The whole area looked like a bomb had gone off in it. I stood on the running boards of my Landrover and looked around, squinting toward the distant line of the river.
Make that two bombs.
The ground was mostly hard pack, what little grew looked pathetic even by weed standards. A few sunken pits had collected oily puddles of water and I'd already jarred my teeth on a few driving into the site.
Nearer the river a few trees had tried to take hold. Thin bent trunks of beech and Manitoba maple competed with thick clusters of sumac.
The only decent looking thing on the entire site was the massive weeping willow tree that stood near the banks of the river on the right hand corner of the fifty acre lot. How the thing had managed to survive was a mystery. I'm surprised Thurlow's grandfather hadn't whacked it down when he put his first paper mill on the property back in the late 1800's. Course it was probably a tiny sapling back then. Maybe he overlooked it in his zeal to rape the bigger stuff.
I know, I know. I shouldn't be so cynical. Industry built this country and no one had any real concept of the impact we humans were having on the planet back then. Some people today still seem to be missing the point. I could hardly fault Bartholomew Thurlow's grandfather with lack of foresight. He knew enough to make him and his family permanently wealthy, and that wealth was now going to fix what it had screwed up so long ago.
And it was going to be a major job bringing this back.
Inside the cab of my ancient Toyota Landrover came the sound of impatient throat clearing.
"Are you done yet, Ty? I thought we were going to lunch?"
I glanced into the cab at Michael. The angle afforded me a view of his tight, jean clad crotch and delectable bottom. Normally an arresting site - even a stirring one you could say - today it did nothing to me. It was fast reaching the point where Michael period wasn't doing anything for me. I tried to remember what had moved me to bring him along this morning. The desire for company on the ninety minute trip?
What had I been thinking?
"I heard you the first time, Michael." I hopped off the running board. Acrid dust puffed up under my Merrel Explorers. "I'll be back in five."
I shut the door over Michael's startled complaints and stomped across a blasted peak of clay and brutalized soil to something I had spotted just before his initial whine.
A tiny dribble of water confirmed my first suspicions. A spring. Weak and probably from a polluted ground source but running water all the same. A few waist high milkweed plants and vetch grew around the spring. I felt buoyed by the sight of a monarch butterfly sniffing out the milkweed as a potential nursery.
There was hope for the site yet.
Feeling remarkable upbeat I doubled back to the Landrover and popped the door open. Michael started in even before I got my butt planted on the worn seat covers.
I zoned him out while I tapped my finger on the wheel for several seconds then cranked the engine on. It growled and the Landrover shook and shuddered before it decided to catch and roared into life. Then I spotted the shack. It was tucked out of the way, maybe a hundred meters from that gorgeous willow, hemmed in by a heavy cloak of sumac and a few sickly looking white cedars.
I don't remember seeing it listed on the properties assets. And from where it sat it most definitely was on the property. I'd have to go back and double check the papers, since I did not want to be responsible for tearing down old Aunt Becky's birthplace by mistake. As a public relations gaffe it wouldn't do at all.
If it wasn't listed it would mean going back to Thurlow for confirmation.
"Are we going or what?" Michael was in full I-can-be-such- a-bitch mode. "First I miss my luncheon at La Mange and now it's like you just can't tear yourself away from this godforsaken place. I don't understand what's going on."
"Michael," I said with as much as patience as I could muster, which at this point in time wasn't much. "Shut up."
"Tyler!" Michael flounced his pretty butt on the worn seat under him. "Well I never --"
"Man, if I thought that was true I'd buy you a diamond ring and marry you."
I dropped a fuming Michael off at Domo's on Yorkville wincing at the thought of what he was going to do with my credit card. I was really going to have to do something about Michael soon. His talents in bed were rapidly being outweighed by his mercurial temper and his talent for spending money. Mine especially.
I drove out to Mississauga and pulled into Thurlow Industries around 4:00. I parked in a spot marked visitors and approached the towering blue glass structure. A 767 coming into for a landing at the Pearson International Airport roared overhead.
Ears numb I entered the cool lobby and hooked a right toward the elevators.
The sound of running water worked through my overwrought senses. I paused to study the fountain of water that cascaded down the living wall that took up the whole north rampart, extending up three stories to where the first of the hidden pipes fed the perpetual stream. The plants I had personally selected and attached to the wall were growing nicely, several looked like they had tripled in size.
The air was filled with the fresh scent of clean water and the good, rich oxygen the wall of plants gave off after filtering all the crap that modern day buildings produced. My first major success as an ecological engineer and one I was proud of to this day. Companies still sent representatives from all over the world to study what I had done in the hopes of reproducing it back home. I'd gotten some fat contracts out of those visits.
When Thurlow had first approached me with his 'little' problem nearly three years ago I had wasn't sure what he had wanted. What he had, he said, was a sick building. He was losing hundreds of manhours a year to employee call-ins and needed someone to fix the problem now. From what he'd heard I was that someone.
I hadn't had to spend more than a half a day in the stale trapped air inside his hermetically sealed box to know what his problem was. It had taken nearly two months of research and working with a top notch botanist at Toronto U to come up with a solution.
The living wall had been an instant hit. Thurlow had paid me well for that job and helped me launch a new phase of my career.
Now he wanted another miracle from me.
On the ninth floor I let his secretary know I was there then I strolled over to the nearest window and looked out. I couldn't see much, an industrial fog obscured the distant shoreline of Lake Ontario and several other buildings on the same scale as Thurlow's hid whatever the smog didn't.
Finally Jeannie, Thurlow's long suffering secretary told me I could go in.
I passed through the double oak doors into Thurlow's inner sanctum. His office was the size of some middling banana republic country and his desk was as big as my third floor bedroom. As though in sharp contrast Thurlow himself was a small rotund man of indeterminate years who occupied a chair that was two sizes to large for him.
Thurlow indicated one of two padded leather chairs facing his desk. "Sit, Tyler. What brings you out here? I thought you had planned to survey the site today."
"I did, sir," I said. I dropped into the chair nearest him. "Something came up --"
Only then did I notice the other man.
He stood with his back to us, looking out at the view through the darkened glass. His hands were held behind his back and I noted their size and obvious roughness. This guy was no desk jockey, not with callouses like that. I couldn't see his face, only his pitch black hair that had been drawn into a pony tail and hung past his shoulder blades, nearly to his waist. He had broad shoulders and a tight ass barely covered by a black bomber jacket.
"Ah, yes," Thurlow said. "I'm actually glad you did come up, Tyler. I'd like you meet someone. He's going to be working on the site too, but in a different capacity."
The figure by the window turned and I found I was holding my breath. Would he measure up to what I had already seen of his impressive back?
I wouldn't describe him as drop dead gorgeous. His face was too unusual for that. He was obviously at least partly First Nations. His high cheekbones looked sculptured in his tight dark face and his eyes were two dark orbs that stared unblinking into mine when Thurlow made the introductions.
"Tyler, I'd like you to meet Charles Reid. Charlie, this is Tyler McKay, our ecological engineer."
Charles Reid, that sounded familiar. Then Thurlow cleared it up with his next words.
"Charlie has agreed to do a commissioned work for me commemorating this project and all it will mean for the world."
Thurlow had a pretty high opinion of himself and his place in the scheme of things. I guess when you have the kind of money he has you can afford to.
"Paintings?" I remembered now why I had heard the name. Charlie was a rising artistic talent in the art world. He was giving Robert Bateman a run for his money with his paintings of animals in their natural habitat. "I seem to remember one of your pieces. Some kind of bird on the deck of a boat in the Arctic?"
"A jaegar on the deck of an oil rig in the North Atlantic, but you're close." Charlie smiled and some of the tension in his dark face dissolved. "That was my first."
"It was good. What were you doing in the North Atlantic?"
"Working. I was one of the onboard rig technicians."
"And you spent your spare time painting? Strange hobby for a roughneck."
"I ran out of chewing tobacco and my guns fell overboard." He shrugged his broad shoulders and his eyes hardened into ice chips. "You stereotype everybody that way?"
I felt heat flood my face. I fingered my goatee and tried to figure out a way to apologize. Realized there wasn't one and just said. "Sorry, bad choice of words. I am puzzled though - have you seen the site yet? Where I'm going to be working."
"Yes, I was up there yesterday. Why?"
"Because what exactly do you intend to paint?"
If Charlie was taken back by my words he didn't show it. Instead he rolled his big shoulders in a shrug and said, "I intend to paint what once was, and what will be again."
Oh great, a mystic. I tried to place his accent. American south, but where? It wasn't strong, but it was definitely there. I smiled smugly then dropped the smile when he added:
"Unless of course you don't think you can do what you claim you can and you are unable to restore Lynx Woods."
"Lynx Woods?" That was a new one on me. "Is that what your people used to call it?"
"My people? Nah, my great grandfather was a North Carolina Cherokee. Don't think he ever got north of Richmond."
Feeling like I'd been had I raised one eyebrow at him. "I assure you I can and will do what I've said. This isn't the first time I've reconstructed a wetland site."
Thurlow choose that moment to interject. "Good, good. Now I'm sure you both have lots to do." He stood up, all five four inches of him and ushered us toward the door. "Now unless there was something else, Tyler? Charles?"
"As a matter of fact there was, Mr. Thurlow," I said. "There's a building on the property that wasn't listed in my original specs."
"Not much more than a shack, but I need to have formal dispensation to take it down if that's your intention."
"Could it be used for anything? Storage? Tools? While you're working there, that is?"
"I didn't examine it too closely but from first impressions I would say no. Do I have your leave to raze it?"
"Yes, by all means. If that's what you think best." Thurlow seemed very distracted now. Busy man. All those millions to occupy the mind.
I persisted though. I didn't want to come back later to take care of this. "I'll need that in writing."
I couldn't help but notice Charlie was smirking at our exchange. Did he think I was a sniveling coward, trying to cover my ass? Let him. His opinions meant squat to me.
The man knew how to fill out a pair of jeans though.
"Fine," Thurlow said. "I'll fax that to you by end of business day today."
"Very good, sir."
I followed Charlie to the door. He held it open and swept his arm in a half circle to indicate I should go through first. He sauntered after me. We waited for the elevator in silence.
Once in the elevator and descending I couldn't resist asking, "How'd you hook up with Thurlow anyway?"
"Mutual acquaintance. Another client."
"Mind if I ask exactly what you have in mind to paint, or is that a creative secret?"
"Not secret. Just unknown at this point. That's why I need to spend time at the site."
His face closed up. Had I touched a nerve of some kind?
"You might say that. At this point all I know is will be a four painting panel. Probably featuring some concurring theme." He shrugged. "Maybe that willow."
"You noticed that too? Quite an impressive tree."
"Strong too. Survived a lot of abuse."
"On that site? How could it not." Suddenly Charlie seemed bored with the topic. "I'll be heading out there first thing in the morning. To catch the early light and see what it inspires. What exactly is involved at your end? Will you be spending a lot of time out there?" He smiled dryly. "I don't believe I've ever met an ecological engineer before."
"That's me. One of a kind." I stroked my goatee while I thought of what to say. "My job is to understand what the land can sustain and try to take to that place. It involves a lot of complex issues related to hydrology, geology and the like. First thing I have to do is a detailed study of the entire site."
"All fifty acres? How detailed?" Charlie seemed interested despite himself.
"Core sample at least a dozen key locations within the site. Determine basalt structure, watershed contention and basically try to determine how water is going to move within those fifty acres."
"Move. What do you mean, move? Water moves the same everywhere. It's water. It doesn't suddenly start flowing uphill just because the ground underneath it is different."
"But water on porous sandy ground moves much differently than water on solid clay. Subtle variations in the way the land itself is structured can make a big difference in where the water goes and how fast it gets there. You have to plant accordingly, to get the most out of the natural terrain. Nature does it automatically, when I come in it all has to be thought out to the nth degree."
Charlie suddenly laughed. "Okay, you got me. I think I'll stick to painting. Those kinds of subtleties I can understand."
I grinned. "It's less complicated than it sounds."
The elevator door opened, releasing us into the cool lobby.
"Oh, I doubt that," Charlie said stepping out. "I doubt that very much."
He waited until I followed him out then extended his hand.
"Nice to meet you, Tyler. Maybe I'll see you out there sometime."
"Pleasure, Charlie. What did you call it? Lynx Woods?" I felt his hand swallow up mine and felt his rough skin over mine. His flesh felt warm and dry. "I like it. Encourage Mr. Thurlow to keep it."
"It'll be listed in the catalogue with the panel once it's completed. Does that make it official enough?"
"That ought to do it."
I reluctantly dropped his hand. He saluted me and sauntered out through the door into the bright sun. He immediately slipped a pair of Ray Bans out and put them on. He walked across the patch of lawn that had been given over to benches and a picnic table for employees, a vision in black.
I was mesmerized.
Now the question was: which way did sexy Charlie swing?
Because I very much hoped he might swing my way at least once before this whole project ended.
[More to come]
If you like this story so far, let me know at Patrick I'm always happy to hear comments, suggestions, anything. You can also read all my stories at Archerland