CHAPTER 5: JAKE
She would be the granddaughter.
To hell with my impressive diagrams and illustrations. If Olivia Weiss was the kind of person annoyed by those who didn’t wait their turn and broke the rules, she wasn’t going to like me very much--now or ever.
When Audrey called for a comment on the record about my updated dating status, she’d asked if I might look over an investment she and a friend were cultivating, recommend names of people who might want to get involved. “In return, the next time you date or dump anyone noteworthy I’ll give you a heads-up before I print it?”
I’d grinned into the phone. I wasn’t planning on dating soon, but I’d agreed.
What I’d expected to be a guilt-free hand-off had instead, piqued my interest. I’d spent the better part of a day with the paperwork Audrey had couriered over, mulling over the real possibility that this was the project I hadn’t known I was looking for.
I’d called Audrey back a few days later, telling her I’d like a chance to pitch for it myself.
She’d gone quiet and I knew her reporter-brain was churning out a headline. “You do realize that you leaving Hurst would be a huge scoop for me?”
“It’s good you owe me a favor then, isn’t it?”
If I had to sum up how the meeting was going based on body language alone, I’d say it could be better.
I grimace as Olivia; the granddaughter of Therese and the late Nathan Weiss drops a chunk of jam onto the corner of my presentation. She seems more interested in sopping-up every last bit of Cesar’s homemade strawberry jam with her toast than in anything I have to say about Tomahawk Hill’s future.
She is flipping (rather carelessly, in my opinion), through the professional renderings I’d had drawn up from my original brainstorming session.
I'd done the initial sketches from my hotel balcony, the early evening breeze off the ocean and the sun’s castoff colors working their magic on my imagination. Studying the Weiss’s surprisingly sophisticated business portfolio, I’d experienced an overwhelming desire to commiserate with Nathan Weiss. Reading his notes, I’d felt as though I’d known him. I assumed most of the scribbles on the blueprints and papers were Nathan’s, but some notes were more feminine, with loopy vowels and swooping consonants. I wondered if his wife, Therese was more than likely responsible for these.
A glance at my watch confirms that I’d only been talking thirty minutes or so, but from the look on Olivia’s face, I’d been lecturing her for over three hours about rock pigmentations. There is so much more I want to say, but my instincts take over. She doesn’t want to hear it. Either that, or she’s heard it all before.
“I see you’ve used many of my grandfather’s ideas in your own sketches,” Olivia says, her tone gilded with reproach.
I shrug, trying to tamp down the annoyance that’s been creeping up on me. I’d been excited about meeting the granddaughter of such a visionary, but now I wondered why I’d wasted so much of my time prepping for something she was only deigning to hear about. “Honestly, I wish I could speak with him and ask him questions. Where I had different ideas, I incorporated them, but yes, I’ve tried to keep the integrity of what your grandfather wanted to do intact, within my proposal.”
A hint of a blush blooms in her cheeks as I maintain eye contact and I wonder if it’s anger or embarrassment there on her face. Maybe both. I’m relieved when she looks away to sift through the rest of the presentation. I glance over at Audrey who is texting like a fiend, answering every buzz and ding of her cell as though each were a major emergency. I nudge her knee under the small table, raise my eyebrows once I have her attention. What the hell? My look says. She raises an eyebrow in response. Maybe she’s as surprised by Olivia’s behavior as I am.
“Jake, why don’t Olivia and I get back to you on this?”
I nod, deflated. This is not how I’d envisioned the meeting at all. This project had felt so right, but with every careless flick of a page, Olivia’s interest in my involvement was clear. As if reading my thoughts, Audrey says, “It’s Therese you’ll need to speak with, but she doesn’t know we’re interviewing investors yet. Olivia and I wanted to see if this were a real possibility before we presented the idea to her.”
I must look as relieved as I feel because Olivia’s eyes are cool and calculating when she addresses me. “Don’t worry. I want nothing to do with this project. To be perfectly honest with you, Mr. Hurst…”
“Jake,” I say, uncomfortable with someone close to my age calling me “Mr.” anything.
“Jake…” she amends with an impatient tone. “To be honest, if this is something you want, you should know you’ll have a major battle on your hands. If you can pass all of the hurdles my grandfather, who was beloved by everyone, couldn’t overcome in all the years he dedicated to making this town a better place to live, I will be...surprised.” She stops, straightening her shoulders and dropping the paperwork dismissively. “No, I wouldn’t be surprised. I’d be…pissed!”
The way she says, ‘pissed!’ tugs at the corners of my mouth before I can stop them from turning up. What was she? Twelve? A chuckle escapes before I can hold it in check.
Olivia glares at me.
Certain that further sharing my amusement would only make her more “pissed” I decide to ignore her glare and bring the meeting to a close.
“If you’d allow me, I’d love the chance to speak with Therese, see what she thinks about all this. I’m gathering that you have good reasons for not involving her at this point in the process, and I respect your privacy, but just so I’m clear, I’ve got my heart set on this project—now that my wheels are turning in this direction, if this isn’t something Therese wants to do, I might find an opportunity like this elsewhere.”
I sit back as this last part burbles out of me. And I meant that. I realize, surprising myself. Somehow, over the last week and a half, this idea of a luxury equine hotel set in the wild west had become very real in my mind. I wanted to be the one to build this! If the Weiss family wasn’t going to move on it, why shouldn’t I try to make it happen elsewhere?
For the first time since sitting across from each other, Olivia’s scowl softens, and I think I see a fleeting look that might be…what? Hope? Uncertainty? I bite my tongue, let her think. My eyes land on the last drawing Olivia had held between her fingers. An old-timey soda fountain advertising malts for a nickel is nestled between an apothecary and a flower shop. There’s a horse hitched out front, right next to a vintage automobile. The parking lot is a mile away, where a shuttle would theoretically pick up guests and deposit them onto Tomahawk Hill’s Main Street. Across from the soda fountain, a grand hotel (vibing of a historic Hotel del Coronado in the 1920’s), where guests will retire after their day of exploring the trails or taking riding lessons from the resort’s trainers.
The addition of an equine resort was my major contribution to Nathan Weiss’s original plans: A resort which would fuel the smaller businesses Nathan had already envisioned. I knew people wouldn’t travel to the middle of nowhere Iowa for a glorified theme park. For the allure of the wild west to truly appeal to people as a vacation destination, everything would have to be grander, more exclusive. The equine resort had to be the main attraction for the wild west themed Tomahawk Hill and tailored to draw-in a specific clientele.
Olivia stands, and I follow suit, offering my hand. She takes it, and her skin is cool and soft and lost in my own.
The grip is also surprisingly firm.
I squelch another grin. She was definitely squeezing harder than needed.
Audrey kisses me on both cheeks, gives me a thumbs-up behind her friend’s back as they walk out of the café. “I’ll call you,” she mouths.
Cesar pokes his head out of the kitchen before I’ve even sat down again. He wipes his hands on his apron, raises his thick eyebrows. He’d be heading over to the hotel restaurant in a few minutes to start dinner prep. I give him a shrug. He grins. I wasn’t sure who wanted my plans to fail more—Olivia Weiss, or Cesar.
I gather my things, deep in thought. It was freeing to realize I didn’t need anybody’s blessing to move forward with my plans. If the Weiss family didn’t want to work with me, there was a good chance I could find another ghost town to buy-up—real estate and land in that part of the nation was cheap.
But there was something about Tomahawk Hill itself that drew me in. There were existing structures and assets that already appealed to me. My plan was to buy all the buildings Therese owned, scoop up the acres of undeveloped land. I could charm the powers that be in Tomahawk Hill and spend my personal fortune to get this going—and most importantly, move forward without my father’s name.
Sure, Olivia’s warnings about the town’s resistence to change might be real, but in my experience, there wasn’t a whole lot that a bunch of money and the right connections couldn’t overcome.