Crystal Moore stood in her stocking feet, glaring at the row of shoes in her closet. Her raven hair, flipped up just below her ear lobes, looked like it had received three strokes with a brush. Dark circles under her eyes belied eight hours sleep. "Terrific, I'm late and can't find a single shoe to wear," she grumbled.
"One won't do any good. Need a pair." Brandi Brewer, a mug of hot chocolate in her hand, lounged against the door to Crystal's bedroom. "What kind you looking for?"
Hands on hips, Crystal surveyed the jumble of shoes. "Something that'll match my outfit."
Brandi appraised her housemate's attire and shrugged. "Which part?"
Crystal's frown only deepened.
"How 'bout those by the foot of the bed." Brandi pointed the mug at a pair of charcoal slings.
Crystal turned her head and focused on the shoes. "They'll do." She padded over and stepped into the Guccis.
"Don't have time. Didn't sleep well last night, and can't seem to get going." She rummaged in her purse, found a tube of lipstick and bent down to look in the mirror over the dressing table.
"Guess not. I got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. No news flash there. When I passed your door, you were really thrashing around. Thought you had a man under the covers." Brandi giggled. "Who's Dr. Coup?"
Crystal's hand jerked, sending a slash of bright coral from lip to nose. Slowly, her shoulders sagged, like a balloon losing some of its air. Her eyes glazed over and she stood motionless, barely breathing. Dr. Krupe. The brilliant Dr. Krupe. Why couldn't she purge his memory from her brain? She forced her mind back to the present, straightened her back, focused her eyes. "I don't know any Dr. Coup."
"Well, he was on your mind last night. Heard it going and coming back."
"I don't know anybody by that name." She snatched a pale pink tissue from a box on the dresser and tried to repair the damage. "And why were you eavesdropping?"
"Eavesdropping? You were talking in your sleep, for God's sake. And I have to pass by your door to get to the bathroom." The short, auburn-haired woman turned and sauntered into the living room.
Crystal examined the image in the mirror. Her upper lip retained an orange glow on the right side. She glanced at the clock, shook her head and tossed the tissue at the wastebasket. She dropped the lipstick in her purse and hurried into the living room. Brandi sat on the couch, feet curled under her, thumbing through a magazine.
"Sorry I snapped at you," Crystal said as she stopped to gather papers off the coffee table. "I had a lousy night and so far this morning, things aren't improving. But that's no excuse to lash out at you. Sorry."
"See you tonight. I promise to be in a better mood." Crystal dashed out of the apartment.
Crystal pulled open the heavy glass door to the offices of Intelligent Retrieval Systems. Pam Ragley, the receptionist, looked up. "Hi, Crystal. Dr. O'Malley wants to see you the minute you get in."
Crystal arched her eyebrows. "What's up?"
"I don't know. But all hell's broken loose. All I can tell you is, he's on the warpath."
"Thanks for the warning."
Crystal paused at the open door and tapped lightly. "You wanted to see me?"
Dr. Mark O'Malley, the thirty-five-year-old president and principal owner of IRS, Inc., motioned her in with his left hand while he continued to write on a pale green pad of paper. She settled down in one of the dark blue leather chairs opposite his desk and waited. Crystal didn't mind waiting. It gave her time to study Mark. She knew he was her boss and she shouldn't mix business and pleasure, but just watching him caused a little flutter in her stomach.
He dropped the pencil and glanced at the small, digital clock on the corner of his desk.
"Sorry I'm late," Crystal said.
"Hasn't been a good morning. Give me an update on your project. Where does it stand?"
Crystal felt a slight blush rise up her cheeks. "It's still behind schedule, but I think we're catching up. We should be ready to load data in a week. Ten days at the outside."
Mark's sapphire eyes bored into hers but he said nothing. She looked away, repositioned herself in the chair and slipped her fingers under her thighs. The silence seemed to stretch on forever. "We might be able to load data this week, maybe Friday, if all goes well," she said, although her voice lacked any conviction. A jumble of thoughts milled around in her head. This is not at all like Mark.
He let out a long sigh. "It seems like everything is falling behind." He ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. "Rooney's unhappy." Rooney Associates provided the venture capital that was helping Intelligent Retrieval Systems grow. "They've got a new consultant. He went over our last report, and apparently, he didn't like it. So, he's stirring them up. They're coming to look over our shoulders and see what we're doing and why we're not doing it faster."
Now, Crystal's face mirrored the concern of her boss. She knew Sally's project had bogged down recently. Phil's group had just started a new project and would have nothing to show. And her project wasn't ready to show investors.
"At any rate," Mark continued, his voice losing some of the sharpness, "we need to put on a good dog-and-pony show when this guy gets here. The next round of funding is due in a couple of months. Not a good time to make them unhappy. Or cause them to have second thoughts."
"Oh yes they can. The bulk of that inch-thick agreement insures they can do almost anything. And while I think Rooney is fair, I know he's hard-nosed. He'll do what he thinks is best for Rooney. See if you can push-"
Pam's voice came over the intercom. "Sorry to break in, Dr. O'Malley, but Crystal's grandmother is on line one and sounds like she really needs to talk to Crystal-right now. What should I tell her?"
Mark frowned at the intercom, then at Crystal. "Transfer it to Crystal's office. At least one of us should be working."
Crystal felt like she had been reprimanded. She left without a word and trudged the fifty feet to her office. She collapsed in her chair and reached for the phone. Probably nothing more than Nana finding some new guy she wants to match me up with. She forced a smile on her face and tried to sound as bright as possible. "Hi, Nana. What's up?"
"Somebody tried to kill me."
Cleansed by Fire, another mystery/suspense book by James R. Callan, is available now at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions, or on this website. To visit the book's website, click here. To find it on Amazon, click here."
Murder a Cappella, a book James and one of his daughters, Diane Bailey, wrote together is out available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions. It's a mystery, set during the International Competition of the Sweet Adelines (women who sing barbershop harmony). It will be published by Wayside Press, an imprint of Written World Communications. Visit the book's website by clicking here.
Details for the contract on another mystery are currently being negotiated. Check back for more information on this new mystery.