Lara Järvinen sighed as she watched the semi-frozen precipitation cut a furious slant beneath the streetlight outside the Hotel Nederland. The weather—especially this type of weather—was what she dreaded most about coming to New York. She could handle all the noise . . . the grime and the garbage.
But this sleet . . . and the slush that usually came after. And what do they call that ridiculous phenomenon here—ice rain?
She shook her head with disapproval. In Finland, the weather was serious. Seven-month-long winters. Fifteen to twenty inches of snow on the ground in March. Nothing so—she turned to peer out again through the sheers—nothing so AMATEURISH as this. She shook her head once more, but then stopped short, reminding herself that just because she was standing on the periphery of the ballroom (her customary location at a time like this) didn't mean her behavior might not distract.
And then she reprimanded herself yet again. How narcissistic of her. As if HER concern about the conditions outside could possibly distract the audience from Dalton. He was golden right now, and everyone was absorbed in his speech. They weren't just pleased by the new building's design . . . they were enraptured by it.
Which, of course, was wonderful. Certainly, tonight's success would lead to further commissions. And certainly she was fortunate to be affiliated with such a prestigious firm, especially at this stage of her career. She turned her gaze from the inclement weather outside back to Dalton Lee, who stood in the center of the Rembrandt Ballroom, champagne glass in hand, devotees and acolytes around him. After her fifteen years with the firm, he had come to trust her implicitly, of that she was certain. And she was equally confident that he respected her professional expertise.
She took a quick sip of champagne, then ran her free hand through her hair, lifting it off her forehead and tucking it back behind one ear.
". . . so I am grateful beyond measure for the response you have shown to our design for One Harriman Tower," Lee was saying. "I find your enthusiasm for our vision to be . . ." He paused and furrowed his forehead as he searched for the right conclusion. Finally he gave up, raised both eyebrows in delight and said, ". . . pretty awesome, really."
Many chuckled at the quirky juxtaposition, that charming blend of California upbringing and Cambridge education that Dalton Lee was known for worldwide.
He continued. "And when I say 'our,' I very much mean that, for One Harriman Tower—like all of the projects designed by The Lee Group—is a summation of multiple talents. If you don't mind, I'd like to take a moment to introduce those who have joined me here in New York to help celebrate the project's unveiling."
There was a smattering of applause and random voices urging "Yes!" a familiar signal to Lara that she must now pay full attention.
"First, I'd like to introduce to you Warren Jackson. Warren was born in Barbados but grew up in Toronto and was graduated from the esteemed architecture program at the university there. He has been with The Lee Group for . . . about seven years now, has two wonderful kids who are seven and three, I believe, and he has been my 'sous-architect', if you will, on virtually every major commission we have undertaken over the past five or six years."
After a wave of polite applause, Lee continued.
"Next is Bree Westerman . . . over there by the serving station . . ." Bree waved demurely to the assembly. "Bree was graduated from MY alma-mater, SCI-Arc in Los Angeles, although she hails from a small town near Sedona, Arizona, LUCKY HER!" Several women in the crowd "oohed" and nodded at the reference. "She has been with The Lee Group for about eight years and is one of the senior project architects who put in hundreds—if not thousands—of hours on our latest project." More applause. "And right here on my left—that's an awkward phrase, isn't it?—is the dashing and very talented Roberto Bermudez, a senior designer with our firm. Roberto moved to the United States—Central Florida to be precise—from Puerto Rico and I believe you can see that aesthetic in many of the designs he has created for our clients. Mr. Bermudez has been with us for . . ." He stopped for a moment to check with Roberto, who held up six fingers. ". . . seis anos," Lee concluded, evoking more laughter and applause from those assembled.
"Just beyond Roberto is Jayden Summers, who is one of my junior designers. If you have spoken to Jayden at all this evening you were probably able to quickly surmise that he is NOT from the New York area." Moderate laughter erupted from the small contingent who apparently had spoken to Jayden earlier in the evening. "Mr. Summers, I will have you know, is a top graduate of the University of Virginia School of Architecture and he grew up not far from there, just outside Knoxville, Tennessee."
From the back of the room, someone yelled "Go Vols!" which elicited more laughs from the audience. Jayden then replied, "Go Hoos!" which extended the laughter until the New Yorkers suddenly realized they had absolutely no idea what was being said.
"I would also advise you not to pick a fight with Mr. Summers, for although he may look young and innocent, he happens to hold a black belt in the Israeli self-defense regimen known as krav maga." The crowd chuckled for some time, and Jayden briefly flexed a bicep to egg the crowd on even more.
When the room finally returned to normal, the senior architect extended one arm in Lara's general direction. "The newest member of my team with us here tonight is Irene Park . . ." Lee gestured to Irene—who was standing just a few feet away from Lara—and Irene dipped her head for a moment when mentioned. "Irene grew up in Korea," he continued, "and then moved to Washington—the state of Washington, that is—about four years ago. Her expertise is in computer research and she has also established herself as the go-to person for all things technology in our firm." As the room clapped, Irene nodded her head in rapid succession and smiled broadly.
"And, finally, I am very pleased to introduce an esteemed colleague of mine many of you already know, I am sure . . ." At this, Lara, tilted her head upward and dropped to her side the glass of champagne she was holding. " . . . Lara Järvinen, a partner with The Lee Group." The sustained applause communicated the genuine respect those in the room had for her. When it finally subsided, he continued.
"Lara, of course, is the daughter of Eino Järvinen, someone whose contributions to architecture I respect enormously . . . and someone whom everyone in this profession misses greatly. Lara has been with me from the beginning, she knows more about this business than all of the rest of us put together, she's rescued several projects from imminent failure, but has shepherded many more into iconic status . . ." Here Lee paused again, only this time for emphasis. "I dare not expect to ever be blessed with another colleague, another mentor, another friend more. . ."
Lara tilted her head to one side in anticipation of his compliment.
". . . more CAPABLE than Lara Järvinen."
The room erupted again with applause. Lara responded to the smiling faces around her with a wisp of a smile and subtle nods. Many moments elapsed, but eventually the applause softened and Lee went back to his remarks.
Lara watched him for several moments, but didn't really listen. Over time, she lowered her head toward the carpeting and her thoughts turned once again to the sleet beyond the windows.
"The question, as I understood it, was, 'Do I believe the skyscraper has contributed to the vibrancy of New York City . . . or detracted from it?'" Dalton Lee looked to the young man wearing a casual tuxedo to be certain he had restated his question correctly. The young man nodded firmly.
The architect crossed his hands in front of him, looked to the ceiling, rocked back and forth on his heels. Once he finally had constructed his response, he stopped rocking, turned back to the questioner and nodded back at him enthusiastically.
"That is an epic question, it really, really is," he began. "However . . ." He paused for several moments. "However, I wonder if that is really the question that frames the answer we are looking for." The rustlings that had filled the room suddenly vanished, as if sucked out by the ventilation system.
"What I mean is—in my mind anyway—the issue does not revolve so much around the skyscrapers themselves as it does around how the skyscrapers interact with one another and with the spaces they create between them."
Lara smiled inside. Here it comes, she thought. Here comes that amazing way he elevates the discussion to a more sophisticated plane . . . without spiraling off into some esoteric monologue the way her father probably would have.
"The questions I would actually ask are, 'Does the skyscraper come with a massive underground garage, causing people to come and go from it in their isolated vehicles . . . or does it discourage spaces for cars, encouraging people instead to interact with the street . . . and one another?'
"I might also ask, 'Does the skyscraper's ground floor offer an intriguing mix of retail and services that draw passersby to the building? Or does it offer only a blank marble wall whose primary goal is to keep everyone at bay?' And I would ask, 'Does the orientation of the skyscrapers to one another create comfortable plazas where humans can connect . . . or repose? Or does their orientation just hurl its occupants into the pedestrian flow that carries them out and away from the neighborhood?'
"I believe that envisioned and executed well, the skyscraper can most definitely enrich a city's vibrancy. However, if a skyscraper is designed only with privacy—or profit —in mind, can it really ever be more charming than, say, a correctional facility?"
Laughter and clapping erupted simultaneously. In the midst of the revelry, Lee noticed the event coordinator at the back of the room using the previously agreed-upon signal to indicate it was time to cut things short.
Raising his voice, he said, "And I am told that the nor'easter they've been forecasting for the past several days is beginning to make its presence known outside, so I wish all of you safe journeys home tonight and thank you very much for joining us for this important occasion."
There was an additional smattering of applause and an uptick of conversation as the crowd began to disperse. In the midst of the departure flurry, a woman in her seventies wearing a long dark coat with a fur collar reached out to Dalton Lee and patted him on the forearm.
"Mr. Lee, I just wanted to let you know what a huge aficionado I am of your work. I've been following your career for some time and I am just delighted that we in New York City are finally going to benefit from your exquisite eye for design."
Lee bowed slightly and smiled. "That is so kind of you, Missus . . . ?" He extended a hand.
"Carlyle. Miriam Carlyle. My husband Armand is retired from North American Bank & Trust. We're big followers of contemporary architecture but the primary reason I wanted to introduce myself is that I knew your parents in Southern California for a very brief time. Your mother actually taught me to play mah-jongg at the Coronado Club many years ago."
Lee pulled in for a second, and noticing his countenance fade, the woman allowed her caretaking side to kick in.
"Oh, my dear, I am so sorry. I hope it is all right my mentioning them."
"Of course it is," Lee responded.
"I was just devastated when I learned of the crash," she said, placing a gloved hand on his arm. "Just devastated. It really was such a tragic loss. Your mother was lovely. I remember she was so very fond of orchids."
Lee just nodded quickly and uttered a very quiet, "Thank you, yes."
"I apologize if this is indelicate but . . . I never heard . . . I mean, did they ever . . . find . . . ?"
"No, no," Lee cut her off. "No, the wreckage was in a very remote location and it being January and all, there was already quite a snowpack on the ground, so . . ."
The woman nodded and continued to softly pat Lee's arm.
Seeing that he would need to complete the conversation, Lee said, "Well, thank you so very much for your kind words, Mrs. Carlyle. I'm gratified to know that you like the plans for One Harriman Tower."
The woman raised both palms in the air and tilted her head back.
"Oh, Mr. Dalton, I think it is exquisite," she said exuberantly. "I cannot wait to see it become a part of the skyline here."
Lee nodded, bowed slightly again and then shuffled into the corridor outside the room to join the rest of his colleagues. Lara stood just outside the doorway, obviously impatient. Noticing him, she beckoned as discreetly as she could for him to move things toward the lobby as quickly as possible. He joined her and the others and together, they headed down the corridor.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, four police officers stepped up to the group, their arms outstretched, their bodies blocking further progress.
"Excuse us, everyone. EVERYONE!" barked a large officer sporting a handlebar mustache. "I'm sorry but we need everyone here to please return to the ballroom. PLEASE RETURN TO THE BALLROOM." A concerned murmur spread throughout the forty or so people caught in the officers' blockade. Lara closed her eyes and sighed heavily.
"EVERYONE, PLEASE," a younger female officer added. "Follow us, this way."
All in the corridor reluctantly turned and trudged back toward the ballroom. Through the murmur, snippets of phrases emerged— "This weather," and "Get to the parkway as soon as possible." As his team moved toward the ballroom doors, Lee slowed his pace and casually sidled up beside one of the officers who was shepherding everyone toward the doors.
"Something wrong, officer?" he asked nonchalantly. The officer looked at him warily.
"Sorry, my name is Dalton Lee," the architect said, jutting his hand out. "Tonight's event here—we were unveiling a new project that's going to be built in Midtown."
The officer continued to look at him sideways. "You'll learn all the details in a minute, sir," he said. "There's been an incident. Someone was found . . . a young lady was discovered dead at the other end of the hotel. We'll need everyone to remain here for a while, until we've had a chance to speak with everyone."
"Oh. Natural causes?" Lee asked hopefully. The officer slowly shook his head. At the indication of foul play, the architect nodded once and moved away from the officer to rejoin his associates.
Once the police announced to those in the ballroom the reason for their detainment, there were the typical indications of shock . . . and complaints. The officers took it all in stride and emphasized everyone would be released shortly but that they needed to get statements from each person as to what, if anything, they saw.
"Nice buzzkill," Warren said under his breath as the team reclined against the back of the chairs that had been placed for their presentation. "The good news is, it looks like most of the audience left before the police stopped us. The bad news is, nobody here looks like they're eager to become a tenant."
"Leasing won't start for another six months at least," Bree interjected. "It'll all blow over by then. And anyway, that's not our job."
Lara sniffed. "Still. It's not the lasting impression I would have preferred."
Eventually, an officer with a notebook and pen came around to Lee and his team. "Sorry to keep all of you, but we just need to ask a few questions," he began. "As you heard, a young woman's body was found at the opposite end of this floor. Probably mid-to-late twenties, short blonde hair, black wool sweater over mid-length black wool skirt. Dark leggings. Any of you know who she was, or see anything?"
The group shook their heads, glanced at one another.
"I saw her," Roberto suddenly said. "I saw her leave the room, with some guy." The officer straightened up and poised his pen to take notes. He nodded steadily as Roberto described the man and how the woman turned and exited the room with the male just a few steps behind her. "I thought maybe they were bored, or didn't like the design," he said. "I noticed because they were the only ones who left during the presentation."
"Come to think of it, I also noticed them leave," Bree said. "They seemed . . . distracted."
The officer scribbled a bit more and nodded again. After a couple more perfunctory questions, he nodded heavily once with an air of finality and then closed his notebook. "OK, thanks. I think we have a few more people who remember seeing them. How much longer do all of you expect to be in the city?"
"Three or four more days," Lee replied. "We're happy to help however we can." The officer nodded again.
"Yeah, we'll probably want at least the two of you to come down to the precinct to give us a more detailed description. But it wouldn't hurt if all of you came. You available in the morning?"
Everyone turned to their superior, who signaled 'yes'.
"OK, good, we'll be in touch about time and place. Hang with us for a few more minutes and then we'll be able to let you go."
Fifteen minutes later, they were all in the lobby, considering how to reorganize the following day in light of their new appointment at the precinct. In his periphery, Lee saw striding quickly toward them an officer they had not yet spoken to. "Mr. Lee?" he asked upon reaching the group. Lee nodded. The officer slid into the palm of the architect's left hand a piece of paper that had been folded to the size of a business card. "Chief Moroney told me to deliver this to you immediately." He then walked past the group and disappeared around the corner.
Lee frowned and began unfolding the piece of paper slipped to him. As he read the message on it, his expression hardened and his body stiffened.
Standing beside him, Lara noticed the transformation. She placed a hand on his cuff and softly said, "Don't tell me . . ."
Lee painstakingly refolded the message, looked up at her, and through squinted eyes said, "Then I won't."