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Kens

Kens

edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
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Ducks Redux

Ducks Redux

Fueling Flames in Oil Land
by LM Shyba & CD Evans
illustrated by Rich Theroux
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Excerpt

From Chapter Two. FREEDOM NORTH PIPELINE. JB mailcoat takes a second to compose himself after the magnetic eye lock he experienced with Maeve Wong. What a curious person, he thinks. Shaking himself back into his public persona he shouts, “Harry, who hired that drab?” “It’s a different world, JB,” explains Harry as he runs around the office scooping up Maeve’s mud chunks with a wadded up Oil Land Star newspaper. “We have to keep up with the times, and times are changing.” He finds the trash basket that JB has kicked across the room and throws in the muddy newspaper. “Besides, you’ll see, she cleans up pretty good.” “How’d this story about the ducks get out, anyway? I mean, ain’t we got folks to catch these things, like, they find some dead ducks, they get rid of ’em. That’s what we pay people for, good money.” “The problem is, JB—” “Stop sayin’ the problem is, Harry. Try saying’ the solution is for a change. Is there one guy who keeps blabbing to the press, or what’s going on?” JB heads to his bar for a another refreshment, strong black coffee this time. In a great and unusual show of camaraderie, he pours one for Harry too and points over at his hobby corner. They plop into the plush swivel desk chairs and as JB starts whittling on a square block of hardwood, Harry unravels the backstory. “It’s the enviro ride-along groups, JB. Sometime back the government told all the oil mine companies they had to allow reasonable access by environmental groups like AntiTox to monitor wildlife mortality at our facilities. They’re allowed to walk the perimeters of Tailings Pond to observe how many birds are landing there and calculate the percentage that die—” “They do what? That’s private property, Harry!” “…then they multiply those numbers by the number of ponds we have.” Harry purses his lips and takes a small sip of the strong coffee. “It is a problem, JB, a big problem — area of all our ponds combined is—” “Yeah, I know, twice the size of all tarnation.” JB scowls and leans forward to choose a finer carving tool. Harry continues. “I guess the problem, I mean solution is, we’re going to have to get Dr. Wong some more people and a better system. Our bird deterrent team is understaffed. They don’t have enough scarecrows, cannons, or even radar devices. True, one of the enviro ride-alongs must have blabbed to AntiTox. But the fact is, Dr. Wong didn’t have the people to set up a deterrent system soon enough and quick enough.” “You mean they were sittin’ around on their fat arses drinkin’ coffee and playin’ cards. Fire em all.” “JB, I mean to say, look, this is a big public humiliation for us and for the other oil mine operators too. Dead ducks have made headlines around the world.Lucas Vandam, one of the AntiTox types, says that Tailings Pond violates the law protecting migratory birds, and he’s arguing that our industry is derelict. Here, let me get you the story.” As Harry scrolls through his phone for the story, JB sits back in his chair, silent, thinking, Lucas Vandam. That’s probably the guy blabbing to the press about the ducks. He’d better not sink his teeth into bad mouthing our Freedom North Pipeline. He’s dangerous. He reaches down under his hobby table, scratches Lucky behind the ears and says quietly, “How’re we supposed to get Freedom North Pipeline out to Fort Tuk harbor if we get hammered this hard over a goddamn flock of ducks?” Harry raises his head from his phone saying, “The story has ramped up. The government is laying charges against Real Rush.” “One charge is ‘failing to prevent hazardous substances from coming into contact with wildlife­—’” “So, get the lawyers to plead that the ducks ran at them substances with their beaks, or somethin’.” “Another is a Convention Act about depositing harmful substances in waters frequented by migratory birds.” “Birds have conventions? Tell ’em next year to do us a favor and go to Vegas.” He scoffs, stops his whittling, and says, “Harry, you value your job?” Harry nods. “Well you get onto this thing, and you make it go away. You get me, Harry? I’m tired of this. Make it go away. Now.” He points a big square finger at the door. He picks up the duck-hunting decoy he has been frantically whittling. “This is the only kind of dead duck deserves our attention from here on in, get it?” Harry looks around for a place to put his half-empty coffee cup and settles it in JB’s whittling sawdust, adding to JB’s towers of coinage and Lucky’s rawhides. His chair gives an embarrassing squeaky fart as he rises. He makes his way over to the big oak door and hears JB’s instruction “Call The Big Law Firm, ask for Kinderman, get the board room ready for the damage control meeting and keep it on the QT.” JB swivels around in his chair, focusing his scowling attention on the early-day market report on television. He mumbles to himself, “Dow … TSX … price of oil, the price of gold .… Stock’s down. Gold’s up, big.” Then, to Lucky, his confidant and companion he adds, “Well, boy, what we got here is the price of everythin’ and the value of nothin’.” Then, the breaking news ticker on the screen shows the carnage has been officially upped to five thousand dead ducks. A disaster. Maeve, scrubbed and perfumed from JB’s private gym slips into to the damage control meeting in Real Rush’s opulent boardroom. She resisted raiding Tricia’s fashion basket for now and is wearing locker room flip flops and a sarong styled from a sauna robe. She’d thrown her greasy overalls in the gym laundry but had not forgotten to reach into the bib pocket to take out the smoky quartz necklace that Lucas had given her as an “I love you” gift. Projected onto a giant presentation screen on the wall is the Real Rush’s hired gun attorney from The Big Law Firm, Celeste Kinderman. Maeve, watching the screen, sees red-tipped fingers reach up over Kinderman’s shoulder into her ample bosum, wiring up a microphone for the Skype call. Harry Jones, looking a bit like Bradley Cooper only blonder and growing a moustache, is testing fancy camera and lighting levels in the room. Maeve reckons she is has been called to attend the meeting for possible on-the-ground Tailings Pond analysis. Tricia, JB’s lead butterfly sentry, is there to take notes. JB drawls, “At a thousand bucks an hour we’ll be hearin’ her advice,” he shakes his head and bellows out, “on TV?” “It was short notice,” says Harry. Maeve checks out the videoconference screen and is pretty sure she sees the Real Rush building in the background. Just as she notices this, the spidery, red-tipped fingers reach out and snap shut the blinds. Audio from the remote site kicks in, enabling the full resonance of Celeste Kinderman’s plum tones to pour forth. “Mr. President Mailcoat and colleagues, an international coalition of environmental groups has launched a successful public relations offensive against what they characterize as our wildlife killing fields.” Grinding his teeth, JB spits and shouts, “Show me any industry that don’t kill a few animals for the good of humanity. Where’ve these idiots been?” Kinderman, feigning patience, explains, “In the talk show studios of the world, for one, Mr. Mailcoat. The environmental groups are expert media manipulators. AntiTox is only one of the more than a dozen groups lobbying against us.” Maeve surveys the level of comprehension of the people in the room: JB, exuding presidential arrogance, is all ears; Harry with his headphones listens more for audio dropouts than discussion details; the sentry butterfly blinks and scribbles. She herself is vulnerable to suggestion and gives the appearance of a hula dancer in her gym sarong with her wet hair pinned back with a big bulldog clip. Celeste Kinderman who no doubt runs the show from on screen, suddenly has a silk stocking tickling her nose. Celeste casually blows and brushes off the stocking and begins meandering through her advice slowly, knowing that the longer she takes, the bigger the bill. “Wildlife migration is impossible to reroute and will be all the more difficult with the Freedom North Pipeline.” “Don’t forget, Kinderman,” drawls JB Mailcoat, “I hear the environuts are being financed by them other high-producin’ countries, Merka being one of ’em now with their shales. They’re the ones who wanna shut down oil mine production. We’re sittin’ on the second largest oil reserves on the planet, and we don’t give ’em sweet dreams.” “Mr. Mailcoat,” says Celeste, “rumors flying around about foreign money going to enviro groups is greatly exaggerated. Most of the rank and file of the enviro groups are volunteers with ideologies of The Greater Good.” “I get yer point Kinderman. Like my daddy used to say, Don’t mess with something that ain’t really bothering you. Let’s stick with our knittin’ and get Lena Currey’s government off our backs about the goddamn ducks. “ Harry, shouting because he still has his headphones on says, “Now that Governor Currey and her bunch have turned off the taps to Land Westohere we gotta ram through Freedom Pipeline up north to Fort Tuk harbor before Merka doesn’t need our oil anymore.” “There ya go. Harry nutshelled it. We’re takin’ Freedom North to Tuk! Up past Great Bearberry Lake, through the tundra. Listen up, we got the parties, we got the partners, includin’ Indigenous, some of ’em at least, we got the financing, we got the volume guarantees, and it’s all systems go—” “Do you have another customer lined up for the oil?” asks Celeste. Balling up both fists, JB says,“Highest bidders. FarEasters I guess. The harbor ain’t goin’ to move here so we gotta move product to the harbor. Lucky for us, global warmin’ has opened up the shipping routes in the Arctic. Dr. Wong here will help us with the FarEasters.” He asks her, “Speak the lingo, right?” Before Maeve can give her answer, which happens to be “no,” Celeste sniffs, “FarEast is experiencing unprecedented economic slowdown so if you want to make a profit, you’ll still have to count on FarEast freighters off-loading to Merkan vessels anyway. Merka’s got a serious addiction, and they can’t handle supply on their own for now, but hard reality is that pretty soon they won’t need us anymore.” She gauges response. “Can you handle that tough fact?” Maeve, hating to hear stunned silence in the room says, “Mr. Mailcoat, we may not have oil customers much longer, but we have a credible story to tell the world, about our responsible duck deterrents in the Tailings Pond—” He lowers his voice in a kindly way to Maeve, saying, “Kid, try to understand. We’re talkin’ resource development here. Listen and learn.” JB pumps up the volume and the drawl and shouts out to all, “I said it before and I’ll say it again. We work for the shareholders, we have to meet our production quotas. We do not work for the little folks or the greater good.” Quietly he adds, for Maeve’s benefit, “And definitely not for the ducks.” Harry, who has been studying JB’s style of rhetoric, political values, and mannerisms for years, sees his opening. “The problem, um, I mean the solution is,” he stammers, then stands and jingles coinage in his pocket for courage, raising his voice to Mailcoatian decibel levels, “um, the problem is this government has been spending more time on designer renewables than getting Oil Land policies in line.” He glances at JB, sees he is listening and thumps his fist. “We’re talking about the future of billions of dollars of Real Rush investment, but Oil Land state government is going all ... well ... green.” He looks around and his face goes red. JB nods and grunts in agreement, a gesture that gives Harry a big thrill. JB drives home the point, “Those junior politicians don’t know their arse from their elbow. We elected them suckers to manage our precious oil and gas resource, and they’re drivin’ black cows in the dark.” JB pauses to allow Harry the pleasure of forcing a laugh and an explanation. “Don’t know what they’re doin, right JB? Why not throw the bums out.” “Ain’t that what I bin sayin’! Throw the bums out, and fast! We need a government at our beck and call.” Kinderman, Did you hear me?” Throw out the government? thinks Maeve. This is atrocious, but I’d better shut up. At that moment, Kinderman, still paying cursory attention, holds up her hands with gesture that looks like a church steeple. “There may be some hair on that idea of throwing out the government, Mr. Mailcoat.” She pauses. “Because of the environmental protection lawsuits we’re facing—” “That’s not all, JB.” Harry checks his phone. “We just got word from Governor Currey’s office that special interest groups have insisted on more consultation on the Freedom North Pipeline before shovels go in the ground.” JB pounds his fist on the table and stands up in a display of urgency. “Well, that’s the last straw. Politicians ain’t doing nothin’ to get the Freedom built. Time to throw ’em out. We’re just not gonna take this anymore, we need to do whatever we want! In Oil Land, we got separatists with a hundred million bucks each. You’re sittin’ with one of ’em.” He takes time to stare down every set of eyes. Nobody says a thing. He points at Maeve, “Kid, get Fred Fiddler on the line. Time for him to walk his separatist talk!” Maeve likes JB’s attention, doesn’t even mind if he calls her Kid but she doesn’t have a clue who Fred Fiddler is. She says, “Shouldn’t Harry call this guy?” “Earn yer keep, Kid. Harry here has a new position from now on, PR Diversion and Special Events.” Harry beams again from JB’s approval. “Go on, get outta here Harry. Tell sentries to give you keys to an office and give Kid Wong here your Rolodex or whatever you use to keep track of numbers. Wong, tell Fiddler I need to meet him at the Blue Ribbon Club today. Lunch. And you’re comin’ too but ditch that aloha look.” Celeste asks, “You’re sure you want to get into bed with that megalomaniac Fiddler? What the—?” A bang-bang sound rings out in the background of her Skype call and voices yelling what sounds like, “Police, open up.” A woman’s sultry voice speaks out, “This is a private room.” Abruptly, Kinderman’s image on screen fades to black. JB, ignoring the kerfuffle on screen says with a mission-from-God determination in his voice, “Wong, get Fiddler on the line. Right fucking now! “He’s the only megalo-whatever we got.” Fred Fiddler, attorney-at-law, leader of the criminal bar, preens as he stands before the full-length mirror in the courthouse locker room. He admires himself in his swallow-tailed court coat and barrister’s bib. He is as vain as a man who is the center of his own universe can be. Fred is Hollywood handsome and, as his young law partner Walt Roloff would say, Hollywood vain. It is not that Fred is a prince of his profession, he just happens to lucky enough to have smart people like Walt Roloff around him. He yearns to be worshipped. Fred the Great! This morning, Fred is to address a jury in a routine murder. Not a big deal. Two low-lifes got into consensual fisticuffs; one of their number did not get up. The surviving lout’s dad has some bucks and retains Fred Fiddler, famous criminal lawyer. Currently lost in self-love at the mirror, he returns to reality at the urgent vibration of his personal cellphone, which is strapped to his hip like a Buntline special. “Yes. Fiddler here, attorney at law.” “Mr. Fiddler, my name is Dr. Maeve Wong—” “Call the switchboard receptionist. I’m in trial.” “Mr. Fiddler, I am calling you on behalf of JB Mailcoat of Real Rush Energy Inc.” Fred does a double take. “Did you say ‘JB Mailcoat’?” “Yes, Mr. Fiddler.” “The JB Mailcoat?” Fred Fiddler’s naiveté sometimes shows through his veneer of sophistication. “The one and only, Mr. Fiddler.” Mr. Mailcoat knows of your bulldog reputation and is a great admirer of yours.” “Well, that’s very—” Fred, the professional wordsmith, can’t think of an appropriate word. He thinks, JB Mailcoat! “Mr. Fiddler, Mr. Mailcoat requests that you to join us for lunch today at The Blue Ribbon Club. He wishes to consult with you on a matter of grave importance and urgency.” “Yes, of course. Well, say, uh… let’s see, I’ll have a jury out until later today, so lunch at Blue Ribbon is fine.” “Thank you, Mr. Fiddler. I’ll let Mr. Mailcoat know it’s a go.” “A go. That’s what it will be then, a go, Miss—” “Wong. Dr. Maeve Wong. I believe I will be joining you. Good bye, Mr. Fiddler.” Fred Fiddler takes the noisy, dark courthouse fire escape stairs two at a time, all the way to the fourth floor and not missing a beat. He finds his criminal law associate Walt Roloff, on the fourth floor landing, listening to music on his phone and reading his trial brief. Fiddler explodes, “Take off those headphones.” When Walt does his bidding he continues, “This is the big one, Roloff! This is the big one!” “What’s that again, Fred?” A tune can be heard thinly blaring as Walt hangs the earbuds around his neck. I’m a rebel just for kicks, now ... Fiddler explodes again, this time gesticulating as if he is describing a big fish. “The big one, Roloff! This is the big one!” Walt eyes his partner Fred, spits a plum pit into his bandana, turns his music off, and wipes plum juice off his chin. “No need for emotion so early in the day,” he says in his cold, smooth voice. “Slow down, Fred.” “Walt, I just got the call. The call!” Walt stuffs the bandana into his pocket. “The call of the wild? Yes, I think I got that part, Fred. What’s the next part?” “I’m having lunch today at the Blue Ribbon with JB Mailcoat, President and CEO of Real Rush Energy.” “That tedious fraud.” Fred says, “Park your opinions, Walt. We’re talking big money here. Money and power. We’re on the way! We’re taking over Oil Land!” “First things first. Did he say why he got in touch with you?” “It was a Dr. Wong who set up the lunch and she didn’t exactly say. Anyway, she’ll be there too.” Looking up and noting Fred’s befuddlement, Walt continues. “It may be about a speeding ticket. JB is known to burn up the road.” Walt takes a second reading and his thoughts turn to the to prospect of sending big invoices to the notorious JB Mailcoat at Real Rush Energy. And seriously rich and well-connected. His thoughts race headlong into his dreams. And may be appropriate for our goal of being the highest billing boutique law firm in all of Oil Land. He unfolds his lanky form with new purpose. It is a given that Walt dominates Fred. The youngest lawyer in Oil Land to be partner in a firm, he has turned tables on the ‘respect your elder’ motto, and always speaks to Fred as to a child. He pulls Fred’s strings. “Listen up Fred,” he says, “if it is The Big One, go for it. Try out your—” Before Walt can get Fred wound up, they are interrupted by a Junior bursting into the fire-exit stairwell, agitated and out of countenance as well as out of breath. “Mr. Fiddler, I’ve been looking all over for you. The Judge is waiting.” Fred snorts to the Junior, “Tell him to wait.” He then says to Walt, “What is the use of being a senior counsel if one does not upbraid the odd jumped-up judge?” His Junior disappears, looking worried, knowing that he will bear the brunt of the judge’s displeasure. This interruption has given Walt a chance to think about how much he can stand to make by pimping Fred out to JB Mailcoat and Real Rush. Forty hours a week at a thousand bucks an hour for let’s say as long as it takes to get Freedom North Pipeline to the Northwest Passage, five years? “Come on over here, strike your pose and try out your call, just in case JB Mailcoat is shopping for a revolution. Go ahead Fred.” Fred poses for Walt like a character from a Marvel comic, mumbling down into his barrister’s collar. “As I have always said. I have to take it over. I have to take Oil Land over.” “That’s we, Fred, and speak up. We have to Oil Land over. You can’t do it without my counsel and we can’t do it without JB’s retainer, and you know it.” Walt gives a conspiratorial order in Fiddler’s left ear. “Keep saying to yourself, Remember this is the Big One. Huge billable hours.” Fiddler explodes. “This is the Big One! Huge Billable Hours!” Walt says, “No Fred. Never say the ‘Billable Hours’ part out loud. Try it again and try your call for revolution like we practiced.” Fred squirms a little to let the message sink in. Then he puffs up, and bursts out with “This is the Big One! We’re taking Oil Land ... Over!”

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