Third, and perhaps most importantly, was her ‘Thanks. Love you’ declaration at the end of the message. In Joel’s mind, people tended to overuse the word ‘love’ when so many people in the world obviously didn’t know the meaning of it, judging by their behavior. It had become trite and platitudinous many, many years ago. Just being grateful and saying so would have been sufficient. And, as always, he was forced to wonder if such flattery and meaningless discourse had slowly whittled away at the resistance of his mentor, and sent him down his ruinous path at sprint speed.

With that aside, he moved to his window to gaze out upon the cityscape. Rain hammered the window and everything outside was reduced to amorphous shapes and figures, like looking at reflections in a carnival distorting mirror. Still, he could see that the rain was confounded with ice and snow, as the movement of the water down the window had solid masses in it that congealed into a crust at the bottom edge of the window’s plate glass.

The weather forecasters hadn’t earned their money today, he mused, recalling that the weather was supposed to be rain, with no mention at all of frozen rain, sleet, and or the so-called ‘wintry mix.’ In fact, they hadn’t earned their money in over a year. It seemed that every forecast that they made was wrong and was typically wrong by preposterous margins. They had become the butt of jokes more than ever.

He flipped on the National Weather Service on his desk, and listened to the repetitive electronic voice as it spewed information on everything concerning the local area serviced by that particular station. While he wasn’t a climatologist, he did know several and all of them made vague reference to the climate shift that had been taking place over the past few decades as picking up speed in the past year or so. What seemed to bother them, aside from the political detractors who still claimed there was no climate shift and that there was no undisputed evidence to suggest that there was, was the fact that even the evidence that they had was confounding. Yes, they said, the climate was shifting, but there was no longer a pattern to it. It had become totally random. In fact, it had become so random that some jokingly suggested that the weather was at war with itself.

Had Joel been irrational, he might have believed it, considering how the weather had assaulted him this morning with almost deliberate intent.

More pressing matters shoved such notions and the sound of the incessant weather reports to the back of his mind. Fugitive emissions from the city’s sewer lines was today’s project, and today’s meeting’s main topic. Of course, as usual, other matters regarding the city’s environmental state and overall environmental policy would come up. It always did, and it always became a scrimmage between those who wanted more and more stringent regulations and those who wanted either the status quo or a reduction in what they termed ‘onerous and business debilitating environmental fascism.’

Joel always found it amusing how eyes would turn to him when the term ‘fascism’ came up. No doubt, no one wanted to offend him, considering that his family name sounded Jewish, which, of course, he wasn’t.

Typically, the time flew past and Ahra buzzed him on the phone to remind him that it was 30 minutes prior to the meeting. He thanked her, and wondered if he had read a damned thing at all during the hour since he sat down to review the material and findings. The fact that he was on the same page as when he started assured him that he had read nothing. He wondered if he had slept during that time or had simply drifted off into another state of mental being.

The weather reports were still going on and as he killed the radio, he noticed that the bracelet was on the desk in front of him. It simply sat there, as cold and silvery as ever. He couldn’t recall taking it out of the drawer after having placed it in there for safe keeping, yet there it was, it’s two emeralds or jades looking all the world like two green eyes looking at him.

Obviously during his fugue he had taken it out, so he replaced it, and locked the drawer. Since he had promised Minerva that he would keep it safe, he wanted to be certain that it was safe. No one would go into his office and no one would go into his drawer. Of that, he couldn’t have been more certain.

H e grabbed his hat and his coat, made certain that his PDA was with him, and left his office, locking the door behind him. He stopped by Ahra’s desk, and she pointed out to him the hard copies of the presentation in a wheeled catalogue case. Silently, she waved him away with the back of her hand, while she rapidly and repetitively tapped the pointer keys on her computer keyboard with the other. Playing a game, no doubt.

The walk to the Managing Director’s office was only fifteen minutes in good weather, and would probably take him twenty five this morning. He had actually wanted to get there a little early to set up and meet and greet prior to the formalities.

As expected, the weather pounded him as soon as he stepped outside the building. The office was on the 32nd floor of one of the old high-rise offices that predated the City’s building boom that started in the mid 1980s. Once upon a time, buildings in Philadelphia could not exceed the high of the brim of the statue of William Penn that stood upon the bell tower of City Hall. That charter mandate had crippled the city developmentally for decades. While other cities such as New York and Chicago sent buildings reaching for the sky, luring businesses and growing to world-wide prominence, Philadelphia stagnated, and paid a high economic price for it.

Now, 40 years later, the city had finally broken out of its doldrums and was gaining momentum toward becoming a world class city of the 21st century.

Joel, looked left then right, wondering which was to take to minimize his exposure to the weather. In the hour or so since he looked out upon the cityscape, the conditions had worsened appreciably, and then ice now formed a significant crust on the sidewalk. Building maintenance crews at the block long, block wide high-rise had been caught unawares, most likely having listened to and believed the weather forecasters, and were just now scurrying to play catch up with the weather.

Catalogue case in tow, Joel decided that the best bet would be to confront the weather head-on. Time was of the essence, and the shorter route, albeit into the teeth of the storm for most of the walk, would take him a long a path that would most likely be the recipient of lots of rock salt and sand and ice chippers to ease pedestrian passage.

He shuffled along as quickly as he could, weaving in and out of other pedestrians who were either too cautious to move any quicker or had no deadline in which to reach their destination. At the light, which was a big red hand’s palm demanding that the pedestrians not cross the street, a woman going in his direction stopped beside him. They shared a glace and an exasperated shake of their head, doubtlessly referring to the weather conditions.

The woman was tall, perhaps five eleven or six feet even, and was very well tanned, perhaps of Mediterranean, Middle-eastern or Hispanic stock. She was bundled for the weather, with a long black wool coat, and a bright red scarf around her neck on the outside of the coat. A black wool beret covered her head, and fiery red hair poured from beneath it. It whipped wildly in the wind and glistened with drops of frozen water, and that seemed to make her hair truly look like living flames.

Joel wondered why she hadn’t swept that hair beneath the beret, but then imagined that she feared it would spontaneously combust if it were allowed to smolder like red hot coals beneath the wool head covering.

He turned back to the stop light when she said, to him: "What’s going on with this weather these days!"

When he looked back at her, he saw that she was smiling in spite of what sounded like agitation.

"Lord knows," he said.

She continued to smile. "Maybe it’s a sign."

"Yeah, a sign to cross. We have green."

She laughed, a cloud of hot breath forming a large gray cloud before her as she joined him in the march toward their destinations.

"Do you believe in signs and portents?" she asked, walking beside him so closely that he could feel the warmth of her body through his coat and hers and receive a face full of her red hair at the same time.

"You mean like… signs of a supernatural nature?"

She nodded, still looking at him.

Joel all but rolled his eyes. Where, he wondered, did people like this come from? But since she was fantabulously gorgeous, it was easier to accept her inanity. Perhaps she was supernatural in the bedroom.

"Supernatural, no. Scientific, yes. There are always signs and indicators that can clue you in on what’s going on around you. It’s just a matter of recognizing them when they occur."

She smiled. "Just like supernatural ones. In any case, I need some coffee. Here’s my shop. It’s been nice talking to you."

Joel was tempted to stop, but decided against it. He’d let his manhood convince him to pursue those metaphysical chicks in the past, and while sometimes the sex would be good, in the long run, the frustration just wasn’t worth the aggravation. Of course, others would disagree. But Joel didn’t have much time or patience for what he thought of as bullshit.


Unto the Living Earth © 2007 Walter R. Milton