Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Doing Business with Lead-Pipe Cruelty"

This poem came out of the March 3, 2020 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] kelkyag, [personal profile] chanter1944, [personal profile] shadowdreamer, and Anonymous. It also fills the "Blood Sweat & Tears" square in my 3-1-20 card for the Food Fest Bingo. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Broken Angels thread of the Polychrome Heroics series. It follows the story "Handshake Deal" by Dialecticdreamer, so read that first in order for this to make more sense.

Warning: This poem refers to serious lead contamination of public water supplies.

"Doing Business with Lead-Pipe Cruelty"

[Sunday, November 22, 2015]

Faster Blaster came home from
Campanelli’s Cornucopia, went up
to his office, and then followed
Rosalyn's labyrinthine instructions
to uncover the water quality reports.

What he found left him stunned.

The water in the best parts of the city
had levels several times higher than
children should be drinking, although
there was really no "safe" level of lead.

The water in the worst parts of the city
was hundreds of times higher than that.

Jabbing at the keyboard, Faster Blaster
looked up the regulations for water quality.

The first rule in 1925 had established
an enforceable standard for lead in
drinking water, with an action level
of 0.1 mg/L. Some cities pursued
safer water supplies, while others
ignored it, but finding the violations
nationwide proved very tedious.

In 1986, the Safe Drinking Water Act
banned all use of lead equipment for
water systems. Furthermore, old lead
was supposed to be removed and
replaced to ensure safe water.

Providers were considered guilty
if a problem was proven to exist and
predated the most recent safety check, or
if they failed to fix a new problem promptly.

Faster Blaster wasn't sure how many laws
folks at the Lincoln Water System had broken,
but he suspected that their rapsheet was now
longer than his, and he was a supervillain.

Sometime, somebody had decided not
to upgrade the municipal pipes when
they should have or enforce rules about
upgrading the private fixtures either,
regardless of rules or penalties.

The sheer unbridled ruthlessness
of it shocked him to the core -- six figures,
doing business with lead-pipe cruelty,
mercenary sensibility, and all.

He spent the next ten minutes
pacing the upstairs hallway
while swearing up a storm.

A lot of people over the years
must have contributed to this mess,
but now it was up to him to fix it.

Somehow. Faster Blaster didn't
have to be a water systems expert
to know that would probably take
a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.

He and everyone else had been
washing in that water, doing dishes
with it, and even drinking it.

Now that thought made him sick.

Faster Blaster stomped down the stairs
and into the main floor's kitchen.

Cas was washing glasses in the sink
while Hali sucked on a bottle of red drink.

Just as Rosalyn had predicted earlier,
Faster Blaster snatched the bottle
and emptied it down the sink.

Hali's rising wail blended
with Cas' shocked yelp.

"What the heck, boss?"
Cas said, glaring at him.

"Lincoln water is toxic,"
Faster Blaster gritted. "Start
dumping out everything made
with tap water. Use bottled water
only until further notice. This is
a direct order. Understood?"

"Yes, boss," Cas said.
"You're scaring me."

"I'm scaring myself,"
Faster Blaster said. "I'll
make it up later. Right now,
I need to start working on
the underlying problem."

"Go on, then," Cas said.
He picked up Hali and
bounced her on his hip.
"I'll start clearing out
stuff from the kitchen."

"Thanks," Faster Blaster said.

He was still too upset to think clearly,
so he went out and ran laps around
the neighborhood until he felt
tired enough to slow down.

Then he sucked down
a few energy gels and
a peanut butter sandwich
slathered with honey.

Cas was re-washing
all the just-done glasses
in bottled water, no complaint.

Faster Blaster went upstairs
to make the first phone call.

As soon as Shiv picked up
the phone, Faster Blaster said,
"I need your help. I've got an issue
suited for your particular skills."

"Need somebody cut up?"
Shiv said eagerly.

"No, it's about metal,"
Faster Blaster explained.
"It turns out that Lincoln has
lead water pipes all over
the damn place. I need
you to check my lair."

"I don't know when I can
get out there," Shiv said.
"We're running slow today,
but weekends are usually
our busiest time. I'll have
to ask Boss White."

"Tell him I'll count it
as a favor if I have to,"
Faster Blaster said. "If you
get a teleporter, please warn
me in advance so Cas can
cook accordingly, because
takeout is not an option now."

"Nah, I'll cover the tip," Shiv said.
"Water's fine here, no problem."

"Thank you," Faster Blaster said.

After that, he tried calling
Lincoln Water System, only
to get what sounded like
a very practiced runaround.

Faster Blaster took notes
of everyone he talked to,
in addition to recording
the conversations. Then
for good measure he made
copies of the official webpages.

He wished that he already had
the political power to make things
happen, but it was too soon for that.

He also called several plumbers
and building supply yards to get
an idea of what it might cost
to change water fixtures in
the lair if Shiv found lead.

The numbers didn't sound
good, but he could manage.

About an hour had passed
before Shiv showed up.

"Okay, what do you want
me to do?" Shiv asked.

"I need you to go through
the whole lair and the yard,
including the garage and
my workshop, to find all
of the lead pipes here,"
said Faster Blaster.

"I'll give it a try," Shiv said.
"I've been working with Tolli, so
I can do more with metal now, but
I'm not really used to searching for
things instead of sharpening them."

"Just do the best you can, and tell
me how accurate you think you are,"
said Faster Blaster. "I could pay for
an inspection -- again -- but I think you
will be both faster and more honest."

That should have been covered
in the inspection before he bought
the property, but Faster Blaster
didn't trust it now. He could
deal with that later, though.

Shiv snorted. "Ouch for them,
living down to a supervillain. Well,
let's get this show on the road."

They started in the front yard.
"Seems clean out here," Shiv said,
fingering the faucet on the side
of the house. "This thing's
newer than the building."

"It's had some renovations,"
Faster Blaster said. "Most of
the kitchen is new and doesn't
really match the rest of it."

"That's good if they took out
the old pipes," Shiv said as they
climbed up the porch steps.

Inside, he stopped and frowned.

"Problem?" Faster Blaster said,
instantly alert to the change.

"No, just ... there's a lot more metal
in here than outside, all different kinds,"
Shiv said slowly. "It's harder for me
to concentrate and sort out the lead."

"Take your time," Faster Blaster said.
"If you get hungry, take a break;
we've got packaged snacks."

He'd have to buy a water cooler
or a filter or something so they could
freaking cook again. Even if the house
came up clean, there was no telling what
the water ran through on the way here.

Faster Blaster watched as Shiv pried up
a loose floorboard to reveal a cache of
lead ammo covered in thick dust.

"Put it back down," Faster Blaster said,
and shoved a heavy trunk over it.
"I'll have to empty that later."

When Hali wasn't home.

They checked the basement
next, where Shiv found more
odds and ends of stuff that
Faster Blaster picked up
to dispose of properly.

"There's a run of lead pipes
here, but they're not hooked up
to nothin' anymore," Shiv said,
running his hand over the wall
of the laundry room-workshop.

"Do they go behind the bricks, or
just the drywall?" Faster Blaster said.

"Not bricks, just drywall, they're
only right here," Shiv said.

Faster Blaster reached into
a cabinet and pulled out a can of
red spray paint. "Mark 'em," he said.
"I'll call a plumber to pull 'em later."

Shiv grinned and used the paint
to make stripes over the pipes.

Then he wrote, Lead Pb 82.
Underneath that he painted
some symbol that Faster Blaster
didn't even recognize, finishing
with a skull and crossbones.

"Just to make sure nobody
can say they didn't know,"
Shiv said with smirk, then
tossed the can back.

"That's a good idea,"
Faster Blaster said as he
snapped a picture of the wall.

They checked upstairs, but
the second floor was clean.

Then they went out back.

Shiv wobbled when he
approached the workshop.
"That's a lot of lead," he said.

"Sorry, forgot to warn you,"
Faster Blaster said. "I still
keep some of my barstock and
stuff there -- lead does things that
nothing else will -- but I don't want
to have my main gun workshop
here with a toddler in the house."

"Yeah, kids get into everything,"
Shiv said, not sounding much better.

"Here, sit on the steps for a second,"
Faster Blaster said. He darted back
into the kitchen, grabbed a few bags,
and reappeared before the dust settled.
"You want Cozy Crunch, Honeybunch,
Protein Power House, or um, ... what's
this one, looks like My Yammy Moon?"

"Honeybunch," Shiv said, holding out
a hand. "I need fast sugar right now."

Faster Blaster passed him the bag.
Shiv ripped into it and devoured it.

Once he finished, Shiv dusted off
his hands and said, "Okay, let's
go check the garage next."

The spigot made him frown
and crouch down beside it.

"This is like, part lead mixed
with some other metals? So
is the pipe that runs up to it."
Shiv said. "What a mess."

"Yeah, I'll probably need to ask
someone with Earth Powers to come
and clean the lead out of the soil,"
Faster Blaster said, grimacing.

"Could be worse," Shiv said.
"At least the whole house isn't
full of lead pipes, just this bit."

"Well, I'll get you some tape,"
Faster Blaster said, and went
to find the red duct tape that
they used for marking things
which weren't good for salvage.

Shiv taped up the faucet.
"That should be everything."

"Great, thanks," said Faster Blaster.
"I can get someone out to replace
the few bits of lead that you found."

They headed back to the house
when Shiv stopped so suddenly
that Faster Blaster bumped into him.

"Oh, mother of fuck!" Shiv snarled,
glaring down at the patch of grass.

"What?" said Faster Blaster.

"They didn't take out the lead pipes
from the house," Shiv said, pointing.
"They buried 'em in your goddamn yard."

"Well that's horrifying," said Faster Blaster.
"Can you estimate an area where I should
have the dirt taken up as too contaminated?"

"I dunno, about a truckload?" Shiv said,
waving his hands at the general area.
"There's enough lead in the dirt here
that I can feel it." He wrenched out
the old pipes one at a time.

Faster Blaster looked up
his local garbage company
and called their number for
hazardous waste disposal.

"I need someone to come
remove a pile of lead pipes
from my yard," he said, then
recited the address of his lair.

"We don't really handle --"
the secretary began.

"According to your website,
all hazardous materials are
to be reported to this number
for proper disposal," he said.

"In theory, yes, but in practice
lead is --" the secretary protested.

"Let me make this abundantly clear,"
Faster Blaster said. "You can send out
someone with proper equipment to pick up
the lead pipes in my yard, or I can come
over to your office and dump the lot
in your yard. Your choice."

Then he hung up.

Shiv sniggered as he
dropped the last filthy pipe
onto the autumn-brown grass.

"You sure showed them," he said.
"There's a dozen pipes here, so not
everything from the original plumbing,
probably the last big project they did.
I still wouldn't leave it for very long."

"I won't," said Faster Blaster. "I'll
give the pickup team until the end of
business hours today, then I'll do
what I said I would and chuck it
in front of their damn office."

"They'll know who did it,"
Shiv pointed out. "Risky."

Faster Blaster shook his head.
"They won't do anything to me,"
he said. "They won't dare. I think
this whole city has been keeping
secrets about lead that they can't
afford to let out in the light of day."

"No shit," Shiv said, eyeing
the tangle of old pipes. "You
gonna let that crap stand?"

"No way," Faster Blaster said.
"This is my city, and I aim to run
a clean Business here. I'll deal
with this mess one way or another."

"Somebody better," Shiv said, then
checked his vidwatch. "Come on,
let's go on inside and clean up.
Teleporter's due back soon
with something for supper."

"You didn't say anything about
that," Faster Blaster protested.

"I sent Cas a note 'cause you
told me the water was bad,"
Shiv said with a shrug. "So I
figured cooking and takeout
were both off the table for now."

Faster Blaster sighed. Shiv was
a good kid, but communication
really was not his strong point.

"Well, thanks for thinking of it,"
Faster Blaster said. "Do you
know what we're getting?"

"Not a clue in the world,
except it'll be fantastic,"
Shiv said. "Teleporters
know all the best places
to eat. Just think of it like
Fried Whatever, only better."

So Faster Blaster followed him,
swinging wide around the mess
of pipes on the lawn, then up
into the house so they could eat.

Shiv was right, teleporters were
famous for finding the best food,
and Faster Blaster looked forward
to whatever lay in store for them.

After today, they deserved it.

* * *


This poem is long, so its notes appear elsewhere.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing
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