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Dorian laced up her work boots and set her brown loafers on the back floorboard of the company's Geo Metro. Most of the crew were still milling around as she scanned a group near the backhoe. Dorian spotted Rusty Barnes and headed in his direction. She put her hard hat on and suppressed a smile as workers suddenly began working the moment they saw her.
Rusty waved her over and shifted the unlit, raggedy cigar to the other side of his mouth. He was a big man with a belly that hung over his belt. The seat of his pants was nothing more than a baggy reminder of where a butt should be but wasn't.
"Them neighborhood sumbitches are stealin' our dipsticks again," Rusty said in a low, rumbling voice. "We can't check the damn oil without a damn dipstick, now can we?"
"The site's been secure every night," Dorian said. She removed a pen from her starched pocket. "When's the last time the oil was checked in these things anyway?"
He eyed her with a raised bushy eyebrow and a squint. "They better be checkin' it every mornin'!" He tucked his clipboard under his beefy arm and looked around as someone started up the backhoe. "We got more dipsticks back at the warehouse, but I don't like kids messin' with the equipment."
Dorian was glad he let it drop. As the civil engineer for this neighborhood drainage project, Dorian was responsible for site security as well as for hundreds of other things. Even though losing dipsticks wasn't new to the crew, it had been a while since they'd had this particularproblem. And from Rusty's reluctance to pursue the matter, Dorian knew that he couldn't trust his people to check the oil in their equipment every day. The dipsticks could easily have been gone for a while — misplaced or stolen somewhere else when the bulldozers were used at other sites.
"It's gonna be a scorcher today," he said. Birds were chirping, and it was already way too hot to be only seven in the morning.
"We're coming up on a water main," Dorian said. She knew the location of every underground pipe and cable within a six-block radius, and she'd taken special care that morning to inform Rusty's crew exactly where the water main was and what to watch out for. "Let's get through that first."
Dorian loved her job. She loved the sounds of the bulldozers and the jackhammers, the churning of a cement mixer and the smell of asphalt. As a civil engineer she could see results quickly, and she thrived on her accomplishments. She was responsible for helping improve neighborhoods with better storm drainage and revamped streets to serve the needs of the people. She paid taxes too and used the taxpayer's money wisely, which most contractors despised her for. Contractors seemed to exist solely to get whatever they could out of a project, no matter whose pocket it came from.
Dorian had worked hard to get where she was. At twenty-five she had earned an engineering degree, and a few grueling exams later she'd gotten her professional engineer license. She'd been hired by a small but reputable engineering firm after her first interview, and she was one of three engineers in the office, along with two drafters and a survey crew. The Cohen Engineering staff consisted entirely of men except for Dorian and the office manager, Mia Fontaine. Dorian and the other two engineers had been hired after the boss suspected some bid rigging going on. A clean sweep of the office was made, and new blood had been added. Phil Cohen, Dorian's boss, firmly believed in letting his employees do the work. He was there if they absolutely needed him, but other than that he spent the majority of his time on the golf course.
"It's gonna be a scorcher," Rusty grumbled again. Dorian could already see sweat rings forming under his arms.
They heard some shouting directed at the backhoe operator as a small crowd gathered around the front of the huge, impressive machine. "We found that water main," someone hollered, just before light, embarrassed laughter started.
"Oh, shit," Dorian heard Rusty say as they both broke into a trot. She felt a moment of dread when she leaned over the hole and watched it fill up with water. She had hoped to prevent this, but sometimes it just couldn't be helped.
Dorian got up and dusted off her sharply creased tan pants. She and Rusty headed up the street to find the valve box to shut the water off. Neither said anything; this was all in a day's work.
Dorian checked her watch and noticed that it was just a few minutes after seven. As if on cue, irate residents up and down the block began pouring from their homes in various stages of early-morning preparedness. One man had shaving cream all over his face and shook a disposable razor at them in a threatening way. His robe flapped open, exposing light blue pajama bottoms as he yelled, "Where's my water!"
"Hey! What's goin' on?"
Total chaos erupted after that. This was one of the few aspects of Dorian's job that she didn't particularly care for. "There's been a water main break," she said calmly. "I'm sorry for any inconvenience."
"Inconvenience?" a neighborhood woman bellowed. "Inconvenience? I haven't had my coffee yet!"
Several residents headed in Dorian's direction, surrounding her with loud, booming chatter. She had to reassure them that everything that could be done was actually being done.
"You," a female voice said in a commanding, menacing tone. "You in the hard hat."
All grumbling and shouting suddenly stopped. Dorian looked up and saw a young woman in her late twenties with long, slightly disheveled early-morning blonde hair. Even in sweatpants, baggy T-shirt and socks she was attractive. Her striking blue eyes met Dorian's in a look of total disbelief.
"I've got a job interview in an hour and a half," the young woman said slowly. "When will the water be fixed?"
Dorian cleared her throat and wished she had better news for them. Dorian couldn't tell how tall the woman was because the yard sloped down to the curb and Dorian was standing in the street.
"It won't be fixed in an hour and a half," she said. "I'm sorry."
The woman's shoulders slumped, and then more chaos broke out, but Dorian held up her hands to try to calm everyone. Shouts about not having coffee, about not being able to take a shower before a doctor's appointment, about myriad other obstacles to morning necessities flew back and forth, a crescendo of angry voices building and growing as if the neighbors were trying to compete for who was in worse need of water at the moment.
"Does anyone have coffee made already?" Dorian asked the crowd. "Sharing it would be the neighborly thing to do right now."
"I've got a pot made," a man behind Dorian said. "It's a full one too. I'll share it with whoever wants some."
"And we can make more from the water in the tank on the back of our toilets," someone else commented sarcastically.
"I've had Harvey's coffee and it already tastes like toilet water, so what the hell?" a female voice piped in.
She heard scattered laughter at the same time that she saw Rusty hurrying back to the job site. He always made sure he stayed out of the way when his crew screwed up something.
"So let's all hitch up our jammies and go have some of Harvey's coffee," someone said. "I'm saving my toilet tank water for that one flush I'll need later."
Dorian sighed and thanked them. She wondered if the mayor's office had started getting complaints yet. Car doors slammed nearby, and tires squealed from a driveway next door, causing everyone to turn around and look. The blonde sped down the street in a Ford Taurus, no doubt heading somewhere else for water.
Dorian parked the company car in its designated space at the office and changed from her work boots to brown loafers. The other two engineers were forever teasing her about "the shoe thing," as they referred to her persistent obsession of not looking grungy when at all possible. She insisted that the "shoe thing" was a "girl thing." Tracking asphalt through the office or her apartment didn't appeal to her, and she wasn't in the least embarrassed by it. Dorian even kept a few changes of clothes in her car for those unexpected but occasional trips to the city manager's office. Dorian didn't mind getting dirty, but staying dirty when there were other options never made sense. Looking semipresentable at all times took very little effort, and since it made her feel better she never apologized for it.
After slipping into her relatively new loafers, she went inside the cool office building. Mia, the firm's office manager, smiled and started chuckling the moment she saw her.
"These are yours, poor baby," Mia said as she handed Dorian the huge stack of phone messages. "Be nice to me. I've already taken care of that many and then some for you. Why can't you shut off their water after they've all gone to work?" Mia teased. "Haven't I suggested that before?"
Dorian laughed and opened the door to her office. She saw the fresh bouquet of red carnations on the window sill and immediately felt better. Mia kept fresh-cut flowers in the office, adding a nice touch to the otherwise totally male environment. Mia had somehow convinced Phil, their boss, to let her set up an account with the florist next door. Phil wasn't one to part with a dollar if he didn't have to, but keeping Mia happy so the office ran smoothly was one of Phil's two priorities, the other being golf.
"Have you had lunch yet?" Mia asked from the doorway. Her long, black hair reached the middle of her back and helped emphasize her slender figure. She was a knockout, with dark eyes and a seductive smile. Her sharp wit made her the office favorite, and it was no secret that if Mia liked you, then your quality of life at Cohen Engineering was as good as it would ever be.
"No," Dorian said. "What time is it?"
"After one. I'm sending out for something. Should I get you the usual?"
"That'd be great. And thanks for the flowers."
Mia's desk, as well as the break room and the client reception area, always had fresh flowers. But whenever carnations were delivered, Mia made it a point to spruce up Dorian's office with them. Dorian was forever surprised by Mia's total recall of even the most trivial details. Her memory was phenomenal—phone numbers from year-old projects could be rattled off easily, and birthdays for every member of Phil's family didn't have to be listed anywhere. Mia ran the office like a finely tuned machine, and enjoyed reminding everyone that without her they'd all be in big trouble. Mia's point was reemphasized every September when she took her two-week vacation. Organization at Cohen Engineering all but ceased to exist during that time.
Mia returned to her desk to answer the phone while Dorian buried her face in the carnations. She allowed herself this moment to unwind before tackling the stack of phone messages. All of them seemed to be related to the water main break this morning. She sighed, knowing that the pile of messages she'd get later this afternoon would more than likely be the result of some other incident that hadn't even happened yet. Out of all the contractors that Cohen Engineering usually ended up working with, Rusty Barnes and his crew were undoubtedly the most careless. It was a challenge to bring a job in on time because of the haphazard way the crew worked. There was no such thing as attention to detail or pride in one's work. Rusty was eager to finish a job no matter how shoddy or substandard the work, and, unfortunately, Cohen Engineering had little to say about it since the lowest bidding contractor almost always got the job. And if nothing else, Rusty was a genius when it came to submitting low bids and making up for it in overtime.
She sat down at her desk and shuffled through the messages. From the prefix of the phone numbers she could tell that these were irate citizens from the street with the water main break. They'd probably called the mayor's office first before being referred to the city manager's office, where, in turn, they were told to call Cohen Engineering. Dorian reached for the telephone. It was time to turn on what little charm she had left.
At eight-fifteen Friday evening Dorian was back on site to conduct a security check. She changed into work boots again and reached for her yellow hard hat in the back seat of the company car.
"Hey, lady," a young voice called. A boy and a girl, both no more than ten years old, rode up on their bicycles and stopped near the front of the car. A brown-and-white beagle followed along behind them, wagging its tail.
"You work here?" the girl asked. She had blonde hair, which came just below her shoulders, and light blue eyes. Her bicycle was a bright pink, with white streamers on the ends of the handlebars. The boy, who seemed to be a little younger, reached down to rub the dog between the ears.
"Yes, I work here," Dorian said. "Shouldn't you be home?"
"It ain't dark yet," the girl said. "We have to go in when it's dark. What's your name?"
Dorian smiled. Young girls with spunk always made her smile. Dorian had been a painfully shy child, and even now she had to make an extra effort to overcome it. Had her fourth-grade teacher not taken a special interest in her, Dorian couldn't imagine where she'd be today.
"My name's Dorian. What's yours?"
"Abby. That's Hank, my friend. And Buster," the girl said, pointing to the beagle.
"Glad to meet you, Abby. Can I ask you a question?" Dorian pushed her hard hat down snugly on her head. "Have you seen anybody around here when they shouldn't be? Playing on the bulldozers maybe?"
The two children exchanged eye contact. "Maybe," Abby said. "The mean kids down the street are over here all the time. Soon as you leave, mostly."
"How are they getting in?"
"Under the fence. It lifts right up over there."
Dorian asked them to show her, and they were eager to do so. They scrambled off their bikes and ran to the fence.
"Where do these mean kids live?" Dorian asked.
"Blue house with the mean dog," Abby said.
Dorian smiled again. "The mean kids have a mean dog?"
"They got a mean daddy, too," Hank offered. He leaned over and picked up a stick and whacked it against his handlebars to shake the dirt off. "One of them kids took my bike one day and wouldn't give it back."
"You're looking for those swords, aren't you?" Abby said.
Excited, Hank asked, "Those bulldozer swords?"
Dorian suppressed a chuckle. With a little imagination, a bulldozer dipstick could look remarkably like a sword.
"Yes, I am," she said.
"The mean kids have 'em in their tree house in their backyard," Hank offered. "They've got some other stuff, too."
"It's very dangerous here," Dorian said. "This is no place for kids to be playing."
Abby reached down to pet the dog and avoided Dorian's serious look.
"It's getting dark," Dorian reminded them.
Abby and Hank crawled back on their bicycles and started peddling. Over her shoulder Abby called, "See ya later!"
Tuesday morning Dorian was in the office early, hoping to catch Phil before he left for the golf course.
"Wow. This is a surprise," Mia said. "I'm not used to seeing you here at this time of day." "Is the boss busy?"
"He's here signing some papers," Mia said. "Go on in."
Dorian knocked on his door and found him scribbling away and then flipping through a stack of papers for the next place he was supposed to sign.
"Whatever it is, Dorian, I trust you to handle it," he said after glancing up.
She rolled her eyes and sat in one of the three chairs in front of his huge, new desk ... "new" because he was seldom there to use it, and "huge" because Phil was the boss.
"It's Rusty," Dorian said. Whether he wanted to hear what was going on or not didn't matter at this point. She wanted Phil to hear it from her first. I just never know when something like this will come back and bite me in the butt, she thought.
"He offered you a bribe and you turned him down, right?" Phil said, his eyes already scanning the next document. "So what do you want me to do about it? He came in with the lowest bid so we're stuck with him, okay? That's the rule. That's the way it is. That's life in this business, Dorian. You know how it works, and you know what you have to do. I'm depending on you to bring this job in on schedule and within our estimate. You can make Rusty toe the line. You've done it before, and you'll have to do it again. Jerk his chain a little."
"He's worse than useless, Phil," she said. "A total waste of God's precious breath."
Phil laughed heartily. It was a real laugh that echoed through the office, and she knew that Mia would be after her later for a complete rerun of this entire conversation because of it.
"But, Dorian," Phil said sweetly, "Rusty speaks so highly of you."
Dorian groaned while Phil continued laughing and scribbling his name on yet another document.
"I agree that working with Rusty isn't an ideal situation," Phil said. "As contractors go, he's bringing up the rear on my list too. But he bids low and generally comes through on time. And the city manager loves that. Cheap is the name of the game. The quality of workmanship isn't a factor. And that's where you come in. It's your job to keep things running smoothly, on time, and within the regulations. How you get Rusty there in between is your problem. Make him work for it. He hates that." He glanced up from his papers and finally looked at her. "Handle it, Dorian. That's what I pay you for."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," she said and stood up. Why had she expected this talk to go any differently?
"You're good at what you do," he said simply. "Trust your instincts." Phil moved his chair back, scooped the papers up in a jumbled stack and hurried to open the office door. "Mia," he called, "take these and do whatever it is you do with them."
Mia took the papers from him and slowly shook her head.
"You know where I'll be if there's an emergency," he said as he patted Dorian on the shoulder. "Otherwise, handle it."
Posted December 20, 2000
I enjoyed the book, in fact couldn't put it down, however, I felt the ending to be too 'fairy-tale' like. Nothing works out this well. If you like a book with a happy ending, than this is the book for you. But if you like a book from a more realistic standpoint, perhaps you should choose something else
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 27, 2000
Posted October 26, 2013
It was good until about half way in, when a curveball was tossed, ending the relationship that had been building for more than three quarters of the book. Toss out an engaging second storyline about the daughter, mix in a couple of new girlfriends from out of nowhere, that go nowhere, and then toss the original leads back together again in the last five pages for the prerequisite 'happy ending.'
Frustating more than anything, and a disapointment even more than that!
Posted June 21, 2013
No text was provided for this review.