Dave Hartos walked into Bicky’s penthouse suite on the 45 th floor of the Akanabi building. Not much of a voyeur himself, Hart had always felt uncomfortable up here. Bicky loved it though, and once remarked that from a height this great, you could see into a man’s soul and in Houston, that was a valuable trait to have.
Phyllis sat at her desk, sorting a cart full of Bicky’s mail when she saw him. Her eyes brightened and she tossed the letter opener onto the desk, embracing him warmly.
“It’s you.” She said, brushing her hand across his cheek as if she had no control over the appendage. She assessed him for several moments, before nodding, satisfied. “You know if there’s absolutely anything you need that is within my power to procure,” she looked at the closed door to Bicky’s office, “and you know I have considerable resources at my disposal, then you shouldn’t hesitate to ask.”
“I know, Phyllis. Thanks,” Hart said. “We didn’t get a chance to talk at the funeral..”
Phyllis put a hand to her lips to stop the forthcoming apology.
“It’s going to take a lot of time, my dear. And it may never get better. It’s just something that you get used to,…or learn to live with.” She said the last bit with assuredness.
“He’s on the phone.” Phyllis nodded toward the door. “You don’t need to sit here watching me sort his mail. Go on in. He hates that.” Her smile radiated benevolence. Hart noted the distinct lines of her face, the beautiful, almond-shaped green eyes, the lovely, high cheek bones, and thought that in her youth, Phyllis had been a knockout. No wonder Bicky had hired her. He’d recognized her as a trophy and Bicky liked nothing more than to collect trophies.
“Thanks.” He searched for more to say, to give this moment the meaning he wanted. The words, “we should have lunch sometime,” were out of his mouth before he knew he had thought them, trite and non-committal, they sounded ridiculous even to his grief-laden brain. For her part, Phyllis was gracious and, as always, in charge.
“That would be nice,” she said, and squeezed his hand, and Hart knew she meant it.
Bicky was on the phone, a burning cigar in the ashtray. He stood with his back to the door looking out over Houston’s great expanse with an antique pair of opera glasses. He didn’t turn to greet Hart when the door opened, but his shoulders stiffened, probably because he’d been caught spying.
The conversation wound down and Bicky hung up, walked around to the front of the desk and stood in front of Hart. He handed him the opera glasses which Hart accepted for closer inspection.
“They belonged to my mother,” Bicky began. “She never saw a live opera, but we had an old Victrola and some albums that she played over and over again. My dad bought the glasses for her at a flea market where he used to take the pelts he’d trapped. Came back with those glasses. They were cheap, maybe a couple bucks, but it was an extravagance that we really couldn’t afford. My mom pretended to be mad at him, but I used to watch her at night sometimes, listening to the swell of the music with the glasses to her eyes, looking out into the foothills, seeing what, I’m not sure.”
Bicky stopped and snatched the glasses back, unaware that Hart hadn’t finished his inspection. He picked up his cigar, flopped down into his chair and put his feet up on the desk.
Mr. Big. Hart smiled to himself, but his mouth did not.
“One of our oil platforms in the Gulf’s got a slow leak. A little sheen on the water, no biggee. They think one of the valves in the Christmas tree’s shot. I called Mahajan. I’m not sure he located a diver yet.”
“When did they first see the sheen?”
“Four days ago.”
“Why didn’t you do something four days ago?” Hart asked, deadpan. “The feds inspect those platforms every week. And they come down hard on repeat violators.” Hart watched Bicky’s face, an emotionless mask. “You can’t keep pushing the envelope or you’re going to have another crisis on your hands.”
Half of Bicky’s mouth quirked into a leer: “I’m sure that whatever happens, you’ll be able to handle it.”
Hart shrugged and looked away, unable to raise the contempt he should have felt in this moment.
“It’s up to Mahajan, of course.” Bicky took a puff of his cigar and blew out a large, round smoke ring. “But I don’t think it’s a rush. Inspections are way down, thanks to the Bush Administration. The guy from the U.S. Minerals Management Service shows up once a month, if that. So we’ve got at least three weeks to handle this, and if it’s just some valve change outs like I think it is, we can handle that in three hours.” Bicky took another drag on his cigar and tried to blow the second ring through the first. The smoke hovered in the air insidiously.
“What about the EPA?” Hart asked.
“Who the hell cares about EPA?
“You will when they slap you with a huge fine.” Hart said. Bicky tapped the desk in metronomic fashion, watched his son-in-law; Hart obliged and looked out the window.
“Who’s gonna tell them? We’re two hundred miles out in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, for Chrissakes. Not exactly a drive-by.” He tapped the ash on his cigar. Hart stole a side-long glance at his father-in-law.
“Look, I’m not blind. I know that since Sonia…..”
“That event and the one before us are completely unrelated.”
Bicky placed his cigar in the ashtray. “You’re the best guy I’ve got. I’d hate to lose you but….” His sentence hung in the air alongside the cigar smoke.
Hart’s emotions swirled, trapped in a rip tide: guilt, rage, horror, fear, and somewhere deep down, both loathing and respect for the man who sat across the table from him. He didn’t say anything, just stared at Bicky, forcing him to address the unspoken. Vestiges of the solemn, haggard face Hart had seen the night of the funeral clouded Bicky’s ready-for-business face.
“I miss her, too,” he said simply. And that was all the rhetoric Bicky Coleman could muster for his one child, now deceased. Hart’s eyes locked on Bicky, but all he saw was the last ten years of his life, happy years spent living with Sonia and working for Akanabi Oil, incompatible bedfellows at best, he now knew.
“So what I need to know is, are you still on my team?” Bicky’s voice floated like bubbles to the surface of a turbulent lake.
A lump, all fibrous and full of itself, wedged in Hart’s trachea. He tried to dislodge it by clearing his throat, but the lump would not be budged. His eyes watched Bicky, but his mind saw Sonia. Except she was dead and all he had left was the job, and despite his desire to honor her memory, he didn’t feel up to losing that now, too. Not trusting his own voice, he nodded.
“Good.” Bicky sighed, relieved. “Very good.” He walked around to Hart’s side of the desk. “You fly out tomorrow night, assuming that gives you sufficient time to get your act together.” Bicky said the last part as if Hart had a choice. He leaned back against the desk in front of Hart. “Take a few weeks. Since you’re out there, you may as well look the whole platform over. When your done, maybe you and Mahajan can take a vacation. Some excellent fishing out there.” Bicky smiled and held his hand out to Hart who raised his own to meet it without an awareness of the movement. “The trip’ll do you good. Some surf and sun. Some good hard work. You’ll come back a new man.”
Hart nodded mechanically as Bicky showed him to the door.
to be continued. . .
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