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It Can Happen
By BETTY MCINNIS
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Betty McInnis
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA frown furrowed Craig McPherson's habitually pleasant face. He looked at the contracts on his desk, pushed them aside and said to himself, "To hell with it." He was restless. He had acknowledged his secretary with a nod when she brought him his airline ticket and had only nodded a 'thank you' to the mail boy, unusual for him. He swung his chair around, crossed his arms over his chest, and stared out his office window at the Oklahoma City skyline.
His thoughts wandered. 'I am CEO, president, and owner of my oil company. I've reached the top of my profession. Where do I go from here? Has the Peter Principle taken over? Have I reached the level of my incompetence? It can happen.' He sneered.
A tap on his door disturbed his mulling. "What?" was his slightly wearied response.
His executive vice-president opened the door and looked in. He didn't turn around so she stepped inside his office and spoke to his back.
"I was wondering if there were anything you needed for your trip to Washington. Are you planning to do any business while you are there?"
His reply came in a vexed voice.
"No. I'm only going for that damn Foundation board meeting."
"Craig, are you all right?" He turned and smiled at her.
"Lorna, I'm sorry. I'm okay, just feeling out-of-sorts today. I'm not looking forward to wasting three days. I may make a few contacts or call one of my golf buddies, but otherwise I'll just be sitting with a bunch of old men arguing over how to distribute millions of dollars."
She was accustomed to his moods but this was unusual.
"Maybe you can get some rest. Forget about business. Things here are going well according to the reports that have just come in. The drilling in the Permian Basin is looking good and the two helium wells in the Texas panhandle are pumping away. No problems anywhere else."
He turned his chair around, still smiling, and acknowledged her in an emollient tone.
"Lorna. You are a jewel. What would I do without you?" She smiled, a silent answer, as she turned to leave. "I'll see you when you get back."
With a long heavy sigh, he shoved the contracts into his attaché case, preparing to leave on the trip he dreaded. Little did he know that within the next few hours, events would begin to unfold that would change his life forever.
Lorna and the secretary watched him as he walked out the door.
"What's bothering him today? He is always so nice."
"He's just in a funk. Being professionally successful and wealthy doesn't always bring happiness. Being a C.E.O. is an intimidating position. When you sit in the ivory tower, you tend to have no friends, only business associates. He's high-wired; apathy is not in his vocabulary. He survives on accomplishment. I think things have become too much of a routine for him. He needs some action; something different."
"Maybe he needs to get married again. How long has his wife been dead?
"I think about eighteen years."
"Does he date or anything?"
"I really don't know. He is a very private person. We talk business and share stories about our children, but that's about all."
"He's a good looking guy even with his iron-gray hair. How old is he?"
"Forty-two years old; still pretty young to be single." Lorna turned away, anxious to end this conversation. "Well, we need to get to work."
Craig walked to the underground parking area of his building, climbed into his Lincoln and drove to Will Rogers International Airport, parked the car and took the shuttle bus to the terminal. Going through security with no problems, he was soon boarding the plane for the flight. He gazed out the window as they taxied down the runway. It always amazed him that there were pumpjacks at the edge of the landing field, still pumping after so many years. He felt the acceleration as the captain applied full power and the plane took off into the billowing gulf clouds.
When the seatbelt light went off, he pulled the tray down in front of him, removed the contracts from his attaché case, intending to study them. He couldn't concentrate. He picked up the in-house magazine, thumbed through it with no better success. He took out his pen and worked the crossword puzzle in about three minutes. Finally, he lay back with the resigned air of an innocent being led to the guillotine, the trundle a Southwest Airlines 737. He dozed until they landed at Dulles at 10:15.
* * *
At the same time a small, wiry, middle-aged man, dressed in work clothes checked both directions before slipping a letter into a postbox in upper Manhattan of New York City. The address:
Mr. William J. Gillespie The First National Bank Dallas, Texas U.S.A.
There was no return address. Again, he looked in both directions. Not seeing anyone near to observe him, he walked away.
Chapter TwoCraig waited absentmindedly for his luggage as the carrousel began circling, a wait he had repeated a half-dozen times this last year. He grabbed his bag and started walking toward the exit. He amused himself by watching people and studying them; it had served him well in business. Now he scanned them as they hurried by.
As he pushed through the crowd, he noticed a young woman walking toward the next carrousel. She looked vaguely familiar. Did he know her? He knew quite a few women in D.C., had dated some. Was this one of them? He changed the cadence of his walk and sidestepped to better see her face. A memory popped up: Elizabeth his childhood sweetheart, the only girl he had ever loved, the one he had planned to marry before she moved away and was lost. He had an adrenalin surge at the thought of her; it excited him. He stopped and watched. Could it possibly be her? It was improbable, but he had to know. Ordinarily a strange man would not dare approach a strange woman in public, especially in Washington where everything and everyone was under suspicion. He made a quick decision. Impulsively he walked toward her. He saw her look up alarmed.
She watched this tall, very good-looking man approach her.
He smiled. "Excuse me. Are you by any chance Elizabeth Allen?"
She looked puzzled.
"I'm Elizabeth Jameson. My maiden name was Elizabeth Allen." She hesitated. "Do I know you?"
His heart gave a leap; he had to take a deep breath before he could answer.
"Elizabeth, I'm Craig."
He saw her look of surprise then disbelieve.
"Buzz McPherson, is it really you?"
"Well, Bets Allen. I think so. That's who I was when I left my office this morning."
Her smile was big. She put her hand to her mouth, a gesture that he remembered. His heart flipped.
"I can't believe it. I haven't heard that nickname in ... well, forever."
"Yeah. Twenty-five years is a long time."
She kept looking at him."
Her bag circled by on the carrousel. They didn't notice. It circled around again; the third time, she noticed.
"I had better catch that before they send it to lost and found." She reached for it.
"Let me get that." He grabbed it for her and set it by his bag as he asked. "What are you doing in D.C.?"
"I have an appointment this afternoon with a lawyer to research some oil leases and deeds. What are you doing here?"
"I'm on the board of a Foundation which is having its quarterly meeting tomorrow morning."
As she reached for her bag, he picked it up.
"Here, let me get that. I have a car waiting. Could I drive you somewhere? Better yet ... would you have lunch with me? We have a lot to talk about, a lot of years to catch up on. I know a place near."
She looked at her watch.
"I have until 2:30. So, I have time. I want to hear what you have been doing these last twenty-five years."
He grinned, the grin she loved. "That goes for me too. I'm interested in how your life has been."
He picked up their luggage with her in tow, and headed for the exit. From the corner of her eye, she saw the man watching them. It was the same one who had watched her as she stood in line at D/FW. She remembered his well tailored western suit and his western Stetson pulled low shading his face. Was he a client? Oh, well. Her attention returned to Craig who was leading them to the rental car that was waiting, a light blue Chrysler 300 L that his secretary had ordered for him. He opened the car door for her.
"Hop in and I will put our bags in the trunk." Circling to the driver's side, he pulled in his long legs and drove to a small near-by cafe. As they walked in, the waiter greeted him with, "Glad to see you again, Mr. McPherson," and led them to a booth in a secluded corner. They were seated and Craig handed a menu to her. He couldn't take his eyes off her; memories kept flooding his mind.
They smiled at each other. Finally, he broke through his thoughts to the menu as he saw the waiter approaching.
"What would you like?"
"I'll have the spinach salad."
"I'll have a ham and cheese sandwich on rye. What would you like to drink?"
"A Coke would be fine."
She saw a devilish look come over his face.
"Do you want lime in it?"
He retorted, "Of course. I don't forget important things." He turned to the waiter. "Make that two Cokes with lime." He was feeling like a kid again.
Looking at him, she smiled.
"How in the world did you recognize me?"
"Why I would know you anywhere.
She chided, "Seriously, I have changed so much."
"Seriously, it is an accepted fact that a person's walk, body movements are a sure identifier more accurate than fingerprints that can be camouflaged by a silicone covering or something similar to cover the print. Body movements can't be altered in any way; they are with us forever. I now know that it is true. You caught my eye and looked familiar. My first impression was of a beautiful woman that I knew from somewhere, then when you moved, my memory took over and I was sure enough to risk being arrested for harassing a lady." He paused and asked, "Did you ever recognize me?" He was almost afraid of her answer.
"In fact you looked familiar. Then when I looked at your eyes and you smiled, I knew it was you at the same moment you said who you were. But you are so much taller."
"Yes. I grew four inches after you left. My dad said he was going to put a rock on my head to slow me down. I finally stopped at six foot three. My son is six one, my daughter five six."
"And your wife?"
His face sobered. "She is deceased."
Elizabeth was embarrassed. "I'm sorry."
"It's been a long time, eighteen years." He changed to subject quickly. "What does your husband do?"
"He's deceased too, killed in an oilfield accident seventeen years ago."
"Oh God. That's awful. I'm so sorry." He paused. She had nothing to add so he continued on a happier note, he hoped. "Do you have children?"
"Yes. I have two boys. One is at SMU (Southern Methodist University) the other is at Texas."
Craig was excited.
"Hey. My daughter is a student at TU. Rob, my son, is at Oklahoma. What a coincidence that we would have kids in the same school."
"That is amazing."
They laughed at the parallel of this revelation. He ducked his head then looked up at her and said, "I broke one of my rules when I asked you to have lunch with me without knowing if you were married. I don't go out with married women. But I had to have a chance to talk to you and find out. I couldn't very well say, 'Hello, Elizabeth. I am Craig. Are you married?'
She laughed and replied.
"I broke the same rule when I agreed to get in the car with you, but I'm glad I did." Her heart was pounding with a sense of discovery, but leaving room for the possibility that this was only temporary.
They smiled at each other.
"Where do you live?"
"I live in Fort Worth. After Josh died I moved us from Wyoming to Texas and we have lived there ever since."
Their lunches arrived. Between bites, they exchanged food likes and dislikes, and other trivia.
An amused look crossed his face.
"Did my white hair throw you?
"It's not white; it's iron gray and very attractive, in fact, quite distinguishing."
He laughed. "Thank you."
There was a lull as they continued eating.
Craig looked pensive then raised his eyes to her eyes and asked the question that had bothered him for years.
"How is it that we never found each other?"
Her eyes took on a faraway look. "I've wondered that too."
"I was frantic when I lost contact with you. I wrote letters and made phone calls to places all over the west where I thought you might be; all were dry runs."
"I did the same. I even made several trips to Oklahoma City, but each time I was told that your folks were out of the country and you lived in some east coast town. Several years later I thought about trying again but I thought you were probably married with a house full of kids and an old girlfriend showing up would not be a good idea, an embarrassment to you."
He smiled that same, long-ago smile.
"And here we sit talking to each other. Our meeting the way we did today was incredible."
"Yes, really incredible."
They sat lost on their own thoughts and memories. He was thinking, trying to analyze his feelings. 'She was thirteen years old and I was fourteen when I fell in love with her, a skinny little girl with long blond hair; three years later we promised each other to marry in five years.'
He broke the silence.
"We surely were two love-sick teenagers with long term goals. Those were some dreams that we had."
"Yes, we even planned to get married when we both finished college." He nodded his head. She added. "Remember, we had even chosen the date, June tenth."
"You remembered." He seemed surprised.
She grinned. "Women tend to remember things too."
His only reply, "Oh." To her his look was too casual to indicate any desire to renew an old love affair. She felt an unexpected pang that this was only an episode that would soon be over. Old feelings for him were beginning to emerge. Did she really want that?
Suddenly she looked at her watch.
"Oh Craig, it's 2:00. I have to go. This has been wonderful seeing you again."
He jumped up. "Let me drive you to your appointment."
She smiled at him. The smile he loved.
"Okay, if it is not too much trouble."
"Are you kidding?"
He picked up the check and planked down several bills. The waiter picked up the generous tip and waved goodbye to them as they walked out the door.
Craig drove to the entrance to her building, hopped out of the car to open the door for her.
"Where will you be? I will park the car and come up and wait for you."
That took her by surprise, the idea that he would waste an afternoon on her, but it was flattering.
"I will be on the twenty-sixth floor, suite 2603."
"I'll be right up."
She walked into the building, to the elevator and entered it with the waiting group. She had no reason to notice two men standing to one side. Only one of them stepped forward, mingled with the crowd, and entered behind her. She punched floor number 26. Also, she had no reason to notice that he exited on floor 26 behind her.
Excerpted from It Can Happen by BETTY MCINNIS Copyright © 2010 by Betty McInnis. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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