Wednesday, 13 May 2015
Two hours later, Jim slipped a menu under his nose.
'I thought you might like something to eat,' Jim explained as Barkus blinked and rubbed his eyes.
'You have a kitchen here?' he asked. He blinked again at the menu. 'Smoked burgers?'
'Chefs Special,' Jim confirmed with a dreamy grin. 'They're good.'
'Are you the chef?'
'Nope, its Turner's Spot just down the road. They bring it on a real plate cos I always make sure they get it back.'
'Well, I'll take the Chefs Special then please. And' another beer was plopped onto the coaster. 'Thanks.'
'Just doin' my job,' Jim replied with a grin and, retrieving the menu and empty beer bottle, went back to his buddies at the bar.
Barkus was sure that he had eaten the meal, because the plate was wiped clean and there was no longer a hollow feeling in his belly. But, besides that, he wasn't entirely aware of haven eaten. More to the point, he wasn't entirely aware of anything other than the spread of paper in front of him. Sectors and swales and zones, oh my! It was like a revelation, only second-hand. All the issues that had been plaguing him, all the stress and worry and confusion disappeared as he followed Sheryl Monroe's design through all the layers of inputs and outputs, intricate simplicities and common-sense mysteries. There was nothing that she had not thought of, nothing that was not backed up by references, diagrams, cost analysis', glossaries. At every point where Barkus felt his knowledge was not enough to understand her, he found the pages in her books that explained it to the minutiae and he was off again.
Finally, after another 2 hours and when Jim was sweeping up the floor, he emerged, blinking, from the avalanche of knowledge and staggered to the bathrooms. When he returned, Jim had paused by the table and was scanning a diagram of Sheryl's.
'She always was an artist,' Jim commented as Barkus drew nearer. 'I remember her lobbying the school to change the colours in the classrooms. She reckoned that the bland, boring beige was sending students to sleep and having more vibrant, energetic colours would help increase scores.'
'Maybe it would have, if they had listened to her.' At Barkus' motion, he slid into the other side of the booth, sweeping forgotten.
'She said that she had submitted this basic design last time the common ground was done.'
'I don't know about that, though it wouldn't surprise me if she did. She's always trying to improve things for people,' Jim picked up another diagram, this one a view of the park that looked towards Jim's Place. The signage for Jim's was obscured by foliage, but a signpost featured an eye-catching sign that made up for it. 'See?' Jim smiled as he tapped the signpost. 'She thinks of everyone.'
'How come she didn't get the contract last time?'
'You'll have to ask Lynn's cousin that one. Though the fact that Paul Taylor got it when literally half of the council are his family was not a surprise.'
'Its a family business.' Jim sighed and got to his feet again. 'Well I gotta get this place cleaned up and sitting here aint doing it. Oh, good evening Mike, George.' Barkus twisted in his seat to look at the door and saw that the Police Officers who had "explained" his situation to him had entered.
'Good evening Jim. Orange juice please.' The staff sergeant scanned the almost empty bar and his eye alighted on Barkus. 'Well well, it doesn't usually take long for people to find this place but it's rare to find them surrounded by paper.' He paid for his juice and wandered over while George went to have a quiet chat with the other resident of the bar. Without waiting to be invited, he slid into the booth opposite and looked for a clear spot to put his glass.
'Here,' Barkus said, automatically handing his coaster over, his latest beer was long empty and the condensation had disappeared. 'Sheryl will kill me if I damage these, and I couldn't blame her.' The officer paused in the act of putting the glass down.
'Sheryl Monroe?' Barkus nodded. 'Sheryl Monroe gave you her design.'
'And some of her books.' The shock on the sergeant's face was brief, but strangely satisfying. Then, he reached over and carefully lifted the cover of one of the books. 'Sheryl Monroe' was on the flyleaf in an elegant hand.
'Well I'll be,' he grunted eventually, letting the cover fall back. 'I'll admit to not expecting that.' He stared at Barkus while he sipped at his juice and Barkus could see the readjusting of assumption and expectation.
'Officer,' he paused. The staff sergeant was staring at him in that special policeman's way. 'What would be your particular need for this area?' It wasn't what he was originally going to ask and he got the feeling that the other man knew it.
'My particular need as a police officer or as a resident of the town?' he asked at last.
'First one and then other,' Barkus turned to a new page on the pad, automatically noting the date, time, location and... 'I'm sorry officer, I've forgotten your name.'
'Stewards, Mike Stewards.' Mike smiled slightly as Barkus jotted this down. He didn't ask why Barkus was making a note of this kind of thing, most people asked, but he already knew. 'And to answer your question,' he took a sip of juice to arrange his answer. 'As a resident I'd really like to have an open air, recreational zone for a variety of uses and age-groups. As a police officer I need that space to be safe, and completely age-friendly. Jim's is one of the better bars I know, despite its appearance. But its still a bar and in order for Jim to hold a family-friendly event in here he needs to go through more red tape than its worth. In fact,' his voice dropped conspiratorially.' I know for a fact that Jim deliberately keeps the place looking Stone Age honkey-tonk to keep the ambiance but he's ruthless when it comes to codes.' Barkus glanced at the stained walls, the rickety stage, the leaning bar, and raised an eyebrow. 'When Jim got the place, he shelled it,' Mike continued. 'Ripped her down to the bare bone, replaced any bit of wood that looked the slightest bit dodgy, and rebuilt her from the inside out. Nothing that you see here is older than 10 years, besides the bottles at the top of the bar and the pool table. That one was a nice find, he did replace the baize though.' He jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the stage that looked as safe as walking barefoot on glass. 'That stage was deliberately built like that and Jim maintains it by getting his buddies to jump up and down on it once a month and replacing it whenever he aint happy. You ever seen 300 lb men leaping about like kids on a bouncing castle?' He grinned at Barkus' disbelief. ' You wait another week and you can see it for yourself. Trust me, you will never get the image out of your head.'
'So, this is all deliberate?'
'Yep, peeling posters, speckled mirrors, stained walls, the works.' The background music of a lost 50's rock star crooning about the stars started skipping. Barkus watched as Jim left his broom at a run and tried to leap over the bar for the kill-switch. George got there before him and the start of the high-pitched electronic screech was abruptly cut off. 'Except for that,' Mike admitted. 'No-one has a sainted clue about that.'
'I find myself wondering if anything in this town is what it seems,' Barkus admitted, looking again at the design on the table. The sheriff grinned.
'It'd be a damn boring world if everything did what it said on the tin.' He chuckled at Barkus' surprise. 'F'rinstance, when you showed up and destroyed the beds the other day, I had you pegged for a drunken fool who was looking to spend some time in a cold cell. When you got your sentence delivered, I took you for an arrogant so-and-so who'd do a quarter-assed job so he could get shot of this place as fast as possible.' Barkus shifted uneasily. 'Instead, I find you shoulder-deep in work and questioning my needs for the public space that you're in charge of designing.' He drained the juice as Barkus stared at him. 'See what I mean? The world might be a lot simpler if everything went the way people expected, but it sure as hell wouldn't be as interesting.' Barkus stared at the glass in Mike's hand, as his thoughts went wild. Suddenly, without even realizing it, he thrust his hand out just in time to catch the fat bead of condensation that would have fallen onto the papers on the table. They both stared at the water, then at the diagram it would have landed on. 'See?' The sergeant said eventually, getting back to his feet and automatically adjusting his belt. 'Surprises everywhere.' He patted Barkus companionably on the back and returned the glass to the bar. George tossed a set of keys to Jim as they both strolled out the door, just ahead of the drunk who was now definitely walking home.
'Yeah,' Barkus murmured, staring through the beautifully and painstakingly sketched diagram of the completed design that had just avoided disaster. 'Everywhere.'
'Hey, Barkus!' He looked around to see Lynn and Arthur along with a woman he hadn't met yet. He waved and saw that they were coming over to meet him, so he reluctantly left his spot and retreated to the footpath, to avoid ruining Lynn's heels in the grass.
When's the last time you thought of something like that? An inner voice accused. You've made clients climb over everything to get to you, regardless of wardrobe!
'Good morning Lynn,' he greeted her warmly, ignoring the too-true voice. 'And Arthur of course.' the spaniel had already done his flop onto the grass beside the path and wagged his tail in acknowledgement.
'Good morning Barkus,' Lynn answered with a grin. 'I'd like you to meet my cousin, Annie Williams.' The woman beside her was a good foot taller, had a mass of brown hair, minimal, elegant jewellery and a broad smile as she extended a hand.
'Pleased to meet you at last,' she said.
'At last?' Barkus replied with a grin as he shook her hand. 'I've only been here 3 days, if you count this morning.'
'Has it only been 3 days?' she asked. 'I swear I've spent more time than that just in Town Council Meetings. You've created a lot of work for me, Mr. Barkus.' The tone was mock-serious and Barkus could definitely see the familial resemblance. Then she sighed. 'I just really hope that you're able to come up with something to replace the beds, cos that's all I've been hearing about and frankly, I have many more things on my plate.'
'Well,' he paused. Now that he had the time to look properly, both women showed signs of stress and fatigue. His father loomed in the back of his head. 'How about we go and get a coffee and I show you what I have.'
Annie leafed through the pile again, her coffee growing colder by her elbow. 'This is, way, way beyond what I could have possibly dreamed of. How did you?' She looked sharply at him. 'Where did this design come from?'
'Sheryl Monroe.' She nodded slightly, he could tell that she had already arrived at that conclusion. 'She gave me the whole thing last night and I've barely slept a wink since. When you found me I was trying to orientate it on the ground.' Both women stared at him, then at each other.
'I've checked you out, John Barkus,' Annie said slowly. 'You're a top level architect, worldwide projects, international fame. Why are you here?' He was subjected to twin searching gazes as the unspoken part of the question hung in the air.
'Personal issues,' the cliched phrase slid easily off his tongue now. The stares did not deviate. 'I didn't know how badly, certain recent episodes were affecting me until I was convinced to go on sabbatical.' He shifted, uncomfortable as the half-truth rang in his ears. 'I chose driving around the country as my initial plan and I wound up here. You know the rest,' he finished a tad defensively, but they didn't seem to notice it. They did, however turn off the searchlights and looked sympathetic.
'Okay, well, I don't know how else to put this, so I'll say it flat out. In your professional opinion, do you think this,' the word and gesture took in all of Sheryl's meticulous plans. 'Will actually work for this town? Will this be a good investment of our money and our time?' The stare she turned on him this time pinned him to the seat. He had a sudden flash of why she was Chairperson. There was no way of lying, fudging or slipping under that gaze without getting fried.
'In my professional opinion,' he paused. 'There's very little that needs to be altered. And the only reason I say that is because Sheryl doesn't know that the codes are due to change in the next couple of years.' They waited. 'In practical terms related to this design, these changes are extremely minor and can be done before I even present it to the Council.' The stare intensified. 'In my professional opinion, this design is practical, useful, easy to maintain and will cater to the needs of every age group in the community.' The relieved sigh that that statement released sent pages scattering.