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Demolition Days Part 99

ZIMA!” I shout as I’m getting ready to fly out to Western Siberia to look over a recent well fire, “Where are my damned socks?!”
Zima’s looking at me from underneath our bed; tongue lolling happily, tail wagging ferociously. She knows she’s safe, there’s no way I can get under the bed to grab her by the scruff of the neck and drag her and my socks out. Olga goes under the bed two or three times a week to recover my socks from Zima’s horde.
Remember the Disney movie “Bolt?” Yep, Zima is the female version of Bolt, right down to the coat color; but without the lightning tattoo. Strong, stocky, and sneaky. Smart as a whip. Devious, clever and sly. She’s a perfect fit for the Rocknocker family.
There’s a lake on the compound; rather it’s a wide spot in a river that the developers dammed up allowing only a trickle as opposed to its rather copious flow. It has formed an impoundment in which both local people and several species of fish swim.
Since it’s only a 150 meter walk from our back door, virtually every weekend, you’d find one or more family members down by the river, dangling a worm, angling for one of the finny inhabitants of the impoundment. They’re not for eating, just for sport; it’s all catch, annoy and release. There’s quite the piscivariety in the lake. OK, let’s call it what they call it: Lake Rosinka, even though it’s just a wide spot on the fluvial highway.
Inhabitants include grass carp, pike of several species, whitefish, ice fish, muksun, sturgeon, trout, trench, rudd, pelyad, belchir, bream, roach, gusteria, crucian, perch, burbot, nelma, and unfortunately, catfish.
Yes, catfish.
It seems that some of the folks that are residents hereabouts, but not fisherfolk, have taken to feeding the catfish. They find it hilarious that these nuclear-submarine, Akula-class, sized fish will come up to and actually eat from one’s hand.
So they feed them. And feed them. And feed them to the point where they attain huge, unnatural sizes.
Zima, of course, accompanies us when we go down to the river to dangle a worm for a while. She likes to bark at the catfish and carp that hang around in the shallows begging for handouts.
Then, some neighbors came down on a bright, sunny day with a loaf of stout Russian bread.
Zima watched in fascination as they broke off chunks and tossed them to the slurping fish. The fish wallowed and flalloped around in the shallows, trying to best each other for the bread being offered.
The neighbors, too easily bored, left abruptly and just tossed a couple of remaining kilo of torn-up bread on the shore. They figured ‘let the local Chernobyl ravens have some as well’.
Zima would have none of this. She would grab a chunk of bread, trot it over to the shallows and toss it to the catfish and carp so she could have something splashy to bark at.
We all found it uproariously funny that she should come up with such a funny little diversion all on her own. Khris and Tash always brought bread down to the river for Zima to feed to the fish. It became a sort of a ritual with us. A family tradition was born.
Also born was another tradition: Zima fishing on her own. In the morning, we’d let her out back to do her pre-breakfast business. She was so smart and so slick, we really never had to teach her that housebreaking trick.
“Of course I need to go out. It’s morning.” She seemed to say standing by the back door, patiently waiting.
She discovered that the catfish would always be lolling around the shallows awaiting their sunrise snacks. Her appearance was so ingrained, they’d swim into water barely enough to keep them afloat to vie for dawn snacks.
That proved to be a mistake.
Zima loved to fish.
So much, in fact, we had to restrict her access to the river before she decimated the local catfish population.
The first time we found a catfish flopping on our back deck, we were perplexed. Sure, we had let Zima out back for her morning activities, but she never barked or appeared to run off. She’d always be right back after a quick jaunt to the nearby forest. She wasn’t wet or muddy and didn’t stink of fish.
It was Tash who did a bit of covert surveillance one Saturday morning. Up in her room, she used her binoculars to follow Zima on her AM rounds. I’d let her out the back door, she’d saunter over to the nearby forest, do her daily duties, and then return by way of the lakeshore.
A minute or so later, she’d trot up with a flopping 2-3 kilo catfish in her mouth and deposit is as an early morning gift for us on the back deck. She then slipped out somewhere, evidently to wash up, to return via the front door.
We had to fence in the back yard and restrict her roaming until the lake froze. Zima was most disconsolate that we took that part of her piscatorial fun away. She instead had to content herself with feeding and chasing the local enormous Raven population with bread left lying around by the neighbors.
She was always a source of amusement. And an unrepentant sock thief. She’s quite the character.
Finally nestled into an IL-76 headed generally eastward, I had found a pair of unslobbered socks, and geared up. I was heading east to Western Siberia, stay with me here, to take a look at a kyst, kust or pad, of oil wells that had caught fire and basically burned to the ground.
In fact, one or two were still burning. Since the reservoir pressure was fairly low and there was a lot of produced water, the flares here were black, smoky, and not at all that terrifying.
That would remain until later.
OK, Western Siberia is basically one huge swamp. Or bog. Whatever you want to call it. It’s either frozen solid or its soggy muck up to your eyebrows. There are myriad lakes, creeks, rivers, slews, sloughs, swamps, and other forms of soggy geomorphology that make up its 2.5 million square kilometers.
Which makes travel difficult.
In the winter is when the work gets done. So, its -600C and your nose is froze. Better that than trying to wander around a new drill site on swamp skis and have the rig dog founder, clamber onto your skis, and sink you both down into the bog.
So, they build hexagonal or octagonal kysts, or drilling pads.
These are timber rimmed and filled with sand transported in from who-knows-where. They are basically small islands built out where the seismic and logs say to drill, surface conditions be damned.
In a nice, rare forest? Fine. In the middle of an impenetrable tumac taiga? Terrific. In the middle of a West Siberian wetland? Wonderful.
Knock down the local vegetation, bulldoze some access, built some ‘roads’ by dumping in local after load of sand and keep going until you reach a terminus. Then, build yourself a wooden-ring structure, typically hexagonal or octagonal, some 350-400 meters in diameter (or greatest axis), and dump forth the sand.
Eventually, your machinery will stop sinking and you’ll actually end up with an artificial drilling island out in the midst of the great Siberian swamps.
This has been going on for decades, so that travel across the oilfields of Western Siberia is accomplished by hopping from kyst to kyst. It’s always a jagged, ziggy-zaggy itinerary to travel from one field to another, but it sure as hell beats trying to muck yourself across in a Sherp (the ancestral pre-2012 version), Uaz 4WD van, or panje wagon.
Then you set three pairs of railroad tracks parallel on the kyst. The rig will sit on these tracks and be rolled from one drilling location to another, sequentially. Few wells will be drilled vertically, most are angled, inclined and deviated. A cross-section under a drilled-up kyst looks like an upside-down version of a total eclipse of the sun on a stick.
Or a frightened mop.
I was first flying into Tomsk as there were no direct flights to my destination at the time. Besides, I wanted to drop in on Dima while he was working; which was convenient as he was my field engineer for this little excursion.
We flopped down into Tomsk and waited until we taxied the requisite 15 km to the terminal. It’s probably not that long, but on these rumpety-bumpety airstrips, it sure feels like it’s at least that long. Good thing beverage service continues right up to the arrivals terminal; especially since I had the forethought to bring my own supplies; like the 2-liter vodka bottle.
What the hell were they going to do? Send me to Siberia?
We get to the terminal and here, they just drag everything in the cargo hold off the plane and dump it on the tarmac. You collect your gear here and then traipse into the terminal an onto ground transportation. Of course, I’m known around these parts and soon a porter with a luggage cart appears.
“Doctor Rock”, he says, “Welcome back to Tomsk. I trust you had a pleasant flight. Shall I gather your gear?”
“Orlov Kusma!”, I exclaim, “As I live and breathe. How are you? Yes. Please gather up the shiny boxes and let’s get out of this wind. It’s blowing my cigar ash everywhere.”
So, Orlov gathers up my 4 flying boxes and we hightail it into the terminal. It’s not that it’s that cold out, as I’m impervious to cold anyways; but it was blowing a gale and I could barely keep a cigar lit.
“Doctor”, Orlov continues as we walk down the aisle toward the lounge, “To the lounge?”
“Unless they’ve repealed the tradition of toasting a living landing in Tomsk airport.” I smiled back.
Orlov parks his cart with my luggage outside the lounge entrance. He knows no one in their right mind would mess with the shiny aluminum travel boxes, but he keeps an eye on them nonetheless.
“So, Or”, I say, “The usual?”
“Oh, yes, Doctor; if you please.” Orlov smiles in reply.
I’ve known Orlov Kusma for years ever since I first sound my way into Tomsk. He helped me out the initial time I landed here and stood out on the runway looking perplexed. He speaks fair English and helped me get where I was headed, even with my lousy Russian. I insisted on buying him a drink at the rundown and fairly decrepit airport lounge. In fact, he thinks that our patronage has helped restore it to its former glory that we’re enjoying today.
I opt for a hot espresso and 100 mls. of frozen Russkaya vodka. It’s a wintertime combination that’s tough to beat.
Orlov opts for a Baltica #7 and 100 mls. of frozen Russkaya vodka. It’s another wintertime combination that’s tough to beat.
Over a series of sunrisers, which is a bit of a sad pun as we’re so far north, we get no sun at all during the day. We’ll make up for it come summer when its 24-hour sun during White Nights.
I explain that I’m here to take a look at a couple of kysts that had appeared to have burned down. I’ll be meeting with Dima a bit later and we’ll drive out to the field office where we’ll bivouac for a couple of weeks until we can sort out the field mess.
“Doctor”, Orlov cautions, “Most people believe this to be a series of unfortunate accidents. But there are rumors of bandits afoot. They’re staging sabotage to extort money from the oil operating companies. ’Плати или умри’ ‘Pay or die’, has been seen at some of the ‘accident’ sites.”
“Orlov”, I reply between sips of my drink, “Most of this equipment is Soviet era. Hell, it’s all you can do to keep it from exploding on its own. It surely doesn’t need any external help. I think people have overactive imaginations around here. Especially in winter.”
“Perhaps, Doctor, perhaps”, Orlov cautions, “But still, it does pay to be on your guard. There are some Khanti here [local indigenous people] that hate oil companies. They might want to make retaliations.”
“Thank, Or, for the head’s up”, I reply, “I know a lot of the local Khantis, even a couple of tribal chiefs. I’ll grab a few cases of giggle water, go out, and make nice. We’ll have no such problems here on my watch.”
“Ah, yes. The famed Dr. Rocknocker Peace Protocol.”, Orlov laughs, “They get so happy when you arrive, they forget everything by the time you leave.”
“That’s the main idea.”, I reply, “Make them happy, then give them a hell of a headache once I’m gone. It makes an impact.”
Orlov laughs and shakes his head. There’s just no way to argue with logic like that.
Orlov secures a rental vehicle for me, an inevitable Uaz four-wheel drive van. It has sufficient room for all my gear, Dima’s gear and several cases of vodka and cognac. Plus room for the explosives I intend to draw from the local Army armory.
After loading up and tipping Orlov, I drive over to the oil company engineer’s shop. Dima is there today supervising the reconstruction and rehabilitation of several ESPs or Electronic Submersible Pumps. Looks like we’ll be dragging a couple of them along out to the field with us as well.
Dima greets me warmly and before long, we’re sitting in his office in the machine shop, feet up on the desk, smoking cigars and have celebratory greeting shots.
“So, Dima”, I smile, “Working hard, as usual, I see. Y’know, you let me bring the in the taper bearing races from Houston and you would be able to keep these things in the hole longer than a week.”
“Yeah, Doc, maybe”, Dima agrees, “But this way, it’s just job security. They hold together too long, and I’m out of a job.”
“Dima, the devout commie-capitalist.”, I snicker.
“’ Wherever and whenever for a buck’. That’s what a certain Doctor of Geology told me years ago.” Dima smiles back.
I thump the side of my neck in that age-old Russian gesture meaning “I need a new drink”, and tell Dima “Bless your memory”, as he pours me another potato juice and sok [juice] concoction.
Dima has a beautiful wife and three charming children back at his surprisingly nice house on the western outskirts of Moscow.
He works rotation for the oil company we’re both currently under contract to so that he’s 28 days in-country and 28 days back home. I have done a similar ‘rotation’, but since it turned into 45/14, and I was flying between Moscow, West Siberia, London, Amsterdam, Vladivostok, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, and Houston; I just had to stop.
I was away from family too long and decided to drag them with on my next little global excursion. One thing leads to another and here we are again, out in Western Siberia in winter and having drinks.
There is a circle of life hiding somewhere in all this.
Dima tells me we can go to the Rus Hostel where he’s staying on this tour.
“Excuse me?” I ask, “Hostel? Sorry, buddy. I don’t do camping rough or with backpackers since that unfortunate incident at Devil’s Tower all those years ago. Do you have a local phone book?”
I pull out my Osmiridium satellite phone and dial-up a local number.
Privet. Yes. It’s me again. How are you? Great. OK, I need a couple of rooms, suites if you have them. Right. A couple of nights should do. Yes, two. No, no need to be adjoined. Yes. Yes. Yes. Oh, hell, yes. No, I’m already in town and will be driving over in what?” I look to Dima…” a couple of hours. When? You’ll start Happy Hour early? All righty, then. We’ll be there by five. Yes, I have a spare box. See you soon Timoshkin. Cheers.”
“There, done”, I said, “We have two suites at the Hotel Siberia.”
“Whoa”, Dima exclaims, “You really went all out…”
Dima was being heavily sarcastic.
“Hell, Dima”, I said, “They know us there. We get great rates as we probably saved them from going under when the wall fell. Everyone knows us there and we are treated like royalty. Besides, they’ve really ramped the place up in the last few years. You’re not going to recognize the old place.”
Dima remained skeptical.
We went to the hostel after work and collected Dima’s kit, then we motored the 5 minutes over to the Hotel Siberia.
The hotel was old. Very old. Like the 1880s old.
“Doctor Rock!”, Yakimov Aleksandr, the proprietor of the hotel shouts, “Dima! It is so good to have you back. We have your rooms ready, here are your keys. Happy Hour can now begin!”
We go to grab our bags, but they’re already gone. Yakimov ushers us into the newly renovated lounge and bids us to sit. It’s all done in tasteful woodgrain and teal, with slightly fruity overtones of orange and brass thrown in for good measure. At least all the beer pumps are freshly polished and cheerily Western-looking with their Cyrillic placards boasting what each has to offer.
We partake of some Anchor drafts from St. Petersburg and the inevitable Baikal #1-9; each getting darker as you go. Speaking of dark, it’s pitch black outside and probably all of 1630 in the afternoon. White nights are tough to deal with, but 24 hours of dark send one’s Circadian rhythms into a real tailspin. Best have another couple of beers and shots, just to ensure slumber during this vexatious period.
The next morning, if one can call it that, Dima and I are having a hearty breakfast of powdered eggs omelets with freeze-dried shallots, mushrooms and dried ham and or bacon; at least I think it’s meat and I guess it might be pork. Over coffee and cigars, as we’re now on field time, and not punching any timeclocks; we make our day’s plans.
First. Read the paper. Then coffee and cigars.
Then, we make certain our gear is either properly stored in the van. We make a quick inventory to see what we’ve forgotten.
Logistics run in town to fill up on our necessities. Water, food, beer, vodka. The absolute necessities. It’s amazing how dry it is out here in the wintertime. Humidity is down to less than 10% and it’s like being in a cold, arid desert. Staying hydrated is a must. That’s no joke.
We jam a couple of ESPs into the van that we’ll deliver once we get to the field. Good thing the Uaz has a lot of open room. Few creature comforts, but one hell of a lot of open space. It’s the perfect vehicular symbol for Siberia.
Then, drop by the local Army base. We have our papers for taking delivery of various forms of explosives, but that will have to wait until our return from our initial reconnaissance. Best to first drop by, and let them know what we’re up to and what they’re in for.
Gas up the Uaz, and point it generally north by north-east. Head out to the field.
So, that’s where we’re headed now. Bouncing our way merrily down the energetic end-to-end sheets of concrete that make up a road out in these parts. Sort of like the automotive version of a railroad track. Instead of metal rails laid end to end, it’s 3x4 meter sheets of concrete laid on a typically poorly-prepared roadbed.
Each sheet of concrete gets its own orientation, so it makes for an enthusiastic, but nowhere near a relaxing drive. I take the first shift and drive until I can no longer feel what’s left of my hands. Dima takes over and we switch off every couple of hours. Good thing there’s not much traffic so it’s, jocularly, smooth sailing.
We arrive in the field area and it’s still another 8-kilometer drive down the rig road. The kyst here was just finishing up drilling, as it still had the rig on location. Once drilled up, the rig is literally cut into sections, dismantled, trucked to the next location, and rebuilt.
That usually leaves 18 pump jacks nodding merrily along, as there’s typically not enough reservoir energy to flow these wells. There’s also a plumber’s wet-dream of surface gathering piping and manifolds, along with a selection of oil storage tanks. The oil will be hooked up to pipeline sometime in the future, but for now, it’s trucked out by the semi-tanker load on a thrice-weekly basis.
Here, as best as we can reconstruct the situation, is what happened. Due to human error, there was a fire in one of the flow streams of oil. A flowline got cut, or a fitting broke, or something of that sort occurred. Siberian crude is light, sweet, i.e., low sulfur, and full of volatiles. Oil pooled around the kyst and a spark from a welder’s torch, it appears, ignited the conflagration. The entire 17 pump jacks were a total loss as was the rig and all storage facilities.
The pumping or sometimes flowing wells all have what’s called an SSSV or SubSea Safety Valve immediately below the pumping machinations of the completions tubing. It’s a fancy-dancy oilfield name for a check valve. Something goes crazy topsides, the valve shuts the well in, preventing any further flow of oil, gas, or water to surface. That way, if there is a fire, only the topside produced oil is consumed and the fire will more or less quickly burn itself out.
Unfortunately, there were also three 50,000 barrel oil tanks on site. These were 3 production-days full of oil and waiting to be milked by the resident oil haulage trucking firm. Seems the driver was suffering a bad case of Bottle Fatigue and sort of missed this location for a week or so. That means the tanks were as full as possible and the kyst was automatically shut-in as there was nowhere to put any more produced oil. It was supposed to be a fail-safe system, but as most automatic systems, it tends to work sort of well, most of the time. Here, it shut in the field when the storage tanks registered 110% full; ostensibly to account for shrinkage.
The result? Live oil gushed out of the tanks and everywhere on the ground.
But that didn’t stop the rig haulers. Even with oil slopped all over the ground, in some places multiple centimeters deep, they had a job to do. Cut down the drilling rig, load it up, and truck it over to the next location.
Cut the rig apart? Yep. With oxy-acetylene cutting torches. Arky-sparky oxy-acetylene cutting torches.
Well, no one was killed but the kyst, the separators, the flowline, the storage tanks, a drilling rig, and 17 pump jacks were a total loss.
Plus, there were about probably 100,000 barrels of heavily contaminated oil pooled around the kyst on the solidly frozen ground.
Here’s a neat little side note: back in the ‘bad old days’ of Soviet oil production, they actually both believed and relied upon automated systems. They would string shitty, low-carbon, easily corrasible and corrodible line pipe across the frozen lakes, marshes and swamps of the area. Through these would flow oil, gas, and water from many, many kysts to a centralized collection and treatment facility.
The Soviets were just nutty about centralized collectivization.
Many times due to metallurgical crystallization of the pipe due to the extreme cold weather, a flowline pipe would break way the fuck out in the middle of nowhere; usually in the middle of the night. Field engineers would sober up, eventually note the loss of line pressure, typically after a week or two, and shut that line in.
In the meantime, hundreds of thousands upon thousands of barrels of light, volatile crude would have flowed out onto the landscape. As a fluid, it would flow to occupy the lowest point, typically that atop a frozen body of water. Remember, it was -450C out here for the most part.
The oil would pool on top of the lake, swamp or slough, and pile up as it got colder and more viscous. It would then sit there until the spring thaw.
As the weather warmed, the water ice under the oil would thaw. Now the oil, being less dense than water, would still sit atop the now liquid waters of the ponds, lake or swamp. As the weather warmed, more water ice would melt and it would be forced out by the overlying less dense, but still rather heavy, oil.
In this way, Soviet science had perfected a way of building lakes of crude oil at the surface.
Yes, it was, and still is, an environmental nightmare.
And we had a smaller version surrounding our kyst.
OK, so here’s the deal. We needed to get rid of all that oily, burned-out iron. One rig, 17 pump jacks, flowlines, choke manifolds, remains of storage tanks…it was one hell of a lot of shitty scrap steel.
Plus, we had to try and conserve the wellheads. They appeared to be in good nick, as they had shear-zones built-in for just such emergencies. The pump jacks would fall over in windstorms, thunderstorms, accidents, fires, earthquakes, and the like. A piece of specially prepared pipe would shear off and seal in the well, retaining the wellhead. This bit of engineering forethought prevented the re-drilling of countless oil wells over the decades.
It would all have to be done before the spring thaw, so we had to move quickly. It’s going to require the assembly and activation of hundreds of workers, trucks, bulldozers, containers for the scrapped iron, and dragging it out of here to a yard for recycling. It’s not an Augean Task; as Hercules would have looked at this burned out, oily mess shrugged his substantial shoulders and hauled ass to another tale.
First, though, the oil had to be dealt with. We start scrapping iron out here, one good spark, and WHOOSH!, instant Siberian bar-be-que. But how to accomplish this? It had to be moved away from the work area and disposed of, one way or another. It was a time for a deep ponder.
However, it was getting late and we needed to get over to the oil company headquarters. That’s where we’d be spending our nights and conference times. Right now, we needed both.
It was probably 250 kilometers back to Tomsk, but only 35 to the oil company HQ and their barracks for visiting dignitaries. It would just have to do for us as well.
We wheel into the company HQ lot and immediately a security guard rousts us and thinks that he can, by dint of his office, either intimidate us or push us around. It’s been a long fucking day, full of oil, burnt steel and -450C weather with a lot of wind. I don’t mind the cold, but the wind plays hod with eyesight and tends to lower the temperature effectively that everything semi-solid turns total solid, with icicles.
We needed strong drink, fine cigars, and a well-lit place to plan our strategy. Dima, being near 2 meters tall and all of 75 kilos needed warmth as well. Hell, at this point, I was so tired, I could have curled up in a snowbank and slept happily until morning.
But Comrade Toerag, the ex-KGB agent turned Siberian security guard was having none of this.
“Who are you? Why are you here? What are you doing? Where are your papers?” he shouted in machine-gun cadence Russian.
I looked at Dima.
“You want to handle this wiggler or should we just put him into low Earth orbit?” I asked.
“I’ll handle this!” Dima shouted, filled with righteous indignation.
«Разве вы не знаете, кто это? Это доктор Рокнокер, очень уважаемый и известный западный ученый. Этот человек – THE MOTHERFUCKING PRO FROM DOVER, и у вас есть смелость остановить нас и помешать нашему входу?»” Dima shouted.
I tried to follow, but once he hit the Pro from Dover section, I knew he was on a roll.
The guard visibly shrank and began his apologies. He should have politely asked for our papers. But he didn’t, Dima was cold, cranky and in a mood; so he took the brunt of that attack.
We were allowed entrance and found our way to Dr. Bolotistyy, the General Director’s office.
The receptionist there was not impressed with Dima’s irritability, nor my Hawaiian shirt, shorts, cigar, and field boots in the dead of winter. But then she does glimpse enough of our costumes to take a full look, and her reaction indicates clearly that she is not prepared for such unkempt, unprofessional-looking men.
“Hey, you can't go in there! Who are you?” she insists.
“I'm the Pro from Dover and this is my favorite caddie.” I calmly reply.
“Well, you can't go in. Not till you tell me your business and I check with Dr. Bolotistyy’s office.” She continues to insist.
“Well, if you must know...” I say.
Dima adds: “Hold it. If this personal assistant enforces her own orders. I'm ready to take her on. Anxious. Single combat.”
He moves toward the girl, who holds her ground staunchly until they are almost in contact. Then she takes a step back and continues to take one step backward for each one of his in her direction. When they get close to the door, her resistance collapses entirely and she scurries back to her seat at the desk, where she grabs the phone as Dima and I march through the door.
“Well”, I say, “At least now they know we’re here.”
We’re in Dr. Bolotistyy’s office, feet up on the desk, reading last month’s Oilman Magazine and smoking cigars; Dima enjoying the steam heat of the good Doctor’s office.
Dr. Bolotistyy finally arrives, harrumphs at out pedal placement yet is very pleased to see both of us.
“Dr. Rock, Dima”, he says, after shaking hands, “We are glad you are here. We are so short of support people, we’d never get to that fire. It’d be summer and even more of a mess. We are so glad you have arrived.”
“You said that.”, I remarked, “There’s something else here besides just cleaning up the mess isn’t there?”
“Ah, well, yes,”, Dr. Bolotistyy remarks, “The Western method of not allowing for boltovnya, [chit-chat]. Very good. Very well. Yes, as you surmised. We are in deep with the local indigenous population. They are most unhappy with us. They can raise enough rancor to shut us down in certain areas; thanks to the reforms we’ve ‘enjoyed’ since the change.”
“Reforms” meaning giving the locals some say in how their native lands are being raped.
“Rancor” meaning raising a big enough stink that the Ministries back in Moscow just shut down operations until they get a chance to review the grievances, which could literally take years.
I’m seen as a mediator as I know the heads of all the local tribes of indigenous peoples. I’ve always dealt with them fairly and tried to get them what they deserved. They knew I wasn’t in the pocket of the drillers, service companies, producers or ministries. I was an independent adjudicator, beholden to none, so my pronouncements and judgments were considered fair and impartial.
If there were some that were taking the law into their own hands, I’d ferret them out as well and deliver them to the proper authorities. I may be Dr. Nice Guy, but fucking around and blowing up oil facilities is slightly beyond the pale. You’re off to the Gulag, or the modern equivalent, Sonny Ivan.
If that meant the local oil company had to drill a couple of water wells for the locals, well, so be it. If it meant they had to buy a couple of tractors or pay for a bunch of dead reindeer, so be that as well.
The oil company knew I’d be able to fix the situation, even though it might cost a few rubles. The locals knew I was fair and wasn’t out to screw them, but I wasn’t out to hose the oil company either. I attempted to be scrupulously fair, and both sides respected that.
“So, Dr. Bolotistyy”, I asked, “Where do we go from here?”
Dr. Bolotistyy asks if we’d meet with the two sore afflicted tribal chiefs, Yoshchkigi, and Vashchkigi. They would redress their grievances, then I’d be expected to appease them and get the oil company back on track.
I knew Yoshchkigi and Vashchkigi from years back, right after the fall of the wall. A father and son team that were the respective heads of tribes in and around the immediate oil field area. They were pushed around by the Soviet Machine pre-1991, but things have improved markedly for them since.
As a bit of history, the Khanty are a Ugrian indigenous people living in Khanty–Mansi Autonomous Okrug, a region historically known as "Yugra" in Russia, together with the Mansi. In the autonomous okrug, the Khanty and Mansi languages are given co-official status with Russian. In the latest Census, 31,000 persons identified themselves as Khanty in the Tyumen Oblast, who were living in Khanty–Mansi Autonomous Okrug and in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. There were member residents of neighboring Tomsk Oblast, and the Komi Republic.
They were semi-nomadic reindeer herders and farmers, who have given over to a more sedentary life, often still living in traditional chum, or teepee-style tents. They subsist off the land; hunting, fishing, gathering and such.
As such, they are keenly aware of environmental concerns and raise a lot of grief anytime an oil producer, or any sort of industrialized local concern starts tearing up their neighborhood.
It was decided that Dima and I would meet with the Chiefs out on location as this was the place where there existed the greatest potential for environmental despoilment. It would be the place I’d assuage their fears and make nice between both concerned parties.
Dr. Bolotistyy said he’d make the arrangements and called for his personal assistant. She came into the office expecting to see us eviscerated for having acted as we did previously. She was more than a little surprised to see me lean over to Dr. Bolotistyy’s humidor and extract several of his precious cigars. She was even more amazed that Dr. Bolotistyy allowed me to do so.
We stayed and chatted with Dr. Bolotistyy about our plans with the tribal chiefs. I told him on no uncertain terms that this was my sole matter and he should just concern himself with the other operational aspects of running a large, semi-national oil company. Besides, it was getting late and Dima and I had neither dinner nor drinks since we’ve arrived.
Dr. Bolotistyy readily agreed and called to the “Red Room”, which was the Executive Dining Room created for this classless society way back in the early days of oil extraction in Western Siberia, back in the 1950’s. They were alerted to our imminent arrival and Dr. Bolotistyy asked if several lower-echelon managers and other time-servers could join us for dinner. Evidently, they had expressed interest in meeting me and Dima; and besides, it’s not often one gets invited to dinner in the company “Red Room”.
It was a fixed menu sort of catering affair, I was told on our way to the lounge. Our bags had already been taken from the Uaz, which itself had been moved underground to parking in the steam-heated garage. They also removed the ESPs we were carrying, sending them out already to their field addresses. Our luggage was already in our “Executive Rooms” on the top floor of the 16 story oil company building.
I could get used to this ‘classless society’ treatment.
We had the options of poultry, fish or ‘meat’ for dinner. With the entrée, there would be some form of vegetables, potatoes, which are considered a necessity and not a vegetable, fresh bakery, a soup course, borscht of course. Finally. There would be some sort of insanely sweet collation for afters. Say what you will, but the Russians do love their sweets.
Drinks would include still and bubble water, coffee, tea, sok [juice] of several varieties, beer, vodka, cognac and sweet champagne as several of the middle-managers joining us were female.
No, that’s not sexist. They prefer sweet champagne over the harder spirits, and that’s an observed fact. I couldn’t nor wouldn’t choke down that stuff even at gunpoint.
We arrive at the “Red Room”, and as distinguished guests, we were allowed, nay, ordered, to enter first. Dima and I knew our etiquette, so I took the head of the table on one end, and Dima did likewise on the other.
Protocol, my ass. I read your book, Conde Nast, you magnificent bastard.
I opted for ‘meat’, which was risky. It could have been beef, lamb, mutton, veal, pork, goat, reindeer, venison, moose, bear, or horse. Dima opted for fish and the rest did whatever struck there fancy. I think one ordered lasagna.
Our opulent, and huge table, was covered with a very handsome Khanty-Mansisk tablecloth; one of woven, dyed reindeer fur. It was indeed fetching and unusual. In front of everyone was a series of plates, glasses, flatware, and a ½ liter bottle each of mineral water, sparkling and still, vodka, cognac, and beer. The table was set with candelabra with fine sputtering beeswax candles, a couple of very nice, albeit fake given the time of year, floral arrangements, and multitudinous ashtrays, each with their own box of oil company branded matches.
Yeah, this was going to take a while.
Finally after everyone was arrived and settled, Dr. Bolotistyy to my immediate right, everyone was smoking and having surreptitious drinks as that would have violated decorum of done overtly. Water was fine, due to the low humidity, but alcohol waited for the Tamandar. And the Tamandar this evening was Dr. Bolotistyy.
I snuck out of that by complaining of fatigue and a sore throat after my long travels.
After all the bottles were returned to their pristine state, orders for dinner were taken.
Immediately after that, Dr. Bolotistyy cracked the first, of many, bottles of vodka and expected everyone else at the table to follow suit. Everyone did, most with vodka, some with cognac and a few with champagne.
Dr. Bolotistyy stood and began his first toast. He went on and on about mutual East-West relations and how the West was here to help and aid a “normal evolutionary pathway with something more revolutionary: explosives!”
Yeah, my reputation proceeds me. Dr. Bolotistyy was trying to garner brownie points all round by referencing evolution, revolution, and taking an off-handed jab at the character who flew some millions of miles to help them out in their time of need.
In other words, it was the usual setup.
If a Russian really liked and respected you, he’d unload upon you a whole series of left-handed compliments, jabs, oblique insults, and serial abuses on your behalf during the toast.
If he only barely tolerated you, he’d be as proper as Carrie Nation at a WCTU meeting.
It was a whole laughing series of snorts about violent Americans who fix things by blowing them up, who travel to do fieldwork in shorts and incredibly awful Hawaiian shirts in the dead of winter, smoke huge capitalistic cigars, wear John Wayne “Bang, Bang!” hats, [my field Stetson], and who don’t know enough to first remove their hand when someone is trying to make up a joint of pipe on the rig with a power tong.”
That last one was really sort of pushing the envelope. Russians don’t care for personal deformities any more than the next bunch, but Dr. Bolotistyy thought he knew me well enough as a person and oilman that I’d just laugh it off. At least, that’s what he hoped.
It was a full 100 milliliter bottoms-up toast. He was hoping that might dull the sneer he thought I might be forming. It didn’t hurt…
As per the usual procedure, it next fell to me to make a toast. We’d work around the mushroom, goat cheese, and green leafy something-or-other salad that had arrived during his tribute.
I stood up, and with a huge smile, uncorked my vodka bottle and emptied fully half into my glass. I would have gone whole-hog, but it was only a 250 ml. tumbler. I also made certain my cigar was lit and fully fuming.
By law, everyone else at the table had to copy my lead with their own personal favorite tipple, but not water, that’s taboo; and listen intently as I answer Dr. Bolotistyy’s toast.
Game on, motherfucker.
To be continued…
submitted by Rocknocker to Rocknocker

Confessions from a Lifetime of Resurrection

Mr. Black’s Bentley Mulsanne pulled in through the cemetery gates as the minutes ticked toward midnight.
Right on time, I thought, stepping out of my humble Honda Civic. It’s nothing fancy, but it gets the job done.
I couldn’t help admiring the Bentley as it crawled over the gravel pathway. Moonlight shined off the freshly waxed paint. The tinted windows provided the privacy a man such as Mr. Black would require while escorted around the city. Although, if you were looking to steal a car, the brand alone would attract car thieves’ attention. Hence, Mr. Black always traveled with a motorcade of security.
Not on this night, though. Mr. Black’s security detail hid among the silent trees and solemn gravestones. Five hired guns were ready to take me out should I make any threatening gestures or actions toward the man who signs off on their paychecks.
As the Mulsanne parked next to my humble vehicle, I realized I should have asked triple my fee. It wouldn’t have made a difference to the man. He’d hardly recognize it if it left his bank account. Although, I could have been wrong about that. The filthy rich aren’t filthy rich because they don’t pay attention to their cash. Too late now. Next session, I’d increase my fee. There’s always a next session.
The chauffeur stepped out of the car, dressed exactly how you’d expect he would - full black suit with a tie and wearing a funny little cap on his head to make him look more important and official than his position in life truly granted him. He was just another working man crushed under the loafers of an oligarch - just like me and just like you. There was a difference between the two of us, though. This young man itched for the opportunity to use the handgun hidden beneath his suit jacket. On the other hand, I did not desire to see him use it, especially on me.
The young chauffeur kept his cold, blue eyes honed on me for the slightest twitch or movement, indicating danger to his employer. I smiled at the young man and waved to him as Mr. Black studied me from behind tinted windows. Being how I’d done this so many times before, I knew what was going on in his mind:
Why the hell am I out here?
Is this really worth the money?
Is it too late to turn back now?
Can this guy really bring back the dead?
The typical questions you ask yourself when you’re out in the middle of the cemetery, at night, on the outskirts of the city. These last moments of doubt were the dissolution of the healthy skepticism people tend to possess. Mr. Black wouldn’t have bothered to come if he didn’t believe it were possible. Time is money, and Mr. Black’s was worth a fortune.
I’d certainly been vetted. My references were flawless - people from his own social circle recommended me to others of affluence. An intensive background check yielded nothing of importance. It also didn’t hurt to send a private investigator to follow me around for a couple of weeks before our meeting. Having the time to prepare and plan for the meeting, his security team had positioned operatives around the cemetery to protect him in case things went south.
Mr. Black knocked on the window, signaling for the chauffeur to perform his duties. The young man opened the door and out stepped Mr. Black, a middle-aged man dressed in a gray business suit, which probably costs more than most people made in a year. His five hundred dollar haircut left his salt and pepper colored hair without a single strand out of place. He scowled as he stepped out of the luxury vehicle. His entire demeanor showed an overly excessive amount of annoyance when, in truth, the man was fearful.
He wasn’t accustomed to having terms dictated to him as I have done. He didn’t like having to follow someone else’s rules, especially someone he saw as beneath him. Whether it was my brown skin reminding him of the cleaning lady or because I lacked a significant amount of green in my bank account, I didn’t know. I didn’t care. As long as the price was right, I did the job, and I think Mr. Black felt the same.
“Mr. Black, it is a pleasure to finally meet you,” I greeted, and extended my hand. Of course, he didn’t take it. I wasn’t his equal. You don’t shake hands with the person who serves your food at McDonald’s. You don’t shake hands with a janitor who cleans your office. You don’t shake hands with the resurrectionist tasked with bringing your ex-wife back from the dead. I clicked my tongue and took my hand back.
To his credit, Mr. Black managed to make himself look as if he’d been distracted rather than being rude. He looked over his shoulder around the empty cemetery. It was a decent act. His private investigator had already let him know the only person there was me along with his crew.
“How can I be certain this is going to work? How do I know that as soon as you receive payment, I won’t get a bullet to the skull?” Mr. Black asked.
“There’s no need to worry, sir. I came alone, unarmed, and ready to serve, as we agreed upon,” I said. “Plus, I have a reputation to uphold, and I’d like to get your business again after tonight,” I replied with a smile.
“My chauffeur will be checking you,” Mr. Black stated. The young man stepped in front of Mr. Black and motioned to raise my arms to my sides. I complied with the frisk and left both men satisfied I wasn’t armed and dangerous. At least, as far as they knew, I wasn’t dangerous. I didn’t need guns, knives, or explosives to make people hurt, but I wasn’t about to let them know that.
“Payment comes after we’re finished. You may leave it with your chauffeur for safekeeping. If you are left unsatisfied, which I guarantee you won’t, then there’s no need to worry. You can leave, and you’ll never see me again,” I replied. It was meant to reassure him. However, in my experience, no one is ever reassured until the desired results are delivered.
“You should know, I will have eyes watching you the entire time,” Mr. Black threatened. “If you do something out of line, these men are instructed to kill you.”
He looked to the chauffeur who flashed the handgun to show he meant business.
“In the spirit of not wasting anyone’s time here, let’s head into the mausoleum, and let’s get this started,” I said. “I just need to get my bag, and I’m sure you’re going to want to check this too.”
As I turned around to open the car door, I felt the cold steel of the chauffeur’s handgun press up against the side of my head.
“Damned right, I’m going to check the fucking bag,” the chauffeur said. He’d closed the gap between us faster than I anticipated.
“Sure, amigo,” I replied. He shoved me to the side toward the driver’s side door. “Fetch my bag, Fido.”
The chauffeur grunted as he opened the car door and yanked my plastic shopping bag out. The only items inside it were the tools I needed for the resurrection - a bottle of Agua de Florida (Florida Water), invisible ink markers, and a UV light. The Agua de Florida wasn’t the stuff you can buy at a botanica. This was something a bit more “mystical” for lack of a better word.
“He’s all clear. Nothing, but some water in a bottle, a couple of markers, and a UV light,,” the chauffeur announced.
“Can we please get going now?” I asked. “We’ve lost a lot of time and midnight almost here. We might miss our window.”
“After you,” Mr. Black said and allowed me to lead him. The chauffeur followed closely behind.
“He cannot be there,” I said to Mr. Black pointing to the chauffeur. “This isn’t for his eyes.”
The chauffeur stepped ahead and said, “No way. I’m with Mr. Black like white on rice.”
“It’s okay, Windsor. Stay with the car,” Mr. Black said. The chauffeur scowled, uncomfortable with the idea of leaving his boss with some random hooligan.
“You sure?” Windsor asked.
“Positive. Let’s get going,” Mr. Black said and started walking toward the mausoleum where his ex-wife was laid to rest.
“So, what should I expect?” Mr. Black asked as we stood outside the mausoleum.
“It’s pretty simple. If everything’s been done according to my instructions, your wife should have been exhumed. Once we’re there, you’re going to stand in the corner and watch me do my thing. Don’t get in my way until I tell you it’s okay. When I’m done, I’ll give you your privacy. Once you’re finished, I’ll come in and put her back to rest. Have your people come back and set her into the grave once more. Plain and simple,” I explained.
Mr. Black exhaled and nodded. He signaled for me to enter ahead of him, and I complied.
Inside the masoleum, everything changed. The stillness and silence of the cemetery felt amplified.. With the door shut behind us, it felt even more solitary and oppressively silent. It was the soundless peace only the dead could endure. Mr. Black buttoned his suit as the chill of the grave rippled upon his spine.
At the center of the chamber, Mrs. Black lay under a white sheet on a full-sized bed set. It wasn’t exactly as I had instructed, but it wouldn’t make a difference to the end result. At least, Mrs. Black would be comfortable upon her return.
Standing next to the corpse, I glanced at my watch and realized we were going to be cutting it close.
“Mr. Black, please confirm the person beneath the sheet is actually your wife,” I requested. While it isn’t part of the process, it’s good to make sure the right person was exhumed. Mr. Black lifted the sheet from the corpse and revealed Mrs. Black’s face. She was younger than Mr. Black by several decades. She was in her late twenties, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if she still got asked for identification before entering a bar. In photographs I’d seen of her in life, Mrs. Black had big brown eyes, which never reflected her smiles. Her small chin, plump cheeks, and tiny, pointed nose were what made her a true baby faced woman.
All in all, Mrs. Black looked as if she’d been taking a nap in a graveyard and not someone who’d been dead for several days. The corpse was still so fresh, the stench of decay had not yet grown pungent. It was there, but tolerable. “This is her,” Mr. Black confirmed. His voice cracked. Redness filled his eyes. He ran his fingers through her hair as dark as the night itself and touched the side of her cheeks, pale as December snow.
“Please stand in the corner over there, and let’s get started,” I requested. Mr. Black complied immediately. He didn’t want to show his emotions in front of me. I wouldn’t have judged. It’s not a sign of weakness.
Removing the items from the plastic bag, I started off with the Agua de Florida (Flo-ree-da). As I said before, this wasn’t the stuff you found in the Santeria stores in the city. This water was imbued with unique properties from a pond located in the swamplands of Florida. If I were to place a name on it, I’d say it’s water from the legendary Fountain of Youth. However, there are plenty of these ponds around the world. Many remain undiscovered deep in the Amazon rainforest, naturally occurring grottos, and other hard to reach places around the planet. The truth is pollution and climate change has made these spots rare as the waters are continuously contaminated, or their sources go dry.
Parting her lips, I placed the bottle into her mouth and dribbled a bit of the Agua de Florida down her throat. While this alone wouldn’t bring her to life, it would assist with temporarily reversing the damage done to her body by decay. It’s also good for warding off sicknesses and disease, maintaining youth, and it does wonders when boiling pasta. Trust me.
Next, I used the invisible ink marker to draw the arcane symbols needed to draw the lifeforce back into Mrs. Black. This is where the magical aspect truly happens. These symbols are in a language that I do not believe came from this planet. I’m not saying it’s alien. It’s not based on any language on the historical record. Considering the next step in the process, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a divine language. Once I finished drawing the symbols, I set the UV light close to the body and turned it on. The symbols on Mrs. Black immediately illuminated.
The atmosphere of the mausoleum changed. There was electricity in the air. The acrid stretch of ozone filled my nose. The temperature rose, eliminating the chill of the grave. Mr. Black tensed up as he felt the changes himself. This is always the moment where people start to leave their doubts behind when it comes to my services. With the Agua de Florida restoring the physical body and the arcane symbols bringing back the lifeforce, the last ingredient needed to bring back Mrs. Black resided within my mind.
When Jesus resurrected Lazarus from the dead, according to the Bible, Jesus’ exact words were “Lazarus, come forth” and then Lazarus walked out of the cave. This cannot be true. Burial in those days required the bodies to be wrapped in strips of cloth binding the limbs to keep them sturdy. Once the corpses deteriorated away, the families would retrieve the bones to then place in a slot on the wall. Due to this process, Lazarus wouldn’t have been able to come out of the cave without help.
The truth is that Jesus marched into the cave and found Lazarus’s corpse. He kneeled beside the body and whispered divine words into his ears—words which the Bible wouldn’t include for fear of others bringing the dead back to life. Fortunately, Lazarus had two sisters, Mary and Martha, who convinced Lazarus to pass on the words to them. Of course, Lazarus has children. Mary and Marth had children as well. The divine words of resurrection passed from generation to generation. Over time, the words lost their power. So far removed from their diving origin, they became meaningless alone. Mrs. Black could return to the mortal plane with the accompanying items I provided and those whispered words long forgotten.
“Okay, this is it. Once I whisper into her ear, it’ll be a minute or two before she comes back. I’ll leave you alone with her. Just know, returning to life can be a little jarring. Allow her a moment or two to regain her composure. When you’re ready to leave, turn off the UV light, and Mrs. Black should return to death shortly. Meet me outside, and we’re all done up. Have your goons come and return her to her resting place,” I explained.
Leaning over the corpse, I whispered into her ears the words which Jesus spoke to Lazarus hundreds of years ago. Warmth radiated from the body. The pale flesh-colored as the heart pumped reinvigorated blood through the body. Her eyes twitched as the electrical sparks awakened within her dormant brain. The corpse stirred to life as the soul of Mrs. Black returned to its earthly vessel.
“I’ll be outside,” I told Mr. Black, as I left the mausoleum. “I won’t be too far, though. Just in case anything should happen.”
He nodded to me as he tried to pick his jaw up off the floor. Seeing their expressions of disbelief never gets old. Mr. Black, a man of advanced age, vast experience, and incalculable wealth, was visibly stunned. I’d certainly earned my fee. I wouldn’t be keeping most of it, though. There’s literally a price to pay for being able to perform this modern-day miracle.
Rounding my way out the door, I shut it behind me and then opened it to allow myself to hear what was happening. While this may seem as if it was an invasion of privacy, it’s merely to ensure nothing goes wrong during the resurrection process. On occasion, there are mishaps and disasters. This isn’t a perfect science. Dealing with the supernatural can often lead to unexpected results. For example, Mrs. Black’s soul may not wish to return to the body. When this happens, it leaves an open vessel available to whatever wishes to pass into our mortal plane. As you can imagine, this leaves the door open for malevolent beings to inhabit the corpse.
Lucky for us, this isn’t that much of a big deal. The corpse can only be reanimated for a short while. It’s barely enough time to allow them to do much damage in our world. Sure, the demonic creature can say a lot of hurtful things and tell us about their time in Hell and other unpleasant places, but that’s nothing more than just telling it to shut up and turning off the UV light. Unfortunately, I cannot charge when this happens.
In Mr. Black’s case, I wish it was merely a demon that came through. This would have been a lesser disturbance in the world. I heard Mrs. Black take a deep gasp of air from my position outside the door. Mr. Black gasped as well in total shock. Then it went silent.
In my line of business, the living often seek the company of the dead for their own personal reasons. People often seek closure with loved ones. Forgiveness for meaningless trespasses and perceived slights. Information about their will or where they might have left a trunk full of money buried. I’ve even dealt with a gentleman who wanted to finish a fucking chess game with a dead man. Regardless of the reasons or circumstances, there’s always been a bit of a script when it comes to the resurrection.
The shock of seeing a loved one come back is often too much for some people to bear at first. There’s always a chance it can drive the living person insane to see this apparent contradiction to the natural order and balance of life. In previous situations, I’ve had my clients faint. Some have run away from the corpse. Others panicked and screamed until either myself or the corpse managed to knock some sense into them.
Never in my years of service had I ever heard the corpse be the one to scream upon realizing who was responsible for bringing them back to life. Mrs. Black roared like a banshee queen. It echoed through the mausoleum, out into the cemetery, destroying the dead's peace and serenity. The swell of electric energy and lifeforce made the lights of the Bentley flicker. My mouth filled with a warm, salty taste that nauseated me.
When Mrs. Black’s screaming broke and turned into hysterical, panicked cries for help, my first instinct was to run back into the crypt and see what was happening. Mr. Black’s laughter stopped me dead in my tracks and sent a chill through my heart. I swallowed hard to stop the vomit from coming out, barreled through the doors, and stopped short of entering the area where the couple were.
“What now?” Mr. Black called out.
“It’s me. Are you okay there, Mrs. Black?” I asked the living corpse.
“She’s fine. Please give me time alone with my wife,” Mr. Black responded. Her cries were muffled as if he held her mouth shut.
Usually, it wasn’t my business what happens between the living and dead. In this case, I had to interfere. Part of my business and my ability to perform these resurrections are having a certain level of respect for the dead and the living. There’s a karmic and cosmic balance I must maintain to continue bringing the dead back to life. In death, there is eternal peace, at least for those who genuinely deserve it. Returning someone to life, only to have the deceased suffer, is a karmic disaster. Mrs. Black needed to return to the dead. Mr. Black’s money be damned.
Upon entering the chamber, on the mattress laid Mrs. Black with a ball gag in her mouth. With the sheet pushed aside, I saw cuts and burn marks across the nude corpse that told the story of her suffering at the end of her life. An assortment of tools, knives, and other instruments meant to torture, maim, and dismember laid on the bed next to her legs. They must have been hidden beneath the sheet. Mrs. Black turned her head in my direction and tried to scream.
“What are you doing here? This is my time. Get out!” Mr. Black shouted. In his hand, there was a hacksaw. It was buried deep in the meaty flesh of Mrs. Black’s thigh. The resurrected woman’s eyes pleaded for help.
“Mr. Black, if you’d have told me you wanted her back, for this reason, I would have done this differently,” I said, already knowing how I was going to fix it.
“She’s here. That’s all I wanted. Now, go away,” Mr. Black replied and grabbed the hacksaw. He yanked it across her leg - sending a fresh stream of cries from Mrs. Black.
“Hear me out, sir,” I said. Mr. Black stopped chopping off the leg and scoffed in frustration. “If you want to keep her for longer, for triple the fee, I can tie her lifeforce to yours.”
“What does that even mean?” Mr. Black asked. His annoyance with me was reaching its limit.
“It means that for as long as you’re alive, she’ll also stay alive as well,” I explained. “You can do as you wish with her until your dying day. That’s the beauty of it. As soon as you pass, she goes with you.”
I laid it out on the table, hoping the man took the bait. To his credit, Mr. Black, with all the years of experience in making business deals, had an excellent poker face. I couldn’t tell which way he leaned. Who knew if he just wanted one last hurrah with Mrs. Black or if this is something he’d like to continue indefinitely?
When a smile broke out across his face, and I knew I’d won him over. To possess Mrs. Black, even after her death, is something he couldn’t pass up. She was another possession to him like the Bentley or his money. Who knows what else he could have done to other people in the past? This clearly hadn’t been his first rodeo.
“What if I chopped her up into little pieces? Would she still be alive?” Mr. Black asked.
“Leave the pieces close enough, and she’ll come right back together,” I lied.
“Triple the fee, it is. What do you need from me?”
“I’ll need to draw symbols on you like I did her,” I explained. “It’ll bind your souls together so that she’ll die only when you die.”
“Get on with it,” Mr. Black demanded.
Mr. Black removed his clothing and laid down on the bed next to Mrs. Black. He wrapped himself from the waist down in the sheet Mrs. Black had on earlier. Using the markers, I drew the arcane symbols across his chest and forehead. These were meant to draw their power from his heart and his brain - the epicenter of life. It only took a few minutes to ensure the symbols were drawn correctly. He suspected nothing the entire time.
Mrs. Black continued crying out in pain. She shook her head from side to side repeatedly and fought against her restraints. Of course, she didn’t realize that I’d be helping her. I couldn’t give away the game yet. I drew additional symbols on her to complete the formula.
“Alright, I’m all finished. Remember, this is for triple the fee—$300,000 cash. Tonight,” I reminded him.
“I don’t give a damn about the money. Just make this happen,” Mr. Black shouted. The crazed look in his eyes doubled my resolve to rid this world of his type of vermin. Affluenza, assholism, antisocial personality disorder - whatever the hell this man was, he wouldn’t be long for this world now. Sure, I could have killed him, the traditional way, but that wasn’t a very good idea considering Windsor and the rest of the security team were stationed outside waiting for us. If I came out of the mausoleum without him, I’d be detained, and when they found their dead boss, I’d be riddled with bullets. No, not the best way to handle this.
“Here we go,” I said, and turned the UV light in his direction. The symbols illuminated over both bodies until they were blinding. I turned away, shielding my eyes from the transference of souls. The amount of lifeforce energy required to perform this task could easily rival a nuclear bomb. The arcane symbols harnessed this power between the bodies and allowed the transfer to occur seamlessly. Within the span of a few moments, the light dimmed down, and I turned back to see the result of my work.
“What the hell?” Mr. Black’s said, rising from the bed and letting the sheet fall to the floor.
“Mrs. Black, is that you?” I asked, hoping I hadn’t botched the work somehow.
“Yes, it’s me. But I’m him,” she said, looking down at her new hands and the rest of Mr. Black’s old body.
“It worked,” I declared, and removed the ball gag from Mrs. Black’s former body’s mouth. The corpse of Mrs. Black, now holding the soul of Mr. Black, yowled in agony. It fought against the restraints holding its arms to the bed.
“What the hell have you done?” Mr. Black cried out. “You stupid motherfucker! I’ll fucking kill you!”
“Goodbye,” I said to Mr. Black and shut off the UV light. The corpse shuttered and convulsed a few moments before it went dormant again.
“What the hell is happening? That’s me. I’m dead,” Mrs. Black said, stating the obvious. I took Mrs. Black's head into my hands and held eye contact so she couldn’t see anything else except for me.
“Yes, that is your corpse on the bed. I transferred the soul of your ex-husband into your old body and you, into his. You are now Mr. Black for the rest of your life,” I explained. She seemed to grasp the concept quickly as she pulled out of my grasp and studied herself further. She flexed her new hands and muscles and then did a couple of squats.
“Oh god, he’s so out of shape,” Mrs. Black stated, feeling an ache in her new thighs. She breathed deep to catch her breath.
“Yeah, it’ll take a little while to get accustomed to using this body. You can work him out later. For now, try walking a bit to a feel for it,” I said. Mrs. Black walked around the mausoleum as I directed. At first and as expected, she looked awkward using the middle-aged man’s body. She was accustomed to being petite and light on her feet. While the body was accustomed to its own functions, her mind needed time to adjust to the new dimensions of the vessel it occupied.
Of course, I know what you’re thinking: Why didn’t you ask her about the afterlife? or something similar to that. To answer your question, that’s because I’ve already asked this to plenty of resurrected souls and have gotten the same response. No one ever remembers the afterlife. I’m assuming it’s because the meat of the mind isn’t equipped to retain the memories of what lies beyond death. It’s too unfathomable. As mentioned before, demons tend to like to talk and they’ve told me enough about the dark side of the other side to know I don’t want to know more. Be good to each other, people. That’s all I can say about it.
As Mrs. Black continued to train Mr. Black’s body, the mausoleum's silence was disrupted by the ringing of a cell phone. It was coming from Mr. Black’s pants.
“Shit. It’s gotta be his security detail,” I said to Mrs. Black.
“Is Windsor with them?” Mrs. Black asked. “Windsor is always with him.”
I nodded to confirm, and a look of pure malice stretched across her face.
“You need to answer it and tell them everything is okay,” I told her.
“That motherfucker killed me,” Mrs. Black said. The phone trembled in her hand as it continued to ring.
“Oh, I didn’t know,” I said, surprised to hear this revelation.
The knowledge the dead possess upon return differs per person. I believe it has to do with the amount of time they’ve been deceased. The memory deteriorates along with the body. At the moment, there were more pressing matters to handle than Mrs. Black’s memories. I worried about her mental state. Getting resurrected and tortured by the man who made your life a living nightmare only to switch bodies with him and getting a phone call from the man who killed you could take a severe toll on the psyche.
Concerning her death, I honestly didn’t know. It wasn’t covered in any new sources, and no one mentioned it online. I’m sure Mr. Black paid off the right people to keep it from public interest. The only information I found on her was the death certificate, which was a public document. It stated she’d passed away from complications from a heart condition. There wasn’t any reason to doubt the corner’s statement.
Mrs. Black answered the phone call and set it to the speaker to listen in on the conversation.
“Yes?” Mrs. Black said, making her best impression of Mr. Black’s odius tone.
“Is everything okay, sir?” Winsor asked.
“Do not bother me again,” Mrs. Black answered. Her tone was undoubtedly in character now. “I’ll be out in a moment. Have the car ready when I arrive.”
Windsor didn’t respond immediately. The pause felt almost too long as if he was suspecting something. It was likely our own paranoia. Windsor didn’t make any further inquiries.
“Yes, sir. I’ll have the car waiting,” Windsor answered and ended the call.
“Not bad. You’re getting the hang of it quick,” I stated once she slipped the phone back into her pocket.
“I’m going to have to. Although, I’m a bit scared…,” Mrs. Black said.
“What’s there to be afraid of? Mr. Black isn’t going to return unless I call him back,” I stated. “I'm never doing that.”
“That’s not what I’m worried about,” she said. “Handling his life is what I don’t know how to do. The man did nothing else but attend business meetings and play golf. I don’t know anything about business, and I’d rather be dead again then have to play golf with his friends.”
“Well, what did you do when you were alive?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I did what everyone else does. Watched television. Went shopping. Have dinner with friends. Go to nightclubs. Attend charity events. Runway shows,” she answered.
“There’s nothing stopping you from picking up where you left off,” I replied. “You’ve got a second chance at life. Make the best of it.”
Mrs. Black mulled it over a moment before allowing a smile to stretch across Mr. Black’s lips.
“That’s not a bad idea,” she said. “Let me get dressed, and let’s get the hell out of here.”
While assisting Mrs. Black with getting dressed, we further discussed how Mrs. Black would proceed after leading the cemetery. Being filthy rich beyond her wildest dreams, there wasn’t anything stopping her from leaving it all behind and starting a new life elsewhere in the world. She’d announce her retirement from Mr. Black’s business interests and immediately leave the country for Europe. While it was a brash move, there was a board of directors that could handle the fallout. From there, she was free to resume whatever kind of life she wanted. While the break from Mr. Black’s life would send shockwaves through some circles, the best solution was a clean break. There’s no way Mrs. Black could pass off as Mr. Black for long, especially around friends or business partners. It was best to escape to a place where not many people would recognize him.
If anyone cared to ask why the sudden upheaval of lifestyle and location, it was an easy enough answer. The sudden passing of Mrs. Black, at such a young age, changed his outlook on life. Losing his dear wife made him realize he wanted to enjoy his remaining years of life without the stress of having to conduct business affairs. The explanation served well enough to where no one would poke too many holes in it.
Our trek through the cemetery back to the vehicles was uneventful. Mrs. Black walked ahead of me, leading the way. I stuck close by in case she had trouble walking. In the dark, it was challenging to navigate, even with the assistance of the phone light. Mrs. Black seemed nervous as we approached the cars. I didn’t blame her. It’s not easy confronting the man who murdered you. I reassured her that as soon as she was back at Mr. Black’s house, she could fire Windsor and never see him again. She agreed, and we continued onward.
Upon reaching the vehicles, Mrs. Black tensed up at the sight of Windsor. He smiled at us and brought the telephone down from his ear.
“Everything go according to plan?” Windsor asked Mrs. Black. She took a moment to register; he was speaking to her. Whether it was fear or not remembering she was inside his body, the hesitation was evident.
“Yes, Mr. Black was satisfied with my service, and he’s back in one piece,” I answered, adding a fake chuckle at the end. Windsor glanced at me like I was a pile of horse shit in the middle of the sidewalk.
“I was speaking to Mr. Black,” Windsor replied in a tone which made me feel like I, in fact, was a piece of manure in the middle of the sidewalk. It must have snapped Mrs. Black out of her fear because she straightened up Mr. Black’s body and stepped toward Windsor.
“All went well,” Mrs. Black answered shortly.
“Excellent. Let’s get you home now,” Windsor suggested, opening the door to the Bentley.
“Wait a moment,” I said. This caught Windsor’s attention. “There’s the matter of my payment.”
“Yes, Windsor. Pay the man,” Mrs. Black said.
Windsor’s expression changed to confusion. Something was wrong.
“Mr. Black, you said you would be paying this gentleman through wire transfer,” Windsor replied. He nervously chuckled after the statement. The assistant wasn’t a good liar.
“That’s not the agreement we made,” I said to Windsor, but meant it more for Mrs. Black’s understanding.
“What you say does not matter,” Windsor said and placed his hand on his handgun. “Mr. Black’s terms are the only ones which do. If you want to leave here alive, forget about getting paid, and be happy we’re letting you go.”
To say I was angry was an understatement. $100,000 was nothing to Mr. Black. It didn’t mean much to me either, to tell the truth, but it was the principle of the matter. The asshole planned to screw me over from the start, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. With rifles aimed at me from all sides and Windsor so close he couldn’t miss, I’d be left with my dick in my hand and feeling like a complete idiot. Luckily, they couldn’t have imagined their boss was now gone from this mortal world.
“Yes, it is MY terms which matter the most here,” Mrs. Black said with a laugh at the end. “Resurrectionist, you’re shit out of luck. Windsor, the gun, please.”
The confusion on Windsor’s face showed this wasn’t part of the original plan with Mr. Black. In my heart of hearts, I don’t believe Mr. Black planned to kill me. There was no reason to do this. If anything, I think his plan was to string me along for future resurrections until I got tired of doing the work. Then he’d pay me a fraction of the actual cost he’d owe me. What recourse would I have against the man who owed me hundreds of thousands of dollars? I’m not a Mafioso so threatened to break legs and arms. It’s not like I could have taken him to court for breach of contract. I can’t even leave him a bad review on Yelp or Angie’s List. As Mrs. Black had said, I’d have been shit out of luck.
Windsor complied with his boss's command and handed the gun to Mrs. Black. She removed the safety, cocked the gun, and pointed it in my direction. It was undoubtedly loaded.
“You’re the only one who knows the truth about what happened here tonight,” Mrs. Black said, aiming the weapon directly into my eye. I didn’t know what else to do, so I raised my hands to the sky to show I wasn’t a threat. We hadn’t discussed what came next, but in truth, I should have seen it coming. She turned the gun on Windsor and fired. The blast echoed through the silence of the night. The bullet hit its target and Windsor’s face contorted in pain. His stupid little cap fell off his head as he fell to the ground beside the Bentley. Blood pooled in the white collared shirt beneath his suit. While I imagined the gunshot must have been painful, it most likely wasn’t as painful as the feeling of betrayal.
Not knowing if the other gunmen in the surrounding area would open fire on us, I tossed my bag to the ground along with myself and let fate take me in whatever direction it chose. Lucky for us, none of the gunmen opened fire. Even as Mrs. Black unloaded another ten or fifteen shots into Windsor’s head and body. When Mrs. Black was finished, she hovered over the dead chauffeur with the empty gun clicking in her hands, and she continued pulling the trigger.
A few moments later, several figures dressed all in black approached our location. They carried various dangerous-looking weapons with them like a personal SWAT team. However, they didn’t appear to be in any rush to use them. Mrs. Black realized she was surrounded by them and let the gun fall from her hand to the ground.
“Mr. Black, are you okay?” one of the guards asked. As the man awaited a response, he walked past Mrs. Black and retrieved Windsor’s gun from the ground.
“Yes, I’m fine,” Mrs. Black responded to the man’s question. The guard slipped the handgun into his belt and made a signal for the rest of the team to stand at ease. Each member of the team lowered their gun and seemed to chill out.
“Are you finished with the corpse?” the head guard asked Mrs. Black as he studied me. Green eyes scanned over me as the rest of his face was covered with a ski mask and a tactical helmet.
Mrs. Black took a deep breath and exhaled, “Yes, we’re all finished with this here tonight. Get rid of the body in the mausoleum and take care of Windsor as well.”
“What about this guy?” the guard asked, eyeing me over once more.
“He’s free to leave. Let him go,” Mrs. Black answered. The head guard turned away and addressed the rest of the security team. They broke off into different directions - some heading toward the mausoleum and others attending Windsor’s corpse.
“For a minute there, I thought you were going to shoot me,” I said to Mrs. Black after everyone was off doing their tasks.
“Never. You’ve given me a gift no one else in the world could have,” Mrs. Black said, touching a hand upon my shoulder and squeezing.
“True. I’m just glad to be out of here with my life, and I don’t plan on sticking around much longer. You take care of yourself and remember what we discussed,” I said, heading toward my Civic.
“$300,000 was the agreement, right?’ Mrs. Black asked as I walked away.
I turned back and said, “It’s only $100,000.”
“No, it’s $300,000,” Mrs. Black said. She passed me Mr. Blacks’ cell phone and told me to enter my phone number. Once it was in, she promised she would arrange for the cash to be given to me as soon as I contacted her and let her know how I wanted it done.
“Well, I guess this is goodbye,” I said to her as I pulled up next to the Bentley. She sat behind the wheel.
“You know, I never understood why you’d buy such an expensive car and have some other asshole drive it,” Mrs. Black said, and turned over the engine. It sprang to life.
“Me either,” I said, and drove out through the gates of the cemetery.
The drive back into the city was uneventful. It was now close to four in the morning, and I wasn’t feeling tired at all. I stopped in at McGullian’s All-Night Diner and ordered breakfast. While I waited, I sent Mrs. Black the instructions on where and when to drop off the money when she got access to it. After enjoying a spinach and mushroom omelet and having some coffee, I sat there for an hour reading the news on my phone. It only lasted a few minutes as none of the news was good. We’re always being told the world is going to hell every minute of every day and yet, I feel as if we live in one of the greatest times to be alive. There’s true magic in the world and it’s not the type I handle. Rather than depress myself thinking about everything wrong in the world, I decided to catch up on my reading.
Once the clock reached close to six, I paid my tab, and got back in my car. Old Doogan’s Food Kitchen opened in a few hours and they always needed help to prepare for the morning rush at nine.
As I said earlier, there’s a karmic and cosmic balance I must maintain to continue bringing the dead back to life. Body switching Mr. and Mrs. Black threw it off balance. Outside of my resurrection business, I spent the majority of my time keeping myself in balance. I’m sure a $300,000 cash donation to Old Doogan’s to feed the hungry will help me achieve balance again. However, it doesn’t hurt to volunteer my time either. A little extra never hurt
submitted by Human_Gravy to DarkTales