Gazing aimlessly out the window of his riverfront home, Harvey Zale slouched deeper into his leather recliner. The twilight sun washed swaths of solar orange across the mirrored panels of Chicago’s endless skyscrapers. Skyscrapers that he had helped to build. He couldn’t remember their names—only their current worth on his balance sheet, which had become the sole measure of his life. A damn financial piece of paper. His life summed up in numbers. He sloshed the whiskey in his tumbler, but failed to take another sip. He had already drunk two full glasses and was starting to feel the effects—the unforgiving judgment of his inner demons. Demons that threatened to destroy him.
His cell phone rang. He sat up straighter in his seat with hope. Was it her?
Then the unpleasant ring tone dampened his spirits. He withdrew his phone from his pocket and answered the call in silence.
“It’s done Harvey,” the man on the other end confirmed. “He’s sold them to you.”
Harvey felt nothing but dread. “How much did you have to pay?”
“Less than we even expected. Van der Meer wanted anyone other than Watercross to have his designs for the Li Long Towers. Even if it meant selling them to you at a discount.”
“Gee, thanks,” Harvey muttered, taking a long swig from his tumbler and feeling the sting of the premium whiskey in the back of his throat.
“Well…you know the old saying: good men live through history; great men make it. Congrats, Harv. You’re going to build the tallest buildings in the world.”
Harvey stretched out his long legs and peered down at his well-worn cowboy boots. The tallest buildings in the world, repeated in his mind, wondering what the man who owned the rights to build the tallest buildings in the world would say to the man who wanted to jump from their pinnacles.
Six months ago, the news that he had secured Sven van der Meer’s designs to construct the Li Long Towers would have been the only thing he wanted to hear. Now, he only heard the disconcerting echo of hollowness in his chest, like a coin dropping through a wishing well that had long since run dry.
The man cut off the call without saying good-bye. Exactly how Harvey liked it. No formalities. No bullshit. Just business. It was always “just business” to Harvey Zale. Cold, calculated financial transactions. And the whole world knew it.
He glanced down at his phone before dropping his head back with relief. The whole world knew what a callous egocentric bastard he was—except for her.
Are you alone?
Harvey read her alluring text. He had hoped to hear from her tonight and the fulfillment of that wish fueled his unguarded emotions.
Yes, he replied. And I’ve been waiting for you for three days. That’s the longest you’ve ever been away.
Awaiting her reply, his heart beat like a sledgehammer inside his chest. The spontaneity and unpredictability of their mysterious affair intoxicated him almost into sanity. The possibility that she could disappear tomorrow and never be heard from again excited him, but it also made him uncomfortably vulnerable. He reached over and pulled the short gold chain on the banker’s lamp next to him, settling into the comforting shroud of darkness.
You could have texted me, she answered. If you needed something…
He imagined her saying it with a playful smile, perhaps while running her fingernails through his hair. She was always playful this time of night and it comforted him when so few things in his life did.
Maybe I prefer to wait until you’re ready…and willing.
His phone fell silent. He stretched out his legs and counted…three, two, one. He had initiated the first innuendo—a sly signal that he wanted what she was able to offer. He always wanted it, he thought, ever since that first reply to his text zipped across his screen—initiating their sexting affair. Now, he sipped from his tumbler, patiently awaiting her reply.
I’m definitely ready and willing, she finally answered. I just shaved everything and the whole time I thought about you.
He closed his eyes and dropped his head back with a sigh, sinking deeper into his recliner. God, how he loved it when she teased him like that—right from the start.
Shower or bathtub? he prodded her.
Tub, she answered without a beat. With only the light from my lavender candle guiding my way.
Harvey unbuckled his belt and withdrew it from the loops like a whip. And now?
Still damp with a white towel around my body, but open in the front. Relaxed and lying on my bed…wondering what you’re doing tonight.
He had just gotten the news that he could build the tallest buildings in the world, and the only thing he wanted was to imagine himself in the tub with her.
I was thinking about my life and work and how none of it mattered…unless I heard from you.
You always flatter me like that, but I don’t believe you. Men love their work more than their own wives and children.
He read her reply, almost able to hear her mocking laughter.
I have neither, he shot back. He wanted to make clear that this was not an extra-marital fling for him. He may have been an opportunistic asshole in his professional life, but he wasn’t a philandering scumbag in his personal life. And I have more work and money than I’ll ever need or want.
He paused, concerned he may have crossed a line. Perhaps he had been too confrontational? He didn’t want to be harsh with her. He was tired of being brisk and aggressive in his daily business routine, and in the isolation of darkness, the only thing he wanted was to be free—free from all the empty trappings of his beleaguered life.
No discussion about work, she suddenly pinged back. Rule number one, remember?
He remembered. It was one of the many things he loved about their exchanges. She didn’t know he was Harvey Zale, billionaire real estate tycoon and the most reviled man in his industry. He could be anything he wanted to be with her—including himself.
I love it when you lay down those rules, he texted her. Remind me of what happens when I break one of them.
His screen went dark. For a moment, he thought she had abandoned him.
A serious rule? Like not discussing the details of our personal lives? Or a less offensive one, like not unzipping your pants?
Harvey smirked and proceeded to unzip his pants.
Definitely the less serious one, he thumbed back, releasing a sigh while holding back his desire to propose the punishment. Cat and mouse. He had to lure her in.
Okay…no discussing work or our personal lives, he continued. Fair enough. Then how about you tell me something you’ve never told anyone before.