Having doubts about the whole global warming thing? Really?
It’s time to talk climate change, baby.
the new normal
Having doubts about the whole global warming thing? Really?
Having doubts about the whole global warming thing? Really?
It’s time to talk climate change, baby.
He had spent every afternoon of the last two weeks brainstorming with Gil and Avery, reviewing plans, dreaming of possibilities, discussing permutations. Pizza and Chinese take-out had been the dinners of choice for the majority of those nights, but on the evening of the thirteenth day, Avery decided to cook. He made a fabulous dinner of moussaka, spanikopita, and Greek salad. They topped it off with a healthy helping of Aunt Stella’s baklava – Aunt Stella adored Hart – and by the end of the night, it seemed that he and Avery had discovered simultaneously what Gil had known all along: Hart was their man.
Back at the hotel, Hart grabbed a Sam Adams from the small refrigerator and sat down at the elegant desk. He drew a crude sketch of the TDU on the small Sheraton notepad, then did some calculations regarding the square footage needed to house the machine. In order to bring investors to the table, he’d have to sell the complete package, not just the conversion from trash to oil, but on to refined oil and gas. The problem was going to be with the refining.
Refineries were dangerous beasts. To convince investors to ante up for the revolutionary TDU was one thing. There were more than a handful of nouveau riche with not only the collateral, but the common sense to invest in such ground-breaking technology. But would those same people also wish to invest in the construction of an oil refinery to complement the TDU. The reduction in air quality, the potential for spills and explosions, the astronomical construction costs, and the staggering cost of liability insurance were all good reasons not to build a new facility. The last new refinery built in the U.S. was in 1976 in Louisiana. Would anyone really want to start again now?
Hart stared out at the shimmering city lights, his mind ticking through a list of possibilities when a broad smile crossed his lips.
Hart took his Sam Adams and the newspaper article about Gil and the TDU and headed down to the front desk in his bare feet. He handed the paper to the concierge and wrote down a fax number.
“Would you fax this for me? Now if possible.”
“Certainly, sir.” The concierge retreated to the back room. Hart stood at the counter and drank his beer, tapping his foot nervously. The concierge returned in a few minutes and handed Hart the newspaper article along with a confirmation sheet.
“Thanks,” he said and returned to the bank of elevators.
Minutes later, back in his room, Hart telephoned Houston. Bicky picked up on the fourth ring.
“Hello,” Bicky croaked.
“Am I waking you up?” Hart belatedly checked the clock. It was 2 AM.
“No, I’m generally up at this hour,” Bicky replied, his voice thick with sarcasm.
“Did you check your fax?”
“As is my habit in the middle of the night. What’s up?”
“Well, I’ve been officially on sabbatical for two weeks and I’ve already found what will take us to the next level, economically, and environmentally. Want to hear about it?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“Everybody’s got a choice.” Hart said. Bicky took so long to reply that Hart thought he’d fallen back to sleep.
Finally, Bicky sighed. “Go ahead.”
“How about this? A machine that converts trash into oil.”
Bicky began a hack so violent, Hart had the hold the phone away from his ear.
“Hey, man, are you all right? Drink some water or something,” Hart said. He heard the phone drop onto the night stand as the cough receded into the background. After several minutes, Bicky returned.
“What the hell did you say?”
“I said, how about a machine that converts trash, you know, from a landfill, into petrol? Would you invest in that? And before you say another word, believe me, this is for real. I saw it with my own eyes.”
“How? Where are you?”
“I thought that machine was south of the city, out in Delaware County?”
“Huh? You heard of it before?”
“Ah – something about it, but I’m not sure from who.”
Hart’s eyes narrowed and his nose twitched involuntarily, probably because his body smelled a rat, but his brain couldn’t make the connection.
“You saw this machine?” Bicky asked.
“You talked to the inventor?”
“Yep. Been hanging out with them for the last two weeks. Well, the actual inventor is dead. A tragedy in every sense of the word.”
“How’d you find out about it?” Bicky’s voice was coarse with sleep, which served to obfuscate his impatience so Hart didn’t notice.
“I read a newspaper article on the plane. It was luck, I think. Something weird.” Hart squinted into the past, trying to piece the events of that first day in Philly together, but like fragments of a dream, they scattered, leaving nothing but their fuzzy imprints.
“Bicky, I know you need time to think about it, but the implications…. This is beyond breakthrough.”
“I think you’re cracking up. You better come back to work before you go over the edge.”
“Listen. This machine eats trash. We install machines like this across the country and not only are our landfill problems eradicated, we are no longer dependent on foreign oil. And I’m not talking about in situ burning that releases harmful carcinogens into the air. And not trash to steam. We’re not replacing one problem with another. We’re solving two problems at once. It even helps with greenhouse gasses since that trash won’t be sitting in the landfill breaking down for a million years.”
“Yeah, yeah. You said this was in the paper?”
“The Philadelphia Inquirer. Go check your fax machine.”
“That means a lot of people know about it already.”
“It doesn’t matter. This kid wants to work with me. We. . .bonded.”
“Oh, Christ. Now I see where this is going. You don’t have any kids of your own so you’re out looking for some without parents.”
“That’s not it,” Hart said. “I got the feeling that he chose me, but how, I’d be hard-pressed to say.” Hart took another swig of his second Sam Adams and sat back in his chair. “If you think about it, you really can’t write a check fast enough.”
“Did you try buying him out? The board will want complete ownership.”
“We can’t buy him out, Bicky. He’s only ten.”
“Ten! Does the phrase ‘candy from a baby’ mean anything to you?”
“His father invented the machine.”
“So you said.”
“I did? I didn’t think I said that.”
Bicky started coughing again, so Hart waited until he finished.
“The kid idolized his father. He’s tweaked this machine to maximum efficiency. It’s . . . well it’s a beautiful thing.”
Bicky sighed. Hart could sense the conversation was winding down.
“We don’t need any investments. We’re making enough money on the product we have.”
“You’re being short-sighted. What happens when your supply dries up?”
“It’s not going to dry up anytime soon. The Middle East has plenty of oil.”
“It’s going to dry up, Bicky. Maybe not in your lifetime, but probably in mine, and definitely by the next generation.”
Bicky was silent for a minute. “I don’t have any grandkids. What the hell’s it matter about the next generation?”
Hart felt the barb in the pit of his stomach. “Kids or grandkids, we have a moral obligation.”
“Hey, maybe we’ll find a cure for AIDS while we’re at it,” Bicky snarled.
Hart almost hung up the phone, but tried one more time. “Just think about it. From where we sit, with our dwindling resources, this invention rivals the Internet.”
“Shut up, already. You’re sounding like a National Geographic article. When are you going to stop worrying about everyone else and start worrying about yourself?”
“When you stop worrying about yourself and start worrying about everyone else.”
“Very funny.” Bicky coughed again. “I’ll send somebody down to look at it.”
“Don’t send somebody down. I’m already down.”
“I’m on sabbatical, remember?”
“Did you even ask him about selling?”
“They’re not selling.”
“I just want to know if you asked.”
“Someone needs to help these kids, Bicky. Both their parents are gone.”
“So are mine, but you don’t see me crying.”
“Oh, Jesus,” Hart said, utterly exasperated.
“All right. Truth be told, I’m not interested. Now can I go back to sleep?”
Hart’s anger rifled through the phone like machine gun fire. “Just so we’re clear. I’m going to get this thing built, with or without you, and when it’s done, my company’s stock is gonna shoot so high you’ll need a telescope to see me in the night sky.” Hart could hear Bicky breathing into the phone, but no words were forthcoming. “Whatever. Go back to sleep. You always have been anyway.”
“Goddamn it!” Bicky barked. “What are you going to do? Flood the market with Akanabi?”
Hart hoped his silence conveyed the fact that he was smiling.
“Go ahead, you little prick. I can withstand your assault, you stupid. . . .”
Hart held the phone away from his ear so he didn’t hear Bicky’s last insult.
“You hear me, Hart?” Bicky screamed. Hart caught the echo.
He balanced the receiver on his index finger and watched it sway back and forth like the scales of justice. He could hear Bicky’s disembodied voice yelling after him, his tirade continuing unabated. With his free hand, Hart lifted the phone and dropped it in its cradle. He sighed, like a man who has just taken his last bite of a memorable meal, sat back and folded his hands over his stomach. After allowing several seconds for it to disconnect, he took the receiver off the hook, and laid it on the table. A minute later his cell phone started ringing. He switched the ringer to mute and opened another beer.
to be continued. . .
We like to think of our bodies as amazingly sophisticated eco-systems.
It’s enough to make a rational person blush.
Hart spent the night at his house and woke before dawn after a fitful rest. He’d slept in his and Sonia’s bed for the first time since her death and his sleep had been plagued by eerie, disconnected dreams. Now he puttered around the house, coffee in hand, walking from room to room with no apparent direction, a wide-eyed somnambulist. He looked at each room as if seeing it for the first time. After about an hour, he took a nap on the couch.
He awoke in the still early morning with a start, a vivid image of a pregnant Sonia emblazoned in his mind’s eye. He drank two full glasses of water from the kitchen tap then stood exactly over the spot where he had found her. He lay down there, hoping to embrace what remnants of her spirit were still caught in the tiles, but felt no trace of her, only the cold floor, more unsettling than a ghost. He turned over, folded his hands across his stomach and stared at the ceiling. He didn’t move for an hour.
“That’s it.” He stood up and blew his nose. He dialed the number for a cleaning service and asked to speak to the manager. For an exorbitant sum, he arranged for a cleaning team to come that day to scrub and shrink wrap the house. Then he called his father-in-law.
Bicky showed up a few hours later and scanned the place like a realtor performing an appraisal. The cleaning crew was well into it and some of the rooms had already been “sealed off,” vacuumed and dusted from floor to ceiling with the furniture draped as if the occupant would be absent for the season.
“What the hell’s going on?”
“I’m catchin’ a red-eye back to Philly tonight. I got an oil cleanup to close down.”
“I know that. What’s all this?” Bicky’s arm arced out elaborately, a gesture that reminded Hart of float riders during the Thanksgiving Day Parade. “It’s only going to take a couple more weeks, right?”
Half a dozen cleaning people scurried around, dusting and draping. Hart had promised them double pay if they finished in four hours.
“Then what are they doing?”
“Come.” Bicky followed Hart into the kitchen. Hart closed the door behind him.
“Do you want something to drink?” Hart asked. Bicky shook his head and sat down, but a second later changed his mind. He pulled a bottle of Dewar’s out of the cabinet and poured himself two fingers. He made a face, but took another swig.
“How do you drink this stuff?” Bicky walked to the fridge, tossed a couple ice cubes in his drink and poured a swig from the bottle to freshen it. Then he sat down on one of the bar stools around the island. “I’m all ears.”
“I’m not coming back.”
“What do you mean?”
“What word in the sentence didn’t you understand?”
“You have to come back. You have two more years on your contract.”
“So sue me.”
“Now how would that look if I sued you?”
“Is it always about appearances?”
Bicky shook him off and turned to look at the window. “What did you do last night? Catch a ghost or something? You sound like Sonia talking.”
“She’s been talking for a long time. It’s only now that I’ve stopped to listen.” Hart pulled up a stool. “I’ll finish the job and I’ll leave that river clean as technology can get it. But after that, I’m done.”
“Hey, you listen to me. You can’t just…”
Hart raised his hand to silence his father-in-law. “Don’t give me any grief about this, Bicky, and maybe I’ll come back as a consultant. But it’s a six-month sabbatical, at least, or no deal.”
Bicky rolled his head around, stretching the tension out of his neck. “Fine,” he said. He rubbed his temples. “I guess you finally figured out you’re rich. If you sold all the Akanabi stock Sonia left you on the open market, you’d be very rich. Stinkin’ rich.”
“You think that’s why I’m doing this? Because I suddenly have money?”
“Why else? You’re not much of the power-broker type, although you have your moments. You’re more of the ‘how can I serve you?’ mentality. It doesn’t do much for me personally, but I can see the necessity of it. We can’t all be boss, right?”
Hart scoffed: “Your single-mindedness never ceases to amaze me.”
“You’re not going to find whatever it is you’re looking for, you know. Not if you searched for a hundred years.” Bicky drained his glass and rose to go.
“Where can I reach you if I need you?”
“Cell phone,” Hart said.
Bicky sighed and stared at the spotless tile floor. “I still see her there, much as I try not to. I guess you do, too.”
Hart thought he saw Bicky’s eyes begin to water, but the old man turned before he could be certain. “You’re trying to save a world that has no interest in being saved,” Bicky called over his shoulder. “You’ll call me when you realize it.”
Hart watched him walk, stiff but proud, to the front door, an elegant man, even on the verge of defeat. Hart poured himself three fingers. The day was already turning out to be much longer than anticipated.
to be continued. . .
click here to see what came before
The funeral had been a splendid affair as funerals go, and Bicky personally greeted each of the four hundred mourners that had been appearing at the house since mid-morning to pay their respects. Now, twelve hours later, with the mourners gone, the caterers packed up, and the musicians disbanded, the house took on an eerie quiet, punctuated by the occasional clanging dish Mrs. Banes loaded into the dishwasher. Only Bicky, Hart and Jerry Dixon remained.
“Was anyone there when it happened?” Hart asked. They were alone in his study.
Bicky sat brooding in the study where he’d come often during the day to escape the crush of people with their endless outpouring of sympathy. Now, he stared at the fire’s glowing embers, sipping a Chivas on the rocks, the distant look in his eye tipping Hart to the possibility that Bicky might not be home at present.
“When I was young, this was years before we discovered oil on our land, when we didn’t have two nickels to rub together, that is, my father used to take me and my brother, Mason, trout fishing in the back country. I don’t know if you’ve spent much time in West Virginia, but it had some of the most pristine and diverse ecocultures of all our fifty states, California and Florida notwithstanding. We’d fish for two or three days, eating to fill our bellies and stashing the rest in the mountain stream. That water came flowing down just like nectar from Mount Olympus and was colder and clearer than any spring water you’ll find on the market today. The fish stayed better there than in a fridge. We’d bring back what we caught and my Mom would cook it up with some potatoes and kale from her vegetable garden. You can’t buy fish like that today. Not even in the high end food markets. They just don’t exist anymore. So many things don’t exist anymore.” Bicky shuddered.
Hart grabbed a blanket off the couch and made to cover Bicky with it, but stopped short by embarrassment, left the blanket sitting on the arm of the chair and returned to his seat.
“Sonia used to do that all the time when she was a little girl,” Bicky said. “Cover me. But that was before she learned to hate me. Of course, she always liked my money.”
Hart had shot his emotional wad during the course of the day and didn’t want to talk about Sonia now. “Maybe you need to go back to West Virginia for a visit. Some trout fishing might help with the…with all this.” Hart waved his hand toward the study door where the sounds of dishes being stacked sliced through the silent hall.
“The West Virginia of my youth is gone. Just like everything else.” Bicky sighed and took a big swig of whiskey. “Did you know they blow the tops off of mountains there now, just to get at the seams of coal nestled underneath? They smother miles of streams with the rubble, pristine mountain streams, and call it progress. All together, in West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, a couple others, the coal companies have buried over seven hundred miles of headwater streams with their little extraction business. Headwaters. That’s where the stream starts. And they say oil kills wildlife.”
Bicky gave a short, jagged laugh, drained his glass and threw it against the back wall of the fireplace where it exploded in a shower of sparks ignited by traces of whiskey. “Oopah,” he said, deadpan, turning to Hart for the first time since they’d be sitting there. “That’s what the Greeks say.”
“What the hell was that?” Jerry Dixon came running into the study, followed by Mrs. Banes. Jerry’s eyes were bloodshot. He was drunk.
“Are you alright, sir?”
“Yes, Mrs. Banes. I’m fine. I regret, however, that I’ve made a mess in the fireplace.”
“Glass is it?” She stepped forward and gazed into the fire. “Shall I clean it out now?”
Bicky shook his head. “Tomorrow’ll be fine. Why don’t you go home now.”
Mrs. Banes nodded in weary gratitude. “If you’re sure you won’t be needing me.”
Bicky nodded. Mrs. Banes had been in the Coleman’s employ for over thirty years and although Kitty had come to treat her like family, Bicky rarely said a word to her unless giving an order. Mrs. Banes was wary of his silences, and his temper, having seen both in action.
“Well then, I’ll take you up on the offer. Thank you, sir.”
“Is anyone else still here?”
“No, sir. Last ones left about half an hour ago.”
“I’ll walk you out then,” Bicky said. Mrs. Banes’ eyebrows shot up, but she covered it over nicely by scratching her forehead.
“Goodnight, Mr. Hart. Mr. Dixon.”
“Goodnight, Mrs. Banes,” Hart said. He watched her move stiffly out the door, a baffled look on her face. Jerry sat down opposite Hart.
“How you doing, Jerry?”
“I’ve been better.” Jerry pulled a much-used hankie out of his back pocket and gave a full-throttled blow. Deep circles hung like end-of-the-party streamers under Jerry’s eyes and the creases in his brow appeared etched in stone. Apparently, Bicky wasn’t the only one feeling the pain of Kitty’s sudden demise.
“Of all things to go. Her heart was bigger than anyone I knew.” Jerry blew his nose again, a resounding effort culminating in a silence broken only by the crackling of burning wood.
Hart felt the hollowness of his own muscular organ, its ineffectiveness. That his eyes were dry and his breathing passages open came as no surprise. Given the sheer volume of bodily fluids that had passed through his nasal and ophthalmic cavities in the months following Sonia’s death, he wondered whether he’d ever shed another tear.
There was something now, about Jerry’s body language, about the way he rubbed his eyes, so hard and rough they might pop out of his head, that seemed scary, familiar. They sat in silence, Hart circumspectly watching Jerry, puzzling it out until he was struck with an analogy more solid than any wood iron. He stared at Jerry in disbelief until Jerry wiped his nose, stifled a sob, and confirmed it for him.
“I loved her.” Jerry coughed, covering the words that had escaped. “Too long. And yet not long enough.”
The confession hung in the air like skunk spray, fetid and impossible to ignore. To Hart, Jerry appeared caricature-like, the undeniable look of guilt spread thin across his face. Jerry swallowed hard – Hart watched his Adam’s apple wobbling under the strain – before continuing.
“I’ve been in love with her for over thirty years. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for that woman.” His eyes trailed off after his voice and Hart could almost see time winding backwards to the point that even Jerry’s voice changed, losing the throatiness, the slightly harder edge that comes with years of use.
“We met at a party Akanabi had for all its customers. In those days, they really knew the meaning of customer service. It was this swanky affair and I was handling security. I was pretty new. Only been with the company six months. Kitty gave a little toast to honor all those customers that kept Akanabi in business and then one to honor all its faithful employees. Later we chatted over the hors d’oeuvres. She was just beautiful. I made it my personal goal to find out everything I could about her. Even without digging, you could already see the cracks forming in their relationship.” Jerry took a sip of whiskey and stared at the bottom of the glass straight through to the last few decades. “For over thirty years, I loved her. And I’ll keep on loving her long after that bastard has taken a new wife.”
“So that was when they were first married?” Hart asked. “Before she had Sonia?”
Jerry stiffened. “Go ahead. Ask me,” he said.
“Did you . . . did she love you back?”
“Yes,” Jerry said, his voice smaller than a minute. “But, I didn’t know until it was almost too late.” His face contorted. “God, it feels good to finally tell someone.”
Hart heard footsteps behind him and jerked around to see Bicky walk into the room.
“Tell someone what?”
Jerry stared, wide-eyed at Bicky, but said nothing.
“About his Golden Retriever,” Hart offered. “He was saying how he hasn’t felt this bad since his Golden Retriever died.” Jerry’s look said he would lick Hart’s boots clean with his tongue next opportunity he got.
“That’s just like you, Jerry. Likening my wife to a dog.” Bicky poured himself another Scotch before dissolving in his chair. Hart could almost see Bicky’s energy draining from him, running in rivulets across the hardwood floor.
“Come to think of it, you always did enact a certain aloofness around her. Something I could never quite decipher. Bordered on downright rude, I thought.” Bicky took a big slug of his whiskey without so much as a glance in Jerry’s direction. “You couldn’t say it was justified. Kitty might have been a lot of things, but rude was the least of them.”
“I was never rude to her,” Jerry replied. “I just…. Bicky, I want to tell you something.” Hart looked at Jerry whose face had become an expressionless mask. “I…. It’s just….”
Bicky shot Jerry a withering look. The confession died in Jerry’s throat, leaving a gaseous trail in its wake. He coughed again, emitting a puff of anxiety and guilt as obvious to the casual observer as a passing cloud. But Bicky was staring into the fire, dousing his own sorrow within the prescribed confines of his cerebral cortex and his whiskey glass. He had not a brain cell to spare for observation.
Jerry stood up, wavering. “I’m gonna head out.”
Hart sighed, relieved. The male need to be territorial was pronounced even when the grand prize was six feet underground. The last thing Hart wanted was to watch a pair of middle-aged men go at it on the floor of Bicky’s study.
“I’ll see ya’,” Jerry said. Bicky sat stone-faced without taking his eyes off the fire.
Hart walked with Jerry as he stumbled down the hall to the foyer.
“How about I call you a cab? You don’t look like you’re in any shape to drive.”
“Death might be a welcome change.” Jerry said, managing a weak smile.
Hart gave Jerry’s shoulder a squeeze. “It’s not you I’m worried about.”
“I know. Always the other guy.”
Hart punched numbers into his cell phone, but Jerry grabbed it and disconnected the call. He looked Hart dead in the eye for several moments before handing the phone back.
“You didn’t know, did you?”
“The last time you saw Kitty she had just had a stroke.”
“Jesus. I thought something was strange, but…. Why didn’t anybody tell me?”
“You know, Kitty. Doesn’t want anybody knowing her business.”
Hart noted the usage of the present tense as if Kitty were still alive. Jerry wavered and Hart reached a hand out to steady him. Jerry grabbed the door frame.
“Her right leg was gimpy after that. Little bit of paralysis. Bicky wanted her to fly to Europe – bastard that he is, he still loved her – to see this neurosurgeon. Top guy in the field. She wouldn’t go. She didn’t leave the house much… after Sonia died.” Jerry croaked.
“I saw her everyday and he never knew. Probably the best months of my life.” Jerry pawed at his eyes and studied the toes of his cowboy boots. “Now she’s gone and I’m lost.”
Hart squeezed Jerry’s shoulder and was surprised when Jerry’s arms encircled him and held on for a long, fierce hug.
“I’m really sorry.” Jerry pushed Hart away and called over his shoulder: “For everything.”
He staggered to his car, leaving Hart standing in the open doorway, alone with his questions.
Hart returned to the study, heard Bicky’s stifled sobs and took a reverse step, intent on backing out quietly, but bumped into an end table instead. One of Sonia’s baby pictures rattled and crashed on the hardwood, shattering when it hit. Hart froze.
Bicky started, then rose as if the movement caused him pain. He dragged himself over to survey the damage while sixty years of promises broken and lies lived, of the shadow side of dreams, of futures never realized, now all congealed, weighing down the sleeves and the collar and lining the pockets of Bicky’s rumpled Armani suit. Grief, noticeably absent when his daughter died, now cloaked him in full regalia, aging him exponentially and adding decades to his countenance. In the months following Sonia’s death, Hart had often wondered how Bicky hid his grief so well when Hart himself had been rendered debilitated. Perhaps Bicky hadn’t cared about his daughter, as some had suggested, or perhaps he was just being brave for Kitty. But whatever threads had held him together, they’d all snapped now. Bicky was a wreck.
He stooped, picked up the picture and brushed away the broken glass cutting his finger. He flinched, but didn’t say anything. Instead he rubbed his finger across his baby’s face, caressing her over and over as if the repetitive motion might raise the dead. Hart saw the blood oozing onto the photograph and left the room.
He returned a minute later with a wet towel and a trash can. Bicky knelt, crouched over the blood-stained photograph.
“I just hope that by the time I find the bastard, life hasn’t wrung all the vengeance out of me. I’m getting old, you know.” As if to prove it, Bicky grabbed the table and hoisted himself up, ragged and slow. Hart took the photograph, so stained with blood you could no longer make out the subject, and wrapped his father-in-law’s finger in the wet towel. Bicky nodded once, acknowledging the gesture, and squeezed Hart’s arm before shuffling over to the wet bar.
Bicky picked up a tumbler and filled it. “It’s the least I can do for my favorite son-in-law.” He tried out his famous scowling smile. It still worked.
“Bicky.” Hart picked pieces of glass off the floor and threw them in the trash can. “I’d say vengeance is overrated.”
“Ah, but the momentary relief is as good as anything I’ve ever experienced.” Bicky laughed, a dry brittle cackle. “Besides. Don’t you want to know?”
“I do know,” Hart said. “It was an accident. You saw the body. She slipped and fell. Hard. Hard enough to knock herself out. If I would have been home…” Hart dumped a big piece of glass in the trash can and it shattered. He reached for a couple shards under the table.
“You said yourself you had the feeling that someone else had been there.”
“I said a lot of things. You can’t bank on anything I said then. If you remember, I wasn’t very lucid.” Hart was still smarting over Bicky’s decision to dope him up for the two days following Sonia’s death. The lost days. Hart dumped the last bits of the glass into the trash and stood.
“I’d tell Mrs. Banes to go over this with a vacuum in the morning.” He looked over at Bicky, but the man wasn’t even in the same stratosphere. A profound feeling of fatigue settled over Hart. “Hey, Bicky, unless you need me, I’m gonna get going. I’ve got a bunch of stuff to settle at the house before my flight back to Philadelphia tomorrow night.”
“You don’t think I knew she was having an affair?”
The question startled Hart. “Who?”
“My wife, that’s who.”
“Jesus, Bicky. Ease up, would you?” Hart was not inclined to share the information Jerry had imparted. It wouldn’t do any good. That Kitty chose to share the last months of her life with a man who obviously adored her over a man who rarely gave her the time of day did not come as a shock. What came as a shock was that she waited so long to do it. He was happy that Kitty had found a bit of happiness at the end.
Bicky shook his head in defeat. “I don’t know. But if I find the son-of-a-bitch I’ll kill him, too.”
“Well, that’s two people you’re gonna kill. But hey, the night’s young.”
Bicky grimaced. “That’s why she moved across to the other side of the house, you know. So I wouldn’t catch on to her shenanigans.”
Hart sighed, tired of arguing. “Enough. Kitty loved you, otherwise she would have left your flat ass a long time ago. Cause the way I see it, you had absolutely nothing to offer her.” He smiled with the last words, meaning it as a bit of sarcasm, but immediately wished he could retract them. He searched Bicky’s face to gauge a reaction, but there was none.
“I gotta go.” Hart squeezed Bicky’s shoulder. “Call me if you need me.”
to be continued
click here to read what came before
Avery dropped to his knees beside his brother and looked Gil over, as best he could in the near-black woods, by putting his face within inches of Gil’s head. Because of the darkness, he gave over sight for touch, feeling the contours of Gil’s face, his head, his neck. He noted a lump on the back of Gil’s head that seemed to be growing. He performed a body check next, running his hands over every inch of Gil: torso, arms, legs. All appeared to be intact and at proper angles. He placed two fingers on Gil’s neck. His pulse was strong. Avery finished by putting his ear to Gil’s nose where he heard faint, but steady breathing. Gil was unconscious, but most definitely alive. “That’s good,” he sighed in relief.
Avery opened one of Gil’s eyes; they were rolled back so Avery could only see the whites. He released the lid and it flopped back into place like a dead fish. He had to get Gil back to the house. Avery looked around for something, anything, to do it with, but he couldn’t clear his addled brain; which seemed as dark and cloudy as the night sky.
Avery stood up, ran his hands through his hair and began to pace. Gradually, the world returned to him. He could hear the whir of the ATV’s motor and Max barking maniacally in the background, noises that had been emitting wavelengths of sound all along, but which his mind in its hyper-focused state had blocked out. For a moment Avery had a brief insight into how Gil’s mind worked during periods of intense concentration. He fumbled in the dark for the ATV’s ignition and turned the key. The motor went silent. He sat down, legs crossed, on the ground. What do I do? Tell me what to do. Lie flat. Stabilize the neck. Avery concentrated on slow breathing, in and out the way he was taught in meditation class, trying to focus the mind. How am I going to get him back to the house? He looked over at the ATV sitting on its side….
Max’s barking had reached such a fever pitch that he sounded like two dogs. What the hell is he barking about? The minute the thought crossed his mind, Avery’s blood cooled. He took a few steps in the direction of the barking, but was stopped by the sound of two successive pistol shots. Avery caught his breath. The barking resumed. On instinct, he grabbed the gun and took off running through the woods.
He used Max’s voice as a guide and immediately regretted not taking the trail. Small branches whipped at his face and clothes as he tripped his way through the dense underbrush. A branch broke open his cheek and a bit of blood oozed from the wound. He cursed and smeared it away. Max’s voice was growing hoarse, but he continued unabated. Avery was closer now and he could hear a man’s voice straining with effort, cursing the dog and brandishing the gun as if Max would understand. The man’s voice was muffled, drowned out by the consistency of Max’s barking and growling.
Avery broke through to the clearing to see the man draped over a tree branch, shining a pale green light at the ground and trying to catch Max in the circle of it. Max leapt in complete defiance of the laws of gravity, making contact with the man’s leg. The man yelped in pain and fired at Max. Avery fell, forced sideways and to the ground by shock and the wave of sound. Max yelped, then resumed with a bark so ferocious, wolves would run for cover. Max jumped and snapped again, inches from the man’s jacket, then spun back and forth beneath the tree, a whirling dervish. The man pulled his gun and aimed it.
Avery turned to see Gil’s shadowy figure stumbling toward him, paying little heed to the tree branches slashing at his clothes and face. At the sound of his master’s voice, Max halted, but did not leave his post beneath the bottom of the tree.
“Max! Come! Now!” After a moment’s hesitation, he ran over to Gil who fell to his knees. Max licked Gil’s face and rubbed his nose all over him, leaving a sticky residue. Gil dabbed at the gooey stuff. Blood. His hands flew to Max’s snout, searching, until they fell upon the spot. A bullet had grazed Max’s left ear. Blood dripped from the wound, caught in Max’s fur where it had coagulated.
The boys heard a thud as the man in the tree hit the ground. Max ran, his jaws wide, literally going for the jugular. Avery grabbed him by the collar just as Max tore the man’s ski mask away. Recognition lit on Avery’s face. That driver?! But….
The man fired a wild shot and rolled to his side. Propelled by adrenaline, Avery reached for him. His fingers grazed the man’s coat, but he eluded Avery’s grasp and fled into the woods. Avery raised his gun, aimed, and pulled the trigger. It clicked. He stood that way for several seconds, wheezing and studying the blackness that had consumed the driver. Gil teetered forward, gripping Max’s collar. Avery pushed back a wave of nausea and scooped them both into his arms. Gil’s breath was short and ragged, the life force weak, and he slouched against his brother. Avery corralled his own erratic breath, lassoing the fear singeing his throat. He might have killed a man if the gun had been loaded.
He ran his hands over Gil’s face and the back of his head, feeling for cuts and bruises. There were many.
“Are you alright?” he asked. Gil nodded and then proceeded to pass out. Avery caught him before he hit the ground. He tilted Gil’s head back and checked his eyes.
“He just passed out,” Avery said to Max. He rubbed Max’s head and Max returned the favor by licking his hand. “Thanks.” Avery touched Max’s ear. The dog winced. A scab was forming. “C’mon. We gotta get out of here.”
He draped Gil over his shoulder, his knees buckling under the weight. They headed for the trail with Max leading the way.
to be continued. . .
this is what happened before
The alarm that Robbie and Jack had so meticulously wired tied directly into the police station, and when tripped, notified the dispatcher of the presence of a intruder at the Tirabi residence. The dispatcher put out the call which was received by Officer Matheson and his partner, Officer Traecy, currently on their coffee break at the local diner.
Tony, the owner of the diner was a young man in his late twenty’s taking on his first business endeavor. Looking to keep costs down, he worked the midnight shift alone, alternating between bussing tables, food and coffee prep, and customer service. Right now, he was out front wiping the counters and listening to Matheson’s myriad stories of extended familial allegiances.
“I’m not kidding ya’. Bud is $3.75 a quart at Farrell’s, my uncle’s place,” Matheson said. “He’ll even give you a to-go quart cup if you want. I used to go in a lot with my cousin, Huey. Three Hueys in one family. The dad, the grandfather and my cousin. Talk about branding your kids. All part of the circle of punishing, I guess.” Matheson and Traecy laughed while Tony restocked styrofoam.
“Just like’s Mom’s,” Matheson said, taking a sip of his coffee. His radio crackled to life. The dispatcher relayed the information regarding a potential break-in at the Tirabi’s.
“We’re on it,” Matheson said, signing off. He signaled Tony for a refill which he sipped with apparent satisfaction.
“Shouldn’t we go?” Traecy asked.
“Nah. It’s the Tirabi kids again. They set that alarm off once a month.”
“Yeah, but what if…”
Matheson waved him off. “It’ll be fine. Just let me finish this and we’ll check it out.” He forked down the last bite of an omelet.
“Hey, Tony. One to go, huh?” Matheson said, holding out his styrofoam cup.
Traecy shrugged. Ten minutes after dispatch called, they were en route.
to be continued
start with what happened here
Three nights later, the doorbell rang and Gil and Max ran to answer it. Chris Kane stood at the door with a bouquet of flowers in one hand and a small bag of gourmet dog treats in the other. Gil turned toward the stairs and yelled: “Kori! Time to go.” He turned back to Chris, hand on the knob, body blocking the doorway. He did not invite him in, just stared at him while Max sniffed the bag.
“Oh, yeah,” Chris said. “These are for Max.”
Gil opened the bag and without taking his eyes off Chris, tossed a biscuit in a high arc. Max made a mad dash across the room, snatching it from the air. One corner of Gil’s mouth quirked up when Max took the first crunching bite, but his gaze didn’t waver.
Kori appeared and Chris sighed from relief and appreciation. Kori smiled, waved and disappeared into the kitchen. After a few more moments, Gil took the flowers and went to join his sister, but when Chris took a step to follow, Max ceased his crunching and growled.
“Oh, they’re beautiful,” Chris heard her say from the kitchen. “Do me a favor and put these in water?” He heard the smacking of lips as cheeks were kissed.
“Avery should be home by ten. Gil needs to go to sleep by then.”
“Awww, Kori,” Gil whined.
“Alright. Ten-thirty.” Apparently that pleased Gil because Chris heard no argument.
“You be careful now.”
An older female voice. One Chris couldn’t identify.
“I will.” Another kiss. “Thanks, Aunt Stella.” Ah, yes. The neighbor.
“Well, whether you’re early or late, you know where you’ll find me.”
“Asleep on the couch and pretending not to be.” More laughter and then she was standing before him, smiling.
“What are you doing in the doorway?” Kori asked, the smile brightening.
“Waiting for you. What else?”
Kori laughed and he grabbed her arm and led her away.
“The more you delve into this stuff, the more that comes up,” Aunt Stella said. She and Gil sat at the kitchen table each with the remnants of a glass of milk and the cookie crumbs to go with it. Aunt Stella shuffled a deck of Tarot cards, tapped them tight and placed them in front of Gil. “That’s why people keep all their little secrets and don’t want to bother with them. It’s just too much for some to think about.” She smiled at Gil. “You’re still young, though. How many secrets could you possibly have?”
“Now what do I do?” Gil asked, impatient.
“Cut the cards three times to the left and then stack them up again on the pile to the right.” Gil did as instructed and waited on Aunt Stella’s next move. “We’re just going to do a short past, present, future reading right now rather than go through the whole song and dance of a lifetime reading. Although…” She placed a hand under her chin and played with an errant whisker, something her eyebrow tweezers had missed. She furrowed her brows, further accentuating the small, almost scar-like indentation that had formed over the years in the center of her eyebrows as a result of this exact facial expression. “Nah, let’s just do this.” Waving a pudgy hand to erase all contrary thoughts, she placed it on top of the cards, fanning them across the table before Gil. Although Aunt Stella had several Tarot decks at home, she preferred Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot Deck as it conveyed more of a feeling of beneficence on the reader than say, the Egyptian Tarot which was to her mind overly preoccupied with the twin themes of death and destruction.
“Pick three cards and place them right to left facing down.”
Gil acquiesced and looked up, doe-eyed at Aunt Stella, waiting for the next instruction. She pushed the remainder of the deck together in a pile and set it aside. Had any of the clergy members, all males, of the Greek Orthodox Church to which Aunt Stella belonged been here to witness such adroit familiarity with the work of Satan they would have blushed crimson and then blue for lack of oxygen. But despite the ecclesiastical indoctrinations of the church, it could not, for all its gumption, usurp such traditions, steeped in mysticism and superstition, that had survived among Greek women since the seers and high priestesses of the temple brought to light the oracles at Delphi.
“You know, my mother had the Sight. She could tell you who was on the phone the minute it rang.”
“Wow. Really?” Gil asked. “I wish I could do that.”
“You can. You just need focus. And some training.” Aunt Stella tapped the first of the three cards Gil had turned over. “My sister inherited my mother’s gift. She can read the cards just by looking at them. Not me, though. I need the book.” She flipped through The Tarot Book, by Angeles Arrien, its pages worn and rounded from overuse. She placed her hand reverently on the cover and closed her eyes. “My second bible,” she said, opening her eyes. “Shall we start?”
Aunt Stella picked up Gil’s first card. “This is your recent past.”
“Why didn’t you get your Mom’s gift?”
“It only goes to one woman in the family, usually the first born, but that varies. The others get some things, sympathetic leanings and what not, but usually only one gets the whole enchilada.”
The enchilada reference triggered a visceral reaction and Gil’s stomach grumbled loudly. Aunt Stella pushed her basket of treats his way and looked up the first card in the Angeles book. Gil pulled out a white-chocolate chip and macadamia nut cookie, so loaded with nuts that there was barely enough dough to hold the cookie together.
“What happens if there’s no girls?”
“Sometimes it skips a generation. Although boys can get it, too, if that’s what you’re asking. And sometimes it does run through the male line. Your father’s told me more than once about your grandmother. Apparently she had it. I think he was always a little disappointed that he didn’t have a full-fledged dose of it, although he was very intuitive, especially for a man. Still, he didn’t rise to your level.” Aunt Stella reached across the table and squeezed Gil’s hand. “He was so proud of you.”
Gil pulled out another cookie.
“That’s enough now. You’re not going to be able to sleep.”
“Yes I will.” He bit into it while Aunt Stella read Gil’s first card.
“The Six of Swords. Excellent. And not surprising, actually. The Six of Swords represents science.” She showed Gil the page in the book depicting the card as if that were sufficient to prove its meaning. “Objective communication is represented by the planet Mercury. See it there at the top. Then there’s Aquarius at the bottom, and it’s associated with ‘originality, innovation and pioneering work.’” She squeezed Gil’s arm and smiled. “This is good, Gilly. It symbolizes the creative mind that pulls ideas from unexplainable sources of inspiration and communicates them in a way people can understand without feeling threatened.”
“It’s the TDU! You see the TDU in the cards!”
“Right there in a full-color spectrum of light,” Aunt Stella said. Gil allowed himself a moment’s smile, but replaced it with a stern countenance.
“Does it say how it’ll do?” He bounced the heel of his foot up and down, the ball of his foot stationary on the floor, a habit born of nervousness.
“Hhmmmm. I’m surprised.” Aunt Stella raised her eyebrows at him. “You usually don’t care about those things.”
Aunt Stella locked eyes with him, a penetrating gaze; he looked down and studied the lines on his hands. She moved over to his side of the table, turned his face to hers.
“You’re not your father. You can only do what you can. I know you feel the burden of trying to save the world for him. And your mother. You can’t help but get that from your parents. But Gilly, you’re only ten, honey, and practically still a baby.” She squeezed Gil then released him so she could look in his eyes. “He’ll be proud of you no matter what you do.” Aunt Stella placed Gil’s head on her massive chest and he shed a few silent tears.
“I thought you said you weren’t psychic?” Gil said, sitting up to wipe his eyes.
“Well, maybe just a little.” Aunt Stella blushed and smiled. Gil reached for another cookie then stopped in mid-swipe and looked up at Aunt Stella first, the question in his smile.
She sighed. “Alright, but that’s it.”
Gil stared at the Six of Swords as he chewed. “What else does it say?”
“I don’t know. Why don’t you turn over another one?”
He flipped a card to see a man hanging upside down, bound at the ankle by a snake hanging from an Egyptian Ankh. He dropped the card. “Am I going to die?”
“Ah, the Hanged Man,” Aunt Stella said. “No, you’re not going to die, but you have to forget about everything you are if you want to move past the ego to a place where things really start happening. Break old habits. Release your fear. You’ll do great things.”
“But I don’t feel afraid of anything. I mean, sometimes I’m afraid of ghosts, but only the ones I don’t know, and sometimes the dark, but only if Max isn’t around.” At the mention of his name, Max raised his head, opened his mouth, revealing a full set of molars, and yawned. Gil scratched him behind the ears. Max put his head down and went back to sleep.
“How about this? The only limitations on you right now – since this card deals with the present – are those you put on yourself. Capice?”
Gil nodded. “What’s the last one say? The future card?”
“Turn it over.”
Gil popped the last bite of cookie in his mouth and flipped the card.
“The Seven of Wands. Excellent.”
“What’s that mean?”
“It means stand by what you believe. Don’t compromise and trust your intuition.”
Gil sighed, folded his hands on his lap and looked at the cards. “Do they say anything else? Because I’m not sure I understand.”
Aunt Stella smiled and reached for the deck. She handed them to Gil who wrapped his hands around them. “Concentrate,” she said. He closed his eyes for several moments and then put the cards on the table. “Now fan them out and pick one.”
Gil flipped over a card from the middle of the deck, “The Star,” a card from the major arcana. Aunt Stella smiled.
“More of the same, Gilly. Get out there. Do something wonderful. Be the gateway for the light to come through you and out into the world. And don’t be afraid to shine.”
“Is that it?” Gil put his hands under his chin and slumped in his chair. “Aunt Stella, how can I do this by myself if I’m only ten?”
“What about Avery? Can’t he help you?”
“Yes, but…” Gil looked around behind him to make sure Avery hadn’t suddenly appeared out of thin air, and whispered to Aunt Stella, “I think I need more help than that.”
“I don’t know, Gilly. Let’s see.” Aunt Stella pointed to the cards. “One more.”
Gil scanned the row of cards, his eyes running up and down, his fingers barely touching them until of their own volition they seemed to stop and hover about one card. Aunt Stella nodded and Gil turned over the card.
“Ah, that’s what you were looking for.” Gil stared at the card: “The Prince of Disks” depicted a man with a strange helmet sitting in a chariot being pulled by a bull. “The architect has arrived.” Aunt Stella consulted the Arien book. “See that double helix right there? It indicates an ability to build new worlds.” She stopped and smiled. “Gilly, meet your new partner.”
Gil stared back and forth between Aunt Stella and The Prince of Disks for a full minute before speaking: “Thanks, Aunt Stella.” He threw his arms around her, kissed her on the cheek, and went upstairs to bed.
to be continued. . .
Kori and Jack lay huddled together, partially-clothed, a single throw covering them. A soft click preceded the quiet, familiar musings of NPR’s Terry Gross. They had failed to draw the curtains before retiring for an hour or so of love and sleep and Jack cracked one eye open and peered out the window into the expectant night air. Snow flurries added to the soft blanket already on the ground and he groaned at the menacing, orange-grey sky. He rolled over and checked the alarm.
“Kor. Wake up.” He nudged her gently, but she didn’t respond. “Kori. It’s time to go.” He bit her shoulder gently and her eyes flew open.
“Huh. What?” Kori sat up on one elbow and blinked, trying to orient herself.
“What day is it?” Kori stared wide-eyed out the window, her unseeing eyes darting to and fro across the night sky. Jack grinned.
“It’s Thursday. You have to bake an apple pie.”
“Apple pie?” Kori turned to look at him, but the darkness hid his features.
“Two of them.” This time he laughed and Kori woke up. She checked the alarm and fell back down on the pillow.
“Oh, the public meeting.” She rubbed a hand over her eyes and coughed. “I really didn’t know where I was for a minute.”
“I could tell.” Jack lay back down and pulled her in close. “And you said you’d bake me two apple pies.” He kissed her then rose to pull on his jeans. In their earlier haste, they had removed only the bottom half of their garments.
“Where you goin’?”
“To work.” He buckled his belt then sat down to put on his boots.
“I thought you were done for the day?”
“Installing home brains, yeah.” Jack nodded toward the window. “But now it’s snowing. People’ll need me to plow them out.”
“It’s barely a flurry.”
“They’re calling for another four to six inches.”
“By tomorrow. Not in the next two hours.”
“Hey. I gotta make money, right?”
“Jack!?!” It’s a side business, for Godsakes. You said you were only going to do it until your other business got off the ground. Well, it’s levitating. You can stop now.”
“Not tonight, I can’t.”
“You’re just doing this to get out of coming to the public meeting!”
Jack laced up his boots, leaned over and kissed her on the head.
“I’ll be back after I’m through.”
“Don’t bother.” She kicked at him, pushing the blanket off herself in the process, and stomped past him, retrieving her clothes as she headed for the door.
“Kori, come on.”
“Bastard,” she said, and slammed the door behind her.
The public meeting wasn’t scheduled to start until seven, but the controversy surrounding the landfill and the effectiveness of the citizens group, helped along by the flurry of Kori’s afternoon calls, brought the crowd out early and in droves, snowy weather notwithstanding.
The high school auditorium had seating capacity for two hundred people. Kori, Avery and Gil stood at the back, scanning the room for seats together, a commodity in short supply.
“Can’t I just go home?” Gil asked.
“Gil, what’s the big deal? It’s a couple hours of your life,” Kori said. She turned to face Avery in an appeal for assistance. He shrugged.
“He wants to watch Star Trek ,” Avery said, at present feeling more inclined toward his brother’s sensibilities himself.
“Star Trek is on fifty times a week on seventeen different channels,” Kori said. She bent down, coming face-to-face with her brother. “But this – this chance to make a difference – this only happens once or twice, and it’s really, really important. So come on.” She dug in her pocket and pulled out a handful of Tootsie Roll Midgets. Gil smiled and reached for the proffered sweet, but Kori snapped her fingers shut.
“I was saving these for later, but I guess we need them now. If you take them, you have to stay and not whine and complain about wanting to leave. Okay?”
Gil nodded and she opened her hand. He grabbed every last one, accepting her gift as a compromise. Avery held out his hand and Gil reluctantly handed over a single Tootsie Roll. So buoyed by chocolate, they followed Kori down the aisle in search of seats.
They found them near the front. Aunt Stella’s coat, scarf and brilliant red hat lay draped in varying states of repose across four seats where Aunt Stella sat as border guard. She waved madly when she saw them, her knitted brow relaxing. Kori glanced around, scanning the auditorium again, looking for something a little farther back – in the event Gil started acting up, she wanted to be able to make an unobtrusive getaway – but the place was packed to overflowing with groups of people lining the walls. She turned to say something to Avery, but the boys had already made their way into the aisle and she had no choice but to follow. Gil took the seat next to Aunt Stella who always traveled with treats in her pockets.
Kori leaned over and gave her a kiss. “Thanks for saving seats.”
Aunt Stella waved it off as if it were no big deal, but given the general mood in the house, Kori knew it was a feat almost Herculean in nature.
“Where’s Jack?” Aunt Stella asked.
Kori shrugged, defeated.
“Excuse me? Is this seat taken?” Kori jerked around to see a handsome young man standing there.
“You don’t remember me, do you?”
“Should I?” Kori asked.
“Chris Kane. We went to high school together.”
“Oh my God.” Kori gave him the once over as surreptitiously as possible. Whatever resemblance this guy had to the Christopher “D, for Dork” Kane that she knew in high school had long since passed. “You look…”
“Different?” He nodded. “That’s what everyone says. Late bloomer, I guess. Plus I started working out.”
“I’ll say. What are you doing now?”
“I’m a correspondent for The Philadelphia Inquirer, ” he smiled, holding up the notebook in his hand.
Kori gave him a “hmmmmm” and nodded in acknowledgment. She turned to find Aunt Stella’s old crone smile and felt the blush rise in her cheeks. Gil and Avery were too engrossed in Aunt Stella’s candy to notice so she turned back to Chris Kane, a bright, full smile on her face.
Kori spent the next thirty minutes engrossed. Chris proved engaging and a good listener, something Jack was not. Jack always nodded politely, interjecting when he thought appropriate based on Kori’s non-verbal cues, but this guy consumed her words. He even took notes. Kori felt a thrill run through her abdomen. She stole a glance at her brothers: Gil was working a Gameboy while Avery and Aunt Stella, their heads bowed together, spoke in conspiratorial tones.
“So. What’s your take on all this?” Chris asked.
“Do you really want to know?” Kori responded.
There was so much she wanted to tell him, stuff Ruth had weaned them on, always talking to them like they were smaller versions of the adults they would become. Since Kori could talk her mother had held nothing back. Discussions ranging from the world’s political machinations to the nature of life and death were commonplace. Ruth was no artist, but it was her love of it that set Kori on her chosen path. In that instant, Kori was no longer sure where Ruth left off and she began and suddenly realized that was the way of it. We either become our parents, their prides and prejudices, or we run far and fast in the opposite direction. And right now, Kori, like Ruth, was finding it hard to keep her mouth shut.
Apparently everything Kori told Chris Kane was fascinating because he’d recorded all of it in his notebook. She talked about everything from the birth of the landfill and the spread of the deadly plume of noxious chemicals to her own personal tragedies, including the mysterious death of her parents and her current position as head of the house. She concluded with the tragic, but as yet unverified, death of her brother.
Chris wrote at a furious clip. “Whew. Alright, give me a chance to catch up.”
Kori waited for him to pause and when he did, he looked at her with new eyes, ones that said they wanted to stuff her in his pocket and keep her safe.
“Okay,” he said. “Go ahead.”
“It’s these corporations that are the problem. And the government’s in bed with them. They make it cheaper to buy virgin products by giving no incentive to buy used, like we’re never going to run out of the new stuff. It’s a pain to separate the wheat from the chaff of recyclables, I know that, but it could be a lucrative pain with the right incentives. And what about the trees? They recycle all our carbon dioxide? The fewer trees we have, the harder it is to breathe. Is it any wonder asthma in children is at an all-time high?” She bounced her knee up and down involuntarily. “People act like the environment is negotiable. Just wait. Freak weather is only the tippy top of the iceberg. Floods, droughts, water shortages. The collapse of the honey bee. Talk about end of days.” She snorted as her mother’s blood rushed through her body, and folded her hands in her lap, concluding her tirade.
“But the science is contradictory. Maybe they just don’t know,” Chris opined, smiling.
“Bull. If the government really wanted to change the way the world did business, rather than continue to let the few loot the common resources of the many, it could give tax breaks to the high-minded companies, the ones that did business with sustainable development in mind. Don’t even get me started on public lands. The government is selling our public resources at pennies on the dollar to the corporations that curry the most favor, i.e., that donate the most election dollars. Those are our lands, our children’s lands. They shouldn’t be for sale, dammit.”
She felt the truth of her own words and believed them with a force she’d never experienced before this moment. And whether it was this force or the fact that Kori felt woefully inadequate to carrying on Ruth’s legacy, she closed her mouth, because if she said one more word, she would break down and cry.
Lucky for her, the public meeting began as a speaker from EPA stepped to the podium.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. If we could have your attention.” The EPA representative, Stefanie Pierson, stood at the podium as the remaining individuals took their seats. The murmuring of the crowd died out like ripples spreading across a pond. A half dozen agency officials sat on stage with Stefanie, each with a microphone.
“As you know, we’re here tonight to lay out our findings with regard to the Stahl landfill and to draw you a road map as to what you can expect in the future. You, as the public, have a right to be part of these decisions and we would also like to encourage you to exercise that right by expressing your comments either here or in writing.”
“What about our right to clean drinking water?” Andrew Dodd shouted. He was a first cousin to Jim Stahl. He sat way in the back, but his voice carried far and away over the din of the crowd. A general murmur of agreement swept the room like a wave.
Stefanie Pierson didn’t flinch. “You absolutely have every right to clean drinking water, clean air, clean soil, a clean environment. That’s the law. But you’ve got to help us help you.”
“How the hell you gonna help us? That damn aquifer’s so polluted even the fish can’t live in it.” The crowd rumbled in agreement, the din in the auditorium growing louder.
“Sir. First of all, an aquifer is below ground and fish don’t live in it. Microbes, yes. But not fish. I do take your meaning, however. And if you could just give us a minute to run through the chosen alternatives that came out of the ROD. That stands for Record of Decision.”
“A minute?! A minute!” Jim Stahl burst into the room pushing a wheelchair, amidst a cacophony of bottles and tubing. Gasps shot through the room when the audience got a look at what had become of the once healthy and vital Vera Stahl.
“I’ll give you a Goddamn minute. But who’s going to give that minute back to my wife, huh? Is it you? Or you?” Jim pointed an accusatory finger at each of the government representatives. “How about you?” He was only halfway down the aisle, his progress hampered by the many bottles hanging from the wheelchair: salines, antibiotics, and, from the looks of Vera Stahl, morphine. Vera looked one step away from needing a hospice nurse and clearly didn’t know where she was which is probably why Jim got away with displaying her in such a vulgar and obtrusive fashion.
It was at this point in the proceedings that – to use that time tested cliché – all hell broke loose.
The public meeting ended sometime after 11:00 p.m. with both hosts and participants showing signs of exhaustion. Jim Stahl’s tactic of putting his wife on display worked well initially, getting the crowd riled to a fever pitch, but the blame worked its way around again and when neighbors suggested that if Jim’s father would have complied with any one of the missives sent from Pennsylvania DEP the Hickory Hills development might not be sitting atop a despoiled aquifer. Kori was grateful the evening hadn’t been reduced to fisticuffs. In fact, real progress had been made as the EPA and DEP outlined their plan. The water in the aquifer would be pumped out of the ground, run through a carbon filter and returned, clean, to the aquifer, the same theory Marty had used on the family’s in-house filtration system. The downside was that the treatment would likely bring the cost of the remedy up to the forty million dollar range and may take as long as twenty-five years to complete.
EPA told the residents of Hickory Hills that they were to continue drinking and cooking with bottled water while their well water was to be used for the rest. Kori wondered about the wisdom of this – daily bathing would mean daily absorption of contaminants through the skin – and was about to raise the issue when Vera Stahl began a violent coughing fit. When she regained her composure, Jim gave over to the evil glares and took her home.
Gil had fallen asleep during the meeting, a deep REM sleep which followed his inhalation of a handful of Tootsie Rolls, taffy, and half a dozen mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, courtesy of Aunt Stella. Aunt Stella had not plied Gil with that much chocolate. He’d found the mother lode while she was chatting and worked it until her coat pockets sagged, depleted. Aunt Stella turned after a long discussion with a neighbor to see a pile of wrappers in Gil’s lap and him out cold. She flashed Kori a guilty look, collected the trash and covered Gil with her coat.
Gil was in the car with Avery now, wide awake and fidgety. He’d have trouble falling asleep tonight, but Kori would worry about that when she got home. Chris Kane had followed her out to the parking lot and waited while she started the car. They stood in front of Ruth’s minivan, awkward and antsy, trying to say goodbye. Gil honked the horn and Kori jumped. He was showing signs of driving away himself so she turned to Chris Kane.
“It was great seeing you again, Chris. I hope you do our meeting justice.”
“Which meeting would that be?” Chris asked.
Kori blushed, and turned away, embarrassed.
“Would you mind . . . I mean, I was thinking that a story on your brother and his, what did you call it? A TDU? That a story on his machine would make good copy for the business section. What do you think?”
“I’m not sure.” Kori looked back at Gil, jumping around in the back seat more like a monkey than the young man who held keys to the world’s better future. “I told you someone set our porch on fire. We’re don’t know if those two things are related. I don’t want anything else to happen.” For the third or fourth time tonight, Kori intuited that Chris Kane might want to lean over and kiss her, but maybe that was just wishful thinking.
“If you’re worried about it, the best thing you can do is get it out in the open. The more people who know about it, the better chance you have of staying safe.”
“Can I think about it?” Kori asked.
Chris nodded. “I’ll call you in a couple days then.”
“Okay,” Kori said, looking over her shoulder “I gotta go now.”
“Sure,” Chris replied. Kori extended her hand, but instead of shaking it, he kissed it.
to be continued. . .
This is how we got here
Twenty-five years ago, when Ruth and Marty Tirabi purchased a ten-acre plot in the middle of bucolic farmland, they thought they’d landed in heaven. Unfortunately, the realtor who sold them the property neglected to tell them that beyond the tranquil, bucolic edge of their horizon, a toxic stew was brewing. At that time, no one thought much about the environmental hazards associated with home buying. But then the intermittent smell wafted in, the one hundred and fifty-seven single family dwellings rose up like a tsunami, and carloads of benzene, toluene, and perchloroethane joined truckloads of mercury, lead, nickel, perchloroethate, and a whole host of other hazardous substances with equally unpronounceable names, forming car pools and organizing marches to the aquifer below. The caravan traveled slowly, inch by careful inch, undiscovered until a quarter century later.
And water being what it was – ubiquitous by any standard – the contamination did not confine itself to any legal borders, but spread throughout the entire aquifer, a massive thing that provided water to the Stahl’s, the Tirabi’s and their neighbors in the new Hickory Hills development. Hickory Hills attracted wealthy city dwellers who pined for pristine country air and didn’t know most farmers’ propensity not only to sell what they grew, but to rent what they owned to cover the spread. Jim Stahl, Sr. had covered his spread by renting a portion of his property to the County to be used as a landfill. And since there were few, if any, instances where one person’s actions failed to affect the lives of others, Jim’s contaminated water spread to his neighbors’ homes and discreetly took up residence there, finding permanent quarter in the kitchens and bathrooms of all one hundred and fifty-seven single family dwellings.
Lawyers advised clients in hushed, confidential tones to get a blood test and a wave of pandemonium spread through the development as test after test came back positive for cancer. Children with their developing immune systems were hit especially hard. The local newspapers did their part to raise the level of hysteria. Gossip spread rumors like a middle-aged waist-line, forcing the EPA to mount a public awareness campaign. EPA went door-to-door, offering all the neighbors of Hickory Hills bottled water until the in-house filtration systems could be installed. But in many instances, it was too late.
Jim Stahl Sr. had started landfilling in 1975, thirteen years after Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, one year before Congress passed the Clean Water Act, and eleven years before they would enact CERCLA, the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act, also known as the Superfund. Rivers were catching on fire, leaded gas was leaving a smoke screen out on U.S. highways, and Love Canal had exploded into public awareness. At that time, there was more to worry about than a few hundred thousand pounds of unprotected trash. But if the Senior Stahl had complied with even the most primitive dumping laws in effect at the time he started landfilling, the Hickory Hills development might not be on the National Priorities List today, and Jim Stahl, Jr. would not be mired in the muck that his father’s landfill had become. The National Priorities List or NPL was a list of the nation’s most contaminated Superfund Sites. Making that list was not something to write home about.
Over the years, corrective measures were put into place – a bit of cover here, some plastic to act as leachate collection there – but no one anticipated the rapid growth of the surrounding communities or looked at the scheme of the landfill in its entirety. Jim’s father retired, passing the whole problem on to his son – the sins of the father, as it were – and Jim took to greeting government inspectors at the door with a shotgun.
Several months and meetings later, EPA dispatched an OSC, On-Scene Coordinator, who directed two dozen people dressed in hazmat suits, moon suits as Vera, Jim’s wife, called them, to construct a temporary cap over the landfill. The cap was like a big Rubbermaid mat comprised of heavy-duty geosynthetic material. For three weeks, backhoes, trackhoes, bobcats, bulldozers and cranes dotted the landscape. When the temporary cap was complete, the contractors fenced the front half in, packed up and drove away, leaving the seething menace to percolate below and promising to send the culpable parties along to finish the job soon. Two years later, the temporary cap, held in place by used tires strung together with rope, had begun to show its age.
to be continued. . .