Chapter Twenty-three

The Souring Seas

Chapter Twenty-Three

Halifax, Saturday, December 16, 2023

Tony returned to Halifax with a two-pronged agenda. He had a thesis to write with no apparent hurdles to prevent him accomplishing the task with alacrity. Second, he had a new vision for his scientific future. He would find himself a postdoctoral position with one of the major global circulation modelling groups and incorporate his new ideas on future phytoplankton production into their models.

But those grand plans must wait. Christmas was a week away, and he had Beth’s strange phone message to unravel.

She sent the brief message at eleven fifteen Friday night and didn’t pick up when he tried to call. He left a message, but she hadn’t responded when his flight departed. And no message during the morning stopover in Montreal.

The message itself was short and enigmatic. ‘A problem has arisen. Think it’s under control, but please, don’t delay your return. Get an earlier flight if you can.’

Michael squirmed from Beth’s arms and reached out to Tony when they greeted him in the airport’s baggage claim area. He would have fallen if Tony hadn’t grabbed him.

“Guess he missed you,” Beth said as she released her grip on the wriggly tyke.

Tony leaned back trying to gauge Beth’s demeanour. She seemed distracted and on the verge of tears. “You okay? Yesterday’s problem not resolved?”

“Murky as hell. We can discuss it on the bus.”

In the bus, Michael stood in Tony’s lap with his little fists latched onto the window frame. The traffic, and forests and lakes they were driving through, would entertain him.

“My latest interview was a big success, and the item I posted on this year’s UN Climate Change conference had many hits and some interesting comments.”

Tony sighed. He understood the success of Beth’s efforts to expand ClimateChange&U from a science-oriented website focused on individual efforts to reduce their personal CO2 emissions to a more general advocacy. He worried about the new thrust but couldn’t complain about her success. “So, what’s gone wrong?”

“We’re attracting a different sort of criticism from climate change deniers.”

Prior to Beth’s involvement, criticism was mostly science oriented. Tony could respond to those opponents. The new critics were more political and philosophical, raising questions about moral rather than scientific issues. Some presented considered arguments that led to interesting conversations on the site. Others made wild accusations with no hint of rational arguments to support them.

Tony leaned over to comfort Beth causing Michael to squeal. When he had Michael resettled, Tony tried to guess why Beth was reiterating a well-known problem. “It’s Goddard again, isn’t it? I saw his comment on your editorial about the UN climate change conference. It’s nothing to worry about, and in a screwy way an indication of your success raising important issues.”

“You had time to follow our website. I thought you might be too busy.”

“I always check for reaction to your postings.”

“I wouldn’t have overreacted to Goddard’s stupid comment if Dr. Krueger hadn’t contacted me about it.”

“What’s his problem?”

“He and his lawyer are launching a libel suit against Goddard. They want copies of all our communication.”

Tony held up his index finger. This was making sense. “Was the lawyer Kurt someone or other?

“Yeah, Kurt Bayer, like the aspirin manufacturer.”

“He’s a high-profile civil liberties lawyer. They may be after Goddard for something unrelated to his climate change rants.”

“They asked for our communications. I agreed and said you’d get back to them. And the stuff Goddard said last year, calling me a whore and you and Dr Krueger Satanists, they were pretty threatening.”

Tony shook his head wondering why they were raising dormant complaints from months earlier. “I’ll deal with it. You needn’t worry, and you must have been pleased with public reaction to your articles on the climate change conference. You’re onto a popular approach.”

“We appear to be winning, getting new supporters including churchgoers willing to post rebuttals to Goddard’s diatribes. But why’s it been so difficult? I mean, isn’t it obvious we must reduce carbon emissions?”

Tony hesitated, distracted by Michael poking at his prickly chin. “We’ve always had climate change skeptics, fundamentalist Christians like Goddard and many others. We may never convince them, but there are others, people who’d rather not think about it, so they deny anything bad is happening. Your editorials and interviews are reaching them. Forget the Goddards.”

“But Tony,” Beth insisted as Michael crawled into her arms. He’d apparently lost interest in the window. “We should take a more aggressive stance. We must join the brewing climate change battle and take on these critics.”

 

Tuesday morning, Mr. Bayer addressed Terrance Goddard’s accusations in a press release he presented to reporters gathered in the lobby of the Halifax courthouse. The number of reporters and cameramen made the scene look more like a press conference than a simple press release. Tony shook his head, thinking Goddard must have been a more notorious and newsworthy figure than Tony realized.

Bayer began by claiming he would make a brief statement before answering questions. He then described Goddard’s scurrilous statements about Tony and Dr. K’s science and Beth’s acting. They were old news, but Bayer insisted on describing them in great detail.

Tony watched Beth as Kurt described Goddard’s vile words, wondering how she would react to the public presentation. She stared ahead stone-faced as Mr. Bayer continued.

“The same goes for photographs of Beth when she was pregnant with her son. They are legitimate art photos produced by a professional photographic artist for a beautiful book on pregnancy and childbirth.” Mr. Bayer held up a copy of Justin’s book. “I invite you to peruse these pictures at the end of this presentation.”

Hoots of derision from protestors who’d infiltrated the meeting disrupted the last of Mr. Bayer’s comments. One strode forward and thrust a sheaf of photos of women in bondage at Beth as others passed copies to anyone who would take them. Their strategy became clear. They intended to tie Beth to Kilburn’s BDSM project, the one Beth refused to participate in.

“Those aren’t me,” Beth screamed as Reverend Goddard appeared from nowhere sporting what appeared to be an automatic weapon. He rushed forward unleashing a volley. Beth stared open-mouthed as her favourite dress erupted in red.

“Paintballs,” Tony yelled as he forced his way into the line of fire before the security personnel took down Goddard. When Tony looked around from his protective stance, he noticed the smug smile on Kurt Bayer’s face.

 

Within minutes, the courthouse teemed with cops. They carted Terrence Goddard to the police station, herded his disciples into one meeting room, and Tony and Beth into another. As Tony helped his traumatized partner into their refuge, he glanced across the lobby at the main doors. Kurt Bayer was already outside holding court with the gaggle of reporters. Tony contemplated Kurt’s smug expression when Goddard opened fire and wondered what he might now be saying.

But Tony had more important problems. Beth was disoriented and in pain. The paintball markers launched from five metres had caused serious bruising.

A policewoman helped Beth into a chair. “An ambulance is coming. It will take you to the hospital where they will assess your injuries and provide treatment. And you sir,” she said, turning to Tony. “Do you also need medical attention?”

Tony turned his back. “I also took a few hits, but they aren’t too painful.”

“At least three separate impacts, more glancing blows. We’ll need your jacket to make an accurate assessment, but the angles and thicker cloth probably protected you from serious injury.”

Beth tried to stand but slumped back into the chair. “They really do hurt. I can’t understand how you let Goddard into the lobby with a gun.”

Tony stood with hands on hips and chin thrust forward. “Yeah. That’s a serious question. The paintball marker looked like an assault rifle, and they can inflict serious damage. How did he get past courthouse security carrying a bloody weapon?”

“Please, sir, let’s focus on getting you and your wife to the hospital where they can treat her injuries. The investigators will deal with the security breach and answer your questions.”

 

When the emergency room staff declared Tony free to go, he headed to the babysitter to rescue Michael and then home to fetch clothes for Beth. The police had confiscated Tony’s only sports jacket for forensic testing and were certain to want Beth’s ruined dress.

Goddard’s ridiculous stunt made two things perfectly clear. It was time to accept Beth’s suggestion they take a more aggressive proactive approach to climate change politics on ClimateChange&U. But more important, Goddard’s attack made Tony realize how important Beth was. They’d been together for forty months but still treated their relationship as a pragmatic convenience, something that improved their lives and provided a stable home for Michael. It hadn’t been the deep commitment they deserved. He needed to remedy that mistake.

 

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