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Charles Vrooman

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Chapter One from Green Power
By Charles Vrooman
Saturday, July 12, 2008

Rated "PG" by the Author.

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This chapter introduces the protagonist (Dr. Ray Pendleton) and the antagonist (Dirk Hendrickson).

Chapter One

June 3, 1989

 

Professor Ray Pendleton led the restless mob of approximately fifty demonstrators toward the colossal twin cooling towers of Rancho Seco Nuclear Power Plant.  The stirring delta breezes tousled Ray’s long brown hair and full beard into a wild mess giving him the appearance of a Viking leading a raiding party. Two giant chain link gates separated the impending confrontation.

            The demonstrators represented all classes of people. Some were dressed in jeans and Green Power T-shirts, while others looked like they were dressed for the office. The women outnumbered the men; a few women had children with them. Most of the demonstrators hoisted and shook numerous hand painted signs with slogans like “Rancho Seco / Three Mile Island, Disaster Twins,” “Close Rancho Seco and Save Lives,” and “Turn Off Rancho Seco and Save Money.” Among the waving homemade signs were a few motionless professionally printed signs stating, “Vote Yes on Measure C.”  The yells from the crowd reinforced the words on the signs.  

            As a group of demonstrators approached the chain link fence, two security guards wearing light blue uniforms and dark blue baseball caps, stepped forward to secure the main entrance. Three demonstrators rushed toward the gates, and grabbing hold began violently rattling them.

The guards backed off, looking at each other, shaking their heads not knowing what to do. With an explosive volcano about to erupt, the towering blond headed six-foot-five figure of Dirk Hendrickson rounded the corner of the cinder block guard house to the left of the gates. As head of security, Dirk knew that it was his responsibility to take control of this situation. As he approached the gates, the two baffled guards joined him, one on each side. Dirk unsnapped his long, heavy night stick and held it high with his right muscular arm, pointing it toward Ray.

“You there!” Dirk shouted. “Tell your people to leave now.  This is private property and you are trespassing.”

Ray, almost the same height but not quite as powerfully built as Dirk, stepped forward and challenged him. “We are rate payers, taxpayers and citizens who have every right to be here.”

With the confrontation initiated, one of the three demonstrators shaking the gates began yelling, “Let us in or we’ll tear these damn things down!”

Dirk responded by running his night stick across the gripping fingers of all three demonstrators shouting, “Back off! The sheriffs are on their way. I can assure you that arrests will be made.”

As the injured demonstrators let loose of the gate yelling out in pain, Ray looked at Dirk with blazing eyes. Knowing his temper, Ray had to control himself. He tried to be calm.  “You’re the one who will be arrested. This is assault!”

The rest of the demonstrators approached the gate chanting, “Close down Rancho Seco! Close down Rancho Seco!”

Dirk ordered the guards to draw out and aim their mace at the crowd. He looked at Ray and said, “This is your doing. You’ve got no one but yourself to blame.”

Just as they were ready to spray the demonstrators, Dirk spotted the Sacramento County Sheriffs arriving in four patrol cars with deafening sirens squealing above the yelling crowd. Dirk yelled, “Don’t spray!”

The sheriff deputies positioned their vehicles around the crowd.  Eight officers got out of the patrol cars in full riot gear and quickly formed a line between the demonstrators and the gates. A sergeant spotted Dirk and yelled out. “How serious is this?”

“These people are violent. They tried to take down our main gate.” As Dirk continued, he pointed to Ray and said, “I want that damn hippie arrested. He’s the leader.”

The sergeant headed toward Ray and with a loud voice said. “You there! What’s going on here?”

Ray acknowledged by placing his right index finger on his chest and nodded as he said, “We are peacefully demonstrating outside this nuclear mishap to prevent its potential lethal radioactive discharge on all of us.”

The sergeant fixed his eyes on Ray and asked, “Were some of your demonstrators trying to tear down those gates?”

Ray had to control himself as he said. “How could they pull down those huge gates?”

“I don’t know, but you do admit that they did try?”

“No sergeant.” Ray continued, “They were only rattling them to get the guards’ attention.” Ray paused, but this time his anger showed as he pointed to Dirk and said, “There was no reason for that big goon over there to try and break some of these people’s fingers. I want him arrested for assault.”

Ray signaled for one of the injured demonstrators to come over. A young man responded and showed the sergeant his swollen fingers. A few protestors seeing what was going on started shouting, “Arrest those guards.”

Not wanting a riot to occur, the sergeant pointed to the demonstrators. “You better control your people. I’ll talk to the head of security and get his side of the story.” 

As the sergeant walked back toward the gates to talk with Dirk, Ray spotted a white van arriving. It had a satellite dish affixed to its roof, and the bold blue lettering on its side: “FOX 40 NEWS.”

The TV news van stopped behind one of the four sheriff cars. Ray recognized Sally Kolzar stepping out of the van. He had watched this attractive blond reporter many times giving news reports from the field for Channel 40 news. His fellow demonstrators were pointing her in his direction. Sally and a TV cameraman headed straight toward Ray.

This is it, thought Ray. What should he say? He was still trying to calm down. He wasn’t sure if it was his anger or just nerves. With no time to think, he soon found himself standing and looking into the camera lens as Sally fired off her first question.

                “Sir, can you give us your name and tell us what’s happening here today?”

            With the mike pointed toward him, Ray felt the muscles in his body tighten as he responded, “My name is Doctor Ray Pendleton, Professor of Microbiology at UC Davis. My friends and I are trying to save this community from another nuclear plant disaster. This whole operation is a mismanaged fiasco.”

She put on a concerned look as she asked. “Are you trying to tell us that Rancho Seco is a potential Three Mile Island disaster waiting to happen?”

Ray gave a slight smirk as he answered. “Well yes, as a matter of fact, it was on the tenth anniversary of the Three Mile Island disaster when the feed water pump malfunctioned here at Rancho Seco. The sudden temperature change almost cracked the reactor vessel and led to a meltdown. This was a serious threat to Sacramento.”

“Are you inferring that Sacramento and the surrounding area are in danger from Rancho Seco?”

            Pleased with Sally’s question, Ray answered. “Yes, definitely. Radioactive iodine has been found in the milk of cows grazing near Rancho Seco. More than two billion gallons of water containing radiation levels above federal guidelines have been dumped from Rancho Seco into a creek that feeds the Consumnes and Mokelumne Rivers. Also, these unacceptable levels of radiation have been found in the ground water surrounding this area. Some of the demonstrators here today are local farmers concerned about the health of their families and themselves.”    

            Challenging Ray, Sally asked. “All this is more than just the concerns of local farmers.  Isn’t this whole demonstration a support for Measure C in the upcoming primary election?”

With the crowd becoming more rowdy and irritated by Sally’s last question, Ray’s voice became louder as he responded, “Maybe! But why did the citizens of Sacramento feel that such an initiative was worthy of a vote by the electorate? Most are sick and tired of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s energy prices skyrocketing to pay for this gigantic blunder.”

Before Sally could ask another question, an announcement came over the megaphone speaker of the sergeant’s patrol car. “This is protected public utility land. It is unlawful to demonstrate on this property. All demonstrators must leave immediately or arrests will be made.”

Ray, realizing that he could accomplish nothing from behind bars, announced to the assembled crowd, “What has happened here today is just the beginning. What happens tomorrow is up to us. Let’s go!”

            The TV cameraman swung the camera toward the demonstrators as they departed. Sally tapped her cameraman on his shoulder and pointed to the twin towers. He followed as she hastily ran toward the gates of Rancho Seco. She shouted at Dirk and his two security guards to try to get their attention, but they turned their backs to the TV camera and walked away. The sheriffs drove off. Sally sighed and said, “We’ve got enough for the evening news. Let’s call it a day.”

 

As he returned to the guard house, Dirk Hendrickson’s thoughts brought back the memories of the peace marches of the late sixties. After his final tour in Viet Nam, he was appalled to return home and hear anti-war protesters shouting, “Baby killer!”

Dirk remembered his time in Viet Nam. At first he had been just a regular grunt enlisted man. He had excelled in firefights and killed numerous enemies and received medals of valor. He soon found himself promoted to sergeant status. Because of his leadership abilities he was accepted into Officer Candidate School. He signed up for a second tour in Viet Nam as an officer. Again he stood out and soon found himself promoted to First Lieutenant.

            But the war had changed Dirk. As a lieutenant, he had led reconnaissance patrols into enemy territory searching out villages that harbored Vietcong. At times he had to resort to cruel tactics in order to obtain information proving that certain villages were supporting the Vietcong.

            When they entered these hamlets, the telling signs of Vietcong having been there were the presence of only older men, women, and children.  The younger men had been forced into service as Vietcong. It wasn’t unusual to see a young kid running straight at them with a Coke can in hand that held explosives, throwing it directly into the middle of their squad. Seeing young men under his command being blown to pieces from these hand held bombs and other booby traps tore Dirk apart inside. The only way to prevent such atrocities was to burn these villages to the ground in order to destroy any explosives before they were used to kill any of his troops. At times some women and children were killed during these patrols. He assured himself that those kids with the Coke bombs and anyone else, who made a run for it, were the enemy. His time in Viet Nam had hardened Dirk, and he had become a trained warrior.

Still, he felt upon his return home that his government had let him down. What had he been fighting for? Feeling like a foreigner in his own country, he had searched for those like himself. He found them in the Delta Valley Militia and became a member.

            Today’s demonstration paralleled yesterday’s anti-war protest. Rancho Seco and his job were both worth battling for. This Ray Pendleton bastard had to be stopped. Sure, someone else would do it for him, but he’d be the one with the knowledge of how to handle it. He had no lack of self-assurance; none at all. That’s why he had placed a call briefly stating his needs to fellow militiaman, Victor Rosio, asking to meet him at the Sportsmen’s Bar in Lodi. Vic’s reply was, “No problem, I’ll bring Gordon Lynch along. How’s six o’clock sound?”

            “Great!  Gordon’s the muscle we need to take care of this hippie asshole.”

 

It was almost six o’clock when Dirk pulled his tan 1988 Jeep Cherokee into the dirt parking lot of the old isolated Sportsmen’s Bar. Entering the bar, Dirk found it hard to spot his buddies through the cigarette smoke and dingy lighting. Finally the reflections of the illuminated beer advertising signs shining off the shaved head of his gigantic comrade, Gordon, caught Dirk’s attention. Seated across from Gordon, Dirk noticed the smaller but tough looking figure of Vic. As usual, Vic was wearing a black leather jacket highlighted with four silver short spikes on each shoulder. Dirk made his way toward their bench table in the dimly lit back corner. Pouring cool beer from a pitcher, Vic acknowledged Dirk, “Your mug’s getting warm. I’ll cool it for you.”

Dirk seated himself in front of his beer across from Vic and next to Gordon and greeted both with “Glad you guys could meet with me on such short notice.”

Vic responded, “Hey, us vets got to be here for one another. How can we help?”

            “Well, we had an ugly demonstration at the ranch today. I swear it was led by one of those damn hippies who greeted us when we came back from Nam. Anyway, he’s causing problems by talking to the news media. With this upcoming primary election and the ballot issue to close Rancho Seco, I’m worried about my job. Something has to be done to that jerk!”

            Gordon jumped in, “You want his face smashed in so he can’t use his big mouth?”

            “That’s pretty close to what I had in mind,” Dirk replied.

             “Do you have a name, address and stuff like that? Vic asked.

            Dirk reached into his shirt pocket and retrieved a folded piece of paper. He unfolded the note and handed it to Vic. “I’ve written down all kinds of info on that damn hippie from my contact at the sheriff’s office. He read it to me over the phone directly from the report the sergeant took the day of the demonstration. I’ve got some other names, but this is the main guy we want.”

             “You want this guy dead or alive?” Gordon asked.

             “No one needs to get killed.”  Dirk replied, “All I want is for you guys to scare the hell out of him, so he’ll shut up and get out of my life.”

             “Don’t worry! Consider it done.” Vic said.

            “Thanks guys, I knew I could depend on both of you.” With that Dirk finished his beer and excused himself. “See you later. Keep me posted.”

            Both Vic and Gordon gave Dirk an assuring nod as he departed.

 

The following day, Ray rode his ten-speed bike along Old River Road below the levee bordering the Sacramento River. He often took this route out of Woodland for his weekend endurance exercise. His mind was on the previous day’s demonstration and the upcoming primary election with the ballot measure to close Rancho Seco. His thoughts jumped back to the month of March, the month Rancho Seco came close to a nuclear disaster. And he also remembered that on March 24th, there had been the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. He wanted to clear his mind as he took in a deep breath needing only to inhale the beauty of the day. Then he recalled the explosion on March 25th of this year at the Tosco Oil Refinery in the Bay Area that had killed one worker. He tightened his grip on the handlebars of his bike. That event triggered the painful memory of the loss of his father in a similar accident in 1965 at another Bay Area refinery.

Ray was only eleven years old when he saw his mother, Sarah, open the front door to a uniformed police officer who said, “I’m Reverend John Kingston, chaplain for the Martinez Police Department. May I please come in? There’s been an accident involving your husband.”

As both Ray and his older brother, Eric, stood by their mother’s side, she froze and was speechless. Finally, Eric responded. “Is my dad okay?”

The chaplain could see that Sarah was in shock and knew from experience that it would be best for all of them to be seated before he let them know of the tragic accident. Again, he asked. “If I may please come in, I think it will be easier to tell you all what occurred today at the refinery where Mr. Pendleton works?”

Sarah still didn’t respond as Eric opened the door and led the chaplain into the living room where they all took seats. Ray sensed something terrible had happened, but his father had to be all right. The chaplain took in a deep breath and said, “I’m so sorry to have to come with bad news.” He was looking directly at Sarah. “Your husband died in the refinery explosion today.”

Ray recalled hearing the screams of his mother that day. He remembered his first thought after the announcement. It can’t be true . His father couldn’t die.

The only one coping with this tragedy was Eric. He was embracing their mother who was sobbing uncontrollably.

The chaplain reached out and had a hand on both Eric’s and the mother’s shoulders as he asked, “Is there a close relative I can call to come over?”

Eric again was the one keeping his cool as he turned to Ray and said, “Ray, get Aunt Jenny’s phone number. It’s in the card file by the phone.”

As Ray tried to find his aunt’s index card, the reality of his father’s death finally sunk in and he began to cry. With tears flowing down his cheeks, he could barely read the names on the cards. Eventually he found the number and wiped away any sign of weeping from his face. Ray returned and handed the information to the chaplain. The chaplain placed the call and compassionately explained the situation to their aunt.

When Aunt Jenny arrived, she immediately went over to Sarah and embraced her. Ray realized that his mother needed her sister at this dreadful moment. But he couldn’t help but remember how strong his brother had been that day and how much he looked up to Eric.

Ray wasn’t aware that he’d stopped his bike on the side of Old River Road. The vision he had just experienced was as vivid now as it had been back then. He missed his father, but the loss of his brother ended the family he once knew. He shook his head, as if he could ever erase those memories. Making sure his helmet was secure; he took off with a burst of speed. Suddenly, his helmet mirror focused in on a large black pickup truck bearing down on him. It was driving into the bike lane and closing in on him at a high speed. Ray recognized the dirt road leading up to the top of the levee and made a sharp left turn up the road. He watched as the truck went further down the road. He heard the brakes of the truck squeal to an abrupt stop. As he looked down, he saw the truck turn around and head back. It climbed up the dirt road after him. He headed along the dirt road that ran along the top of the levee. The truck was gaining on him. He jumped off his bike and started to run down the side of the levee back toward the road below. Again, the truck made a quick stop right beside his abandoned bike, as a dust cloud surrounded it. He was able to make out two ski-masked figures emerge from the stirring dirt. One was running down the levee to cut off his escape back down the main road, while the other ran down at an angle in the opposite direction so as to cut him off from advancing up the road. Ray was trapped.

            The steepness of the levee caused Ray to fall and tumble down toward the road. By the time Ray staggered to his feet, his pursuers had caught up with him. The smaller of the two grabbed Ray from behind and held him so that the larger assailant was able to punch him repeatedly in the abdomen with such force that Ray could feel his lower left rib snap. Angrily, the huge man shouted, “This is to shut your mouth to those news people,” as his fist struck the left side of Ray’s face. Following the momentary pain, Ray felt his body go limp as everything went black.

            As Ray came to and tried to get to his feet, the pain to his lower left rib cage was so intense that he immediately fell back to the ground. He also felt the wetness of blood oozing from his nostrils and the left corner of his mouth. He knew he had to retrieve his bike. Aching, he forced himself to stand and struggled to climb back up the levee to his bike. He held onto the bike for support as he walked it toward the dirt road leading back to Old River Road. As he reached the main road, he waved down the first car he spotted. Luckily, the driver had a mobile phone and called 911.

            Within minutes, a fire rescue vehicle with flashing red lights and siren arrived and a paramedic attended to Ray with a well-equipped first aid supply box. Next to come on scene was a Yolo County Sheriff car. As Ray was being attended to, the sheriff deputy asked, “What happened here?”

            Ray answered, “Two ski-masked thugs tried to run me off the road. I made my escape up the levee. But they chased me down and beat the hell out of me.”

The deputy asked, “Can you think of any reason why they would attack you?”

“No! I was just riding my bike, taking in a beautiful spring day.”

From the swelling to the left side of Ray’s face and dried blood beneath his nose, the deputy concluded that this was an assault. “Can you tell me anything about your attackers and the vehicle they were driving?”

Ray, gritting his teeth in response to the pain as the paramedic wrapped a large ace bandage around his ribs, answered, “I’m sorry, I can’t give you any facial description. Like I said, they were wearing ski masks. But the guy who beat me up was well over six foot and must have weighed close to three hundred pounds. And, as to the truck they drove, all I could tell was that it was a black four-wheel drive late American make. Maybe it was a Dodge.”

The sheriff deputy finished his notes just as the ambulance arrived. The paramedic on scene instructed the EMTs with the ambulance to take Ray to UC Davis Medical Center.

 

Ray had been lying on the same ER gurney for over an hour. His anxiety level had heightened after being examined by the ER doctor and told that he had a broken rib and could have possible internal injuries. The main thing bothering Ray at the moment was waiting to be taken in for the CAT scan the doctor had ordered.

Ray could see the chaotic flurry of the ER as patients were being rolled on gurneys from here to there. Finally Ray was wheeled into the CAT scan room. He had mixed feelings. He was relieved that someone remembered that he was there, but at the same time he was concerned as to what the doctor meant by internal injuries. His nervousness peaked upon being rolled into an encircling tube surrounded by instruments with cables attached. What really made him worry was why doctors and technicians were peering at him from behind protective glass. He endured the silence of the world he now found himself in and hoped that all would be okay.

After being removed from the CAT scan, Ray was greeted by the ER doctor and another doctor. “Professor Pendleton, let me introduce you to Doctor Eugene Everett an internist specializing in hematology. He will be taking over your case and admitting you to our hospital.”

Dr. Everett was a short, mature, balding man whose teeth sparkled as he smiled at Ray and said, “Welcome to UC Davis Medical Center, Doctor Pendleton. Let me first start by going over some of your tests results. We see evidence from the CAT scan that you have an enlarged spleen. However, we will have to continue to monitor your status. There is still the possibility that your spleen could rupture. If that occurs, which I am optimistic that it won’t, we must consider surgery. But right now, your lab results indicate that you’ve lost a great deal of blood. I’ve ordered blood and plasma for you. As soon as we get your blood level stabilized, a few days in the hospital will give us all the answers we need.”

Ray could feel the pain from his broken rib. He was relieved when the ER doctor told him that he would be getting some pain medication plus an elastic rib binding girdle to make him more comfortable. After both doctors departed, Ray was attended to by the ER nurses and then moved to a room on the Medical Ward.

 

As soon as Ray was helped into his hospital bed by a nurse and orderly, the nurse asked. “Is there anyone we can call and let know what’s happened to you, Mr. Pendleton. Perhaps your wife?”

“I’m not married and I live alone. It’s not necessary to call anyone.”

“You’ve been seriously hurt. Isn’t there a relative, perhaps your mother, whom we could contact?”

“No, there is no one,” Ray said curtly.

Ray was anxious to be alone and try to make some sense out of why he had been beaten, but the nurse wouldn’t stop asking questions. “Are you feeling okay?”

“I’m fine. But I’d like to get a little rest.”

“The doctor has given orders for you to have a sedative, if necessary.”

“I don’t need any medicine to help me sleep. I just need to be left alone.”

 After the nurse left, Ray hoped to possibly drift off into a deep sleep. He felt very tired and anticipated that, after a little rest, he might be able to make some sense out of the assault which had taken place. But since the nurse had mentioned his mother, his mind jumped back to the last time he had seen her. There was such hostility between them. He had actually slammed the door leaving her house without any intention of returning. The argument seemed so foolish to him now.

Remembering that unyielding quarrel, he could see his mother pointing a finger at him and yelling. “Just look at yourself. You look like a hippie. You are one. You fit right in with those rebellious anti-war demonstrators, blocking access to recruiting offices, burning their draft cards, and carrying signs against the war. Worse yet, you let people like Jane Fonda lead you all by the noses. I know you were with those protesters in Berkeley. Why would you do such a thing? You carry so much hate, and I can’t understand it.”

“I’ll never get through to you, Mom. If our country hadn’t got involved in this ridiculous Viet Nam War, Eric would still be here.”

“I don’t believe it,” she said. “Your brother was proud to fight for his country. You dishonor not only his name and career, you spit on his grave every time you lift one of those crazy protest signs.

 

Back in his hospital bed, Ray pressed the button to buzz his nurse. He now needed the sedative he had originally refused. The memory of his brother’s death and his painful relationship with his mother was too much to face right now. When the nurse arrived, Ray asked for the sedative. She smiled. “Certainly, Mr. Pendleton.”

During the next few days in the hospital, Ray had time to think things out. He realized that his beating had to have something to do with the demonstration at Rancho Seco. He asked himself if this Green Power cause was worth his life. Who was behind this horrendous attack on him? What had that attacker meant about not talking to the news media? Could the head of security at Rancho Seco been involved?  No, not directly, because the guy who beat him up might have been the same height as the head security guard, but this assailant was more massive in size. He didn’t have any proof, but he knew that he would have to let the Yolo County Sheriff’s office know of his suspicions.

It had been a couple of hours after finishing his supper one evening when Ray realized it was Tuesday. It was the day of the special election and the early returns should be coming in by now. He turned on his TV and watched for the results on Measure C, the closing down of Rancho Seco ballot initiative. It wasn’t more than twenty minutes when he saw the early returns for Measure C. It showed 65% for and 35% against. It was a projected winner. Ray now knew that it had all been worth it.

 

 

       Web Site: Green Power

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