Oil & Gas
Badger Springs IV (under construction)
Why do we always got to wait for the electric?
Because it’s Headquest. And Headquest and his guy—what’s that journeyman’s name, the one always talks about being in the Navy?—they’re busy. They run late.
We’re busy. I can hear the boss taking a verbal bite out a your ass now. Time is money. Your time is my money.
Yeah, he’s real original that way. Rather be here than in the shop, though. Monica can find me in the shop.
You had a decent phone plan like that Verizon, she could find you now.
Rather she didn’t.
Am I asking why?
Pay to get married and you’ll find out why.
You wish you’d studied electric?
Sometimes. Money’s good. I took one class at the college when I thought I was going for the railroad. Uncle said he could get me on the B&N, but he couldn’t. Welding’s okay when you think about it. I got the eyes for welding. And you work outside most of the time. Like this.
Eat a lot a dust out here.
You eat dust. I don’t get all that shit in the windows when I drive.
Wish I had my rifle right now. Sweet little .270 I got, all sighted in. I’d take that whitetail down. He’s been staring at us since we got here.
That’s a buck for you. On parade like a rooster till the season opens.
You know that Texan works with the pipefitter, tall guy who’s got about seven fingers left on his hands? He poached a doe couple weeks back. Jimmy Goehring told me. He got fresh steaks out a the deal.
Whatever. Change the station, will you? I’m sick of her songs. Man that hunts out of season ain’t no kind of man unless his family’s starving. That’s what my granddad says.
No Texan that works for RME is starving.
Then he’s an asshole.
Asshole with his freezer full, what I’m saying.
Join him if you want. But you can’t use my pistol. Pistol’s for snakes.
I ought to go looking for snakes. I’m bored as hell. Helping that old lady stomp out that brushfire woke me up before I was ready.
That was all right, wasn’t it? Lending her a hand. She was nice about it. And it beats slopping salsa at Taco John’s. God, I don’t miss that.
Beats mucking trench lines like that college kid Mr. Parmalee brung in. Poor son of a bitch. Somebody hung his luck around a rabbit’s neck. He ain’t been out of the mud yet.
I don’t know. Bet he’s got it all right when school’s in. Probably even gets laid now and again.
The girls in Laramie ain’t that hot. I know ’cause my cousin’s one a them. Billings is way better for girls.
Bar at The Mint’s better than that if you don’t mind shelling out for a shitload of Mai Tais.
Colored drinks turn my stomach. Can you explain why girls like them colored drinks?
Vodka shooters. Monica and her best friend get real slippery on vodka shooters.
That the friend got a heart shape to her ass?
That’s the friend with the husband who pays attention. I’ll give you some free advice this morning, since you’re listening. You don’t want even one whiff of that Tracy Schuster.
I’m not on a fishing expedition or nothing. Just recording the fact she’s got a nice shape to her ass. Big line a dust over there. Truck’s coming.
Good. Think you can keep your mind off your dick and do some work? It might be Headquest and them. In their glory.
Naw. He’s stopped. Turning back, the dumb shit. Just another fool that got hisself tangled up and lost out here.
Well join the club, why don’t he? Found and lost. I’m gonna paint me a big sign says that in big letters, take it everywhere I go in these fields. Found and lost. I’m gonna write that up as the damn Wyoming state motto.
Campbell County Memorial Hospital
You’d think the hospital would be a lousy place to work. I mean we’re so busy, especially on summer weekends what with the tourists out of the Black Hills and all the field workers in here looking to lose money and find trouble. Plus the Mexicans. I’m not against Mexicans myself, my Mormon cousin over in Kaycee married one, and she’s real pretty and takes good care of the kids. But it’s hard with the pregnant ones. They haven’t seen a doctor usually, and they’ve had zero prenatal except what they manage themselves. Plus they don’t speak English. Most of the younger docs here carry some Spanish. Vamanos. I’ve picked up my share. We get them through. But it’s harder than it has to be. That’s all I’m saying.
So the story today is that we lost a patient. Not lost like died—that’s not a bulletin board item. Lost like misplaced. Like he was here in a bed being treated for dehydration, and now he’s not and nobody saw him leave. I asked Petra, who was supervising the ER at the time, if she checked the silverware drawer in the nurses’ lounge because that’s where I’m always accidentally hiding things from myself. Petra didn’t think it was funny. My remark.
Lora Van Tassell brought the man in late last night. She’s with the DEQ now and was collecting water samples from one of those drainages they’re drilling the hell out of. I knew her in high school. Fortification Creek, that’s the name. The drainage, not the man. We don’t know the man’s name. He didn’t have ID. No wallet, nothing. Just the clothes on his back. Dressed like a rancher, that’s what the alert says. They don’t have a picture. The police would’ve taken a picture this morning, but they got here too late. Petra thinks methamphetamine dealers robbed the old man, which was why he was so out of it. She thinks that drug is behind every single thing that goes wrong around here. Which it practically is. The pregnant ones on meth are the worst. They smell bad with bad teeth, and the babies twitch like peeled frogs. Poor things. And the STDs those girls are passing around, don’t even get me started on those.
Lora Van Tassell was the only one awake enough to get a good look at the man. She told Petra he looked familiar to her, like maybe she’d seen him at her grandmother’s church over in Buffalo. The Catholic one. Her grandmother’s big into that. But Lora wasn’t going to drive ninety miles on a Friday night to find out if the man was Catholic. Besides, something wasn’t right. There wasn’t blood or chest pain or any of that. The ER did an exam. He just wasn’t very responsive, and when he did talk the words weren’t quite in English. Spanish either, according to Lora.
Could be he’s a sheepherder. We used to get them from all over, even South America. Some of them will go right out of their heads from the loneliness that comes with sheep. Some of them handle it fine. But they don’t run sheep around the Powder River like they used to. It’s too hard what with low meat prices and all the exploration foolery around that natural gas. Now it’s fences down. Roads tore up. Water not where it’s supposed to be. Ranching is taking a hit. But the town smells of green money, I can tell you that. This hospital, too. Lots more have got insurance to go with their jobs. Town times are good. People are glad for the boom. The countryside doesn’t smell like much more than dirt when you go out that way for a drive, though. Dirt and diesel fuel. There’s whole sections on this side of the breaks that don’t look any better than a ripped animal hide. I’m still getting used to that.
He’s not that late. Surely she’ll still be there. 8:13 by the dashboard. That wrong turn cost him five, six minutes, goddamn all the new roads out here. Man can’t find his way around the oil and gas fields except by helicopter anymore. Not that it was so great in the old days. Topo maps were always for shit when it came to these roads. They have minds of their own.
Wish he could pull up with this song on the radio. He’d bet a dollar she likes this song.
He would’ve been on site at 6 a.m. if she had asked. Or earlier. Even if it is a Saturday. Let Delaney bitch all he wants. Delaney’s got nothing to complain about, more than fifty well permits approved last week. Bitch, bitch, bitch. Did he really think the DEQ and the EPA were going to do his ballroom dance forever? Delaney loves to whine through his laundry list of complaints. How he should’ve donated more money to the Democrat who ran for governor. How he should’ve set up smaller partnerships, kept to his bold core of investors. How he should’ve locked horns with the environmentalists. Instead, he claims he’s missed his chances and lost a bank full. The jerk. Delaney’s doing fine. Delaney’s not hurting. And his outfit’s stayed out of court, more or less.
He can’t believe she isn’t married. With that figure and a brain to go with it. His body’s still in pretty good shape. No belly yet, he works on that. Will she care that he’s divorced? Phil Triplek has already prepared her for that discussion, or so he says. Triplek mentioned the marital situation at a meeting in Ucross last week when she asked about him. She asked! He doesn’t want to soft-pedal his commitments or his mistakes. It’s taken a lot to get him back in the saddle again, but Rosie was born a devoted Seventh-Day Adventist, eighteen years of marriage never got them past that. No kids. That’s part of what went bad, and he’s sorry for it. Sorry for Rosie. She’d make a great mom. He’s been checked out by the doctors, though. He did that much for Rosie. If there’s ever a need, he’s still capable of making babies.
Geez, he needs to watch his thinking. Fantasizing like that is low territory even if he hasn’t been on a date for more than a year. Triplek’s already gotten out of hand with the Viagra jokes.
Almost there. Looks like one truck raising dust up ahead of him. Wrong color vehicle, though. Definitely not hers.
It’s just like her to want to walk the site again. He’s got the latest grids. He thinks he can convince Delaney to plan for re-injection of the well water if that’s what she and the DEQ recommend. The lens they want to tap is sweet water, worth saving instead of just spilling out onto the ground. And they need to get ahead of the curve on water reclamation, that’s his opinion. Set some new industry standards. The roughshod days are nearly done. It’s time for the coal-bed methane biz to grow up. Triplek thinks the hammer’s coming down soon anyhow because of the sage grouse problem, no matter what. The grouse are disappearing even faster than good ground water. Everybody, even the feds, has noticed that.
One thing he’s learned in this trade is how to go lean and mean. He’ll be direct with her. It’s a chance he can’t waste, him out of Casper, her operating out of Gillette and Cheyenne. Dinner tonight? Coffee sometime soon? Hell, he’ll drive three hours to the state capital to buy her coffee. It’d be worth it. His blood hasn’t fizzed like this in he doesn’t know how long. She wears her ponytail out the back of her cap. Long, tan legs in hiking shorts. All business and smarts with a good sense of humor. She even likes football. Goddamn, he needs to rein in. Not think about those shorts. If he keeps this up, Triplek and the boys will have to hold him down and re-inject him with common sense. Just to relieve the pressure.
Fuck it, Tonto. Try the wires again.
Give me a minute. I got a lot of grease here.
Goddamn truck, I hate it. I hate a goddamn Chevy.
Just settle for two minutes, Jason. I’m about to get her right.
Why isn’t dickhead helping us? Where’s he gone to? The wind’s really kicking up.
Taking a leak. You want to come hold the light for me or sit up there and complain?
I want to get home. Shower. Eat a T-bone steak before my Friday night’s disappeared. My hand hurts like hell.
Think you broke it? Or can you hold this light?
I’m coming. It’s swolled up some, see? Aches like a son of a gun.
You might’ve chipped a bone in that knuckle. I did that once. Healed after I wore a splint for a few weeks. Okay, set that there while I check the connection on this wire.
You gonna report it? My hand?
I got to report it unless you want to miracle heal yourself with ice. Insurance requires.
Quealey ain’t gonna like it.
It was an accident. I saw it. You didn’t fuck up or nothing, so you should be fine.
I hope so. ’Cause I’m still peeing in a bottle for that district judge. I’ve had my problems. I admit it. But I need this job. Really need it. I’ll haul my share of pipe without a splint if I have to.
I’ll talk to Quealey. You’re doing good. Is Prentiss back yet? Prentiss, we need that flashlight you got unless you want to camp here till dawn. What’s he doing out there so long? Wishing on stars? Prentiss!
I can’t see him, the loafer. It gets darker than you’d think up in these hills. Cold, too. Want me to try dispatch again? Let ’em know we’re down?
Good luck. I couldn’t get nothing but crackles. We might as well be on the moon. Get up in the cab and put the clutch in, will you? Then wait for my say.
I’m about to kill that Prentiss. Drive off and leave his ass, that’s what we ought to do. That’s a real storm coming in.
Maybe he scared hisself with that story.
What story? The car wreck he told about, the one with his aunt and his sister?
You don’t listen good, do you? Try the ignition one more time.
My hand hurts. It’s a distraction.
Almost got her. Turn it again. Shit. One more wiggle on this wire maybe. I’m talking about that Chinese story.
What Chinese? Was he talking about being laid off again, from Thunder Basin? I’d like to get on at the mine up there some day. Everybody would.
I don’t know what he said about Thunder Basin. Rock Springs is where he’s from. Only been here a few months. He said he saw a Chinese today.
So? There’s all kinds out here. Fortex and them got guys from Russia working on their lines.
Uzbekistan’s what you’re thinking, the ones with Fortex. Uzbeks. It was when we left him at that gate, so he could wave in that load of pipe. He said he saw a Chinese guy swinging an old-timey lantern, the kind that burns kerosene. In the daylight.
Goddamn, I hate a piece of shit Chevy. You had it for a second.
Yeah. Motherfuck. Yep. Hold her there, Jason. That’s it. Good. Let it run just like that for a minute. I’m going to holler for Prentiss and his Chinese. He says a thing like that means a coal mine’s about to cave in, a warning like. It had him thinking. It’s a story they believe in Rock Springs.
We ain’t in Rock Springs. We’re headed home for steak. At least I am.
Prentiss is weird, in case you hadn’t noticed. You might want to hit the horn to call him back in here.
Hope he’s got sense to come in before that lightning gets any closer. That batch looked rough. I don’t need a Chinese man to spook me home. Rain’ll do her. I can’t afford to get stuck in no gumbo out here during rain, not with a weekend of tequila medicine in front of me. No fucking way. I hate gumbo roads. No Chinaman’s gonna change that.
I hear you.
Then let’s tear up the path to home, Tonto. What say? He’ll be all right. There’s traffic out here now and again. I vote we leave Prentiss with his thumb up his butt and tear through this goddamn dirty no place to home. There’s traffic. Serve him right, is what I say. Serve us all right.
She’s late. She’ll go as far as the Soft Water Creek turnoff—she should be able to look down on the site from there. If somebody’s waiting, she’ll go on in. But she’s running way behind. Overslept. Right through her alarm. Something she never does. Then the hospital calls, wanting information on the old guy she found at Fortification Creek last night. What information? He looked like he needed help, and she helped him. Nothing special about it, though it’s true she doesn’t make it a regular practice to pick up men when she’s working alone. But this one looked different. All pale and wobbly like he didn’t recognize his own self. He seemed thankful. He was real polite to her in his way.
She hopes Delaney isn’t out here tapping his toes, checking his expensive watch. Delaney loves to chap her ass. He says it every time: the role of government is national defense. Meaning regulators like her are a hindrance to American enterprise. As if she didn’t come up behind Delaney and his brother in school, knowing them when their family ranch went belly-up and his father crabwalked into a job at the mortuary. Jerk. He likes to hear the sound of his own voice. He thinks he’s become something.
She hopes Andy will be there to keep the peace. Andy has a reputation for being able to talk Delaney out of some of his trees. He’s a good hydrologist, too. He reminds her of Dr. Lockwood from the university when he talks all steady and slow. And he’s cute. She’s already admitted that much.
What she wouldn’t give for a state truck that played CDs. A morning like this deserves good music, not this punch-card stuff on the radio. Word is that Andy likes to dance. She can see that in the way he walks. One thing she’s always liked about older guys is how well they dance.
She wishes she hadn’t checked her messages while her cell phone was still in service. Danton always calls on Saturdays. She knows that. She should’ve been ready. He said he was in Oregon for the rest of the month, catching the last snow on Mount Hood. He said he was doing good, maybe she wanted to come out? The way he asked the question just about made her cry. He didn’t mention Chelsey—it was probably some other girl by now. Chelsey was the kind who would split.
God, his voice. And he was sweet to the bone, so good-looking and athletic. She didn’t regret a single minute of those two years in Jackson. They’d had great times, a few of them wild. It wasn’t the girls that killed her. She’d tried to explain that to him. It was more that she wanted to move on—if going back home was any kind of moving on. She had a great job offer, the work was interesting. Gillette was no kind of place for a competitive snowboarder, she knew that. He wasn’t supposed to follow her. It was just time. Danton said he’d stop to see her on his way through to visit family on the reservation. She knows he’s as good as his word. And she knows she’ll ask him to spend the night. Which will be nice. She’s only had sex about two times since Christmas, both times with an EPA guy from Denver. It hadn’t been great.
Dust from a truck coming her way? Or was that smoke? There’d been plenty of lightning last night, with wind and thunder. It was a strange night even before she picked up the old man. She hoped he was all right, wherever he was.
Danton. Lord, it was uncomfortable thinking about him. Not totally in a bad way, but still. He was doing right by himself, always making time to see his mom and aunties over in Pine Ridge. And he had a true gift for snow. They’d laughed about that some, how it was his special Lakota medicine. He was proud. But she’d never quite seen herself as part of it, his gift. Which was one reason she’d parted ways.
A green truck? Was that right? The air out here sometimes bent things into crazy shapes and distortions. You couldn’t always be sure you were seeing what you saw. What she wanted to see down there to the south of that dry wash was a nice blue truck. Andy’s was blue.
I’m not buying an Appaloosa ever again. If I’ve told Maggie May that once, I’ve told her a hundred times. An Appaloosa is pretty if you can get past those drowned-looking eyes, but that’s all they offer. They don’t stay sound. Their skin goes to rash at the slightest thing. And these ones, the three we’re out here to corral, they’re so dumb they practically qualify for genius. Seems like they keep me in fits most of the time.
Maggie May’s got a good hand with them this morning. That mustang she’s riding, I bought him at auction over in Cody. He’s the horse you want. Leg bones like steel, appetite like a hungry soldier. A mustang will not go picky on you. They even beat out a mule that way. I wish I felt up to keeping him rode like I should, but my hips are no better than a spaniel’s. I need to go easy, pick my spots. Maggie May’s a top-notch stand-in, I’ll say that. I couldn’t have ordered up a better grandchild.
That little prairie fire didn’t scare her a bit. We saw the smoke as far out as Lone Tree Butte, figured there was some kind of burn-off at one of the wells. But it was flames right here on my deeded section. Them Appaloosas, they didn’t move with the wind like the pronghorn and mule deer will do. They decided to race about two hundred yards south so they could stand in the muddy swale. It was like they knew it was early Saturday morning and time for me and Maggie May to come to the rescue, the dumb clucks. Maggie May drove them clear with the mustang, and I got the rural fire service on the radio, just for their information. Fire burned out before it even crossed the two-track. We tamped on it with a shovel until we got just the help we needed from a welding crew that drove by. Two nice boys from up at Sheridan. It’s a good thing last night’s weather brung us a little rain.
Then it’s Lora Van Tassell pulling up in her state truck, saying hello. I had her in sixth grade and in eighth. Smart little thing. And she never did let the attention that went to her football-star brother get under her skin. He tore up his knee at Colorado State like most of them do. Came back and tried to work for his daddy. Left for California after that. I suspect it’s a good thing he didn’t go through the trapdoor to marriage with that Engelheim girl he liked. I suspect marriage to any girl is not his line.
Lora’s drawing pay from the DEQ, and I say good for her. The fools at the conservation district should have been screaming at the governor for more of her kind five years ago. We could’ve used the help when the gas rigs started sprouting like dandelions. We could’ve used some common sense, too. I don’t know why ranchers and farmers always think they know all there is to know, but I’m guilty of it myself. Tommy France, my husband, was better at planning for change, God rest his soul. It was an attitude he brung back with him from the Pacific and that hard fighting against the Japanese.
Lora wants to know if I’ve seen any trucks from Peter Delaney’s outfit, DBD, or whatever they call it. I haven’t. There was that welding crew. And a blue Toyota 4X4 with Natrona County plates. Lora lights up when she hears about that one. Barely keeps her smile to herself.
She mentions a fellow she picked up last night on what we used to call Charger Road. How she took him to the hospital in town and how he slipped out again. I tell her I’ve never known a soul to live year-round out that way, but it’s practically summertime, and it could be he’s a Basque sheepman, that was their kingdom once upon a time. Those old coots have pretty much let the air out of their wagon tires by now, same as me, but maybe one of them has got to wandering. I ask Lora if she saw any swamp gas last night. Maggie May and I saw some before dawn this morning when the conditions were still right. That’s another thing about my grandchild. She’s not afraid to get up in the dark, and she’s not tethered to the TV.
My father used to see swamp gas fairly regular when he worked the Salt Creek oil fields. Spooky stuff. He said those balls of light would roll toward you across the ground like the Lord’s own chariot, or the devil’s, depending on who you deserved. He said the lights would draw you into mistakes, like driving off the road or thinking there were people out there waving lamps when there wasn’t nobody at all. That used to scare even some of the old timers. Maggie May wasn’t scared this morning, and neither was I. We just watched that yellowy foxfire dip and blink. We figured we were lucky to see it. I tell Maggie May it’s important to maintain the eyes and habits you need to see unusual things.
I ask Lora to give her mother a hug from me. I don’t see Betty like I used to since Tommy France died and I lost some of my taste for the church. Betty’s the kind I miss. There’s nothing judgmental about her. She’s the good brand of Christian who draws in the lost lambs.
Maggie May will trailer those Appaloosas faster than I can remember their registered names. Then we’ll go back to my place in town and do some practicing for the 4-H gymkhana. It’s week after next. If I play my cards halfway right, somebody in the 4-H will like the look of an Appaloosa, and I can get rid of these fool hay engines once and for all.
Red Dawg Bar
No lie. Andy didn’t report in all afternoon. I am not shitting you. The man went right off the clock, took that DEQ gal to lunch at that little place, Debbie’s, and lunch never ended. Betterton says he saw them when he stopped next door for gas. The place was empty except for a jukebox and the two lovebirds.
I’ll be damned. Randy Andy. I’m just about jealous. Always thought of him as pretty quiet.
Maybe that’s what she likes, though you could’ve fooled me. She used to go with one of the Curry boys in high school, but she’s been out of the area for a while. Good-looking woman, I’ll say that. Wish everybody who worked for the government was so easy on the eyes.
What? You don’t get a rush staring at Mike Downs and his big gut?
I don’t. How about you? His interim reports give you wet dreams?
Not hardly, Triplek. I got a perfectly nice wife, same as you.
Yeah, Andy’s had a hard couple of years. This’ll be good for him, even if it don’t last.
Think she’s a ball breaker, do you?
Maybe not. She seems nice, even if she did live in Jackson for awhile. Shacked up with a pro skier or something like that. But it hasn’t ruined her, far as I can tell.
I love how you’re suddenly the expert, Triplek. You going to be this analytical when your girls start going on dates?
No way. I been on my share of high school dates. I’m locking Jen and Maddy in the attic until they’re twenty-five.
Here it comes. The bullshit. You start telling lies like that, you got to buy me at least one more cold beer.
All right. You’re worth the two dollars. Then I need to head on back.
Heard anything about that kid went missing last night?
Wandered off from his crew when their rig broke down after dark, so his boys get pissed and lathered after a while and drive on home. Leave him out there. Bad weather, too. The sheriff reckons he spent the night curled up under a cutbank, that he’ll turn up like they usually do. I hope he didn’t fall off one of those cliffs and break a few serious bones.
He’ll be fine, assuming he’s not an idiot.
Boys he works with must be idiots, so the benchmark’s not too high.
It’s the price of boom times. There’s nobody left to hire but druggies and petty thieves. Carleton and Vasquez are always crying about that. They can’t get good workers anymore. The Casper labor market is plumb tapped out.
It’s just like our gas rush to have a hefty price tag, isn’t it? Wild, Wonderful Wyoming—the last place in America to get ahead, except the getting don’t last. Why can’t we ever have it easy?
Are you going pessimist on me again? Is that the price of a second beer? Chin up, partner. There are a few more paychecks left for us to cash. Hopefully a lot more. You’ve earned them.
Yeah, yeah. I just like to worry. The big company money’s moving on to Rawlins and Sublette. More power to them. They’ve gnawed their way through pretty much everything in this part of the state. But the speculating I see now—like what Delaney’s been trying to pull—that stuff’s hard to predict. The whole house of cards could collapse at any second.
Don’t let it take you with it. That’s what I say.
I won’t. Sharon’s real good that way. She’s made us stay conservative with our money. But my kids, especially Joey, he wants to come back up here after he finishes his engineering degree. What’s he going to find?
Hell if I know. Maybe he’ll find what that kid who wandered away from his crew found—wind and a whole lot of nothing.
And here I thought I was the pessimist.
I’m just saying there’s not a whole lot you can guarantee to anybody in America, Land of Extraction. This state’s never had big teats to suck. You and me dug our heels in, stuck it out like fence posts, and somehow we’re still standing. Now we got a chance to ride some serious dumb luck for a while. You might want to drink to that.
Sure. Okay. Here’s a cold one finished off in honor of fat field engineers and their bronco luck. Powder River, let ’er buck.
And a toast to Andy Josling. He’s at Debbie’s Restaurant charming a pretty woman over a five-hour lunch. I can’t wait to hear all about it. I’m gonna pry the details right off his lips. You and me sit here, and we talk, talk, talk about the energy business and how we’re going to keep from getting screwed again, and that old boy, he’s out there grading a brand-new road into the future. Andy’s taking a real risk, in case you hadn’t noticed. You got to admire the sheer balls that takes. He’s not sipping sad whiskey about his past. He’s not looking over his shoulder. Goddamn. Here’s to a guy who knows real pay dirt when he sees it.