Determined to stop drinking and put the nightmares to rest, journalist and former war correspondent John Webster wants to turn over a new leaf. But when a mysterious woman phones him out of nowhere about an oil company and its corrupt top executives, Webster fi nds himself dragged into a dangerous chess game played by the most powerful minds in the country.
The whistleblower hands Webster a secret document indicating that Nerno Energy’s largest oil site may actually be completely dry. As Webster digs deeper into the secrets of the energy company, he finds shocking evidence of corruption at the highest levels, perpetrated by people who will stop at nothing to silence him. Webster learns Nerno Energy is being readied for sale to foreign interests who may have their own agenda—an event with implications for the security of the whole of North America.
This knowledge drives Webster to return to his old destructive habits and threatens his sanity, his relationships, and his life. When people start dying around him, Webster races to untangle this large conspiracy and bring those responsible to justice.
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SHAME THE DEVIL
By JOEL MARK HARRIS
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2013 Joel Mark Harris
All rights reserved.
The Don Juan
The south of France was having a Saint Martin's summer. The sleek one-hundred-foot yacht, named the Don Juan—so named by its previous owner, a Kuwaiti prince—had cast itself from St. Tropez, delving into the expansive, crystal-white water. The boat, by all accounts, was a magnificent specimen even in the elegant St. Tropez harbour, where millionaires and billionaires flexed their fragile egos. Fair to say, the Don Juan stood out among its rivals. Even the locals, used to such massive phalluses, stopped to gawk and gape at the brilliant, angular, white hull.
At sea, the fishing boats, rug boats, cruise boats, sail boats and motor boats all tried to snuggle up alongside the Don Juan, which had been meticulously imagined by the Kuwaiti prince and brought into existence in the docks of Hamburg.
The yacht had thirty stunningly furnished rooms, including a fully stocked wine cellar, a gym complete with swimming pool and sauna, a fifty-seat concert hall, an entertainment room, a study room and a plethora of bedrooms and bathrooms. Each room was a marvel of architecture, both modern and ancient. Gold-trim, marble counters and ornate carvings inhabited each room as well as heated floors, platinum-plated appliances, and brass-knobbed cabinets.
One could invite thirty friends aboard and not see any of them for the entire voyage.
The Don Juan sailed out of the dozy, jutting gulf. Its large, powerful engine purred casually along, taking the passengers and crew further away from the beaches and sandy-coloured buildings with quaint red rooftops with the low-top mountains like jagged stencil drawings behind them.
The Don Juan sailed past a slender lighthouse and past a dozen or so other yachts that likely carried more captains of industry than true captains of the sea.
The boat travelled lethargically down the white coastline for several nautical miles before hitting open water where there was nothing but the brisk blue horizon, which stretched on and on until the end of the world.
The heat hit a sweltering forty degrees. The sky was clear and windless and the large glaring sun was midway through its daily march.
On the top deck there were four people—three blonde women and one deeply tanned man—lounging in the pool, and a fifth woman was sunning herself in a lawn chair.
The woman in the lawn chair was in her mid-forties but could have been thirty or even twenty-five. She wore a white bikini over her pale skin. She looked like she had been kept in the dark for most of her life, and indeed she probably had.
She had blue eyes, so deep you could swim in them, soft round shoulders and, as a whole, an Eastern European beauty. Her long, unruly, chestnut-coloured hair was tied back in a ponytail.
"What was he in now? The Last Wind?" one of the bee-coloured blondes asked the other, slowly shifting her hair around her shoulders.
The three pool girls were all a little inebriated and as a result had discarded their bikini tops long ago and were baring their fake basketball-sized breasts to the Mediterranean sun.
"What is it with the French?" another girl chimed in. She had a bony neck and a plum-coloured complexion.
"I thought I saw him back there—you know the actor, what's-his-name?"
The first blonde rolled her eyes and looked around ruefully. "All I want is a refill on my fucking drink."
"Maybe you should give him fellatio. It's the only thing the French understand."
"What's fellatio? Is it a cocktail?"
There was an unsuccessful suppression of giggles.
"Yes, it's a type of cock ... tail."
The first blonde squished her face up. "You guys think you're so fucking smart."
"You should ask the waiter. He'll tell you."
"Didn't he play a navy captain in something? I would definitely perform fellatio on him."
"Speaking of the waiter, where is he? I'm thirsty."
One of the blondes suddenly turned to George Hopkins.
"What did you say you did again?"
George Hopkins was looking at his blonde companions with a mixture of amusement and bewilderment. He was a slightly pudgy man with thick forest-like chest hair and mahogany-coloured skin.
"I'm an oil and gas prospector."
The blondes frowned synchronously. "What's that?"
"You look for oil?" one of the girls asked.
George nodded. "That's right."
One of the blondes kicked her feet up, splashing water over the edge. "Is that how you can afford this boat?"
"How do you look for oil?" another blonde asked.
"Well, what I generally do is a seismic survey, which is basically sound waves designed to map out the ocean floor and find oil pockets."
"Do you go to the Middle East much?" the plum-coloured blonde asked. Then without waiting for an answer she said, "I would like to go to the Middle East—all the hot weather and those beaches."
"Don't be silly. There aren't any beaches in the Middle East," one of the girls said.
"It's all fucking desert," George said, definitively. He then smiled wryly at his companions. "No skinny dipping there."
The girls giggled shrilly, causing a ripple of water to splash over the side of the pool.
Andrea Drashkov, who was in the lawn chair, wished George and his harem would just move to the bedroom and get on with the orgy and leave her alone, but when the waiter appeared she knew she was out of luck.
"Fucking finally," one of the blondes whispered under her breath.
The three blondes rudely waved their glasses at the waiter who took them with the reserved look of utter contempt that only the French can pull off with success.
"Five more, please," George smiled apologetically at the waiter.
The waiter nodded and turned, but Andrea stopped him. "Actually, I'll stick to water."
George gave a deep frown. "Why don't you have another drink for once in your life?"
"I've had enough," Andrea replied, turning her head away and closing her eyes. The heat was making her feel dehydrated.
"We're on vacation. We can do what we like," George insisted.
Andrea opened her eyes and sat up on one elbow and stared at George. "Please remind me why I invited you onto my boat?"
One of the blondes turned to George. "I thought it was your boat."
He smiled and his cheeks turned a little flush. "Well ... technically, I think, it's the company's boat."
Andrea let out a gust of hot air from her lungs. "It's my boat. I bought and paid for it."
The geologist opened his mouth, but hesitated. He turned to the blonde girls as if to ask for help, but they all just frowned at him, their bodies slowly recoiling from him.
Andrea smiled. Perhaps there would be no orgy after all.
"Well, I thought it was company property. How was I to know?"
The waiter appeared from below deck, saving the two from further squabbling. In the waiter's hand was a satellite telephone. He gave it to Andrea. "For you, Madame Drashkov."
Andrea frowned, putting the phone to her ear. Who could be phoning her? Very few people had this number.
"Andrea, it's David."
David Kahn was the chief executive officer of Nerno Energy. He sounded worried.
"Is there a problem?" Andrea asked.
"You could say that," David paused, sounding on the verge of saying something else. It always annoyed Andrea when people were afraid to speak their minds.
"You know I like things blunt," Andrea said. "It's the Russian in me."
She got up from her chair and slipped into her sandals, careful to avoid the scorching deck, and made her way below. She walked along a narrow metallic-walled hallway. It was humid and unpleasant without the sun's warmth.
"You know the Ko Chang Project?"
Andrea stopped. "Of course."
"There seems to have been a mistake."
"For fuck's sake, David. Just tell me."
"There's no oil. At all."
Andrea was suddenly aware that she was holding her breath. She tried to let it out but her body was unable to move, seemingly frozen. "What do you mean?"
"I mean we're totally dry."
"Nothing at all?" Andrea gasped in disbelief. Her mind tried unsuccessfully to grasp the gravity of the situation. "Shit, David," Andrea said, "who fucked this one up? I mean how could we be so wrong?"
"George Hopkins did all the field work."
Instinctively Andrea glanced upwards as if she could pierce him with her gaze. I am going to kill him, she decided. She would throw him off the side of the boat.
"What are we going to do? What are we going to tell the investors?"
"We don't tell them anything. We sit tight until we sell and then it becomes somebody else's problem."
"David, that won't work. You know it won't. The Chinese are going to audit the shit out of us."
"Have a little faith."
"People will eventually find out."
"So what? We'll be rich beyond our imaginations."
"I want that prick George gone."
"Soon we can all retire and sit on the beach in the Caribbean."
"This whole thing is a bad idea."
"Andrea, we've been over this," David said, sounding irritated. "It's what everybody wants."
"I guess I'd better come home." Andrea sighed inwardly. Part of her was distraught that her first vacation in about six years was being cut short, but part of her was glad. Being stuck on a boat with George and those girls was too much to bear.
"No, you can stay," David said. "Enjoy your vacation. There will be plenty of time to talk over things when you get back."
"How the fuck am I supposed to enjoy my vacation when I have this hanging over me? And especially with George on board."
"You have George there?" David said, sounding worried.
"Yes, I told you. In fact you were the one who convinced me to let him tag along."
"Of course," David said. "Listen Andrea, don't tell him any of this. Let me do it."
Andrea rubbed her temples with her thumb and forefinger. She felt a headache materializing. Not a good sign. "Okay," she said. "I can go get him."
"No, we should do it when the time is right. When you guys are rested and back from vacation."
Andrea closed her eyes. Something wasn't right. What was David doing? What was he planning? "David, what's going on?"
"Nothing. I just want to make sure everything is done correctly."
"Why won't you tell George?"
"I just don't want him to know right now, that's all. He screwed up. It's going to hit him very hard."
"Okay, fine. I'll see you when I get back."
"That's a good girl."
When David hung up, Andrea could start breathing again. She felt the blood rush to her head. Don't patronize me, asshole, she thought. What was this good girl crap?
She was furious. She knew that she should have just gone back to her room and let her temper soothe itself. But she couldn't do that. She was never the type to suffer in silence and so she felt her body turn and climb the stairs back up to the sundeck, as if she wasn't really in control of it. She marched over to the pool where the girls were laughing at something and threw the phone at George, narrowly missing his head. The phone hit the deck with a resounding cracking sound of plastic splitting, then skidded for several metres until it fell overboard into the ocean.
"Son of a bitch!" Andrea screamed.
The three girls immediately climbed out of the pool, grabbing their abandoned bikinis and towels, and ran for safety.
George shrank into the corner, looking up at Andrea. "What now?"
"How could you screw up so badly?"
"What are you talking about?"
Andrea paced agitatedly along the edge of the pool like a predator who couldn't quite reach its prey. "There is no fucking oil in Ko Chang. That's what I'm talking about."
George frowned. "Of course there isn't."
Andrea stopped pacing and looked at George, stunned. That wasn't the reaction she had expected. "You knew? You were on all those conference calls, those meetings, and you said nothing?"
George creased his large forehead. "I don't understand ... are you saying you didn't know?"
"Of course I didn't know! Why would I know? We told the shareholders ... you realize you could go to jail for this?"
George nodded, crossing his hands across his stomach. "I went to David about a year ago and told him my findings."
Andrea could hardly believe what she was hearing. Was he telling the truth? Why should she believe him? She took a deep breath. "What did he say?"
"He said to keep quiet. He wanted to buy some time before telling the investors. I'm sorry. I thought you knew. I thought he told you."
Andrea shook her head in disbelief. "Time for what?"
"Time to find oil elsewhere? Time to sell the company? I don't fucking know. I really thought we would get lucky with the other sites."
"Okay," Andrea said, sitting back down on the lawn chair. Her anger had subsided somewhat. "Why do you think he's telling me now? While on vacation?"
"I have no idea."
"He didn't want me to talk to you about it. He had forgotten you were here with me, in fact." Andrea picked at the frayed ends of her stringy hair. "I feel like he's plotting something now. Plotting for us to take the fall for this. He didn't want us to conspire together."
Andrea suddenly stood up, knocking the lawn chair over. George cowered in the pool corner again, probably afraid Andrea would throw something else at him.
Without a word, Andrea turned and walked towards the hatch below. She could hear George call out after her, but to her he was barely distinguishable from the soft wind as it fluttered across the deck. "Andrea, wait! Where are you going?"
Andrea once again disappeared below the deck and walked towards her room.
David Kahn was a shrewd, cunning businessman. She wished she knew exactly what he was planning. A press conference? Would he leak the information through somebody? The real question was, was she ready to match his wits?
And what was she going to do when she got home? What should she do? The responsible thing would be to come clean, but that would mean a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars, and she wasn't sure if she was ready to live thrifty again.
Andrea's room was large with oak floors and large Impressionist paintings bunched together unceremoniously and tastelessly on the wall. A king sized bed with neatly folded silk sheets dominated the room.
Andrea quickly stripped out of her swimwear and for a moment she stood naked and paralyzed. She wondered if she should have a shower. Did she have time? Her white skin was sticky from lotion. But it wasn't just her indecision about a shower that had stopped the woman who was somehow always perpetually in motion.
Andrea realized that she was about to make the biggest decision of her life, and she wondered how one moment she was lounging by the pool and the next moment life had thrust upon her such a weighty responsibility.
Andrea opened the walk-in closet and selected a sleek maroon-coloured blouse from about a dozen others. She repeated the process for her skirts and then laid her clothes out on her bed. She then went to her drawers and, with less effort this time, picked a bra and a pair of panties which she slipped on.
Why do I always have to do everything myself? Andrea asked.
Andrea finished getting dressed and had just managed to fix her hair when she heard a knock on her door. Expecting to find the waiter with another phone call, instead she found George with a towel wrapped around his waist, dripping wet.
"What do you want?" Andrea asked. "You're getting water all over the hardwood."
"Are you leaving?"
"I'm going back to Calgary."
"You have to take me with you."
"No, you're staying here. I can't be seen with you."
Andrea walked over to the intercom and buzzed the crew.
"Yes, can you get the chopper ready?"
"You mean the helicopter?" the man's crackling, French-accented voice floated through the room.
"S'il vous plait."
George stepped uninvited into the room. "Please ... we need to be together on this." George's eyes were wide and puppyish. Andrea had never liked the geologist—he had been David's recruit—and nothing George was doing persuaded Andrea to alter her perception.
"Look, George, the bottom line is I can't trust you. You've withheld the truth and whatever happens, in my opinion, you deserve it."
Andrea then placed two palms on his wet chest hair, pushed him out the door and locked it.
George pounded on the door but Andrea ignored him. She finished applying her make-up and gathered her things into a small suitcase. The rest she left.
Excerpted from SHAME THE DEVIL by JOEL MARK HARRIS. Copyright © 2013 Joel Mark Harris. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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