Authors: Brendan DuBois
THIS NOVEL IS FOR MY SISTERS-IN-LAW:
Beth, Bernie, Liz, Cindy, and Laraâstrong women, all.
In addition to his wife, Mona, the author wishes to thank the following for their assistance in the years of research it took to research this novel: David Barr, Dave Conti, Sarah Cloutman, Joe Grillo, Brad Jacobson, Greg Kann, John Kyte, Jim Martin, Dick Messina, Pam Morse, Sue Perkins, Larry Rau, Dave Scanzoni, David Schwab, Bruce Seymour, Ron Sher, John Tefft, Patti Torr, Brenda Tringali, Rob Williams, and Dick Winn.
Thanks as well to Toni Plummer and India Cooper of St. Martin's Press and my skilled and devoted agent, Nat Sobel.
And a special debt of gratitude to the late Ruth Cavin, my editor at St. Martin's Press for more than ten years, who gave Lewis Cole such a supportive and productive home.
I'm sure the events that autumn at the Falconer nuclear power plant will eventually spawn magazine articles, documentaries, and books about the demonstrations, the unsuccessful fight to keep the peace, the violence, and the tragic and unnecessary deaths, but all I know is the little corner of what I saw during those cold and gray days, and that corner was depressing enough.
For me and thousands of others, it began on a Thursday afternoon in October when I was standing on a piece of land owned by a New England consortium of ten utilities, which was home to the only nuclear power plant in New Hampshire. Placed in Falconer, at the southernmost end of New Hampshire's eighteen-mile shoreline, the property contained hundreds of acres with fields, marshes, and boxy concrete buildings that looked like they belonged in a 1950s science fiction film, complete with transmission lines heading out to the rest of New England, generating nearly twelve hundred megawatts of electricity and lots of controversy.
The particular piece of land on which I stood jutted out onto the wide salt marsh, and on either side of me were members of the news media, including Paula Quinn, assistant editor and reporter for the Tyler
and one of the two best writers in this part of the state. She's a number of years younger than me, slim, and blond, and she was wearing jeans and a black wool coat. She had a digital Canon camera slung over one arm, and her small hands held a reporter's notebook.
With us there were also reporters from every major newspaper in New England, as well as the
New York Times,
and a host of television crews. We members of the alleged elite news media were looking out over a fence about fifty yards away, ringed on the top by three strands of barbed wire, with most of us shivering from the cold breeze coming off the ocean.
Paula leaned into me. “The natives are restless.”
I followed her look out to the salt marsh. “Most aren't natives, but they're restless enough.”
Out beyond the fence a rocky outcropping fell to the flatlands of the salt marsh, a large expanse of grassland that flooded every high tide and was furrowed by creeks and old drainage ditches. Beyond the salt marshes toward the left and a couple of miles away was a thin strip of land with buildings that marked the beaches of Tyler and Falconer. To the right and much closer, a thick stream of people was emerging from wooded areas bordering the marsh, coming out onto the grasslands.
They marched in ragged lines, chanting and yelling, waving banners and flags, a few beating drums. Some of the banners were huge, carried by a host of people, and even at this distance, I could make them out:
NO NUKES. PEOPLE BEFORE PROFITS. SUN POWER, NOT NUKE POWER
. Balloons on strings bounced and rippled above the demonstrators, and there were a couple of huge papier-mÃ¢chÃ© puppets. A few banners announced the name of the group supposedly in charge of the protesters: the Coalition for a Livable Future. The mass of people kept on streaming out and out, and Paula gave a nervous laugh. “You know, you look at those protestersÂ â¦ maybe they'll do it this time. They might actually do it.”
I did know, and though I knew the demonstrators were mostly peaceful, there was a little gnawing sense of unease that grew at the base of my skull. I thought of the outnumbered defenders of the Alamo watching the Mexican army march before them, and tried to push the thoughts away. These people weren't violent, but they were certainly direct and enthusiastic. The protesters wanted to do more than demonstrate, as did their predecessors when the plant was being constructed; their goal was to occupy the Falconer nuclear power plant, shut it down, and prevent further construction of another reactor unit on the property.
Near this group of news media was a temporary trailer where a couple of construction workers in blue jeans, heavy boots, sweatshirts, and hard hats stood on a wooden porch, arms folded glumly, staring out at the marchers. For the trade union workers in New England, the thought of new construction at the Falconer nuclear power plant was the proverbial shot in the arm, said arm representing hundreds of union workers who had seen most large construction projects in New England disappear. A few years ago, the owners of Falconer Station had announced plans to construct a second reactor to help power the growing demand for electricity in the region. Their plans had gone forward with as much speed as one could expect from the federal bureaucracy, and except for a handful of arguments posted by some antinuclear groups, it had looked like concrete was going to be poured soon for the first buildings of Falconer Unit 2.
Then, half a world away, an obscure power station that had been built in the days of the Soviet Union and of the same design as the Chernobyl nuclear power plant had an explosion and fire. One would think that decades after Chernobyl, some important lessons would have been learned, but such was not the case for the Kursk nuclear power station. After the explosion, fire, and initial and clumsy cover-up by the Russian government, it became front-page news for over a month as a radioactive cloud spread across Eastern Europe. In a matter of ill-considered timing, that was when the announcement came from the utility consortium that construction would begin soon for Falconer Unit 2, which was then blocked by the federal government wanting to take one more look at the unit's licensing and design.
Hence the revitalization of the local antinuclear movement, but there was more than one movement out there, which Paula now pointed out to me.
“Look,” she said. “More people to the party.”
The first group of protesters had a festive air to go with their anger and determination, but the second group was just angry and more direct, and I could sense something change in the air when they emerged from another copse of trees. These protesters wore face masks or bandannas, some had hockey helmets on their heads, and most held wooden shields in front of them, which they banged on with wooden clubs. The shields bore a logo, a radiation trefoil symbol with a slash mark across it, bordered by the letters
which stood for Nuclear Freedom Front. While the mainstay of the protesters out there were peaceful and wanted to overrun the power plant and occupy it in a nonviolent manner, these marchers were more direct and had assumed the motto of another protest organization: No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth. Their plan was to come onto the plant site, tear down enough equipment or buildings to shut down Falconer Unit 1, and violently confront anyoneâpolice, National Guard, or plant securityâwho got in their way.
Paula said, “You know, sometimes we reporters have to sniff around to look for stories. Nice for a change to have one fall in your lapÂ â¦ but something about this one is creeping me out.”
I offered her a smile. “Me, too.”
Looking to another collection of people, Paula folded her arms and said, “Just makes you wonderÂ â¦ what happens when that group meets this group.” Standing in two lines about a dozen yards away were policemen and policewomen from a variety of public safety agencies in New England, and behind them, as some sort of reserve, were groups of National Guardsmen. The police and the Guardsmen wore riot helmets with raised visors, and while all of them had on different uniforms, they also all had gas-mask bags holstered at their sides.
“Whatever happens, it won't be pretty,” I said.
Paula said, “With that, my friend, you're now the front-runner for understatement of the month.”
“Nice to be in the run for something.”
She eyed me with a bit of curiosity. In addition to her blond hair, Paula has fair skin, a pug nose, and ears that stick out too too much for her, but which I've always thought was quite cute and attractive. Some time ago we had a relationship that for a number of reasons never worked out, but we've remained friends ever since. The last I knew, she was still involvedâif that term was still being usedâwith the town counsel for the town of Tyler.
Paula said, “I still don't know why you're here. I mean, everybody else has got hourly or daily deadlines. But you? I didn't think your monthly column meant you'd have to be slogging around here with the rest of us ink-stained wretches.”
I shrugged. “There's a new managing editor at
She wants more bang for her payroll buck, so I was asked to do a feature article about the demonstration for an upcoming issue.”
“Asked, or ordered?”
“You're now part of management,” I said. “You tell me.”
She laughed, and we both went back to looking at the advancing line of demonstrators, the larger group on the left marching in ragged bunches and lines, and the smaller group on the right marching in good, disciplined order. It was like watching a miniature Roman legion being accompanied by a larger undisciplined ally, both coming at the target with different goals and objectives.
The smaller group then halted. No raggedy lines, no bunching up. Very sharp, very disciplined. Then the group split in the middle, and a tall man came out, wearing khaki pants, an old military jacket, a black watch cap, and a red bandanna around his face. Next to him were two younger men, dressed similarly, holding a portable sound system. The man who marched forward held out an arm, producing a brief moment of cheering from the smaller group and a couple of yells and catcalls from the larger group of protesters.
“Our mystery man approaches,” Paula said, a touch of wonder in her voice. “I heard rumors that he wasn't going to show up, that he was afraid of being arrested.”
“A leader has to lead, or he isn't much of a leader,” I said.
One of the young men held a microphone up to the hidden face of the tall man, and he started speaking, his voice booming out. “My name is Curt Chesak, and I am the coordinator for the NFF, the Nuclear Freedom Front!”
More cheers from his followers. “I won't talk for long, for unlike some of our so-called allies, my people and I believe in action, not talk talk talk.”