Dexter's Renaissance Ch. 11-12bycoaster2©
"We did very well, thanks to you," she said. "Our next one should be easier. Charles isn't the most outgoing man and I thought our reception today was much better than I anticipated. Here's hoping they all go as well as that."
Over the next month we visited two other architectural firms and four general contractors. I quickly discovered I was much more at ease with the contractors than with the architects. My field experience and my opinions on how the relationship should be between general contractors and engineering firms was in parallel with their beliefs and that made our conversations much more free-flowing and informative.
I was sure it would be several months before we saw any fruit from our visits but I was wrong. I had a call from Charles Whitmore inviting us to bid on a new project less than two weeks after our visit and before he had made his social call on our office. A week later, a general contractor asked us to intervene on their behalf in a dispute with a steel fabrication sub-trade related to the interpretation of specifications. This was a dangerous situation. We didn't need to make enemies either of the general contactor or the sub.
Rueben and I visited the site and listened to both sides of the argument. I knew I wasn't qualified to make a judgement but Rueben took that worry away. Within a few minutes of looking at the specifications and plans, he suggested a compromise that seemed to satisfy both parties. No hard feelings and both the contractor and fabricator thanked us for our help.
"I like the way you guys think," Gus Molinari said as we headed off toward our vehicles. We can work with people like you, Dex ... Rueben. I'll let my people know just how much you helped solve that problem. Thanks again," he said, holding out his hand.
We shook and parted, heading back to the office.
"Well done, Rueben. I was worried it was going to become a pissing match to see who would win. You defused that perfectly."
"Thanks. I don't think they could have come up with that solution without an engineer to approve it. They needed us and I think Gus saw that right away. The fabricator didn't but he was grateful it didn't cost him an arm and a leg to fix the problem."
"Well, someone told them to contact us so I guess Michelle's and my visits are beginning to show results."
"Yeah. Just what we needed too. I've got a good feeling about what's happening at Trent, Dex. I can feel the energy and I haven't felt that for some time. Anytime you need me or one of my people to help on this type of problem, don't think twice about asking. It will pay dividends, I'm sure of it."
"Me too," I agreed.
The wedding had been set for the third Saturday in October. The invitations had been sent and the replies were coming in. My parents said they would attend and planned to be in Toronto the week before the event. They would be staying with friends of theirs I didn't know. I was happy they were making the effort.
I purchased an airline ticket for Meredith to come as well once she had indicated she wanted to attend. Michelle insisted that she stay with us in the apartment rather than a hotel and to tell the truth, I was delighted that she did. Jon sent his regrets but wished us all the best and arranged for a gift to be delivered before the ceremony. It was a case of a very fine vintage Chilean Cabernet.
It was Michelle's side of the family that seemed to be slow responding. She didn't seem to be upset about it so I didn't express any concern but I did find it odd. The first to confirm he would attend was her brother Mark in Montreal, then son Kyle and father William, or Billy as he preferred to be called. We had heard nothing from Michelle's mother, Martha, or either her older son or older brother.
We had already conducted two tours of the office for prospective clients and they went off without a hiccup. Charles Whitmore brought his junior partner along who turned out to be a computer "geek" and had more than a dozen questions about the CADD systems we employed and what I saw on the horizon. He was also interested in whether we could "model" some of their designs for them for presentation purposes. It would be a lot cheaper than conventional modelling.
Our second tour was for Humber Contracting, the firm that we had helped in the dispute with the steel fabricator. That visit was primarily held in the engineering section as they got into discussions of design and practical application. Gus Molinari and I chatted about my project in Sint Maarten. His company was looking for foreign work and wondered what the problems might be. We agreed to consult with him if we had some useful experience.
I was sitting in my office the next day when I had a phone call.
"Mr. McLeod, my name is Michael Catchpole. I am Michelle's older brother. I think we should meet for lunch this week. I think we need to talk."
I didn't warm to his voice. His tone said he wasn't making a request as such, he was giving me an order. I almost told him that I wasn't available this week but changed my mind when I remembered this was Michelle's family.
"I think I can find the time. Would the University Club suit you," I said, trying to push back at some of his implied arrogance.
"That will do fine. Tomorrow then?" he asked, trying to force the issue.
"Let's make it Thursday instead, Mr. Catchpole. I have guests in the office tomorrow." I didn't really but I couldn't resist pushing back at him.
"Very well," he said with a note of reluctant acceptance. "Thursday at noon, then."
If I'd have written down the conversation verbatim, it wouldn't have looked anywhere near as rude as his voice made it sound. Worse, he had pushed me into being less than polite as well. Ah well, I'll know what to expect from him after I talk to Michelle.
"He's his mother's son," Michelle said as we sat in the living room before supper. "He's convinced he's someone important and likes to lord it over anyone he meets. It doesn't always work. It certainly doesn't work on me or his father.
You have my permission to give as good as you get."
"Well, I haven't heard what he has to say but his tone is pretty aggressive."
"He wants to see who has the audacity to marry his sister without getting his permission. After all, he is the elder brother," she smirked.
"Ah ... so ... the western upstart offends the western pretender," I laughed.
"Something like that. I can't see Michael in Calgary, to be honest. He'd be much better in Ottawa or even England with his attitude. By the way, don't call him Mike. He hates that."
"So I guess I shouldn't be looking for someone with a ten gallon hat and big silver belt buckle, huh?"
"No ... more like a charcoal suit, dark tie and starched white shirt with cufflinks. I wouldn't be surprised if his underwear wasn't starched," she snorted.
"It's going to be an interesting meeting. I'll do my best not to offend him and I'll try to get him to come to the wedding if he hasn't already decided to."
"Good luck," Michelle grinned as she rose to go to the kitchen and serve our meal.
I was physically and mentally prepared for my meeting with Michael Catchpole. I had chosen a dark blue suit, white dress shirt and dark burgundy tie. I was as "eastern" as I could get with my wardrobe. Michelle approved. Mentally, her support of my not having to accept his disdain or insults gave me the freedom to respond as I saw fit.
In the end, I wanted him to at least acknowledge that Michelle had the right to chose whomever she wanted for a partner. I also wanted him to attend the wedding and not upset or insult his only sister. I wasn't sure what the outcome would be so I would just have to "play it by ear."
I was five minutes early at the University Club and the maitre d' seated me immediately. It was almost fifteen minutes later that I saw him lead another man toward my table. I rose as he approached.
"Hello, I'm Dexter McLeod," I said politely with what I hoped was a sincere smile and an extended hand.
"Michael Catchpole," he replied unsmiling. His handshake was weak and brief.
He seated himself and I followed. He was an inch or two shorter than me and very slim. He had a hawk-like face that was clean-shaven and unremarkable other than his penetrating blue eyes and prominent nose. His hair was cut professionally short and was almost completely grey. As Michelle had predicted, he was wearing a charcoal suit, white shirt, and dark blue and red striped tie.
I was wondering how I would get a conversation started. I had almost forgotten that it was he who had asked for the meeting.
"I thought it appropriate to meet the man who intends to marry my sister," he announced. "I'm surprised and disappointed that I hadn't heard anything about you from her before receiving the invitation to the wedding."
"Do you talk to Michelle often?" I asked, knowing full well he didn't.
"No ... not often. We don't have much in common, it seems."
"You're both family," I stated the obvious.
"There are times...," he began, then stopped. "Our family isn't very close as you probably already know, Mr. McLeod."
"Call me Dex, please Michael. I'd feel more comfortable if you did."
He looked at me for a moment before responding.
"Very well, Dex. Tell me how you met my sister."
I recited the short version of her contacting me and our brief relationship, leading to where we were today.
"I gather she's very impressed with your accomplishments at Trent. I wouldn't have expected that," he said.
"Trent is an old firm and had lived on the good graces of the Toronto establishment for many years. For you to come in and try and recover from the loss of that connection was, to say the least, presumptuous."
Somewhere in his voice, I detected just the slightest hint of admiration.
"Sometimes, when you don't know any better, you just plunge in and do what you think is right," I said. "Perhaps ... just perhaps, the old Toronto establishment isn't as well established as it used to be."
I think my answer caught him by surprise. For moment he said nothing, remaining expressionless. Then, against all odds, I saw the beginning of a smile.
"My time in Calgary has taught me that not everyone in the business community bows to the east. My best wishes on your efforts. I'm surprised but perhaps I shouldn't be. I've always respected Michelle's judgement and in your case, that seems to be proven once again. My congratulations on your engagement as well," he said, holding his hand out once more.
This time his grip was firm and warm. Whatever ice had been present earlier at our meeting had been melted and I sensed we were going to get along well.
"Thank you. I feel very lucky that she has accepted me. Can I assume you and your wife will attend the wedding?"
"Yes, of course. I will let Michelle know that her son Carter will also be there."
"Great ... I'm really pleased to hear that."
"Have you heard from mother yet?"
"No. Unfortunately we haven't."
"I'll call her and see if I can't get her answer promptly. I assume my father has responded positively?"
"Yes, he has, as has your brother, Mark, and nephew Kyle."
"What about your family, Dex?"
"My daughter Meredith and my parents will be here. My son is in Chile and can't get away. He sent a gift however."
We ordered our meal and chatted about inconsequential things for the rest of the lunch. I was warming to Michael. He wasn't quite the "stuffed shirt" I was led to believe. I wondered what ... or who ... had changed him.
"You aren't what I expected," I finally said in a moment of candour.
"Ah ... well ... I suppose I can guess what you were told. Uptight, formal, old-school type with no sense of humour. That about it?"
"Ha Ha," I chuckled. "Pretty close. But you dress the part."
"I'm in Toronto. This club has certain expectations. Now, if we were in Calgary, that would be quite a different matter."
"Well, no charcoal suit unless I was going before the Board of Directors. More likely a sport coat or blazer, slacks, open-neck shirt, loafers. I had to buy this shirt just for our meeting," he grinned.
"Sounds a lot like our Vancouver office. So ... I've been misled about you then."
"Well, let's just say I had an epiphany when I arrived in Calgary. Discovering that Toronto wasn't the centre of the universe and that the economy was largely resource based put quite a different light on matters. I had to change my perspective somewhat."
"I'm going through that in reverse, I think. But with Michelle's guidance, I'm doing better at appealing to the Upper Canadian business sensibilities."
He raised his water glass in salute. "Good luck to you, Dex. I think your idea of including Michelle in your plans is excellent."
"Thank you ... but where do you get all this information about us from?"
"Why from the only reliable source at Trent of course, Janice Meriwether," he grinned again.
"I might have known. Well, that just shows who really runs Trent Engineering."
"I never realized just how important someone like Janice was until I had my own office to run," Michael admitted. "My 'Janice' is named Lorna, and she's invaluable. She also conspires with my wife to make sure I don't forget important dates or events. I couldn't do without her."
By the time we'd finished our coffee and had run out of conversation, I had a completely different picture of Michael Catchpole. He wasn't who he was portrayed to be and I wondered if even Michelle knew that. I would be interested in her reaction to my meeting.
To be concluded
My thanks to ErikThread and DaveT for their skillful editing and helpful suggestions. Any errors are mine alone.