“DON’T FRACK OUR FOREST”.
Paul nodded approval of the banner as he entered Edwin’s bedsit.
“Like it!” he said. “Is that for the demo on the 28th March?”
“Have you persuaded anybody else to sign the petition yet, Paul?”
“Yeah, I talked a couple of colleagues into it. One of them might come on the 28th too. It’s a bit difficult, though, as most of them are engineers.”
“Then they ought to be used to decisions based on evidence. Put your back into it, Paul; this is important.”
“Hi Eddie; hi, Paul!” Liz came in cheerfully, and kissed Edwin on the mouth. “All ready for tonight? I can’t wait!”
“Did you make the banner, Liz? It’s really eye-catching!” asked Paul, grinning, and kissing Liz on the cheek she offered him.
“No, that was Eddie. He’s a dab hand with a sewing machine. I just made the coffee.”
There was a knock at the door. “I’ll get it,” said Liz, as she opened it to let Nick join them.
Edwin sidled over to Paul.
“Don’t even think it,” he said.
Paul looked down at him with resignation. “What am I supposed not to think, Eddie?”
“You know what I mean. No funny business with Liz while you’re on this mission. She’s my partner.”
“That’s not a very enlightened attitude to women, my friend.”
“No friend of yours, you posh git. Liz is free to make her own mind up. I wouldn’t hurt her; I love her. But that doesn’t mean I’ll stand by and see someone else mess with her. So keep your hands off.”
“I’ll make my own decisions about that, Eddie. I’ll be quite happy to beat the living daylights out of you, if that’s what you want.”
“In your dreams.”
“Don’t take any notice of Eddie,” exclaimed Liz to Paul. “He’s just wound up about tonight’s operation.”
Edwin, mid-thirties, ex-army corporal, called them to order.
“Right. Listen up. Paul and Liz, you’re the Away Team. You set off in ten minutes to the exploratory fracking site. Here’s the grid reference.
The place should be deserted but put your balaclavas on before you leave the car; cover up that blonde hair, Liz. Check that there’s nobody there by throwing pebbles at the portakabin – not big ones; we don’t want to break anything needlessly. Throw at least five, with one minute gaps between them. If nobody responds you can assume there are no security guards. Cut the fence and enter.
Check for things that could damage the environment, like diesel in an unbunded tank, or chemicals stored on open ground, and photograph them. Use the stencils and spray paint to write ‘DON’T FRACK OUR FOREST’ on the portakabin. Photograph that, too. Then come straight back here.
Nick and I are the Home Team. We’re here to send in the cavalry if there are problems, and we’ll post the pictures on social media when the Away Team return. It will blow that company’s environmental credentials right out of the water.
Remember. If you need to phone, use the pay-as-you-go phone, not your personal phone, so the call can’t be traced back to you.”
Are there any questions?”
Paul, Liz and Nick looked at each other.
“Sounds straightforward enough. Come on, Liz, let’s go! See you, Nick!”
The shelves, the furniture, even the floor of Edwin’s bedsit were covered with books, pamphlets and old takeaway cartons. Nick stacked up enough of them to be able to sit on the grubby sofa, and shuffled a space for his feet so he wouldn’t be treading on any of them. It would be at least three hours before Paul and Liz returned. Ed uncovered the keyboard of his computer, and brought up a page of Inside Climate News. He maintained a steady and profane commentary on what he was reading.
Nick fidgeted. He picked up a leaflet and glanced through it. Contamination of water with methane in Pennsylvania. The evidence supported the claim, but how relevant was it to the proposed drilling in the forest? He said as much to Ed.
“Pennsylvania is where they’re drilling into the Marcellus shale. There’s a raft of evidence of leaking gas well casings in the Loyalsock Forest. I wish you’d make an effort to keep informed.”
“Shall I go and buy us pizza?”
“Already sorted; due to be delivered at half past ten. I hope you’ve got twenty quid in your pocket to pay for it.”
“Do you mind if I use your loo?”
Nick went down the corridor and occupied the lavatory. With the door safely bolted, he drew out his mobile.
“Hi. It’s Nick. Everything’s going ahead. They should arrive in an hour.”
He put the phone away and washed his hands ostentatiously.
The heavy shove as he left was completely unexpected and jolted him into the edge of the door. Even though he anticipated the subsequent blow to his midriff and tensed his muscles, it knocked all the wind out of him. Then he was being held, Edwin’s enraged face thrust towards him.
“So who was that then? Eh? Eh?” Edwin tugged at Nick’s collar repeatedly, each time banging his head painfully against the door.
“My Dad. I’ve arranged delivery of a takeaway for him.”
“Liar! You’re a grass. Here, let’s see that phone!” His forehead smashed into Nick’s nose, and his hand reached for the phone in Nick’s pocket.
Last number redial.
“Hallo, Nick. Didn’t expect you to call back. Is there a problem?”
“Is that the police? I have an emergency with one of your colleagues. He’s haemorrhaging. He gave me this number to ring.”
“OK. Place him in the recovery position – you know what that is? – and we’ll get an ambulance round straightaway. Is he fit to speak?”
“Nah, don’t bother with an ambulance. He’s okay after all. Just a bit of a nosebleed. Nice of you to confirm who you are, though. By the way, did he tell you he’d been sleeping with one of our members? That’ll taint his evidence a bit I should think. Bye-bye!” Edwin almost sang his farewell.
As he ended the call he could hear sounds of consternation from the other end.
“Now that your undercover role is compromised, you’d better go and meet your buddies somewhere. I suggest you tripped and broke your nose when you fell. It might be less embarrassing than standing up in court and admitting what a pig’s ear you’ve made of things.”
Nick dabbed at his nose. The bleeding had already almost stopped, but it felt very sore. He picked up his cagoul and slunk out of the building.
Paul had driven relentlessly quickly on the motorway. Once in the forest he drove like a rally driver. Liz clutched the sides of her seat, and sometimes closed her eyes. She was exhilarated. They were within two miles of their destination with thirty minutes to spare. Stars sparkled in the ribbon of black sky left between the trees.
“We’d better stop for a bit,” suggested Liz. “You’ve been way faster than Ed. You’re much smoother, too.”
With a screech of tyres Paul pulled off the road into a fire-break between the trees. Liz’s hand slipped surreptitiously onto the inside of his thigh.
“You’d better turn off the phone; we don’t want Eddie interrupting, do we?”
Liz grinned. “Already done,” she said, holding up the phone and displaying its dark screen.
Edwin dialed the Away Team’s number. No answer. He frowned and looked at his watch. They’d be in the forest, but not at the fracking site. Possibly there was no mobile coverage where they were. But they should have coverage when they arrived; he knew, he’d checked. He sent a text, and worried. While he was confident that Nick wouldn’t say anything about his assault, if Paul and Liz were caught after they’d cut the fence they could be prosecuted for criminal damage. It might even mean a custodial sentence. That would be tough; he knew from personal experience.
There was no reply to his text after ten minutes. Either the phone had a fault, or Liz had forgotten to charge it – but surely, even Liz wouldn’t have been that scatty? – or they’d switched it off. His gorge rose and his fists balled. Perhaps he could get through on Liz’s personal mobile. He’d need his own phone for that; he hadn’t memorized her number.
He never carried his personal mobile in his pocket; it was too likely to fall out. Mostly he kept it on his desk. It wasn’t there. He looked in the other likely places, on the sofa, down the side of the sofa, on the television stand, on the middle bookshelf.
They must be at the site by now, unless…if they’d had an accident, the mobile could be broken. In Edwin’s opinion, Paul drove like a maniac. In any case, there was no reply. He kept searching for his phone.
In the forest, Paul and Liz straightened their disheveled clothing. “Oh-oh. We’re nearly late!” Paul released the clutch, and the car shot out onto the lane.
“Just slow down a mo, so I can turn on the mobile.”
Paul grinned. “Don’t be so wet. There won’t be a message. We’re late. Here we go!” The car roared down the road, and there was no way Liz could enter the correct PIN.
There was a different ring tone.
“That’s my personal phone,” said Liz. “I wonder who it is? I’m not going to answer it, because it won’t be Eddie.”
It went to voicemail.
“Nearly there. Yee-hah!” Paul punched the air with his left fist.
The phone rang again.
“Who on earth can that be at this time of night?” Liz pulled out the phone, and looked at the screen. “It is Eddie! What on earth is he playing at? Eddie? What’s up?”
Paul swerved off the road into the entrance to the site, sending up a shower of grit that tinkled against the gate. “You have reached your destination,” he announced.
Liz spoke in a little voice. “That was Ed. The mission is off. Nick was a police informer.”
They looked at each other.
“An informer? Nick?”
They stared apprehensively at the dark trees. Who was hidden in the shadows?
Paul engaged first gear and drove away, slowly and very carefully.
Note on fracking
Fracking is a technique by which sub-surface rocks are broken to recover the natural gas, mostly methane, trapped inside it.
Burning methane contributes less to climate change than burning coal, but it is not zero carbon. Putting fracking infrastructure in place will commit us to burning the gas to recover the investment.
There is a good deal of evidence that fracking can cause contamination of groundwater. There is also evidence that methane can reach the atmosphere; when it does, it is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
There are several sites in the UK where exploratory drilling has been proposed, including Sherwood Forest.
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