, giving it a magical feel. Everything with Renee was magical. She was in the kitchen, humming. He smelled her amazing apple pie.
When she designed his office, she gave him a corner space. “The corner office you deserve,” she’d murmured and kissed him. The office was barely visualized, walls staked out with string. He insisted they christen it in a loving manner. A blanket, laughter, and champagne filled his office. When the room was finished, Renee handed him a key.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“It’s a key,” she smiled.
“Yes, I can see that, silly. A key to what?”
“It locks your office. It should be a private space. You don’t just walk into my studio, right?” Her eyebrows danced into curves with her question.
“No, I suppose not,” Dylan agreed. “But you don’t lock your studio.”
“Let’s just say I’m giving you the option.” Her face was almost solemn. He gathered her into his arms and held her, murmuring into her long, fragrant hair.
Bills fanned out on Dylan’s desk. His dark hair stuck up at odd angles from being pulled upon. His gaze went from the red accounts book with the right numbers to the green one used for the public. Ironic, really. The book was red and so were most of the numbers in it. The company was hemorrhaging money. Dylan’s job these days was keeping investors from getting curious. He kept them looking elsewhere, such as the green book with its impressive numbers.
He looked up sharply at the knock. “Just … uhm… be right there, Renee!” The bills got stuffed into the red book. Dylan shoved both books into a drawer and locked it. When he opened the door, his breath caught. She stood there in a sheer nightie, her black hair streaming over her shoulder. She held a tray with his favorite hot apple pie, vanilla ice cream trickling down the sides. “Just this once,” he grinned, “the pie will wait.”
The company officers grudgingly decided they had no choice. Dylan drew the short straw. He and their security chief went to the Russian tea room on the river. Dylan tried not to think what the Russian mob did, the river so close. Chin high, he made his way past various men with harsh accents. It took a half hour before a burly fellow escorted Dylan to the corner booth. By all accounts, Rudolf “the Fish” Karpinsky was a charming host. Those same accounts included his impatience and volatility. Dylan smiled quietly and managed to make suitable arrangements. For a hefty fee, Rudolf would be a silent but generous partner.
Not long after, Dylan noticed things moved on his desk. He couldn’t be sure, but didn’t he leave that pen in the cup with the others? And the post-its. They seemed in the wrong place. “Renee, honey,” he called out. She came to him, wiping her hands on a kitchen towel. “Did you need something from my desk earlier?”
Her eyes sparkled. “Even if I had, the door was probably locked.” Good point. “I got home not long before you, Dylan. Been getting supper ready ever since.” He kissed her forehead.
“My mind playing games on me, love.”
But it wasn’t, he knew it just as sure as he knew who’d been in his office. Rudolf’s men. In a panic, he checked the lock of the drawer with the accounting books. No marks. Would there be marks? His heart beating in his ears, he checked the other drawers. There it was. A life insurance policy for two million dollars on Renee with him as the beneficiary. It even looked like his signature. It was dated a year ago. He filed it with the important papers. It seemed the thing to do while he sorted it all out.
He was up all night trying to figure out the right approach with Rudolf. Offense and irritation would not do the job. Curiosity perhaps. Yes, curiosity followed up by reasonable discussion. They would cancel the policy. Feeling better, Dylan headed for the corner Starbucks. Dammit, his wallet. It was on his desk along with the office key. Exhaustion gone, he raced back to the loft. Renee stepped out of his office as he neared it. Pretend there’s nothing wrong, he told himself. He reached out to brush his knuckles over her cheek. It was barely noticeable, but she flinched at his touch. He pulled back his hand and stared into her eyes. She knew.
“I’m sorry,” she stumbled. “I needed my birth certificate to renew my driver’s license.” The same folder as the insurance policy. Dylan felt sick.
“Not a problem. Did you find it?” Renee nodded, her expressive face frowning as she turned away.
“I better get to the DMV. You know how the lines are.” She couldn’t escape quickly enough. That was the last Dylan saw her. All her things disappeared when he was downtown the next week. He couldn’t blame her for not leaving an address or number.
Winter gripped Manhattan. It grasped hold of Dylan’s soul. The contracts dried up as the economy died. Rudolf loomed, a constant reminder. They were unable to pay, of course. Rudolf whispered in Dylan’s ear. “The papers, my friend. Say the word and all will be solved. She is gone forever anyway.”
The remaining partners met after Walter’s suicide. Overcome by grief and guilt, they left without solace. It was time. Dylan punched in the number. The end justifies the means, he reminded himself. “Da?” He winced.
“Yeah, it’s a go.”