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Two Proposals

by Deborah Rochford

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

part 3

At the front of the building, Mr. Lawson produced a small ring of keys from his pocket. It took a moment or two before the door would consent to open. Once it did Josh stood in the foyer, legal pad hugged to his chest, turning in a slow circle. The area was illuminated by weak winter light trickling through beveled windows that stretched to the ceiling.

The layout was fairly simple. A snack counter covered the entire length of the wall to the right of the entrance with a set of rooms visible behind the counter; no doubt a storage room for candy and soda, probably an office space as well. Directly across from the entrance was a wide staircase that led up to a circular platform and then split to lead patrons up to the balcony area.

Although the floor design was not atypical in any way, the ornamentation was stunning. The original owner’s artistic talent and love of wood could be seen all throughout the room. A wide banister of dark-stained oak graced the staircase. Wall sconces, each slightly different, carved into the shape of the Greek comedy/tragedy masks adorned the walls every ten feet or so.

Above the snack counter, various types of wood with different stains had been fitted together to form a swirling film strip. A pattern of laurel leaves decorated the wooden ledge that surrounded the snack counter. The wooden frames around each window were adorned with carved roses. The ceiling was high with wooden crossbeams stained the same dark rich color as the banister. To Josh’s delight, three simple chandeliers hung from the ceiling, adding another touch of elegance from a bygone age.

“It’s beautiful, sir.”

Mr. Lawson did not answer. Josh huddled deeper into his jacket and shuffled his feet, waited. He was eager to explore the rest of the building, wander through the theatre proper and walk around the balcony to see what other artistic treasures might be hidden, but Mr. Lawson seemed deep in thought.

“Yes, Mr. Kellerman,” he finally responded, “it is quite beautiful.” He turned and looked directly at Josh for the first time since they had met in the parking lot. “My father was an artist more than a businessman. He hired out the construction but watched as each brick was laid. The windows, he designed himself.” Mr. Lawson pointed at the wall sconces. “He carved each of those, stained them and mounted them, to boot.”

The older man’s lips curled up in the barest hint of a smile. “He didn’t trust the workmen to mount them without damaging them.” He shook his head. “They are made of aspen, a fairly soft wood but representative of Colorado, and my mother’s favorite tree.” He paused. “If my father had just made the damn things of oak, he could have let the workmen mount them.” Mr. Lawson crossed his arms over his chest and sighed. “There are thirty-two in all. One for each year my parents were married before my mother died.”

He turned away from Josh and walked slowly toward the window. “All of the woodwork...” He stopped, cleared his throat. Josh shifted uncomfortably. Mr. Lawson cleared his throat, again. “The carvings were done by him.”

He took off his glove and slowly ran his hand over the frame. He stared at his soiled fingers for a moment, brushed the dirt off and replaced the glove. He walked to the middle of the foyer where Josh stood. “He did all of the carving and staining himself,” he repeated.

Josh nodded his appreciation. He felt like he should say something, but wasn’t quite sure what. His eyes scanned the older man’s face. In the dim light, Mr. Lawson reminded him of the bust of Julius Caesar he had seen in the Vatican gardens in Rome. Long, straight nose, cheeks almost gaunt, lined forehead, even a bit of wave to his neatly combed hair. He was self-assured to the point of arrogance, and his tone of voice was often filled with acid, but akin to the likeness of Caesar sitting in the midst of the beauty of the Vatican, he appeared worn.

“It is cold, Mr. Kellerman.” Mr. Lawson stated in an almost friendly manner. “Let’s say we finish our tour, and then you are welcome to come back to my office where you can present me with your proposal.”

Josh grinned. “Sounds great, sir.”

Mr. Lawson nodded and walked with a brisk step toward the snack area, unlatching a half door that took him behind the counter and into a small office area. Josh hurried to keep up.

The room had a large window that looked out to the front of the building, but the light was dim, the sun apparently hidden behind layers of gray clouds. Mr. Lawson opened a mounted metal box and squinted at the power switches.

Josh walked up behind him. Each switch was neatly labeled but many of the small squares of paper were curling up at the ends, the adhesive worn away. Mr. Lawson smoothed them down with his hands, squinting at the labels. “I’m afraid I left my glasses in the car, Mr. Kellerman. Perhaps your younger eyes can read what is written on these labels.” He stepped back and let Josh take his place.

“Let’s see.” Josh read the labels aloud. “M.H, d.s. bthrms, V.R...”

“Oh, hell. Just switch them all on. I hate wasting electricity but it would probably take longer for us to decipher my father’s code than it will take to tour the building.”

Josh threw the switches. The building blazed with light. Mr. Lawson led him through the building. He was too enchanted to write anything on his yellow legal pad.

After Mr. Lawson had shown him every square foot of the building Josh begged for a little more time to wander through the rooms again. The older man graciously agreed, retiring to his father’s office, taking a seat at the large oak desk to wait.

Josh felt as if this building had been waiting, just for him, all of these years. Kept in storage so to speak, after the original owner died. Office, bathrooms both up and down, storage areas, balcony and lower level viewing areas, lobby, snack counter, and even the projection room were all a tribute to movies, wood and art. The building was a treasure. It was beyond beautiful. It needed a good cleaning, everything was covered with a thick layer of dust, but when he used the sleeve of his jacket to clean off any of the myriad surfaces the wood glowed in the bright light of the theatre with a warm, soft sheen.

“Mr. Kellerman.”

Reluctantly Josh made his way to the foyer, following the sound of Mr. Lawson’s voice. The banker stood in the center of the foyer, hands in his pocket, impatience lining the set of his shoulders.

“I’m sorry to take so long, sir,” Josh stammered. “I just...I’ve never seen anything quite like this building.”

“Yes, well, it is rather out of the norm.” Mr. Lawson gave him a tight smile. “Frankly, Mr. Kellerman, I’m cold. Besides, at the rate this snow is falling, we will be hard pressed to make it out of the parking lot if we wait too much longer. The plows will clear the main roads, but I don’t pay to have the parking lot cleared.” He shrugged. “No one ever comes up here.”

Josh turned to stare out the window, surprised at the thick, swirling mass of snow that poured out of the sky. “You’re right, sir. We’d better go.”

Mr. Lawson closed down the lights and the two of them hurried out. Once the doors were locked, they walked out to the parking lot and stood side-by-side, looking up at the sky.

Josh watched the flakes of snow fall, listened to the muffled silence. He fixed his sight on one snowflake high up in the sky and watched it fall all the way until it landed on the arm of his jacket.

He loved the weird perspective of the snow when he looked up, the way it seemed to fan out as it got closer. He made a mental note to capture the image on camera. He closed his eyes and felt the cold flakes hit and melt against his skin, heard the slightest crunch as the snow flew into his jacket.

“Looks like we are in for one hell of a storm.”

Josh opened his eyes and turned toward Mr. Lawson, nodding his agreement. The man’s hair and the shoulders of his wool coat were covered with white.

Mr. Lawson glanced up at the sky again and then back at Josh. “Well,” he hesitated briefly, “I was going to take you to my office at the bank but I think we had better head to my house. We can go over your proposal at my home, if you are so inclined.”

Josh examined Mr. Lawson’s face, trying to read his intent. He seemed like a decent enough man, but the thought of being stuck in his home for several hours during a snowstorm made him uneasy.

He glanced back at the building, dark and almost dreamlike in the failing light and falling snow. He wanted that building, almost more than he could remember wanting anything. His proposal was weak and he knew it. In reality, he was offering himself, his skill, his dream, and asking Mr. Lawson to take it on faith that he would get his money’s worth. Josh was pretty sure that if he didn’t lay out his proposal now, he wouldn’t have a prayer.

“That would be great, sir, if it’s okay with you,” Josh replied. “But I don’t want to intrude. We can go to a coffee shop or someplace like that if you would prefer,” he added.

Mr. Lawson started walking toward his car, Josh following, not sure what to do. “The problem is, Mr. Kellerman, we are likely to be stuck for several hours until the snow stops falling and the plows make the roads passable.” He stopped and turned slightly, the storm swirling around him. “I prefer to be stuck in the comfort of my home rather than in a cold bank or a noisy coffee shop. Go get your car and follow me.”

Josh watched Mr. Lawson wade through the rapidly deepening snow for a moment before he turned and ran to his own car. The sky was getting dark and the wild flurries of snow made it hard to see. He hopped into his car and started the engine.

Mr. Lawson was already heading out of the parking lot. Josh made sure the heater was on at the maximum temperature. His fingers and toes felt frozen. He hadn’t noticed how very cold he was when exploring the old theatre but now he started to shiver.

Josh followed behind the grey BMW, skirting downtown Boulder, driving along a stretch of two-lane road to an area where large homes were spread out in wooded lots. The drive was difficult. Several times he felt as if his tires were not gripping the road, and he had to slow down to maintain control. To his credit, Mr. Lawson must have had him in his sights because he slowed as well.

The banker’s home had a long paved driveway that led up to a multi-story house with a large, covered front porch. Mr. Lawson pulled into his garage, and Josh pulled the old Taurus as far as he could to the edge of the driveway, mindful of blocking the exit to the street.

Josh exited his car and then kicked through the powdery flakes of snow, stopping politely just outside of the garage. Mr. Lawson waved him in and opened a door into the house that led to a mudroom.

Inside, the older man slipped out of his shoes and lined them up next to the wall on a large square of tan carpet. Josh followed suit, noticing the pairs of women’s boots also placed neatly against the wall, shoelaces tucked away inside. He stopped short. The laces were lime green. He smiled to himself, wondering if perhaps Mr. Lawson had a teen-age daughter.

The older man must have been watching him. “They belong to my wife, Susan.” He sighed. “She has a liking for bright colors.” He rolled his eyes and then turned away, beckoning for Josh to follow.

They traipsed across a polished wooden floor through what appeared to be the living room. The approaching night cast gloomy shadows everywhere. Mr. Lawson made a bee-line for the far end of the room and stopped to turn on the heat.

Josh followed in his wake, stopping to stare at the grand piano that dominated the room. It looked like a humpbacked beast in the dark. He wished Mr. Lawson would turn on the lights so he could see it better. “Is that the piano that used to sit in the theatre?” Josh wondered aloud.

“It is, Mr. Kellerman.”

“Do you play, sir?” Josh asked, lingering in the dark room.

“My wife plays piano, but she isn’t” — Mr. Lawson hesitated — “around right now. I, on the other hand, do not play.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

Mr. Lawson harrumphed and continued on into the kitchen and turned on the lights.

Josh followed, his fingers itching to try out the baby grand. He had never had the opportunity to try one before. He had an old electronic keyboard that his parents had handed down to him. He had taught himself to play.

When Josh reached the kitchen, Mr. Lawson was waiting, his eyes narrowed. “Tell me, Mr. Kellerman, what exactly is it, you are sorry for?” he asked testily.

Josh blinked against the sudden brightness in the kitchen. He faced Mr. Lawson and watched as the older man rubbed at the smooth cloth of his shirt where it guarded his heart. Clearly there was something going on here that he did not understand. He felt a sinking feeling in his gut. He generally got along well with everyone but he seemed to be tripping over his own feet continuously with this man. “I didn’t mean to offend you, Mr. Lawson. I’m not sure why I said I was sorry. It just felt like the right thing to say.”

The lines around the older man’s eyes softened and he let out a sigh. “Yes, well, I’m sure you meant nothing by it.”

“No, sir.”

Mr. Lawson nodded. They stood, facing each other in awkward silence. Josh shoved his hands into his pocket. “Would you like to hear my proposal now, sir?” He might as well make his pitch. That was what he was here for.

Mr. Lawson nodded his assent. He seemed to relax. No doubt this was familiar territory for him. “Yes. Yes, I would.”

Josh grinned, his excitement about the theatre returning. “The building needs some repair,” he said rocking up on his toes to keep himself from pacing. “The roof and carpeting need replacing and some of the wood on the outside of the windows can’t be saved, but everything else just needs some spit and polish.”

A slight smile crept over Mr. Lawson’s face and he raised his eyebrows. Josh felt his face redden with embarrassment. “I just mean everything needs a good cleaning,” he stammered. “The woodwork and the copper plating on the door need polishing and the windows need cleaning; that sort of thing.”

Mr. Lawson actually chuckled. “I know what you mean, Mr. Kellerman. My father often used that very expression. So,” Mr. Lawson said, his voice quiet and his expression thoughtful, “I take it you would use the original building for your business venture.”

Josh frowned, puzzled by the question. “Of course. The theatre is a work of art.” He looked Mr. Lawson in the eye. “To tear down a building like that would be a terrible loss.”

“Perhaps,” Mr. Lawson replied, his voice soft. “I suppose it depends on your point of view in the end. At any rate, Mr. Kellerman, let’s retire to my office.”

Josh started to follow but stopped, patted his pockets and scanned the kitchen counters. “I’m afraid I left my notes in the car, sir.”

Mr. Lawson rolled his eyes heavenward but led Josh back through the dark living room into the mudroom so that he could slip on his shoes. Josh hurried out to his car, wading through snow that reached the bottom of his calves. He glanced up at the sky, noting the unceasing wall of white puffs being hurled toward the earth. How was it even possible for so much snow to fall in so short a time?

He unlocked the door and swiped at the snow covering the window before opening the car. Snow sprinkled the seats despite his effort, some landing on his yellow legal pad. He grabbed the pad and slammed the door, waded back through the garage and deposited his shoes, once again, in the mudroom.

This time he removed his wool cap and carefully placed it next to his shoes. He ran his hand through his hair and followed Mr. Lawson into his office.

* * *

Proceed to part 4...

Copyright © 2016 by Deborah Rochford

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