A Novel by Guy Allen

Preface to The Second Edition
Amyot was first published as an ebook in 2012. Since that time, on the advice of reviewers, the story line has been expanded, much of the technical detail has been eliminated and a Glossary of terms has been included. May you enjoy reading Amyot as much as I enjoyed writing it.

The fringes of civilization in Northern Canada are populated with a scattering of small villages. Amyot is not one of them, but in many ways it represents them all. Why these rural collections of humanity exist where they do can be defined by geographical attractions, a struggling tourist industry, the exploitation of natural resources, transportation routes, or important historical events. They are peopled in the main by those with the pioneering spirit that have forsaken the relative comforts of a more southerly existence through economic choice or necessity. Living in close proximity to the native peoples has blended and blurred the racial lines over the years. Although these settlements and villages are real, you won't find Amyot on a map. It exists only in the mind of the author.

Chapter 1

Disregarding the most important piece of my late father's advice almost cost me my life and will probably haunt me for the rest of my days.

Somewhere off in the distance a bell was ringing. I dragged my mind from total unconsciousness to a halfway, irritated state. I rolled over, decided to wait it out and then go back to sleep, but the noisy creature wouldn't stop. "Damn alarm," I muttered, as I swung an arm across the small table by my bed, hoping to grab the clock and end its misery, and mine, by flinging it into some far corner of the room. No luck. All I managed was to spill half a bottle of tequila, send a couple of books skittering along the floor, and knock the telephone into the wastebasket. The ringing stopped. It took a minute for the realization to make its way through the haze that the sound was from the phone, not the alarm. The clock sat innocently all alone, unplugged, as had been the case for the past two months.
I'd had a total of sixty-three days of slogging through rain-drenched bush and providing meals for hordes of chewing, biting, and sucking insects, while trying to map a bunch of rocks, which had nothing to recommend them other than the fact that they existed. I had been looking forward to a night of blissful sleep after the long thirteen-hour drive from LaRonge. It didn't look like I would be so fortunate.
I lay back with eyes closed and tried to drift away from reality, but I knew any more sleep was impossible. My body was about as awake as it was going to be in its present condition.
"Who the hell would be calling at this time of day," I wondered as I stumbled into my tiny kitchen. One look at the wall clock told me that the time of day was just about noon. The appearance of this room was my next shock. It was immaculate with a vase of fresh flowers on the counter, which was bare, instead of being covered with the disgusting messes I usually leave. The dishes were washed and put away, and everything inside the refrigerator was current and recognizable. Even the spaghetti sauce that had exploded on me before I took off had been wiped from the walls. Millie had obviously left her mark.
Millie Coltron, my guardian angel, owned a small office management business, and as such handled all my reports, accounting, bill paying, and telephone answering. These were the tasks I was either too lazy or stupid to do. Housekeeping was not in our contract, but she kept doing it. This is a double-edged sword, as unsolicited services of any kind from the opposite sex open that little door of warning in my mind, and this was no exception. The specter of possible ulterior motives on Millie's part had occurred to me, but as usual I dismissed any suspicions. Besides, she was a beautiful sweet girl, a good friend, and I hated cleaning up my messes. That little door in my mind was my legacy and sometimes a nemesis, but it had guided me through the treacherous waters of life since adolescence.
When I was young, just into puberty, a wise man provided me with an extensive discourse on his thoughts on life and love. This wasn't the usual birds and bees talk that is often foisted on budding youngsters. I pretty well had that one figured out through experimentation. This was about life, how it should be lived, and all the responsibilities involved, but mostly he spoke about love, the emotion, and its various forms. He talked of the normal love that people feel for parents, children, pets or very close friends, and why it is so necessary to ease the pain and loneliness we bear. But above all, he talked of romantic love, of how true love was the most important thing in life and was so hard to find and recognize. He spoke of how physical lust is so often wrongly interpreted as love. He saw what he called true love as a very strange, fragile condition. When you think you've found it, it slips away in an instant. Many times in your life, he went on, you will believe you are in love, but be wary, and don't mistake something based solely on physical attraction for that very precious condition of a mutually shared true affection.
The words were spoken by my father, C. Sheldon Sherant, who was very drunk at the time, as he was on most of the occasions when he felt it necessary to impart these gems of wisdom to his son. He was a man who had found what he had thought was his soul mate. Unfortunately, this attachment only lasted a month, and was not shared by my mother. But Shelly never stopped believing that someday it would rekindle itself, or there was someone else to share his capacity for this precious emotion. Shelly was an only child, small, shy, and like many single offspring, very lonely. He had been raised in a strict, loveless, uptight Christian home, where rules and punishments were the norm, and hugs and praise were rare. Throughout his early life he longed for someone to love him, to hold him, and to care about him. Then he met the one lady, who in a month washed away most traces of his prior upbringing. So, except for this brief period of unbridled passion, he had experienced little first-hand knowledge of the subject that continued to captivate him. These limitations, however, did not prevent him from expounding his views to anyone that would listen. His most easily accessible captive audience was his son. But I did learn a few things, and some of them stuck. After that, my existence consisted of a series of events that tested Shelly's teachings, prompting me to discard most of them.
"Be careful not to sacrifice yourself for physical gratification. It is fleeting, and the journey can be long and lonely after it's gone. Don't travel my road."
Those words seeped into my subconscious and stayed, especially the part about traveling his path. Shelly's voice located a little room at the back of my mind, slipped in, closed the door, and reappeared on those occasions when I thought I had found my true love. Just once in my life has it failed me.
I did consider Millie to be a close friend, but with Shelly's years on earth as a guide, I consistently fought inclinations to take our relationship to another level.
Although at this point, I really didn't care who had phoned, curiosity got the best of me so I called Millie's answering service, which was picked up on the first ring, "Coltron Office Services, Gloria speaking," came the perky voice.
"Gloria, it's Dusty. Someone rang me this morning, but I didn't get to it in time. Did you take it?"
"Mmmm, let me look. No, Millie answered that one. You want to speak to her?"
"Sure, why not, put her on," I replied, although I wasn't confident that I was mentally sharp enough to spar with her today.
"Well", she started. "You are alive. When I checked in on you earlier, I wasn't too sure."
"You were here?"
"Who do you think shoveled out your place, the good fairy?"
"Yeh, I figured you for that act of random kindness."
"So you don't remember me taking my clothes off and crawling into bed with you?"
"Gee, I thought I was dreaming."
"Which is the only way it's going to happen," she replied.
"Should I be interested in this phone message?"
"You obviously missed my note. It was Dave Stenowicz. He called yesterday, said it was important that he meet with you today for lunch. Today's call amounted to telling me that he was at the Palliser eating his soup, and where the hell were you."
"So, you made the appointment for me."
"That's right. I knew you'd be back today, and I foolishly thought you would be sober and conscious."
"You know me better than that. I'd better call him and find out what's going on."
"Hey, before you do, lets get together and go over this last batch of field notes you sent. A lot of it doesn't make sense."
"I figured you might experience problems with my scribbles. Conditions were so bad up there that I tried to cram two weeks work into a few days. Let's meet tomorrow. Bring that map-drawing gal of yours, and we'll try and wrap it up quick."
I hung up with the feeling that this verbal exchange had ended in a draw.
Dave Stenowicz was one of the golden boys of the oil patch, a gifted geophysicist that had struck out on his own from one of the major petroleum companies after finding them a bunch of gas production in an area of Montana that no one else wanted to drill. We were about the same age, early forties, but he was married with a whole brood of budding scientists. His hatred of physical exercise and taste for high-calorie lunches had slowly increased his lateral dimensions since I had last seen him. Any advice that he should start looking after himself continued to fall on deaf ears. I had supervised a drill program for Dave a couple of years ago, and we had developed a mutual respect. His ability was well thought of in the industry, but he was not particularly liked. I attributed this to his intensity and single-mindedness, which put a few people off, especially the liquid lunch crowd at the Petroleum Club. We wouldn't be called close friends, but Dave and I got along. His contracts amounted to describing the task or problem and then letting me figure out how to solve it, which is what I like. So, as much as my head and body told me to take a couple of days off before I called him, curiosity again won out.
Dave answered in his usual lovable, sarcastic way, "So you didn't die as we all had expected. You do disappoint me, Daryl. That beautiful creature that looks after you tried to assure me that you simply hadn't got my message, but I had vivid images of you passed out in your truck somewhere in the middle of Saskatchewan."
"Gee, David, I thought you knew I am immortal."
"Must be a bad connection, was that immortal or immoral?"
Dave Stenowicz hates using nicknames. He insists on being called David, and is the only person I know, other than my mother who calls me by my given name, which is the main reason I don't usually respond to it.
My mother and I sustain what borders on a total lack of interest in each other's welfare. The arrangement works well as neither of us makes any attempt to establish a relationship. Her treatment of Shelly was our point of departure. On the rare occasions of her stopovers at home, they argued. Rather I should say, she would make a point of her views, and he listened, occasionally nodding his head. I guess that was one of her joys in life, making his miserable during her limited presence. This, of course, set him off on a weeklong bender, so that by the fourth or fifth day, I would search out his favorite haunts, drag him home, and dry him out. How he was able to keep his job at the University during these times still amazes me. The bonds of tenure are definitely stronger than those of marriage.
Fortunately, I had a more sober mentor. Jeremy Prince and I were good friends from the fifth grade on. His Uncle Fred took us both under his wing. He was Shelly's drinking buddy, but was usually able to quit after a couple, whereas father was often the last one to leave the bar. Many an evening, I assisted Fred in dragging Shelly home, and he helped me put him to bed. Whenever Jeremy or I needed guidance or directions in getting out of trouble, it was Fred we would turn to. Jeremy's folks were too busy being important people to offer much in the way of parenting.
My mother found her true love at an early age, and it has lasted all her life. She truly cares for herself, and except for that month of abandon with Shelly that produced me, no one else to my knowledge has ever threatened this narcissistic relationship, though many men have probably tried. Apart from a partial sharing of our gene pool, mother and I retain nothing in common and very little concern for each other's welfare. I've considered this lack of sensitivity on my part as a direct genetic gift from her. Whenever I needed a parent for advice, or just some comfort during the bad times, I turned to Fred or Shelly, as mother was always off on another trip to some remote corner of the world in her continuous attempts to teach people of the underdeveloped countries how to live their lives.
Shelly died a few years later, supposedly as a result of his constant consumption of alcohol, but to my mind, he had finally found a release from the life without the love he craved. His funeral was well attended by his drinking buddies and co-workers from the University. As usual, as with most events involving our family, his wife was a no show. I checked out on her after he passed on. Fred, and sometimes Shelly, had been my only sources of guidance. When Shelly was sober, he tried very hard to raise this rebellious product of his passion, but he was ill prepared for the task. The combination of his own strict Christian upbringing, coupled with the subsequent rejection of all these principles and beliefs, left him with psychological and emotional conflicts, which he was only able to resolve through alcohol. It was also very confusing to his son, who had to sort it out without the benefits of drink.
Dusty came into the world as the result of my supervision of fourteen straight dry holes, or 'dusters', as they are called, for a bunch of investors back in the sixties, who had them drilled on the basis of some promotional scam. One of the local techie reporters heard about the story, and the name stuck. I would have resented the nickname, but it pissed my mother off so bad when she heard of it, I vowed to keep it.
"I need you to come in ASAP," Dave said with urgency.
"Can't you roll the hoop by me over the phone and I'll decide if I want to jump through it?"
"No, too sensitive. Does double your daily rate get your attention?"
"For how long, half a day?"
I finally detected a chuckle from Mr. Stoneface.
"More like a minimum of a month but probably three."
"I'll be there by coffee break."
My next task was to make the transformation from a denizen of the Saskatchewan bush to a respectable member of the Calgary business community. It was a challenge. I was able to find soap, a razor, and some almost clean clothes. I located my truck where I had parked it in the underground garage sitting diagonally across two stalls, neither of which was mine. A couple of nasty notes were stuck under the wipers thanking me, an inconsiderate bastard, for blocking their spaces. I had decided to drive over to Dave's, but after reading these messages, I figured I'd leave the truck, at least for another day.
Stenowicz Oilfield Services occupied the upper level of a converted storefront apartment in what had become a fashionable address in Lower Mount Royal. Dave's wife ran an artsy antique store on the main floor, littered with an abundance of curios, many of which looked to me like things I had helped Shelly haul to the dump thirty years ago. Nevertheless, she was doing a thriving business catering to the local oil-rich clientele. Emily was busy with a customer, but responded to my presence with a wave upstairs indicating Dave was in his office.
"You look like hell," was his greeting.
I nodded, cleared some papers away, and sat down on the only chair not totally submerged in maps and reports.
"This better be good," I said. "I harbor a very limited attention span today."
"Oh, I think this will keep you awake," he replied as he spread out a thick roll of maps.
Geophysical tracings, to the uninitiated, look like the doodlings of a group of drunken chickens. This bunch was no exception. Usually they show basic information such as location and any important technical data. However, all I could discern from this assortment was it covered an area somewhere in northeast Saskatchewan, beyond the limits of places that most sane people would visit by choice.
"What am I looking at, David?"
"Before I explain it to you, I need you to sign this paper certifying that you will not disclose anything you learn about this project to anyone."
"Don't worry; in my present conditions I'll not remember much of what you tell me anyway. How about I verbally assure you? I try to avoid signing papers like that. It helps lawyers justify their existence when someone screws up."
"I know, but one of the backers made it a condition for putting up the money."
"Okay", I replied, as I signed the form. The whole thing was beginning to make me uneasy. I had gut feelings telling me to walk away.
Dave put some weights on the top map and proceeded to explain, "As you no doubt guessed by the coordinates, this covers a thousand square mile block of ground north of the town of Meadow Lake. I've heard it's not the most desirable country to be in during the winter. Did you ever work there?"
"Yes. I just came out of that part of the world, a little northeast of your area. Meadow Lake is not a bad town, and there are other settlements up there, Ile a La Crosse, Amyot, and some tribal villages. This is a mixed population: whites, Metis, and Crees. It's not particularly desirable to visit at any time of the year."
"Well, you may be going there again. As you probably know, my oldest son James is taking geophysics at UBC and working as an intern with a bunch of engineers in Vancouver. They had him doing a lot of interpretation work from government and private aeromagnetic publications. You've seen these maps, where they fly over an area with an instrument that measures the magnetism of the ground below. Last summer he was helping me clean out all the old files and reports, which had collected over the years, when he came across old magnetic charts of this part of Saskatchewan. They are primitive technology, but he pointed out a number of interesting unexplained areas with magnetic patterns that show a form of closure. He did some research on them, but there is very little available data. These circular anomalies of high magnetism may represent local spots where small outliers of granite exist beyond the Precambrian Shield, which has been mapped to the east. If that were the case, the younger sedimentary rocks would be deposited along the flanks and on top of these bodies. If some of these sediments were porous and contained oil and gas, and if they were overlain by tight dense rocks acting as traps then we could be sitting on productive reservoirs of hydrocarbons."
"That's quite a bunch of 'ifs', David, but I can imagine where it might be possible, and as you know, a lot of holes have been drilled on much weaker arguments."
"I know. I've been involved in some of them."
"So, how do you support your theory?" I asked.
"Well, first of all we ran magnetic surveys using instruments on the ground to verify the information on the airborne maps. That negated some of the closures but identified others that didn't show up on the aeromagnetics. Over these spots we ran some other surface surveys to substantiate the data. What we defined is about a dozen small closures randomly spaced throughout the block. We believe they are buried granite structures but with limited areal extent. Some of them, however, could be small pinnacle reefs in the overlying limestone strata, although those types of rocks are rare in this area. We believe our ground surveys define the contact zones between the steep sides of these circular bodies and the surrounding rocks. Our hope is that the sediments are porous and capped. There could be some oil or gas pools. There is no record of small reservoirs of this nature in the area, but gas is produced to the west of our block, and those wells show good production records.
"A couple of things strike me," I replied. "Haven't any of these ground surveys been run over this area before? Also, I would think that there must be some old drill records from holes up there, sometime in the past."
"There is, but the drilling has been focused more toward the Alberta border, looking for gas pools or extensions of the tar sands. The surveys are old, wide spaced, and with one exception, miss our prospect areas."
"So, what's the deal?"
"We plan to test drill three of the most promising structures, and we want you to look after the project. These are extremely 'tight' holes. We can't afford any information leaks, as the whole program is time sensitive. We've got the key areas tied up, and the rest of the block has been posted for a land sale during the first part of January. We are initially planning the three holes and possibly six to follow, but we want to see the initial program completed and all that data processed before the sale bids are opened. A Mid-Continent rig has been contracted at a bonus rate to do the drilling. The first two holes are on land we have already put under lease. The location for the third well is set, and we are presently negotiating a deal with the owner. The contractor's key people are signed to secrecy, and we told them to hand pick their crew and camp personnel. We are arranging for a secure communication system to the outside world."
"Tell them to run a string of short pipe in case anyone flies over and counts the stands to determine how deep you are."
"That's an excellent idea; I'll get in touch with them right away."
"David, I was kidding. Knowing your depth at any time won't tell them what you are looking for."
"So, when do you want me up there?"
"We're pushing a road into the first site now, and the rig will follow in about a week."
"They should be set up and ready to drill in ten days. Can you make it by then?"
"I guess I must make the effort if I don't want them to start without me. You did say double my normal rate. That makes it six hundred a day and expenses."
"I am aware of your rates," he replied, "and there's one other thing. A group of environmentalists are urging the Federal Government to set aside much of this area as a National Park, similar to Wood Buffalo. They've got the natives all fired up, convincing them that they'll pull in some cash from the tourist trade. This could be a problem. We don't know how organized or militant this bunch is, however, it's something to be aware of."
"That's not logical, David. There's nothing up there to protect, except a few moose that are well adapted to look after themselves."

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