The Golden Tide: Michiel gathers evidence

Oiled beach, courtesty of Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee CouncilMichiel parked the car below the crest of the hill, out of sight of the coast. He had driven forty kilometres south of Siracusa, past Vendicari and the fishing port of Marzamemi, to the small gulf which sheltered the fish farms just north of Capo Passero. The badly kept narrow road snaked between uncultivated fields, moving in and out from the coast. There were no villages here, just wasteland. When he had seen the road turning towards the coast he had pulled over and tucked the hire car into a gateway. There were no buildings around, and he had not seen another vehicle for ten minutes.

Hitching his camera bag onto his shoulder Michiel walked quickly along beside the stone wall. He did not feel threatened but he did not want to be seen. These photos would be dynamite if the fish farms were fouled.

Where the road slipped over the edge of the hill the bay opened up in front of him. On the still grey sea Michiel could see the fish farms. Nets, walkways, piles in a dense black pattern of dots above the water reached out from the shore into the middle of the sheltered bay. There was no oil on the sea, but Michiel knew it would reach down this far south any day now. Below him, at the water’s edge, he could see the ugly breeze block warehouse which he supposed was the fish processing plant.

He stood by the wall, hidden from view by a large blue sign sporting the EU stars symbol. Pacino Principiale Mariniere, it said. Fish farms financed by the EU Regional Development Fund. He grunted and put his camera bag down. He could not see any sign of life at the fish farm, but he did not want to take any chances. He needed the longest lens for this, he did not want to go closer.

The EU funding notice made a good support for his camera and long lens. The Nikon SLR was old, first generation digital, but it produced terrific shots. The only drawback is how heavy it is, and how fiddly to change the memory card, he thought, as he zoomed in for his first shots.

Michiel was in automatic now, systematically zooming in on the booms which were secured in a double row across the bay, protecting the fish farms. Simone was filling his thoughts. She had come to see him the night before. She had been excited, animated. The news of the plan to foul the fish farms had tumbled out. He could see she was pleased with herself. She could have called my mobile, he had thought. But she chose to come and see me. He was trying to listen to what she said, trying to work out what that meant, and trying to suppress jealousy and fear. She shouldn’t be putting herself at risk with these fishermen. Not for me. But he could not say it. He was afraid she would get angry again.

The tension in the small hotel room had been unbearable. They spoke to each other formally and kept a distance between themselves. Michiel wanted to take Simone in his arms. He wanted to thank her, he wanted to say she should not take risks. He wanted to take her to bed. Badly. But he was afraid to make the wrong move and he did not know what the right move was.

Finally Simone had left. It was an awkward parting and they did not kiss. Michiel had not slept well, thinking of what he should have done. I should have told her I want her. I am sure she wants me. I have to find out how to get close to her.  He decided to call her that night and ask if they could start again.

He relaxed back from his crouched stance and ran back through the pictures. It took a few minutes as to swap the memory card for a second one, then he reshot the key points of the oil defences onto the new card, just to be sure. The pictures were clear, and positive proof that this fish farm could not be hurt by any oil coming in from seaward, unless there was a major storm. It’s good stuff, he thought, and Simone will be pleased when I tell her I have the evidence. She is a tough woman, she took risks, but I can show her they were worth it. I have to show her how I am grateful.

Thinking of risks made him glance around. No-one to be seen, he thought, and packed the camera and lens carefully before walking efficiently back to the car.

No-one to be seen when he looked, but if he had glanced up earlier he would not have missed the boy who was watching him from the curve of the road, and who turned his bicycle swiftly and rode away back down the hill. No-one to be seen, but if he had not been absorbed thinking of Simone and how he could call her that evening he might have been more careful. He might have noticed the motorcycle that joined the traffic behind him as he approached Ortigia, and he might have noticed that it stayed with him until he parked his car and shadowed him until he reached his hotel. But he noticed nothing, because all he could see was Simone, and all he could think of was how he could make things right with her.

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