Friday, 22 May 2015

Chapter 3.3

It was 2 days later. The beds had been completely cleaned out and prepped for their planting. Barkus had been pleasantly surprised by the effort and skill displayed by the teams of teens. They had even negotiated with a local farmer to get some of his best compost to dig into the soil at no extra charge to Barkus. Garrett, the leader, had been clearly proud of the results and Barkus felt no tinge of regret in handing over the agreed sum, he even added a bonus.
'You kept your word,' he said by way of explanation as Garrett's eyes lit up at the unexpected extra. 'You delivered a top-notch job in good time and even looked to the future benefit of going the extra mile in the initial stages. That kind of initiative deserves a bonus' That was his father again, he knew. "Always reward someone for doing a good job", was one of his frequent sayings. Garrett counted out the bundle of cash with an air of professionalism, then carefully placed it in an envelope which was secreted in an inside pocket. His face then broke into a huge grin and he extended a hand.
'Pleasure working with you Mr. Barkus,' he said as Barkus hid his own grin and shook his hand. 'Let me know if you need some help again.'
'Let me get this design through the Council in one piece and you got a deal.'

“And that bit's blue, where is that pencil, ah, here.”
Sheryl had spent the last 2 days going back through her deign with a fine-tooth comb, incorporating more testimonials from townspeople, more common themes that were discussed in Council on a regular basis and a few professional comments from Barkus. The school colours appeared flamboyantly, the winter views were emphasised, the local vendors and materials lists were checked and updated. She left no stone unturned.
“Sheryl honey,' Lyn broke into Sheryls concentration gently. Barkus saw the skinny woman blink and rub at her eyes. They had been working for 8 straight hours. 'I think Barkus needs the design now and you need to eat.'
'But, but I'm not finished,' Sheryl protested, as a yawn broke through.
'You know that you're never going to be done, if by done you mean finished tweaking.' Lyn expertly lifted her best friend out of her chair and towards the kitchen. 'You're always tweaking.' Barkus was left in the room alone and just now with the setting sun pouring through, covering every surface in gold, the rooms were somehow spacious and cozy at the same time.
He had been sitting in a large armchair, and leafing through Sheryl's books again. But at Lyn's gentle removal of Sheryl, he got up and went to see what she had been working on.
When Lyn and Sheryl returned, full plates in hand, Barkus was staring at the latest completed design sketch.
'Oh wait, I'm not finished,' Sheryl began, looking for a space to put her food.
'Yes, you are,' Barkus said in a far away tone. 'You have covered all the bases, incorporated all the changes, checked all the facts and numbers 4 times over and have created more maps and images than I could have believed.' He looked at her with a strange expression on his face. 'They're going to be blown away by this. For now, your job is done.' He swept the papers into a pile and placed them carefully on a nearby end-table. 'So how about you sit and eat your dinner while I start to figure out how I'm going to do mine.' He paused. 'But first, I'm going to get some food.'

He was in the kitchen, putting some bread on his plate -Sheryl had shown up that morning with a casserole and fresh rolls- when he realized that when he stood in a certain spot, he could hear the women's conversation clearly.
'So he's back tomorrow?' Sheryl asked. Pause, sighing sound. Barkus scanned the kitchen and went over the plan of the apartment in his head. Right here, the sounds from the sitting room were funnelled into this exact spot, far too perfectly for mere accident. Clearly, he mused, someone wanted to make sure their party guests weren't talking behind their backs. However, the unknown paranoid hadn't seen it fit to add a spy-hole, maybe had decided that the risk of exposure wasn't worth it. Barkus shook his head ruefully and made to join them before a phrase dragged his ear back.
'Yeah, they say they've done all they can.' Pause. 'I hate that phrase,' Lyn continued in a wobbly voice. 'It always sounds like such a cop-out.' A pregnant silence. Barkus was caught, he couldn't just walk in now, he'd embarrass Lyn. But listening to them like this made him feel like some kind of Peeping Tom.
'I'm sure they don't mean it like that,' was the sympathetic reply.
'I should hope not. I'm paying enough to cover their bonuses this year goddammit!' Barkus winced at the raw edge in her voice and looked around hastily.

Lyn and Sheryl jumped as a metal saucepan lid crashed to the floor followed by a 'Sorry, sorry! Clumsy me!' Barkus emerged from the kitchen a moment later, looking a bit flustered but with plate of food securely in hand. By the time he reached the table, Lyn had managed to regain her composure and only Sheryl's momentary look of concern hinted at anything out of the ordinary. Barkus pretended not to see it as he sat down and busied himself with pouring water for each of them.
'So,' he said with joviality he didn't really feel. 'Do you ladies have plans for this Summer? It's only around the corner now.' Both women blinked and grinned ruefully.
'You know what,' Sheryl said. 'I havent even thought of it and its already mid-April. I havent really done anything for a long time either.' Her voice trailed off and her eyes drifted back in time. Barkus saw Lyn flash a look of concern towards her friend, looking for, what? Barkus couldn't guess, but Sheryl's expression was relaxed, a faint smile playing around her lips. 'I have been thinking about going on a river trip.' Barkus saw Lyn's eyebrows shoot up past her hairline and almost choke on her food, so he asked the question.
'Now by that, do you mean swanning down a slow-moving body of river on a barge while you're handed cool drinks by uniformed men in well-cut trousers?' Both he and Lynn laughed as she paused and pretended to indulge in a moment of imagery. 'Or do you mean kayaking on the edge of adrenaline overload?'
'I think I'll start with kayaking on the edge of adrenaline first,' Sheryl laughed. 'I think if I try to start off on the same level that I stopped at, it may not be a pretty sight.' She paused. 'I'm sure it would hilarious, just not pretty.'
'You used to kayak?' Lyn asked in amazement. 'I didnt know that!'
'One of my Mum's boyfriends taught me,' was the reply. 'When we were travelling around the Mississippi. Said I was a natural with a kayak.' Sudden, unfathomable pause. 'He was one of the good guys.' Barkus felt a gulf open under the conversation, and threw a bridge over it.
'All I know about kayaking is that when I try to get in, it keeps dumping me out, so I have respect for anyone who can control those things.' He was rewarded with a bright smile. 'What about you Lyn, what are your plans for the Summer?'
'I have no idea,' she admitted. 'It depends on,' sigh. 'A couple of factors.' A different gulf threatened to yawn open.
'Alright then,' Barkus switched conversational gears fast. 'Here's a scenario; you have a month with no money worries, no transportation worries, no worries at all in fact. All you have to do is exactly and only what you really want to do.'
'A month?'
'One full month.' Sheryl stared into the middle distance thoughtfully.
'I think I would finally take a dictaphone, a guitar and sketchbook and travel around recording peoples stories and songs,' she said at last.
'And the sketchbook?'
'I'd go to the places where the land needs repairing and practise making designs to make the peoples lives better,' she mused.
'You'd never get past the first village,' Lynn laughed. 'Five years on you'd still be there tweaking how the flowers come up.' Sheryl laughed with her, ruefully.
“You may have something with that,' she admitted. 'But thats what I have to get better at. Knowing when the planning stage is done and its time to get the shovel out.'
'Would you be involved in the implementations?' Barkus asked.
'Only if they wanted me to be.' She shrugged. 'Depends on if they'd pay me, I guess.' She paused, considering. 'Its would be really cool to travel a route, placing designs where they fit and then re-visit them as they grow and mature. I could definitely do that for the rest of my life.' She shrugged again, and lifted a fork of casserole. 'Lets get this one done first though.'
'Sounds like something worth pursuing, for sure,' Barkus nodded. 'What about you Lynn, one month.'
'Go on a tour with Sarah,' she sighed. 'I know that its hotels and terrible food and late nights and early mornings, but it's such a large part of her life and I want to see it at least once.'
'Does she know this?'
'Yes, she does. It's just that, right now circumstances are against it.' Darkness threatened, before Barkus raised his wine glass and said;
'To escaping the strait jacket of circumstance.' Three glasses clinked.

The next afternoon, Barkus gave his presentation to the Council. And while he spoke, Barkus watched the Council with an experienced eye. He noticed which ones were making notes, which ones were comparing Sheryl's design to current pictures of the square and which ones had sat back with arms crossed and were watching him. Annie spent as much time watching the faces of the Council as she did the presentation. Barkus watched the reactions and modulated his talk as he went, emphasising cost-effectiveness here, convenience there, the beauty of nature here and public concerts there. He needed them to get on board with this so he could build the damn thing and get the hell out. Get back to his normal life.
 'In short, ladies and gentlemen I present to you a design which is a prudent investment into the future of your town,' he finished. Annie leaned forward.
 'Thank you Mr. Barkus for that interesting presentation,' she said, then turned to look down the table. 'Questions for Mr. Barkus?'
 'I want to know what Paul's opinion of this is,' said a red-faced man sullenly, Richard, Barkus remembered. 'Has anyone asked him?'
 'He's not back for another week,' a woman with a butterfly scarf said coldly, Barkus thought she was called Brenda. 'Are you proposing we put this off until he gets back? That mess his truck left.' Brenda motioned irritably at Barkus. 'Is right in front of my shop. It looks awful, I dont want to leave the decision for another week, I want it fixed.'
 'I agree with Dick,' said a sharp-faced woman. Alice possibly? Barkus hazarded. Or Miriam? 'I think we should wait and see what Paul thinks, he's the one with experience.'
Barkus looked at Annie as the hubbub rose between the camps. She nodded, very slightly.
 'I would like to know exactly who this Paul is and just what his "experience" is,' Barkus said clearly. Not shouting but in a tone and with a depth that had cut through building sites. The arguing councillors subsided and turned back to him. 'If he's the one with experience here.' Richard frowned.
'He's, he's a resident of the town and runs a successful business here,' was the reply.
'I hear he's also the one who designed the square the last time it was being done.'
'Well, under direction of this Council,' Richard began, but Barkus steamrolled right over him, hiking the arrogance level up several more notches.
'So who decided that it was to be a useless ornamentation, you or Paul?' Several tried to interrupt but Barkus was on a roll. 'Though using the word ornamentation is a bit much since it's uglier than an alcoholic on his last beer before Rehab.'
'Now wait a minute,' Alice/Miriam began.
'So this successful businessman and resident and relative to fully half of the Council,' Cough, uncomfortable shifting. 'Turned a perfectly acceptable space that was used by most everyone in the town for a variety of purposes into that ugly waste of ground.' Many on the Council flinched under his baleful stare, though Annie was covering an enormous grin. 'Let me make something clear to all of you right now. I may be here under court order but I am a professional and I will not have my name tied to anything that is not functional, aesthetically pleasing or preferably both. Unlike your Paul, I have a high-profile reputation to maintain and I will not carry forward with a project that I feel is doomed to fail. The design in front of each of you will use local materials and local labour, it fulfills the needs of the community and will create a space that your town can be proud of.' Barkus scanned the Council, most of the previous protesters seemed subdued but he had now caught the attention of a man who had spent most of the meeting with his hands clasped over his belly and his eyes closed. Now, he watched Barkus with keen, but poker-faced interest. 'Let me make myself clear here, I will not wait for Paul's opinion and I will not use his previous design as a template. I will only be a part of a design that is all-encompassing, that is functional, that is easy to maintain, in short one that works. And if I have to I will go back to the Judge and I will put forward the case that I have done as much as I have been able to do with the people I had to work with and I will place the responsibility firmly on all of your shoulders and don't you forget that.' The previously uninterested man smirked slightly, but Barkus was watching the others. 'In short, ladies and gentleman of the Council, unless you give me a design that suits this town better than the one you have in front of you, you will not have a John Barkus-built Square' he spat the last words like bullets and watched them hit home.
There was still some fight in his opposition though, made clear by Miriam/Alice saying; 'Speaking of high-profile reputations Mr. Barkus, we have done research on you and have come across some very interesting incidences in your history.' Barkus saw Annie's eyes widen slightly and his mind raced for a way to stave off the inevitable. However, he was saved by the previously un-interested man leaning forward slightly and cutting the speaker off.
'Miriam, I really don't feel that line of questioning is relevant to this meeting,' he rumbled. 'And furthermore,' he continued over her protests. 'As Mr. Barkus has said he is fulfilling his obligation under a Court Order and he is doing a remarkable and professional job of it. Any discussion of his personal life is one better suited for hairdressers and barber shops and not for an official Council Meeting.' The man's tone was civil but Miriam flushed like she had been slapped, and indeed some of the other Council members did too. Several looked like they would like to continue arguing but the man had taken the wind completely out of their sails. Annie cleared her throat as her gaze flicked around the Council table
'I move that Council vote on whether Mr. John Barkus should be awarded permission to go ahead with the design for our Square as he as submitted with allowances for minor changes as approved by the Square Steering Committee.'
'Seconded,' said the saviour of the design, his gaze fixed on Barkus.
'Ready for the vote Council members?' Barkus found himself holding his breath. 'All in favour?' 9 hands went up, including a few that had been initially in the opposition. 'All opposed?' 3 hands went up, Miriam looked furious. 'The ayes have it.' Annie looked at Barkus with the fire of long-delayed triumph shining in her eyes. 'Barkus, go build us a square to be proud of.'

 'I still cant believe it,' Sheryl gasped, practically skipping as they walked into Jim's Place with the sunset. 'It's actually going to happen.' Lynn smiled and Sarah laughed and hugged her. 
 'It really is,' she agreed. 'And it's going to be tough and exasperating and involve a lot of negotiation and compromise before it's done. But for right now,' she continued as she pushed open the doors. 'It's party time!'

No comments:

Post a Comment