oil in the river


Pam Lazos

Chapter Forty-Six

The day dawned bright and balmy in Houston. Bicky Coleman sat behind his antique mahogany desk, smoking a cigar and reading The Philadelphia Inquirer. Akanabi was taking less of a beating in the newspapers now that Hart was on the scene, commissioning overflights and vacuum boats, throwing all kinds of money at the situation. Maybe it would help them later when the feds and everyone else sued Akanabi out the wazoo for penalties the company didn’t deserve. After all, it had been an accident.

When Hart had called last night he babbled on and on about retiring all of Akanabi’s single-hulled ships. Bicky had humored him, but knew that suggestion would end up in the circular file.

“You want me to retire all the single-hulled ships?” Bicky had asked Hart.

“At least let’s phase them out. Fifteen to twenty percent a year.”

“Hart, my son, are you sure hypothermia hasn’t set in and affected that brain of yours?”

“It’s gonna hit you where it hurts, Bicky, but it’s the right thing to do. The river’s black like you’ve never seen. Just avoiding the devastation to wildlife should be cause enough.”

“Give me a memo. We’ll talk about it when you get back.”

Bicky had said that to shut Hart up; he had absolutely no intention of following through.      Building new ships was an expensive proposition. More than half of Akanabi’s supertanker fleet were single-hulled ships, purchased in the heyday of oil drilling. To replace them all at once, even over a period of five years would cost hundreds of billions of dollars. And Bicky was loathe to spend that kind of money.  Legislation would eventually force his hand, but why rush things?

The intercom buzzed and Phyllis’s voice jarred him to awareness.

“Jerry’s here.”

“Send him in.”


Jerry Dixon walked in, looking grim, but impeccable. Bicky’s face was stuck in the paper so Jerry waited. Bicky had several personalities that didn’t always talk to each other, and Jerry thought it best to see which one was in residence.

Bicky looked up and smirked. “How many of those suits do you have?”

“I don’t know. How many do you have?” Jerry said, indicating Bicky’s Armani.

“You know what I mean. Do you spend the whole day ironing or change suits every ten minutes? Cause you know I’m paying you good money to keep things secure around here, so if you’re ironing….” Bicky’s smirk turned to a smile.

Jerry relaxed and sat down. “How’s Hart doing with the spill?”

Bicky studied his buffed fingernails. “Apparently something a little better than damage control. Seems he’s making friends.”

“What are the odds on the cleanup?”

“The river will survive. It’s rebounded before, as have countless of her brethren. It will do so again,” said Bicky, sounding like a Sunday morning TV evangelist.

Jerry scowled, a reflex. Akanabi could dump ten million gallons of oil in the river and Bicky would insist it was nothing.

“You have no faith, Jerry,” Bicky continued. “I’m not even sure if there’s a limit to how far you can go.”

Here we go, Jerry thought.

“Mother Nature is infinitely capable of rejuvenating herself.”

“Yeah, well, she’s not doing such a good job with the ozone layer,” Jerry replied. “I got a spot on my nose here that the doc says is pre-cancerous. Too many hours spent outside in an ozone-lite environment,” he said, rubbing his proboscis. “I’m getting it removed tomorrow.”

Bicky rubbed his own nose absently. His face bore a healthy, radiant glow that smacked of hours spent on a tanning bed. Jerry knew he kept one in an office down the hall. Some people used makeup. Bicky used processed UV light. Jerry wondered just how many of those “freckles” on Bicky’s face had their own story to tell and when they’d decide to start talking.

“Spare me the details,” Bicky said. He stood and stared out the window. “You don’t have any information yet, do you?”

Jerry shook his head, watched his boss, looking for clues.

“No. I’ve made discreet inquiries. No one saw anything.” Bicky flashed Jerry an angry look.

“The coroner says it was an accident, Bicky. Why don’t you believe that?”

“Graighton’s the only other one who knew Sonia had the report. He was at the Union Club that night. It’s only a couple miles to Sonia’s house….”

“You’re saying Graighton left the Union Club, killed Sonia and returned without the report?’ Jerry asked.

“Of course not. Graighton didn’t go himself. One of his lackeys did. You remember where we found the report? Whoever killed Sonia didn’t find what he was looking for. Maybe that’s what angered him in the first place.”

“But what would Graighton gain by killing Sonia and stealing a report he already had a copy of?”

“He was trying to get to me. Put me in my place.” Bicky sat down. “Even that doesn’t make sense.” His head fell against his chair. “Just keep looking.”

“Yeah, sure,” Jerry said.

“One more thing,” Bicky reached into the top drawer. “I want you in Philadelphia.”


“I got another tip.” He handed Jerry a piece of paper. “Recognize the address?” Jerry’s eyebrows shot up, but he said nothing.

“Don’t botch it this time. No commando missions. Nothing getting blown up. No one dying. Just bring me back the technology. You got it?”

Jerry nodded, a face set in stone.

“You’re sure you found out nothing else…about Sonia?” Bicky asked.

“You think I’m not doing my job, old man?” Jerry’s face remained cool and impassive.

“I think, that you’re too quick to accept the opinion of other’s. What’s that jackass coroner know?”

“She had an accident. She died. Accidents happen.”

“Accidents don’t just happen. Not to us. You should know that better than anyone, Mr. Chief of Security.”

“You’re wrong. They do. But what precipitated it? That’s the question. Perhaps she was depressed, worried about her husband, flustered. Or maybe something spooked her. Or someone.” Jerry placed his hands on the front of Bicky’s desk and leaned into it. “Came around hassling her for something she wasn’t inclined to give. She spills her drink. The floor’s wet. She takes a step. She slips. She falls. A body in motion stays in motion. She can’t stop herself from falling. She bangs her head and, is out like a light. And if the baby didn’t decide to come out at that moment, if he didn’t decide to come out upside down, what do they call it, breach? Maybe she’d be alive today. The fact is, unless you were there,” Jerry looked Bicky directly in the eye with malicious intent, “you’re never going to know.”

Bicky shuddered. After several seconds, Jerry stood up and backed away from the desk. He massaged his eyes and forehead with one hand, trying to squeeze the images out of them.

“I loved Sonia like she was my own kid. That she’s dead pains me – like you can’t even believe,” Jerry said. He turned and was gone, an exit as quick and silent as death.

Bicky let out the breath he’d been holding and pulled a silk handkerchief from his breast pocket. He wiped his face and dabbed at the moisture forming in the corner of his eyes.

So far, it had been a hell of an afternoon. He walked to the wet bar, poured himself a scotch and soda and stood at the window sipping it. The world below soothed him. He could control it simply by pulling the blind. When he finally turned away, he pulled out the bottom desk drawer. Below a stack of papers, tucked in the bottom drawer, lay the coffee-stained report.  Satisfied, Bicky closed the drawer and thumbed through a stack of mail in his in-box. Phyllis had opened everything, laying it in a pile for his review except for one letter, marked personal and confidential. He ripped the envelope open and pulled out a small stack of papers.

It was a letter from Kitty’s lawyer, a Complaint for Divorce and a Postnuptial Agreement with which she proposed to divest herself of everything just to be rid of the marriage. Bicky sipped his scotch for five minutes before pulling a yellow sticky pad out of a side drawer. He placed one on top of the lawyer’s letter, wrote Forget It! in bold, black ink, and stuffed the papers back into the envelope. Then he buzzed Phyllis.

“Is Jerry still here?

“He just went down.”

“Catch him, will you, and tell him to come back up. I want him to deliver something for me. To my wife.”

 to be continued. . .

to read how we got to this state of affairs jump here

copyright 2012

keep the birds warm


Pam Lazos

Chapter Forty-Five

The Wildlife Rescue Center in northeastern Maryland, a one-stop emergency room for oiled birds and other mammals, was brimming to capacity. Trained staff and volunteers littered the aisles like road debris, working as quickly as possible to address the backlog. The temperature was set to a balmy eighty degrees to keep the birds warm, a temperature which worked quite well outside, especially with a nice crosswind, but not inside a building packed with so many CO2 breathing mammals. People were sweating profusely; a few of the workers looked like they just took a dip in the river.

The Wildlife Rescue Center was a coalition of the local SPCA, the Friends of Waterfowl, a local, well-known, bird conservancy, as well as federal, state and local government partners. The building itself was huge, about fourteen thousand square feet in the shape of an open rectangle, cordoned off with moveable walls to accommodate the varying resource needs. The largest area was set aside as the trauma center. The building sat, idle yet prepared, to be used only in the event of an oil spill. It was the coalition’s greatest hope that the money they’d invested in this building would go to waste and that the facility and its equipment would sit and collect dust. Unfortunately, today that hope was not realized as dozens of veterinarians and trained volunteers worked side-by-side, attempting to undue what might not be capable of being undone.

Doctor Alyssa Morgan, a veterinarian and Director of the Wildlife Rescue Center, was on the phone in a small walled office at the back of the room, gesticulating animatedly. Lapsley and Hart walked into the middle of the trauma center and looked around, lost children waiting for direction. Dr. Morgan caught sight of Lapsley through her office window and waved, the scowl on her face softening. Lapsley took that as a good sign.

By the time they reached the door, she hung up the phone and ushered them into the office. The office was a mere eight by twelve feet and harbored a desk with a phone, a couch which at present was a catch-all for a miscellaneous reports and papers, and a credenza with a coffee pot. Two more people could fit, but only if they took turns breathing. Realizing rather belatedly the ridiculousness of this arrangement, she hustled them out.

“Vic,” Dr. Morgan said, extending a hand. “Long time.”

“Hey, Alyssa.” Lapsley took her hand, holding it a few seconds longer than necessary. Dr. Morgan blushed.

“This is David Hartos. Chief of Engineering for Akanabi Oil.” Hart extended a hand which Dr. Morgan accepted, but the bloom faded from her face, replaced with a cold, hard stare.

“Lyss, he didn’t go out and dump the oil himself,” Lapsley said. One side of his mouth quirked in a wry smile. The joke worked.

“So what’s going on?” Lapsley said.

“You’re looking at it,” Dr. Morgan said, extending an arm in a wide arc.

“You look like hell,”Lapsley said, his gaze fixed on her face.

“Thanks. You look pretty lousy yourself.”

“You know what I mean,” Lapsley said.

Dr. Morgan nodded. “I was up most of the night cleaning oiled birds. They’re still coming in. And it’s not just the Rescue Team. Fishermen are bringing them in now. It doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down anytime soon.” She gazed around the room and back to Lapsley. “We need backup.”

A lock of hair fell into her eyes. Lapsley resisted the urge to brush it back.

“Why don’t you just put out a couple radio ads? Akanabi’ll pay for it.” Lapsley looked at Hart to make sure this was, in fact, true. Hart confirmed.

“I’m sure plenty of people would be willing to volunteer,” Hart said.

“First time at a Rescue Center, Mr. Hart?” Dr. Morgan asked. Lapsley detected the note of satisfaction in her voice and suppressed the urge to smile.

“Actually, I usually repair the leak before it gets to this stage so this is a bit out of my range, I’ll admit,” Hart said. “But I’d be happy to help.”

“You can’t. You’re not trained. All our volunteers have had a two-day intensive training. To allow you to work on these birds without the proper training would rise to the level of malpractice.”

“There’s got to be something we can do,” Lapsley said.

Dr. Morgan scanned the room. About fifteen de-oiling stations had been set up, all but one presently occupied.

“Check each of the stations and make sure they have sufficient quantities of Dawn dishwashing detergent, rags and trashbags.” Dr. Morgan said.

“I guess that means you want us to hang for awhile?” Lapsley asked.

“For awhile. You mind?”

Lapsley shook his head and smiled at her.

“When did you last take the training?” Dr. Morgan asked Lapsley.

“Probably ten years ago,” he replied. She sighed.

“Alright, you better stick close to me.” Lapsley looked at Hart and winked. He could think of nothing better he’d like to do this morning.

to be continued. . .

to read how this came to pass jump here

copyright 2012

crashing cliches

Journal THAT

a guide to writing

Cynthia Gregory

Like photographs, clichés are the shorthand of communication. If a picture truly is ‘worth a thousand words’ (a pretty cliché) it’s because its cash value rests on the fact that the ancient part of the brain, the primitive lizard brain, the dreaming brain, communicates with pictures. I mean seriously, think about it. Before written language, our ancestors drew pictures of actual horses to represent “animal” or “the hunt” or “wild and free” before there were actually spoken or written words to convey the ideas. Now, however, we are wildly sophisticated and have a language (or two) that we can manipulate to communicate otherwise free form ideas floating inside our cabezas.

Storytelling served as a history lesson before written language, and storytelling today is as popular around the campfire, board room table, or cafe four-top as ever. Stories are innately wired into us and as humans, we crave and respond to the story. The stories of our lives, our novels, movies, television and cable news, are a series of pictures – both visual and virtual. Actual photographs and pictures  illustrate a narrative we may tell, as in “see? I was in Paris – here’s the Eiffel Tower,” or “here’s a photo of little Sophie Soo, ten years old.” In each case you may be telling a story, constructing a narrative and sharing information about your travels and your dog, backing your verbal story up with photographic evidence. So yes, pictures are worth thousands and thousands of words.

And if all those wonderful words at our fingertips were colors, original ideas are bright, clear fountains of rich hues, and clichés are dull as dirt.

The trouble with clichés is that they are so infused into our daily language, we hardly recognize them for their trite, frayed selves. Advertisers know this. They know that people are put off by formal language, fancy words, words that stand up straight and march with a snap in their step, so they dumb down marketing messages, intentionally inserting clichés so that their uber-sophisticated messages sound “down to earth” (cliché!) and “right as rain” (cliché!). Television programmer know this too, and make sure our televised stories don’t get too smarty pants, else run the risk of losing viewers –although because of the trance-like fog I fall into when I tune into a program I happen to enjoy, “viewing” isn’t exactly what I’d say I was doing. I’d bet a nickel that not one filter remains intact with all that bad, cliché loaded language comes washing over me. While some programs are brilliantly written, most programming I’ve observed seems to be no more than 30 minutes of tired ideas strung together. So when you think about all the hours of programming and bad language we’re exposed to, it’s no wonder we’re up to our eyeballs in clichés.

So, if everybody is guilty of crimes of language abuse, then it must be okay, right? In the words of mothers everywhere, “just because all the kids are doing something doesn’t’ make it right.” Clichés have their place, which is definitely not between the covers of your journal. You want your journal to be clear, concise, absolutely fecund with the rich details of your life, so absolutely pitch-perfect that with even a quick glance, you inspire yourself to write. Even. More.

So, once in a while work your language muscle a little harder. Avoid the flabby turns of phrase. Jettison the flaccid prose that comes so easily. Instead, read an amazingly genius writer and then journal. Turn the TV off, and journal. Instead of taking the easy way out and dropping in an over-worked and sad sad sad cliché and reach for something original. You may just surprise yourself with your own genius.

wildlife sanctuary


Pam Lazos

Chapter Fourty-Four

It was a wind like only January could send down, brutal and unforgiving. Zenone cursed under his breath and stumbled back inside the command post trailer, the wind slamming the door shut for him. It continued to beat against the trailers sides, rocking it inexorably, and he wondered if he and the command post might not end up in Kansas with Dorothy and Toto. In sharp contrast to the chaos, whipping white caps across the river, the snow clouds cast a calm, eerie light across the sky, beautiful and surreal like the color of Mars. By mid-afternoon, the increasing pain in his wrist told him the weather had all but arrived. With that ample warning, he had the foresight to shut down all beach cleanup operations for the day and radio in all seafaring vessels allowing them sufficient time to dock. So far, nine out of ten of the boats had radioed in, safely ensconced at various locations up and down the Delaware.

Zenone felt it his duty to stay put until the last boat was in and all personnel were present and accounted for, but what he really wanted was a beer. It had been a long day, eighteen hours if you counted the two hours he put in before he arrived at the command post. He knew if he drank a beer right now he’d be sleeping in the trailer, but he checked the small fridge anyway, hoping for a bit of a miracle. It was empty but for a pint of half-drunk chocolate milk and a jug of orange juice. He turned his nose up at the juice. The acid would rake his stomach and he didn’t need a full blown case of heartburn. He grabbed the chocolate milk, opened the carton and sniffed the contents, recoiling at the smell emanating from within.


He set the milk down on the desk and made a mental note to stop at a store on his way home, that is, if he didn’t fall asleep at the wheel. He was bone weary from lack of sleep and his stomach rumbled, adding to the mix. A cheesesteak would be good right now.

The wind howled and the trailer throbbed, driving all thoughts of food from Zenone’s head. He took a stool at the drafting table, ran his hands through his hair. Outside, snow started to fall. Zenone stared at the phone, willing it to ring. The silence crept into his inner ear, as pervasive as the oil on the Delaware, making its bunk up for the night. The storm would go a ways toward breaking up the oil, but there was still too much in the water. If it could have just waited until tomorrow when they had recovered more. Then Mother Nature could get to work. He scanned the computer generated simulation Lapsley had brought him. The Coast Guard had sent a helicopter up on an overflight mission to map the extent of contamination – an aerial view of the spill was immensely helpful in these circumstances – but it was only partially successful due to the weather. The heavy cloud cover made it hard to distinguish the slick, while the clouds’ shadows cast what looked like dark stains, easily mistaken for oil, upon the water. After ascertaining the imperfection of purely visual analysis, the overflight team notified Akanabi who sent up their environmental consultant. He snapped a bunch of photos with infrared light cameras which produced a much clearer picture of the spill, then fed the reconnaissance data into a computer. The program crunched the spill data, mixed in environmental conditions such as wind and weather, and simulated the spill’s course and dispersion rate. The conclusion was that the oil was heading toward the Delaware Bay where it would likely be contained and, as a result, wouldn’t reach the Atlantic Ocean. Duh. Although in open ocean waters computer modeling could be extremely helpful in determining the direction of a spill, in this case, the Delaware only went two ways and the odds were staggering that the oil would return to the Bay with the outgoing tide.

“I’d say they got ripped off,” Zenone said. He tossed the aerial map aside and rested his head on his closed fist.

Zenone’s guys had managed to sufficiently confine the oil just short of the Bay before having to abort the mission. At that time, and by some good will of the gods, only the Pennsylvania side of the shoreline had been affected. But the way the wind was bandying the oil about now, the shores on both sides of the Delaware and likely the Bay would be gummed up by morning.

He grabbed the shoreline cleanup manual off the desk and thumbed through the various clean up methods looking for something he might have missed: removal; steam cleaning; high-pressure washing; chemical and hydraulic dispersion. Chemical and hydraulic dispersion . The eight-foot waves would take care of the hydraulic part. He would have preferred a good surface washing, lying down some rip rap and hosing off the beaches. Then they could collect the oil off the rip rap and dispose of it properly. But now the waves were going to wash the oil back into the river where it would sink to the bottom. Chemical dispersants would break it up, but…

Zenone removed his hat and scratched his head, then ran his fingers through his hair. He hadn’t thought about chemical dispersants because the Delaware was a fresh water body and chemicals had a certain degree of toxicity. What if the dispersants could be placed before the storm came, an emulsifier that would break the oil down into smaller pieces and drive it into the water column where it would more easily biodegrade. That and the oncoming wind and large waves would break it up fast. But the chemicals . The heavy oils were less toxic; they tended to sit on the surface of things rather than penetrate them, but they were tough to remove – like picking up gravel with tweezers – and smothered the smaller organisms that lived on the shore. He flipped through the manual looking for guidance. The Coast Guard had some pre-approved areas where emulsifiers could be used – he wasn’t sure without looking where they were – but how the hell were they going to get the stuff in the river before the storm, especially now since he’d recalled all seafaring vessels. He could go out himself maybe…

“Oh my God, I’m losing it.” He closed the book and pushed it aside, wishing again that he had a beer. He checked the cell phone. No new calls. He grabbed the trailer phone and laid down on the small couch. Just until I get the call . He closed his eyes and because of his exhaustion, rapid eye movement began almost at the outset.

Zenone stood on the shore watching large waves crash against it and taking with them, back to the river, the blackness that covered the land. He smiled. The oil was dissipating. Once again, Mother Nature prevailed. The snow clouds cast an eerie orange light, enough for him to see. It was all going great until the waves started dropping things on the beach; a loud thump, followed by a scattering of black, rounded clumps of solid mass.

He walked over to investigate. A large, oiled bird lay on the ground, half-dead and shivering from hypothermia. Zenone touched the animal as it opened its eyes, blinking back the oil, trying to clear its vision. He felt his own eyes sting with tears. Zenone wiped the bird’s eyes with his fingers, then his hands, removing what oil he could, but the task was impossible, like removing water from a well with a slotted spoon. He was so engrossed, he didn’t notice the wall of water behind him. The wave crashed on the shoreline, knocking Zenone to the ground and taking the bird with it. He climbed to his feet and staggered down the beach. Another crashing wave, another thump , followed by another, and another. Zenone looked up to see birds lying everywhere, landing on the beach with each successive wave. He dropped to his knees and crawled to the nearest bird. A glob of oil was stuck in the bird’s esophagus. He reached in and tried to dislodge it. The bird fought him, flapping against both the intrusion and the lack of oxygen. It clamped down hard on Zenone’s fingers and he yelped in surprise and pain.


“Rise and shine,” Lapsley said, squeezing the fingers of Zenone’s hand. Zenone shrieked and Lapsley jumped back, almost dropping the pair of coffees he carried. He set the carrier down, removed his gloves and handed Zenone a cup of the steaming brew.

“What time is it?” Zenone croaked.

“Five forty-five. That would be a.m.,” Lapsley said. “You look like hell.” Lapsley noted the dark, foreboding circles under Zenone’s eyes, but said nothing more

“You’re no prince charming, yourself,” Zenone grumbled. He accepted the coffee and took a big swig. “Goddamn, that’s good.” He took another swig, walked to the table and pulled at the bag Lapsley brought, extracting a whole wheat bagel with cream cheese.

“Hungry?” Lapsley asked.

Zenone nodded and consumed half the bagel in a bite. “Never got dinner.”

Outside, the water looked choppy, but calmer than the night before.

“Chocolate mousse,” Lapsley said.

There was a loud bang at the door and Zenone jumped again spilling coffee on the table. “Damn,” he said and grabbed the bag for some napkins. He spoke through a mouth full of bagel. “Come.”

Hart entered carrying several cups of coffee and a box of donuts which he set on the table. Zenone smiled at the offering.

“If you bring food, you’re always welcome,” Zenone said, shoving bagel in his mouth. He nodded to a seat which Hart took.

“Lap and I were just talking about chocolate mousse.”

Hart raised an eyebrow. “All I brought were Munchkins.”

“And that’ll do.” Zenone routed through the box and popped one in his mouth. “You know, when oil becomes aerated, generally after the second or third day, it starts to look like chocolate mousse.”

“He’s head of engineering for Akanabi Oil. He probably knows that,” Lapsley said.

“You never know,” Zenone replied. “It’s a hell of a state. All whipped.”

“Like you before you got divorced.” Lapsley said. Zenone ignored the slur.

“In the summer, the oil turns into tarry clumps and ends up on the beach,” Hart said.

“Asphaltine,” Lapsley added. Hart nodded and Lapsley smiled. “Sorry. We’re used to dealing with the public.”

“Do you know if any of it has sunk yet?” Hart asked. “The Arabian crude is pretty heavy. It’s probably just a matter of time.”

“We’ll find out today,” Lapsley replied. “Once the water has a chance to settle.”

“I got a helicopter on standby equipped with sonar. If there are globules on the bottom, large or small, we can track it,” Hart said.

“Hey, remember that one spill?” Lapsley asked Zenone. “These big globs of oil were up and down the river like bouncy balls, back and forth with the tide.”

Zenone’s cell phone rang.  The command post phone was also blinking.  “Damn.”

“It came in around eleven,” Lapsley said, intuiting the source of Zenone’s concern.

“How do you know?”

“Because they called me when you didn’t answer your phone.”

Zenone nodded and sat down, visibly relieved.

“You don’t need me this morning, do you?” Lapsley asked.

“Whaddya got goin’ on?”

“We’re going to take a ride to Chesapeake to the wildlife sanctuary. Want to go?”

A shiver ran down Zenone’s spine and he stared off into space for a moment, looking at something Hart and Lapsley couldn’t see. “Nah. Go ahead.” He waived a hand to dismiss them.

“I’ll check in at Tinicum Marsh on my way back. I haven’t heard from anybody yet. Hopefully the booms held.”

Zenone drew a deep breath let it out slowly.  “With a little luck….”

to be continued. . .

read how we got here, here

copyright 2012