Spring 2010, Volume 8

Memoir by Douglas Evered

What's Next

Just to make it clear, I had been located at a giant facility that turned coal into gas and then into motor fuel. I was there because I had become involved with their Chief Scientist, Doctor Andrea Bogdanovic. Involved, that’s putting it mildly, we were madly in love. Couldn’t keep our hands off each other. She, bless her heart, was also madly involved with her project to purge CO2 from the coal/oil fuel making project. It was about to be tried in a major test and she was as nervous as a cat. Truth is she’d made up her mind that I didn’t believe it would work. In a fit of rage she lost it.

“Get out! Get out! I hate you! You’ve sidled your way into my life with your lovey dovey ways. Made me love you while secretly being my enemy. You’ve never believed that my science would work. You’re being paid by SASOL to keep me under watch. I know they don’t want the test tomorrow to work. Get out, I can’t stand to have you around. Get your bag and leave. Go back to Geoff.”

There seemed no way to calm her down since she had seen a check made out to me by the company.  Geoff, my cousin Gwen's husband, was in charge of security.

 “What if the test is unsuccessful?”

She turned on me like an angry tiger, “Damn you, I thought you’d become a believer.”

I pulled her towards me, “Calm down. One way or another, there’s a life out there, a life with me. I been on the run too long and want to settle down.”

I wasn’t getting anywhere. I walked to the counter and poured myself a stiff scotch. Raising the glass, “Want to have some medicine, let’s drink to a world changing to-morrow.”  She wouldn’t be consoled, turning away.

I got my bag from the bedroom and left, making my way to the company condo close by. Geoff was not there so I decided to calm myself with a stroll on the beach. Down wooden stairway and dipping my feet in the Indian Ocean didn’t relieve my concern about the test to be run the next morning on the large scale scrubber.  Dr. Andrea was staking her future in the outcome of the test that CO2 could be removed from the giant stack pipes of the coal gasification plant. I suppose I could have separated myself from the outcome of the test but I was emotionally committed to that lovely woman. Her compulsive search for an answer to the CO2 problem spreading across the globe was eating her alive.

It had prevented her from committing herself to a long relationship, something that had been possible since I came into her life. My inherent skepticism had worked to make me a doubter, unable to join in her enthusiasm. My underlying fear was that she would have a breakdown if the test failed. Consequentially, I wanted the test to show that her theories had worked but maybe not in a economically feasible manner.

In the morning I could see the fumes rising from the smokestacks and imagined some being diverted to the test site. Andrea would be there supervising. I hoped her wishes would come true. If the test was unsuccessful, she might claim it was stubbornness of the officers of the company and their resulting decision to shelve the project. Of course, that’s exactly what happened and she could not be consoled, I believe her baffled rage led to the horrific accident when she drove off the coastal winding road, landing upside down on a rocky beach.

It took several days to discover the wreckage with her mangled body underneath.

My belief was that the company officers wanted the tests to fail but they were afraid to try and torpedo the brilliant scientist. She was more than an employee, her fame had spread worldwide and even if the results were inconclusive, she would argue for more tests. Sadly though, her demise removed that possibility. Presence of alcohol or drugs was sought in a post mortem exam but since the body had been laying in the rocks for several days a typical study of her remains might not show chemical signs of substance abuse; however, there was an empty whisky bottle in the glove compartment.

I was now back staying with my cousin Gwen and her husband Geoff in their home at Camps Bay outside of Cape Town mourning the loss of my lover, trying to explain to myself how she had passed. Was it foul play, suicide or accident? The authorities had decided to issue a death certificate recording accidental death as the cause of her demise. I believed suicide was the real cause brought on by the failure of her decade of research to solve the problem of curbing greenhouse gases.

Apparently there was little known about her origins other than she been sent as a refugee from her home in Yugoslavia and was taken in by a friendly German family and given a good education, graduating with honors in chemistry and offered an apprentice position in the chemical company which had developed the coal/oil process.

Opportunity came when South African scientists came to the Baltic laboratory soliciting technology they could apply in developing the coal/gas plant to be built in South Africa. They met Andrea and invited her to bring her knowledge of the German coal/gas process to Africa. She was still a young woman, in her early twenties when she arrived, already speaking several languages and able to communicate with young South African engineers. Soon she was in charge of the instrumentation of the process which involved baking the ecomass, releasing carbon gasses and cooling them to obtain fuels suitable for cars and trucks.

There was a major political factor at work when the foes of apartheid brought about a UN ban on the sale of oil to South Africa. Just as the response by the Germans in World War II to the Allied bombing campaign was to cut off oil supplies by starting a coal/oil program. The South Africa government decided to implement a similar plan as a way to get around the UN measure of banning the sale of oil, an empty threat, since South Africa was sitting on vast primeval forests containing a type of coal rich in oil bearing carbon. It was easy to mine and transport to the plant built alongside the coast. Like all ointments there was a fly, namely, the process generated lots of CO2 gas such that South Africa became the number two source of greenhouse gas in the world right behind the United States. Only a fringe group was sounding the alarm about CO2 threats to the ecosystem; the world in general was busy expanding use of carbon based  electrical generation and transportation; people loved their gas burning cars, electric lights, TV’s, jet planes. Only a few concerned scientists like Andrea were sounding the alarm.

Threats had been made but it was deemed unlikely that they correlated with Andrea’s untimely end; probably some officials of SASOL wished she would go away but getting involved with her car crash was very unlikely. My involvement with SASOL had ended and while Gwen and Geoff were continuing to treat me as a welcome guest, the issue of what I should do next was on the table. Then a message came from the president of SASOL, Dr. Anshult, asking me to call and talk about Andrea’s final days. The fact was that a lot of tension had built up between Andrea and the Board and the stealing of her project files by the Russian concerned them. I agreed to re-visit SASOL headquarters, a visit that would include Geoff. So it was that the following week we flew back up the coast and landed at the plant. The head of engineering, Dr.Dorman, did not share the opinion that Andrea’s project was a failure.

The Russian had been placed in the plant with the understanding that he would infiltrate suspicious employees whose loyalties were doubted. A number of Eastern Block immigrants had found jobs in the plant and the Russian soon sought their company. Someone among them had to have known about his escape plan and how useful Andrea’s files would have been. It wasn’t clear how I would fit into the picture, maybe find out who steered the Russian into stealing her files. Apparently when the Russian was caught by the Federal Security Agency, he did not have her files, recovering them was important to SASOL and they wanted me to help get them back, you know, using methods they thought might work. I thought about Andrea’s death and became angry, wanting to get even. Yes, I would agree to help recover her work papers. How to go about the task was the question; were the employees known and had they been questioned? I got positive answers and finished up believing I should talk to key figures at the plant. The Federal Security Agency agreed to bring them in for questioning and the next day I started interviews. From the beginning it was obvious none of them wanted to talk so I had FSA put them in adjacent cells equipped with recording devices. They could talk with the other suspects through the walls and bars. Other than food nothing entered the cells. Clearly they were afraid when they learned about the demise of the Russian. They worried about their own fates and after a couple of days in grim cells one signaled a desire to talk, to talk about the outsider stealing Dr.Andrea’s files.

FSA quickly found he’d left the country on a flight to Rotterdam. Time being of the essence, a key FSA officer and myself, immediately got onto a South African Airways 747 heading north. We were met by Dutch officials who’d been told what we wanted, to find and detain the suspected thief of the technical files. We decided to put out feelers saying I was in the market to buy her papers. Since the tests of her technology may have filtered to Holland and made the stolen papers worthless, a deal could be made.

The Dutch had been keeping the suspect under close surveillance and when the time was right we paid him a visit. He wasn’t opening his door and we burst in. He was in the bedroom, gun in hand and the FSA agent fired one shot. Hit in the leg, not quite a knee capping but a lot of blood flowed. We lifted him and sat him on the bed. Throwing him a towel, enough to stem the bleeding.

“Where is the file?” The agent held his gun to the man’s temple. Turning to me he said, “Shall we finish him, he won’t talk.”

I leaned over,”We’re not fooling, we’ve got our orders. The Dutch won’t save you, get us the papers, we’ll let you bleed to death, now where are they?”

He spoke up, “The Mafia have them. They’re looking for a buyer. Everyone’s scared.”

I gave him the phone. Tell him there’s a buyer here offering 2K U. Tell him to get his arse over here with the stuff. “They’re going to let me bleed out if you don’t get here soon. Don’t come armed and don’t bring help. These guys are here to do business.”


BIO:  “I am Douglas Evered, I like words. I put them into poetry, fiction and biography (mine). I'm in the Library of Congress like a tree falling in the forest. I'm old but still out there among the animals. Aging is best met by keep moving, I do.”