Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "This Mischievous Effect from Lead"

This poem is spillover from the July 21, 2020 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] bairnsidhe, [personal profile] readera, [personal profile] mama_kestrel, [personal profile] fuzzyred, and Anonymous. It also fills the "intelligent" square in my 2-1-19 "You Are" card for the Valentines Bingo fest. This poem belongs to the Broken Angels thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.


"This Mischievous Effect from Lead"

[Monday, December 21, 2015]

Not long after the "cape fight"
that had revealed the lead pipes
riddling the Lincoln infrastructure,
Boss Blaster had gotten a call
from Boss White offering to help.

Since Boss Blaster had had
fuckall luck arranging any kind of
meeting with Lincoln Water System,
he had gratefully accepted the offer.

Boss White had gotten it done in an hour.

Well, that's what decades of experience,
connections, and favor trading would do.

Boss Blaster hoped that he could build up
that kind of influence himself, someday.

So now he and Boss White were
heading for the water building,
along with Vybra who was
posing as their secretary.

"Are you sure this will work?"
Vybra said anxiously. "I don't
really know how to take notes."

She'd had to borrow the tablet
from Cas and a business suit from
Violaceous, rather than sticking to
the fantasy garb she preferred.

The black fabric contrasted with
her caramel skin, and her teal hair was
pulled back in a bun, fastened with pins.

They would've taken Cas, but he
couldn't swear to keep his temper
with the people who had leaded
the water his daughter used to drink.

"I said look like you're taking notes,"
Boss Blaster reminded Vybra. "Just
jot down whatever you can. If I had
needed a real secretary, then I would
have hired one. What I actually want
is a visual demonstration that I run
a mixed-race, soup-friendly company.
That always throws a bigot off base."

"So like a show soup?" Vybra said,
tilting her head. "Yeah, that I can do.
Johns pay to look at me all the time --
oops, sorry, not supposed to say that."

"You don't need to say anything in
the meeting," Boss Blaster replied.
"Just be your beautiful self."

"And listen," Boss White said.
"You might notice something
that the two of us miss."

"Sure, I'm a good listener,"
Vybra said. "Part of my job."

"I can tell; that's why I asked,"
Boss White said with a nod.

"All right, it's show time,"
said Boss Blaster, heading
up the wide sidewalk.

"Boss?" Vybra said as they
approached the glass doors.
"Underhill rules apply?"

"What?" he said, baffled.

"Don't drink the water or
eat the food," Vybra said.

"Yeah," Boss Blaster agreed,
eyeing the tall water cooler in
the lobby. "That's a good idea."

They followed the signs to
the small conference room.

"I can do this, I can do this,"
Boss Blaster chanted quietly.

"Course you can, I don't promote
idiots," Boss White said firmly.
"You just need to show them
that you're intelligent and you
won't put up with their shit like
the last ignoramus in charge."

"From what I've seen of the locals,
'in charge' might be a stretch of
imagination," Boss Blaster said.

He'd been mopping up after
Boss Batir since he got here,
and still wasn't close to done.

Boss White pulled the door
open, but then held it for
Boss Blaster and Vybra.

There were three other men
waiting for them around the table.

The ruddy fellow in the cheap blue shirt
spoke first. "Derwin Drippet, manager
of Lincoln Water System," he said.

Is he drunk? Boss Blaster wondered.

Not ... quite, Boss White replied,
but nor is he entirely sober. Be
prepared to take advantage of that
.

Boss Blaster hid a smile. This would
make it much easier to outwit him.

"Aberforth Asche," said the one fiddling
with a section of pipe in a sealed case.
"I serve as a water quality consultant for
the Environmental Protection Agency
and the National Hate Crimes Office."

Honest, Boss White hinted.
He's utterly livid about the lead.

So they had someone on their side;
that was bound to prove useful.

Of course, Boss Blaster also knew
that what NHCO lacked in teeth,
it made up in connections and
sheer dogged determination.

If they wanted to lay into
Lincoln Water System for
racism -- which would be
an easy case given what
he was hearing about which
neighborhoods were worst off --
the manager didn't stand a chance.

The third man had sorrel skin that
contrasted with his smart blue suit.
"Thank you for coming, gentleman, miss,"
he said as he stood up and offered his hand.
"I'm Cicero Silcott of the Lincoln City Council.
Nobody else wanted to deal with this mess,
so they assigned it to the juniormost."

His handshake was warm and firm,
though, and he pulled out three chairs
to offer the guests a seat at the table.

Oh, I like this kid, Boss White sent.
He actually means 'serve' on the council.

That seemed even more promising.
If they could outnumber the manager,
maybe something would get done.

"I'm Dwayne White, from Omaha,
investing interest," said Boss White.
"I'm helping Mr. Maxwell establish
himself as a businessman here.
Miss Ibanez will be taking notes."

"We greatly appreciate your interest
in improving our city," said Mr. Silcott.
"I hope this unfortunate situation can be
cleared away with no harm to your properties."

"I already called in some specialists to help
with that," Boss Blaster assured him.
"I'm sure they can get the lead out."

"We have connections to professionals
with some ... exceptional abilities in
that regard," Boss White said. "It's
just a matter of funding, since
such services don't come cheap."

Boss Blaster refrained from mentioning
that he'd gotten Cas a wholesale card
at the Big Box Club, just for sake of
feeding the soups who were using
their superpowers all day long.

The food was worth it, though.
The Amaretto Apple Crispetti
with Banana Gelato was enough
to satisfy even his sweet tooth.

"Oh, come off it," said Mr. Drippet.
"Cicero, I know you're still wet behind
the ears, but even you should see that
they're trying to dig in your pockets.
They're just making a mountain out of
a molehill -- it's only one neighborhood
and not that much lead anyhow."

Boss Blaster couldn't have asked
for a better setup for the quote
that he had prepared for this case.

"You will see by it, that the Opinion of
this mischievous Effect from Lead, is
at least above Sixty Years old; and you
will observe with Concern how long a
useful Truth may be known, and exist,
before it is generally receiv'd and practis'd on.
Benjamin Franklin, 1786," said Boss Blaster.
For a moment there was only the sound
of Vybra's stylus on the tablet computer.

Then Boss White picked up smoothly, "Water
from clay pipes is much more wholesome
than that which is conducted through
lead pipes, because lead is found to be
harmful for the reason that white lead is
derived from it, and this is said to be hurtful
to the human system. Vitruvius, 30 BC."

"Two of my favorite quotes!" Mr. Asche said
at the same time Mr. Silcott asked, "Are
you a fan of the Great Inventor, then?"

"I have enjoyed reading about
Benjamin Franklin, but I'm more
into cars myself," said Boss Blaster.
"He was certainly right about the lead."

"I have heard that some people are
exaggerating the amounts found,"
Mr. Drippet said. "That's fraud."

"What I'd like to hear is
your plan for removing
the lead from this city,"
Mr. Silcott said as he
steepled his fingers.

"Well, we can't just
ignore everyone who's
trying to skate on paying
for their own renovations,"
Mr. Drippet whined.

"Actually, Mr. Drippet,"
Boss Blaster began, and
saw Mr. Silcott scowl. "I'd
like to hear your answer to
the councilman's question."

Mr. Silcott's jaw dropped.
Apparently he wasn't used to
anyone taking him seriously,
let alone backing him up.

Mr. Drippet burst out laughing.
"Well look who's got hisself
a new sockpuppet!" he said.
"What's the matter, couldn't find
one your own color? That's like
wearing white socks with a black suit!
I swear, you lot have no class at all."

"I will thank you to speak politely,"
Boss Blaster growled. "Those are
my people you're talking about."

"You got a touch of the tar brush?"
Mr. Dippet said, staring at him.

"No, I just grew up in a ghetto
so I have a lot of black friends
and family," Boss Blaster said,
narrowing his eyes at Mr. Dippet.
"You'd do well to remember that."

Down, boy, Boss White murmured
in his mind. We came here today
to whup his ass on the table, not under it
.

Sorry, boss, said Boss Blaster. He
just pisses me right off, is all
.

"Sign here, please," Mr. Asche said,
passing a tablet to Boss Blaster.

"Excuse me?" Boss Blaster said,
frowning at the form on it.

"You're all witnesses to
a racially motivated attack,"
Mr. Asche explained. "This will
support NHCO's claim of racism
vis-a-vis the lead poisoning case."

"Ah, excellent," said Boss Blaster
as he signed with a flourish. Then
he passed the tablet to Boss White.
"What can you tell me about
the environmental issues?"

It was like pushing turbo.

Mr. Asche surged ahead with
a preliminary report collated from
active complaints about lead pipes and
other fixtures, using the sample pipe
to illustrate the relevant problems,
and what it would take to undo
that kind of systemic damage.

Despite the complexity of
the topic, Mr. Asche did
an impressive job of
breaking it down into
actionable steps.

Vybra wrote furiously,
trying to keep up with him.

"I can send you a copy of
my report so you can forward
these recommendations to
your remediation crew,"
Mr. Asche offered.

"Yes, please, send it
to my work eddress,"
Boss Blaster said,
passing him a card.

No doubt Dozer would
appreciate the detail, since
he was a construction worker,
not some kind of scientist.

"Will the EPA be funding
at least part of the cleanup?"
Boss White asked. "There's
a lot of work to be done here,
and none of it comes cheap."

Mr. Asche nodded. "I expect
they'll declare it a disaster zone,"
he said. "The courts can decide
later where fault lies to set fines."

"There will most definitely be
a court case," Mr. Silcott said.
"The other council members
are dragging their feet, but I
won't stop until we find out
who's responsible for this."

"But they're old pipes!"
Mr. Drippet protested.
"Some of those things
look older than I am."

"Irrelevant," said Mr. Asche.
"At least two applicable laws
have banned lead fixtures in
water systems and required
the removal of older ones.
That didn't happen here --
and you didn't catch it, as
you were supposed to do."

Mr. Dripper was sweating.
"I-I mean it's a big system,
nobody could have known..."

He's lying, Boss White said.
He knew. Quite a lot of them
knew -- and covered it up
.

"Oh really?" Boss Blaster said,
his voice revving like an engine.
"I find that hard to believe in a city
where the ice breaks some pipes
every winter. Not to mention that
I have recently bought property
whose inspections somehow
missed a quantity of lead pipes."

"You have documentation for that,
I hope?" Mr. Asche said, brightening.
"I'd like to add it to our case."

"Yes, I'll send you the files from
the purchase, and the work I've
hired since," Boss Blaster said.

He'd have to ask Shiv to write up
something about identifying the lead.
They hadn't bothered with it earlier,
speed being of the essence.

"Thank you, that should help
make a case for negligence if not
malicious intent," said Mr. Asche.

"Abrasive little pig," Mr. Drippet said,
glaring at the water consultant.

Mr. Asche chuckled. "You know,
some of my female collegues think
that word only gets used on women.
I'm happy to assert that anyone can be
abrasive, simply by speaking truth to power."

"Ah, but some of my most annoying employees
are also the most valuable," Boss White said.
"Not only do they notice things others don't,
they won't hesitate to speak up about it."

In fact, Shiv was an aggravating little cuss,
but he was the first person Boss Blaster
had thought of for finding the lead.

"It's nice to be appreciated,"
Mr. Asche said with a smile.

"I'm glad that other people are
getting involved in this issue,"
said Mr. Silcott. "We've had
complaints off and on for years,
but somehow nothing came of it."

Because the water department
blocked that,
Boss White said.

"It does make you wonder, doesn't it?"
Boss Blaster said brightly. "How many
inspections must have missed the pipes
in order for them to still be around?
And the water quality: just dreadful."

Surprisingly, Vybra flicked her fingers
over the tablet and then turned it around,
showing a map that someone had made
to illustrate water quality by neighborhood.

Mr. Silcott hissed in disapproval. "Well,
that's going to get some people fired.
The redlining is just atrocious."

"Might could be you'd want to put
someone on matching this map with
the old bank records," Boss White said.
"I think you're onto something here
and they will line right up."

"I will," said Mr. Silcott.
"I suppose we'll need to call
the NAACP for that part, too."

"I can handle that," said Mr. Asche.
"I've worked with them before on
environmental racism as expressed
in neighborhood-driven negligence."

Boss Blaster felt really glad that
somebody knew what they were doing.
He felt hopelessly out of his depth.

Nonsense. You are doing fine,
Boss White sent firmly.

They went around and
around like that for hours,
thrashing out what was wrong
and what could be done to fix it.

Boss Blaster could tell that
Mr. Drippet was more interested
in covering up the problem than
actually repairing the damage, but
fortunately he wouldn't be in charge
of the water department much longer.

If some of their suspicions were right,
heads would roll on the city council, too.

They were wrapping up the meeting
when Mr. Drippet muttered something
about getting flies in the ointment.

Just like that, Boss Blaster had
had it with this shit. He stood up --

Softly, Boss White warned. We
want them to think of us as civilized
.

Boss Blaster really wasn't used to that,
and it ... itched, for want of a better term.
He wanted to grab Mr. Drippet by the scruff
and trot him around until he puked.

Mr. Silcott was fuming too.

Ending his career will last longer,
Boss White sent. Think about that.

"You know what, he's not worth it,
he's out of here," said Boss Blaster.
"Let's just go get pizza instead.
We can hit Yia Yia's, they're great."

Vybra gave a happy yip, then
blushed and bent over the tablet.

"Sounds like a plan," Boss White said,
pushing himself away from the table.
The other people soon followed.

"Listen, the next time you need to talk
with someone on the city council, don't
mess around with the front desk,
just call me," said Silcott, offering
him a silver-edged business card.

That's his through number,
Boss White explained. It'll ring
his private office, not his secretary.
Smile and give him yours in return
.

"Thank you," Boss Blaster said,
handing his own card to Mr. Silcott.
"You want to get pizza with us?"

"I would love to drown my sorrows
in parmesan and craft beer,"
Mr. Silcott said with a grin.

Boss Blaster counted that
as a step toward his goal
of making connections.

* * *

Notes:

This poem runs long, so its notes appear separately.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing
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