~ A 250 Word Per Chapter Novella ~
Sitting on the water table with legs dangling, Webb gazed west over scrubland mesa top glowing golden-orange under a setting sun which could only be described as a red ball. Evening air cooled and dried by a light, westerly breeze carried scent of dried grass and leaves. A population explosion of crickets graced the close of day with their prodigious song. Nothing else stirred for a long while until Webb heard the deep rumble of the toolpusher's truck approaching. Scrambling to his feet, he spotted the dust cloud stirred by the advancing vehicle. Moving nimbly, he started down the derrick ladder. He wasn't supposed to be climbing on any part of the rig except the steel staircase between ground and floor. He didn't want to lose his job as rig watchman, the only thing he knew how to do to earn money.
Making it down to the monkey board just as the toolpusher pulled onto the pad, Webb dropped, stretched out flat on the board and watched, wondering why the toolpusher wasn't at home for Thanksgiving like everyone else. The rig wouldn't be moved from the dry hole location until Monday. The toolpusher looked around and called his name before hustling a cardboard barrel up to the rig floor then over beside the turntable. Looking around once more, he reached into the barrel and set to tossing its contents down the borehole, one piece at a time.
A foot. An arm. A leg. Another arm. A red-bearded head . . .
Crew began arriving before sunup Monday. Sipping hot coffee from thermoses, they gathered in the doghouse and teased Webb.
"Whew! Somebody stinks." Bob said with a grimace when he came into the doghouse. "What'd you do out here alone all weekend long, Webby? Chase skunks and jack off on 'em?"
"Uh huh," he replied with a grin. Everyone laughed coarsely.
"Damn, next time do us all a favor and wash up in the mud pit before we get back," Bob offered as advice.
"Okay, I will...but...uh...will soap work in a mud bath, Bob?"
More laughter, all mean spirited and brutish, but Webb would never sense it that way. He enjoyed being included in any conversation.
"Sure it will, Webby boy, but you can't use just any soap. You gotta use this. This here rig soap used to clean the substructure," Bob answered, reaching into one of the cardboard barrels for a handful of the powder and flinging it at Webb. "And you gotta scrub down with this instead of a washcloth," he added, jabbing a rig brush at Webb's crotch for emphasis.
Webb retreated out of the doghouse, giggling hysterically as Bob chased after him with the brush. He ducked around the handrail and dashed down the steel staircase with Bob in hot pursuit just as the toolpusher arrived in his loud truck. Webb stopped running and Bob abruptly turned and headed back up into the doghouse.
"Morning, Webbor," Dodd said. "Any problems here over the weekend?"
Vince glared at the sheriff, angry to have to deal with such crap right now. Too many more pressing things clamored in his pounding brain needing immediate attention, not the least of which was survival.
"You say he's been missing three days now?"
"That's right. His truck was found out on Ten Hill Road. Keys still in the ignition. No sign of struggle inside or out. His wife can't reach him on cell."
Vince growled and shouted at Windy to pull Jasper's file.
"Be there with it in a sec," she shouted back from the front office.
His worry mounted tenfold. He could ill afford to lose his senior geologist, especially with him leading the Shadow Ridge Shale project. That exploration effort was his last hope for the company. He and Jasper had kept quiet to everyone else about it for that very reason as they had worked for more than two years now to acquire leases and plan drilling operations to explore the basin. If he lost Jasper, he wasn't sure recovery was possible. He understood the science and logistics of the project but he was too damned busy with financials and politics to take on the geology work too if he lost Jasper. Where the hell is he? Why had he disappeared? Then a chill passed through his body in dreadful understanding.
He sat down and began answering every question he legally could as the sheriff grilled him for details about Jasper's habits of life, work and play.
As the crew lowered the derrick and began dismantling the rig, Webb sat in the doghouse now set off to the side out of the way pondering the cardboard barrel full of powdered rig soap and what Bob had said about bathing with it. A vague memory bubbled up of body parts coming out of a barrel just like it. Where had he seen that? From someplace high up. He was sure of that. The sun had been bright red and low in the sky then, but the body parts were in darkness now.
Taking a bath in drilling mud with rig soap seemed foolish to Webb. Even disturbing. Those body parts were down hole in drilling mud right now, even as the capping crew moved in to close up the borehole for good. Someone yelled from outside.
“Come on outa the doghouse, Webb. Time to put it on the trailer.”
Webb stood back out of the way watching the crew take loose items out of the doghouse, including the barrel of soap, and load it on the trailer with a winch truck. The substructure was dragged away from the wellhead and slowly winched up onto another big trailer. The capping crew moved in, removed the blowout preventer and sealed the wellhead tight with a heavy lid screwed down using a big pipe wrench with a long cheater slid over its handle.
Whoever that was down there in mud was never getting out again, Webb realized, saddened by the thought.
Vince rolled into Sasakwa and wondered at how it had not changed one iota as the new century progressed into its second decade, recalling a day in summer 1959 when he brought his family here to visit Bobbyjo so the kids could meet his kids and ride his shetland pony while they talked about the sands less than a thousand feet below.
Pulling up to a well-whitewashed frame building with a very rusty corrugated steel roofed porch, he wondered if Fanny had changed at all since he last saw her in 1969. If she was still in touch with ETs. If she was getting around okay on her own. It was a wonder she was still alive at all. A nutcase by any measure, yet totally trustworthy with their dangerous secret. One knock on the same cheap, plywood door he last knocked on fifty years ago and there she was. The same but so much older. Eyes still full of crazy. Made Vince feel both himself.
She stepped out and over to the edge of the porch without saying a word, looked up at the sky for a full minute before turning and motioning him inside ahead of her. Nothing had changed inside except for her computing rig. An iMac Pro. Probably configured to the max. He was surprised to see she had a Magic Leap One set up and ready for use.
“It’s ready,” Fanny said. “Put it on and face the wall to your right to see.”
Webb watched Melanie zigzag across broken earth surrounding the pad, tossing her best wildflower seed there first before gradually spiraling inward around and around toward its center—toward him—tossing lesser quality grass and flower seed. He sat still by the capped wellhead, listening to Melanie humming quietly to herself as she drew near. Finally finishing her task, she settled down beside him with a smile and opened a pair of small lunch boxes containing sandwiches, chips and juice.
"PB&J or chicken salad?" she asked, offering both for him to choose from. He took the PB&J box and thanked her as their decades-old picnic ritual began. His sister always let him choose, even though she always knew which he would pick.
"Did you have enough seed?" he asked.
Nodding, she let him look inside the bag where a few handfuls remained.
"Can we plant them here around the wellhead?"
Surprised by her brother's request she didn't question it, nodding in agreement. He sighed and nodded back at her.
"He needs some flowers here," he offered as explanation. "For company when we leave."
"The man in the well."
Melanie frowned at that, not sure if she should press her brother about it. His imaginings were something he guarded. The only possessions of value to him. Best to let him reveal them at his own pace, if ever, no matter how strange.
Finished eating, she watched him scatter seed with care around the head of the useless well.
Vince was flying through the sand formation nine hundred feet beneath Fanny's old house. Marveling at the detailed geophysical imagery and ease with which he could move about in it manipulating a simple set of virtual flight controls which only appeared when he raised his left hand (thankful Fanny remembered he was a lefty) he complemented her fine work.
"You've invented something wonderful in this AR tool, Fanny."
"Pffft. I didn't invent anything. Just made a dillywig to fly through spatial strata data the seismic crews have collected around here for you over the decades. Nobody from here has invented anything new, or useful, since Sam Boyd's co-actional rail joint, which he filed patent for one hundred one years ago.”
Vince grinned at her reference to Boyd. She considered the 1900s inventor a member of her crazy alien visitor’s society, the only thing bringing technological advancement to Earth. He wondered if she thought of him as one of them. A light ping and a bit of text popped up in front of him declaring he had entered the target zone for the first exploratory well. Pivoting deeper and then back up again, he could see the pay zone was where he had predicted it would be.
“Right where you said it would be,” Fanny intoned as she fixed coffee. “At least in the data it is.”
Vince nodded to let her know he heard her but she wasn’t looking at him for acknowledgment. She never cared about being acknowledged.
Melanie drove Webb to his little shotgun shack house perched at the end of a long dirt road on a low cliff at the edge of the Trinity and helped him unload and store groceries they had picked up in town. They sat together for a while on the porch to enjoy the sunset before they prepared their supper.
Bottles came out to join them, purring and rubbing against them both to further cement possession of her humans. Webb purred back as he scratched behind her ears and in front of her short tail. A barred owl swooped down from cliff's edge and perched in a fat mesquite on the shore of the lake below. Then it began hooting and hawing.
Melanie smiled to herself in contentment of the moment. Times of quiet repose like this were possible only with her autistic brother. No one else she knew could sit still long enough to enjoy such times of simple peace and freedom.
"Remember when that owl took my hula popper?" Webb asked.
"Uh huh," she replied, her smile spreading at the memory. "Three times in a row."
"Yep. Even after I took the hooks off!" Webb giggled. "Thought it was catching a real frog!"
Melanie laughed softly with him. "We should go canoeing again soon. I'm getting hungry for crappie and bass."
"Oh yeah! Yeah!" Webb yelped in delight. "Can we gig frogs too? I love frog legs! Especially the ones that try to jump right up outta the frying pan!"
Vince sat with Fanny on her front porch sipping her strange brew, delighting in the coffee he had missed so much.
"Any signs of trouble over your headright?" He asked, referring to the legal instrument guarding the huge secret below her house.
Fanny turned her head deliberately, right then left. "Not a peep."
Vince looked at her closely, wondering how much of her great grandmother was in her stony face. "Are you ready to let it loose?" he asked, already knowing she was. Time was her enemy.
"It's time to set this tired old goose free," she replied with a sweeping wave over the tiny town.
"Are you armed?"
Fanny nodded. "To the teeth!" she replied with an enthusiastic grin that made Vince wonder if shooting would be necessary, shuddering at the thought of the brutal Osage murders. Fanny was Seminole, but foresight of her great grandparents had placed her in similar peril. Peril she was all too aware of, and seemingly ready to face head on—for benefit of the tribe. "The sneaky bastards won't have a chance if they come after me."
"And they will," Vince reminded her. "With a vengeance . . . even in this day and age."
Fanny only nodded that she understood.
"Do you want protection?" he asked.
She turned her head left and right once. "Too many eyes and mouths," she replied. "You know how I hate that."
Vince nodded, wishing there was more he could do to protect her. To keep her safe and happy.
Melanie and Webb watched the sun set and stayed out a bit longer enjoying fading song of cicada before going back inside to cook their supper. Webb did the cooking as Melanie watched. Tonight he wanted potstickers, boiled first, then seared in a frying pan.
As Webb cooked, Melanie set the table and they talked about anything and nothing in particular.
Webb finished searing the potstickers and carefully transferred them from the hot frying pan to a bowl. He had also heated a can of spinach to go with them. Melanie was glad to see he thought on his own of adding a green vegetable to the meal. They sat and ate without talking then cleared the table and washed the dishes together, Webb washing, Melanie drying and shelving.
"Can we watch The Simpsons now?" Webb asked. Melanie checked the time. It was still a little early. Half an hour before the program started. "It's still a while before The Simpsons comes on," she told him. "But we can use the time for you to open a present."
Webb's face lit up. "A present? For me! Yeah. Yeah, let's go!"
They settled into the soft cushions of the couch and Melanie handed the gift to Webb. He examined it for a long while, trying to guess what it was–a game he always enjoyed playing when he received any gift. Melanie waited patiently as he made his guesses, gently saying "No, try again," as each guess he made was incorrect.
“Will it be enough?” Fanny asked as darkness enfolded the little town.
“Enough,” Vince answered. “Many times over.”
“Will they know who did it?”
Vince nodded. “Eventually, but not until we’re both long dead.”
“That’s good.” Fanny sighed. Flying insects swirled around the yellow glow of the porch light. A damselfly landed on Fanny’s forearm and the two regarded each other with calm acceptance. Vince watched them watching each other. Fanny was smiling. It made her look decades younger and he marveled at how much he still loved her as he did when they were decades younger.
“Without casino money,” he added pointedly.
Fanny nodded her approval of that. She hated casino money and what it had done to the tribe. Before the casinos, Seminole were just stinking Indians. Casino money had turned them into lucrative targets. Not since Europeans invaded had they been people in the eyes of anyone but themselves. The children needed to live as people.
“I expect they’ll be upset about it when they do find out. They’re as independent as we are.”
Vince chuckled. “They are that. But as they grow and expand their horizons at their own pace, they’ll come to understand why we did it. The necessity of it as harsh realities of life press in and overwhelm their resistance.”
Together they rose and went back inside to escape a cloud of marauding mosquitos. Arm in arm and happy with their progress.
“I’m glad I didn’t kill you when we met,” Fanny whispered.
Finally giving up after precisely five attempts trying to guess what the gift was, Webb meticulously opened it without tearing the wrapping paper at all. Melanie smiled at this and wiped a bit of snot threatening to drip from her nose. She never cried in front of Webb but her nose drip was something she had no control over when her tear ducts filled. She knew he would reuse the paper to wrap her birthday gift from him.
She made sure the gift box was plain and unmarked with any clues of what was inside. Webb paused before opening it.
“It’s a watch!” he declared, sure he had guessed correctly judging by the size of the box.
Melanie shook her head. “Nope.”
Webb grinned and lifted the lid of the box then gasped in delight. “It’s a Star Trek communicator!”
Melanie let loose a giggle at his reaction as he carefully lifted it from the box and with expert twist of his wrist flipped it open. It emitted the expected electronic chirps and at that instant the sound of an incoming communication whistle came from inside Melanie’s little purse. Webb watched her reach into the purse and pull out an identical communicator to his except that it was metallic green while his was metallic blue. She flipped it open and answered. “Melanie here. Who am I speaking with?”
Webb giggled before answering, almost shouting with glee. “This is Webb, checking in from reconnaissance mission!”
They laughed together, loud and lovingly.
Vince decided to fly back to the office, calling his pilot on his satellite phone instead of using Fanny’s land line so he wouldn’t have to tell him where to come pick him up over the call. It was scrambled but he figured the NSA knew how to descramble it. He always liked to do everything possible to prevent letting the government know anything about his business dealings, especially when Fanny was involved.
The flight back was smooth and uneventful, as was the landing on the company airstrip. And it was just long enough to work out details of the next phase of work to be conducted beneath Fanny’s little wooden house on his tablet before sharing them with his chief drilling engineer.
Six slant rigs would be sufficient, three drilling east to west and three north to south. The first six boreholes would be spaced on every other drilling unit so more could be drilled later between the first holes, if needed, to maximize fracking effect through the formation zone. He doubted there would be much problem with downhole pressure but planed for extremes anyway. Better safe than sorry. It wouldn’t do to have a blowout and burning rig at the edge of town. That would attract government attention for sure.
His chief drilling engineer met him in his office and they discussed the drilling operation to iron out any kinks and fill in missing matters they always seemed to come up with when talking together face to face.
Leaping to his feet, Webb sprinted toward the rim of the mesa and leaped over the edge, landing at a run on the narrow, well-worn trail leading down to the river. Melanie heard him yelling as he scrambled down the trail.
“I’m gonna try to call you from the river bottom, Melanie! Stay on the porch!”
Melanie did as instructed, waiting for his call. She knew the call would go through since the communicator was actually a military-grade satellite phone dressed up to look like the Star Trek prop. Communications engineers at their father’s company had no problems dressing the phone up to look like an official Star Trek communicator, but they had worried over making the flip-up cover of it function properly as its antenna.
“It works better than we expected, Mel,” an electrical engineer named Daniel had informed her when he presented the finished phone to her. “That sixties mod cover is a damn good antenna design,” he added with a chuckle. It had been Daniel’s idea to make a second one of a different color for her to use. “He won’t like it if he sees yours looks different,” he had said and she agreed, pleased by Daniel’s sensitivity to Webb’s particular ways.
Her phone whistled and she answered. “Melanie here. Report.”
“Webb here. This planet has some interesting riparian lifeforms, like nothing ever seen before!”
Stifling a giggle to stay as serious as Webb was, she replied, “Will you be collecting any samples?”
“Any word from our geologist?” Vince asked.
His chief engineer, Gary, shook his head while looking down at the tattered leather of his steel-toed boots. He would need a new pair soon. “None.”
Vince scowled and growled his frustration aloud. “Where the hell can he be? What the hell can he be up to disappearing like this?” he asked, not really expecting an answer from Gary.
“Might not be his doing,” Gary said. “Considering what he knew. Maybe someone else found out and . . .”.
“And what,” Vince asked, his scowl deepening as Gary looked up to meet his eye.
“And took him out. Killed him.”
“Damn!” Vince almost shouted, knowing Gary could be right but hating the thought of it and all it implied.
“Any ideas on who might do such a thing?”
“None,” Gary replied quietly. “But I’m thinking on it, and probing discretely.”
“Good, Gary. Stay at it while we get the drilling operation started up. It’s too bad he isn’t here to help us target prime pay zones when samples start coming up, but we can’t wait any longer. In the meantime, stay quiet about this. Don’t say anything to anyone, especially the regulators or police.”
Gary nodded and left the office, tapping and swiping at his tablet to study Vince’s drilling plan. Vince followed him to the door, watching him scanning the plan, then closed the door and prepared for the rest of the work day, reminding himself to go see Webbor about his next watch.
You know better than that, science officer Melanie.” Webb admonished. his voice coming through crystal clear. “Prime Directive. They wouldn’t survive outside their natural environment.”
“Oh yes,” she replied. “My mistake, Captain.”
“Signing out. One ready to beam up,” Webb declared and closed his communicator before clipping it to his belt and starting back up to the mesa top at a run through fading evening light.
Melanie went to watch him coming back up. The trail was badly eroded in places but Webb proceeded up at a nimble pace. She was always amazed at how quickly he could move over rough terrain, even in the twighlight shade of the canyon. Smiling broadly as he crested the rim, he gently wrapped his arms around his sister and kissed her on top of her head.
“Thank you, Melanie. Now I need to go to bed and sleep so it won’t be so hard to wait for your birthday party tomorrow.”
They were dizygotic twins, born eleven hours apart across two days. She and Webb always celebrated their birthdays together over two days like this. She wouldn’t have it any other way. Neither would he. So they went back to the house to their separate bedrooms and slept soundly.
At dawn, Melanie smelled the delicious aromas of chicken and green chili quesadillas drifting from the kitchen. Webb was cooking her favorite birthday breakfast for her–unsupervised. She knew he was purposely cooking on his own to show her how he was growing up.
Vince stared at the toes of his own shoes, seeing far beyond their shine into the future he hoped could be. The future he and Fanny were angling for together without dragging the children into the middle of it in any form or fashion. That was the constant that could not change in the equation. They wanted their children to grow into what they should be instead of what others–including he and Fanny–thought they should be, and would never be able to conform to anyway. Webbor by innocent nature of his autism, and Melanie by the almost fatalistic stubborn nature she inherited from Fanny and many of their long line of ancestors.
Allowing himself to drift half asleep, he smoothly entered the place where he always found the best answers to the toughest problems. The place where voices and visions of past, present and future mingled naturally and effortlessly. The voice of Fanny's grandfather spoke from far edges of that place to him.
"I see where you’re going with your delving and designing in the white man's world," he told Vince again, just as he had upon meeting him for the first time. "It is bizarre and complex but admirably brave."
Vince listened respectfully.
"The risk is great, though, especially for your children."
At that first meeting Vince had spoken up at this point, telling him he did not have children.
The old man had waved dismissively. "You and Fanny have children, you just don't know it yet."
Still dozing in the place and still in the presence of Fanny’s grandfather, Vince had then protested–rather vehemently–that he and Fanny had not had sexual relations. That his intentions were not to abuse or harm her in any way.
"Not yet," the old man had replied with a frown of deep concern, "but you will make love. Many times. And you and Fanny will have two children. One girl. One boy. The boy’s mind will be rooted in the spirit world and his sister will keep him safe in this world. Two powerful children who can change this world with careful, patient help from their parents."
Vince did not know how to reply to that. He definitely was attracted to Fanny more than any other woman he had ever known much about but they were still strangers by all practical measure, and Fanny had expressed nothing but disdain toward his advances as well as his delving and designing work in the white man’s world of petroleum exploration. She considered him to be a mortal enemy of the tribe.
“Do not let Fanny’s fierce spirit frighten you. Embrace it and together you will become more powerful than apart.”
Those words sent a chill racing up his spine. What they meant was clear. Consent. Encouragement.
Her grandfather ended their strange conversation, still speaking from the edges of the place. "Just don't let Fanny kill you first," he warned–just as he had ended their first conversation so many years ago.
Billyjo was born in Bowlegs and had roamed Oklahoma as far as every state line without ever being tempted to leave the state. She was as Okie as they come and the best slant rig drilling supervisor Vince had ever known.
Her husband, Jake, on the other hand, wasn’t much good at anything demanding imagination or reasoning, but Billyjo never went to a drilling site without him in tow. She loved him dearly for the simple reason that he was a handsome, soft-hearted, plodding giant of a man who loved her just as much as she loved him. And, he was handy with heavy loads and most floor hand duties, which she leveraged to advantage if a rig crew came up shorthanded for a shift—a too-frequent occurrence in this business.
Together, Billyjo and Jake were doing well as husband and wife and arrived at Sasakwa in their immaculately maintained Pontiac Solstice targa top convertible the night before Vince's equipment and crews were to arrive on site. As a child, Billyjo had traveled the state with her family in a shiny, maroon Pontiac Torpedo and she had always dreamed of walking into a Pontiac car dealership, slapping down a bundle of cash for her dream car and driving away to take a long winding road trip through her many beloved Oklahoma hills. That finally happened after Vince had promoted her, shortly before GM decided to shut down Pontiac production for good. The Solstice was now a collectors item.
Vince waited patiently for Webbor to meticulously gather his gear. He spotted Billyjo and Jake’s spiffy sports car down the street at the only cafe in town. Webbor was excited to be back at work in a new location. Vince always enjoyed his animated reaction to new sights and sounds even though tiny Sasakwa offered few of either.
They loaded his gear into the tool pusher’s truck then walked together toward the cafe to join Billyjo and Jake for breakfast. Webbor spotted the shiny, powder-blue Solstice parked in front of the cafe and dashed ahead, already shouting his friend’s names at the top of his lungs as he ran.
Vince walked on at an easy pace. When he entered the cafe his son was eagerly describing the features of his Star Trek communicator to Billyjo and Jake as he flipped it open and was immediately speaking with his sister.
“Uh oh,” Webbor was saying. “I forgot how early it is, Melanie. I’m sorry I woke you up.”
Billyjo smiled and winked at Vince and Jake rose respectfully to shake his hand in greeting.
“Morning, Jake, Billyjo.”
Taking a seat in the booth beside his son, they all listened to the brief conversation between brother and sister. The only waitress in town arrived just as the call wrapped up with Webbor wishing Melanie a wonderful day. Flipping the communicator shut with a flourish Captain Kirk would have approved of, the waitress smiled at the four customers she knew so well.
She enjoyed watching Webbor’s exuberance as much as she knew Vince was and marveled at how he had inspired them both so many times from the moment he was born. Memories surfaced of the morning he emerged in the wee hours of his first day breathing in air and squalling it back out again.
Still dark and chilly outside, her niece Lillie had grumpily asked “Why are we going in the middle?” when they woke her and all hurried out to the car to go to the hospital. Lillie was staying with them until her mother, Fanny’s older sister Joyce, returned from the hospital after having her second baby.
“Your cousins wants out,” Fanny had replied breathlessly between early contractions.
“My what?” Lillie had asked.
“Your new cousins about to be born like your sister was day before yesterday,” Vince answered.
“Oh,” Lillie said thoughtfully. Sitting in the front seat between Vince and Fanny, she put her hand on Fanny’s and gently squeezed.
“I hope it doesn’t hurt as much as it did my Mommy. She was screaming her head off all the way to the hospital!”
Dodd greeted Vince and the rest of the core crew at the cafe just as they finished breakfast. Vince warmly greeted his best tool pusher with a handshake and a wink. Dodd was in on a good part of the secrecy surrounding this project, per Fanny's request. She trusted Dodd as much she trusted Vince. For some reason Webb didn't enjoy saying hello to Dodd. Vince wondered why but decided to let it go until later when they were alone. Maybe while he showed Webb around his new watch site. Leaving the cafe together, BillyJo invited Webb to ride with her to the first pad while Jake, Vince and Dodd walked and talked on their way over. Webb hopped into the Solstice all grins and gleaming eyes.
"Peel out!" he pleaded as BillyJo backed out of the parking space.
She obliged with a girlish giggle she didn't realize she still possessed within. She was excited about this project and what experiences from it could bring for her future. Slant rig drilling still hadn't caught on much and this project involved six rigs all running at once. At least she hoped she could keep them all running at once. It was the only way to stay on Vince's tight schedule to completion twelve days from today. Webb clutched the sides of his bucket seat in a death grip and giggled with her when the Solstice fishtailed a little as she punched it heading east on Broadway toward the edge of town.
BillyJo goosed the Solstice into a tire-squealing skid as she turned right onto Walnut Street and again taking a left onto Third then floored it until they reached the end of the street where the pad was ready to receive Rig SSS1. A sign at the edge of the pad declared its purpose as Sasakwa Slant Site No. One. Bringing the car to a perfect sliding stop mere inches from the sign she cut the engine and looked at Webb. She was amazed by the size of his frantic smile and wild eyes.
"Enjoyed that, huh?" she asked.
Webb nodded vigorously. "When can we do it again?"
BillyJo laughed heartily and answered, "How about twelve days from today when this project is finished?"
"Okay!" Webb shouted with zeal.
They got out and watched the trucks rumbling down the street toward them. Webb was jumping up and down in place like a little kid. She wanted to do the same but restrained herself. It wouldn't do for the rig crew to see the drilling supervisor doing such a thing. She stood quietly beside Webb instead, letting his energy flow into her. The truck drivers and rig crew waved at them as they rolled onto the pad. They waved back to all enthusiastically as Jake, Dodd and Vince came walking down the road from behind then they all helped to get the first rig, its support equipment and crew trailer set in place.
Finished, Jake said "One down. Five to go."
At pad SSS2, Jake and Webb walked over to one side where the edge of forest stood to poke around in the trees while they waited for the trucks to arrive. It would be about a half hour yet since they had finished SSS1 ahead of schedule.
Webb loved forests and crept quietly along hoping to keep from startling any wildlife he might come upon. Jake followed, trying to be as quiet as Webb but failing to do so. Still, they happened upon a badger den with a single cub outside absorbed by a horny toad it was trying to figure out how to pull from a slot in a sandstone outcrop. The horny toad had inhaled air to wedge itself firmly in place in the slot, almost out of reach of the little badger but not quite. The grumbling cub didn't hear Webb creep up behind it before he grabbed it by the tail and held it up for Jake to see.
Jake was amazed Webb had the courage to do such a thing and the skill to pull it off without being bitten.
Webb grinned and shrugged. "Just like catching an armadillo. Ya just have to be fast and hang on tight to the tail!"
The cub slowly settled down as Webb patiently stroked its fur, being careful to not let it bite him. Eventually he was holding the cub in his palm and the little baby badger seemed to like it there.
"Can I keep it, Jake?"
Billyjo, Dodd and Vince watched Jake and Webbor emerge from the trees.
“Looks like they found a varmint of some sort,” Dodd commented.
Vince nodded silently as reply then they all turned their attention to the road leading up to the pad as the sound of rumbling trucks approached town.
Hearing the trucks coming, Jake and Webb scurried back to pad SSS1 in a rush.
Unlocking the tiny trunk of the Soltice, Jake grabbed a rolled up bit of newspaper and spread it out on the floor of the small space.
“It’ll probably have to take a dump before we break for lunch,” Jake said as Webb lowered the wiggling baby badger in on top of the newspaper. “Billyjo will wring my neck if it did it on the carpet,” he added as he quickly closed the trunk. “It’ll be dark in there but it’s used to dark burrows so . . .”.
Webb nodded in agreement. “Good thing it’s almost winter now. It would get bar-b-qued in there if it was still summertime.”
The rumble of rig trucks was louder now and they hurried over to pad SSS2 to help with the next rig set up. It came off without a hitch, as did the rig setup on pad SSS3. They had all been working hard and were hungry, so back to the diner they all went with the first three rig crews—a crowd the little diner could barely accommodate for lunchtime burgers, onion rings and sodas all around.
Just as Vince and crew were settling into their booths in the diner, a shaft of light pierced the darkness ruling the trunk space of Billyjo’s little sport car when the baby badger finally managed to rip a hole from the back of the sleekly molded driver-side bucket seat into the passenger compartment. It cautiously poked its head into the larger space, squinted and sniffed the air. It smelled of two, maybe three people. It recognized the smell of one as belonging to the larger of the two who put it into the trunk. The second people smell it did not know. Hopping over into the passenger seat it sniffed vigorously and recognized odors of the skinny one who had rudely captured it by the tail.
Without hesitation, it began ripping at the smooth, white upholstery facing of the passenger side door. Finding no escape route through the outer hard part of the door, it switched to the driver side door. Then to the headliner of the hard Targa top. Then the padded top and edges of the dashboard. Failing to locate the slightest opening through hard backing anywhere, it then repeatedly attacked any softer surfaces not already ripped to shreds in frustrated anticipation of eventually finding a way back to the outside world.
Over at the diner, everyone was chowing down on burgers and onion rings, happy to be where they were, enjoying jokes and old stories–generally cheerful and carefree.
After lunch they returned to pad SSS1.
Jake was crying along with Webbor. The baby badger was standing with front claws hooked on shredded upholstery at the base of the lightly tinted, diver-side window, looking unabashedly up at everyone looking incredulously down at it.
Dodd spoke first. “Hey Billyjo, what’s a badger doing in your car?”
Then Jake spoke in a long, wavering wail of despair as it finally dawned on him what the little badger had been up to during their lunch break. “Oh noooo!”
Webbor began trying to open the door but it was locked. Billyjo bent down and looked at the totally ruined interior of her car, took a close look at the baby badger which tried to sniff at her nose through the window glass, then she slowly straightened to look severely at Jake and Webbor before very calmly asking if that was the creature they caught in the forest at the edge of pad SSS2.
They nodded in unison, tears coursing down four very red cheeks. Billyjo then pulled the electronic key from her pocket and unlocked the car with a chirp and a click, opened the driver side door and everyone watched as the baby badger hopped out, took a look around and up at everyone standing around looking at it, then scampered off toward the bushes at the edge of pad SSS1.
No one else said a word, not even Vince, as they all headed over to pad SSS4, leaving Jake and Webbor to talk it over with Billyjo.
As soon as pad SSS6 set up was completed a catering truck from the diner arrived on the site, unfolded several long, white-plastic dining tables and laid out a fried catfish feast complete with jugs of iced tea, a dozen watermelons and as many gallons of homemade ice cream in stainless steel thermocans keeping their contents cooled until time for desert.
Webbor sat beside his father recalling his conversation with Billyjo regarding the baby badger incident.
“Me and Jake will pay for new innards in Billyjo’s car.”
Vince smiled admiringly at his son. “Figured you would.”
“I’m sorry I tried to keep the badger. It was so cute,” Webbor admitted with a hangdog expression of shameful regret.
Vince laid his arm across his son’s shoulders and hugged him, something Webbor usually hated for anyone to do. But this evening it felt good and his father’s words felt even better.
“Don’t beat yourself up over it, son. It was an accident. No one was hurt, not even the baby badger, and you learned from it.”
Webbor nodded in agreement.
“Besides,” he added with a sweeping gesture encompassing the large crew of oilpatch pros seated around the pad eating, chatting, and laughing, “you and Jake and the badger have gifted this project a great kickoff story they’ll all be retelling for years on.”
Webbor grinned, looking around at everyone with genuine glee filling his heart. “Really?”
At that moment, Dodd stood and tapped his iced tea jar with a butter knife.
“Ladies and gents, we have a name now for this project thanks to Webbor and Jake’s abiding love for wildlife,” he announced with a good-natured wink and nod of affection at them both. “From this point forward this VED drilling and production operation will be known as the Badger Digs Project!”
A rousing cheer rose up as Dodd encouraged Webbor and Jake to stand and take a bow, which they did, making them both feel less mortified.
“And like the little badger demonstrated to us all today, we will not stop digging until we hit all the payzones!”
Another, cheer and napkins flew into the air.
Motioning toward Billyjo, he continued his impromptu project dedication speech. “Our drilling supervisor has already sacrificed the interior of her prized sport car for this project, so we’ve taken up a collection to help pay for its restoration. Every drilling crew hand kicked in two hundred dollars for a total of $7,200.00! and Vince and I have matched that amount and added a little extra to round the grand total to $15,000.00!”
Webbor and Jake dropped their jaws, then blushed and grinned wide and happy with no small amount of relief. Even if it cost twice that amount, they both knew they could easily cover the remainder of the restoration bill.
Billyjo sprang from her seat and rushed about hugging everyone, most of all her big-hulk of a husband and her hot-rodding enthusiast friend, now actually happy the badger incident happened.
Fanny watched and listened from her front porch. As evening flowed into night lights at pad SSS6 exploded against the advancing darkness and so did strains of “The Armadillo Jackal” from the band she had scrounged up from Seminole for the party. It was a good little four-piece band even if they were all paroled convicts. No druggies. Just fighters and murderers. People she understood far more than she ever expected to.
She smiled inwardly at the thought of all that was unfolding in her dead little town. She didn’t have dollar signs in both her eyes as the song declared the armadillo jackal did. Love drove her every move now. Love she could never express to those she always wanted to because the craziness would never permit it. She knew the craziness could emerge unannounced and with frightening abruptness–a risk to anyone staying near her for too many days. Hours were manageable. Days were not, never mind weeks, months, years.
Vince whispered from the darkness, “Okay for a talk, Fanny?”
She flinched then nodded. “Come inside quickly after I turn off the light. This goosey little town never misses a thing.”
Doing as she asked quickly and slickly they embraced as soon as the door was closed and locked.
“Our son will be watching your house,” Vince informed her.
“Because he misses nothing, even in darkness. His ears and nose are as sharp as his eyes. Scary sharp. And, he has a Star Trek communicator."
Webbor watched his father disappear into the night, heading toward the old crazy woman’s house.
He knew about the crazy woman, having met her first time when he was four. He loved her strange ways and strange talk. Both so soothing. She connected deeply with him using that strange talk. And he loved her love of aliens, even if he wasn’t as convinced as she was that they lived amongst humans on Earth, slightly beyond edges of the basic senses of perception. But the notion of such a thing was as entertaining for him as any good sci-fi movie could be. The crazy woman could somehow convey ideas with her strange, entrancing talk in a way that played out in his mind as detailed, weirdly, waking dreams. Very much like bedtime stories melded into dreams just as he dozed off, still clingy lightly to reality as surreality seized complete control.
* * *
“Thank you,” Fanny said, “that’s a good idea, but please Warn Webbor to just report of trouble and never to get involved. Ever.”
“I have and will some more in the morning when I show him his new watch.”
Fanny smiled at the thought of having her son close by for a while.
“He’ll enjoy it,” Vince said. “He loves being around you, even if he doesn’t remember much of his early times.”
“He remembers more than he realizes,” she whispered. “And before I leave this planet for good he’ll remember it all. When it’s safe for him to.”
Billyjo emerged from the small camper Vince had set up for her and Jake at the northeast corner of SSS1, stretched, and smiled contentedly. It was quiet and serene, the sun just peaking above the far horizon. She could hear Jake snoring softly inside through the open door of the trailer, still oblivious to the new day. Also hearing the coffee maker finishing brew of its first pot of the day, she went back inside to fix a cup before the drilling crews started to work. This gorgeously peaceful morning would be the last one for a while as the rigs and support equipment were fired up and, hopefully, running constantly for the next twelve days.
The SSS1 crew emerged from their large trailer. A bunch of Vince’s finest. They waved at her and the driller waved at them to follow him to the rig. Generator engines were started, then pumps, and finally the rig itself. She felt Jake beside her without hearing his approach. He had his hardhat on and hugged her before tramping off toward the rig to watch and be ready to help as he could. She followed him and watched, knowing there would be little for her to contribute unless something unusual happened as drill stems were extended into precisely angled spuds. She loved supervising slant drilling operations, dealing with their quirks were her forte. Satisfied nothing quirky was happening on SSS1 she headed off at a trot to SSS2, then SSS3, SSS4, SSS5, and SSS6.
Webbor had been up long before sunrise. His father met him one block from Fanny’s house as he had instructed him to go there and wait.
“Morning, son. Ready to see your next watch?”
Webb nodded and shifted his cap on his head. “Ready as ever.”
They strolled together, slowly down the street just east of Fanny’s house.
“You’ll be watching Fanny’s house, Webb.”
Webbor stopped, clearly expressing disappointment in his tone. “Not the rigs this time?”
“No. Each pad has its own watchman this time Webb. It has to be like this. And, watching Fanny’s house is the most important watch on the project.”
Webb nodded and began walking along with his father again. “The Badger Digs Project,” he exclaimed with no small amount of amusement and pride, having shaken off most of the shame of the badger incident he had instigated.
“That’s right. The Badger Digs Project. You have your communicator?”
Webb pulled it from his pocket and flipped it open. Melanie almost immediately answered from her home hundreds of miles south and west of them. “Melanie here. Report,” she said officiously.
Webb grinned at the sound of his sister’s voice emitting from the communicator. “Webb here. We’re inspecting my new watch. Me and Dad.”
“Understood. I’ll be here if you need me.”
Webb nodded vigorously. “Will do. Webb out,” then expertly flipped the communicator shut.
“Just hang around town every day with Fanny’s house always in sight as you need to to keep it under strict surveillance.
Within one hour after Billyjo had finished her first round of inspection at every pad, all six rigs were running smoothly. Only one problem had been identified at SSS4 and already fixed. A mud mixer had not been cleaned properly after its last use and was plugged up. The youngest hand on the crew volunteered right away to disconnect the hopper and clear the plug.
Billjo smiled inwardly at the new crewgirl’s initiative and nodded her thanks. “Okay Shelly, let me know if it can’t be cleared so we can have another brought out by hotshot.”
Shelly set to the task without hesitation. Billyjo moved on to leave her to it, hoping this new hand had as much potential for advancement as she suspected she possessed. By the time her rounds brought her back to SSS4 the hopper was fixed and reconnected. Shelly had even thoroughly cleaned it practically to the point of looking brand new.
As she strolled over to rig 4 she made a point to pass close to Shelly, clap her on the shoulder and speak loudly over the roar of engines. “Good work.”
Shelly didn’t turn her attention from her current task operating backup tongs. She just nodded a couple of times to let Billyjo know she had heard the complement.
With all rigs now up and running full-throttle as they pierced first soft layers of the ground at a rapid pace, people of the tiny town began coming close to rubberneck and begin gossiping.
Vince and Webbor had walked all four streets around Fanny’s house and Webber thoroughly understood his new watch duties.
“Remember Webb. If anything happens that you suspect is suspicious in the slightest way at all, use your communicator to let Melanie know and then conceal yourself as best you can. Don’t take any action beyond that.”
Webbor nodded he understood completely.
“If anyone notices you hanging around and asks what you’re doing just tell them you’re taking a walk. If they push you to tell them more, tell them the same thing and that you like to walk a lot.”
“That won’t be hard to do ‘cause I do like to walk a lot.”
Vince fondly clapped Webbor on the shoulder and moved away to leave him to his new watch, confident his son could handle it. “See you later! I need to go talk with Dodd and Billyjo now.”
The mention of Dodd’s name caused a flashback image to spring into Webbor’s mind in stark sharpness. The head of the red-bearded man going down the borehole at his previous watch. The distinct memory shook Webbor quite a bit, as such memories did when they sprang so powerfully to the forefront of his thought stream.
He continued his walking and watching in random fashion, turning down this street and that in every way he could figure out to keep Fanny’s house within sight. He noticed people of the town walking out to the various pads, watching the drilling operations.
Fanny sat in her sunlit living room with the AR headset comfortably adjusted to fit, tinkering with the Badger Digs Project data sets, chuckling heartily to herself thinking of how the project name came about. She wished she had witnessed at least some of it in person but her imagination and knowledge of her son enabled satisfactory rendering of it all in her mind’s eye. Her goal at the moment was merely to check storage space and linkages for addition of sample data coming in as drilling progressed to augment seismic data already in place. She suspected the samples data would significantly alter the data sets modeled from the collected seismic information and wanted to be ready to integrate that as rapidly as possible to keep everyone informed of how the payzones are actually laid out.
Without Vince’s lead geologist, Jasper, on site to handle particulars of this aspect of the project, she wanted to make it possible for Vince to quickly see it all himself for making decisions to issue drilling order adjustments as needed. He had already set up the AR computing rig matching her own system in his trailer on pad SSS6 and tested it via encrypted, high-band dedicated wifi connection to her redundant raid storage units. Even as she worked at her system, Vince’s system was replicating her data sets on his own raid storage units which would then be replicated offsite at the main office again. They could not afford to lose their data.
Vince returned to his trailer and set about checking data replication progress. All was going well but it would take at least forty-eight hours for replication here and at the main office to complete. He would feel a lot better when that was finished considering how quickly things could escalate here in town.
During lunch at the diner he had listened closely to conversations of locals discussing the drilling operations underway. There were the usual complaints of noise levels and angry talk of just who the hell was profiting from it all. Many locals understood enough about complexities of headrights and leasing agreements to know something big was afoot considering that all six rigs appeared on their pads one day and were up and running the next. No one would do such a thing unless they were certain the return on investment would be substantial. Damned substantial.
And how would that affect the Seminole tribe’s mineral rights royalties, if at all? Who’s headright was being developed? Why hadn’t news of the project been shared? Something big in the oil and gas business was afoot and many parties in town were becoming mighty interested in learning the details. Vince could feel tension building from their curiosity and gossiping. At the moment it was remaining just that. Curiosity and gossiping. But it would swell and spill over eventually. He just had to stay on top of it as much as possible until it did. Then he would alert Webbor and Fanny.
Sanders gnawed on a piece of bacon a little too chewy for his liking. “You lookit how them rigs is all set out, Herb?”
Herb nodded as he scooped eggs into his mouth, struggling a bit to sync fork to mouth movement. “Yup. All slanted in towards town. They’re drilling a grid under us.”
Sanders gave up on the bacon and waved at the waitress to request replacement with crispier pieces. “Is that legal? To drill right under a town like that?”
“Damn sure is,” Herb answered. “Nearly every town in Oklahoma has been drilled underneath it. Hell, this whole state is so riddled with boreholes it can’t sit still anymore. You hear about that big quake out near Black Kettle?”
“Uh huh. Shook the chimney off of a couple of old homes in Cheyenne and knocked down a whole wall of that old Russian accordion player’s crappy cement house south of town.”
Herb shook his head. “Damn oil patch trash is going to sink this state into the ground.”
“Yeah but you ain’t giving up your cut of royalties, are ya’?”
“Hell no! If I did that I’d have to work for a livin’ and that’s the last damned thing in the world I wanna have to do.”
Sanders giggled. “Me either. But just who is going to join the club ya’ think?”
“Beats me. Someone with a lot a damn pull, though. This is a big. Six slant rigs all going at once, drilling under our feet nonstop!”
On day four of the Badger Digs Project a mud pump shaft on SSS3 cracked and slammed broken shards of steel right through the housing. Billyjo was glad no one was near it when it happened and called for a ready-to-use replacement from the closest VED pump yard with one in storage. Six hours later the new pump was installed and running. The wrecked one on the way back to the pump yard.
“Damn,” Billyjo cursed to herself. “Six hours of downtime for rig 3.”
She couldn’t cast any blame for it unless she wanted to blame the company that forged the shaft that unexpectedly broke. Her crews were properly maintaining all of the mud pumps to her satisfaction. She just had to chalk it up to fate, which irked her to no end. Such unknowns were what she dreaded most on a complex project like this one. They could lead to injuries. Even death.
One bright note was her Soltice was being restored by a top-flight classic cars restoration team in The City, and they had told her it would be ready for pickup before day twelve when the project was still on schedule to be completed. She wanted to keep her promise to Webbor and give him a good thrill ride to celebrate their success. Then she and Jake would take a long roadtrip to the northern tip of Vancouver Island to kayak among Orca–her first vacation beyond the bounds of her home state.
Fanny answered the door to see her cousin Louis standing with fists on hips and an ugly glare in his eye.
“Okay, here we go,” she thought but said nothing. Not even a hello.
Louis waited, hating the crazy games like this that she loved to play. Fanny just stared at him a little while longer then began to swing the door shut in his face.
“Wait a minute you damned nut case!” he yelped and stuck his hand out to stop the door. Fanny ignored him and slammed the door before he could pull his hand back and managed to catch the edge of his little finger between door and jamb.
Louis shrieked in pain. Fanny cracked the door open, grinning. Louis was closely examining the blood blister already forming on the outside edge of his pinky. Fanny pulled the door open a little wider, checking the set of the pistol nestled in her apron pocket in case she had to make a grab for it.
“You crazy bitch! I’ll sue you for this!”
Fanny scrunched up her face in false sympathy and bent to peer at the blood blister.
“You want me to kiss it and make it all better?” she asked.
Shaking his injured hand before shoving into his pocket he shook his head. “What I want is for you to explain this,” he said holding out a sheaf of papers in his other hand.
Fanny didn’t reach to take the papers. “What are those all about?”
Webbor stood at the southwest corner across the street from Fanny’s house watching the man stalk up to her door and bang on it. He could tell the man was angry even as far away as he was from Fanny’s house. He tried to hear what they were saying to each other but could only make out the man’s words because he was yelling them at Fanny. This made Webbor angry at the man and he almost broke his promise not to get involved to go chase the man away from Fanny’s house. But he managed to hear his father’s earnest warning and stopped his feet from carrying him forward.
He heard every word the man yelled out at Fanny who calmly stood inside her house letting him rant on, but he had no idea what the man was saying. Something about her headlight being illegal because it was owned 100% by her leaving nothing for the tribe. Webbor wondered what tribe the man was talking about. An Indian tribe?
The man kept pulling one hand out of his pocket to suck on the edge of it, then shove that hand back in his pocket while angrily shaking papers at Fanny with the other hand. Before the man stormed off of the porch in a rage, Webber heard him shout over his shoulder at Fanny “This isn’t over you crazy old nut case!”
Fanny then stepped out onto the porch, paused and waved to Webbor that she was okay.
An hour and a half after nightfall, Webbor sat in Fanny’s kitchen talking and eating dinner she had cooked for them while he was on watch. Fanny enjoyed her conversations with her son as he matured into a man. He was still mostly little boy, though–in mind and spirit–which suited her just fine. She knew all too well that growing up too damned fast can cause irreversible damage.
Webbor had already talked about so many things with her, including his Star Trek communicator, that he had turned to talking more and more about recent events in his life. This evening his mind was on the angry man at the door.
“Why was that mean man yelling at you–calling you an old crazy woman?”
Fanny’s eyes always gleamed with the fire of life. When she answered, the fire seemed higher. Hotter.
“Because I am. Both. Old and crazy,” she replied in that strange voice of her's Webbor loved so much to listen to.
“How are you crazy, Fanny? What do you do that’s so nut case?”
“Well, I’ve always had a problem managing my impulses. Especially the ones that come on me in my own anger. You know what I mean, Webb? About impulses?”
Grinning, he nodded intently “Oh yeah, yeah, you bet I do! I remember how I used to get in all kinds of trouble for my impulses. For not controlling them like I could if I just took time to think some about it first.”
In his trailer, Vince was flying through the new drilling samples data sets recently plugged into the augmented reality exploration system Fanny had put together for the project. Feeling a little guilty at the thought, he giddily felt now like it wasn’t really necessary for his geologist, Jasper, to be here at all. The flight was revealing details he had never imagined–most important of all, detailed zone boundaries. Water zones. Dense rock zones. Porous sandstone zones, which were most interesting of all because that’s where the oil and gas was. In the thick, porous sandstone bed which was once a wide, deep water way covered in rich prehistoric life. Life that had died and been absorbed into the earth for millions of year to ferment into rich oils and gases that kept the engines of society running.
“Damn,” he thought. “Jasper should be here looking at this stuff! It would blow his mind!”
Banking left and downward, he discover indications of another even deeper sandstone zone. The edge samples of that zone weren’t as porous as the top zone’s were, but they were heavy with hydrocarbons easily fractured out using new techniques. He made a virtual sticky note entry into the sample datum to have rigs 2 and 5 angle down deeper into that possible payzone. A gamble worth taking considering the verified richness of the sandstones already penetrated by all six drill strings.
The sticky note floated lazily where he had placed it. Vince giggled maniacally to himself.
“Who told you that, about thinking some first to control your impulses?” Vince used to say that to her every time she failed to rein in her own wildness.
"Dad, and sometimes Melanie."
“Did you get in trouble for your impulses with your Dad and Melanie?” Fanny asked.
Webbor slowly shook his head. “No, they never got onto me for them. Just teachers and preachers and coaches and policemen. People like that.”
Fanny waited for him to say more. He obliged as she expected he would. “One time when I was still little, I think about ten or eleven years old, I used a soldering iron to dismantle Melanie’s brand-new stereo system she had just ordered from the Sears & Roebuck wishbook and couldn’t put it back together again because of all the melting I did with the soldering iron.”
Fanny smiled, remembering Melanie telling her about that. Webber had never spoken of it to her until now. Another sign he was maturing.
“Did you find out how the stereo worked after you had it taken apart?”
“Oh yeah, yeah. I found the circuit board with the amplifier and power transformer and all the wires connecting everything–you know, to the speakers and phonograph needle pickup transducer and the turntable motor. It was cool!”
“And how did you feel after you realized you couldn’t put it back together again? What did you do?”
“I felt awful. Melanie wasn’t really mad at me, but I could tell it made her sad.
Vince dialed up his chief engineer, Gary, online through the video chat subsystem Fanny had built into the AR program.
Gary answered immediately, a tiny 2-D video image of him in the main VED lab with the AR system headset clamped to his head. Vince checked Gary’s gaze vectors.
“So you’re looking at it too?”
“Oh yes indeed,” Gary answered. “It looks pretty juicy.”
Vince nodded, knowing Gary could see him in tiny 2-D too. “What do you think about pressure? Need to do anything special for blowout control?”
“Maybe. Hard to tell until more samples come in, but my educated guess is we have the right blowout preventers. We’ll just have to diligently watch for kicks around the clock. And I mean any kicks, no matter how small.”
“Okay then. I’ll have Billyjo give the drillers on 2 and 5 notice of impending action to steer deeper and possibility of increased downhole pressures. Spend time as you see fit for more analysis, Gary.
“Any word on Jasper’s whereabouts?”
“Shaking his head slowly, Gary replied with more than half of his attention glued on the dataset flight he was navigating. “None. It’s like he dropped off the face of the Earth.”
“Or swallowed up by it,” Vince intoned for some odd reason he couldn’t pin down. He saw Gary’s facial expression shift into a worried frown.
“What do you mean by that?”
Vince shrugged. “I dunno. Just blathering on while I fly through this amazing stuff in here.”
“So I took all the pieces and put them into that old, empty antique victrola cabinet in Melanie’s bedroom that you gave to her. The turntable fit perfectly in the square hole in the top part. The lid even closed over it right, too. And I put the speakers down in the lower cabinet part behind the doors with their wire pushed through a hole and reconnected to the amplifier output terminals.
Webbor was becoming excited recalling the memory of his achievement. “It worked!” he almost shouted through a huge grin. “And Melanie wasn’t so sad anymore.”
Fanny already knew the outcome of the story, but she celebrated it again now with her son in his confession.
“That was pretty smart, using the antique victrola like that. I used to listen to a lot of records on that old victrola when I was your age.”
Fanny paused before continuing the conversation, weighing her impulses carefully.
“Your father and I used to dance over there in the living room to music played on it.”
Webbor looked up, grinning with strands of spaghetti dangling from his lips. “My dad danced?”
“Like a wildman, at least when he was dancing with me. We were pretty good at it. Even won a dance marathon contest once in Bowlegs.”
“Dance marathon?” Webbor asked, having never heard of it.
“A contest where a bunch of dancers dance together until everyone drops out except one couple.”
“How long did it take to win?”
“About eight hundred hours.”
Webbor asked his father about the dance contest he and Fanny won together. Vince was appalled Fanny told him about it, or anything at all personal about his and Fanny’s relationship. As far as Webbor and Melanie knew, Fanny was nothing more than a very good friend of, and technical consultant to their father. Passing knowledge of personal interactions between them would only pique the children’s interest in the subject. Webbor would surely tell Melanie and Melanie would be absolutely intrigued by the revelation.
Ah, well. There was no undoing it now, and he had to bite his tongue to not admonish Fanny for once again failing to tamp down her impulses.
“What’s wrong, Vince?” she asked, easily sensing his elevated level of agitation.
Vince shook his head as a stalling tactic to both distract Fanny and to gain a few seconds to come up with something convincing as a reply.
“We discovered a second sandstone layer about two hundred feet below the one we suspected was there. It’s a high-pressure, high-yield payzone. It's posing some potential for blowout if we don’t stay alert for kicks. Pretty worrisome.”
Fanny rushed over to her AR system and fired it up. “Show me where!” she demanded.
Relieved she took the bait, Vince showed her where to enter the new zone emerging from samples data still flowing in daily. Fanny smoothly navigated into the new dataset and audibly gasped. Vince stood beside her, staying quiet while she took it all in.
Billyjo was spending most of her time now at rigs 2 and 5 vigilantly monitoring pressure gradients as the borehole’s bottom depth increased. It was easy drilling through the lower sandstone but she kept her drillers moving slowly, cautiously as mud weights were tightly managed. She did not want a kick, and if there was one she did not want to lose control of it. As romantic as the old-time films of gushers might be for audiences, she had experienced a blowout early in her career and did not want to experience another.
“Okay, Tom,” she half-yelled at the rig 5 driller over roaring engine and pump noise. “weight and viscosity are good for drilling about another fifty feet deeper. Shout if anything happens. I’ll be at rig 2.”
Tom indicated he understood with a smile and touch to the brim of his hardhat then returned focus to his console. Another three hundred feet and they would reach the limit of the rig’s maximum excavation depth of just over sixty-five hundred feet. A little over a mile of drill string pushing into a high-pressure formation no one had explored before. He wasn’t exactly jumpy, but he wasn’t serene either and kept a steady lock on downhole pressure gages as well as mud flow rates through the borehole. Any sharp change would leave him seconds to react. If he failed to do his job handling a kick, then their last hope rested entirely on the blowout preventer.
The samples were indicating the zone was one of the richest, sweetest deposits of crude in the history of oil and gas development in the state, if not the entire nation. The only remaining mystery was just how deep and wide was its extent.
Fanny silently navigated through the new datasets, taking note of how they had seamlessly merged with seismic data interfaces. That was reassuring. She figured she had the interface metadata set up correctly but always reckoned for an error here and there. So far she encountered no glitches.
“No idea how big it is yet?”
“Not yet. Rigs 2 and 5 have been penetrating at good pace through it so far without trouble handling pressure increases. Mud weights have been jacked up considerably to hold it down. Circulation flows are holding steady too. No kicks from either borehole so far.”
Fanny whistled with amazement.
“Vince,” she said as she removed the headset and gently set it down on her desk, “we have hit the jackpot!”
“I believe we’re about to, but there’s still a lot of work to do before we can begin production. And these slanted boreholes complicate wellhead completion and production infrastructure installation.”
Fanny giggled and danced around him like a little kid, doing a sort of mix of an Irish jig and a war dance. Then she took him into her arms and started dancing with him.
“Oh Vince, Vince, Vince! I am so glad I didn’t follow my initial impulse to kill you!”
Vince smiled fondly at Fanny with rich memory of that phase of their lives. Then she severely shocked him by adding “I told Webbor about how we won the Bowlegs dance marathon.”
Vince tried not react in anyway, always astounded at how she could read him so well. She had sensed his distraction ploy, knowing somehow that he had already found out she had told their son about it.
“He thought it was a grand story. And I intend to gradually tell him more about us while we have this time together during his watch duties.”
Vince nodded that he understood. The original plan was to never tell Webbor and Melanie that Fanny was their biological mother, per Fanny’s fervent wish. She understood her insanity well enough to know how it could utterly destroy those near and dear to her. It had almost destroyed Vince.
The children had always been told their mother died shortly after childbirth during a time in their parents’ lives when they were dirt poor, scraping for every penny while living in a leaky shotgun shack with nothing but two chairs, two TV trays and rickety twin beds lashed together with bailing wire. Then Fanny had shown him her headright documentation and everything swiftly changed.
Vince had always suspected that an ancient sandstone formation lie beneath Sasakwa just waiting for some enterprising wildcatter to discover. Fanny’s grandparents had kept ownership of the headright entirely within direct bloodline family until it had eventually landed in her hands.
As a youngster, Vince had landed a job as a paperboy delivering The Daily Oklahoman to people he knew and that knew him well. In fact, everyone knew of and about him because as local paperboy with aspirations of becoming a newspaper reporter–or even the owner of a newspaper as his father had been before he died when Vince was seven years old–he kept tabs on everything going on in town. From births to politics to fights and strikes and shady affairs to death notices, he knew that he had the facts of it all too, not just the jinky gossipy bits shuffling around between the still-operating beauty parlors in town.
And as he delivered his papers on foot without the aid of a pricey bicycle, his customers would occasionally spend a little time to talk with him about this and that and the other stuff happening in and around the neighborhood. And they always tipped him in return. Just a few pennies most of the time, but enough overall to keep his candy and gum supply replenished, which he shared with friends and local kids he ran into while doing his job which always began at 4:30 AM on the corner of 6th and Main, folding the fresh bundle of papers dropped there for him each morning.
Letting his mind wander back, recollection of one morning a couple of recent acquaintances stopped there at the corner to talk with him while he folded his papers.
Vince and Fanny had decided not to marry, partly because it was illegal at that time for whites and indians to wed, but mostly because Fanny was convinced if she had to live in the same house with Vince all the time she would indeed throttle him with a gun or a knife or a fork or even a teaspoon if it came right down to it. She just could not control her angry impulses when they flared up without warning. She never had been able to. Her entire life up to the time she and Vince met, she had teetered on the brink of incarceration for acts of violence she had abruptly perpetrated upon others–some well deserving such treatment, some not so much.
She had not hidden any of this from Vince and neither had any of Fanny’s family tried to candy coat her wild behavior patterns. The Seminole tribe knew it all as well, understanding it and coping with Fanny’s insanity without rejecting her from their form of society. Culturally speaking, she was rather revered within the tribe for her courage to take on anyone, anything and any dicey situation and always come out on top. Vince admired her for this strong trait too.
So they had agreed to love each other, have children but to live apart and to never let the children know their mother was a madwoman. And the arrangement worked surprisingly well for them. They both enjoyed their independent solitude, spending time pursing interests.
Folding papers with rapid precision for fast, accurate tossing onto front porches along his route, Vince was almost finished when Shinny and Zandau walked up, barefoot and silent as mice, into the light of the corner street lamp. Vince greeted them, handed them both a stick of clove-flavored gum and hunk of rock candy before falling into conversation.
Their families were as poor as his, always struggling to find work that paid enough for groceries and rent. They never wore shoes during warm weather seasons. Waiting until frostbite threatened to take toes to don their only pair for winter. Both street smart and wily, they knew things going on in town Vince would never find out without their feed.
Shinny and Zandau stood exchanging local news with Vince as he squatted at his task to finish folding before sunrise. One bit of current events involved a liquor raid on Jack’s Dive where there was a little shooting. No one hit. Just a bullet through an unopened bottle of whiskey and lots of glass shrapnel injuries sustained by those patrons sitting at the bar. As they were wrapping up task and talk, a police car rolled up and stopped behind Shinny and Zandau. The cop in the passenger-side seat rolled down his window and looked at the trio of kids on the street corner.
“Officer Crowley,” Vince replied and stood up straight.
Crowley looked at Shinny and Zandau with distaste. “What are you two niggers doing here?”
When Fanny received the headright from her last living grandparent she wasn’t sure what to make of it. Mineral rights were something she had never given any thought to beyond her disdain for the white man’s rushes for gold across what had once been lands free from such relentless, all-consuming attack. So she showed it to Vince who damn near fainted in front of her as he read it and informed her that she was sole owner of the headright which meant if she ever decided to sell leases to tap into and extract the petroleum deposits of which might exist within its bounds she would have to share only the percentage the State of Oklahoma demanded from every developed headright.
It had been seven years since birth of the twins and even though Vince was making headway in the oil and gas business since graduation from petroleum engineering school at OU, they were still dirt poor and struggling every day to make ends meet. Fanny watched Vince flush, then pale and flush again as he reread the headright document.
Then he stopped, took Fanny by both hands and urged her to sit crosslegged on the floor with him.
“Fanny, I think you’re about to become a very rich woman. This headright is your ticket out of poverty, for life . . . unless you go hog wild and blow it all on impulse shopping sprees of a magnitude I can’t even begin to comprehend on any freaking level of coherent imagination!”
Both later stretched out prone under a balmy, crystal clear, moonless sky that same evening, Fanny and Vince continued to assimilate all her headright might entail for the future.
“It’s not for me,” she said softly into the night air above her.
“What do you mean?” Vince asked, a bit panicked by the statement considering how her impulses could lead to poor decision making and rash actions.
“It’s for our children,” she answered. “We are no longer important except in every respect impacting their future.”
Vince sighed in relief. She was thinking as he was. Calmly, rationally.
“Fanny, my college thesis focused on possible oil and gas deposits beneath this little town of yours. After meeting you and spending time traipsing all over the countryside here I began to notice geological signs on the surface indicating ancient hydrocarbon deposits might be located below, and not very far down either.”
Fanny had read his thesis and even though most of the geology, mathematics and engineering stuff was beyond her, the main subject of the paper was not. A porous sandstone formation loaded with oil and gas deposits.
“I remember, and it has me thinking you and I might just be able to extract that oil and gas ourselves, without signing one damned lease to do so.”
A thrill coursed through Vince. He thought so too. Placing his hand on hers resting on cool grass at his side, “So, you want to go for it together then?” he asked.
“Yes I do.”
Thirty feet short of maximum drilling depth, Tom saw the pressure gage twitch ever so slightly. Too much to be caused by vibration from the rig, though, so he began taking measures to deal with the kick. In his mind’s eye he could see the gas bubble rising in the borehole, a threat of great magnitude if allowed to surface. Noting the time, flow rate and pressure deviations and punching them into the blowout control program which would calculate size of the bubble and time it would surface in the borehole, he shouted orders. His crew sprang into action as mud began surging from the borehole. Not a huge amount, but it was enough to pay attention to.
He radioed Billyjo and let her know the situation. She raced across pad SSS1 toward SSS5, past the parking spot where the baby badger had so thoroughly shredded her little blue car–noticing a sliver of fine white-leather upholstery still nestled in the gravel there.
“I’m on my way, Tom. Two minutes, tops!”
Then she sprinted hard for SSS5.
The flow rate was increasing. Tom glanced at the pit volume indicator and saw an unmistakable increase. As per their training, his crew already had the mud pumps shut down. The drill string weight indicator bounced significantly. No drilling break, though–a good sign.
Debating briefly whether to initiate a soft or hard shut in, all his training and experience screamed for a hard shut in, so he closed the annular preventer.
Billyjo tripped at the edge of SSS5, lurched back to her feet and sprinted hard toward rig 5.
Tom hadn’t bothered with notifying Vince, knowing Billyjo had already called him as she dashed his way. She trotted up beside him just as he was recording shut-in drill pipe and casing pressures and noted pit level once again before easing the kelly out of the hole so the valve at the bottom of the kelly could be closed if necessary. This also allowed the annular-preventer members to attain a more secure seal on the pipe itself.
Tom was very happy they had not been tripping when the kick happened. Everyone’s attention had been riveted on possibility of a kick occurring at any moment as they drilled instead of focused on trip mechanics. His crew had performed at peak efficiency to handle the event, avoiding extra steps required if they had been tripping–including scrambling to set the top tool joint on the slips then install and make up a fully opened safety valve on the drill pipe before closing the safety valve and the annular preventer.
There was plenty of casing already in the well to safely control the kick. A subsurface diversion away from the rig through diverter lines wasn’t necessary, another fortuitous break.
Billyjo scanned the meters and pit level, clapped Tom on the shoulder rather stoutly for a woman her size, he thought, and turned to tell Vince all about it as he strode toward them.
Vince remembered Fanny suddenly rolling over right on top of him that starry starry night so long ago.
“So we aren’t going to always be poor folk, eh?” she whispered, nibbling at his left earlobe–something she did that damned near drove him crazy with desire.
“Maybe not. Unless I’m a lot more stupid than I appear to be.”
She giggled. “My oil tycoon,” she sighed and laid her head on his chest.
“I’m no tycoon. Just an engineer. You’re the one who will have to carry the mantle of tycoon.”
Fanny’s use of that word flashed memories of Shinny and Zandau to mind again and he began telling Fanny about their brush with the law that pre-dawn morning so long ago.
“What did you do when the cop called your friends niggers?”
“I told the cops they were my pals and that we were just sharing a pack of gum and talking about kid stuff. The cops knew me from times I’d stop at their office to fish for local news tidbits. They thought I was cute, and on reflection I think they fed me information which helped them keep a tight reign on maintaining peace in town. They never recognized Shinny or Zandau no matter how many times they looked at them. But right after the cops left us alone that morning, the edge of the Sun broke the horizon. It cast a ray of light on them from behind. They looked like two tycoons from movies.
By the middle of Badger Digs Project day ten all six rigs had achieved maximum drilling depth. The remaining two days would be spent on completion work so logging passes can then be gathered for further reservoir analysis, and more drilling if deemed desirable. But that would take time and use of the rest of the drilling units, moving rigs and support equipment. Preliminary analysis of both sandstone layers indicated payzones of epic proportions.
Everyone kept this information to themselves. It wouldn’t do to let this cat out of its bag too soon. Vince and Fanny knew the bad blood was flowing as surely as oil and gas would flow from the new wells someday in the not too distant future. Webbor had been instructed to stay especially vigilant on his watch. Vince had let Melanie know of the tense situation developing and to be ready to call 911 with Webbor’s location data at hand.
“Hopefully nothing will happen and all the bluster will amount to mere cowardice,” he told his daughter over their encrypted satellite phone connection.
“Any injuries on the project?” Melanie asked.
“Just Billyjo’s car. She’s gone to The City to pick it up tomorrow morning.”
“That’s good. I imagine you’re pretty worn out.”
“Not really. I’ve been flying Fanny’s virtual formation exploration system every spare moment I’ve had. It’s fun. Almost like playing a computer game.”
“Ah ha, my father the gamer!” she exclaimed with delight and a chuckle.
“You have no idea,” he mouthed silently.
Fanny’s grandfather appeared in a 2-D chat window floating to Vince’s left as he was flying deeper into the second sandstone formation. A full complement of logging tools had been passed into and out of the wells drilled by rigs 2 and 5, sending back rich, raw telemetry Fanny’s system was now digesting and plotting in augmented reality space and time.
“Your delving and designing work with Fanny goes well I see.”
Vince nodded his agreement. “Your granddaughter is an AR computing genius!”
“Yes, I see that. She has always had a knack for turning the raw into the refined and useful. And I see she has not killed you during your difficult journey together, so far.”
Vince cringed at that “so far” part, wondering how he might still screw up and trigger one of her impulse-murder rages.
“I’ve been hiding out down here a lot.”
The old Seminole laughed heartily at that. “You are indeed from within the Earth. It’s good that you came out to meet Fanny who dwells on its surface. Your union is as powerful as I thought it might be.”
Banking up and then orbiting the old man’s 2-D chat window he peered into his deep-set eyes. Finding no mischief there he thanked him for the guidance provided so long ago. “It’s good to have known you, sir. And it’s good to have loved your granddaughter.”
The 2-D chat window dissolved into the surrounding sandstone, and Vince woke in serenity.
Driving east in her restored Solstice on a stretch of Route 66, Billyjo sang along with the radio.
“Beyond the horizon of the place we lived when we were young.
In a world of magnets and miracles.
Our thoughts strayed constantly and without boundary . . .”
Then she knew exactly what she wanted to do to properly thank everyone for contributing to the restoration fund.
Jake was fast asleep in the passenger seat, his left foot twitching a little. She wondered what he was dreaming of. Giggling, she also wondered if stage-one completion work on the Badger Digs Project had wrapped up the previous day before Vince had given everyone the weekend off. Everyone, that is, except Webbor who was still on watch.
She wondered what was so special about Fanny that Vince insisted Webbor’s watch continue uninterrupted. Webber seemed happy to keep working at it, so that wasn’t any issue. She knew Fanny was a wizard at geological data analysis and imaging, having seen some of her work in publications. But she had never met the eccentric technical guru, though she had heard a lot of stories. Wild stories. Some which just couldn’t be true.
The restoration team’s shop had been closer to Edmond than downtown OKC so she suggested to Jake they take old Route 66 and stop someplace along the way to eat.
“How about that old rusty place, The Butcher Stand?” he asked.
Billyjo nodded. “Sounds great. And the weather is perfect for eating outside.”
When Fanny was six she her family moved to Ada where she was enrolled into first grade in the public school system. She hated it. Her grandmother had no sympathy when she complained about having to go there.
“Be thankful you don’t have to go to a place like Mekasukey,” she intoned before launching into stream of consciousness stories about her own institutionalized education experiences.
“But they don’t want me there,” Fanny angrily informed her.
“Why do you think that?”
“Because I’m Seminole. They think I’m stupid and dirty and lazy.”
“Then educate them to know how you really are. It won’t be easy—with some even impossible, but what alternative do you have?”
Fanny had tried and failed. White people did not hear what they did not like. So she fought using her fists and feet, at first. In her teens she started carrying a weapon. A straight razor was her favorite, frequently stopping fights before they turned serious when her opponents saw her expertly flip the razor open, ready to slash. But she only used it once to actually cut flesh. That time she had killed for the first time—to save her life.
The neighborhood she lived in had been invaded that fall by a kazillion squirrels and warnings had been issued to avoid them, especially if they were behaving strangely, because some had turned up rabid.
The thought of rabies made Fanny shudder in a sudden cold sweat. So she stayed alert to all squirrel movement.
Billyjo gently nudged Jake as she pulled up to The Butcher Stand.
“Oh, look! They’ve built a roof over the picnic tables!”
Jake blinked sleepily at the wide steel and sheetmetal structure in front of the familiar, rusty cooking and serving shack he loved so much. “Well, that’s okay, I guess. At least they didn’t tear down the rusty parts.”
Seated with their orders and happily consuming them with gusto, Billyjo shared her plan to bake a huge batch of cookies for the Badger Digs Project crew as gift of gratitude for pitching in to restore the interior of her car. Jake liked the idea but he surprised Billyjo by suggesting a devious twist to her plan.
“Why don’t bake them just like you did that time you used up your great-grandmother’s entire egg supply?”
Billyjo immediately burst out laughing, drawing smiles from people dining at surrounding picnic tables.
“Why Jake! I never knew you had that sort of ornery streak in you.”
He grinned while methodically gnawing meat from a savory sparerib. “You know who’ll get the biggest kick out of it if you make them that way?”
“Webb. He’ll fall over laughing and forget all about us making such a dumb mistake and ruining your car.”
Billyjo hugged her husband. “It’s a perfect idea. Thank you for thinking of it. Now we just need to find a bunch of farm fresh eggs!”
"I know a place near Wewoka. We can swing by Johnnie Mae’s too."
Recalling the day she had put the straight razor to use, she remembered that her mother had had enough of her children running in and out of the house all morning, allowing the screen door to slam behind them each time. Ordering them all outside to stay and play she warned them that each time one of them came inside again they would have to stay in for the rest of the day.
So Fanny and her brothers had all gone back outside. It was a nice fall day and they had managed to stay out for a long while until a pair of squirrels came bouncing up the driveway directly toward them. They stopped playing, frozen with fear and watched in horror as one squirrel climbed right up the side of the brick chimney and then disappeared down into it. That sent her brothers running inside to warn their mother a rabid squirrel was coming inside the house.
Hearing the screen door slam behind the last of the three brothers to run back inside, she then heard her mother yelling at them that that was it. No more outside time for them. Turning she watched the second squirrel scamper into an oak tree beside the driveway and out onto a limb until it was chittering madly down at her from a thinner branch almost directly overhead.
It leapt. The razor was out in a flash and two halves of the squirrel fell to the driveway with a soft plop.
Midway through the Badger Digs Project completion picnic supper, Vince stood and called for everyone’s attention.
“This has been the most perfectly planned and executed wildcatter project I have ever had the pleasure to witness. You all deserve a big hand for its successful outcome.
“Production estimates from the final logging runs are indicating this might just be the finest set of wells VED has ever drilled. By the end of fall they may be producing more oil and gas than any other thirty wells in the region!”
Applause and rowdy cheers burst out all around.
“You not only completed the project on a tight schedule without any injuries whatsoever, the only damage incurred during the twelve days of hard, fast work was inflicted by an outside party to Billyjo’s car which has since been fully restored,” he added, motioning toward the powder blue Solstice parked at the edge of SSS1 where it had suffered the wrath of the baby badger.
Another round of applause as Billyjo, Jake and Webber began handing out cookies to everyone for desert.
“As thanks to everyone for donating so generously to her car restoration fund,” Vince continued, “she has baked up a batch of her special cookies for everyone to enjoy!”
The cookies were a pretty orange color. No one could figure out what flavor they were. Webbor was wearing about as goofy a grin as they’d ever seen on his face as he and his friends handed out little bags of the cookies.
Fanny’s mother and brothers came running out of the house in a noisy rush, yelling to her that the rabid squirrel was in the living room scurrying up and down and all around everything it could cling to. They left the back screen door ajar, hoping the damned thing would exit of its own accord.
Fanny stood with feet apart, still in battle mode with the straight razor still clinched tightly in her fist. Its blade was only slightly tainted with blood. She was looking down at the neatly halved squirrel. Both halves were still twitching vigorously.
Fanny’s brothers were impressed, congratulating her for so handily dispatching the rabid squirrel. Fanny’s mother was both amazed and proud of her daughter. She was obviously a warrior. A good one.
Slowly and gently laying her arm across her daughter’s shoulders she knelt beside her and peered at the squirrel halves, whistling long and high.
“Fanny Lou, you warrior you!”
Fanny turned and smiled at her mother. “It jumped at me from up there,” she said, pointing at the oak branch above. “I didn’t even have time to think about what to do. It just happened.”
Her mother nodded she understood and hugged her close. “I’m glad you did it,” then glanced toward the back screen door still open and saw the house-raiding squirrel dashing out and away in the back yard.
Walking back to the house together, her brothers whooped, clapping her on the back and shoulders with respect and pride.
Finished handing out decoratively ribboned bags of cookies, Jake shot Webbor a warning look to not spoil the surprise. Billyjo followed that with a wink and smile just as first exclamations rose up from the crew when they took their first bites. She heard Webbor choking down a laugh.
Tom yelped and spit his first bite out onto the ground before swearing at it, “What the . . .”
Then more crew members were doing exactly the same thing and two seconds later Webbor was down on the ground, holding his belly with both hands as he howled with laughter.
“They’re mud cookies!” Tom yelled, turning to glare at Billyjo.
She and Jake stood beside Webbor who was still rolling around on the ground laughing his ass off.
“Actually, they’re made of farm fresh eggs and the finest prairie dirt this part of Oklahoma has to offer,” Billyjo informed them with a proud smile and deep bow.
Jake piped up as she was taking her bow.
“Just like she made as a budding child cook after raiding her great-grandmother’s hen house for eggs,” he told them all before sharing the story of how she used all of the henhouse eggs one morning to make a large batch of mud cookies baked to perfection by summertime sunshine beating down on the cellar top.
Webbor had stopped rolling around laughing to listen closely to Jake as he told the story. Billyjo was glad he was paying attention because the story was mostly for him.
Fanny’s mother stopped her chores and fixed her children a much-deserved treat as reward for their heroic action, butter toast slathered with homemade wild plum jam.
Fanny savored the treat, one of her favorites, marveling at their mother’s reaction to this turn of events.
“My children,” she told them as they feasted. “You’re all so brave and helpful. I’m sorry I yelled at you before.”
Everyone stopped chewing and looked at each other. Fanny broke the silence “When did you yell at us? About what?”
Her mother just shook her head and went back to work on her chores. “You kids can play inside or out and slam that screen door all you want to from now on.
“Fanny, will you please call animal control to come pick up that squirrel you killed. And tell them not to touch it because it might be rabid and that its buddy is loose in the neighborhood and might be rabid too.”
Fanny finished her treat, washed it down with a final gulp of milk and went for the phone. “Yes ma’am.”
Her brothers wolfed down their treat and followed her to the phone to listen in. She didn’t shoo them away, instead holding the receiver out from her ear so they could hear what the city dispatcher had to say in reply to her call for assistance. They giggled and pushed and poked each other during the call as details were worked out between Fanny and the dispatcher. She loved it.
Billyjo smiled at Webbor and around at the now listening crew as Jake told the story of her first attempt at cookie baking. Glad Webbor was listening intently, she hoped the story would let him know everyone makes mistakes, including her.
“She had no idea she had just deprived her great-grandmother of much needed egg-sale money, but she had not punished her for it at all,” he continued, extending his hand to Webbor and helping him to his feet. He and Billyjo wrapped their arms around their young friend and the three of them stood together smiling at the rest of the Badger Digs Project crew.
“They turned out so well,” Billyjo related, “as pretty and orange as these have.”
Crew members took a closer look at the cookies in the pretty cellophane bags.
“We were a poor family. My great-grandmother needed those eggs to sell for a few pennies each to pay her gas and light bill.”
Webbor spoke up, “Wow, Billyjo! I bet that made her mad.”
Billyjo shook her head to let Webbor know she hadn’t been angry at all. “I was only four years old, Webb. She knew I didn’t know better and forgave me. Just like I know you didn’t know that baby badger would do what it did to my car and that I’m not upset with you at all about it.”
Then she waved her arm over the rest of the smiling crew, “None of us are angry about it.”
Fanny heard the intruder coming and steeled herself for whatever was about to happen.
Webbor had just returned to his watch after enjoying some real cookies the diner had baked for the completion party. He was finishing his last cookie when he spotted the angry man sneaking around the back of Fanny’s house. Dashing down the west side street and across to a pair of trash barrels in the alley where he could see Fanny’s back stoop, he watched the mean man that called Fanny crazy and old push hard at the door twice before if flew open and the man went inside.
Webbor pulled his communicator from his pocket and flipped it open. Melanie answered immediately.
“Melanie! Melanie! This is me. Your brother! Fanny is in trouble. Someone just broke into her house! Through the back door!”
Melanie dialed 911 and reported the incident. “Help is on the way, Webb. Stay where you are! Don’t go into Fanny’s house, no matter what happens!”
Nodding frantically, Webbor replied that he understood: “Roger that!” before he flipped the communicator shut and sprinted toward Fanny’s house. He wasn’t about to let anyone hurt Fanny, no matter what rules he broke.
Melanie tried to reconnect with Webbor’s communicator but got no reply. She called her father after ending the 911 call. “It’s happening. Back door. Fanny’s.”
That was all Vince needed to know and he was up and on his way. The entire project crew sprang up from their seats and followed him.
Fanny waited in the dark of the living room closet with weapon in hand and listened. The intruder moved from the back door into the kitchen, bumping into her little dining table then into one of its chairs. Movement stopped for a few dozen heartbeats but she stayed put and waited until she heard Webbor come into the kitchen frantically calling her name.
She exploded from the closet and closed in on the spot she thought the intruder had stopped after bumping into the chair. Webbor fumbled to find the light switch, not sure where it was since he had never turned it on from the back door before.
Fanny connected with the intruder, wrapping her left arm around his midsection and swinging her weapon with her right hand in a short, fast arc toward his head. The intruder grunted then screamed in pain as Fanny embedded her weapon a good four inches into the intruder’s right ear. Right down the canal and into his brain.
Webbor found the light switch and brushed upward against it. The kitchen was illuminated in soft yellow light of a single 60-watt incandescent bulb Fanny preferred over the new white, florescent lightbulbs being recommended for their power-saving characteristics. He saw Fanny backing away from the intruder with both hands up in a defensive stance as he fell face-first across the dining table. Webbor let out a yelp when he saw the icepick protruding from the intruder’s right ear, blood dribbling out.
Vince pulled his pistol from his pocket before going into Fanny’s house through the back door then pocketed it again when he saw the situation was under control and people he cared about were safe.
He turned and waved at his crew to stay back outside. “Everything is okay but someone please call the sheriff and an ambulance.”
Checking the pulse of the intruder and finding none, he looked at Fanny who had relaxed her stance and moved to hug her son and wink at her husband.
“Armed to the teeth and you used an icepick for self defense?”
Fanny raised her eyebrows and shook her head a bit in response. “I didn’t really think about it. I just grabbed what was handy and put it to use.”
The sheriff arrived, checked for a pulse of the intruder, radioed dispatch to request an OSBI forensics team then began taking statements. The ambulance arrived and an EMT verified the intruder was deceased but did not remove the body.
Fanny stated that she was the one who jammed the icepick into the intruder’s ear. Webbor stated he saw nothing of it all because the lights were off. Vince stated he arrived too late to do anything but take in the aftermath. His crew milled around in Fanny’s backyard until the sheriff asked everyone to leave. He made no arrests. The body of the intruder was identified and removed after OSBI was satisfied with the evidence gathered. Fanny made a pot of coffee.
“Well, Louis won’t be a bother ever again,” Vince offered as they sat down to talk over a cup of coffee.
Fanny smiled a little, feeling no small amount of satisfaction at that. “I’m always amazed at how stupid criminals can be. Louis was no exception.”
Webbor stayed quiet, listening to Vince and Fanny converse in the sparing way they always did. He was shaken by what he had witnessed but relieved Fanny wasn’t hurt, or killed. He was also glad he had not seen Fanny actually jam the icepick into the mean man’s ear, pretty sure that would have brought his suppertime desert of cookies up in a rush.
Fanny kept an eye on her son for signs of undue stress as he remembered his sister and called her on his communicator to tell her all about the exciting evening. She detected nothing alarming in his behavior and decided to let him process it all in his own way at his own pace. Vince didn’t get on to him for breaking his promise not to get involved, instead thanking him for coming to Fanny’s aid, even though it wasn’t needed.
“Why did that mean man want to hurt you, Fanny?”
“It’s a long story, Webb,” she answered. “but part of it has to do with the Badger Digs Project. He thought he deserved to receive money that’s about to start coming from that. A lot of money.”
“Lots like thousands of dollars?”
“Lots like millions of dollars, Webb. Millions.”
Webbor giggled. “This sounds sort of like the first episode of that TV show about the family of hillbillies who struck oil.”
Fanny and Vince smiled. “How so, Webb?” Fanny asked.
Webb spoke in imitation of Buddy Ebsen’s country bumpkin character. “‘Some new kind of dollar’.”
Then in cousin Pearl’s voice he said “‘There ain’t no new kind of dollar.’”
Then again in Jed’s voice “‘What’d he call them, Granny?’
“‘Million dollars,’” he ended the parody with an amazingly good imitation of Irene Ryan’s voice.
Fanny nearly choked on her sip of coffee laughing so hard.
Vince grinned and shook his head. “The TV generation,” and marveled at how his autistic son could sometimes get to the crux of a situation without consciously ever knowing it. Equally amazed, Fanny laid her hand on her son’s and waited for him to turn his peaceful gaze upon her.
“Webb, I want you to stay here a while with me now. Would you do that? I’ve asked Melanie to come stay here too.”
Webbor didn’t have to think it over. “Yeah, yeah! I want to. Can we all go to Johnnie Mae’s in Wewoka to buy bar-b-que at the back door?”
Chuckling, Fanny nodded and patted his hand. “You bet we can. And Web, thank you for coming in to help me tonight.”
“But I didn’t do anything except turn on the light, and I was slow finding where the switch was.”
“Oh, you did much more than that. Much more.”
On the front porch, Vince and Fanny discussed next steps. Webbor and Melanie would spend as long as they wanted with her while Vince wrapped up production installations at the first six sites. Depending on how well they produced, decisions could then be made whether to drill more of the units.
“I’m ninety nine percent positive these six will produce more than enough,” Vince said.
Nodding, Fanny sighed. “Now I just have to convince Melanie and Webb it’s what they need to do.”
“You will. They listen to you. They still love to listen to you. And Webb will love learning all he can about the augmented reality system you’ve put together.”
After a long pause, Fanny confessed. “I didn’t have to kill Louis.”
Vince stayed quiet, understanding her need to talk now.
“I wanted to. I enjoyed it—as much as I enjoyed killing his brother.”
Vince knew why from the only other time she ever opened up about her childhood experiences, but held his tongue. Fanny was far beyond needing reassurances. Her wild impulses were ill-fitted to modern society and its sometimes damaging restrictions but the Cantis brothers both deserved the ends they met. The attempted rape sealed their fate.
Fanny reached across and gently grasped his hand.
“I never wanted to kill you. Not really, you know.”
Vince did not know and shook his head to let her see his doubt.
“An oil man like you taking an interest in this place, in me, was suspicious.”
Gliding smoothly through known payzone horizons, Webbor noted subtle indicators of possible lateral expansion in the lower sandstone bed. Porosity and permeability were almost ideal for another exploratory borehole so he pinned a virtual sticky note to the region and punched in parameters which had attracted his attention for Fanny to look over later. He was reluctant to call out and show her what he was seeing right away. She tended to turn stuff he found entertaining into work sessions, hammering out details of which he only understood a fraction. Frustrating, to say the least, when he just wanted to fly and explore the data.
Fanny gently touched his shoulder to let him know she was near. “Webb, I have a present for you.”
He started to remove the AR rig from his head but she stopped him. “No, keep it on and just relax for a bit while I load it up here.”
Doing as she asked, he settled back into the comfortable work chair and began a relaxation routine she had recently taught him, beginning at the tips of his toes and slowly working to the top of his head.
The sandstone formation melted away and was replaced by a broad expanse of the greenest forest he had ever seen. He was flying over the forest and realized it was a rainforest. Turning to look to his right he saw he was flying with a huge flock of Macaw parrots and realized he was himself one of them.
Leaving Webbor to his new adventure as a Macaw flying with friends and family over their rainforest realm, Fanny turned to Melanie and motioned for her to come into the kitchen.
Melanie sat at the little table as Fanny fixed tea.
“Webb has really taken to the system,” she said.
Fanny nodded as she poured the tea. “He’s a natural QA artist.”
Melanie chuckled. She had never thought of quality assurance as an art form before but it made perfect sense. She had read enough on the subject to understand what Fanny meant.
“He’s picking up the model coding pretty quickly too. As good as any college educated geologist.”
Melanie shocked Fanny then by asking point blank, “Fanny, do you know anything about Jasper’s disappearance?” and Melanie saw her flinch and knew she did know something.
Fanny sat down at the table and took a long sip of her tea while it was good and hot. She decided not even to try to hide anything more from Melanie.
“Jasper threatened to tell Louis what was about to happen here. About the drilling project under this town. I had to stop him.”
Melanie took in a long deep breath. “Did you kill him?”
“Is he the man in the well?”
Fanny visibly flinched again, “What man? In what well?”
"The dry hole in Texas. Webbor’s last watch. He talked about the man down in that well.”
Fanny shook her head, startled and amazed by her daughter’s deductive reasoning skill.
The colors of the flock in flight were intoxicating. Webbor moaned audibly from the effect.
“Everything okay in there, Webb?” Fanny asked.
“Uh huh. Just great!”
“You can fly just like you do in the geophys system, same controls.”
Webbor tentatively tried them, then eagerly seized control and began flying as a wild parrot does.
“Whoa ho ho!”
“How was Dodd involved?” Melanie asked, eyes locked on Fanny’s.
“He insisted on helping me with Jasper’s body. He knew it had to be done. He didn’t see the murder but he caught me cutting Jasper into pieces.”
Melanie shuddered. Who was this woman she thought she knew so well?
“So he volunteered to get rid of the body, said he knew the perfect place. I didn’t argue with him about it. We just bagged up Jasper and he did the rest.”
Melanie didn’t know what else to say or ask. She understood well enough. Then Fanny began telling her more. Much more, beginning with the day Louis and his brother tried to rape her. Melanie listened. Cried. Wept deeply, desperately, wanting Fanny to stop talking–to stop revealing such horrible truth. But Fanny couldn’t stop. She had told Vince the bare minimum about it, leaving out excruciatingly painful details. But she told Melanie now, in a flood of unstoppable guilt and grief. Every detail.
When she finished the telling Melanie took Fanny into her arms and held her as she wept like she should have been able to as a child.
Webbor listened as Fanny told her story to his sister and wept too, wondering why anyone would want to hurt Fanny? When she started talking about Dodd getting rid of Jasper’s body in pieces images flashed back into his mind of the tool pusher dropping parts of the red-bearded man down the dry well. He had met and talked with the red-bearded man named Jasper only once and had decided he didn’t need to ever again. Now, he felt a bit of relief in the knowledge it was impossible for that to happen now.
Then Webbor listened as Fanny told Melanie of time she spent in an insane asylum after killing Louis’ brother. A place where pain and humiliation were tools used to try to control crazy people trapped there. Only the tools didn’t work on her. She escaped and lived wild along the banks of the river until authorities gave up looking for her.
“The murder charge was dropped, but Louis never forgot how I killed his brother.”
“How did you kill him? How did you get away from Louis after killing his brother?”
“Slit his throat with a straight razor I carried in those days. Louis ran away when I turned to slit his throat too.”
“Was there a trial?”
Fanny shook her head as she pulled herself away from Melanie’s embrace. “No. Tribal protections prevented that. And as people learned the truth over time, I was forgiven for killing him. An understandable act of selfdefense.”
Fanny died shortly after Webbor and Melanie turned forty years old. To commemorate her life, they went skydiving together for the first time, both screaming their heads off in glee and fear as they plummeted from the sky, the Red River snaking east and west below them.
The evening of their birthday party at Webbor’s little shotgun shack they opened a present from Fanny that their father had given to them that morning. The present was a letter from her.
My dear children,
I am your mother. Was your mother, that is, since if you’re reading this letter then I’m dead.
I hope you both understand how much I love you, and I don’t speak in past tense here because love never ends, even in death.
I hope you both also understand why I could not live with you and your father as your mother and his wife. I was just too crazy. Too quick to flash into anger so harsh I could, and did, sometimes kill from its intensity.
The present from your father will explain the rest of my final gift to you wonderfully bright and delightful children of ours. And he will answer any questions not answered in that present.
The present from their father was a document detailing a now producing headright they had just inherited as direct blood-line descendants of its previous, sole-surviving holder. Fanny.
A note accompanying the headright provided current value of the grid of producing wells drilled under Sasakwa.