Palantir and EV Stocks are a surefire ticket to Yolo, Tendietown but there are some other WSB ignored stocks making moves right now. Recently Bally's Corp (Owner of establishes casinos such as twin River Casino Hotel, Hard Rock Biloxi, Tiverton Casino Hotel, Dover Downs, and Mile High USA) inked a deal 10 year deal with Sinclair Broadcasting and separately purchased online sports betting operatotech stack Bet.works for $100million. In this 10 year deal all of Sinclair's Regional Sports Networks will receive the Bally's Brand. Sinclair receives warrants to purchase up to 30% of Bally's stock. This deal will enable live sports betting in real time through a reputable operator while the game is being broadcast as well as during commercial breaks. Imagine you're in your wife's boyfriend's basement, watching the college you didn't get accepted to playing the college you dropped out of. During a commercial break you see the lines plus potentially a prop bet and with the bally's app on your phone you're able to place the bet and have a reason to stay awake for the 2nd half of the game. This could be a bigger opportunity than even draft kings as it won't be limited to daily fantasy sports but allow for direct sports betting. Since the news the stock has rallied 60% but has pulled back recently potentially presenting a buying opportunity. This news is only a few days old but analysts who have updated guidance are looking at $55-$65 price targets once the market digests what this deal can mean. As state budget's try to survive the upcoming pandemic related hangovers, expect more and more sports betting legislation to pass and this Ballys+Sinclair partnership has a nearly unmatchable reach in terms of audience reach. Positions Shares + $45 12/18 Calls https://finance.yahoo.com/video/sinclair-broadcast-ceo-partnership-ballys-154619580.html
What A Day: Give Earpiece A Chance by Sarah Lazarus & Crooked Media (09/29/20)
"I'm part of that community, and we love the man." - Eric Trump momentarily sending the LGBTQ community into deep despair
The tension is palpable, the pundits are abuzz, and Facebook is blanketed with conspiracy theories about Joe Biden’s ear holes: We have arrived at the first 2020 presidential debate.
The first of three presidential debates will take place in Cleveland, OH, tonight at 9 p.m. ET, moderated by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace. Wallace has selected six general topics: the candidates' records, the Supreme Court, the coronavirus, the economy, race and violence in cities, and election integrity. “Race and violence” plays straight into Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric, and the total exclusion of climate change seems like malpractice at best, but at least Wallace has also promised not to fact-check any of Trump’s lies.
Even with the benefit of those outrageous gifts, the Trump team seems, uh, less than confident about his readiness. Following Trump’s repeated attempts to manage expectations by baselessly suggesting that Biden would be on some kind of debate-enhancement drug, the Trump campaign today floated the dumb, recycled rumor that Biden would be wearing a secret earpiece (presumably because his Antifa-controlled brain implant is on the fritz). That conspiracy theory has proliferated unchecked on Facebook, and was even featured on the platform’s news tab. Another beautiful day in Zuckerberg’s Hellworld Funhouse!
“But will the debates even matter this year,” you ask?
Impossible to know! It’s true that polling has remained incredibly consistent since Biden emerged as the Democratic nominee. Biden heads into the debates with a consistent lead (two new Pennsylvania polls show him nine points ahead there), and if the pandemic, economic crisis, nationwide protests, and DNC Rhode Island Calamari Guy haven’t reshaped the race, it’s hard to imagine that a few debates will have an earth-shattering impact.
On the other hand, they don’t need to be earth-shattering. Trump has spent his whole campaign trying to paint Biden as a dementia-addled invalid hiding in his basement, and their direct confrontation will provide incontrovertible proof to the contrary. Polls suggest that most voters have already made up their minds, but the ones who haven’t largely don’t know much about Biden’s platform, and the debates are a huge opportunity to inform them.
We’ll have a recap of the night in Wednesday’s What A Day, and you can watch along with us for real-time commentary, fact-checking, and borderline-fireable jokes (if we can keep up with John Kerry) in the Crooked Groupthread →
Look No Further Than The Crooked Media
Once more for the people in the back: The first 2020 presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump is TODAY, September 29th at 9pm Eastern/6pm Pacific. Watch with us live on https://crooked.com/debate—we’ll be streaming the whole thing along with our Groupthread, where we and other familiar faces from the Crooked Media family will be breaking down what’s happening and giving our live commentary. Watch with us at https://crooked.com/debate →
Under The Radar
The White House put enormous pressure on the CDC to downplay the risk of sending kids back to school. Trump administration officials, including Dr. Deborah Birx, repeatedly leaned on CDC officials to provide data that could illustrate a decline in cases and low risk of infection or death for school-age children—“a snazzy, easy-to-read document” to back up Trump’s demands that schools reopen before the election. Other members of the coronavirus task force were told to go around the CDC to find alternative data to support the White House’s position. Recent data shows that coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have increased at a faster rate among children and teenagers, and it goes without saying that the Trump administration trying to circumvent science to put kids in danger for political gain should be an unrecoverable scandal.
The second installment of the New York Times report on Donald Trump’s tax returns outlines how The Apprentice temporarily rescued Trump from financial ruin. After burning through the cash his father gave him and somehow managing to lose money as a casino owner, Trump netted some $197 million from the show itself, and another $230 million through the various endorsements, hotel deals, and scams he secured through his resulting fame. Trump then borrowed from his more lucrative ventures to buy and prop up his many money-losing golf resorts, at the same time that Apprentice ratings and his licensing deals were in decline. That brilliant move helped land him in the financial hole where he once again resides, at great risk to our national security.
MIT researchers say the compact fusion reactor they’re building is likely to work, which could be a huge step forward in the fight against climate change. A federal appeals court has upheld a six-day extension for counting absentee ballots in Wisconsin. Some U.S. Postal Service employees have been quietly resisting Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s harmful policies. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) has signed a law allowing California to develop its own line of affordable generic drugs.
OBLIGATORY FILLER MATERIAL – Just take a hard left at Daeseong-dong…7
Continuing Well, when the props fouled the third time, I suggested we call it a day, as we’d already made some 32 sea-kilometers. We were out on the fringes of the worst of the kelp forest beds, and after a good night’s sleep, we’d be ready to deploy bright and early and get some seismic data acquired and recorded. But, first, there was the first night aboard ship. In a rusty old tin-can with few creature comforts, as the annual winter monsoon winds wane and the seas actually begin to settle slightly. I took that as both good omens. The bitching and kvetching I head from the locals about the ‘abominable weather they had to endure’, even from the Coast Guard types, really struck me as uproariously funny. I just chalked it up to being sequestered from the rest of the world for so long. Put these characters in the path of a Midwestern tornado, East Indian summer monsoon, or Siberian blizzard, and they’d shit themselves blind. I didn’t really think too much of it, although it became somewhat of a game when the imperialistic foreigners tried to one-up each other with horror stories from excursions past. “No shit”, Dax said, “We were snowed in for a full fortnight.” “No!” several of us recoiled in mock horror. “Oh, yah, hey.” Dax continued, “It’s just great when blizzards snap the power lines, and all the toilets freeze. The house cat didn't die until we burned up all our wood. Considering we ate her raw, she tasted pretty good…” Several of our handlers, a few in the Coast Guard and most of the Korean scientists reacted rather badly to Dax’s story; especially when it had been gorily translated. Seeing this, Dax stood up, got the soju bottle, and asked if anyone needed a top-up. I asked while puffing away on a large Jamaican cigar if anyone needed a smoke. At this point, Dax was winning. He had seven of the assembled crowd run to the rail to relieve themselves of our canned Chinese dinner. Not ever one to shrink from a challenge, I related my second-hand story of my Brother-in-law, who was in the US Coast Guard for years and years. I waited for the green crowd to re-join us and regain what remained of their composure. I figured the quasi-military national Coast Guarders here would appreciate the tale. Mine wasn’t a gory or shocking tale, just one of the incredible water conditions off the coast of California. I waited until everyone was settled, drink in hand, and smokin’ ‘em if you got ‘em. “Well”, I said, “It was on board a ship much like the one we’re currently on,” I said as a rascal wave broke over the railing in counterpoint. “About the same size as this vessel, but with smaller wheels. You know these Coast Guard shallow-water boys”, I chuckled. Always meaning to jab one group or another in the place where I know it stings. Yeah, I’m a real bastard that way sometimes. The Korean Coast Guarders sneered hardly at me; but not too hard. They liked my cigars, cigarettes, and open disbursement policy too much. “Yeah, anyways”, I continued, “He was offshore California in one of the US Coast Guard cutters. It was a boat about 26 meters or so in length. They were out doing search and rescue after a mega-nasty storm blew in from the west and scuttled a sailing regatta race.” I was drawing them in with my ‘just so’ story, nice and easy, until… “Yeah, there were several capsized monohulls, catamarans and trimarans. Damn, these things were fucking yachts. Owned by rich idiots that almost knew how to sail but didn’t know enough to get out of the way of a fucking severe storm…” I really had their attention with ‘soaking the rich’. “Well, the waves grew and grew, but my Brother-in-laws's boat was built to handle severe weather. These patrol and rescue boat has the capability to roll over 360 degrees and self-right within 30 seconds. Like right now, you’d never even notice this degree rock and roll”, I said as I demonstrated with my cigar, tracing out tighter and tighter rolls, and higher degrees of rocking and rolling. “They were approaching a capsized trimaran, but the waves kept growing and growing…” I said, leading by example and having them watch me with unblinking attention. “The waves grew and grew, and normally you’d take these head-on. But that was impossible, because when afternoon came it was slashin' rain, in the face of a hurricane west wind. The boat rolled to the left, heeled, almost keeled, a then rolled the other way just as quickly.” I noted. They followed me as I timed it with the heavings of our own boat, to the left…to the right… “Then, just as they were about to reach upon the trimaran, a rogue wave! Out of nowhere”, I said, rocking and rolling along with our own little boat, “BAM! Hit amidships! It didn’t roll once, it rolled twice!” I made great and magniloquent gestures of a tiny boat being savaged by a monstrous rogue sea wave. I stood up, blew a great blue cloud of smoke towards the poop deck, and said, loudly, “Rolled over once. A full 360! Then rolled right over again. A full 720 degrees!” as I demonstrated what happened with my cigar and drink. The eyes following me rolled and rolled as well. Some straight back into the owner’s head and some to the left, some to the right…it was like ‘Loose Slots’ night in Vegas, they were rolling and rolling. And then racing for the rails. Topside to deliver the remains of their hearty canned dinners. “Beat you, Dax!” I smiled as I sat back down, “I got nine with that at one. And two of them were Coasties!” “Did that really happen?” Ivan asked. “According to my Brother-in-law. But he’s an engineer if you know what I mean…” I smiled. We concluded story night as we had drifted free of the kelp forest and the Captain of the boat decided he’d risk an anchorage for the night. The weather was ameliorating, the seas calming themselves down, and the wind dropping a couple of notches on the Beaufort Scale. “Well, gents”, I said, “I need some air. The aroma down here of Chinese Aplo™ for dinner, those who didn’t make it to the rails, and the solitary head for the entire crew has lost its charm. If you’ll excuse me”, I said as I grabbed a bottle of ersatz vodka, and several cans of Taedonggang beer, “I’ll be on the aft deck; in my comfy chair and contemplating the wonder of it all.” With that, I ventured up the stairs and out onto the aft deck. Dax naturally followed and he found his own not-bolted-down deck chair. We had a constant flow of visitors, foreign and nationals alike. It was shaping up to be a fine night for being out under the stars, there was no light pollution at all. We sat in our chairs, drank our drinks, smoked our smokes, and argued the finer points of astronomy as seen from this part of the world. I had several side chats with the scientists and academicians from the Korean side. They all had one thing on their minds. Well, one thing after cigars and cigarettes. They wanted Western scientific journals. They were actually trying to bribe me to get those copies, any age, any subject; of Science, AAPG Explorer, and SEPM Proceedings, anything of Western science as it is today. I said they were welcome to a couple of copies of Science and SPE journals I had brought with as an afterthought, for free. With 900 won to the dollar, they needed every won they could get. I wasn’t about to take anything for the free dissemination of knowledge. However, if they saw it fit to buy me a drink or seven, I wouldn’t object. In reality, I’d buy those as well. We made secret pacts to meet at the hotel-casino the night before we left, whenever the fuck that would be. We had a lot of work before us as it stands. It won’t be for a few weeks, I reminded them. They had no problem. If I could ask the other in the team if they’d do likewise, the appreciation would be palpable. Great. Now I have to go get my field notebooks and make some more new entries. Dax cratered around 0100. I elected to stay the night and sleep under the stars as the boat slowly rocked one way and rolled the other. It was quiet, dark as a tomb, and brilliantly lit up by the stellar backbone of the night once the clouds fumbled out. Tomorrow looked as if it were to be bright and sunny if the gentle westerlies had anything to say about the next day’s conditions. The next day dawned early, bright, and ridiculously sunny as it usually does when the monsoons have departed and it had stopped raining. “OK.”, I thought, “Time for a hearty breakfast. For someone else. I wonder what’s available here.” I ventured down to the cold galley and there were several boxes of dry Chinese breakfast cereal, “Shredded Tweet” and the like, some sort of obviously aged bakery, and a case of Taedonggang beer. “Hmmm”, I mused out loud, “Beer and rice crispies. Breakfast of champions.” Dax walks in, rubbing his eyes. He sees me drowning my rice cereal in foamy ersatz milk. “Reminds me of field camp!” I smiled as I chowed on the morning’s offerings. After our ‘hearty’ breakfast, all the scientific parties gathered in the main stateroom. It was cramped, but the walls were magnetic and we could hang maps, well, charts actually since we’re well offshore now, and plots the day’s course. Out in the Yellow Sea, we were supposedly over a subsurface, and by dint of being offshore, submarine, dome. Salt dome? Unlikely. Probably more of a shale dome, which isn’t a bad thing when hunting for oil and gas. Looking at the charts, I ask the locals what our current position was relative to the domal uplift. After several long moments of silence, I asked again. “Umm, guys”, I said, “If you’re not going to be forthcoming with something as simple as positional data, then turn this boat 1800’s and take us back to shore. I am fed up, as are my team, with this tight-holing of the simplest of data when you are the knotheads that asked us here for help. We get paid either way, and I for one wouldn’t mind being paid triple to sit in the hotel’s basement and drink” After telling the translator to translate that last part literally, I sat back, pulled out a really nasty cigar, and went through all the threatening moves of firing it up in the enclosed cabin. “You will have to excuse us”, came the reply from one of the elders, “We are not used to dealing with oegugseon [foreigners].” “Are you used to following orders?” I asked brusquely. “Of course!” came the near-unanimous reply. “Great. Then consider this an order: You will relay the appropriate information when asked by any Westerner on this cruise. Consider it as coming from the Supreme Leader of this expedition.” I noted. Using the term ‘Supreme Leader’ was both a bow to their current bad-hair-cut in charge and my desire to let them know I was serious as a kick to the scrotum about the whole fucking deal. There were a couple of gasps and some consternatious talk, but eventually, one brave soul got up, walked over to the chart, and pointed to our relative location. “There”, I added, “That wasn’t so hard, was it? Didn’t hurt in the least, did it?” There were a few chuckles amongst our national colleagues, so I figured that was at least a little progress. “OK, then”, I continued, “Volna? Ack? You’re up to bat.” I turned the proceedings over to the geophysicists. They would devise the configuration of the towed array, our speed, direction, charge size, which was based on depth, and all the other geophysical flips and twists one has to do in order to acquire the best data. This shit doesn’t come cheap. The Mesozoic-Paleozoic marine residual basin in the South Yellow Sea where these domes live is a potentially significant deep potential hydrocarbon reservoir. However, the imaging of the deep prospecting target is quite challenging due to the specific seismic-geological conditions. In the Central and Wunansha Uplifts, the penetration of the seismic wavefield is limited by the shallow high-velocity layers (HVLs) and the weak reflections in the deep carbonate rocks. With the conventional marine seismic acquisition technique, the deep weak reflection is difficult to image and identify. We confirm through numerical simulation that the combination of multi-level impulse source (i.e., explosive) array and extended cable used in the seismic acquisition is crucial for improving the imaging quality. With that, we’re going to be recording a minimum of four stacks, with a receiver interval of 25 meters. The array will have a shot interval of 50 meters, with a 25 meter near offset, and a 2500 meter far offset. We will attempt to record 180 channels, off-end, with a sampling period of 0.5 seconds, and a record length of 5 seconds. We’ll sail the same course 4 times to verify previous records and attempt to add ‘fold’, i.e., extra data from the same point, to the overall records. That’s the plan, at least. Loads of preparation, logistics, and execution. After a half an hour or so, both Volna and Ack are finished with the national scientists. They set down their notebooks, pens, notes, and pointers; walk out of the meeting room and directly over to the galley. “Hungry, fellas?” I inquire. “Rock?”, Ack asks, “You have explosives here, right? Sink us. Just fucking sink us right now.” As he pours himself and Volna a stiff shot of real vodka. “Uh, oh. Problems in Dreamland?” I ask, utilizing the derogatory name for the geophysical domain of exploration data. “Un-be-fucking-believable.”, Volna adds. “Your colloquial American is coming along well, Volna.” I snickered a bit. “I learn from you”, he spat, “Cannot believe this. They don’t record while underway. They tow single array and stop. Then drop dynamite over side. They record. Then they do it again. Claim this gives them good fold. This is bullshit. You said devise program. HA! Take us to shore and let me teach them the fucking basics of geophysical acquisition. Then in a few years, we come back and do it right.” “Oh, fuck”, I reply, wincing, “That bad?” “Oh, no”, Ack continues, “It’s worse.” As he down 100 milliliters of booze in one draught and pours another for Volna and is own self, “No on-board demultiplexing. No on-board pre-processing. No-onboard QA/QC. No on-board anything. It’s fucking hopeless. Sink us, I’d rather take my chances with the sharks.” “They can’t do all that stuff or they won’t do all that stuff,” I asked, expecting the worst. “Oh, it might be possible, with this museum-grade crap they call a computer they have on-board. It’s just time-consuming, tricky, and will need constant attention. But with this raft of sad-sacks, flub-a-dubs and third rate hobbyists?” Ack and Volna agree as one. “Consider it job security”, I replied, “How about this? One test loop and we use that data to do what’s necessary; just once. Then we can say we’ve shown them the way. After that, I’ll leave it up to the National scientists.” “Good thing we have 2 full days, Rock”, Volna said, “Because we do a single AC (acquisition) run, it’ll take the rest of the time to show these buggers how it’s done.” “Ack? You agree?” I asked. Ack agreed, in spades. “OK, gentlemen”, I said, “Let’s make it so. About time, too. I haven’t blown anything up in a couple of weeks. I’m getting antsy. Let’s go tell them the good news.” “NO! WE REFUSE!” was the cheery response from the nationals when Ack, Volna, and I laid out the rather lengthy program for the next couple of days. “OK. Someone tell the Captain to head for home. We’re done here.” I calmly told our handlers and the translators. Panic in Pyongyang. Immediately, there is this hue and cry about how this was not supposed to be how this trip was going to work. This was to be an acquisition trip only. This was to be a one-off to show Best Korea geophysical prowess. This was supposed to be data gathering trip on the Western scientists… Oops. That last one was a bit of a mistake. I turn to one of the translators and ask them to re-translate that last part, just in case I was hearing imaginary things. “Oh, yes”, he replied, “He said they were here to gather data on the Western Scientists as well as offshore data.” “Is that a fact?” I reacted. “Please tell them I need to see all my team members on the fantail immediately if you would. Sorry, translators and nationals not included in this little meeting.” We reconvene on the fantail a few minutes later. I walk in on this little conclave with cigar and drink in hand. “OK, gents”, I say, puffing a huge blue cloud, swigging a tot, “Here’s what I think we, as responsible international scientists, should do in this regrettable situation. We were asked to come here, with provisions that we would not be under cynosure, observation, or surveillance. Given ‘Open and Free Access’, no questions asked. We were to be treated as “esteemed guests”. This is obviously a load of dingo’s kidneys. I think we need to get as creative as possible and do whatever we can to provide as much deliberate misinformation to these characters to annoy, amaze, or disgust them as much as possible. Comments?” There’s a general buzz, but no real dissention. After a few moment's discussion, Dax suggests we get a load of XXXXL condoms, and leave them around packaged as “Texas Medium”. “That’s the spirit”, I reply. “Anyone one else up for a little Psychological Operations on our not-so-clever-nor-truthful hosts?” We all agree that we will, in our own little way, start a campaign of deliberate misinformation, misdirection, and general petty bullshit nastiness for our hosts to discover and by which be dismayed. Everyone’s in agreement. This trip has been a rotund bale of jeers from the get-go. Promises made, promises broken. Itineraries approved then inexplicably disapproved. We make requests, they accede; and then nothing ever happens. It’s most frustrating. We’re tolerating a lot of horse, bull, cow, and assorted other farmyard excrements; all in the name of international harmony and scientific goodwill. This has been an outgoing one-way street for too long. We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore. “Hellfire and Dalmatians!” I growl, growing angrier every minute I think about the subject, “We need to take the high, low, and middle ground on this offensive. Nothing too overt or obvious; however we need to jank these bastards good. But they can’t realize they’re being janked…!” Ack cuts in. “The esteemed Dr. Rock is right. Psychotic...but absolutely right. We got to take these bastards. We could fight them with conventional weapons. That could take years...cost millions of lives. In this case... I think we have to go all out. I think this situation absolutely requires...a really futile and stupid gesture... be done on somebody's part.” There’s a general buzz among the assembled. “And we're just the guys to do it.” Shouts and catcalls of deep agreement. “Operation ‘Confound-a-Korean’” is now enacted. “About fucking time!” “Let’s do it!” “Dissen gonna be bery messy! Me no watchin!” “OK, I think, “Who’s the prequel-series wiseass?” “OK, gentlemen”, I continue, “We continue with our scientific duties. No fucking around there. But, when it comes to…interpretation…opinion…or personal viewpoint; let’s go full impede. Dazzle them with brilliance or baffle them with bullshit.” We all agree and after a couple of quick rounds of old thought provoker, we realize this trip has just taken a hard left into Wackyland. We will have to let our comrades onshore know of this, but that can wait until we return. Right now, we all have jobs to do. Real jobs, serious jobs, covert and sneaky jobs… So, it’s back to the recording shack as we lay out the plans for the next couple of days. Volna begins: “OK, listen up you primitive screwheads. We’re going to assemble and layout a recording array that’s called a Meisenheimer Triplet. You do know what a simple Meisenheimer Triplet is, don’t you?” There’s a slight murmur from our national friends, but in the end, they all plead ignorance. “Right. Thought so. A Meisenheimer Triplet is a central towed array flanked by two shorter, subparallel flanking sub-frammitz arrays. We will assemble this array on-board, even though it’s probably going to take every ounce of silver solder and electrician’s tape you’ve got. The amount of data received is orders of magnitude greater than any single Sheriff-sonde array, like the ones you been using.” Suddenly, there are nods and murmurs of agreement. “Right”, Volna smiles sinisterly to me, “With that, we’ll need to devise an explosive package, well, actually, a series of explosive packages based on the harmonia of the pre-bottom fore-sets, water depth, tow vehicle velocity, water column density, and decomposition coefficients of the said water column. Oh, yeah. Fish too.” Volna is really getting into the spirit of the affair. “Who is your explosives engineer?” Ack asks, “He’s going to have to do some serious number-crunching with all the pre-blast data we’ll need to supply. “ One quick translation and there’s nothing but long faces and querulous looks from our national crowd. “We have no explosives engineer”, the head Best Korean geophysicist laments. “Explosives are very, very heavily regulated by the government. That’s why we have several Government Observers on board. They handle the explosives.” “Oh?” Ack remarks, “Are they fully up to speed on the Barnard-Reichmann equations for hydro-displacement of serial charges? Which subset of the marine rarefication coefficients do they employ?” “Ummm, don’t know.” was the answer. “Don’t know? Well”, Volna continues, “Then, they must be pretty good with the Langefors-Kihlström formulae, right?” “No. Not as such.” Came the response. “I see”, Ack sighs, “Well, then, I guess they must utilize the Il’yushin algorithms then. OK, it’s a bit old school, but they should still work.” “Ah. Well. No.” was the rejoinder they offered. “Well, then what the fuck do they use?” Volna explodes, “A modified Ambraseys-Hendorn model? Ghosh-Damen 1? Ghosh-Damen 2? Indian Fargin Standard? Prejaculated Rai-Singh protocols, fer’ chrissake? Which?” Nothing but shaking heads and wringing hands. “They take a case of dynamite, wire it up, and throw it overboard with a long fuse.” Was the eventual answer. “That’s why we stop to record.” Long, exasperated sigh later, “Jesus Q. Tapdancing Christ on a crème cracker. No wonder you never get anything done.” Volna continues, “You characters are in luck. You just happen to be so lucky to have an internationally-renowned Master Blaster right here on board ship today.” Volna turns the crowd over to me, “Doctor? Do your damnedest. And good luck.” “Thanks, Volna”, I say, cigar in one hand, stalwart drink in the other, “OK, guys. Here’s the deal. When it comes to explosives and explosive design, I’m the hookin’ bull. No one has authority over me. Not the Captain. Not the boson’s mate. Not the Captain’s Consort even. Nor the guys in the cheap shiny suits. What I say, goes. No exceptions. No hesitation. We green or are we going back to shore?” “Cholog?” they ask. “Yes. ‘Cholog’. Green. Are we understanding one another? Are we all in agreement? Are you fuckin’ diggin’ me, Beaumont?” There’s some quick back and forth in Korean, a lot of seeming bad noise. Even the shiny suit squad and Coasties join in the fun. “Grudgingly, we agree. Green as you say, Doctor Rock. You are the one in charge.” Came the head national’s reply. “Splendid. I’m in charge of the charges.” I chuckle, puffing an enormous cloud of expensive Oscuro smoke, “Volna, Ack; please get me the required parameters. I’ll be in the ordnance locker to see what we’re working with here. C’mon fellas, chop-chop!” Volna and Ack take their select set of geophysical wishers and wannabes while I get the rest of the locals, the shiny suit squad in reserve, but in tow. I head off to the ordinance locker. Dax runs behind “Hey! Wait for me.” “We have to”, I snigger a reply, “We’re going to need a drinks runner.” “Marvelous…” was the one-word response. We get to the locked ordinance locker. It’s one of the few original structures remaining on the ship. The boat was torn down almost to the waterline and re-built for seismic acquisition, but they had enough brains to realize that the source of the seismic signals was usually explosive in nature. Dinoseis and Mini-Sossie were closed books to them. Therefore, the locker remained intact, however grudgingly. “Whew! And what a locker.” I whewed. “And what a lock. OK, who’s got the keys?” There are general hemming and hawing and no one seems to know where the keys for the ordinance locker are kept. “Well, gents”, I say, pointedly, “I would suggest that one or more of you toddle off and fucking find the goddamn keys or this will turn out to be a very short and unproductive trip, indeed.” A while later, a bit longer than I personally care for, the boat’s Captain wanders up, all a-scowl and generally pissed-off looking. “Who here needs the key to the explosives locker?” He asks in his Captainly, no-nonsense manner. There’s more muttering and murmuring, but eventually, all fingers point toward me. The Captain looks at me. “Hello.” He’s giving me the once over with a LASER stink eye. I don’t know which irritated him the most; the lit cigar, the drink, the Stetson, Hawaiian shirt, cargo shorts, Scottish knee socks or field boots. “And who the hell are you”? He asks, oh, so wrongly, through an interpreter. I stand up, fully puffed to full mammalian threat posture and say in a loud steady voice; “I’m THE Doctor Rocknocker, the MOTHERFUCKING PRO FROM DOVER!, that’s who.” Since I had a good 6 inches and way too many kilos on him; my loud, American and very un-oriental answer took him completely by surprise. His eyes got as big as dinner plates and he shakily held out the ring of keys for the explosives locker. “Why thank you very much”, I said, bowing in his direction ever so slightly. Wasn’t his fault he wasn’t totally clued in on all the recent goings-on aboard his vessel. I toss the keys to Dax, “Here, earn your keep.” I snickered. Dax deftly fields the keys, chuckles back, and begins the game of ‘which key for which lock’? I thank the Captain and explain that I’m the de facto leader of this special education class, and make some pointed, mild epitaphs about landlubbers, national scientists, and the cargo of the totally clueless on board. He sees I’m not a total boor and relaxes some. We haven’t really had a real introduction, so I grab a translator and engage the Captain in a short, though insightful conversation. Cigars were exchanged. Handshakes were as well. Seems he’s just as aggravated by these know-it-alls who really know-fuck-all. We see eye to eye and part friends once Dax finally figures out the combination to the weapons locker. “Holy fuck!” I exclaim, “Now that’s a door.” I say looking at the slowly-opening covering of the weapon’s portico. Fully five solid inches of solid steel. Triple reinforced hinges. Deadman's latches. Bringles-jams and solid, non-decabulated cast-steel cross-members. Just the thing to contain an errant blast and send all that excess energy skyward instead of into the bowels of the boat. OK, bonus points for that design feature. I look inside, but it’s dark and fragrant as the inside of an irritated oyster in the bottom of the Tonga-Kermadec Trench. Dax fumbles around and finds the light switch.
“Hmmm.” I hmmed. “Well, we’re all set for dynamite, I see.” Case after case after case of leaking, cheap-ass Chinese knock-off sort-of Du Pont-style 50% dynamite. Box after box of Pseudo-Dyno-Nobel blasting caps. Delaminating, unwinding spools after spool of “PrimUcord”. Sticky “Korea” brand silk-woven coated Demolition Wire. “Gads.” I sigh. “What a nightmare. Either this stuff goes off when you give it a dirty look or it doesn’t go off at all.” Dax looks to me, “So, the trip’s a bust. Is that what you’re saying?” “If we don’t find something that’ll work, probably,” I reply. “This shit’s worthless.” We continue to search after I shoo everyone but Dax out of the locker. It’s damp and musty in here, smelling disconcertingly of kerosene, gherkins, and old sardines. That’s one sure sign of dynamite going bad. I warn Dax to be extra careful, that this stuff hasn’t had the best of handling. We could be in for an unexpected surprise. So, we redouble our efforts and are much more circumspect. Knock-off this and fake-ass that. All Chinese in origin. It might have worked one day; but after sitting in here, unattended, unturned, and uncared for? I’m ready to both literally and figuratively pull the plug on this whole fiasco. Dax is all smiles. “Doctor?” Dax asks, “What is it that would make you happy?” “A nice fishing boat, a huge never-emptying bank account, endless cigars, and a comfy chair back in the north of Baja Canada in a tavern on a good fishing lake,” I replied. “Well”, Dax smiles, “I can’t do that, but how about this?” as he opens a cleverly hidden door. I look in, let my eyes adjust to the low-light scenario to see no lakes, no huge bank accounts, nor fishing boats; but what I do see makes me smile wide. It’s a sub-locker full of familiar Made-in-the-USA, True Blue, American-manufacture cyclo-trimethylene-tri-nitramine, or Good Ol’ C-4 explosive. Block after lovely hexahedral block of the stuff. “Dax”, I say, “Take a gold star out of petty cash. You’ve just saved the mission.” “I’ll settle for a tall vodka and one of your cigars”, Dax smiles. “Later”, I say, “We now have a little job which to attend.” With C-4, designing the impulse charges is seriously a walk in the park. They’re already waterproof, so all I need is water depth and the number of seconds to which they want to record data. I can bundle a series of blocks of the stuff, charge them with a couple-three or four, just in case, blasting caps, and connect them with stout lengths of demolition wire. These will be dragged, with a ‘Herring Dodger’, to control depth, behind the boat as we are underway. It’s a novel idea, I know. One that’s only been in use in the west for about 60 years. We’ll drag a daisy chain of C-4 packets. One after another, individual charges in the packets will detonate milliseconds apart. I can bundle the packets so that we can run a charge string of up to 12 discrete packets which will attenuate the amplification of the arrhythmic flux, I tell one of my Korean onlookers. With this set-up, we can record data for literally sea-miles. First, we will moosh the C-4 into a flattened, semi-hydrodynamically stable pancake or airfoil, OK, hydrofoil, shape; wire three or five of them together, charge them, then repeat. Depending on what parameters Volna and Ack supply, the chain will just be a number of similar packets, trailing one after the other, detonating from back to front; down below the hydrophones, but well above the seafloor. We know that the hydrophones will be at or very near the surface, but we need to know, explicitly, the basal bathymetry of the area we're about to shoot. Wouldn’t do anyone any good if we drove over a seafloor hump and dragged the C-4 over it to have it detonate prematurely. Or not at all. So, we need to plot our course and sail it today while we get the hydrophone arrays built and we image the seafloor where we’re going to do some blasting. After that, it’ll probably be an all-nighter to create the blasting strings so we can spend the next day recording, and then head for home as we’re nearly out of victuals and potables. At least, that’s the plan. I convene a quick meeting and we plot a course on the latest charts. 30 kilometers of recording. Shit, that’s going to be a lot of explosives. Doable, but a pain. Remembering the quality of the recording equipment, I suggest we do a test run in the morning of just 5 kilometers. If that works, and we can up it in increments. Dax, Sagong the head Korean geophysicist, and I go to visit the Captain. We visit the Captain and lay out our plans. He has no objections, as were in Best Korean waters and there are no obstacles out here like sunken wrecks, kelp forests, American aircraft carriers, or other impediments. With that, we tell him to align the ship and let us know when he can begin doing the recon sortie. He says that he can do that immediately, and before we're out of the pilothouse, we’re recording bathymetric, i.e., depth, data. The technology’s not much different, nor advanced, than a standard Lake Winnebago fish finder, so that’s one disaster sorted. We are sailing along in a series of parallel straight lines, which when the data are played back and deconvoluted, will give us a good idea of the bathymetry which we’ve been motoring over. It’ll basically give us both a depth map and a surface, ok, bottom, map of the seafloor above which we’re sailing. A little basic submarine hyperbolic quantum trigonometry and well, we have the data we need to plug into the various equations to see what we’ll require when we want to record seismic data to 5000 milliseconds. With that, there’s not much else to do until we have the survey map. I dragoon Dax and Cliff into helping me inventory the explosives bunker. “The hell with the dynamite, PrimUcord, and other Oriental-Knockoff Horseshit”, I instruct my helpers, “Let’s just count up the C-4, and see what our tally is. Oh, yeah, give me a tally of the blasting caps. Gotta use those ratty bastards, they’re the only actuators here I sort of, kind of, trust.” With Dax, myself, and Cliff, we’re done in less than an hour. I decide that I’ll be the keeper of the keys and take them back to the Captain my own self. Rules of engagements, chain of command and all that hogwash. I hand the keys over to the Captain and instruct the co-pilot to make an entry in the logbook that I returned the key to the Captain, this date, this time. “By the book. It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law.” I muse. To be continued…
OBLIGATORY FILLER MATERIAL – Just take a hard left at Daeseong-dong…9
Continuing... “I say that you’re way the fuck out of line, Chuckles. Are you an educated, experienced, fully licensed and internationally renowned master blaster?” I asked. “No, but…” he tried to continue. “But nothing, Scooter.” I said, “What, other than your insane xenophobia and nationalism, causes you to come to such unfounded, not to say stupid, conclusions?” He looked down at the deck. Evidently, he was not used to being challenged in such a manner. He realized he walked face-first into a metaphorical wood chipper. “I’m waiting for your answer, pally.” I continued. Still nothing. He was either deep in thought or ill at ease from newly soggy undergarments. “Want to know why I chose what I did? Fine, meet back here in 15 damn minutes.” He looks at me with a most perplexed, and ignorant, look on his face. “Dax, Cliff? I need you.” I say. We go back to the weapons locker and I explain my idea. “Let’s load a case of typical, TYPICAL Chinese-made dynamite. Then let’s load a case of American C-4. Be very careful with that leaky Chinese shit. Wait one. I’ll do it if you want and you can handle the C-4.” I say. “Ah, Rock; yeah. We’d appreciate it. You being the Pro from Dover, after all.” Cliff agrees. “No worries”, I say, “I got this. You make me up a nice, tightly packed case of C-4. For demonstration purposes.” I find a near-empty case of dynamite and begin to judiciously fill the thing with random samples of shitty and leaky Chinese manufactured and Korean not-too-well-cared-for dynamite. This stuff was so incredibly shitty and poorly manufactured that even when leaking and nasty, it was nowhere near as dangerous as its Western counterpart. It was loaded with so much and many interstitials, like sawdust, diatomaceous earth, literal horseshit, and shredded newspaper, the nitro denatured itself to some degree as it oozed out. Plus, in the non-climate controlled weapons locker; the high humidity, salt air, and poor circulation from the small open grate facing the sea, the nitro had desensitized somewhat and evaporated. It left only sticky, thin, fly-ridden films rather than the usual ‘waiting for a good reason to explode’ puddles. It was in no way as twitchy as that locker back in Nevada. Oh, but be assured, it was still a shit show. If I really wanted to, I could blow myself, this boat and all occupants into the next dimension rather easily, but it was nothing like that old locker back in that disused Nevada mine. I still needed to be scrupulously careful as there could potentially be puddles of the pale yellow, viscous liquid explody stuff, instead of the thin films I was mostly finding. Either way, it required caution and judiciousness. Nitro’s twitchy as fuck and the last thing I need is a dropped nail, blasting cap, or hunk of the rotten box falling into an errant nitro wet patch… Extra attention was exercised. Dax and Cliff are halfway through, and I’m still picking through the leaky, smelly bundles. “Next time”, I mused to myself, “I‘m writing in a ‘Handling fucked-up explosives”-clause in my contract. No matter how much I’m being paid for this, it ain’t enough…” We find a couple of expendable, dry-rotted ‘life preserver’ floaty-rings, upon which we secure both cases of explosives. They’re tethered with a rope and primed with a number of blasting caps. I let the head local Korean crank examine both to ensure that I’m not trying to pull a fast one. He did not notice the 3-pound bag of Tannerite (an impact-actuated explosive) I snuck in the middle of the box of Chinese TNT. “Now. Satisfied that they’re equal?” I asked. “Nothing fishy here. Just dynamite in bundles, with caps. Then, over here, C-4 blocks with cap. OK?” He was satisfied; but only after letting a couple of the shiny suit squad check as well. “Well”, I smirked,” So much for your ‘covert observation’, asshole.” This guy was DPRK secret service or equivalent. “Holy cold-pack cheese-food product fuck”, I cogitate, “They are so goddamned suspicious”. I ask Dax to go over to the pilothouse and borrow the mauled AK-47 I saw hanging on the bulkhead there. They keep it for run-ins with cranky sharks, walruses, and lovesick blue-footed boobies evidently. “OK, here’s what we’ll do. We’ll float each out, and I‘ll trail with demolition wire. Once we’re a few hundred meters out, you can press the big, shiny, green button and detonate your dynamite. I even used 6 blasting caps, to give each bundle its own. You saw that. We green?” I ask. He was, although suspicious of what I had in mind. He agreed although he refused to use my terminology, the stodgy prick. So float away the dynamite case we did. The case of Chinese dynamite floated out and away from the boat, leaving an oily slick in its wake. As it got to around 200-225 meters or so, I requested a rendition of the Korean version of the Safety Dance, as it was just too fucking hilarious to watch. Once completed, I handed Doubting Korean Thomas the detonator. “Your turn, Tweedles”, I said, “Hit the button to spark off your “much-better-than-the-West’s” Oriental dynamite.” He grabbed the detonator, gnashed a tooth in my direction, and mashed down on the big, shiny, green button with a vengeance. PFftt!PAH-foof!fuff There was a cheery little pop, a puff of acrid smoke, and not much else. Let it be said from the onset that I just selected examples of the Oriental manufactured dynamite at random. I didn’t look for the worst or leakiest. Though truthfully I really didn’t have much too choice in the matter. “You! You swindled me! You knew the dynamite wouldn’t explode! Somehow you knew it!!” he swore in my general direction. “Try it again”, I said after retrieving the detonator and doing a quick re-wire to another bank of blasting caps. “Gumeong-e bul!” [“Fire in the hole!”]. MASH goes the big, shiny, green button anew. Pfffft!” *Pop. Poooof! Piffle. Blerp. Nothing but a cute little pop, a poof, and a few acrid puffs of smoke. He was crestfallen. He had taken on the Motherfucking Pro from Dover in a necessarily explosive subject, with inevitably disastrous results. I asked if anyone here was weapons trained. A couple of Coasties raised their hands. “And you are? “ I asked the closest one. “Lt. P'an Tae-Hyun, Sir”, as he snaps a snappy salute. “Groovy.”, I reply and retrieve the AK from Dax. “Can you squeeze off a couple of shots and hit that floating box of dynamite?” I asked. “Yes, sir!” he replied, smiling. “OK then”, I replied and turned to the crowd. “Dynamite is usually pretty stable stuff and won’t detonate without a blasting cap or impulse source. A bullet will most certainly not detonate it. However, I’ve stuck in 3 pounds, imperial, of Tannerite, which is a type of binary explosive used for targeting. Tannerite will most definitely and energetically explode when impacted by a high-velocity bullet. I think we can agree that an AK-47 round is high-velocity?” I asked. There were nods and a buzz of general agreement. “Now, there’s the better part of a case of unexploded dynamite out there. That’s what we in the business call very, very fucking dangerous. Now those three pounds of Tannerite should vaporize everything within a 10-meter radius if it detonates as designed. Agreed?” I asked. Again, there were nods and a buzz of general agreement. “Lieutenant P'an?” I asked, “At your discretion. Fire at will. Or the dynamite case, as it were.” He nodded. He walked over to the furthest point on the stern, checked to see everyone was back and out of harm’s way, as he was a consummate professional. He futzed around with the old AK for a bit and took a shot. It was low and outside. “Ball one”, I snickered. “Sights are off. Not any problems.” He remarked. The next round found its mark. The Tannerite exploded adeptly. It threw sticks of unexploded Chinese dynamite over a 20-meter radius. They each sank into the briny deep leaving only an oily spot to mark their entry and eventual watery grave. The top of the case of dynamite was blown off, but the floaty ring remained. We reeled it back in to find a few more scorched, but unexploded, sticks of fine Oriental manufacture explosive on the bottom of the case. These were motherfuckingly dangerous. Cantankerous dynamite has no place on a ship. I remarked, however, that this would be no problem. Dax and Cliff brought up the case of C-4, which I had wired with one single blasting cap and booster. We had Korean Doubting Thomas and his shiny suit buddies give it the once over to ensure I wasn’t trying to pull a fast one. He agreed, it was nothing but C-4 as advertised. One of the more expendable Coasties jumped down on the stern transom-rack which is just above the waterline on the back of the boat. He wired the two rings together and set them adrift, tethered by a good nylon rope with my nasty, silky demolition wires trailing. Dax was working the rope and I was handling the spool of demolition wire. I had a good 350 meters of the stuff on the spool and wasn’t about to return a single centimeter. Old habits and all. As they floated away, Mr. Kwan asked if we’d like a bit of refreshment, as, gosh, it sure was dusty out here today. Of course, we agreed in unison. Good old Mr. Kwan. So, we’re unspooling our lines slowly, drinking our end of the day refreshers, smoking cigars, and watching our Oriental colleagues getting antsier every minute. I knew what a case of C-4 was going to do when detonated. It would be one hell of a show. I was so confident with my design I had Lt. P’ay return the AK to the pilothouse. Wouldn’t work here anyways if the C-4 failed to detonate. But that’s not going to happen. Dr. Pro from Dover Rocknocker has spoken. Finally, I’m almost out of demolition wire, and Dax has tied off the tether. I motion over to Herr Doubting Thomas and hand him the detonator. “For ye of little faith”, I smiled, recalling the entreaty that even Satan quotes the Bible for his own nefarious uses. But first, an encore of the Korean Safety Dance. They're guaranteed to raise a smile. I look to the character fumbling with the detonator. “At your convenience, good sir”, I say, dripping insincerity. “Gumeong-e bul!” [“Fire in the hole!”]. Mash goes the big, shiny, green button. KA-MOTHERING-FUCKINGLY-HUGE-BOOM! Even over 300 meters away, every one of us not only saw but felt that shock wave. It was like a solid Savate kick to the chest. The boat even rocked a bit in appreciation. I smile, retrieved the detonator, safe it, and reply: “And that is the singular reason why I used good old American manufacture C-4 as a sonic seismic source rather than shitty, leaky Oriental dynamite. Any further questions?” He shook his head in agreement, bowed slightly in my direction, slunk away, and that was the very last we ever saw of Mr. Korean Doubting Thomas. The Captain saw and felt the detonation. He put the boat in park, actually, he handed it over to the sub-pilot for station keeping and came back to the fantail. He wanted to know if we were now officially finished with our project. We maintained that we were and it had come off very, very successfully; in no small degree because of his boat handling abilities. He came over to me and shanghaied one of the translators. “Doctor Stone?” he asked. “Hrmph. Close enough.” I smiled. “May I be first to congratulate your team. In eight sorties, you and your teams are the first to fulfill mission parameters. I am pleased to say that this will go on all our permanent records. It will mean bonuses for all present. I salute you.” And does with a naval flourish. “No shit? Well, thanks, Cap”, I reply, “But I’m just the den mother for this special education class. Without them, and all their hard work, it’d never have happened.” “I knew you would say this”, he smiled, “You are leader of men. We see that. You are teacher, but also not afraid to work. You should do this more often. Use your education and experience to train and teach others.” He says, shaking my hand. Now it’s time for me to wonder. Did he hear of my offer back home? I don’t think he did, I’ve been playing those cards very close to the vest, as it were. I am now officially confused and bebothered. But, since I don’t believe in anything, much less coincidence, I’m going to chalk it up to happenstance and just gratefully consider the source. He asks that we wait here and he’ll return forthwith. “On a boat this size, there are not too many places we can sneak off to…” I chuckle. He returns with a very, very old bottle of something quite unidentifiable since it appears to be lacking a label. He yells something in official Korean and suddenly, a tray with little, itty-bitty demitasse-style glasses appear along with some smoked fish, I think, nibbles of some kind. He pours a dram for all present. No one dares take as much as a preemptory sniff until he’s finished with the ceremony. Everyone thusly charged, he begins a toast. “Shoo-buddy”, I think, “I’ve been down this road before.” It was quick, succinct, brief, and laudatory. According to him, we had ‘hung the moon’. I liked this style of toasting. Left more time to drink and for camaraderie. The project thus finished, as we were running out of potables, especially freshwater, victuals, and toilet paper; we were headed back to base. That is, back to the hotel to see what our comrades who chose to stay onshore had developed. But, that was going to be for another day. First, we needed to chug our way back to port, both literally and figuratively. Ahem. Before which, though, there were some housekeeping and paperwork chores. Dax, Cliff, and I did a quick reconnaissance of the explosives locker and created a ‘used’ manifest; which all three of us signed. They may be officious, they may be obtrusive, but damn, they certainly love their goddamned paperwork over here. We gave copies to the head shiny suit, one for the Captain, and we retained copies for our records. Along with notes that we expended two rounds from the pilothouse AK, as we were trying to out-officious these officious paper-pushers. We made certain the keys were returned and logged in the proper logbooks and the explosives locker was locked securely, solidly, and soundly. Before which, we policed up the weapons locker and actually offered to the gods of the briny deep, quite the quantity of unsafe, leaky dynamite, and other ordinance that was more a disaster waiting to happen rather than inventory. Seawater would neutralize the nasties and in the case of anything metallic, it’d be gone within a fortnight. and the phosphates might provide some nice fertilizer for some lucky passing Cnidarians. We were in water of near 45 fathoms. This stuff would never hurt another living thing. The Captain was very pleased that we had taken that task upon ourselves. He wasn’t allowed to do anything about what was in the locker, but he was responsible for it and keeping the wrong people out of it. I commented that was a fairly stupid way of handling things, and he mentioned that he’d appreciate it if I made an official note of it to the powers that be once we go feet-dry, i.e., get back to shore. I assured him we most certainly would. From then on, all we had to do was putt-putt our way back to port. It was going to take some hours and we’d end up berthing during the wee hours. This would not be a problem as our bus and driver would be waiting for us no matter what the time. He would briskly and without fanfare, return us to our hotel. That we were actually looking forward to bunking back in the old hotel sort of gave one an idea of the Spartan arrangements we had endured for the last three days. Most of the Westerners groused and complained in a humorous manner. Hell, it was only three bloody days. Some of our Oriental friends were so totally aghast they vowed to lodge formal complaints once they returned to dry land. Landlubbers. Odd that once we hit the beach, they all scattered to the four winds and not a single letter nor either a peep of protest was ever forthcoming. Yes, this is an intensely weird place. We wandered down the gangplank, cigars a-fume, and drinks recently and for one last time, refreshed by Mr. Kwan. The shiny suit squad was supervising the offloaded of the seismic data we had collected and had seen it soundly sealed and concealed in the very living bowels of the bus. It was to return with us to the hotel, where we’d demand a receipt. Then it would be off to the ‘Technological Center” on Scientific Street for processing. They assured us that they’d handle that themselves. Evidently we were good enough to acquire the data, but not good enough to see the finished product. Ack, Volna, and Ivan chuckled. “OK, you pirates. What did you do?” I asked “They can try with all their might. But without the decryption key, they’ll spend years processing encoded compressed nonsense.” They snickered. “We did offer to come and help set up the decryption for the decompression of the raw data, but they said they could handle it themselves. Oh, well. We tried. Seriously, we did.” Ack and Volna snickered. “Well, keep it handy in case they come to their senses before we get out of here,” I said. “Always our intention, Herr Denmother”, Volna chuckles. “Oh, you heard that?” I snickered quietly. Back at the hotel, the majority of us sent our sea-gear to our rooms via the on-site laundry. That being settled, the majority of us retired to the catacombs of the basement. We needed strong drink, decent, non-tinned food, and seats that didn’t slop around every time you sat down. Well, with the acquisition of our sea legs, two out of three wasn’t bad. Since the hour was much too late, I decide that tomorrow, well, later today, would be a day of R&R for everyone. Moreover, I was informed that tomorrow would be the “Day of the Sun” celebration, the insanely earnest celebration birth anniversary of Kim Il-sung, founder and Eternal President of North Korea. It’s supposed to be some sort of big, hairy nationwide deal. But aside from a couple of small posters, we heard little and knew less about the holiday and its celebration. Everyone’s being even more uncharacteristically low key. It’s odd like there’s something weird going on here. “What? Something weird and covert and sneaky going on in Best Korea? Pshaw, you old fart. You’re letting the paranoids get to you!”, I mused to myself. This place will do that to you after a while. I asked the front desk to place a note that made the rest of today a day of R&R in everyone’s mailbox. After another cigar, some decent prawn stir-fry, and a couple-twelve really stiff drinks, we were all ready to invade the land of Nod for a few hours. I went downstairs for a drink, a nosh, and a smoke. I ran out of NK won as we tend to use them in Western Expat high-stakes poker games, so I needed to trade some of my weird Middle Eastern currency for weird Best Korea currency. I was used to the 900:1 won:US dollar (equivalent) trade-off, but after cashing in the equivalent of US$500 in Middle Eastern dinero, I walked off with 650,000 won, not 450,000. “Pardon me, Ms. Cashier”, I said to the nice little local woman behind the bird-cage security wires, “I do think you gave me too much.” She took my stack, re-counted it, and proclaimed it correct. “I thought the exchange rate was 900 to the dollar?” I asked. “No”, she remarked, “Now 1,336.” “Any idea what’s causing the fluctuations?” I asked. She just smiled and shook her head ‘no’. I smiled back and tipped her 50 UAE dirhams for the information. “Weird. Now what?” I mused. Little did I know… The next morning dawned dim and early as there some sort of something going on outside. Oh, yes, it was ‘The Day of the Sun’ celebration. I discovered it was is an annual public holiday in North Korea celebrating the birth anniversary of Kim Il-sung, founder, and Eternal President and local Poobah-in-Charge of North Korea. It is the most important national holiday in the country, and is considered to be the North Korean pseudo-secular equivalent of Christmas. “Well,” I thought to myself, “I picked a damn good day to call for an R&R break.” Then I found out, why no one told us about any of this is still unknown, that the next two days after the holiday would also be considered a holiday. Come to find out, there are all sorts of intrusive, inconvenient, and wholly unnecessary nonsense that accompany these high holy days here in Best Korea. There are exhibitions, fireworks, song and dance events, athletics competitions, idea seminars: “Think about it!”, and visits to places connected with Kim Il-sung's life, including his birthplace in Mangyongdae. Shops close, the hotel televisions block any other ‘programming’ and show only ‘special’ movies. Either ridiculously fake documentaries on the life of the also ever so ronrey Kim Il-sung or movies he especially enjoyed. People parade to his statue on Mansu Hill to deposit flowers; later in the day, it resembled a pollinated glacier. There’s general obviously forced elation, all of which is extraordinarily strained and appears fake. People are trucked by the groaning busload to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun where the dead maniac lies in state. “Fuck this”, I said in the exact spirit of international amity, “I’m going to the bar.” I go downstairs to the basement bar, and even though it’s a high holy day, it’s open early. It didn’t used to be open until the afternoon, but since we’ve arrived, they have adjusted their hours for us. They have also doubled their daily receipts. So they’ve got that going for them, which is nice. One of my favorite barkeeps was station keeping that morning. I greeted him in the usual style and expressed to Mr. Ho Gun the best holiday wishes. “Hi! Ho!”, I said, “Annyeonghaseyo”, which comes out ‘Annie young eez-yo!’ in my Baja Canuckian dialect. Mr. Ho laughs at my attempt at Korean, but he does appreciate the effort. “Doctor Rock”, he says, “Dawn greetings. You will drink what?” Nice and direct, I like that. “Ye’ ken Greenland Coffee, me ol’ mucker?” I asked in a swirl of different dizzying dialects. Koran confounds me, so I thought I’d return the favor. “No, but I’m sure it’s coffee with some of your usual high-proof liquors, correct?” he smiles as I hand him a nice, oily Oscuro cigar. “For Best Most Happy Returns: Day of the Sun”, I said, waggling the stogie, as I hand it over. “However, you are correct. Normally, ‘authentic’ Greenland Coffee is a paltry 1/3rd ounce each of Whiskey, Kahlua, and Grand Marnier with excess coffee. Well, I don’t cotton to those liquors or measures. So my Greenland Coffee recipe, really from Greenland, by the way, is Siku Vodka, or any other high-octane vodka, as long as it’s premium. Then Immiak, which is Greenland’s version of Jagermeister, so let’s just go with Jager. Then finish it off with a shot of Tia Maria or Kahlua, if available. Oh, yes, then hot coffee. Silly me, almost forgot…” I conclude. “And measures?” Mr. Ho asked. “Whatever fills the cup”, I replied, in a bastardization of an old Russian toast. “OK, how about a 35 mils (~1 ounce) stiff shot each booze, then hot coffee to fill your mug? With a chilled vodka chaser, as per usual?” He asks. “Make it so, Mr. Ho,” I say. “No whipped cream or crème liqueurs, please. I’m lactose intolerant, and, well, no one wants to hear that…” He laughs and whips together a very nice morning sunriser. It’s a real day off. In a very, very weird land. It’s Festival outside and I stayed up most of the night calling people back in the world, creating and updating dossiers, doing explosives-tracking paperwork, worrying over logistics, and how and when the fuck we’re going to eventually get out of here. Fuck it, double front. I’m doing my ‘people watch’, perched high on Mahogany Ridge. I’m taking, for the first time since, hell, I left the Middle East, some real downtime. I figured I deserved it. I was the only one at the bar, but after a short time, there were festival-goers who infiltrated down into the hotel's subterranean catacombs. They didn’t know of the bar’s recently expanded hours and when they saw me sitting high up on Mahogany Ridge, smoking my ubiquitous cigar, they rejoiced. Obligatory Festival and alcohol! Better than beer and power tools. In the Baja Canada time-honored tradition, I have a pile of the local currency sitting on the bar. At the new exchange rate of 1,386 won to the dollar, I’m making out like a bandit. Drinks here are cheap, really cheap, to begin with. With this fluctuation in exchange rates, which I figured reflected the holiday, I was flush. In the chips. Well-heeled. I've got a lot of what it takes to get along. So, I was feeling magnanimous. I was tipping people very well. “Paper?” one local asked. “Sure. How much for a week-old English version of the Daily Worker’s Manifest and Pork Belly Futures Digest? 100 won? Here’s 1,000. Keep the change.” Not wanting to become over-caffeinated, I switched from Greenland Coffees after a couple to my usual potato juice and citrus concoction. Each one came in a tall, frosted gimlet glass, a very nice touch, and was expertly made my Mr. Ho after I showed him once when we first arrived. Each one, with the current exchange rate, was about 500 won; an exorbitant sum for any local. It was about US$0.40 for me. I bought several for people who bellied up to the bar and tried to engage me in conversation. I was used to handing out business cards, hell, one never knew where contacts could lead; and not receiving one in return. Today, I collected four new business cards; two from various European ex-pats, and two from locals. I guess Festival! time brings out the best and least paranoid in people. It’s only 1000 hours in the AM and people here are already seriously lubricated. This will be a fun few days. I decided to get a rather tall drink in one of my 100-ounce Kum-n-Go travel cups. With all the hoo-ha going on around here, I haven’t seen a handler, translator, or guide since we got off the boat. I decide with all the shenanigans and goings-on around the place on this festival day, no one would give me nor my wardrobe a second look if I were to venture outdoors for a walkabout. Besides, we’re on a bloody island. It’s not like I can go too damned far. So, quicker than a bunny fucks, I get my drink, fire up a cigar, and walk around the lobby of the hotel. There are the usual comings and goings of tourists, local workers, the security forces, and all that allied tat. I wait until a tour bus pulls up and all eyes are somewhere besides me. Pfft! And I’m standing outside the hotel, looking at all the sights. Which, truth be told, weren’t much. Yanggak Island is a slovenly-manicured island with shrubberies, tracks, trails, and assorted support buildings. The river is basically hidden behind stunted shrubs and nevergreens, and the remains of the defunct golf course. There’s a stadium on the island, which was thronging with festival-goers today. I don’t know what sport, if any, they play there, and didn’t care enough to ask anyone. There was a cinema hall, which was currently empty and looking in need of some dire repair. There’s some sort of Chinese health complex in the process of being built or torn down, it was hard to tell which. Needless to say, the scenery paled almost immediately. I did, after a concerted effort, find a small platform that overlooked the Taedong River. It was a very nice little observation platform with a couple of new-Tudor-esque electrical replica gas lights and two concrete benches where a weary traveler could sit and just watch the river. So I did. I was interested in the fish of the river, and wondered if any of the locals did any fishing; or if it was forbidden, as are so many ‘proletariat’ activities are in town. I did see a few locals, huddled out of plain sight, down by the shores of the river fishing with long, 10 meter, reel-less poles. In Britain, they would call this type of fishing ‘noodling’. I didn’t see them catch anything, but in the bar later, I spoke with a local who told me that they catch various species of fish here. These include Asian Aroana, Blue Guppy, Catfish, Crab, Eel, Halibut, Hucho Perryi, Octopus, Orange Guppy, Pacific Flying Squid, Rainbow Trout, Salmon, and Tuna. I’m not saying my informant was lying or embroidering the tale, but from the nasty condition of the river, I think Coney Island Whitefish, Cotton River Horse, Dumpster Trout, and Bugle-Mouthed Salmon would be the more common species. I had enough perambulation and even though I wasn’t given the least look, I felt a bit uncomfortable out here. That unfiltered sun and equally unfiltered air. After that, I wandered back to the hotel and went to enter to go to my room. “HALT! Who goes there?” some door guard yelled at me. “An American tourista who was out on a walk”, I replied. “Impossible!”, he replied, “Tourists are not allowed out without their guides.” “Look, Herr Mac”, I said, “I’m Dr. Rocknocker, and I am an invited Western Petroleum Scientist with the UN special-invited group here to evaluate the country’s oil and gas potential.” “You are not allowed.” He replied loudly. “My good man”, I replied, equally loudly, "Not allowed? Not allowed? I’m a geologist, I’m allowed everywhere.” With that, I grab the handle of the ornate door, take a slurp out of my drink, and sally forth into the hotel. Of course, he goes non-linear. He follows me and is making all sorts of bad noise. He is almost literally dancing around me, pointing, and exclaiming that I’m not allowed. Then, he made a bit of a mistake. He grabbed my arm. Really, really poor career move. I switched my drink to my left hand and executed a pretty spiffy opposite-side wrist grab on the noisy little nerf herder. He was so shocked by this turn of events, he went slightly white and was rendered mute for a short time. I frog marched the little irritant up to the front desk and asked the head clerk there to explain to my captive audience who I was and why I was here. The clerk smiled and gave the character whom I was dragging around a quick background on the guy who was currently holding him captive. When I heard “닥터 락 노커” [dagteo lag nokeo, “Dr. Rocknocker”], I dropped this guy’s hand and just took a few steps back. After a minute or two, he comes over, very, very abashed. He apologizes as he wasn’t told that any Americans were allowed outside the hotel. I told him ‘No problem’, as I really didn’t have any special permission and didn’t want to get the guy into any trouble. I offered him a cigar, which he refused, but he readily accepted the half-pack of Sobranie pastel cigarettes I had in the pocket of my Hawaiian shirt. I decided from that point to just stay inside the hotel to smoke, drink, and avoid any further Imperial entanglements. I wandered on down to the casino because I was bored and it was unusually quiet. Too hepped-up to sleep, too tired to work, it was that odd interarea between “should I be giving a fuck” and “who the fuck cares?” Leaving the basement, I wandered around the ground floor, just taking in the sights, and looking at the “Festival Specials” at the hotel shops. I found an empty, unlocked conference room that looked inviting. About two dozen chairs, a large wooden table, TV monitors, and a southern view of the city from slightly above ground level. I walked in like I owned the place, as it is always monumentally easier to get forgiveness than permission, sat down at the head of the table, propped my feet up, found an ashtray, and began playing with the remote to see what was available. Evidently, these rooms were available for rent by various factions, cadres, and other sorts of like-minded individuals. However, whoever was here last forgot to re-set the filters on the satellite television. There was real the BBC, real-time. There was German TV, Russian TV, Japanese TV, and even some American TV; all the best of the absolutely prohibited hit parade. I shut it down and left immediately. I went to find my comrades. They simply had to see this. I located Dax first, as he was losing won at a rapid rate down at the basement casino. He said he’d spread the word to any of the team members down in the tunnels and we’d meet at Conference Room #1. I had taken the precaution before leaving to move the “Occupied/Unoccupied” placard to indicate it was in use and that if you hadn’t reserved the room, you’d do best to stay the fuck out. I waited the obligatory 20 minutes for the elevator and went up to ‘our’ floor. I knocked on all the doors where I knew they were occupied by our occupants. I found a few of our team and informed them that if they were so inclined, there would be an unannounced, impromptu, and wholly illicit meeting down in Conference room number 1; complete with refreshments and real, uncensored television. They all agreed and said they’d rouse the rest of our team on the floor. I was feeling so brazen, that when I went down to the ground floor, I stopped at the front desk and ordered lunch and drinks for my team in Conference Room #1. “Oh, sir”, the desk clerk responded, “We don’t have any reservations today for Conference Room #1.” “Well”, I replied, “We are in there and if it wasn’t reserved, how would that have happened? The room would have been marked as unavailable, which it clearly was not; as it was open and available and we are now occupying it. Therefore, it wasn’t marked unavailable so it must have been available; not unavailable as you postulate. It’s almost a simple example of the single equation theory of universal containment. So we are meeting there now and requiring refreshments. It’s simply a logical progression of the facts of the matter.” “You are, of course, correct”, she immediately responded, distracted by all the Festival goings-on in the hotel, “Now, you said you’d like to order 4 dozen assorted meat and cheese sandwiches, two cases of beer, and a mixed case of bottled liquor?” “Yes”, I replied, “You see, it’s only going to be a brief meeting. I’ll also need ice, carbonated and non-carbonated mixers, sliced citrus fruit, and an on-call bartender if you have one available.” “Oh, yes sir,”, she replied, “That will be immediately arranged. Anything else?” “Yes”, I replied, “I’ll need about a dozen ashtrays, of the larger variety. Also, I am going to leave explicit instructions with you to disseminate to hotel staff that we are not to be disturbed. This is a very high-level meeting of the scientists of the IUPG. We will be discussing, umm, ‘sensitive information’”. I used the international ‘don’t-even-think-of-bothering-us’ buzzword to let her know were being very serious indeed. “Oh, yes sir”, she stiffened. “Marvelous”, I said and slipped her 1000 won for her troubles. All sighs of nervousness instantly disappeared. “Excellent. Excellent service.”, I said, rubbing both hands together most Mr. Burnsly. I go over to the conference room and see that our order has begun to already arrive. Have to hand it to them, you call for room service and you get room service. Especially if you’re well known around the hotel to be free with imported cigars, pastel cigarettes, and lavish tips. One by one, my teammates filtered in. There was everyone from out earlier pleasure cruise, and most of the force that remained back in the hotel to prepare the paperwork for our ground assault. Cigars, cigarettes, and pipes were lit. Sandwiches consumed and drinks were downed. After everyone had a chance to see their home-town, or at least home-county, version of the news, I decided that it would indeed be a good time to have a bit of a meeting. It was going nuts outside with the Festival, and as long as we were in here, we were being left alone. After the obligatory facilities break, I returned from a 40-minute round trip to my room to get a couple of my field notebooks. I wanted a record of the proceedings, no matter how spur-of-the-moment. When I returned, I thought the room looked a bit spare. I did a quick headcount and I noted we were missing someone. I glanced through my notes and saw that our Bulgarian geomechanic, Dr. Iskren Dragomirov Dinev, or ‘Iskren’ was not present. “Hey, guys”, I asked aloud, “Anyone seen Iskren lately?” There was a brief conclave and the answer was a solid negative. I called the front desk and got his room number. I asked them to ring his room for me. His room phone rang and rang and rang, but no answer. “Who last saw Iskren?” I asked the assembled crew. The Finnish PT, Joon, recalls drinking with him at the casino the night before last. He seemed normally jovial as was normal for him. “Anyone else? Or since?” I asked. Again, the answer was negative. “Something’s not right”, I thought, my rock sense was tingling. “Dax, Cliff, you’re with me.” We all left, stopped by the front desk, and asked for medical assistance. We explained where we were going and the sudden absence of our Bulgarian friend. We expressed deep concern. 25 minutes later, Dax, Cliff, me, the hotel security chief, and hotel doctor were standing outside Iskren’s room. We had pounded on the door for a good 3 minutes. He certainly wasn’t in the shower. No answer. “Fuck this. Open it”, I said. “Under whose authority?” the chief of hotel security asked. “Mine. Dr. Rocknocker. I’m the team leader of the IUPG crew. Do it.” I said. The door was laboriously opened, as both door bolt locks had to be breached. The room was dark, silent, and entirely unnerving. In the gloom, it appeared that there was a human form, unmoving, on the bed. “I’m a rock Doctor. I think we need a medical doctor here.” I said to the hotel sawbones. The hotel doctor went in without switching on the lights nor touching anything. He examined the mound on the bed. Apparently, it wasn’t a pile of dirty laundry. “Was the occupant of this room a large Caucasian male, approximately 60-65 years of age?” He asked. “Yes”, we all answered together. “I’m afraid he’s dead.” The doctor replied. Dax looked at Cliff who looked at me. In unison, all that was heard was a tripartite: “Oh…fuck.” To be continued...
That reminds me of a story. After that last one, I thought you might all enjoy a short follow up. After Al, Chuck, Leo, returned to their other lives back in the world, they kept getting requests from various Agencies and Bureaus for more mine closure data, mostly focusing upon lines of documentation. The various Bureaus desired monographs, road guides, technical reports, and most importantly, detailed step-by-step “How To” manuals. My guys, now my fully credentialed doctored colleagues, were predictably reticent to write up “How To” manuals for something that was obviously not of their authorship nor inception. “Fuckin’-A, Rock,” Leo tells me in a phone call, “They want me to fuckin’ basically claim-jump you writing up mine closing procedures. What’s with these goatfuckers? They figured they paid you enough and are now trying to run a goddamned end around? Collective shitheels. No fucking way I’d even think of crossing, even accidently, the Motherfuckin’ Pro from Dover.” I replied that I had no idea, as after the initial contacts after the field season, I had heard precisely dick from any of the bureaus. Which is fine, as I’m busier than a one-armed paperhanger in a windstorm getting ready to shift the family some 12,700 kilometers east. I thanked Leo for the intel and told him not to worry, it’s just bureaucracy misfiring at its finest. “Fuckin’-A, Bubba,” replies Leo as he hangs up. It suddenly goes all dusty in my office. “I’ve trained that boy well,” I sniff and chuckle heartily. A short while later, Al wrote me that he’s been contacted by the Bureau/Agency and they are desirous that he lead a field trip with a gaggle of professors from various universities. They are also not all geologists, but Environmental Scientists, Hydrologists, something called an “Environmental Engineer,” and other forms of societal detritus. He tells me that they wanted him to lead a group of these characters out into the desert for a couple of weeks and show them the mine closure procedures which he developed. He was most adamant in assuring me that they contacted him, and that the terminology was also theirs. He was already otherwise engaged, so he naturally had to decline. However, he made it abundantly clear that he would never even entertain such a notion like the one they had posited. I wrote him back, as he was down in Patagonia doing something more or less interesting and/or exciting, thanking him for the information and wishing him well on his expedition. Since he was in the field, I also included a couple of the recipes we enjoyed back in the Nevada desert. He later tells me that the Gauchos he was working with down there have never heard of Pineapple Upside Down Cake and they absolutely were delighted by it. Come to find out, they also like potato juice and citrus drinks as well. “Good ol’ Dr. Good-deed. Aide to all men.” I pondered. I talked with Esme about all this and she was of the opinion that either they knew I was headed east or they wanted me to have some time off. I had been doing a lot of ad hoc work for both Agencies and Bureaus over the last few years. “Of course,” I replied, “Never ascribe to malice what can best be defined by governmental bureaucracy and officiousness.” So, time puttered on. We were holding weekly ‘GROJ (Get Rid Of Junk) sales’ on our weekends. Since everything electrical we possessed was 120 VAC, and the rest of the world, it seems, is 220 VAC, I had to part with all my antiquated electronics. My Fisher Studio-Standard stereo system, Akai reel-to-reel 16-track tape machines, EMI TG12345 MK IV recording console, and Harmon-Kardon turntables and amplifiers. It was painful. However, I rationalized, if I were to stick them in storage for a decade or two, I’d have re-paid for them via rental fees a couple or three times over. Plus, and all that sitting unused in a storage locker certainly wouldn’t be good for these vintage electronical gizmos. Still, it was a painful time to pack them into the back of someone else’s vehicle. I had to take all my firearms to my Brother-in-Law for safekeeping. Since he’s in Kentucky, he was both happy to accept and vowed to give them regular workouts. Even though he’s some form or another of mechanical engineer, I guess I could trust him. One day, the home phone rings. It’s Chuck and he’s livid. “Rock!” he hollers, “You know what those chapped bastards at the Bureau want from me? They want me to step in on your turf, and take a clan of idiot pseudo-geologists out in the field for a couple of weeks and train them in mine closing. Can you fucking believe that?” “Chuck,,” I say, “Whoa. Cool down. Leo and Al report the same, so it just looks like you were next on the list. So, going to take them up on their offer?” “Don’t make me laugh, Doc!” Chuck asks, “First: I’m busy. Second: I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea how to handle logistics, camping, explosives, and all that other bureaucratic horseshit you somehow put up with. Third: I really don’t want a midnight visit from you and your bag of tricks because I’ve pissed you off by taking credit for what’s rightfully yours.” “What is the fucking deal?” I ask Chuck, “I’m not like that at all. Everyone thinks I’m going go out and frag them because the Bureau asks them to do a job I did previously. Damn, I’m the most laid-back, gregarious, and even-tempered person on the planet; and I’ll mutilate the miserable manky motherfucker that says I’m not.” Chuck laughs nervously. “Hyperbole aside,” I continue, “It’s just that they know I’m headed out to the Middle East and don’t want to bother me right now; I suppose.” “Umm, Rock,” Chuck clears his thought, and gulps, “That’s not the reason they told me.” “Is that a fact?” I ask, “What did they give as a reason?” “Now, Rock, don’t take this wrong. This is Bureau-speak, not me,” Chuck wants to make the point vodka-clear, “But they felt you were the wrong person to lead this group of ‘scholars’. They were concerned with your…” Hesitation. “Spill it, Chuck,” I say. “Demeanor,” Chuck says, “Your conduct, your deportment, your behavior…” “I see someone got a Thesaurus for Christmas,” I said. “Rock, that’s them, not me,” Chuck continues, “They said you are too ‘wild and wooly’ to conduct this field expedition of ‘noted scholars’.” “Is that a fact?” I ask, rhetorically. “Just reporting to you what they told me, Bossman.” Chuck offers. “I appreciate it, Chuck. Thanks.” I reply, “Don’t sweat it. I’ll take it from here.” You could hear an audible expression of relief when we broke connection. After a couple of cocktails, I had simmered down a bit. Esme says that I need to call my Agency buddies and get the lowdown on the situation, as they’ll know what’s going on. For once, Esme is also very, very pissed off about the whole situation. Mama Bear’s claws were getting sharpened. “You are gone for months,” Es exclaims, “Train a bunch of greenhorns, exceed project requirements by over 200%, supply crucial scientific data on forensic activities, and take out a disaster they didn’t even know existed in that mine with the locker full of explosives!” “Yeah,” I reply, “Does seem a wee bit unappreciative.” “And then they pull this kind of shit!,” Es yells further, “Those ungrateful bastards. Fuck ‘em. Let them stew in their own futility. They call and you tell them to get stuffed. After all you did for them…” “Now, now, Dearest,” say, “Let me call Rack and Ruin. If anyone has the skinny on all this, they’ll have all the latest dope.” “Bastards!,” Es cries, “You damn near get killed several times over and this is their thanks?” “Yeah, I know, Darling,” I say, “Does seems a bit ungrateful and duplicitous.” Esme hands me the phone. “Phone. Call. Now.” She orders. Looks like I just got my marchin’ orders. “Yes, my love,” I reply. Even I know when I’m out-matched. RING RING RING Agent Rack answers and we go through the usual pleasantries… “What the flying fuck you mean ‘I’m too dangerous’?” I question Agent Rack. “Well, Doctor,” Rack tries to explain, “Your ‘cavalier’ attitude towards explosives. More of your ‘relationship’ with them. Not showing the proper deference…” “WHAT?,” I roar, “Ask anyone that has worked with me in the field! ‘Safety first, last, and foremost’. Just that I don’t fret and quail around explosives like a bunch of phonophobic, jumped-up, wet-pantied shuddering schoolgirls, when I have to demolish something, doesn’t mean I’m anything other than a goddamned consummate professional.” “Plus, Doctor, ” Rack continues, “It’s not the 1880’s any longer. A Stetson? A sidearm? A .454 Casull Magnum at that…” “You have got to be yanking my crank here, Rack.” I angrily reply, as I really hate it when someone calls me Doctor like that, “The hat keeps the sun off my head so I don’t get addled like those fuckers you’re talking with at the Bureau. The sidearm is for safety. Oh, yes; there’s that word again. It’s a fucking tool, just like my Estwing hammers or my galvanometer.” “Can’t kill anyone with a galvanometer,” Rack replies. “But I could with a hammer, myriad ways” I reply, “And give me five minutes, I’d figure out a way to ‘extract’ someone with a galvanometer...” “Doctor, do let me let you talk with Agent Ruin; I’m needed elsewhere,,” he tells me. Agent Ruin takes the phone. It’s the old Agency Two-Step. “Doctor is distraught,” he observes. “No, ‘Doctor’ is just plain damned mad.” I reply, “They contract me for a job that has never been attempted before and I complete it beyond their wildest expectations! This is my recompense?” “Well, Doctor,” Ruin continues, “I’m sure it’s strictly a business decision. It’s obviously nothing personal.” “It sure as fuck sounds personal,” I gripe back, as now I’ve gone from annoyed to genuinely pissed off, “I’m surprised they didn’t say something derogatory about my Hawaiian shirts.” “Oh, they did,” Agent Ruin lets slip. “Oh? OK, Fine. That’s is then,” I reply, “The joyfulness of this whole experience has left the building. Tell them to strike me from their fucking list. I’m done with them. I wash my hands of them. I’m off east anyways. Fuck that bunch of paper-pushing, deskbound, pencil-necked dickheads. Fuck them. Fuck them solid. Fuck them ‘till they bleed.” “Strong message to follow,” I add. “Doctor,” Agent Ruin reminds me, “Do I need to remind you that all our conversations are recorded?” “Oh, fuck no. I know that. So fucking what?” I growl, “Like I’m going to get tossed in Guantanamo for expressing a personal opinion? I can still do that in this fine country. Or has the First Amendment been repealed in my absence?” “Doctor, you’re obviously agitated,’ Ruin adds, “Perhaps we’ll talk again later when you’ve calmed down before you head to the Middle East.” “Yeah, about that,” I reply, “You shady characters can cross me off your fucking list as well. You’ve done nothing for me on this latest concern. Nothing! You couldn’t even give me the courtesy of a motherfucking heads-up. Guess that tells me all I need to know about the future of our relationship. Goodbye, Agent Ruin. Give Agent Rack my ‘Da Svidonya. I won’t be answering your calls any longer. “Doctor, I, um, wait…”Agent Ruin sputters. I continue: “And as long as I’m at it, tell that other Bureau to go hang as well. They want more data or shit from me, tell them to go find it elsewhere. And also tell them good luck with that. The three experts that exist in the world apart from me already told them to get bent. At least they possess loyalty and a dollop of comradeship. I’ll be shipping your phone and other items back via parcel post. Hasta la vista, Herr Ruin. Have a day.” CLICK-KER -FUCKING-SMASH! I hang up in the rudest way possible. “Clapped-out assholes,” I muse. “All those years of working together. All those years of building relationships around the world. It’s all kyboshed over a fucking Hawaiian shirt. I guess it was inevitable. Either I became too specialized or evolved myself out of being useful to them. Ah, well, their loss. Can’t be helped…” I take a healthy swig right from the prime vodka bottle. OK, several. “FUCKERS!” I scream at the wood-paneled ceiling, shaking my fist in vehement rage at the clouds coolly cruising by outside my window. Esme doesn’t come running. She doesn’t have to. She knows the score. I ship the Agency’s toys back to them with a terse note: “Thanks for all the nothing. Here’s your shit back. Dr. Rocknocker. PS: Get stuffed.” Not my best effort, I’ll agree. However, I was really pissed at that point. Now I have the time to devote solely to relocating my family and I overseas. Gad, there’s so much crap one must go through. What to sell, what goes in storage, what to trash, what to give away…the lists are endless. First to go are all my power tools. Fuckbuckets. It took me decades to amass that collection. I got a good price, sure, but now I’m more or less without a hobby. We decide to put all Esme’s lapidary equipment in storage. It’s too specialized to generate much interest, much less a decent price. Besides, they won’t rot in our absence. I can ship my fishing gear and golf clubs overseas. They’re American, but at least not 120 VAC. Our house goes on the market and we have to get it spiffed to within an inch of its life. Got to have that ‘curb appeal’. Good, let someone else do it, I’m busy. More unexpected expense. I give our house contractors out in New Mexico their marching orders. It’s going slow and will be a seasonal thing, but they guarantee me the house will be ready by next summer if they can source the slabs of Baraboo Quartzite I want. Splendid, that’s something I don’t have to follow up on every day. Then there’s our aquarium. 250 gallons of treated Houston water, loaded with native Texan fish and a couple of cranky Jack Dempseys. All the gear, filters, pumps, water polishers, heaters, treaters, all of it. Has to go. My ex-Utah Mormon drinking buddy down the road expresses interest. I basically let him have it gratis on the one condition he takes everything, fish included. He has to keep the fish alive and happy their entire lives. I’ve raised some from minnows and have grown attached to a couple of the gaspergou and a certain smallmouth bass with those big brown eyes… Digger, my stalwart mechanic, is going to purchase my truck. It’s a bittersweet parting, but at least I know it’ll have a great home. Digger is going to use it as both his personal truck and his company’s hot-shot vehicle for pick-up and delivery of everything from batteries to full drivetrains. I know the vehicle will be in good hands. Our Land Rover is up for grabs. Few are interested, though; buyer’s market. It’s a couple of years old and has lots of miles, due to Houston being so stupid-big. I order an extra-large bottle of AstroGlide as I know I’m going to be taking it up the ass on this one… Finally, our pets. Reluctantly, I’ve agreed to take the cat. It’s a stupid little feline that I figure we can just toss in a suitcase and drag it with us overseas. No, I guess we’ll get a cat-carrier and figure it out with the airlines. Then there’s Lady. 135 kilos of dopey puppy. She’s getting up in years, as well, especially for a giant breed. Luckily, overseas we’ll be living on a Western compound. So if we go through all the rigmarole of quarantine, getting her a ‘pet passport’, and shipping via a specialist service, Lady can bark at the tenets of pre-Islam (dogs really aren’t haram), and actually join us in our new home. This is going to cost a fortune, but I don’t care. She’s an integral part of the family, she is going to join us. I find a Pet Relocation Service and begin the masses of insane paperwork. It’s an ‘all-in’ service, basically door-to-door. But do not be deluded, they charge every micrometer of the way. Vaccinations, chipping (she already was fitted with an RFID chip), booking, boarding, securing vet services, obtaining health certificates, securing import permits, dealing with all issues related to customs clearance, interacting with foreign agents, supplying IATA approved crates, and obtaining Municipality tags registration for new arrivals. Gonna cost me a couple-three-four kilobucks. Worth every penny. Esme, the kids and I are working on beginning packing, tossing this, wrapping that, sentimentalizing over the other thing when we get a ring at the door. It’s a bonded courier. He has a package for me. It’s of the size that would contain about 6-months’ worth of Playboy magazines, and has no external address. I sign for the thing and walk back to the kitchen. “What you got there, Rock?” Es asks. “Not sure,” I reply, “But it came via bonded courier.” “Well, open it,” Es smiles. She loves surprises. I do so and it’s a series of articles, re-prints, and other information regarding Nevada, mine closures, and the Mine Closure Act. There’s also a number of newspaper and magazine clippings that had been photo-copied into a dozen-page document. All of them, write-ups and reviews from different newspapers, house organs, and journals citing my work with the guys out in the field. I open it further and there’s a personal note from Dr. Sam Muleshoe, and a certified check, made out in my name. Seems I was correct. After exhausting their leads with Al, Leo, and Chuck, they have spent near a month trying to find someone to take over the project. “To fill my shoes,” as Dr. Sam Muleshoe notes. They came up totally empty. “Told ya’ so.” I gloated. Esme smiles a wide schadenfreude-fueled smile. I look at the check. It’s plenty healthy, but not superhero strength. I show Es and she laughs out loud. “So,” Es whoops, “They think they can get back in your good graces by buying you off? Hah! Fat chance,” she says and regards the check, “Hell. They’re not even close.” I agree with Esme passionately. I write a quick, hand-scribbled note to Dr. Muleshoe, thanking him for the information. I give several options, some admittedly anatomically impossible, regarding what he can do with the check and the Bureau’s offer. I wrap it back up with duct-tape, call the courier service, and return it to Reno, COD. A couple of days later, I receive a phone call. Surprise, surprise, it’s from Reno. “Rock, it’s Reno!,” Es tells me. I shake my head “no!” slicing my hand through the air in the head-chop mime. “Tell him I’ve gone bush in darkest Outer Albania and you have no idea when I’ll be back,” I say. Esme looks a bit sheepish, as we can hear the phone remark: “I can hear you, you know.” “Fuckbuckets,” I think, “OK, hand me the rap-rod.” “Yeah?” I growl, very grizzly-like into the infernal communication device. “Hello, Rock. This is Sam Muleshoe,” the phone reports. “Damn,” I exclaim, “I guess you characters can’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Which word fucking confused you?” “Rock, what’s the god damned deal?,” Sam asks innocently, “Why all the bloody hostility?” “Oh, double-fuck me!” I say metaphorically, “Don’t act like you don’t know. Try and snake the latest field mine closing job out from under me and try to snag my guys. Then, when that fails, give some sort of bullshit report to Rack and Ruin. You think I’m ‘too cavalier’, too “wild and wooly’, and think I’m some goddamned 19th-century throwback that loves horrible Hawaiian shirts…” “Doc?,” Sam asks, “Are you currently fucking drunk? What the actual fuck are you rabbeting on about?” “Sam, I’m stone-cold fucking sober,” I reply, “Yeah. I know, that’s a first. But listen here Scooter. You must have balls of brass trying to sweet-talk me into running another field course after all you did…” “Rock,” Sam pleads, “Please, believe me, I have no idea what you’re on about. Can we talk and maybe figure this thing out?” “No!,” I holler, “I’m done talking with the likes of your Bureau. Nothing you can do or say to rebuild the bridges they’ve burned with me.” “OK,” he says, “Doct…, err, Rock, buddy. Calm your tits. Give me the Reader’s Digest version. I’ll look into it, because I have absolutely no idea what this is all about. This really sounds serious, with fuck-up overtones. Trust me, I’m serious as the last cold can of beer on a field trip.” “Marvelous.” I say, “I guess I owe you that much. Professional courtesy. At least one of us has the grit to employ some.” So, I run through the tale of the travails of Al, Chuck, and Leo. Then my little difference of opinion with Agents Rack, Ruin, and the Agency. Plus my severing of ties with both that Agency out on the east coast and the Bureaus in the great American Southwest. “Doctor,” Sam says intently, “I know it’s going to be difficult, but I swear on a box of your finest cigars with a vodka chaser that I didn’t know anything about all this nor did it come from this office. Por favor señor, let me do some digging. I’ll be back in touch.” “Sam,” I say, thinking over the situation, “Yeah…I must apologize for my previous outbursts. I should have known you’re not behind this idiocy. Yeah, go do some fossicking. Let me know what you dig up. Again, sorry. I was a bit…animated.” “Rock,” Sam chuckles, “Do you think that I’d dare anger someone like you? You must think I’ve got a serious case of cranial lithification to cheese-off the Motherfucking Pro from Dover!” At this point, I knew that Sam was also only collateral damage; he too was caught in the crossfire. Ground zero for the original attacks lie elsewhere within the Bureau. Esme and I go back to preparing for our trip coming up in 2 months. But Jesus Q. Christwagons, there’s so much to do. Everything you own; it gets packed, stored, or trashed. It’s the decisions that get so tiring. Keep. Toss. Sell. Burn. Leave on someone’s doorstep. I propose to Es that we just do the basic necessities. Then we hire some firm to finish up for us. It’d be worth the cost since just think what we’d be saving on aspirin and Ace Bandages. Esme readily backs the idea that we should turn the job over to someone else. Plus in the interim, we can take a trip back home to Baja Canada so the kids could visit their grandparents, we visit our family, and all of us could cool out a bit before the big trip east. I need to drop by Big Ray’s Tap for a few hours/days anyways. Old commitments. We’d go the beginning of our last month here in the States, spend a couple of weeks visiting family at home, leave the kids with the grandparents to get spoiled rotten. Es and I would return to Houston to finalize everything. Then Es and I would fly from Houston to that damn sprawling annoyance of an airport on the big lake in Illinoise. The family would meet us there, handover the kids, and we’d all haul ass eastwards to the Middle East. I readily agreed. Anything has to be better than dealing with this crapola. Lady and the stupid cat would go to the pet schleppers a little early. Sure, it’d cost a few more dinars, but that’s one big headache sorted. So, late one afternoon, I’m sitting in my office, trying to figure out exactly what reference works I couldn’t live without. Compton’s? Save. Field Guide to Fungus? Toss. No, wait a minute. Could prove useful. That’s why this is taking forever. The phone rings. It’s Sam. “Hello, Sam,” I say, “What news?” “Goddamn it all to fucking hell and back,” Sam roars. “That’s a unique greeting,” I reply. “I finally drilled down to the bottom of all this horseshit.,” Sam replies, “And it’s a real bowl of fuck all the way south.” “I’m listening,” I say, “Actually, Sam, hold on. I need a drink. Moment.” I give Es the high sign, note it’s Sam on the phone, and that I’ll be in my office if she hears any screaming. I amp up my drink and return to my office, closing the door behind me. Lady is here, waiting to keep my feet warm. “OK Sam, your nickel,” I say, “What’s the scoop?” “Would you believe?,” he begins, “That all batshittery this came from accounting and bookkeeping?” “Well,” I reply, “I’ll have to admit that I’m not overly surprised.” “Yeah,” Sam continues, “I was off on holiday. My first two weeks off after 5 years. My very temporary replacement received a memo from the head of the Bureau that there was great interest in you leading a shortened version of your last trip to demonstrate to a bunch of different university PhDs in the care and feeding of abandoned mines. Seems the Bureau Chief was very impressed with what you and your team accomplished.” “OK,” I reply, “With you so far. So, where did things get wrapped around a tractor’s nuts?” “Right,” he replies, “Here’s where things first went off the rails. Whoever vetted the list of potential attendees sorted the list alphabetically, not by field of expertise. Of course, the obvious first choice would be for geologists; especially those with mining, field, and blasting experience.” “Ah,” I replied, “No wonder it was such a miscellaneous bunch of baloney-loaf whole-grain enviro-types that Al had mentioned.” “Yep,” Sam agreed, “But before anyone with any brains got sight of that list, some fucknuts in the Bureau’s University Liaison department sent out invitations.” “Invitations?” I asked, “To what?” “That’s just the thing,” Sam continued, “They sent out invites to a program that didn’t yet exist, run by someone who had yet to be contacted, much less secured.” “Oh, hey! That’s some good work you guys do down there.” I snort. “Indeed,” Sam agrees, “So once that hit the mail, we started getting back replies and acceptances.” “And there was no project, no leader, no logistics…?” I asked. “No shit,” Sam scoffs. “So, what did these idiots here do? Contact the attendees and explain the problem. Take a little flack, but get it sorted out then try again?” “Let me guess,” I said, “No?” “Nope,” Sam sighs, “By that time, it was in the works and in the hands of accountants.” “Oh, fuck,” I commiserated. “I feel your pain.” “Yeah,” Sam continues, “They see that you’re the hookin’ bull on the last one and they dig into your contract. They figure, ‘Whoa, he’s way too expensive, just look at these expense accounts’, so they do an end-around and contact your colleagues.” “Al, Chuck, and Leo. They’re damn good guys,” I said, “Fine field scientists, all. But I don’t think any of them have the moxie or experience yet to run a whole field course.” “These accounting shitheads never bothered to find out,” Sam groans, “It was all ‘bottom line’, so you got caught in the squeeze.” “OK,” I reply, “I see how that happened, but what about all the shit about me being a 19th-century throwback, that I’m unsafe, wear horrible Hawaiian shirts, and all that shit?” “Comedy of bloody errors,” Sam says, “Actually, the Bureau Chief likes your fashion sense; you should see some of his shirts. But your slime campaign was based on unreliable evidence, tall tales, folklore, and outright fabrications. It was easy to pimp someone with a personality like yours, it’s been said. Someone was trying desperately to cover his ass. However, we have identified the perpetrator.” “Next time I’m in Reno,” I said, “I’ll pay him a friendly little visit and arrange his transport to Neptune. One way. Y’know, it’d be easy for someone with a ‘personality like mine’.” “Ah, yeah. He won’t be here,” Sam says, “In fact, we don’t know where the hell he went. He was immediately sacked, as were a couple of the more boneheaded accountants.” “That’s redundant,” I smirk, “They really don’t want to talk with or see me anytime soon.” “Right, then Rock,” Sam says, “We green again?” “Yeah, Sam,” I reply, “Sure. Green as a New Saigon. But you’ve got to call Rack and Ruin for me. You have to let them know how this whole clusterfuck came to be. We had some words a while back.” “Oh, yeah,” Sam remembers, “I talked with them the other day. They said they’ll be in Houston in a couple of days.” “Cor! Just what I fucking need right now,” I lament. “Ah, it is what it is.” “OK, Rock. Now, back to reality. You interested?” Sam asks. “Send me a JD (job description) and the project particulars. The price of poker’s really going up this time, Sam. Stratospheric. Sorry, it’s all just business.” I relate. “Yeah…,” Sam sighs, “I figure we’ll really owe you if you can drag our ass out of the campfire on this one.” “You have no idea,” I chuckle. We exchange farewells and ring off. Now I have some talking to do with my significant other. Since we were all set to go back to Baja Canada, I could use those two weeks to go to Nevada, if necessary. I can be back in Houston with Es for the last two weeks before we’re slated to travel, and we can sort out the house. “This won’t be an easy sell,” I muse, before chatting with my darling, brilliant, and ever-so-forgiving partner. “I’ll need a drink first”, I declare. Esme notes that it would be nice to have a little spare cash with us when we move overseas. You could have dropped me with a Claymore. Es never fails to flummox me. So, provisional OK from the powers that be. Now all I have to do is wait on Sam’s prospectus. The next day, the doorbell rings. It’s Agents Rack and Ruin. One is holding a box of very expensive cigars, and one is holding a bottle of very expensive bourbon. I turn to Es and remark, “Look here, darlin’. Geeks bearing gifts.” “Hello, Doctor,” Rack says, bristling, “We need to talk. “ “Why?” I ask, “I do seem to recall that I’m no longer associated with you people any longer.” “Doctor,” Agent Ruin cocks his head contritely, bowing ever so slightly, “May we please have a moment of your time?” I look to Es. She shrugs her shoulders. Luckily I’m partial to Es’ opinion. I am also partial to good bourbon and cigars, especially when someone else is paying for them. So I shrug my shoulders as well and tell them to make entry. “My office, “ I say, “You know the way. Mind the boxes.” Once in my office, the Agents stack their offerings and go on in great detail, basically collaborating Sam’s story. I remain steadfast and stony as the Harney Peak Granite of Mr. Rushmore fame. I’m not giving anything away any longer. “Well, Doctor,” Agent Ruin finalizes, “That’s the story, warts and all.” “Yep, it is pretty warty,” I agree, “So?” “We would like to rekindle our relationship,” Agent Rack reports, “These are for starters.” He hands me the cigars and booze; plus another box. “Thanks,” I say, “But just because I accept your peace offerings, that doesn’t mean we’re going to turn back the clock.” “What are you suggesting?” Agent Ruin asks. “No more consulting,” I reply, “I want in. The ‘Full Monty’, as it were. If I’m going overseas and work for some twitchy Middle Eastern sandpit’s national oil company, I want perks, tabs, and my ass duly covered.” “Work two full-time jobs simultaneously?” Agent Rack asks. “However you want to structure it,” I say, “No more consulting. From here on out, you want me, you’re making me a full-fledged full-timer.” Agents Rack and Ruin look at each other, enquiringly. “Doctor,” Agent Rack replies, “We are prepared to offer you an ad hoc Agency appointment. You will be fully attached but you will be also doing your full-time job in the other country.” “I’m listening. Tell me more,” I ask, “What exactly are you offering?” “Full access to all pertinent information,” Agent Ruin continues, “Full entrée to appropriate facilities and, um, assets. Security for you and your family in case of, well, shall; we say, ‘difficulties’. Monthly minimum payment of [$$$] to any non-US bank of your choice. Extra duties would be duly compensated. Top clearances. An enhanced potential payment package, bonus possibilities, and full benefits for you.” “Full benefits for me and my family,” I say, “Or there’s the door. Non-negotiable” I point out. “Very well. That had been anticipated.” Agent Rack replies. “Gentlemen,” I say, “Let us shake on what I hope turns out to be a beautiful relationship.” We shake hands and I sign my life away. I’m really in it now, up to my neck. I have to learn to shut up more and just listen. “Now, gents,” I say, “In order to seal the deal, let us break out the drinking stuff you’ve brought along. We will also smoke together so that we will know there will be no lies or deceit between us.” “Also anticipated, Doctor,” both agents agree. My ‘new’ old colleagues prepare to leave a while later, after a cigar, and far too much of what was a full bottle of expensive gift booze. They always get you in the end. Contained within the other small box were my new Agency credentials, updated version satellite phone, secure codes, and a nifty new Swiss Army Knife, with a built-in cigar cutter. With renewed dedication and expectations all ‘round, Agents Rack and Ruin take their leave. They hope to be able to meet me and the family, remember, they are Uncles Rack and Ruin, overseas one day in the not too distant future. My information, further updated cards, registration, and all that official business guff will come to the specific Middle Eastern country’s US Embassy for me once we arrive and get settled. “Marvelous,” I muse. I receive an Email from Dr. Muleshoe explaining what we talked about and his hopes for my stickhandling a ‘quick’ 2-week field excursion for the approximately 15 Ph.D. types from around North America. Seems there’s a couple of Canadians and one Mexican professor that expressed desires to join. They had actually forwarded funds to be included in our number. Sam suggests I drive out in my truck and proceed as per the last trip. Get the trailer, fill it with noisemakers, and the Bureau would sort out transportation and lodging for the attendees. Seems some want to camp, like real geologists, and some want to lodge in hotels, like real non-geologists. I write Sam back: First item: this is a 2-week sojourn into the desert. It’s a field meeting, emphasis on the field, not a tour of Nevada’s many fine hotels, resorts, and casinos. Item two: I no longer possess my truck. The Bureau will provide me with the appropriate vehicular equivalent. No passengers, this will be the Camp Chief truck from the onset. Besides, I am the only one licensed to drive the vehicle when coupled to an explosives-laden trailer. Item three: I will be flown to and from Reno from Houston. No buses, trains, or automobiles. It’s business class or zilch. Item the fourth: the Bureau will source the necessary support logisticians to provide food, drink, and toilet paper for the 16 professionals while we are in the field. They will also need to provide cooks, dishwashers, camp tidiers, and the like as I don’t have time to deal with 15 potentially field-fresh, whiny waterhead PhDs. Item the fifth: The Bureau will provide for all pre- and post-trip handling of participants. They can handle hotel rooms for the early arrivers or late-stayers. They can manage arrivals, registration, signing of necessary documents, and assuring vaccination records are up to snuff, waivers are signed, etc. They will also handle the transportation of participants to/from and during the field project, when and where necessary. Item the sixth: I include a new version of my contract. Force Majeure, ‘Take or Pay’ clause. Door to door coverage. Plus my, ahem, augmented day rate. Absolutely non-negotiable. Item seven: I have final say over what is done in the field. I am in command, the boss, the head cheese, the head honcho, and I require absolute discipline, especially where explosives are concerned. “My way or the highway” will be the theme of the trip. Gain, non-negotiable. To be continued.
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