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1939 Berlin, Germany
In his office, Herr Obon looked at the thesis he held in his hand. Whoever heard of David Bracken? The subject of the study was enough to make him tremble inside. He had always been interested in the history of the British navy, especially at the time of Nelson and the wooden walls, the ships that protected Britain from Napoleon. Back then other nations fell under the might of the French army. Yet it was the British who defied Napoleon and ruined his plans for total control of Europe and its rule from Paris.
But this thesis held a secret lost for over two hundred years. Soon Europe would be fighting another war. This upcoming war was the result of the unfair treatment that the winners in the last world confrontation placed on the loser. The Treaty of Versailles was so pitiful and punitive that it was a matter of survival for Germany to regain its place as one of the world leaders. Hitler, an obscure painter and veteran from the First World War, had shown the nation a chance to once again feel pride in their country. But war was inevitable and the secrets held within this American's doctoral thesis would provide Germany with much needed cash to carry out its plans. This man was right here at the University of Berlin studying, and as a guest lecturer with his duties, he might be persuaded to help. It was rather bizarre and humorous to think that British gold would soon finance Germany's war machine. He picked up his papers and headed for the door. Someone much more senior than he would have to make the final decision. He knew that he was helping the Fatherland and in a more constructive manner than if he were marching withthe soldiers of the Third Reich.
"Heidi, can you tell me if Professor Bracken is here today?"
"No, sir, he's gone back to America. I understand it was because of a family emergency."
"That's unfortunate. I really wanted to speak with him."
• • •
It was numbing work and his plastic worksuit only seemed to draw attention to himself among the volunteers and fisherman who were shoveling up the globs of viscous oil. With his knowledge about what was happening out at sea, this effort seemed an almost hopeless battle, as each wave brought more oil ashore. Beside him a young woman who was struggling with a large mass of congealed oil, said, "oh, this is hopeless!"
Rubin grinned and nodded his head. "You could say that, but every shovelful of oil is one less that could kill more wildlife."
The woman looked at him. "I'm Brenda Clark from Massachusetts. I'm working on my master's thesis on the effects of tide on shellfish. Along this Coast is one of the best fishing zones on the east side of the Atlantic. Now my two years of labour are for nothing, destroyed along with the livelihood of many hundreds of fishermen."
"It all doesn't seem fair, and if the Prestige breaks up this will only get worse. Most folks have never seen a real disaster and I pray they will be spared one here."
"You're not from here are you? I saw the insignia on your jacket and thought you were a government official."
"Hardly, I'm no civil servant; just a working stiff who happens to be involved with ocean currents. When I heard about this disaster I thought maybe I could get the navy of Spain or Portugal to take that bloody tanker into an area where the currents may help to lessen the spread of any oil."
The woman rested her arms on a shovel. "I saw you talking to the Countess earlier. She owns the land above the village, and from what I've heard she's giving the government hell for waiting too long. From what you're saying it's too late."
"Yes, it's too late, too late by a hundred kilometres. Someone should be giving hell to more than the government of Spain. There are other countries and organizations that are just as guilty of stupidity or complacency. We'll have to slave over the beach and the miles of beaches further south for months. It's a shame, because it will take years before the ocean cleans itself and people will have a chance to make a living again."
"So I wasted two years. Perhaps I can rehash what I've done and adapt it to what is happening now."
"Sure, that sounds like a good idea. Necessity is the mother of invention. I don't know about you, but my back is complaining and the taste of oil is making me sick. Can I treat you to a coffee?"
"That's the best offer I've had today and probably the only one I'll get. So you're an oceanographer. But you didn't tell me your name."
They worked through a throng of workers still trying to clean up the oil.
"There's a nice restaurant close to the centre of the village. Maybe we'll be in luck and find an empty table."
As they entered the restaurant, one table was free as the previous customers stood up to leave. The restaurant was a haven for the many volunteers who were working on the beaches trying to clean up the mess. Rubin couldn't help smiling because the restaurant had set up special coat hooks in an effort to prevent residues of oil from coming within restaurant proper. He took off his plastic coverall and noted that it was covered in oil. Brenda Clark did the same with hers, and it was as if she were a butterfly breaking out of a cocoon. It was difficult to determine what she really looked like while covered up in her working outfit; her uncovered hair had the lustre of polished copper. Perhaps she was aware of his surprise.
"Well, I feel better now that I'm free from my rainwear."
"Yes, you do look different. You are like a breath of fresh air."
Copyright © 2007 George Laidlaw.