Emperor of the East Slope
Steeped in the history of the province of Alberta, Canada, “Emperor of the East Slope” follows the life of Tom Edmunds, who, returning wounded from the First World War, finds himself jilted by the love of his life. His drive to succeed leads him to found a family business empire against the backdrop of early twentieth century Alberta. Through the death and suffering of two wars, his family moves forward against rivalry and bitter feuding with enemies to eventual success.
THE VIRGIN OF BREBIÈRE
September 16, 1916
The sucking passage of the five point nine and its erupting arrival nearby pierced his exhausted sleep only enough to make him twitch. The detonation of the second, closer by, brought forth a grunt. The mud-caked figure stirred in the gloom of the dugout. A glutinous river of mud flowed through the door, frozen in time like the encroachment of solidified lava, half submerging his inert body. He felt stiff and cold, totally beat. Rolling over, he gasped at the pain and discomfort. Sodden through, his woollen clothes pressed down on him like some grim second skin. The tears in his flesh from barbed wire glowed hotly and re-opened under the stress of his movements. Combat instinct found his rifle, caked like himself with mud, and useless. First on the list!
Another shell arrived with a slamming, earth-shaking roar. A trickling sound came from the rear of the bunker, as soil slid down to the floor. Would this hell never cease? Distant shouts came from outside, whether in English or German, he couldn’t tell nor barely cared. A faint light filtered in through the hole leading up to the trench, making the time of day indeterminate. The heavy timbers shoring up the dugout were carved with letters barely discernible as Gothic. So this had once been a German position. Whose now?
His hands encountered something soft, a uniform. Nobby Clarke! Nobby Clarke! It must be! It started to come back! How many hours had it been since they tumbled into this German bunker? How many hours since they faced that murderous enfilade of machine gun fire and exploding ‘Toads’ to buy these few yards of advance in the mud of the Somme battlefield? Five hundred lives! Just yesterday! Had it been two or three counter-attacks by the ‘Alleyman’? God, the blood and carnage! They took the same shell hole three times in an hour to get here. Each time, the hole grew smaller, as the dead heaped higher in it. He spat out a mouthful of mud and grimaced at the gritty texture. To go home! To stop this! He survived the previous day, could he survive another? “Godammit! Get a grip of yourself!” Lately, he had begun to talk to himself.Nobby was not responding to the shaking he was giving him. Groping between the webbing straps across his chest, he got his numbed hands in a pocket and pulled out his matches. Movement caused the spread of cold up his body like a rising tide, robbing him of body heat, siphoning off his energy. Fumbling with stiffened fingers, he peeled the piece of waterproof oilskin off the box of matches. Fighting to steady himself between shivers, he wrestled a match to the striking patch on the side of the box.
“Bryant and May, give me day!” The match, reluctant at first, finally flared. He held it aloft. With an exclamation, he tried to shake it out. Fickle match! Now it would not go out! Finally, he dropped it. The morass beneath him greedily swallowed the light with a sizzle. It was Nobby Clarke all right but not Nobby Clarke. The corporal’s tapes were there but not the head…
…….Leaning against the doorpost, he held the wallet to the light. “Mrs. Frederick Clarke, General Delivery, Wetaskiwin, Alberta. We regret to inform you…” Shit! The telegraph company must be making a fortune! A partly faded photograph showed a dark haired woman and three children posed proudly but self-consciously outside a farmhouse door. What would that rather horsy-looking woman and her three little ponies think to receive this photo back from their dead father’s body? Would they be able to sense any spirit vibrations left from a pair of sad, dark eyes, perusing them longingly in quieter moments of this living hell?
December 2, 1938
Beth Edmunds dropped the long silk nightdress around her ankles and stood naked in front of the big wardrobe in her bedroom. The large mirror on the door revealed her image from head to toe. She regarded her form with a critical eye. So this was what Edward Sturdee Junior was going to get tomorrow! She shuddered slightly at the delicious anticipation of feeling Edward’s hands and lips on her body.
Tomorrow was her wedding day. She threw herself at Edward shamelessly, yet thanks to his resolve, not totally wantonly. Edward’s limit of carnal knowledge of her was limited to passionate kissing and fondling, since he had not provided the leadership she was anxious to follow. The bastard was a tease. That was it! Belonging to such a staunch church family, his natural desires were restrained by morality. She had intuitively known that if she had taken the initiative, he would have been shocked, and she did not dare lose him. Still, she knew the adequate size and hardness of him, and her eyes narrowed at the thought. Anticipation, they say, is part of the pleasure.
Her form was slight, her brown hair fashionably short and carefully curled. Her looks, she had long debated, were average. She had her mother’s solemnity, her father’s eyes and quick smile, which gave her mobility of features. Her shoulders were suitably narrow, ribs visible without being prominent. Her breasts were smallish but firmly rounded like upright dumplings. The dark red nipples had small areolae and erected readily, as they were now. Their peculiarity was that they appeared to be mounted on an extra prominence of the breasts, creating, as she observed from a sideways view, a lemon-shape. Also, her left nipple was set at the bottom edge of its areola instead of in the middle; a quirky imperfection she supposed was a family trait.
Her waist was narrow. Her navel was an ‘inner’ that lurked only half concealed, like a lecherous wink. She frowned as her gaze settled on her hips, which swelled appropriately, yet carried a ripple of puppy fat. She must diet! Swivelling, she looked over her shoulder at her buttocks. Just below a pair of sacral dimples, they were nicely pear-shaped without being too prominent and lined up with the widest swell of her hips. Her thighs were sleek, yet muscular, and she had been complimented on numerous occasions for her shapely calves.
She pirouetted one more time. Edward Sturdee was one lucky fellow!
“Stop the pull!” Danny issued the order urgently and seized the controls himself. Kaminski leapt to the door and yelled at the crew to stop breaking the pipe. They had a length of drill pipe tight in the jaws of the tongs and were preparing to unscrew it and sling it to the side of the rig with the rest.
There was a deep rumble beneath them, like the slow belch of a giant. “Looks like an induced kick, Fred!” Madly, Danny upped the mud pumps to their maximum output, but they still would not hold the bump in the well below them. The rig derrick suddenly sang as a massive pressure outbreak turned loose below them. The drill stem, like a giant piston, strained against the grip of the Kelly tongs and stretched the steel derrick by an inch. A high-pitched whine of tensile torture commenced. It was joined by another scream of torment as the drill stem was forced between the Kelly jaws, smoke pouring off it, the frictional heat burning off lubricants and melting the steel.
“She’s gonna go!” Kaminsky roared the words and leaped to the Klaxon to warn the crew. The hoarse, urgent bursts of the emergency alarm swamped the site, almost an unnecessary adjunct to the alarming sounds coming from the bowels of the earth. Echoey hiccups of sound were coming from all around. Tortured metal approached its tensile limits. A burst of mud exited the rotary platform. Such was the force behind it that it squirted forty feet into the air before twisting like a demented thing and smashing in the window of the drilling shack.
Horrified, Danny stared at the driller. “Get into the hell hole and crank the manual. That bloody Krebbs. I’ll have his balls for not being ready for this! Sonofabitch didn’t have any barite mixed, and we won’t have any kill rate to control this!”
Kaminski gave him a look of wild disbelief and then fled to the stairs. Danny knew what was happening. Loss of circulation was bad enough at the best of times, but loss when you were tripping out of the hole was disastrous if the well kicked. And this one had. With the sudden loss of mud pressure, with no mud weight to throw down the hole, he was going to have to rely on blowing off the excess pressure and then sealing it in with the blowout preventer. The speed with which it was happening was unusual though.
With a screaming tear, the drill pipe shifted, once, twice, and then let go. Mud shot from the open hole, evacuating at tremendous speed and bubbled with gouts of gas. The wrench fell right into such a bubble, sparking off a girder as it went, and in a moment, the gas was ignited. The last two strings of pipe went through the top of the rig like a runaway piston, tearing out the top works and creating enough friction and sparks to ignite further pockets of gas.
There were a series of “whoomps” as flammable gas ignited. The whole derrick was a fireball in seconds. A sound, like a hundred runaway steam trains now dominated everything. The ground shook. Mud was blowing almost two hundred feet in the air, drenching everything around it, except the fire. And then the oil came.
September 16th 1916. Flanders
(Post-combat platoon chat)
“What’s the first thing you’re gonna do when you get home, Chalky?”
“Fuck myself daft, lad or rather back to sense again, I must have been crazy to volunteer for this lot!”
“What are you gonna do second?”
“Put my kitbag down and close the front door!” Chalky White eyed the tatterdemalion group surrounding him, pausing with the hung timing of the natural comedian. “Later, I’ll buy a house with a big yard, and when my ‘fornifications’ have born natural fruit, on the little bleeder’s fifth birthday, I shall take him into the garden and make him dig a hell-hole like this, flood it, and make him sit in it for an hour each day, so he knows not to volunteer like his old man did!”
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