Keep your cool, keep cool, stay cool, don’t die here Maeve snarls to herself as she weaves her battered pickup through a convoy of semis on Deerbound Trail. She drove all night from work camp at Tailings Pond and the morning sun bites at her eyes as tries to focus on the road through the bugs. She’s at the end her dash for the Real Rush Energy head office in downtown Oil Land. Cool, stay cool. Words tumble in her head. Dead flippin’ ducks. I get blamed. Right!? I go down for this? JB’s gonna be an angry pitbull with big jaws snapping. Snap me like a twig. Gravel rakes her windshield hard from the bare wheel well of a jacked up Tundra. Or will my crisis training kick in and help me out? She hopes the latter but fears the first. Dead ducks lying dead in Tailings Pond, what a disaster. Her truck’s undercarriage makes a terrible rattle, must have hit a rabbit or something on the way down. Over the roar of the traffic, and the tumble of big jaw, snapping like a twig snapping, in her head, Maeve steadies herself with a breath. She punches at her jerry-rigged onboard Bluetooth and yells out, “Dial Real Rush. Harold Jones.” Harry picks up her call right away. “Maeve, ah—?” He has no time to answer back when Maeve shouts, “No way those alarm horns could have scared that flock off, Harry forget it. Couldn’t get ’em set up fast enough anyway. Duck corpses everywhere.” She swerves into the diamond lane to pass a tourist trailer of obscene length.“Yeah, flocks and insane flocks of ’em … banked and landed right on top of our Pond 13, what a cesspool … what were we supposed to do? Flap our arms around at ’em and pray? God knows we tried. What a disaster.” A merge moves her out onto the final Memorial Trail to town. “What?? You knows about it already. How did you find out? ... What station? ... You tell Mailcoat yet? … Give me five minutes, I’ll be right there.” Maeve tears off her headset and slaps down the sun visor, grabbing at the same time for her aviator glasses and poking out one of the lenses in the process. She drives head on into the flaming sun toward downtown Oil Land, squinting with one eye. She has a pretty good idea that Harry will give JB the heads up about the dead ducks. Not a great way to start a meeting. Her breath sharpens into a rasp and she catches herself groaning in gasps and moans. Breathe, steady yourself. She punches at her playlist, takes a big breathe and sings along to a song about calming down and not being so loud. Fat chance she can follow that advice. It took three months with Read Rush to get that Lucas was right all along. — that she’s selling out. She’d told him, “I’ll do a great job at Tailings Pond, then you’ll see. I’ll dazzle JB Mailcoat and his Real Rush cronies with renewable energy experiments we’ve been testing, you’ll see.” Lucas said without a trace of empathy, “You’re kidding, right? He’ll eat you alive.” When she accepted the job, Maeve thought she’d be working in the solar testing lab but instead, JB assigned her to chase wildlife away from Tailings Pond. The dazzling presentation she’d planned was likely today to turn into don’t fire me, I have to pay my student loans. Nothing I could do to keep those ducks off the toxic water. Don’t you believe me? As she heads toward the inevitable crunch with JB Mailcoat and his snapping jaws at Real Rush’s head office, she drives and chants, keep your cool, Maeve. Pull yourself together. Do not be afraid.
At the same time, JB Mailcoat, President and CEO of Real Rush Energy, cracks his morning cola and kicks his scuffed cowboy boots up on the shiny walnut desk. He surveys the corporate landscape of Oil Land and the shining mountains that stretch beyond the walls of his glass palace on the 38th floor of the Real Rush Building. As he sucks an errant morsel of breakfast steak from between his teeth, he reflects on how much easier life would be if there was a big ocean out there, dotted with oil tankers instead of peaky mountains and stacks of unused pipeline. JB pries his thousand-mile stare off the sweeping horizon and swings his long legs up and away from the top of the desk and onto the floor with a thud. A flurry of dog whines and scratches from a nest under his hobby table in the corner of the room prompts him to hurl a big rawhide bone in the direction of his black lab Lucky, who jumps out at it from across the Persian rug with a rip and a salivating snort. JB reaches out to scratch Lucky behind the ear, drawling out “Who needs a harbor, Daddy needs a harbor,” but a rap at the door provokes barking and lunging that knocks JB off balance, upsetting both his train of thought about needing harbors and the pile of coins he had stacked up on the corner of his desk. A muffled voice from behind the big oak door says, “Excuse me, Mr. Mailcoat … twenty-five hundred dead ducks ... Tailings Pond—” JB, momentarily distanced from his aura of command, slides around on a sea of collapsed coinage as he grabs Lucky’s collar in one swift movement. Harold Jones opens the door a crack, saying, “we may be facing a disaster.” “Whaddya mean, a disaster?” “That’s what she said, JB. I’m only repeating what Dr. Wong—” “Listen, Harry!” JB strides across the room, points a square finger and yells out. “Chernobyl was a disaster. Katrina was a disaster. Fifty rigs out about five hundred days hittin’ fifty dry holes, that’s gettin’ up there. Who is this Dr. Wong anyway, calling this a disaster. This ain’t nothin.’ Dead ducks ain’t even on the radar.” As he punches at the television remote, Harold answers, “Yeah, I’m with you, JB.” The channels flip from the twangy country music channel to JB’s default favourites: the Fishing Network, ESPN, and Fox News. He looks up to see JB scowling. “You’re pushing on an open door, JB, on a scale of one to ten, dead ducks is a minus one hundred and ninety-three.” Harry, besides being a pretty good slide guitarist and a native Oil Lander, is a world class suckhole. “Okay,” he sighs, “Here’s the coverage.” The screen springs to life with images of dead and dying ducks and a news ticker that proclaims AntiTox’s discovery of a catastrophe of dead and dying ducks. JB, true to his hard-stubble cow ranching and oil patch roots of Okadoka, swings into crisis mode. “So what are you people doin’ about these ducks. Tell me. Right Now!”
Maeve pulls her muddy truck up in front of Real Rush, flips on the hazards lights, jumps out, flashes her lanyard dongle at security, and catches the elevator up to the 38th Floor. Struggling to control her hammering heart, she closes her eyes and a scene from the stinking mire of muck comes flooding in. In her head, she has the courage to remember— oil-soaked duck, bewildered, trying to scream, flapping crippled wings. Ding. 14th Floor. Grabbing the desperate thing, slipping and sliding in the filth, scooping it up. The poor creature flapping weakly but enough to spray ooze all over me. Ding. 25th Floor. Oh God, the ooze is still all over me! I scrub it off with detergent and it waddles away but there are so many others. Ding. 31th Floor. Lucas — pirouetting out by the busted air canon, holding his camera up over his head, connecting with the Veritable Press satellite. Shouting out Lucas, Don’t rat me out. Please!!’ Shouting Sorry Lucas. I’ve whored myself out to Real Rush Energy and now I’m in deep. Don’t rat me out! Did her hear me? Ding. 38th Floor. Maeve slides past the inner sanctum secretarial sentries, gorgeous in their stiletto heels and butterfly false eyelashes, spots the bronze door plaque reading “JB Mailcoat CEO” and barges straight through. She is covered in grease, her hair pulled back with a motorcycle bandana and coveralls rolled down to her waist, exposing a tar and feather-smeared Montexa Folk Festival t-shirt. Lucky, the dog, thunderstruck by her appearance and dominated by her “Ho, Canine, back off,” retreats to gnaw on his rawhide. Hey this is no pitpull just a black lab. She thinks. Not kind but not deadly either. JB spins away from the television, reeling with the twin realization that shareholders’ investments in oil lands are in jeopardy and that there is a strange, disheveled FarEastern woman in the office. He yells out, “Harry, goddammit, who the hell is this?” Harold, tripping over his words in his haste to defuse the situation blurts out, “JB, this is Dr. Maeve Wong, our new environmental scientist. We hired her away from post-graduate field work at the copper smelter disaster down in Montexa. She can give you some of the … some of the—” “Yeah. Spit it out Harry, Some of th’ what?” snaps JB. Maeve, not wanting to further embarrass anyone, interrupts with, “Good morning, Mr. Mailcoat, sir.” She removes her oily glove and extends her hand but JB just glares at her. Maeve recoils her hand, using the motion as a chance to reach into her coverall pocket for her phone. The screen brightens up with sad pictures of dying ducks. She holds the phone up to JB face saying, “Sir, birds died. Lots of birds. This isn’t the first time either.” With a click and a scroll she finds the stats she is looking for. “Records show that between four hundred and fifty-eight and five thousand and twenty-nine birds died last year after landing on our ponds.” JB is, on the one hand, appalled at one so unfeminine — like a medieval princess, no makeup, holy shit — and, on the other, impressed that she had come them from the copper mine smelter disaster zone. “Listen, lady I heard it all before. Duck hunters shotgun thousands a’ ducks outta Oil Land skies every year—.” Maeve wants to wind up and give KB a stiff kick in the butt with her steel-toed boot, but instead chants to herself stay cool, survive this life, don’t die here. JB is still yelling, “...a hellava lotta feathers hit the deck all kind of ways. A couple a’ thousand gettin’ a messy death? Not a big deal.” While he is yelling, she bites her tongue, leans over to pick some coins up off the floor and stacks them back up onto the coffee table in what she hopes is perceived as a demonstration of cooperation. But JB isn’t finished. Raising his voice to the feared heights of admonishing pitbull he continues. “I heard wind turbines nail over ten thousand birds a month. And what do think them AntiTox types serve at their annual piss-ups? Roast dead duck with that there l’orange, I’ll bet. Dead duck on the rocks with a twist a’ lemon. Duck a la King. Look lady, we’re not talkin’ about dead babies here!” “The problem is, JB…” Harold interrupts. “The problem is that with Dr. Wong’s guidance we’ve made dramatic improvements to our bird-deterrent system—” JB spins around and yells, “So why the hell don’t they work?” He kicks the waste basket across the room with such velocity that the office fills with an earsplitting clang. Maeve looks over at Harry and sucks in her cheeks, hoping he interprets her exasperation. “The problem is, JB, this new duck incident has made headlines again around the world only this time it’s Real Rush and not your competition that’s between the crosshairs. Photos and videos of oil-drenched migrating fowl at Tailings Pond are going viral. It’s a nightmare.” Maeve perceives that Harold is making the problem worse rather than better. She says, “Mr. Mailcoat, sir, let me explain. Birds land on the pond water. They think its a lake but there’s oil on the surface.” “Lady, whose side are you on?!” Sensing an imminent blowout of Okadokan proportions, Harold thinks of grabbing JB another cola but instead slides up to the office bar and pours him a shot glass of Cuervo Gold. The shot of tequila brings JB back to memories of Panhandle cantinas and dirt tracks to remote well sites. His eyes reflect a fleeting moment of calm. Harry takes advantage of this to explain, “You may recall that at the Shareholders’ Annual Meeting, questions were raised about the ponds. That was when the committee of concerned shareholders suggested Real Rush retain the services of full-time ecologists and environmentalists.” JB hurls the empty shot glass at the trash basket, only to have it bounce off the side, hitting Maeve’ carefully constructed tower of coins and peppering Lucky with a ricochet of rebounds. The dog whimpers and slinks over to Maeve who pats him and whispers, “I’ll bet you don’t like gunshots either, hey Lucky.” JB glances at Lucky cuddling up to Maeve but spins around toward Harry and blows hard, shouting, “What the devil are you talking about? I don’t recall any such shareholders’ meeting.” “I think, in fairness, JB, you left the annual meeting early that day to take Governor Singh and her partner out to the Land Westohere fishing lodge and—” “Damn rights. If I’d bin there with the shareholders instead of entertainin’ Singh, we wouldn’t be employin’ no granola gropers in this man’s company.” Maeve stands her ground. “We can’t sweep this under the table, sir. Our press releases report that we are committed to protecting wildlife, that we are glad to discuss bird monitoring and reporting with responsible agencies, and we continue to seek better ways to protect wildlife and our feathered friends —” “Jeeze, Kid, gimme a break. We’re in the oil business, not the Bambi and Daffy Duck and Squirrel Nutkin business.” At this point, Maeve’s phone beeps but JB continues, oblivious to the interruption. “Hey, don’t get me wrong, I like pets, hey, my kids down home had some of them birds, parrots ’er somethin’ when they were little. An’ a cat.” Maeve checks her phone, nodding her head as if she tolerates or, God forbid, even agrees with JB’s opinions about Bambi and Daffy. She mumbles, only half hoping JB hears her, Twenty-five years old, I’m not a kid! then reads the screen aloud. “Sir, more news since the ponds disaster—” JB’s wincing and snorting huffs over the word ‘disaster’ gives her a chance to re-read the text message. “Sir, our people in the field have announced the premature deaths of some additional twenty-five hundred ducks at our Tailings Pond. Another huge flock that got past the air cannons had to be euthanized.” “Euthanized? Like, offed? Twenny-five hundred? Is someone countin’ these birds, one by one? Maybe it’s one hundred and thirty, maybe it’s three thousand. Hello, I found another one: this is an ex-duck! Duck? Ex-duck! Like I said. This ain’t news. Harry scours the breaking news ticker for information about the additional carnage but so far it hasn’t hit the media. “Sir, please remember we have announced our fullest cooperation with the regulatory authorities, and are working to minimize waterfowl losses, exercising due diligence about cleaning up the Pond.” After another quick look at the screen the anxious EA adds, “Our written press release attributes this statement to you, JB.” “Ain’t I the responsible citizen!” Harry looks at him and makes a last-ditch attempt to smooth things out with some fake news, knowing his job might be on the line. “Sir, there might have been what we characterize as ‘unusual bird activity’ due to freezing rain in the area, which makes it difficult for the birds to fly and forces them down. They were easily approached, indicating that they were drunk on berries or fatigued.” Maeve hides her face in her hands as JB explodes. “Fatigued, fat-tigued? All this energy and due diligence and runnin’ round in circles, and you’ve figured them birds just got rained on, tuckered out and fell outta the sky! This is what I’m payin’ you for? And what about them regulators, Harry. I thought you got ’em pieced off.” “Trouble is, JB, the enviros are now permitted routine ride-alongs with the inspectors by the government.” “They what? Enviros spying at Tailings Pond?” Harry quails. “A not-so-bright idea of Governor Singh.” “That phoney balony! She wouldn’t know her ass from a duck’s ass.” Maeve walks over to Harry, gives him a weary smile and takes over the television remote, cranking the volume. “Speaking of whom, well, Mr. Mailcoat, she’s live on location.” Governor Singh fills the screen from onsite at the Pond. The camera pulls back to reveal her holding and stroking a pathetic oil-covered duck. “I cannot express how disappointed and frustrated I am that this regrettable incident occurred,” she intones, reading with poppy eyes from the teleprompt, “Oil Landers deserve answers to why this bird carnage happened again, and we will do everything we can to get these answers quickly.” JB snorts. “Who voted for this idiot? Who donated to her?” Governor Singh continues: “State officials ensure that Real Rush is preventing further flocks of birds from landing. Air cannons are said to be operating, but their deployment has been sporadic and dilatory—” “Sporadic… and what? Harry, turn that thing off.” “Mr. Mailcoat,” interrupts Maeve, “it is a feather in our cap that we are addressing these concerns.” She relays a half-truth that gives her moral compass a spin. “Indeed, we have deployed extra air cannons, flare guns and air horns to try to scare the birds away, but with no luck so far, I’m afraid. The entire region is a busy migrating route for waterfowl.” “You’re afraid? I ain’t afraid. I want this problem and this rotten publicity squashed, right now. As for the freezin’ rain and drunk birds—” “JB,” says Harry, “enviros are calling Tailings Pond a duck killing ground, it’s getting a lot of media play, and it’s catching on everywhere. The buzz is that all Real Rush and the other operators get is a slap on the wrist. That they do anything they want. You know who is getting a lot of mileage out of this, eh? AntiTox.” Maeve, remembering the sighting of her boyfriend Lucas Van Dam at Tailings Pond with his camera and satellite phone upload gadget, jumps at the chance to change the subject but just makes things worse, “…and AntiTox says the tar pond—” “The what?” “Sorry, Sir, I meant Tailings Pond, of course.” “You been brainwashed like them AntiTox types, lady?” She flinches at his insult. “This is an urgent matter. Research postulates that the number of bird deaths in Oil Land is between seven and seventy-seven times higher than our own energy industry estimates.” “Pustulates? Ya’ mean like pimples?” JB tilts back his head and snickers at his pun, waking up his sleeping dog who leaps up and sniffs around for a place to relieve himself. Maeve, speaking out over Lucky’s pathetic whining, says, “Sir, our industry reported an average sixty-five birds die each year. However, according to ecological data, over ten thousands expire each year from landing on ponds rife with toxic heavy metals and acids—” “Think I haven’t heard all this before? JB yells with a laugh, “Ducks de-ducks duck. Hey! Ducks. Redux. Would make a great horror movie with new scenes — like Apocalyse Now. The horror, dead ducks!” He scoffs and walks over to the door, leading Lucky by the scruff of the neck, booting him out into the hall so his toilet needs become someone else’s problem. Then he shuffles over to the bar to pour another tequila. For some strange reason, he thinks of offering one to Maeve but is stopped by what he considers to be the dumbest idea he’s ever heard. “Mr. Mailcoat, we must emphasize that we are committed to protecting wildlife. I suggest that Real Rush support the establishment of a bigger environmental research team. We’ll visit the field in a scientifically defensible manner—.” “Scientifically defensible? Harry, what the hell?” “Perhaps, JB, we might excuse Dr. Wong at this time, with our thanks, and we can consult further after she has had a chance to explore our corporate options in consultation with her colleagues on staff.” He nods at Maeve to beat a hasty retreat. As she starts to leave, JB shouts out after her, “You’re not wigglin’ out of responsibility for this. Park your beater, clean up in my gym and I want you back here in an hour! My sentry out at the front desk will give you the keycodes.” As Maeve opens the door to leave the room, Lucky makes his ballistic re-entry. Amidst the canine bluster, she is shocked that JB catches her eye and steadily holds her gaze.
Maeve is glad to be getting out of JB’s office, but the warm glow that has flushed her face catches her totally by surprise. What was JB’s look all about? I hate guys like Mailcoat with their right-wing values and beer bellies so what do I see in that look? Is he looking at me like a lover? That would be so MeToo weird. Is he thinking he’s like my dad? Is he just curious, never met a FarEaster? Is there a booger in of my nose? She discretely checks her nose, no booger. A blonde executive assistant with fake eyelashes like butterflies looks up from her phone and passes along JB’s pass codes saying, “Gym’s down the hall and if you want some clean clothes, there’s some in a basket marked ‘Tricia’ above the water cooler.” Maeve computes what she’s heard but her main thoughts spring back to her truck’s blinking hazard lights out front of the Real Rush Building and how her battery is due to die any minute. “Parking garage?” she asks Tricia. “Easy,” was the answer. “Just key in L-U-C-K-Y.” She joins JB’s other sentries as they field phone calls pouring in as dead ducks hit tlevision and social media all over Oil Land and beyond. Maeve sheds greasy mud clumps as she races across the lobby and out the front doors to save her truck’s battery from certain death by hazard light. The old Pathfinder grinds a bit to get started, and the exhaust makes a new kind of racket she hasn’t heard before. She mumbles Better get someone to look at that muffler. Maeve winds a way down to executive parking, enters the L-U-C-K-Y code and pulls up beside the fleet of Real Rush 4 x 4 Suburbans and lanky Mercedes. She kicks her muddy steel-toes boots into the passenger wheel well and for the second time in less than an hour, catches the elevator up to the 38th Floor, this time in her sock feet. As she closes her eyes, the scene from JB Mailcoat’s office comes flooding in. Why did he look at me like that? Does he like me like a daughter? Or a new flame? He’s old enough to be my dad. Ding. 14th Floor. I didn’t even have a chance to talk to him about renewables instead of always oil, oil, oil. Will I ever? Ding. 25th Floor. Will he ever call me Maeve or should I just be The Kid to him forever. Ding. 31th Floor. Is Lucas still in at Tailings Pond with AntiTox? Will he ever even speak to me again after what I have done — Ding.