I got back into Yorkville in time to pick up Michael at Gabbana's. I winced when I saw the bags and boxes he was carrying, but rather than create a scene I helped him load them into the back of the Landrover and we decided to head closer to home for supper. I found parking on the Danforth and we ate Greek that night.
Michael was bubbling over with his purchases and could barely contain his enthusiasm all during dinner. He just knew I'd share his zeal once I had seen him model the stuff so we headed back to my place on Broadview and he dragged me up to the third floor.
There he put on a fashion show to shame Hugo Boss. Seeing that delightful tush in varying degrees of undress for the next hour did what it always did and when Michael saw the tent in my cargos he squealed and jumped on me.
"Oh I knew you'd like them." He smothered me with kisses and pulled my swollen cock out of my pants, ohing and ahing over it like he'd never seen it before. "Oh, baby, you're the greatest."
He dove for my cock and pumped and sucked me until I felt ready to explode. But before that happened he pulled off me.
"I know what my baby really wants," Michael cooed and when he waggled that hot butt in my face I knew he was right. It was what I wanted.
But Michael would have been sorely dismayed if he had seen the images that flashed through my head as I slid my eight inches up his delectable back door. I closed my eyes and imagined long black hair and brown skin sliding along mine. About strong calloused fingers grabbing my hand and guiding it to his cock. I blew my load with a grunt and jerked the cock in my hand off, then opened my eyes to watch Michael peel away from me and scamper into the bathroom to clean up. I disposed of the condom and followed him.
He met me in the shower and gave me a wet warm kiss, tickling my goatee with his tongue. "My baby was hot tonight. I'm gonna be so sore I won't be able to walk tomorrow."
Please. Little Michael got fucked so much there was prime real estate between his legs. He could have taken a horse without batting an eyelash.
I toweled off and threw on a robe. I lay on the king- sized bed that dominated the third floor bedroom, one leg bent to hold the magazine I was reading.
"Glass of wine before bed?"
I was about to repeat the question when Michael came out of the bathroom dressed to go out. He wore one of his new acquisitions.
I peered at him over the glossy cover of the magazine. "Going out? Since when?"
"Something came up."
"And here I thought we'd just taken care of that."
"Oh baby, it's not that. It's... Donny. He's having a major crisis. He needs me to hold his hand. You know Donny."
No, frankly I didn't. But that was okay. I'd found out early into our relationship that I didn't want to know any of Michael's so called friends.
I patted Michael's butt and he leaned in for a kiss. "I won't be late," he said.
"I'm leaving early for the project site tomorrow. I'll be gone by four-thirty. Try not to wake me up if you get in before that."
"Sure thing, baby."
I watched his ass sashay as he walked across the hard wood floor toward the stairs. Then I shook my head and went back to reading about agrarian land use in the twenty first century.
"I take it this means you don't want a glass of wine before bed," I muttered aloud to the empty room.
The life of a swinging bachelor. Could it get more exciting.
Michael still hadn't returned when I left the house at 4:25. Big surprise.
The drive up to Lynx Woods was done in total darkness. Only during the last thirty minutes, on the back road that led into the agricultural land north of Toronto, did the sky begin to lighten.
The sun didn't begin to come up until I'd parked the Landrover and sat nursing the lukewarm Tim Horton's coffee I'd picked up before leaving the city. As my eyes adjusted to the crepuscular light I saw a deer pick its careful way over the rough terrain toward the river. I heard the nearby hoot of a great horned owl. Probably using the willow as a launch pad for the last hunt of the night.
I finished the coffee and crushed the cup, dumping it in the plastic garbage bag I kept in the front for that purpose. Then I popped the door open and stepped out into a surreal landscape.
The deer was long gone and there was no sign of the owl. Dew held down the dust and my Merrels were soon damp and coated in dirt. I retraced my steps to the spring, found it still bubbling then moved on toward the shack I had noticed yesterday.
It looked worse from close up. There wasn't a straight board in the thing and the door sagged on its hinges. Things scurried away from the light when I opened the door and I immediately thought of field mice. I hesitated. Field mice had already tested positive for the hanta virus in Ontario and I had enough worries health-wise with HIV. (Not that I ever let anyone near me without a condom, but nothing's foolproof) But I shrugged and poked my head in.
Whatever the shack had been it was now empty. Dust and animal turds covered the rough wooden floor. Several old, used condoms littered the floor. Someone had braved the small animals for a momentary thrill. A pile of leaves carried in by some nest building animal or blown in through cracks lay piled in one corner. No sign of what had used it, but I thought I detected the ancient odor of skunk.
The sound penetrated my senses abruptly breaking my revery. A motor, but not a car. I backed out of the shack in time to see a two-tone silver and black bike come roaring down the same road I had driven only minutes before. As it got closer I could see it was a Harley Davidson. It had gold cast wheels and was long and low to the ground. Not exactly your off-road vehicle.
It stopped to the right of my Landrover and two leather clad legs spread out on either side of the low slung seat to steady the rider as he dragged his black helmet off his head, unleashing a cascading tide of long shimmering hair. I knew women who would kill for hair like that.
I wanted to grab two handfuls of it and shove my aching cock square into the mouth of the man who was now climbing off the Harley. Setting his helmet on the pillion seat, Charlie shook out his hair and began to open the front of his jacket, revealing a plain white T-shirt that had ridden up out of his jeans to expose a hairless brown six pack to my covetous eyes.
"Morning," Charlie called. He pulled something out from the seat under his helmet and walked toward me.
It certainly is. I nodded at the artist's pad tucked under his arm. "You ready for work?"
"Paper and pencils." He patted his jacket where I saw several pencils of varying length poke out beside his Ray Bans. "Been here long?"
"Not too." I gestured toward the shack. "Checking this out."
"Is it what you thought?"
"Derelict. Local teenagers seem to know about it. They'll have to find someplace else for their trysts."
"Trysts?" Charlie grinned. "Now if that isn't a nice safe word."
"What should I call it - their fuck shack? Maybe a shag palace?"
"Whoa, don't be so defensive. It hardly matters what it's called. It's coming down, right?"
"Damn straight. Should burn it." I told him about the field mice and the hanta virus.
"More nasty stuff, eh? Ever think we passed through the age of reason and now we're into the age of viruses? And the viruses are winning?"
"I prefer to think we're in Dante's Inferno."
"Ah, but which level?"
"You know the Divine Comedy?"
"Doesn't everyone who went through college?" Charlie brushed an imaginary speck of dirt off his black clad leg. "I actually major in English lit in college, until I got wise and realized no one hired literate Indians."
"So you went to work on the oil rig?"
"Nah, first I dropped out," Charlie said. "Then I went chasing fires around the northwest for a year. Then I went to work on the oil rig. Add construction work while I was in college and you've got your all around Indian red neck."
"And you went from that to this?"
"Too much of stretch? Not enough machismo in painting cute little fur balls?"
I'd seen some of his paintings. There was rarely anything cute about them. They were powerful and often angry glimpses into a feral world few people ever saw first hand. "Looks to me like you've got enough machismo to furnish a small town." I took advantage of the subject to sweep his leather clad form with hungry eyes.
"Think so?" He watched me watch him. "It sure wasn't enough to save my marriage."
"You were married?" I turned to look out toward the distant river. Married didn't mean anything. I knew lots of gay guys who got married before they came out. "How long were you hitched?"
"Several lifetimes." Charlie laughed, but the sound had some residual pain. "Nearly five years. High school sweetheart yet. You ever wonder where that term came from?"
"Probably someone who never had one and thought it sounded romantic."
I've never put a lot of credence in gaydar. I think some guys are so out there and obvious no one could mistake them for straight, others were more subtle but still gave lots of clues for the properly informed. Then there were those who just didn't give anything away.
And of course there was that pesky ninety percent of the population who the statisticians insisted were straight. Whatever that meant.
But the ones who didn't give anything away were the hardest to deal with. A guy could get his face broken making the wrong assumptions and acting on it.
Sometimes you didn't even have to be wrong. I think the most violent reactions come from the guys still buried so deep in the closet they don't admit to themselves they have leanings. I try to stay away from them. They're dangerous, both to themselves and to me.
The only question in my mind right now was: which was Charlie and how far would I go to check it out?
It was light enough to start work so I began hauling equipment out of my Landrover. I had a team coming up today to do a survey, but in the meantime I could start some sampling. I wanted water samples analyzed so I would know exactly what we were dealing with in terms of groundwater contamination. Plus I wanted to begin assembling a portfolio of before shots which would later be used to contrast with the after ones.
Nothing impresses the clients more than dramatic proof of how far their vision -- and money -- took them.
And the first set of photographs were extremely useful when it came to the initial designs. Like I'm always telling people we end up with something wonderfully natural but the road there is anything but. It took humans to screw it up, it takes human intervention to put things right.
I grabbed both cameras. The digital was my newest toy and let me think of building a website that would highlight my achievements. It might help bring in some more clients. The regular Canon was my old faithful standby.
I decided to start down at one corner of the roughly rectangular lot then work back and forth until I had covered the entire fifty acres. Once my team arrived I would set them to work collecting physical samples and running the surveys I would need to make sure my figures matched the government's.
My first corner was the one with the weeping willow in it. Close up it was even more impressive than when I had first seen it. The thing's girth had to be as big around as my Landrover was in pure meters. I'm not sure Charlie and I could have held hands around it.
The trunk was twisted and gnarled. Whatever life it had led, it hadn't been gentle. This thing had been tormented by the elements. Long wispy green whips trailed down to the ground, sweeping over my face when I walked in close. The top of the tree brushed the clouds over five meters above my close cropped head. I could hear birds in the upper corkscrew mess of branches, occasionally I would glimpse a tiny body flit from branch to branch. The ground around the tree was littered with discarded willow tree catkin and dead leaves. Light mottled my face.
I touched the rough trunk and looked up.
"How tall do you figure it is?"
I jumped at the sound of Charlie's voice. His laughter sounded softly in my ear as he clapped a heavy hand on my back.
"Sorry, man. Didn't mean to startle you."
I shot him a trenchant look. "S'okay." I forced my eyes back to the tree. "How tall? Maybe five meters. Give or take."
"Meters? Ah, yeah, that's metric, right? You Canucks use that now."
I couldn't resist, "Yeah, us and the rest of the world. Funny thing, that. For you illiterate Yankees that's about eighteen feet."
"For you illiterate Canadians, a Yankee is someone born north of the Mason-Dixon line. Which ain't me, no sirree Bob, y'all." he put on an exaggerate accent.
"Could say the same about you."
We were standing shoulder to shoulder and it startled me to realize he was several inches taller than me. At a whisker over six foot, there's not many men I look up to. I had to crane my neck to see this guy's face.
He'd tied his hair back in a pony tail again. His face was lean and chiseled, his cheekbones like rough cut stone, all angles and lines. He had eyes that looked like two storm tossed pools. He wasn't handsome in the Hollywood sense, but he radiated a power that was mesmerizing. When he smiled he showed a slight crookedness in his front teeth that could have been corrected easily for the right amount of money.
He glanced down at me and raised one eyebrow.
"I got something in my teeth?"
I flushed and looked away, angry at being caught staring. To try to cover I tipped my head at the willow again.
"How old do you figure it is?"
"Hundred, hundred twenty. Who knows," he said. "Old. You don't plan on taking it down, do you?"
"No, definitely not. I plan to use it as a focal point for this part of the project." I began to walk around the ancient tree, being careful not to trip over the twisted roots that snaked across the ground before burrowing down into the dark earth. "It's too magnificent to destroy."
Charlie followed me. I didn't know if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
"How do you get into a field like this? I don't think I'd ever heard of an ecological engineer before and it strikes me there isn't much call for what you do. Maybe I'm wrong."
"It's a niche market," I said. I knelt down and picked up a flat stone, which I turned over in my palm. "But it's something even governments are recognizing as having some value."
"They finally realize that there are some areas that should never be built on. Remember those really bad floods a few years ago where the Mississippi wiped out whole towns, washed away cemeteries?"
"Yeah, I remember that."
"Lot of red faced people over that one. They've been trying to control rivers for centuries. Building dams, putting in dikes, and spillways and even forcing the water into concrete basins. It works, for a while. And people get a false sense of security and power, thinking they've tamed this force. All those farmers all along the river, farming flood plains, thinking they were safe."
"And it all blew up in their faces."
"Same thing happened out west in Canada. The Red River did a number on the area a few years ago." I flicked the stone with my wrist, it flew out over the river, hit the surface of the water and skipped. Skipped again. Once more then sank into the roiling brown water. "Bottom line is we can't control weather and we sure as hell can't control something as elemental as water. But we can do things to minimize the damage."
"Like this?" Charlie swept his dark gaze over the wasted landscape. "How does turning this back to some supposed pristine state help anyone?"
"Flood plains allow water to flow out instead of channeling it up and creating a raging river that's capable of uprooting even trees like this one." I patted the willow. "Then there's the added problem these days of water contamination. Too much human activity around water is bad for the water's health. Waste, fertilizer, pesticides, you name it. It all goes in there. A place like this, done right can go a long way to cleaning up water."
"Plants act as filters. They soak up environmental contaminants, lock it away where it can't do any harm."
I picked up another stone and prepared to throw it too. Suddenly his hand was on my throwing arm and I froze. The heat from his skin penetrated straight to my groin.
Then I saw it. Downstream from where we stood. The Great Blue Heron stood near the water's edge, it's spear shaped beak poised to strike at any unwary creature that came too near. Beside me Charlie had eased his sketch pad open and was furiously drawing away.
The bird uncoiled its long blue gray neck with the fringe of long feathers and lifted one foot out of water. In slow motion it eased forward then in a lightning blur of motion its head shot out, grabbed something and flew back. Something wiggled in its beak then one gulp banished it to the bird's gullet.
As though belatedly realizing it was being watched the heron squatted low in the water then launched itself skyward. We both watched as it disappeared down river.
"Wow," I murmured.
"Yeah, wow." Charlie stuffed his pencil back in his pocket then examined what he had done. "One of my favorite birds. Must be an omen."
He let me look over his sketch. It was funny, but there wasn't very much too it. Just a few lines, some dark and strong, others fine wispy things, but together they captured the essence of the bird I had just watched.
"Wow," I said again.
"Is that going to be one of your panels?"
"Too early to say. I'll probably do a hundred like this, then go back to my studio and put together the final pieces. That's when I make those decisions."
"Where's your studio?" I tried to be as casual as possible.
"Gatlinburg." He flipped the sketch pad to a clean page. "Tennessee. Borders on the Great Smoky Mountain Park. Incredible place."
"Do they need any environmental engineering done?" I asked lamely. I barely knew the man and was already regretting his departure. I was losing it here.
"Who knows." Charlie laughed, a deep rich sound without a trace of guile. "Maybe they could I'll put in a good word for you."
A truck could be heard laboring down the road. We both looked up when the full size van I used to cart my real equipment around in lurched to a stop beside my Landrover. Three guys and a girl piled out.
I stepped away from Charlie.
"My survey team," I said. "Time to get to work for real."
[More to come]
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