BLOOD & SWINE: A Comedy of Terrors
(2009, unpublished) - a novel by A.R.Yngve - Sample Chapters
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CHAPTER 4: Generic Protest
After a flight which took about twenty minutes, Max pointed to their destination: a large construction site far below their feet. From the air Carl could see that the site, though visibly unfinished, stretched several acres in every direction.
"There! Hog Processing Unit Number Eighty-Four." Max shouted. "It'll be the biggest in the country. But those frickin' Greenpeace wannabes are harassing the construction workers, causing us bad publicity and the local police ain't doing enough to keep them away! We'll lose millions if we can't get 'em out of our way without a media spectacle!"
The helicopter descended toward an open space near the center of the construction site, which had been marked with white strips. The site had high fences on all sides. Carl could make out a messy encampment with tents outside the two main entrances, and at least a hundred people with placards and signs.
"Have you tried talking to them?" he suggested.
"They don't want to negotiate, they want us stopped dead! We don't negotiate with activists!"
"Please, at least let me talk to them."
"They've got cameras. And there could be journalists down there. Heck, Michael Moore might be hiding out in a circus tent somewhere down there. Anything you'd tell them will be on YouTube the same day, with spin and a soundtrack, representing the corporation. I can't take that risk." Max hesitated; the chopper touched ground but he remained seated. "Have you read Hogoration's official environmental mission statement?"
Carl nodded. He quoted: "'Hogoration works toward the goal of zero waste emission...'"
Freyt made a sardonic face. "... in the year 3000 or something. Okay, Mister Hotshot, here's your chance. Go out and talk to them for five minutes. Five. No more. And whenever they ask you to say something, only use the mission statement. Make them go away, or make them look stupid in front of the media. Whatever you do, don't get personal. Got that?"
"Okay." Actually, Carl didn't want to make environmentalists look stupid. He wanted to convince them that he would work to help their cause, working within the system.
"And remember, you only got this job because Jack Drasco recommended you. So don't disappoint him. He's got no patience with losers."
Carl climbed out of the chopper. He wondered which of the things he had heard about Drasco were true, and which ones were made up...
The construction foreman walked up to the landing space, talking on his phone. He tucked it away and shook hands with Carl.
"So you're the fresh meat," he said to Carl, speaking English with an American accent. "Freyt told me you're going to meet the protesters."
"I'll try," Carl said an adjusted his company badge. "F or how long have they been camping out here?"
"They showed up two days ago... after I got the anonymous phone calls. With the threats."
"I couldn't trace the calls. Someone told me we were going to get bad publicity and other problems if we didn't..." He searched his memory. "He said, word for word: 'If you don't pay the environmental tax.'"
Carl was surprised. This didn't sound like a normal protest. "Proper activists don't behave like that. Can you please tell me who's their spokesperson or leader?"
The foreman guided him through the site and to the perimeter fence. "I think it's those two guys in the camouflage jackets," he said. "The big one and the thin one with the camcorder. Call for me if you should get in trouble."
Carl cast a glance toward the parked helicopter. Max was still firmly seated inside it. Was he afraid of the protesters, or of the media? Maybe, Carl thought, talking to the protesters was a bad idea. But now they had spotted him, and the two leaders moved decisively toward the fence in his direction. The other campers looked up and began to follow.
The thin man pointed a camcorder at Carl and said in a mocking tone, reading his badge: "Good day to you... Carl Olson, assistant coordinator in the Hogoration corporation. How do you defend this criminal enterprise that your bosses are building here? You're on camera."
Carl hesitated and knew he must be looking like a complete idiot as he stood there, tongue-tied. The larger man next to the one with the camera smiled, but said nothing.
"I have a question for you," Carl said in fluent Polish, and made an effort to sound calm. He looked at the larger fellow. "Who made the threatening phone calls to the foreman? And why did the anonymous caller said that there would be trouble for us if we did not pay a so-called 'environmental tax'? Please explain."
As soon as Carl mentioned the phone calls, the big man looked away. The thin man turned off his camera and looked tense.
"Hey man," he said, shifting from English and Polish and back again, "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Then why did you shut off your camera just now?"
The thin man glared hatefully at him. "Back off, man. Just back off!"
"Your friend, who is he?"
The big man said something in Russian to the thin man. Then they both walked away. The other protesters had just begun to chant slogans; their chanting tapered off and died when they saw their leaders retreat so soon.
Carl had seen environmental protests before; he had even joined one when he was a teenager. But these leaders were more like thugs than honest activists.
Then he had an idea. He borrowed and put on a construction worker's vest, and walked out through one of the guarded side gates in the fence.
Moving through the encampment, he stopped by an apple-cheeked young woman who was sitting by a tent, painting a placard. With red paint, she was applying the badly written slogan "U.S. PIGS NOW EXIT." Her hair was cut short and bleached white.
"In English it's 'Out Now', not 'Now Exit'."
"Oh. Thanks." She looked up at Carl. "Where you from?"
"Sweden. I came over to check out how you were doing. Carl Krocek."
The girl shook his hand. "Martina Voytola. You with the Union too?"
"The union? Well, maybe not this one..."
"The UGG, Union of Green Groups." She handed him a leaflet. He knew about several environmental organizations, but he had never heard of this one before. "It's, like, the new thing, smaller groups joining up. The best thing is the Union pays for our food and tents."
"There's a membership fee?"
"No." She grinned. "I work part time and do this on the side."
"So what's the thing about the wetlands?"
Martina pointed to a cluster of trees in the distance, and handed him a pair of binoculars.
"Beyond those trees lies a swampy area where lots of birds lay their eggs. We've seen in other countries what happens when Hogoration builds one of their standard big polluting hog factories."
Carl peered through the binoculars and scanned the landscape. A few birds landed in the willows; the place looked serene and unspoiled.
"The liquid waste forms a big stinking, toxic pool that seeps into the ground and kills off sensitive animals. All the little birds around here will die or get sick."
"Oh," said Carl. If she was right, something had to be done to prevent the waste from polluting the wetlands. He gave her back the binoculars. "So all they have to do is clean up the waste, and you'll stop the protest?"
Martina looked troubled. "Well, not really. Maybe the UGG will, but I think the whole corporation ought to be chased out of Poland. Hogoration is up to no good. We don't need it! You think we couldn't feed our own population before they came and started building this... this death camp?" She gestured toward the fence.
"What, you're a vegetarian?"
She blinked, as if surprised. "Isn't everybody?"
"So it's all about eating meat, then. Those big, bad meat eaters." He didn't really want to tease her like this, but he wanted to test how much she knew and understood.
In the past he had met some activists and Greens who had zero experience of real farms, and whose idea of animals must have been shaped by Disney cartoons. Carl had even met one lunatic activist, nicknamed "Steppenwolfman," who had decided to "return to nature" and live alone among his "wolf brothers." In Siberia. The wolves had shunned him and peed on him. And it turned out, when "Steppenwolfman" returned to civilization from his return to nature, that he had captured the entire humiliating experience on video... and let people like Carl see it.
Carl hoped dearly that Martina was one of the sane activists.
"No. Stop the sarcasm. Listen to me, Carl. Hogoration has moved into other places where it wasn't needed. Other countries, other farmland. And wherever they were allowed to go and buy up land, not just the land itself ended up poisoned. The people working for them get poisoned too. And people who eat their cheap, watery, mass-produced, chemical-poisoned meat don't get well. Hogoration profits... everybody else lose."
The intensity in Martina's voice and her eyes almost made Carl want to grab a banner and join in the protest. But she was only a dedicated young follower, not the one calling the shots.
"Who are your leaders?" he asked.
"The dude with the camera is Boris, and the big one is Vlad."
"They're from Russia?"
Martina shrugged. "Well, that's where the Union started, but I'm not holding it against them."
"I'd like to meet Boris and Vlad after the protest and talk about how I could help them out."
Martina was all too happy to give him directions to the UGG office. He asked for the "union's" website address, but it didn't have one. He shook hands with her, sneaked back into the construction site and changed back to his regular clothes.
When he returned to the chopper, he saw that Max Freyt had finally come out of it. Max was talking to the foreman and construction crew.
"Where the hell have you been?" Max demanded. "You didn't talk to their camera, did you?"
"They didn't want to film me. But there's something suspicious about the Russians who are funding the protesters. With your permission, I'd like to visit their HQ and do some nosing around. Maybe it'll make them go away."
Max made an exasperated face. "Can't this wait?"
"You said the boss is coming soon. It's now or never."
Max frowned deeper. "Damn. All right, go ahead but don't create any bad publicity! If you do, you're fired."
"Right. Can I borrow a company car?"
"Sure. The bus station is over there," Max said with a nod to the road.
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