Authors: Steven J Patrick
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery, #Retail, #Suspense, #Thriller
"So Tru knows the basic outlines?" Jack asked. "The council members, the land use problems?"
"I know some members of the Colville Tribal Council are saying they never voted on the land use," I replied. "And I know it's you, Dr. and Mrs. Clayton Wright, and Pembroke Property Ventures, division of Pembroke & Hawkes, Ltd. I know the project involves x-amount of tribal lands and 12 square miles of federal forest land. I know P.P.V. is run by Roderick Hookes, formerly of Port Orchard, Washington. I did a little asking around about him and got nothing but positives. He used to be a vice president under my pal, JerryMeinhardt at Meinhardt Papers. I've read a good bit about P.P.V. and Pembrook & Hawkes, and seen a few pictures of Anthony Ahrend II who seems to be the English version of what we would call a 'good ol' boy,' and who is married to one of the top five hottest women I've ever seen."
"Aside from that," I added, "all I really know is that Pembroke & Hawkes is as sound as the pounds their paper is printed with, and that no project as big as this one, which usually involves clearing a lot of old-growth forest, would ever get off the ground in Washington without the big fix being in place somewhere. Amazingly, after talking to a pal with the Sierra Club, it appears that the enviro-dorks are all on board with this thing…which is, to put it mildly, highly irregular. So, if they're not biting your ass, and you're as straight as Art says, sounds like your speed bump is with your partners."
Jack looked as though he wanted to object but quickly subsided and finally gave a small nod.
"Well," he sighed, "much as I want to believe otherwise, that's about it. Something ain't right about this and I can't figure out what the hell it could be."
"I've asked Rod Hookes about the lack of publicity, which I took to mean that we were gonna try an end run on doing either environmental impact studies or a delay on the permit process, some of which we couldn't file on for at least a year, anyway. But he sent me a full package from P.P.V.'s New York attorneys and everything's there. T's crossed and I's dotted."
"So the feds are okay on clear-cutting?" I asked.
"We're not clear-cutting," Jack shrugged. "See, that's a lot of my confusion here. Our lease with the feds gives P.P.V. rights to all timber felled by natural causes, cut for firebreaks, removed for highway or forestry projects, or marked as partially or wholly diseased. That's almost unheard of for a paper company. They always want some topping rights, on second growth, anyway. Pembrooke & Hawkes, of course, is really small, by Weyerhaeuser or Meinhardt standards. They only produce currency and fine art stock. That's it. Their papers are obscenely expensive and—so I'm told—worth every penny. And the deal they cut with the Bushes still amounts to a whale of a lot of board footage per annum. People don't realize how many trees just fall over in a year. Not to mention the ones the feds and the guys from Olympia allow themselves to whack for some very flimsy reasons. Multiply that by the 55 years on that lease and…"
"Lotta cash," Art nodded. "So…I'm not up to speed on all of this, Tru. Jack, what are they clearing for the development?"
"For that matter," I broke in, "what the hell is the development?"
"Art!" Jack sputtered, "For God's sake! You didn't tell him?"
"Don’t know how much you or, more to the point, your partners wanted me to say," Art shrugged.
Jack looked at me and rolled his eyes.
"Lawyers," he smiled. "Can't shoot 'em. Okay, what we're looking at here is a small—relatively small, anyway—but very spendy resort aimed at the growing numbers of wealthy, younger people who don't go in for the wretched excess of places like Vegas, Tahoe, Reno, or Atlantic City. It's a getaway weekend place or extended-stay spot with a small casino—run and owned by the Colville tribe adjacent to the site. There's a hotel, amazing spa with massages, hot springs, mud baths, saunas, gyms, aerobics, nautilus, free-weights, the works. A five-star restaurant and five café/bistro operations, pools, Jacuzzis, tennis, racquetball, game rooms, theatres, a night club. You name it."
"Sounds good," I nodded.
"Gets better," Jack smiled. "The real attraction is a string of 22 lodges out in the forest areas, accessible only by ATVs, each one a minimum of 3,000 square feet, each with hot tub, flat screen TV, DSL hookups, workout room, Jacuzzi in the master bath, minimum of three bedrooms, on-site domestic help, including a chef, available in 15 of them, and all built without cutting a single tree. The hotel, all the cabins, the spa, all equipped with every filtration system and environmental safeguard we could find. We're even building a totally organic truck farm on site—run by the Colvilles, again—to grow herbs and exotic vegetables or fruits for the restaurants. There's even a small shopping center on-site, with some pretty heavy weight retail names attached. Not your Cartiers or Bloomingdale's but more Northwest kinds of stuff."
"It's an expensive project but I think the time is now and I think I can pay it off in about 10 years—if I can talk about it."
"And therein lies the fish odor we were discussing," Art said to me.
"Yeah," I nodded. "Now, I'm really confused. A development that cuts no trees, actually embraces environmentalist concerns, is aimed smack onto the crowd that normally fights these things to death. Here, the only beef they'd have, from the sound of it, is the exhaust from the ATVs."
"Which are all electric," Jack smiled.
"No beef," I shrugged. "So…what's the mystery?"
"My point exactly," Jack sighed.
We kicked the thing around for two hours, everyone but the law clerks offering theories, and came out of it with little more than a few semi-plausible notions.
We broke at 10:30 and Art took us back to his office, where we went through the contracts in fine detail.
The way it was written up, the partnership granted P.P.V., as major shareholder, rights to set schedules, assemble and hire contractors, and final veto power on costs, with the responsibility to negotiate and secure all permits, leases, licenses, and deeds.
Jack had final authority on design, layout, construction schedules, and marketing. The design, layout, and construction schedules were behind him. That left Jack with sales and marketing, which he was clearly itching to do.
"It's not like the complete loss of 100 mil would break me," Jack mused. "But it's 100 million dollars. I'm not so flippin' rich that I feel like being cavalier about that. I've gotten stinkin' by avoiding dumb investments and I'm not ready to be forced into stupidity now."
"Plus, y'know, I feel pretty good about this one. I went into this deal in Florida, once, that looked good on paper, but I was young and green and didn't ask the right questions. Turned out, what the proposal didn't mention was that the construction first involved draining 112 acres of prime wetland wildlife habitat. A few state legislators and department of interior types got paid to look the other way, and we started destroying this land before I got wind of it. I took a bath to the tune of about 10 mil."
"This time, I feel like we've been careful and respectful of the land. I can sell this thing, if I can just get the word out."
"Well," I yawned. "My immediate answer is to drive up there and start asking some nosy questions."
"Tru is big on the elegant approaches," Art smiled, a bit painfully.
"So am I," Jack nodded, pounding his fist softly on the corner of Art's desk. He chewed at his lower lip for a moment. "Mind if I ride along?"
"Umm…no," I shrugged. "To do…what, exactly?"
"Well, most of all, it'll make asking your nosy questions a lot easier if I'm with you."
"Might," I agreed.
"After all," Jack murmured, "P.P.V.'s on-site guy might just tell you to take a hike."
"I'm sorta hard to remove," I smiled.
"He is that," Art signed.
"Me, however," Jack continued, "why, I own the place. He tries to shoo me off, I waive the partnership agreement at him and tell him to call London."
"Works for me," I grinned, "but I'm driving."
"You sure as hell are," Jack yawned. "I got up at 3:45 this morning."
"We all refer to this thing as being 'north of Colville. Actually, it's not. You have to drive about five miles west of Colville, cross a bridge over the Columbia, and then go south about two miles. You end up south of Colville, then you swing west on Route 20 about four miles. It sits on the line between the Colville Indian Reservation and what everybody refers to as the Colville National Forest. It's kinda the way people say 'New York' when what they're talking about is Manhattan," Jack explained, as we headed north out of Spokane with a packet of maps, motel reservations, and carryout from what Art erroneously described as 'a killer barbecue joint.'
"Colville and Manhattan," I sighed. "Never keep 'em straight."
"This barbecue sucks," Jack observed, through a doughy mouthful, "and the hush puppies don't have any onion."
"Welcome to the Pacific Northwest." I shrugged.
"Aren't you a Carolina guy?" Jack asked. "Must drive you buggy not getting enough barbecue."
"I go back home twice a year and bring some back on dry ice," I smiled. "Lasts about six weeks, if I exercise amazing self-control. Which I do, because believe me—ain't much sadder than what Northwesterners call, 'southern cooking.'"
"Guess I better rethink ordering crab cakes then, huh?" Jack groaned.
"Unless you're on the other side of the state," I smiled. "You come over sometime, we'll go up to Dungeness Bay. That'll light you right up."
"Deal," Jack nodded. "God, what amazing country."
We were hurtling down a small valley between two tallish hills which would, I remembered, be mountains back in Maryland.
I thought of how I had seen Washington when I first came out: A still-wild, majestic, slightly overwhelming place with such a profligate wealth of national wonders that it was like a visit to Brigadoon. I felt sorry to have lost that and a little envious of Jack's new eyes.
"I remember when I first came out here," I said quietly. "I half expected elves to pop out of every shady patch. I was born in the mountains—the Alleghenies in Virginia. So it seemed familiar, in a way, only…more so. A heck of a lot more so."
The land unspooled along side us, miles and miles of mostly unbroken forest. Tall, sky-scrubbing pines and native oaks stood guard over birch and maple and fat bristling cedars, which sheltered the laurel, scotch broom, and the profusion of ferns that covered the ground over almost all of Washington except for the desert areas around Hanford.
It's probably impossible to live in Washington, Oregon, Montana or Idaho, if you have any degree of passion for the outdoors, without becoming a conservationist of some stripe. Living back East, I used to shake my head at the radical types in the Northwest who chained themselves to trees or spiked them to tear up loggers' chain saws. I figured they were just the generic lunatics that you find in any part of America, waging fierce, quixotic battles against perceived evils that the rest of us, preoccupied as we are with trivialities like paying mortgages and raising kids, assign minimal or no priority.
Instead, I found that they are my neighbors: doctors, accountants, teachers, convenience store owners, corporate managers, housewives, and coaches of peanut league football teams.
I've never hugged a tree or stood my ground before a bulldozer—probably never will--but my own view has changed just as radically…or maybe it hasn't. Maybe, if I'd ever been confronted with the question, I'd have said the same in Carolina or even back in my Virginia mountain birthplace. All I know is that the very statements, "I own this piece of land," "this is my dog," "these trees belong to me," represent the height of man's arrogance and ignorance.
I hold deeds to several pieces of land. It gives me legal rights, for the moment, as long as I or the U.S.A. exist. But, in the larger scheme of things, I'm nothing but a caretaker, and a pretty bad one at that. I don't "own" Clyde. At most Clyde is my best friend who graciously allows me to share his life and his infinite good nature. And with the trees, I have an even more tenuous connection: 99 out of 100 things I can do with them will cause actual harm.