Copyright© 2013 by Refusenik
His first weeks as a 'big time' property owner had gone smoothly. An inspection by the Western Group property team hadn't turned up any major surprises. He never saw them. They'd been in and out before he even knew the inspection was happening.
Scott grabbed a towel from his bag and wiped the sweat from his face. The student gym on campus had a great weight room. He'd purchased a mountain bike and was commuting from the extended stay suite to campus for workouts four days a week.
The summer semester started in a week, and Scott was feeling like a student again. He'd spent the morning locating the buildings his classes were in and committing the campus layout to memory.
Class was going to be the easiest part of summer. He slung the gym bag over his shoulder and went to retrieve the bike from a rack located under the cover of a large leafy tree. The summer heat was beginning to kick in and he appreciated the shade as he knelt to unlock the bike chain.
He rotated the combination lock to the correct setting, but the cheap device refused to open. He tried it a second time, but it was clearly jammed. He growled and banged the lock against the steel bike rack. The pressed metal end snapped off before the lock.
"Great!" he muttered, and pulled the cable free of the bike frame.
Once he would have used his abilities and fused the metal together, but he didn't take those shortcuts any longer. The lock made a satisfying bang when he threw it into a nearby trashcan.
The campus bookstore was a short ride away. Summer enrollment was a shadow of what the campus saw during regular session. Despite that, the bookstore was crowded. He grabbed a new cable lock from a shelf and diverted to the magazine display. He'd been buying architectural magazines, looking for inspiration.
He paid for his purchases and retrieved the gym bag from a cubbyhole by the entrance. The mountain bike had survived its brief stint without a lock.
The ride from campus to the extended stay hotel was short. Instead of taking an apartment lease, he secured the hotel suite through the end of the year. Everett Wahl at the Western Group told him to be prepared for six to nine months of construction, if not longer.
Scott reached the intersection across from the hotel and dismounted. He waited for the light and pushed the bike across the crosswalk and into the parking lot. A note on his door claimed he had a package at the desk. He wheeled the bike inside and dumped his gym bag on the kitchenette table.
One wall of the suite was covered with pages torn from design and architecture magazines. He'd been trying to familiarize himself with the trends before hiring an architect.
He made the quick trip to the nearby office. The package turned out to be flowers. Diane Beamer, the realtor, had gotten her commission.
He dressed in slacks and a comfortable shirt. He was shopping for an architect, and 'college slacker' wasn't a good look for the process. He'd considered a jacket, but it was summer and there was only so far he'd go for a meeting where he was the client. On the good side of the ledger, there were a surprising number or architects in the area. Perhaps it was proximity to the university that drew them to Levall? He didn't know.
Two hours later, he climbed an exterior staircase over a midtown art studio. His patience had worn thin. The last local architect on his list ran her own firm.
A teenage girl stood at the window, typing on her phone. She smiled at him as he entered. The frustration he felt from his wasted morning melted away. She wore a short, pleated blue skirt and a white top, paired with tall platform high heels. When she sat at the reception desk, he realized she worked for the firm. Scott stared at the pink ribbon in her hair and wondered if he'd made a mistake.
"Can I help you?" she asked.
"Scott MacIntyre," he replied. "I have an appointment."
"I'm Andi. Just a moment, please."
Andi's well-manicured finger pressed a button, "Rita, your two o'clock is here."
The receptionist typed an entry on her computer using her two index fingers. Whatever her merits as a receptionist were, they didn't including typing.
Rita Nogawa, the architect he'd come to see, walked into the reception area and her face fell.
He pegged her age near forty. She was a diminutive Asian woman with short black hair. He recognized the expensive watch on her right arm, being something of a watch fanatic himself. His good watches were in storage and he had the stray thought that it was time to retrieve them.
The architect's face grew angry as he took in her appearance.
"I don't employ interns," she said, "review homework pieces, or do school projects."
The receptionist's mouth formed an 'o' as she turned from her boss back to Scott.
He swallowed his first response. "I'm not an architectural student."
Rita Nogawa frowned.
"I would like to hire an architect, but that's turned into a difficult proposition in this town."
"I charge eighty-five an hour for consultation."
"Do you prefer cash up front?" he replied, "or would you like to bill me?"
The receptionist smiled, bit her lip, and turned to face her boss.
"I apologize," the architect said. "Would you come this way?"
It had been a day for rudeness, but it was the first apology he'd gotten. Scott nodded his agreement and followed her.
She led him to a working space. The room was flooded with light from a skylight, and the walls were lined with shelves displaying various building models and architectural detail studies. Framed professional certifications hung next to prints of famous buildings.
A large architect's table dominated the center of the room, topped by a pair of high-resolution monitors on an armature.
Rita dragged a stool around the table and indicated that he should sit. She grabbed her own across from him.
"What sort of services are you interested in?" she asked.
"I have a renovation project, and need an architect."
"Why do you want to hire me?"
Scott paused. She was direct. "Isn't that what you should be selling me on?" She opened her mouth to respond, but he continued. "The answer is that I don't know that I do, but our meeting has already gone better than those with your competitors."
"Architects can be prickly," she said.
"That too," she agreed. "How old are you?"
He looked at her and she didn't flinch. "I'm old enough to buy beer, have served my country, and own property. Any other questions?"
"Is this a residential or commercial project?"
He ignored the question for the moment. "You've done two downtown projects," he said. Her website had told him as much.
Her eyebrows narrowed. "I've completed two downtown projects. I'm wrapping a third, the Hanford Atrium renovation."
He'd seen it. The atrium, named for Hanford Levall the rail baron who founded the city, was located next to an old theater that the city was trying to save. The 'art district' was a point of civic pride and the atrium's renovation was the first step toward a new era of public engagement for the arts, according to the local paper.
"I have a bank reference that might help speed our conversation along," Scott said. Everett Wahl had foreseen the trouble he might run into with an architect or builder and prepared the document, which gave the broad strokes on one of his accounts and told what a swell guy he was. This was his first chance to present it. He handed Rita the envelope.
She took it. "I'll be right back."
Scott used the time to examine the intricate models around him. Somebody with a delicate touch and phenomenal patience was extremely talented.
Andi, the receptionist, stopped and asked if he wanted water. He accepted.
Rita returned ten minutes later. She handed the envelope back to him.
"My bank says you're the real deal. Can we start over?"
"I've recently purchased a building in lovely downtown Levall," Scott said. "My intent is to renovate it as my private residence."
"20 Main Street."
Rita Nogawa blinked. "20 Main Street?" She stood and extracted a large piece of foam board from a rack. A highly annotated map of downtown was fastened to the board. Her finger trailed down Main Street and stopped.
"And 22 Main Street," he said. "If you do bar and restaurant design, I could give you a reference."
She shook her head. "The Leibowicz place?"
Scott took the key ring from his pocket and showed her the building key. "Should I ask you about your design philosophy, or would you like to take a look?"
That started the architect talking about what clearly was her passion. She spoke about the use of light and space, form versus function, using her hands to describe concepts. He listened as she spun a web of buzzwords. Like any specialty, architects had their own language. He stopped her when she started on a tangent about sustainable space.
"Is it Miss or Mrs. Nogawa?"
"Rita is fine."
"Okay, Rita," Scott said. "I should tell you that being green isn't a priority of mine. If product A does the job better than product B, and it's 'sustainable' then fine. Otherwise, they're empty words."
Her head drew back and her shoulders straightened, "You don't care about sustainability?"
"Don't get me wrong, I'm all for conservation and the idea of leaving a cleaner footprint. But, when you start throwing around terms like 'sustainability' on a seven figure private residence ... well, let's just say I get cynical."
"You're too young to be cynical."
"Ever been to Afghanistan?"
The architect's eyes narrowed. "I have a partner," Rita said. "Will that be a problem for you?"
Scott didn't know what one had to do with the other so he shrugged. "Are you saying I'd be dealing more with your partner than you?"
"My partner works closely with the contractors on our projects, does photography, and builds design models. I'll be the project lead, but you'd deal with her as well."
"Then I don't see how that would be a problem?"
Rita frowned, "It's been a problem in the past, because she's my partner."
Ah, he snapped to what she was saying. "Rita, I don't care about your personal life and hope you wouldn't care about mine."
She nodded. "Okay then. At this point, we would normally talk about what you want, what I do, the budget, and go from there. What I'd like to suggest is that we visit the site. I've only seen the building from the outside."
"Sounds good to me."
Rita stood. "Let me tell Lindsey what we're doing."
She left and Scott continued his exploration of the room. He wouldn't have the patience to build such exactingly detailed models. He bent to get a closer look.
Rita returned and cleared her throat. "I'd like to introduce my partner, Lindsey. Lindsey, this is Scott MacIntyre a potential client."
Scott turned to greet the partner. Despite the heat, Lindsey was wearing a long sleeve shirt with the cuffs rolled up, tight jeans, and construction boots. She was Hispanic, or possibly Native American, mid thirties, and had the sides of her head shaved. Her jet-black hair bristled with some sort of hair product.
"Hello," he said.
Lindsey shook his hand. Her grip was firm and she had short trimmed nails.
"We're going to do a site visit," Rita said.
"Where's the building?" Lindsey asked.
"Main Street by Saint Bart's," Scott replied. "The address is 20 Main, next to the Black Horse."
"I know it," Lindsey said.
"There's parking around the back of the building," Scott said. "If I can't get the gate open, we'll park in the employee lot of the Black Horse. I'll square it with the owner. What will you be driving?"
"A 2007 red Dodge Ram 2500."
"Great truck," Scott replied. "Had a silver 2005 extended cab before I joined the Corps."
"You were a Marine?"
"I was a Navy draftsman," Lindsey said. "Put in six years before they closed the rate."
"Shall we get going?" Rita said.
"Give me a head start and I'll sort out the parking problem," Scott answered.
The realtor had given him an old radio frequency module to control the gate, but it was on the fritz. He jumped out of the SUV and mashed the buttons on the control panel. The gate strained to open, so he gave it a shove.
He parked the Jeep and jogged back to the Twelfth street gate. If he wasn't careful, the opening would be an invitation to downtown shoppers and students hunting for available parking.
The red Dodge arrived and Scott waved it into the drive. Lindsey parked the truck by his SUV while Scott tried to close the gate.
His better than human hearing caught snippets of Lindsey and Rita's conversation.
"He's seen combat," Lindsey said.
"How do you know?" Rita replied.
"Look at the plates on his vehicle."
"I don't know what that means."
"It means he was wounded," Lindsey replied.
"He seems okay to me."
"How does a Marine own a building like this?"
"Shhhh," Rita whispered.