I arrived home half an hour later. As I opened the door to my apartment, I was greeted by the delightful smell of Chinese food. I dropped my bags on the coffee table and walked into the kitchen, where Dave was pouring two glasses of red wine.
I stood on tiptoe to kiss him as he handed me one of the glasses.
“Mmm,” he smiled. “I’ve been looking forward to that all day.”
I kissed him again. “Me too.” I looked around the clean kitchen. “Either you’re the tidiest cook I know or you cheated.”
Dave looked embarrassed. “Given I’m an even worse cook than you,” he said, then winced as I hit him in the arm, “I thought you would prefer something edible tonight.” He opened the oven, where a takeaway bag marked “The Peking Garden” sat warming.
“Ha!” I replied. “Well after that slight on my cooking, you can do the honors and serve it out!” I kissed him once more as I grabbed my wine glass and sat down on the couch, while Dave was busy in the kitchen, piling the steaming noodles onto plates.
“How did the meeting with Old Man Olsen go this afternoon?” he asked as he grabbed a large bowl and poured pink prawn crackers into it.
“Ok,” I replied, taking a sip of my wine. “He asked for yet another variation on the second-floor mezzanine level.”
“He probably wants everyone to be able to see that bloody fountain in the main atrium. Grab my wine, will you?” Dave said as he sat down next to me, two plates in his hands. “Oh, and the forks!” he called out as I stood up and walked into the kitchen.
“Not this time,” I laughed as I grabbed the forks and the bowl of prawn crackers off the bench, then walked back to the couch. I put the bowl on the coffee table, gave him a fork and sat down again. “I’m more worried about the basement footing thing.”
I shook my head, twisted some steaming noodles onto my fork and started eating my dinner. “Anyway, enough on that. I don’t want to think about the damned thing for a while. How was your day? Did you find the guy you were looking for? The reporter?”
Dave shook his head as he took a sip of his wine. “No, nothing. His wife is worried sick, he’s been gone for days. It’s not the first time he’s gone to ground, but he’s always managed to get a message to her in the past to let her know he’s ok.”
“Poor woman,” I murmured. “Does his editor know what story he’s working on?”
“No,” Dave replied. “He was apparently keeping this one very close to his chest. He normally covers organized crime, but his editor wasn’t sure if this was about that.”
“I hope you find him,” I said. “But with the types that he associates with, I don’t like his chances of being alive.”
“Nor me. Either way, his wife needs to know. And you never know, he might just be dug in somewhere until he finds what he’s after.”
I nodded. With dinner over, Dave collected the dirty dishes, walked into the kitchen and put them into the dishwasher. I looked over the back of the couch and smiled at him. “Thanks, babe.” He sat back on the couch and I snuggled in under his arm.
He picked up the remote and idly flicked through the channels. Nothing was on, and I stifled a yawn. “Sorry, babe, long day,” I said sleepily.
He pulled me close and kissed me. “Not too tired, I hope.”
“I think I’ll manage,” I smiled as I kissed him.
I woke early the next morning. The wonderful aroma of coffee was coming from the kitchen. I looked beside me; Dave was no longer there. After a quick shower and getting dressed, I went to the kitchen and found my coffee cup with a sticky note attached.
I took the sticky note off my empty cup and read it. “Gone to the gym before an early start at work. Coffee is in the pot, sleepyhead. See you tonight. D”.
Smiling to myself, I picked up the pot and poured myself a coffee and made a quick breakfast.
Munching on a piece of toast, I grabbed my laptop out of its bag and sat down on the couch. I flipped it open and scanned emails as I sipped my coffee. There was nothing that couldn’t wait until after I got back from the Olsen construction site.
My thoughts crept back to the issue with the basement footings and the water seepage. It just made no sense. In the meeting with Olsen the day before, James Anderson had been careful to play it down as likely just surface water, but I was worried.
We were just going to have to have a good look at it, inside and out. I was meeting Jack Myers, the project’s chief engineer, on site at 9am to inspect the basement. Hopefully, we would then have an answer as to where the damned water was coming from.
Checking the time, I closed the lid on my laptop and swallowed down the rest of my coffee. It was a fair drive out to the construction site and I needed to get moving. I packed my laptop in its bag, finished getting ready and headed out the door.
I arrived on site just before 9am. Work had commenced hours earlier, and dozens of workers were busy with various jobs. Cranes lifted pallets of material to the partially completed second floor, and I could hear the muffled bang of nail guns inside.
Jack Myers met me at the unfinished front entrance. He was a short, squat man with a round tummy that betrayed his love of beer and rich food. He wore a bright yellow hard hat, and the buttons of his blue shirt strained against his large belly.
His face was pink and sweaty, and there were dark stains under the armpits of his shirt. He’d clearly run from the other side of the construction site to meet me and was breathing hard.
“Hey Nat,” he wheezed. “Jeez, I gotta give up the fatty food!”
I smiled at him. “One vice at a time, Jacky! You only just gave up the cigarettes.”
His breathing easing, he replied, “Yeah, I know. But the doc told me I was a goner if I don’t get my blood pressure down. That and stress.” He sighed. “Yeah, right.”
Jack was a jovial man, and highly competent at his job as an engineer. He managed to get the best of out his team, but he always looked like he was one beer shy of a triple bypass.
“I think we’ll all be happy when we have this done, Jacky,” I said.
He nodded. “Yeah, Moira has a few unkind words for Old Man Olsen right now, but the job is what the job is.” Moira was Jack’s wife. He handed me a torch and gestured to the stairwell just inside the doorway. “Shall we go look at this bloody basement?”
“That’s why I’m here!” I smiled. I switched on my torch and started walking down the stairs, Jack following closely behind.
“I took another look from the outside before you got here,” he said. “There is a lot of standing water from the recent storms.”
We had descended two levels, the light from outside barely filtering into the stairwell now. “But is it enough to explain the level of seepage we’re seeing inside?”
“I just don’t know, Nat. There is a lot of water in here and it’s a long way down.”
“That’s what worries me,” I replied.
We had finally reached the bottom. The basement carpark was a huge empty expanse, with thick concrete posts set out at regular intervals. The beams from our powerful torches seemed paltry in the heavy darkness.
The faint sound of water dripping could be heard ahead of us. We walked across the carpark, torches held out, to the source of the dripping.
“Has the seepage gotten any better? It hasn’t rained for a few days now.” My voice echoed in the open space.
“No,” Jack replied. “But that could still be consistent for groundwater. It takes a while for water to seep this far into the ground.”
“So do you think that is what it is?”
“I want to say yes, but my gut says no. It’s fat and cranky, but I trust it.”
“Let’s see if your gut knows what it’s talking about.”
Finally, we arrived at the far end of the carpark. We shone our torches at the ceiling, where water dripped constantly. The entire section of concrete wall was wet and water pooled on the floor.
“There’s definitely more water here than last time,” I said. I pointed my torch at the wall where the concrete was wet and placed my hand on it. “See how it seems to be soaking through the wall itself? That’s not runoff seeping from the floor above.”
Jack grunted. “I really wish my gut would stick to food,” he said tightly. “I HATE it when it’s right.” He looked at me. “The obvious question is, where’s the water coming from if it’s not groundwater?”
“That is a very good question, Jack,” I replied.
I fumbled in my bag for my phone. The stupid thing was always impossible to find when you needed it.
“Here, hold this,” I said as I gave Jack my torch, and I dug around inside my bag once more. I finally located it at the bottom and pulled it out.
I took several photos of the seeping section of wall and the pool of standing water, the flash on my phone momentarily lighting the carpark. I then recorded a short video of the water dripping from the ceiling as Jack shone the torches on it for me.
After inspecting the wall once more, I put my phone in my bag. “All right, I can’t do any more here right now. Let’s go take a look from the outside.”
Jack handed my torch to me and we walked towards the stairwell and back into the bright sunlight.
We stood next to the wall at the back of the partially completed shopping mall. Although it hadn’t rained for a few days, the ground was still very muddy. Pools of water lay in the deep track marks from the heavy machinery that surrounded the building.
I looked closely at the muddy ground. “This looks like clay,” I said.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought too,” Jack replied.
“What was the ground like when they excavated it? Was it clay?”
“Nope. Solid bedrock, just like the geo report said it would be.”
“So it can’t be clay that’s causing the water?”
Jack shook his head. “Not according to the geo report, no. There is some surface clay, that’s what you can see around here, but it has no structural impact on the footings. It only goes down a few feet.”
“So we’re no closer to figuring out where the water’s coming from.”
“‘Fraid not, Nat. It’s got me stumped. We need to figure this out though because seeping water could be the least of our worries. The whole bloody footing could become unstable.”
“I really didn’t want to hear that, Jacky.”
“Better to know that not knowing, I guess.”
I nodded. “True story.” I took one last look at the muddy clay. “Doesn’t look like I’m going to learn much more here, so I may as well head back to the office.”
“Thanks for coming down, Nat. Sorry that it doesn’t look like good news.”
“Not your fault, Jacky, I appreciate you taking the time to look with me. Give my love to Moira.”
We said our goodbyes and I walked back to my car. I was not in a good mood.