'If we sip the wine, we find dreams coming upon us out of the imminent night' D.H. Lawrence
When Kate returned to the table, she found Cliff deep in thought over his drink. 'Penny,' she said.
Something my kids used to say -- short for "penny for your thoughts.'"
'Ah. I don't think they're even worth a penny, frankly. You okay? You were gone quite awhile.'
'I was watching the tropical fish. They don't look happy, to me.'
'They've got it made! Gourmet fish food and a clean tank -- what else could they want? No hunting to survive, no fear of predators! We all should be so lucky!'
'I'm not so sure about that.'
'What do you want to drink? I wasn't sure if you'd want more wine or something a little more exotic.'
'I'll stick with wine, thanks. A dry chardonnay.'
'I remember. I ordered a bottle. It should be here soon.'
When was the last time George had remembered to pour her a glass of wine? She couldn't think. They rarely even ate at the same time anymore.
'Did you order me dinner, too?'
'No, I figured you'd like to make your own decision about that. But I can recommend the scallops. That's what I'm having.'
He certainly knew his own mind. Geoerge would take half an hour running over the menu before he decided, and then he'd change to what she ordered more often than not.
'Okay--scallops it is.'
The waiter appeared with a chilled bottle of wine in a silver bucket, and placed two shrimp cocktails on the table.
'I thought you said you didn't order for me?'
'Don't you like shrimp?'
'I love shrimp! And I've decided that I'd like a margarita, as well.'
The sun had started to slide below the horizon. The buttermilk clouds overhead suddenly turned bright pink, reflecting the color onto the choppy sea. They watched the water fade to a hazy purple and then the sun was gone.
'I've never seen such a spectacular sunset before! I imagine that's how they must be in Hawaii.' Kate licked a bit of salt from the rim of her glass, savoring the grains on her tongue.
'You've never been there?'
'No. We've talked about it, and said someday we would go, but no..we've never gone.'
'I'd love to take you there!'
'I imagine George would have something to say about that.'
The scallops arrived and still there had been no mention of what it was he wanted to 'consult' with her about. 'What was it you wanted to ask me about? That hurried us both out of that endless alumni event?'
'I'm not sure I want to spoil the mood by talking business. I'd far rather watch you eat your scallps and sip your wine.'
'If you really did that, I wouldn't be able to swallow.'
'Do I make you nervous?'
'Good.' He smiled, and raised his glass to her.
'I'll tell you some of my plans, and if you're interested we can go into more detail when I pick you up for lunch tomorrow.'
'I can't have lunch with you tomorrow! I have to teach.'
'Tell me your plan.'
But, it was tempting. Wouldn't it be wonderful to just drift along without a thought for anything except to be admired and fed and pampered..first thing you know she'd be living in an underwater castle in a glass cage. A little of that might be delicious. How much had she had to drink, anyway?
'I think I'd better have some coffee.'
Cliff signaled the waiter. He ordered coffee and another drink for himself.
'I'm not sure how to begin. I know how committed you are to the Women's Center, though, and I think if you can give me some help with my project, I can give you some pretty substantial help with yours.'
'You mean you'll "make it worth my while,"' she smiled.
'Well...yes. Here's my problem. There's a sizable piece of property that was left to the University back in the 50's. It's actually down in that canyon we passed, where you saw George's car.'
'The Adobe House?'
'Right. I've got a housing project in the planning stages, and that property sits right in the middle of it. The mountain on one side was bought back in the 20's by my great grandfather, and now I own it. I'm in the process of getting permits to grade it and put in a luxury housing development.'
'Really. And how are you getting past the environmental people with that?'
'It hasn't been made public yet. Which is why I want to get this other piece in place before it does. What I need to sell this whole idea is to get the Adobe House property as part of the package. If I can assure the environmentalists that all those old buildings will be demolished and the canyon allowed to return to its natural state, I think I can put this through. I'd basically designate it as parkland and subsidize any research the EPA might want to conduct there. Warren told me about George's interest in restoring the buildings and reopening the facilities again for teaching. Frankly, that would be a real liability for me. The kind of people who'd buy property on the mountain won't be happy about a bunch of students in their own backyards all hours of the night and day.'
'So Warren knows about this? He seems to be pretty supportive of George's project -- he's even given him some seed money.'
'Warren is pretty conflicted at this point, and I don't think he's mentioned our conversation to anyone else. I've offered the University a considerable sum of money, over and above the scholarship fund, but he knows it would be politically unpopular to 'sell out,' the University, as he calls it.'
'He's right! And I don't see how I could possibly be of any help to you. I certainly couldn't convince George to give this up -- he's more than committed to it!'
'Actually, that's not what I had in mind. Warren tells me that the conditions of the bequest of the property would make it virtually impossible to sell. That's where you'd come in. I need someone who has the background and the skill to sort out all the legalities so I know whether or not it's worth my while to keep moving forward. You'd just be clarifying the situation for me and the University, and I'd pay your consulting fees.'
'I've been focused on women's rights for the last eight years. What makes you think I've even got the skills you need?'
'I'm a good judge of people. Plus you've got a sound reputation with the legal community and at the University. You'd have easy access to archived documents. You'd be thorough in your investigation and research. It would be a service to all the parties. And I'm willing to admit that the final outcome might be that I'd lose the property. But if I were successful, I'd be sure that you'd never, ever need to solicit funding for the Women's Center again.'
He reeled that last speech off like he'd rehearsed it. Why would he think she'd do something so risky to her marriage and her standing in the University community? Suddenly she felt like someone who'd been asked out on a date so the guy could get to meet her sister.
'It's late. I need to get back. George will be worried.'
[to be continued]