Malcolm and Sam

March 24, 2009

Concrete Evidence

      Morgan and Mark eventually made their excuses and wandered off to do what it is that young people do, leaving me sitting alone on the Friendly Lady and doing what old people do—thinking too much and waiting for something to happen.
      When I felt a gentle tilt to the deck I glanced at the chronometer on the bulkhead and drew some water for the tea pot. I hadn’t fired up the stove top before I heard the knock on the hatch overhead. “Come aboard, Adams,” I said and waited for the thick teak hatch to open.
      I hadn’t seen Malcolm Adams for a few years—not since I was in Brighton for a conference. Except for a sprinkling of gray in his hair, he looked the same as the man I last saw in a pub one street over from the old parade ground that fronts the Channel.
      “Not Lipton, I hope.” He reached down through the hatch to shake my hand.
      I popped the lighter on the alcohol stove top and adjusted the pale blue flame under the red enameled pot that had belonged to my mother. Meanwhile, Malcolm made his way down the companionway—ladder to lubbers—and chose a seat at the table.
      “Earl Grey, but not loose, I’m afraid,” I returned.
      “Saw you had company, so I waited,” he went on, dropping his British accent for his American persona.
      “Yes, that was my cousin’s daughter, Morgan, and her new friend, Mark—though frankly I don’t think he’ll last long.”
      “I know who the girl was. Is she fickle, as they say in my country?
      “No, or at least I don’t believe so,” I couldn’t help but smile. “Let’s just say that Morgan’s rough on relationships.” The idea that Adams knew about Morgan disturbed me. I placed the teabags into our cups and added steaming water. “Milk and sugar?”
      “Sugar, please.”
      I dragged the small canister of sugar from the shelf behind the galley and brought everything to the table, including a plate and two spoons that I rinsed and dried off with a paper towel. “Sorry, haven’t washed up, yet.”
      “I understand that she’s the one setting up the foundation monitoring and doing material’s testing for the Sabine power plant?”
      “Her field tech works with the power company to set up the monitoring; the testing, mostly on the concrete coating system is done in her lab here in New Orleans.”
      “You’ve got eyes on him at the construction site?” Adams folded his teabag over his spoon to press out the last of the liquid before setting aside the bag on a plate. He added a spoon of sugar and stirred.
      “Her,” I said. “Morgan’s man on the site is a woman. And no reason to worry, yet. I’m sure Morgan would have consulted me if someone approached her about either the testing or the monitoring.”
      “I’m sure they will, and before too long. You know it’s dangerous, especially for a woman on a large construction site. Accidents tend to happen when the boss doesn’t get the results he expects.
       “I’d rather not mention names, but I’m sure we’re talking about the man who gave you trouble, before,” I hedged, scalding my tongue on the hot tea.
      “Probably,” Adams sipped from his cup and reached for another sugar. “I think we have the same situation brewing here that the Russians are heading towards at Chernobyl.”
      “Surely not that serious,” I was hoping that Malcolm was exaggerating for effect. The temptation to tell a good story was not beyond the Brit. “Anyway, why Chernobyl? I know you’re not selling detectors to the Russians.”
      “Well, Washington has made things almost as difficult for us here.” Adams tried another sip of tea and started to reach for another sugar. “Do you think we could have some Louisiana coffee? I rather favor that stuff with the chicory.”
      “Community brand?”
      “Just what I was thinking,” he sighed and watched me empty our cups of tea into the sink.
      I used the old hand cranked grinder I stored in the engine compartment and got out the little plunger pot that had been my wife’s favorite. The aroma of fresh ground coffee permeated the cabin. I resumed my position at the table while we waited for the water to heat.
      “So, what is it that you’re really here for?” I asked Malcolm, even though I already knew the sorts of projects that Malcolm Adams worked on. “I know what you told me on the phone before you flew down, but there must be more to it.”
      The Brit managed to look both pleased and glum at the same time, most like a farmer who has sensed an upturn in the price of pork while negotiating the cost of pig feed.
      “And there is,” he returned to his thoughtful look. “You and Walter work together,” he stated more as fact than conjecture.
      I nodded my agreement.
      “Yes, I had it on good authority.”
      Obviously he was pleased with his source of information, but I wasn’t going to pat him on the back for sticking his nose into my business. “You want to talk with Walter; you know how to find him without my help.” Maybe I was being too prickly. “How about that coffee?”
      I poured the water over the ground beans, stirred the thick mixture into uniform slurry, and inserted the plunger. “Be about two minutes,” I said.
      While we waited, Malcolm seemed to make up his mind about something and asked me, “Does Morgan know anything about our mutual friend?”
      Adams was talking about Senator Sharp. “No, I haven’t seen any possible need for her to know,” I countered. “In fact, I think it would be much safer for her not to know anything about the politics of the project,” I added rather forcefully.
      Adams didn’t seem surprised by my outburst. I continued, “By and large my clients are interested in seeing that the money flows into the right pockets—mostly theirs. However, they’re not quite so greedy and they do worry about the quality of the final product. Hell, we don’t want an uncontrolled reactor meltdown on the Gulf Coast.
       “I hope they’re smart enough to know that our bloke never accepts partners. He’s an all or nothing sort of politician,” Malcolm grimaced.
      “They remember that well enough,” I laughed. “At least those who’ve had their fingers burned.”
      “Here’s the deal,” Adams leaned forward. “The administration wants to push nuclear power generation, but they want to push a safe technology that looks uncontaminated by military considerations. They can’t afford to have a major accident in commercial power production—you can leave the military out of this because I don’t think they, meaning the President and his bunch, have much control over what the military is doing. It’s the same in NATO where we face a much more immediate threat from the Soviets. The generals are playing with their toys, their nuclear artillery shells and low yield tactical stuff and they’re doing some damn dangerous things backed by a group of scientist who are mostly frightened that they might lose their budgets and only too happy to turn a blind eye to the consequences of what they are doing.”
      “So, why the Sabine project?” I wanted to know.
      “Simply timing, that’s all. Also, the fact that I have the potential to look inside using a source that I can trust.”
      “Leaving aside, for the moment, that I won’t let you involve Morgan in this,” I said, “why would Washington be interested in anything you Brits have to say about our nuclear program?”
      Malcolm looked slightly embarrassed. “Mainly because we’ve had so many accidents—and maybe because we’ve been down some of these roads. There’s also the fact that you American’s are so damned arrogant about your technology. Your own President understands this. Wait until you have a significant accident and then see how people are going to react to bit of carelessness on someone’s part. You’ll have to shut down development, you’ll have to burn more coal and gas, and you’ll be more dependent than ever on oil from the Saudi’s and on Iran’s good will.”
      I had to admit the truth of most of what Malcolm was saying about the dangers inherent in our nuclear program, but that was beside the point. “You can’t use Morgan in your plans. I can supply you with a lot of information that you’ll need and I can tell you who the players are and how they are connected, but you can’t involve Morgan. That’s final.”
      For some reason, Malcolm Adams looked ready to humor me. “We’ll see,” he returned. “I certainly won’t push you on that subject.”
      “And don’t think to appeal to my patriotism for a discount,” I add. “My rates are high.” I got out my best malt from a cupboard under the table and poured each of us a couple of fingers. Outside the wind was shifting to the northwest.
      “Of course, Sam,” Adams smiled indulgently and in a way that made me feel a little like a country cousin—or perhaps a colonial.
      “You should start with Politabas and Madling,” I said. “Talk with Walter Onley and he will give you details. One of them turns over money, the other turns over dirt. They’re the key to how everything is organized. Let me know what you need and where I can send the bill—and stay away from Morgan.”
      Adams put his empty glass down and got up to leave. “I’ll do what’s possible, Sam, but you may have to change your mind.”
      I doubted that, where Morgan was concerned. “I think you have plenty of time before either Politabas or Madding does anything.”
      Malcolm shrugged. “I hope you’re right.” He ascended the ladder and pushed back the hatch. “Leave it open?”
      “Yeah, it’s a warm night and I may sleep aboard.”

About charles frenzel

I've been writing all my life. I've also painted, composed, sculpted, contributed to molecular research, advanced some mathematical concepts, lived on a sailboat, and worked for a Nobel Prize winner. Nothing in my life has pleased me more than to share my life with my wife and friend of over forty years.

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