Muskoka, Ontario, Canada. Wednesday, September 12.
Mike King, now fifty-nine, was in the autumn of his phenomenal and exciting business career. He had kept himself in excellent physical shape and his body showed it. Microscopic body fat. Still north of six feet tall and still a hunk, he still turned female heads with no effort. He had retained most of his thatch of wavy blond hair, although it was graying slightly at the sides. After his disastrous confrontation with Jim Servito in 1979, he had not only saved XG Petroleums, his retail gasoline company, but had managed to expand it and make it a national chain with annual sales in excess of two billion liters. Last year’s sale of a fifty percent interest in XG to Golden National Oil had given Mike the opportunity to slow down and smell the flowers, and more than enough money to enjoy it. Best of all, the sale had enabled him to spend more time with his wife Karen, the love of his life and the woman he had met in 1961 while he attended the University of Toronto.
He smiled as he turned his black Mercedes CL600 into the graveled parking area of Beaumaris Marina, delighted to have returned to his beloved Muskoka. He stepped from the car, took a deep breath of cool air and scanned the crystal blue water of Milford Bay. He turned to face Karen, who had also emerged from the car. “The trees are starting to turn, Babe,” he said, referring to the color of leaves near the tops of the tall maples on the far shore.
Karen, also fifty-nine but still every inch a beauty, smirked. “So is my hair,” she replied, straightening a wind blown strand of her graying hair. She walked around the car and grasped Mike’s hand. “Let’s get some ice and go to the island.”
They removed their groceries from the car, bought two bags of ice cubes from Beaumaris marina store, then climbed into their twenty-one foot red Donzi which was gassed up and tied off at the marina dock. Mike started the motor and steered the boat out onto Milford Bay, all the while keeping the speed several hairs above a gurgling idle. They exited the bay, rounded Pudding Rock, then Mike pushed the throttle forward to the limit and headed northwest toward Azimuth Island, a ten acre gem two kilometers off the northeast shore of Lake Muskoka. Previously owned by Karen’s ultra wealthy late parents, George and Jean Taylor, the island and its buildings were inherited by Karen, their only child.
Since the late eighteen hundreds, Muskoka was a destination for super wealth seeking an elegant lifestyle matched by few resort communities in the world. In addition to providing shelter and relief, the beautiful islands around Beaumaris provided dramatic sites for enormous cottages, many of which were constructed between 1900 and 1915 by wealthy Americans from Pittsburgh. Lake Muskoka and its numerous rock, pine and hemlock covered islands were carved twenty-five thousand years earlier by a layer of ice over two miles thick. The pinkish rocks and crystal clear soft water attracted health conscious visitors to the area for decades. The heart of Muskoka is comprised of three large lakes: Lake Joseph, Lake Rosseau, and Lake Muskoka, all joined and stretching thirty miles, top to bottom. The modern Muskoka is a place for deep pockets, movers and shakers, movie stars and over-paid hockey pucks, all needing to relax in their multi-million dollar cottages and get away from the stress of it all.
Karen’s cottage, a rambling three story white framed structure, was built at the height of the island in 1924. The twenty-seven room interior was crafted to reflect the rock and wood surroundings of Muskoka. Maple and cedar covered the walls and ceilings. The floors and furniture were made of oak. The massive fireplace, cut from the local rock, occupied an entire wall. The chimney towered above the green shingled roof. Beside the cottage and surrounded by pine trees was an ultra modern tennis court. The outbuildings, vestigial relics of an earlier era, included a laundry, the icehouse, servant’s quarters and the butler’s cabin. An octagonal gazebo, frequently used to view the spectacular Muskoka sunsets, stood at the end of a long rocky promontory on the southwestern shore of the island. Beyond the tennis court and at the end of a gentle rocky slope was the imposing seven-slip boathouse. A well-manicured lawn sloped gently from the sweeping verandah to the water’s edge.
Mike docked the Donzi in one of the seven boat-house slips, then he and Karen headed for the kitchen in the main building. From there, a bottle of chilled pinot grigio and two wine flutes accompanied them to the gazebo. The sky was clear. No wind. Temperature about sixty, Fahrenheit. It was still an hour before sunset, but hell, they hadn’t even opened the wine.