Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Thursday, January 3, 2002
"I guess I don't quite get it," Carlos Gutierrez said as he rode with Randy in the pickup toward Three Pines not long after dawn on Thursday morning. "I'm not sure why you want me here. I don't know anything about this project."
"You get right down to it, I don't either," Randy told him. "And to top it off, most of the people we're going to be talking to don't know much about it. This Tom Cornplanter guy seems to know what he's talking about, but unless he's the world's fastest architect, it's going to be a race every step of the way to get the plans done, or even part of them, before we have to build something. I can't spend all my time up there this summer, and the superintendent is going to have his hands full just building the damn thing. Your big involvement in this is going to be my eyes and ears up there, just so I can work on other things, too."
"That seems kind of open-ended," Carlos commented.
"It is, mostly because we don't know what wheels have to be greased yet," Randy smiled. "We've gotten along pretty well with these people in the past, mostly because they always want the damn thing done yesterday and we've always come in ahead of schedule. That means we have to be on our feet about foreseeing problems and dealing with them before they slow us down. You may not be able to contribute much to this meeting, but you'll start to get a feel of who you have to work with and what we're going to be up against."
"Yeah, I guess that makes sense," Carlos replied, looking out the pickup's window at the snow-covered landscape.
Randy took his eyes off the road long enough to glance over at Carlos. He liked the guy, and was impressed with him. He seemed to know his stuff; it wasn't like he was a guy right out of college with his head filled with book stuff. Book knowledge was what was supposed to happen, as opposed to what really happened in real world construction practices. Carlos had a pretty good background of practical experience to go along with the book knowledge, and had dealt with things like construction delays because of personnel or material shortages. Randy thought that it was worth a lot.
The day before, Randy had taken Carlos around the yard, which was largely quiet and buried in snow, although a couple of the guys from the excavating crew were out there with a loader and a dump truck trying to clear the place out. They'd spent more time in the office, going over some of the projects Clark Construction had done in the past, and plans of what was to come in the future. Brent had come in later in the day, and between him and Randy they put Carlos through a rather wide-ranging interview. Brent had seemed impressed with the guy, and agreed that they ought to make him an offer. Carlos said that it sounded pretty good to him, but wanted to hold off on committing for a little while yet.
Still, Carlos had been quick to agree to come to the series of meetings on the ski resort, especially after Randy told him that he'd be paid for those he attended even if he didn't take the job offer. Actually, Randy had some ulterior motives for bringing the young man along with him. Having Carlos there put another marker on the Clark Construction side of the table, to keep Randy from looking like he was being overwhelmed. It was a good marker, too; though nothing had ever been said about it and Clark Construction had a long history of working at Three Pines, Randy had occasionally felt some resentment that the company management was too white. Carlos, although a fifth-generation American, looked as Mexican as his name sounded, so perhaps his presence would ease that resentment a little. Finally, Randy hoped that getting Carlos a little involved in the project would increase the chances of him accepting the job. Randy wanted him badly, mostly because he was far and away the most qualified person he'd found to fill the position. If nothing else, Carlos represented the best chance for Randy having a summer that included having a life, something he hadn't managed since early college years.
The meeting was held in a large room in the office section of the main casino building, close to Norm's office. There was a bit of introducing around – Randy didn't know everyone himself, as there were a couple people there from Tom Cornplanter's Denver office. While they went through the introductions, Randy realized that his initial observation had been correct – while there were to be some basic decisions made at this meeting, it was also a dog and pony show, with drones brought in, like Carlos, to make everyone look important. He also knew it led to being easy to get stampeded into a decision you couldn't deliver on – and that was just as true for the architects and the tribe as it was for Clark Construction.
After a few formalities, Cornplanter handed out several copies of a packet of preliminary drawings. "We've been working on this for a while," he said. "And while I agree that this is nothing like a blueprint, this is the general idea of the building that we propose." At this point, he put slides of each page up on a computerized projection. The first few drawings were not much more than renderings – they were not very detailed, but looked pretty. There were views of each of the sides of the building, floor plans of the various levels, even a rendering of the main lobby. Randy thought they looked very good, but they didn't actually give him anything to work with.
The presentation went on for a while. It was all very pretty and would be a striking building if built as pictured, but Randy thought this was a pretty ambitious project compared to what had been discussed a few weeks before. Something was going on here that Randy didn't like, and he thought he could put his finger on it, but now was not the time to say it.
The time came very soon. As Cornplanter wound up his presentation, he put Randy on the spot by saying, "All in all, we're of the opinion that this project can be brought in within the tribe's budget of five million dollars. Wouldn't you agree, Mr. Clark?"
As Randy got up to speak, he heard Carlos mutter under his breath, "Horseshit." Randy smiled at that. He knew there was a reason he liked this guy, and he'd just proved it.
"Well, Mr. Cornplanter," Randy started. "Given that you've had weeks to work this up and I've only had minutes to study it, I can't support that. My gut feeling is that five million is a very low-ball figure for this project. Again, I haven't had any chance to study this proposal, but just based on the size of the structure, five million is on the low side considering the obvious amount of detail work that would be involved. I really don't see much site development here, and my understanding is that this proposal was to include the development of the ski area and other supporting projects. When we did our site tour a few weeks ago, it was pretty well agreed by everyone concerned that the road into the place was inadequate for a resort of this size. Again, there are no prints or specs yet, but based on work we did last summer, that's going to involve a minimum of a million just for road and parking-lot work, and that's just an off-the-cuff guess. It might be a little less, but probably will be more, considering that as long as we're rebuilding the road we might as well realign some areas to remove some hazards. I can point out several other places where I just don't see the figures adding up. If you want a completely unsupported guess as to the size of the project, I think you're probably looking at twelve million at least in real terms. Again, that figure might be low."
"There are some areas that could come in higher than projected," the architect pointed out. "But I think that you're overlooking a few costs savings as well. For instance, the tribe has offered to provide all the logs for the structure in a construction-ready state."
"Maybe so, but I'm not seeing it," Randy said. "From what I can see, you're counting the cost of that item as zero, but it's still a cost to the tribe and a considerable one. Every log that they truck over to the site for free represents a log that could be sold on the open market for a dollar value. This is a nice-looking building, but there's a lot of logs in it. There are probably a few other discrepancies like that, but as I said, I've only had minutes to study it. I'm certainly not ready to give anyone a firm figure for either cost or construction completion date based on what I see here. I realize that we're trying to do this on the fly, but I don't have enough here to give even an educated guess."
"Mr. Clark," Cornplanter replied in a huff. "Have you ever built a ski resort before?"
"No, I haven't," Randy told him. "I did investigate buying one once, so I have some idea of the hidden costs. Moreover, I've done a lot of building here at Three Pines and my company has done more over many years. To do this building and the supporting construction for the ski resort for five million is all smoke and mirrors. It can't be done. I don't think it can be done if you cut every corner possible to come up with a very substandard result. We believe in quality construction, Mr. Cornplanter. Perhaps it can be done for five million, but it won't be done by Clark Construction. We wouldn't want our name on the result. Now, let's cut the horseshit and talk about real figures, or else my assistant and I can head back to Spearfish Lake and get there in time to get some useful work done today."
Randy could see that Cornplanter was boiling by now; he was about ready to head outside and settle things with fists. If he wanted to, that was fine; Randy hadn't been doing martial arts for years without a purpose. "Mr. Clark," he snorted, "I'll have you know that I don't do what you call 'low-ball' work. I grant you that these are renderings and all the possible costing hasn't been done, but my estimate is that this project can be brought in around that figure. I resent your saying that my people or I are incompetent."
"Let's pack up, Carlos," Randy said. "We're not going to get anything useful done here today."
"Settle down everyone," Norm spoke up. "Randy, could I talk with you in private for a moment? Maybe with your assistant?"
"Sure, Norm," Randy said. "But I'll tell you right now that I'm not going to back down on what I said."
A couple minutes later the three of them were in Norm's office. "Randy," Norm said. "You really got your back up about that. What's got a hair up your butt?"
"Just what I told you out there," Randy told him. "He low-balled you big time. Remember that he gets a percentage of the job and he's trying to sell you on it. I can't prove my suspicions, but there's no way it can be brought in for that figure unless the building is an empty shell. Yeah, you could probably cut a corner or two and do a little funny bookkeeping and bring it in for ten million, but maybe not. On a quick build job like that, there's all too many ways that the plans can't keep up with the building. That means delays, and delays cost money. By the time everything is said and done, you could be looking at fifteen million, just because you let him stampede you."
"Do you think someone else could build that for five million?"
"I have no doubt that if you set that proposal down in front of Solkow-Warner that they'd say they could. They might be willing to take a hit to get their foot in the door on other work up here, but you'd get crappy construction that you'd continually have to be maintaining at extra expense."
"Randy, I don't quite understand you. I thought you liked Tom."
"On a personal level, he was great, especially out at the site a few weeks ago. On a business level, I wouldn't want him doing work for me unless I was maintaining a much higher degree of control than you allow us because of our long history of knowing each others' expectations and capabilities. Now, I could be wrong, and this could just have been an exercise in who talks the talk and who walks the walk. I may be young, Norm, but my father and my grandfather went out of their way to make sure they didn't raise a young fool."
"You realize, Randy, that this could put the whole project in jeopardy?"
"What do you want, a quality project done on time and within a known realistic budget, or a piece of shit with tons of cost overruns? I thought right from the beginning that it was unrealistic to do a project like this and have it open in eleven months. It could be done if the architect was square with you and I had some decent plans to make some estimates on, but doing it on the fly? Based on what I saw today, it'd be three months before I could give you decent numbers and we'd have to already be breaking ground. Frankly, Norm, you'd be better off to stretch this project out over two years. We could get the slopes and lifts and site work done this year, and the main lodge another year. Hell, you could even open the ski area next winter by shuttling people over to the ski area from the casino area. We could throw together a temporary warming shelter and concessions building just to make it a little more customer friendly."
"Yeah, that's a possibility," he said. "Just to get this straight, you flatly say this project can't be done for five million in eleven months?"
"Dead on," Randy said. "You might be able to get one or the other but you won't get both, not from me or anyone. You can get a project done for five mil and in eleven months, but not the project he's proposing. Anything that could be built for five million dollars would be too small for what you need. Just figuring the square footage he's showing and measuring it against typical costs per square foot for similar types of projects we've done here, he's off by a factor of at least two, more like three. We could build a hell of a house for 5 mil, but not a big lodge like you need here. And without a set plan already in place, there's no way to get a specialized building of that size done, much less the ski runs operational, in a year without enough people here that they'd all be constantly tripping over each other. I value the safety of my workers more than that."
"He seems to think it can be done in that time frame and that cost."
"Norm," Randy sighed. "How much research did you do on that guy?"
"Probably not as much as we should have," Norm nodded. "Have you?"
"Probably not as much as I should have, either," Randy said. "But the jobs I did research that he was involved in all came in well over architect's estimates, and behind schedule. I talked to two contractors, and they said getting plans on time from him was like pulling teeth, and from what I can find out he's never done a job this size."
"I don't understand," Norm said. "We thought he would be fair with us."
"Because he's Native American?" Randy snorted. "Well, guess what? Do I have to say it? I really don't want to."
"Say what?" Norm frowned.
Carlos had been silent throughout the whole exchange, but now spoke up. "I understand what Mr. Clark is saying, and I also know why he doesn't want to say it. Mr. Eaglebeak, my father told me one time, 'It doesn't take a gringo to cheat a Mexican. Another Mexican can do the job perfectly well.'"
Randy nodded gratefully at Carlos, but didn't say anything.
"I see," Norm said thoughtfully. "I think I see. Randy, I think I'd better have a talk with the council. Would you two like to go and get a cup of coffee or something?"
"Sure, we can do that," Randy said. "We'll be in the main lounge."
"I'll find you when we need you," Norm said.
Randy and Carlos picked up their briefcases and headed for the lounge. They were out of sight of Norm's office before Randy said. "Well, shit. Thanks for saying that, Carlos."
"I didn't know if I should," he replied meekly.
"Shit no, it needed to be said, but I didn't want to have to be the one to say it. I had something else in mind but yours was more diplomatic. You done good, Carlos. Very good. Thank you."
"So what happens now? Do we lose the job?"
"Probably not," Randy shrugged. "We'll probably wind up doing the site and preparation work this year, maybe the ski runs, too. Norm and I know each other, and we've done an awful lot of work here. But I'll tell you this, Carlos. If we'd wound up taking that job under those circumstances, it would be the last one we did for Three Pines. If we don't build the ski lodge this summer it's no big skin off of our asses since we've got a busy summer lined up already, but Three Pines has been a good customer for years, and I don't want to lose them. I'd rather tell the truth. Sometimes it hurts, but it's better in the long run."
Randy and Carlos sat in the lounge for quite a while, mostly just talking about things of little importance while they watched the suckers play the slot machines and sipped at their free coffee. At one point, Carlos happened to notice Cornplanter and his helpers stalk toward the door, each carrying a load of presentation materials; he pointed it out to Randy, who smiled and said nothing. After a while longer, Norm came out to see them. "The council would like to talk to the two of you," he told them.
"Might as well," Randy replied. "I've had all the coffee I need for a while. In fact, I ought to hit the facilities before we head back there."
In a couple minutes Norm led Randy and Carlos back into the room they'd been in earlier. Randy glanced around; from the smiles he saw, it didn't look like Clark Construction was in big trouble. They went back to the seats that they'd been in earlier. As soon as they were seated, a tall, older man stood up. Randy knew Douglas Spotted Deer, the chief of the Tribal Council. They'd talked on occasion, but Randy usually did business with Norm Eaglebeak. "Mr. Clark, Mr. Gutierrez," he said. "The Shakahatche would like to extend a debt of gratitude to the two of you today, especially you, Mr. Clark. You saved us from a grave error, one that is even more honor than it is mere money. It seems we had forgotten how to deal with the Sioux, but at least you reminded us. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Norm, would you like to talk about the decision we reached?"
"It's a little complicated, Randy," Norm said genially. "We want to explore the idea of doing the ski resort, but over a two-year period as you suggested. However, we're probably going to have to start from scratch again. Do you have an architect you would suggest for the project?"
"Actually, I think you need to approach this in phases," Randy told them. "The ski area development is a rather specialized matter, and there aren't many people who specialize in it. I don't have any names for you off the top of my head, but I can do some research for you and get back with you by the first of the week. If you really want to do a log lodge, there's an architect we've worked with in the past located in Camden, and I feel pretty sure he'd do you a good job. If you want to do more conventional construction, I can think of two or three who are fairly local."
"I have to say I was impressed with the idea of the log lodge," Douglas Spotted Deer said. "I suppose we wouldn't want to do something exactly like what was suggested."
"No, and for a number of reasons," Randy said. "Just to be fair, you need to have something with a different appearance. However, the proposal we looked at earlier seemed a touch grandiose to my taste, and I thought limited in expansion capabilities."
"That issue was discussed after you left," Norm said. "It didn't seem to be in the spirit of what we discussed a few weeks ago. It is now clear to us that with the budget we have to work with, this will have to be stretched out over two or three years. The former proposal didn't really lend itself to a phased build like that. In any case, are you going to be able to work on this project this summer?"
"Yes, as long as we have some halfway decent plans, we ought to be able to work on the ski area development without much difficulty. Oh, there's some technical difficulties that'll have to be overcome, but nothing that hasn't been done before elsewhere. At our last meeting I pointed out that things like ski lifts are pretty specialized, and usually are done by companies that only do that work. I have no idea of what the availability of lift-line apparatus might be or how long a waiting list there might be for production or installation. It wouldn't surprise me, if the backlog is enough that the ski area couldn't be opened next winter. I can find out, but I can't tell you right now."
"Find out," Norm said. "If it turns out that it's something that you can build if someone else designs it, speaking for myself I think I'd be more comfortable if Clark Construction did it. To be blunt, Randy, we know you guys and we trust you."
* * *
"That certainly didn't go anything like I expected it to," Carlos said to Randy as soon as they were on the highway heading back to Spearfish Lake. "Especially after the way it started out."
"Well, me either," Randy said. "I figured we were going to have to do a few stare-downs, like kids in a school yard trying to show who's tougher, and then we'd settle down and get some work done. I honestly think Cornplanter thought he was going to stampede me like a herd of buffalo, so I'm glad I did my homework. It's something I've always had to deal with, since I really am pretty young for the responsibility I have, and I know it. You ever have to do something like that?"
"Oh, yes." Carlos said. "Not on that kind of scale, of course. For a while there I thought you were screwing up, and then I realized that you'd have screwed up if you hadn't said what you did."
"You recognized what was going down, didn't you?"
"Of course I did. I just didn't think I ought to say anything since I was the new guy on the block."
"You said exactly what I needed to hear," Randy said. "One word was all it took. I figured if you could see it too, I wasn't barking up the wrong tree. Like I said earlier, Carlos, you done good. I know you're probably kicking around other offers, but I would really like to have you working for me."
"You know, I thought about it pretty hard while we were sitting there drinking coffee," Carlos replied. "I'll admit that I had some reservations, but you really impressed me when you sounded off. I probably shouldn't say this, but I don't know if I'd have the guts to stand up to a roomful of gringos the way you sounded off in a roomful of Indians."
"That's kind of the point," Randy said. "I don't think of them as Indians, I think of them as a board with a responsibility to a community. It happens to be a community with a couple special advantages, finally, after years of not having them. A lot of people would like to take advantage of the income sources they have that aren't available to the rest of us. But really, they're absolutely no different than a school board looking to build a new building. If a school board architect came to a school board with a bullshit proposal like that when I was there to hear it, I think it's my duty to tell them that it's bullshit, and why it's bullshit. I may lose the job but I don't have to wrestle with my conscience afterward. I can usually find other jobs to do."
"That's what changed my opinion," Carlos said. "I like that degree of integrity. I had another job lined up, but it's a company with a reputation for a lack of the kind of integrity you show, so I finally decided not to accept it. I'd like to work for you, Randy, if you still want me."
"Of course," Randy replied. "Welcome to Clark Construction. How soon after graduation can you be here?"
"How about the next day?" Carlos smiled. "I mean, if I can sneak down here on the odd weekend and get stuff like an apartment lined up."
"Since we've got a day to kill that we hadn't planned, why don't I take you to talk to a friend of mine in the real estate business?" Randy said. "She's pretty good. She can probably come up with a rental, and might even be able to come up with a deal on a purchase."
"That might be a little ambitious," Carlos protested. "I'm single; I don't have much. An apartment is probably all I need for now. After a year or so it might be a little different. I might buy a house next fall after construction slows down and renovate it, or something."
"I planned to do the fixer-upper thing like that, but it got a little out of hand," Randy smiled. "You saw what I'm living in. That's how far out of hand it got."
"Hell of a house, though," Carlos grinned.
They rode on silently for a mile or two before Carlos spoke up again. "Randy," he said. "Mr. Spotted Deer said something like 'we ought to have remembered how to deal with the Sioux.' What was he talking about?"
"I don't know the details," Randy said. "I've got a friend who can tell you chapter and verse, though. Back before the white man came, what we know as the Teton Sioux or Lakota used to live around here. From what Debbie tells me, they had a reputation as a bunch of bad actors. Hell, they still had that reputation when the white man had to deal with them in the 1800s, not as bad as the Comanche or the Blackfeet, but bad. The Chippewa and the Ojibwa and the Shakahatche got tired of it and ran their asses out of the forests onto the Great Plains. That was, oh, two hundred or two hundred fifty years ago. I guess there's still some bad blood around about it."
"Sounds like it to me," Carlos sighed. "You'd think people would outgrow things like that in a couple hundred years, work together to ease a common plight."
"You'd think so," Randy smiled broadly. "But who called me a gringo?"
"Yeah," Carlos shook his head. "Shit. I see what you mean. I guess I've got more to learn from you than I thought."