Yet Another Excerpt from My Novella, “The Eureka Project”
Long before November 3rd, they had both agreed separately that none of us could have stepped back out of our Movement to eliminate Trump and Republican senators and representatives from the results of the upcoming November election. The United States of America had been tipping back and forth like a wooden plank rocking across a cylindrical fulcrum, the giant America astride this board, rocking back and forth retaining an exhausting balance, the cylinder itself covered with a projection of the continents of the Earth.
In the past, America had always been guided by the principles of capitalism and free trade. Following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia begun in 1917, there arose in the United States an intense distaste and hatred for communist or particularly Marxist-Leninist doctrines. Private property would always remain a central tenant in American law and cultural and political thought.
Yet the corporations of America have an incalculable amount of influence over us, over our lives, our habits, our tastes. And a sizeable portion of the American economy produces and draws its sustenance from advertising. And in the rural enclaves across America, small towns of five thousand or fewer people . . .
“So where do you fit along the political spectrum, Joe?” Their dinner was before them now, having been served with a brief annoying show of fanfare on the waiter’s part.
Kendrick, yet to take a bite from his dinner plate containing one half of a roast chicken, a small baked potato and several spears of asparagus. He looked at her and said, “I’ve always voted the Democratic ticket but at heart I’m a socialist, a democratic socialist.”
“I’m a progressive like Elizabeth Warren,” she said. “It’s been clear to me for some time now that health care in an advanced economy with over 325 million people simply must be administrated by a non-profit government agency. The efforts of the Republicans to privatize the Post Office have been completely destructive. Ideologues control their party, Joe.”
“Well, in 2016 they barely managed to make Trump palatable to the evangelicals. But the fat old con gave the church people what they wanted, two staunch anti-abortion Supreme Court justices. But, say, would you tell me what you know about our secretive mega-donor?”
“Most people in D.C. find politics to be inescapable and so we make the best of it,” she said, as if not having heard him.
“But here in Washington,” he said, “you’ve got two distinct groups of insiders. Apart from negotiating meetings on one piece of legislation or another, I don’t expect you and the Republican folk here rub shoulders all that much after a hard day’s work in Congress.”
She laughed, she wasn’t sure why. Kendrick had a straight serious face. In some ways he was quite simple and direct, she thought. “We vote-seeking campaigners from both parties all subscribe to the guiding principle that politics is theater. . . . But as for the donor, his name is Philippe Obrador, he’s quite brilliant really, women find his Old-World charm refreshingly attractive. He studied at Oxford and the Sorbonne. Having a conversation with Philippe is always a pleasure, but I have to warn you, Kendrick, this man is very skillful at shaping the direction of a conversation. He finds politics “a dreadful bore,” as do most people most of the time even though it’s our job to make them care more than they do.”
“Clearly he’s concerned about the climate crisis,” he said.
“I’ve heard him speak about the climate crisis, what he calls a ‘mounting doom,’ he doesn’t mince words. He’s phenomenally well-read in the matter. As Bill and Melinda Gates have so generously tackled the world of bacteria and viruses, Philippe Obrador has taken on this gargantuan problem of global warming.”
“I expect he and I will have plenty to talk about,” Kendrick said.
While threading his way through the reception fund-raising party for Joyce Lerner, Kendrick was thinking, Civilization’s accretions can no longer be accidental, when he heard someone swear and say, “We’re always talking about a level playing field here in Washington . . .” Yes, Kendrick thought, We American folk resent a tilted playing field.
Ah, but the rich have always enjoyed dashing about upon their tilted playing fields, he continued musing to himself, for he was quite nervous, really, but soon he spotted a waiter bearing a tray of libations and he snatched one away which he would prudently nurse for the rest of the night.
Kendrick knew better than most that human relations had fallen off and deteriorated, this entirely from the torrent of present-day distractions. Ah, there she is, and that fellow standing alongside her must be Philippe Obrador, my benefactor, the benefactor of us all.
Joyce spotted Kendrick and trotted over to him with her flashing smile, her pleasure in seeing him quite genuine, since to her he looked forlorn and baffled.
“Joe, there you are,” she said, taking his arm. She drew him toward Mr. Obrador with an unhurried gentle urging, a warm brushing of her hip against his.
Obrador stepped up to Kendrick with a wide smile concealing his teeth, hand extended. “Ah, Mr. Kendrick, a pleasure to finally meet you.”
For the rest of the night Kendrick listened to Obrador and admired the man’s verve, his European élan vital. But he would now and again ask Kendrick a question, they talked for some time about the committee hearing, held just two days ago. Later still the two men strolled off by themselves to a spacious balcony, only three others nearby, and here they discussed the men who directly opposed them and held all public works projects to be inherently and dangerously socialist.
“We had to attract four Republicans to ensure the bill drawn up there by Sanders and Palambathala will make it out of committee,” Obrador was saying at one point. “I’ve spoken to every Republican senator on the committee. The strongest climate change denier is Risch from Idaho, and he’s pro-nuclear since the desert wastes of Idaho are home to a federally-funded nuclear engineering facility. He isn’t the least interested in hydrogen.”
“He’s one of its most derisive opponents,” Kendrick said.
“On the other hand, Risch seems more genuine to me than any of his Republican colleagues,” Obrador said. “But many people in his state of Idaho have good-paying jobs at the INL, the Idaho National Laboratory, where they do nuclear research. Risch is a strong proponent of nuclear energy, Joe, so he’s blind to our perfect solution to the climate crisis, a world fueled by the first element ever created, hydrogen.”
“So, tell me, Philippe, how did you come to meet our Senator Lerner?” Kendrick said, wishing to change the subject. The assertive types, which all entrepreneurs like Obrador tend to be, have always gotten on Kendrick’s nerves after a while.
As this wealthy gentleman told another one of his countless anecdotes, Kendrick now understood that he would soon have to excuse himself. “My flight back to Spokane leaves at seven-thirty tomorrow morning, so I need to be going. I’m a believer in regular correspondence during a construction project; keep the bosses fully informed, that’s my motto, Philippe.”
“I shall certainly look forward to your weekly reports, my good fellow. You’ve acquired a fine reputation over the years as an engineer of the first rank, and I’m proud to be working with you.” He shot out his hand and Kendrick quickly reciprocated.
“You and I and Senator Lerner will see this through to the day when the President’s wife cuts the ribbon or smashes a bottle of Champaign against the side of our new facility.”
“It’s going to be spectacular, Kendrick. I’ve seen this one day happening for years now. Have a safe flight home.”
“Quite a pleasure to have met you, Señor Obrador, and very likely you will be the only philanthropist I ever meet but I’m glad it was you, sir,” Kendrick said, having thought he should at least give the man his due.
As Kendrick left the building he sent a call to Shamir Crowningshield who answered his phone by saying, “S’up, boss? You need a lift back to the hotel now? I just dropped off a fare so I can be there in fifteen minutes.”
“That’s fine, Shamir, I’ll be waiting.”
He was relieved that his visit to the country’s capital was finally at an end. Tomorrow he’d get out of bed at 4:30 and eat a light breakfast before going to the airport. This time he would pack his laptop in his suitcase and use the book he brought along to hold his boarding pass. The land Obrador had purchased for the solar ranch would be exceptionally desolate. He’d hire his old crew, five engineers all of whom were top-flight in their field. Between them all they had more than enough experience to get the job done.
Presently a cab pulled up to the curb and Kendrick bent down to see that it was Crowningshield behind the wheel. He got in the back and said, “I’ve got to say, Shamir, your town is full of wonders but I’m not sorry to be leaving it. Because of all that’s happened here in the past few days, looks like I’ll be coming out of retirement.”
“Well, as long as you don’t mind workin . . . ,” he said.
“A week from now I’ll be in the Mojave Desert where I’ll be overseeing the construction of a solar ranch that will remain the largest for decades to come. I’ll be helping our country steer itself away from extreme weather annihilation.”
“Wooee, them’s strong words, boss.”
“You know it, Mr. Crowningshield, and maybe in a few years you’ll be driving a hydrogen-fueled car.”
The cab driver let out a hearty laugh and then said, “If I’m making enough change to afford one of them cars, I’ll be a mighty happy man.”
When they got to the hotel, Kendrick handed him a pair of twenties and said, “I’ll be leaving the hotel at six in the morning tomorrow, so I don’t expect I’ll be seeing you again.”
“I can send my night man along to give you a lift, Mr. Kendrick. He’ll see you get to the airport in plenty of time.”
“That’s good enough for me, Crowningshield, send him along.”
“He’s an older dude, about your age.”
Kendrick gave the man a nod, shook his hand, and got out of the cab and went into the hotel. Once in his room he slipped off his shoes and poured himself a drink and read one of Alice Munro’s stories until he began to drowse and shut off the light.
His drive back from the Spokane airport to Colfax was relaxing for Kendrick, the surrounding wheat fields still not completely harvested, the undulant amber hills, the wheat smell around the Palouse extravagant, lush, rich, earthen, sweet, at morning dank for a brief time until the day’s heat evaporated the dew clinging to the plants, wheat and weed alike; and Kendrick had his trees, his private forest, his minor masterpiece of landscape architecture. Trees like to be near their own kind, one third section followed another in great arcs, wedges of willow, poplar and cottonwood. Kendrick was pleased and proud to have created this environment and it was still young.
His cat, Samson, was half-wild. Kendrick found the small beast on the front porch, drowsing on his cat sofa, eyeing the birds as usual. The cat glanced up at Kendrick as he took the steps up to the porch. “I hope you didn’t kill too many birds while I was away, Samson. You’re going to be on your own for quite a while real soon, though, little buddy.”
The cat rose as Kendrick set down his suitcase and unlocked the front door. It sidled about his ankles, then followed him into the house, a faint smell of wood and dust, and that of lingering onion and garlic.
He took his suitcase into the bedroom, and pitched all of its contents into the laundry hamper. Then he carried the suitcase upstairs and went into what he thought of as “the guest bedroom,” where over the last five years various people have stayed, old friends and colleagues of long standing.
Later, with his address book in hand, he tossed it on the kitchen table beside his phone and set about filling the tea kettle. Then he called Claude Trapper, an industrial engineer who specialized in the construction of chemical manufacturing plants, particularly ones which processed ammonia from methane. He out of all the them — including Kendrick — had an overall grasp of what they faced in the construction of the electrolysis plant.
By the time he got to the fifth member of his team, Lorraine O’Donnell, he had his pitch down to a T. “O’Donnell, you’ll never guess who’s calling.”
“I’d know your voice anywhere, Joe, you old war horse. How’re you doin? A little bird told me you went to Washington just a few days ago.”
How on earth did she know that? he wondered for a moment then said, “Alright, Lorrie, whoever your informant was — ”
“ — it was Claude, mister, who else would it be? So tell me, how was Washington? That’s my hometown, you know”
“Yes, yes, of course I knew that about you. Over the years we’ve learned a lot about one another. Can you come aboard once more, Lorrie? You always came through for me in the past, kid.”
“Joe, I would have been furious with you if you hadn’t called. Right now I’ve got a wide-open slate. Construction has taken a tremendous hit from the Coronavirus. We are gonna get on this and get it done, baby, we are gonna rock on this one, brother, I know it, I can feel it.”
“You’ll be our best cheerleader, O’Donnell. Damn, it’s gonna be a pleasure to see you again. We’ll meet in Barstow a week from this upcoming Monday. I’ll make reservations for all of us. Obrador’s given me a line of credit up to five hundred grand, so I’ll put us up at Barstow’s finest accommodation.”
“That doesn’t sound like much.”
“That’s just for the team’s food and accommodations. Obrador has pledged to fund half the project providing Uncle Sam funds the other half. Then I gave a presentation before the Energy Subcommittee, a presentation I’ve only rehearsed for the last five years. Even the Republican senators were moved to a certain extent once I mentioned the ultimate sustainability of this project. It’s humankind’s future, and the resources of sunlight and seawater are infinite.”
“You’re preachin to the choir, baby — Oh, I need to take another call, one of my kids. I’ll see you in Barstow, Joe. I’m looking forward to the coastal phase of this operation already.”
“That’s fine, kid, but my concern right now are the logistics out of Barstow. We’ll either need to bring in the materials by truck or by rail. I’ll look into it, but either way we’ll need to build a road to the site, and from there we proceed to excavate fifteen thousand acres of land.”
“There’s gonna be a lot of dust, Joe,” she said with a note of concern.
“I know. The Mortenson construction company faced that problem with their solar farm out of Rosamond which wound up in civil court. They reached a monetary arrangement, I believe.”
“Joe, we’ll use a fleet of water trucks to keep the dust down. We won’t have the legal difficulties Mortenson had because we will have anticipated vehement objections from the communities downwind. They aint gonna see no dust storms under my watch, mister.”
“That’s my girl, Lorrie. I know I can count on you and I did for years. Leaving retirement behind temporarily is hardly going to be much of a disappointment, but I’m afraid I’ll have to farm out my cat. I think he’d lose all domesticity if he was on his own for the next ten months.”
“You can’t just abandon him, Joe. That would be cruel.”
“I’d considered doing just that initially. Between the mice and the birds here at my aviary, he’d have a feast whenever it suited him. Hell, Lorrie, he’d be fine on his own. When I came back from Washington he was laying sprawled out on his porch sofa, just another day for him.”
“Lord have mercy, Joe, you can’t just abandon that poor little animal!”
“Ah, hell, I’ve changed my mind, anyway. My nearest neighbors have some kids who might like to have another cat for a time. I’ve been leaning in that direction, ever since Joyce Lerner offered me the job.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear it. Look, Joe, I really do have to go, my daughter is having another teenage crisis. Her father and I are just about fed up with that girl.”
“Be kind to her,” he said.
“That’s easy for you to say, you dusty old bachelor.”
“Barstow, a week from Monday. Bring your notebook and transit, sextant, whatever you call that piece of surveying equipment of yours. You’ll be making enough entries to make your head swim.”
“Swell. See you then,” she said.