(This is a continuing series called “Kissing Frogs” posted every Friday. To get caught up, you can click the “Kissing Frogs . . . so far” link at the top of the page.)
“Joanna, where in the name of all that is good and holy are you?”
Even standing on a scaffolding, hands stretched to their limit bearing the weight of the new ceiling Jack was installing, Joey couldn’t help but laugh. Despite the awkwardness of working under armed guard, the men had managed to complete the ambitious re-wiring project in another fast food fueled, sleep challenged weekend.
There had been a lot of discussions over those hours about whether or not to continue the project, but in the end the guaranteed pay checks had weighed out over petulant bosses and meddling boyfriends. They had arrived first thing this Monday morning, prepared to set to work on the second floor kitchen, and no one had even blinked. It was almost as if the weekend had existed in a parallel universe.
“I wonder what it is this time?” Jack asked, between drill spurts. “Faulkner just left, or just called, or hasn’t called . . .”
“Or hasn’t left.” finished Joey and the two friends laughed.
“Who is Faulkner?” The deep male voice startled Joey so much, he just about dropped the sheet rock he was holding to the ceiling.
A distinguished looking man, in a suit that looked like it cost more than Joey’s entire wardrobe, was standing in the doorway looking up at the men. Before they could answer, he looked around.
“Isn’t this the room Joanna used to call the “death trap?”
Joey’s answer was drowned out by Jack driving in the last of the screws so Joey could put his arms down. Once they descended from their scaffolding, he responded again.
“Yes sir, and rightly so. I think we’ve managed. . .”
The stranger cut him off, rudely.
“Yes, I’m sure you did. So who is Faulkner?”
The two friends looked at each other and then back to the man before them. Finally Joey responded.
“I think you’d need to ask Tracey that question, sir.”
The man’s entire countenance changed, and he looked Joey directly in the eye, while offering his hand in greeting.
“You are absolutely right. I’m sorry gentlemen.”
Joey took the offered hand and shook it firmly, introducing himself and Jack. They received no introduction in response.
“You’re the young men Tracey hired to bring this old derelict into the current century,” the stranger exclaimed, as if the puzzle pieces had come together in his mind. “The way Tracey spoke, I had pictured you as some baby faced frat boys. What have you managed to do with the heap?”
He seemed genuinely interested, and he wasn’t walking away, so Joey began to tell him what they had been doing.
Joanna’s bounce deflated noticeably when she saw Andrew Faulkner sitting casually alongside Tracey’s desk. It was amazing and exactly as he had predicted it. Tracey allowed herself a brief moment of disappointment before putting on her “boss face” and addressing the issue at hand.
“Joanna. We’ve got to talk about your attitude.”
“So you replaced the entire plumbing system in one weekend?” this gentleman seemed to be genuinely impressed with the work they had done, so Jack and Joey kept telling him about it.
“The plumbing wasn’t as difficult as the wiring,” Joey began. “If you accidentally leave a valve open you get wet, if you leave a circuit open you can get dead.”
The look on Joanna’s face almost made Tracey stop, but the slight pressure from Andrew’s foot against her own gave her the courage to continue.
“The final straw was you sending the repair men into my office while I was on the phone with the printers. What were you thinking?”
Tears sprang to Joanna’s eyes as she looked first to Tracey, and then to Andrew. Finally she brought her eyes back to Tracey’s face and answered.
“Tracey, I explained they were there and asked if I should send them in. You nodded and I asked if they should wait during the call and you said, ‘That’s fine.’”
“Why would you lie about something like that?” Andrew’s normally rich voice was a little reedy with the strain of incredulity. Joanna’s response was sudden and direct.
“I’m not lying, and you, sir, are not my boss. Tracey, I will be happy to have this discussion in a professional manner without your boyfriend here as an audience.”
“So plumbing and wiring in a weekend each and demolition on the death trap kitchen in a morning. I must say, apart from my fear that the press will hear you’re non-union, I am very pleased with what you’ve done here. I may have done Tracey a disservice in my assumption of your competency.” He was now leaning against a bare stud, chatting with the guys like he’d know them for months. This well dressed mystery man clearly had some connection to Tracey and the business, but just as Joey was going to ask, he saw Joanna flee down the stairs, obviously in tears.
Jack reached out and caught Joey’s arm to hold him back. They both knew the surest way to hurt a woman and create a very tangled situation, was for a man to comfort her in distress. Joey knew it, but he wasn’t ready for the comment that came from behind him as their new “friend” came past them.
“That young woman is like a daughter to me, and if she is crying, it is because someone is dead, or needs to be. Excuse me gentlemen.”
Jack shrugged, and let go of Joey’s arm, just as Andrew Faulkner stepped from Tracey’s office, and stood, face to face, with the mystery man. There was a moment as each of the men sized the other up. Faulkner spoke first, and Joey noticed he had his “radio voice” on.
“Well, Edward, I suppose this was inevitable.”
“Andrew, you really are a cold-hearted S-O-B,” came the reply. “What have you done to Joanna?”
Andrew was taken aback by the question and hadn’t answered when Tracey stepped from her door herself, and slipped her hand into his, before looking at the man in the hallway. She froze and snatched her hand back like it had been burned. Andrew snatched it back just as quickly.
“Daddy? What are you doing here?”