The 57th Floor

Chapter 1

It happened so quickly.
Adele Harrison glanced across the road as she joined the rush of evening commuters.
The first day of April. A recent afternoon shower had soaked the streets, and the notorious wind that frequented this block slashed across her cheeks, leaving behind an icy chill.
The crowd swept forward. Something knocked Adele’s shoulder. Her heels skidded on the wet pavement, and off she went, flying across the asphalt.
Candy-apple red. A chrome fender. A horn blare.
* * *
An hour earlier, Adele had stepped onto the elevator of a high-rise that stretched halfway to heaven, prepared to settle an important piece of unfinished business.
“Alfred Stieglitz, definitely,” she mumbled, squinting at the sepia tint of the gelatin silver print on the far wall of the 57th-floor waiting room where she sat.
At seventy-eight, Adele’s sight was excellent, but by four in the afternoon, her eyes were tired. Her gaze drifted to a pair of rust-colored leaves as big as she was. They accented the autumnal tones of the space. Georgia O’Keeffe.
Georgia and Alfred. Now, they were a couple.
A voice from the other side of a pair of diamond-etched glass doors captured her attention, along with the words Waring Construction Corporation, written backward from this side, in clean, bold letters.
The voice was rich and deep with a British accent. Peter Waring. President and CEO. And her newest prospect.
Adele glanced at her gold bracelet watch and smiled in approval. Here, with three minutes to spare.
A fine figure of a man in a dark suit accented by a burgundy tie stepped up to the glass and pushed open the door. “Mrs. Harrison?”
She stood and held out her hand. “Please call me Adele. Mr. Waring, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
He smiled as the door swung closed behind him. “You’ll call me Peter, I hope. And I think the pleasure is all mine.”
Adele tilted her head.
He gestured her into a room with a view that would have made her jaw drop if she hadn’t been well-practiced at hiding her awe.
The vista should hardly have surprised her. She was on the 57th Floor, after all.
Peter Waring had a corner office. Its two exterior glass walls converged at an obtuse angle. Beyond the bluish tint of the glazing, wispy clouds drifted.
“You are literally up in the clouds,” Adele said as she turned her attention back to him.
A smile broadened across his angular features. He looked to be in his forties, a decade younger than Adele expected, which pleased her.
According to his profile, he was fifty-three and had followed a raw vegan diet since his wife fell ill with cancer sixteen years ago. His hair was graying, but he still had plenty, combed in waves across the top and neatly shorn at the sides.
She guessed there wasn’t an ounce of excess fat inside his tailored suit. He was an active man. Running. Yoga. Golf on occasion.
A pungent floral scent drew Adele’s attention to the potted gardenia on an oval meeting table. White buds and open flowers dotted the plant’s dark green leaves. She breathed in deeply, enjoying the sweet smell and the impressive openness of his workspace.
“Have a seat.” Peter gestured to a wing chair upholstered with dark blue velvet and took the one beside her.
Adele adjusted her silver curls as she settled, then brushed her fitted lavender dress smooth.
She snapped open her black leather bag, which doubled as a briefcase, and pulled out an envelope embossed with her company name, Adelaide. The moniker was a fusion of her name with the word “aid” because Adelaide helped people.  
Specifically, the company assisted busy executives in finding well-suited partners. Adele’s promise was love and matrimonial bliss, a commitment she took seriously.
Peter accepted the envelope.
Adele laid a hand over his as he started to open the packet. “Take it home. Read it when you’re relaxed and have time to consider.”
He nodded. “I can do that.”
“If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me, but Madelyn has worked for the company for six years. She’s one of my most valued assets, as a matchmaker and a grandchild.”
Adele offered a gentle smile. “And I am confident she’ll take care of all your requirements. Her schedule is open tomorrow. If you have availability, I’ll send her over to go through the interview.”
“Let me check.” Peter pulled out his phone, brow furrowing. “I’m afraid I won’t be free until six p.m. tomorrow.”
Adele smiled amenably. “Six o’clock will be fine.” She entered the appointment into her granddaughter’s online calendar.
* * *
Arrangements made, Peter studied Adele Harrison as she rose to her feet with delicate grace.
She was everything he expected. The woman had the elegance of Grace Kelly with a hint of Miss Marple that went perfectly with her southeast England accent. He understood she’d lived in the States for years, but he wouldn’t have guessed it hearing her speak.
Their shared heritage had a lot to do with his decision to inquire about her services. She came highly recommended by a colleague who’d recently celebrated ten years of marriage. All thanks to Adele Harrison.
Something about her petite frame reminded Peter of a bird — outwardly delicate, yet steely inside. The lavender outfit she wore suited the role of matron-sleuth, while her glossy black pumps and patent leather shoulder bag fit her position as president and head matchmaker of Adelaide.
He approved of the apparent contradiction and hoped he’d be equally pleased with her granddaughter.
Peter watched Adele cross the room.
She approached the massive windows that joined at the corner of the building. The glass panels went right down to the carpet. She stopped, her nose an inch from the pane, and looked straight down the side of the building.
Fifty-seven floors was not an insignificant drop.
The woman wavered and stepped backward abruptly. A fairly common response. Her gaze met his in the window’s reflection. “Have you ever felt the urge to jump?”
Lifting an eyebrow, he elected not to answer the question.
She turned to face him, a smile lighting her features. “I don’t mean suicide. Just an urge, when you’re standing on the edge like this, to put one foot out and…” She shrugged. “See what happens.”
“I haven’t stepped that close in a while.” He took the opportunity. A few seconds later, he drew in a breath and stepped away. “Sorry, no urges. Only vertigo.”
“But, you know what I mean?”
He nodded. “I know exactly.” He’d felt it as a child looking over a railing from the top of the Eiffel Tower. Tall structures had always fascinated him, one of the reasons he’d become a civil engineer.
“I apologize if my question disturbed you,” she said. “Perceived dangers can bring out the best and the worst in us. Even when we know we’re safe.”
“Perfectly safe,” Peter agreed.
“This space suits you.” She nodded as if to herself. “High in the clouds, and yet, securely tethered to the ground.”
He laughed and considered the room from a different perspective. Despite her fascination with vertical drops, Adele Harrison didn’t fit this space one bit. It was too big, too plain, too modern, and yet, he sensed she understood it, and appreciated its architectural genius and the spirit with which it had been built.
“The lighting is beautiful, even on a cloudy day.” She brushed her pale cheek. “Diffuse light erases the wrinkles of time.”
Peter chuckled. “And here I was, thinking my diet was responsible.”
Adele’s lips lifted in a half-smile. “I’m sure it is. Besides, for men, experience prevails over youth.”
He didn’t think she spoke of work or even life experience. Something in her tone alluded to intimacy. Marital experience, perhaps. “I imagine this light is excellent for taking photographs,” he said, going back to her earlier point.
“Yes.” Her eyes grew wistful. “Georgia and Alfred.” She glanced at him. “I noticed them in the waiting room.”
“I’m a fan, not an aficionado,” he apologized.
“Brick, cement and steel are the materials of your art.” She let her observation hang.
Peter was an activist. Old enough to have strong political leanings, yet he maintained an open mind. He liked to think that classified him as ageless. Something, he suspected, Adele Harrison had in common with him.
“Eight years since your loss.” She tilted her head as she looked him straight in the eye. “Why has it taken you so long to come to me?”
“I have a twenty-six-year-old daughter who needs a reason to get on with her life. The best incentive seems to be for me to get on with mine.”
* * *
When their meeting was over, Adele stepped into the elevator and studied herself in the polished stainless-steel wall while she fiddled with her black cloche hat. The elevator doors opened and closed multiple times as other professionals piled in. When they reached the ground floor, she adjusted her bag and exited into the flow of homeward-bound workers.
Adele didn’t mind crowds. This was the nature of rush hour in a big city. Her only disadvantages were the heeled shoes that made a good impression but weren’t the best for hurrying. The mass of pedestrians stopped at a crossing. And she focused on her feet, glad to have a moment of reflection.
Peter Waring was everything she could have hoped. She didn’t need to be familiar with the details of his past, that was for Madelyn to uncover. His behavior, his workspace, his very presence told her all she needed to know.
Adele could see where he fit as clearly as if he were the last piece in a jigsaw puzzle.
The signal changed, and the crowd surged forward. A man hurried past with an oversized backpack. The bag clipped Adele’s shoulder, knocking her off balance. She gasped as her heeled shoes skated across the wet pavement, and she was suddenly airborne.
Brakes screeched. Tires swerved on the wet street.
She collided with the front corner of a large red truck. Her head bounced off its shiny hood, the impact knocking her back toward the curb.
Several people screamed. But not Adele.
Above her, the blue skyscraper bent and twisted. Hands reached out, grabbed her coat and hauled her slight frame clear of the roadway.
Reality faded in and out. Adele found it the oddest sensation. Her head hurt with a blunt sort of pain, and everything felt fuzzy.
A woman’s voice approached hysteria. A man shouted, “Is she okay?” Another swore. Their words blended into the cacophony of honking horns.
Adele’s vision blurred. Faces mingled — so many shapes and shades. She tried to speak, but her lips felt thick like rubber.
Slowly, the many visages merged into one.
“Adele?” Madelyn’s voice fought against the dissonance, its sweet tones full of sanity.
Peace stole over her, and Adele relaxed. Madelyn would handle everything.

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