Black Gold

Gerhard Grave’s residence, Wietze, February 1634

Christian Grave used one of the new-fangled forks (three prongs rather than the Italian two-pronged variant) to lift a portion of medium-rare beef to his mouth. The taste of the well-cooked meat flooded his mouth as he started to chew.

“So, Christian, what do you think of my well-boring company now that you’ve spent a few months working on my rigs?”

Christian hastily chewed his mouthful of beef enough to swallow it. He cast a glare across the overloaded dining table as he swallowed. It was just like his Uncle Gerhard to wait until he had his mouth full before asking his question. Christian took a sip of beer while he considered his answer.

“I’m grateful for the chance to learn the business from the perspective of the workers, Uncle. But for these new machines from our American partners it appears to differ little from other forms of common labor. All in all, I cannot believe it is a suitable occupation for one so closely related to the von Lengerkens of Osnabrück.”

“Ah, nephew, of course it isn’t suitable for such as we, but this common labor makes us an uncommonly good profit. We invoice the Americans as if all our workers are masters of their craft, but we only pay the journeymen the journeyman’s portion they deserve. Then, to cap it off, the Americans insist on paying us an additional ten percent for ‘overhead.’ A better arrangement I couldn’t devise.”

“Surely you don’t pay the Americans a journeyman’s wage?” Christian demanded, worried that his uncle might be doing something that could upset the Americans.

“No, that’s the beautiful part of this,” Gerhard answered, “The Americans are all under contract to Herr Underwood’s oil company, and they pay their wages. We only deal with the rig workers.”

Christian took another sip of beer. This sounded almost too good to be true, but maybe there were ways to profit even more. “If we were to provide some of the management positions, wouldn’t we be able to increase our profit even further?”

His uncle beamed. “I see you’ve definitely inherited the family head for business. Perhaps the Americans can be convinced that we could better provide one or two of the positions . . . Hmm . . . which job do you suggest you take?”

Christian nearly sprayed out the beer in his mouth. He hadn’t expected his uncle to seize on the idea quite so quickly. It had, after all, just been a passing thought. It would be just like the old so-and-so to time the dropping of that question deliberately, without any real interest in his answer. However, Uncle Gerhard looked as sincere as he’d ever seen him look. Not that that was necessarily an indication of sincerity, but it wouldn’t hurt to give a properly thought out response. He stared past his uncle, letting his mind wander a little, then he had it. Perfect. “Uncle Gerhard, you have three rigs. Each rig runs pretty smoothly by itself, but the Americans insist they need a ‘drilling superintendent’ to coordinate between the three. It seems to me that Herr Willcocks doesn’t do much other than go from rig to rig bothering the drillers with his concerns about procedures, and ‘good housekeeping.’ We could help both ourselves and the drillers by letting Herr Willcocks retire to his home and garden back in Grantville. I, of course, would make a most excellent ‘drilling superintendent.'”

East of Wietze—The University of Helmstedt oil lease

Ulrich Rohrbach heard the heavy footsteps climbing the stairs to the rig and glanced over in time see David Willcocks, the drilling superintendent, step onto the drilling rig floor. “How are you today, David?”

“Growing old sucks,” David muttered loud enough to be heard as he gently massaged his knees. “Why the hell did I have to insist on having the drill rig floor being on a raised platform? If I’d let Underwood have his way I wouldn’t have to climb these steps to the rig floor all the time.”

Ulrich smiled. He’d heard this refrain often enough in the past to know to ignore it. David had insisted on having the drill rig floor on a raised platform because the alternative would be to put the wellhead valves in a deep cellar where asphyxiating gas could collect. Besides, who would want to excavate a cellar in the winter when the ground was frozen? Even Herr Underwood had finally accepted the necessity. “Your knees still bothering you?”

David snorted. “Still? At my age, sonny, there ain’t much hope of them ever stopping bothering me. Enough about me. What’s the progress?”

“We’re almost on bottom with the new bit.” Ulrich gestured toward Peter Welf, the rig’s lead hand, who was controlling the descent of the drill bit.

Ulrich had been unconsciously glancing at the large dial fixed to one of the derrick legs above him every now and again as he talked. “Bottom,” he called when instead of the small twitches that had occurred every time Peter slacked off on the brake and lowered more cable previously, this time there was a larger twitch, which from experience he knew meant the bit had touched bottom.

In response to Ulrich’s call Peter pushed the brake lever down hard and clipped a chain to hold it in place.

With the drill bit finally at the bottom of the well, the two floor hands clamped the heavy rope cable to the massive lever of the walking beam which would raise and lower the drill bit as it pounded its way deeper.

David drew Ulrich away from the drill crew. “I’m impressed, Ulrich. No shouting or swearing.”

Ulrich grinned. “Oh, there’s plenty of yelling and screaming when something goes wrong.”

“Well, you don’t need me hovering about while you work, so I’ll be on my way over to Rig Two to see how they’re doing.”

Ulrich winced at the sight of the pain that flashed across his friend’s face as David took the first step down from the drill rig floor.

David paused with one foot on the drill rig floor and one on the first step and turned. “Ulrich, when Bernd relieves you, could you drop over to Rig Two?”

“Would this have anything to do with this terrible drilling cable that’s afflicting them? You should hear them complain; you’d think it was a device of torture rather than a ‘gift’ from Herr Underwood.”

David chuckled. “Well, it is what I want you to look at, and it is giving Two an unholy time. I’d like you to run the rig for a while, just long enough to get your opinion on what it feels like. You’re the best driller we have and I want to know if it’s the steel cable Underwood got or just Segelcke not getting proper harmony between the line and the bit.”

Ulrich swallowed. He knew he was good at what he did, but for David to call him “the best” was praise indeed, especially from a man not overly given to handing out praise. He stood straighter. “I would be honored to assist you, David.”

****

While Ulrich ran the rig David listened to the lead driller complain about the steel cable with which he was trying to drill.

“It just doesn’t feel right!” Johann Segelcke protested. “And we’ve broken off the cable three times on this well.” He held up a length of unraveled cable. “This twisted steel is supposed to be stronger than hemp rope? Then why does it break so much? We’ve never broken off the hemp.”

David sighed. Johann Segelcke was the last person he’d have selected to try out anything new, but Gerhard Grave had decided that this rig would get the steel cable Quentin Underwood had so graciously obtained from under the Navy’s nose. “Well Johann, I’d gladly take this entire spool off your hands and send it to Magdeburg, but Herr Underwood went to great lengths to obtain this for us, and we have no choice but to use it. Besides, why complain? Drilling or fishing, the work still pays the same.”

“Ha!” snorted Johann. “Tell that to my rig hands. Fishing is harder work than normal drilling. It’s frustrating to be drilling a well backwards, where your depth at the end of the day is less than that at the beginning.” He wrung his hands. “I beg you, please rid us of this affliction.”

“I’ll wait to see what Ulrich thinks. If nothing else we can leave it lying around on the wharf. Maybe the river pirates will take it.”

David and Johann smiled. They both understood that the only river pirates likely to visit Wietze were the Navy as they delivered the supply barges.

****

It hadn’t rained for several days, blessing David and Ulrich with a relatively mud-free walk from Rig Two to the tent that served as an office for David and the site geologist. A lone figure appeared at the tent opening and stood waiting for them. Even clad in overalls and hardhat Ulrich had no difficulty identifying the site geologist. “Fräulein Koudsi,” he mumbled, still unaccustomed to young women attired in workman’s clothing.

“Ann, how’re we doing?” David asked.

“Prospect Five’s hit gypsum,” Ann reported.

Mist!” Ulrich swore. Then he realized what he’d said and blushed as he met Fräulein Koudsi’s eyes. “Your pardon, Fräulein.”

She smiled back. “No pardon necessary, Herr Rohrbach, I’ve heard plenty worse.” She turned to David. “When Prospect Two hit gypsum we went on to hit salt. In my opinion Prospect Five is going to do the same.”

David scratched his head. “I’ve seen wells where we found the oil pool just below a gypsum cap. Are you certain this just means we’ll find the salt again?”

“I can’t be absolutely certain, but the chances are very slim that it could be otherwise.”

David paused to think before making a decision. “This site was chosen by Underwood, and he’ll have my hide if I just give up on it. We’ll keep drilling until either we hit oil . . . ”

“Or we hit salt,” Ann finished for him. “Oh well, it can’t be helped. At least I’ll get more ammunition for my case to move the drilling locations away from the regular grid Underwood’s had us drilling.” Ann sighed. “Enough about my troubles, what’s the story with the steel cable on Rig Two?”

 

The Oil Facility, Wednesday

Ann Koudsi knocked on the door of the chemical engineering hut and entered without waiting for an invitation. Across the room, at a desk positioned to get the best benefit of the sunlight coming through the window, Lori Drahuta sat working on a drafting board.

“Hi,” Ann called out. “You interested in visiting the market?”

Lori turned from her work and smiled at Ann. “You came all this way just to ask me if I want to go shopping? I’m impressed.”

Ann giggled. Currently she was working on prospects on the other side of Wietze, in the University of Helmstedt lease. It would have meant walking through Wietze to meet Lori before walking back to Wietze, a round trip of over three miles. “I had to present a progress report to Herr Grave.”

“Problems?”

Ann sighed. “I don’t like Herr Grave’s nephew. He’s . . . ” Words failed her, so she just shrugged, hoping Lori understood what she meant.

“There’s something about him I just can’t like either,” Lori agreed.

“That and the way he keeps hinting that he could do wonders for one’s career.” Ann shuddered at the memory of her most recent encounter with the man. “The trouble is his uncle is trying to get David to retire so he can take over his job.”

“Can Christian do David’s job?” Lori asked.

Ann snorted. “He wishes. A couple of months as a roustabout and he thinks he knows everything.”

“Well, if Annie Laurie has anything to say about it, David’s going to die in harness.”

“Yeah, Grandma always said there was nothing more trouble than a retired husband cluttering the house,” Ann agreed without much enthusiasm.

“Right. So if David’s unlikely to retire, what’re you worried about?”

Ann sighed as she remembered the Graves’ reaction to her latest progress report. “If he doesn’t retire soon they’ll find another way to get rid of him.”

“So what kind of ammunition did you just hand Herr Grave?”

Ann glared at her roommate. Even after just a few weeks Lori knew her too well. “David’s insisted on continuing with Prospect Five.”

“And your report says you disagreed?”

“Yeah, we’ve hit gypsum at about the same depth as Prospect Two did, and Prospect Two was dry.”

“So why’s David still drilling?” Lori asked, the confusion obvious on her face.

“Because sometime back up-time he’d worked on wells that have gone through gypsum to hit oil.”

“Is there any chance of that?”

Ann shook her head. “Not this time. I think Prospect Five is right on top of a salt dome, and all we’re going to hit is salt.”

“So where would you rather be drilling?”

“Don’t get me started.” Ann sighed. “At least the prospects Rigs Two and Three are drilling have a chance of hitting the same reservoirs as Prospects Three and Four hit.”

“And those two are our only producers so far. It’s a pity the oil we’re drawing from them is so low in the lighter fractions. We’d get more gasoline if those fractions were higher.”

Ann shrugged. “There’s not much we can do about that. If it’s not there it’s not there. What are you working on that’s so important you had to come in on market day?”

Lori glanced at the drawing on her drafting board. “USE Steel has asked if we can recover the bitumen from the fuel oil we’ve been dumping.”

“Dumping? You can’t be serious? What about pollution?” Ann was outraged.

Lori held up her hands. “Easy, girl, by dumping I mean we’ve been dumping it from the separation pots after we’ve extracted the lighter fractions. We’ve actually been sending anything we don’t use ourselves down river to Bremen, where they’re using it as an alternative to peat.”

Ann relaxed a little. She’d read that in the early days of the original oil industry kerosene had been the only product of any value, and they really had literally dumped everything else. “So what does USE Steel want with the bitumen?”

“They want to use it in the production of fancy refractory bricks for blast furnaces,” Lori explained. “They use them as insulation between the molten steel and the furnace, like fire brick, but at much higher temperatures.”

“So what has USE Steel been using until now?”

“They’ve been using bitumen from coal tar to make them, but since Underwood and Hartmann’s little problem in Magdeburg, well . . . ”

Lori didn’t have to finish the statement. The coal tar facility Quentin Underwood owned in partnership with the down-timer, Hartmann, had been badly damaged in an industrial accident last December and it still wasn’t fully back on line. “They want an alternative supply. So can you do it? Can you separate the bitumen?”

Lori nodded. “Sure. It’ll mean building another separating pot to process the fuel oils, but it’ll improve the quality of the fuel oil we’ve been sending downriver and give USE Steel what they want.”

“But it’ll take time to get it built?” Ann asked.

“Everything takes time to build. Come on, let’s go shopping.”

****

Ann glanced around the oil facility while she waited for Lori to lock up. To the west was the dock on the River Aller. To the north was the River Wietze. Whereas the Aller was navigable to vessels up to fifteen tons as far as Celle, another fourteen or so miles up river, anyone’d be lucky to float a kid’s paper boat on the Wietze. That dock was the only reason the oil facility—it would be too much of an overstatement to call it a refinery—was built so close to the river rather than closer to Wietze where everybody lived. It might have been an ideal location, if the ground hadn’t been so wet. “This place is never going to be much more than a glorified moonshiner’s camp.”

Lori joined Ann in studying the cluster of single-stage separating pots and storage tanks that dominated the compound. “Hey, you’ve got to remember, they had to truck in everything and get the separators running as quickly as possible last year. That’s why they’re all only doing one fraction. It was a lot faster and easier to design them as separate pots than if we’d tried to design and build a proper fractional distillation tower.”

“Do you have any idea what it would cost to build a proper one-hundred-and-fifty-foot tower in Wietze?” Ann demanded. “Unless you build right by the village you’ll spend a fortune on foundations, not counting the cost of getting stuff to and from the site.” She shook her head. “That’s the real problem. It’s one thing to base your refining operations at Wietze when it’s your only source of oil, but it’s a lousy place to base a refinery to serve the other known oil fields in Germany.”

“So where do you think they should build an oil refinery?”

“I’d favor building a refinery at Hamburg. Not just because the city is on the Elbe, which means shipping is a lot easier, but also because the World Atlas indicates there’s at least two oil fields close by. And in the long term, if we import oil from overseas, it has the advantage of being a good port with room to expand.”

Lori nodded. “You’ve convinced me, but any thoughts of building there are moot as long as Hamburg isn’t part of the USE.”

Ann nodded silently and started walking. Soon they passed the guard at the entry to the earth fieldworks that were being built around the oil facility. Ann spared a look at the men and women working the near-frozen earth. “Now that’s another waste of time.”

“Building a defensive wall around the oil facility? Or the presence of the garrison?”

“Both. It’s all so unnecessary,” Ann said. “Who’s going to attack us?”

“Ann, the government might be able to strip gasoline from the gas back in Grantville, but we’re the only source of the diesel Admiral Simpson needs if he’s going to get his ironclads into the Baltic to relieve the siege at Luebeck.”

Ann sighed. “Well, I guess one good thing has come from having the garrison sent here. It’s only because the village could never feed so many people that the duke who controls the territory granted the village the privilege of having a weekly market.”

Lori turned to Ann in horror. “You mean there was no weekly market last year? However did you manage?”

Ann grinned. “Burke’s catalog and despairing letters home begging for care packages.”

 

Gerhard Grave’s office at the Oil facility

The writing was on the wall. David could see it clearly. He glanced at the girl shuffling uncomfortably as she stood by the window. The kid looked embarrassed; but hell, she had to protect her own job, and he had gone against her advice.

“Herr Willcocks, we are still waiting to hear your explanation as to why you chose to ignore the geologist’s expert advice and continue drilling even after she advised you that the prospect would be dry,” Gerhard Grave demanded.

David saw a wince pass across Ann Koudsi’s face at that comment. No way was she an expert on oil geology, and he credited her with knowing that, but then, Gerhard wasn’t really interested in explanations. He obviously had some kind of personal agenda. “Back up-time I’ve drilled plenty of wells where we found oil under gypsum, I thought it was possible we might get lucky.” Immediately after the word left his mouth David could have bitten his tongue.

“Lucky? Luckeeeee?” The second time Gerhard said it he managed to really drag out the last syllable.

Oh well, David thought, it looks like I’m out of here. But maybe I can make things a bit easier for Ann and the crew. “We’ve been drilling according to a grid Quentin Underwood drew up without asking any of his geologists. We need all the luck we can get to strike oil if we stick to it.”

He sent Ann a quick smile before turning back to the Graves. From the looks on their faces he was pretty sure he was about to get the chop.

Gerhard lounged back in his chair and stared through David. “Herr Willcocks, this company cannot afford to waste time and resources drilling dry prospects. This is not the first time you’ve taken it upon yourself to take unfortunate risks. For that reason we must regretfully let you go. My secretary will provide you with your severance papers.”

David snorted. He passed a contemptuous look over the Graves before turning and walking out of the office. As he expected, Grave’s secretary had his severance papers already prepared. Clearly the meeting had been a farce. The decision had already been made before it started. “Who’s the new drilling super?” he asked the secretary.

The young man sent a shifty glance toward the door to Gerhard Grave’s before stepping closer and whispering, “Christian Grave.”

“Figures,” David muttered. He waved his papers and smiled. “You know how to get in touch with me when he screws the pooch.”

The secretary nodded and David left the office. He was sure Ann was going to want to apologize for getting him into trouble, so he picked a sunlit spot to wait for her.

Five minutes later he saw Ann leave Grave’s office and run down the steps before looking around. David pushed off from the maintenance shed he’d been leaning against and waved. “Over here, Ann.”

She trotted over. “I’m sorry, David.”

David laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Don’t let it worry you, girl. They were out to get me. You’re the one who needs the sympathy. Guess who’s the new rig super.”

Ann grimaced. “Christian?”

“So you’d worked that out already?” David smiled at the glare she sent him for that sally.

“They’ve hardly kept it a secret that they wanted to get rid of you. I’m just sorry it was something I said that gave them the ammunition.”

“Nah, don’t blame yourself. You were right. We probably shouldn’t have kept drilling on Prospect Five after you reported we’d hit gypsum, but that’s where Underwood told us to drill, and I wasn’t going to give up until it was proven dry.” He turned Ann toward Wietze. “Come on; let’s go tell everyone the good news.”

Ann shook her head in disbelief. “David, your sense of humor is sooo bad.”

“You don’t think Annie Laurie’s going to be pleased to have me around the house full time?” David smiled at Ann to let her know he was joking.

“She is so not going to like having you underfoot,” Ann agreed.

“Yeah, well, I shouldn’t be underfoot for long. Segelcke’s still having trouble with that wire cable and Prospect Six is getting pretty deep. Next time it breaks who’s going to fish it out?” He thumped his chest. “Me, of course, but this time I won’t be on salary. No sirree, they’re going to have to pay me ‘special consultant’s rates’ if they want me to fish it out for them.”

“Ulrich might be able to fish it out,” Ann suggested.

“Hey, girl, I know you’re hot for the guy, but he’s not as good as me.” David waited for the flush of color that had flooded Ann’s face to peak before he added the punch line. “He likes you too.”

Ann shot a red-faced glare at David before stalking off.

Two weeks later

The loud shouting drew Ann out of the site tent. She immediately looked south, toward Rig Two. Just as David had predicted, they’d continued to have problems with the wire cable. So far they’d managed to recover the bit each time, but they were taking longer as the well got deeper. She ducked back into the tent to get her notes on Prospect Six before grabbing a hardhat, earmuffs, and jacket before heading for the rig to see what was happening.

She arrived on the rig floor to find Johann Segelcke’s crew swinging the walking beam out of the way to clear access to the wellhead. That meant they’d probably broken the cable again. She glanced at the depth counter beside Johann—it read 836 feet. Ann didn’t need to check her notes to know they’d only managed to drill a few more feet since the cable last broke.

“The same?” she called out to Johann.

Ja!” Johann nodded. “We broke off of the bit yet again. Now I must ask for your pardon, but I have to get this crap wire out of the well so we can fish for the bit.”

Johann slammed the winch into gear and started winding up the cable. He barely waited for the donkey engine to take the load before he thrust the throttle to high. Ann winced at the anger and frustration those simple actions signaled. Without the weight of the drill tools, the pulleys were literally humming as the cable was wound in. Ann could see that the cable was winding erratically onto the drum, but Johann didn’t seem to care.

“Shouldn’t you slow down?” Ann shouted over the noise.

Johann glared at her and shook his head.

Ann was about to say more, but the sudden dawning horror on Johann’s face signaled that something was wrong.

“Loose cable!” he yelled before he threw himself over the rail.

Ann went the only direction she could, out the door, backward. She landed on the banister and slid most of the way before falling heavily to the ground. She looked up to see Johann crawling out of the space below the rig floor. “What . . . . What the hell happened?”

“The cable, it’s always broken right at the bit. This time it parted halfway up the hole.”

Ann rolled to her feet and followed Johann back up the steps to the rig floor. She stayed back while Johann ventured in and shut down the engine. Without power the winch drum stopped spinning and the loud slap of the cable end on the wooden floor stopped.

Johann glanced down the borehole and grimaced. “We won’t be needing the overshot tool to retrieve the bit this time,” he joked wryly. “I don’t know how we’re to get this hell-formed cable out of the well at all.”

“David would know,” Ann suggested.

Johann shot a glance her way before shaking his head. He walked to the stairs and called down to one of the roughnecks who’d rushed over. “Hans, go over to One and ask Ulrich to come.”

Hans nodded and hurried off toward Ulrich’s rig.

****

Ulrich listened to Hans in horror. “A loose cable? How did that happen?” he roared. He shook his head. “Never mind. What’s the damage? Anybody hurt?”

Hans struggled to keep up with Ulrich’s questions. “No damage. Herr Segelcke hurt his knee when he jumped clear, and the geologist . . . ”

“What?” Ulrich demanded. “Ann was on the rig when the cable broke?” He didn’t wait for an answer. Instead he ran down the stairs and sprinted toward Johann’s rig.

He found Ann looking somewhat disheveled, but apparently unhurt. He wrapped his arms around her to reassure himself that she was all right. She responded with an embarrassed smile and stared over his shoulder.

Ulrich looked over his shoulder to see a crestfallen Johann and two of his roughnecks standing uneasily looking at him. “So, Johann, what happened?”

“It was that cable. It nearly killed us this time,” Johann responded shakily.

“I see that,” Ulrich said. “But what happened before that? What caused this?” Ulrich waved his arm in the direction of the rig floor.

“The cable broke, except this time . . . this time the cable broke halfway up the well instead of at the bit as it had every time before.”

“But how could that happen? The new procedures David laid down should have made that impossible.”

“Ah. Well,” Johann responded carefully, “Herr Drilling Superintendent Grave gave me new procedures. He said that Herr Willcocks was being an old woman insisting we slow down. He also gave us an improved attachment of the cable to the drilling tools so that it wouldn’t break so much.”

“You let that pretender re-build your rope socket?” Ulrich demanded. “What kind of idiot are you? If the cable breaks, we want it to break at the bit! That’s why David would clip a few strands when he re-headed: just so this wouldn’t happen.”

“It’s not as if I had a choice, Ulrich. Herr Drilling Superintendent Graves gave a direct order.”

Johann’s insistence on Christian Grave’s full title all the time finally registered with Ulrich, and then he understood why he was so diligent in toeing the company line. Like the rest of the down-timers on the rigs, he was from around Wietze; and, like the rest of them, he’d been nothing more than an unskilled farm laborer before being employed, first as a roughneck, and then, as he gained experience and the demand for drillers grew, he’d been made driller on Rig Two. All the oil workers were on good money—easily four times what they’d been getting as farm laborers, but as a driller he was earning even more. More than enough to marry and raise a family; and Johann’s new wife was due to give birth to their first child soon. He had a family to feed, and he wasn’t willing to put his well-paying job at risk.

“David said it’d only be a matter of time before Christian put his foot in it,” Ann whispered.

Ulrich suddenly became aware of the warm bundle cuddling against him. He looked down into Ann’s face. “The fool’s done more than put his foot in it. You could have been killed.” He swallowed at the realization of how close he’d come to losing Ann and turned back to Johann. “Get your crew to spool off all of the cable you had in the well. I want to personally examine it for damage before trying to fish the broken end out of the well.” He glared Johann and his roughnecks down before continuing. “Now, if you don’t mind, I want to have a private word with Fräulein Koudsi.”

Three days later

Ulrich pulled aside the flap to the geologist’s tent and walked in to slump onto the bench seat across the camp table from Ann. He leaned a weary-looking head on his arms and smiled ruefully at her. “Graves isn’t going to be satisfied until he’s sent us all to our graves.”

“What’s he done now?” Ann asked sympathetically.

“‘You’re not working fast enough,'” Ulrich mimicked. “The biggest piece we fished out was eighteen feet long, and that was on the first attempt. Since then we’ve recovered several shorter pieces of cable, but it all adds up to less than fifty feet of the more than four hundred that Johann lost. So far today we’ve recovered nothing.” He sighed wearily. “Our only hope of recovering the bit is to convince the Graves to call in David.”

“That’s not going to happen. It would be the same as admitting they were wrong to dismiss him,” Ann said. “If you can’t get the bit out without David’s help I think they’ll just use it as another reason to abandon the university’s lease.”

“David’s not going to be happy if you’re right. He was kind of cherishing the opportunity to tell Gerhard Graves ‘I told you so.'”

Ann smiled weakly. “I think he was more interested in getting rich charging them consultant’s rates. I wonder what he’ll do instead.”

Quentin Underwood’s Magdeburg office

Professor Dr. Johannes Wissel rested his hands on Quentin Underwood’s desk and stared hard at the man responsible for his problems. “Herr Underwood, the University would like an explanation as to why you have stopped drilling on our lease.”

Quentin leant back in his chair and stared directly into Johannes’ eyes. “Because we’ve drilled four prospects in your lease area, and they’ve all come up dry. I’ve only got three rigs, and I’ve decided to move them back to the west of Wietze where we’ve already got a couple of producers.

“The university had an agreement with you to explore our lease,” Johannes protested.

“Sure you did. And we explored your lease. But after four dry holes I reckon we’re wasting our time. Besides, the government’s pushing me to ramp up production of fuel. That means I need productive wells, and that means drilling where I know there’s oil.”

“But Herr Willcocks insists there is oil in our lease,” Johannes almost shouted

Quentin snorted. “David Willcocks is an old woman. He’s a seventy-year-old ex-roustabout who was only made superintendent of drilling because he was the most experienced guy we had for the job, and he’s been canned.”

“Canned?” Johannes stumbled over the word. Surely he couldn’t mean . . .

“Fired, let go, downsized,” Quentin explained.

That wasn’t the meaning Johannes had expected. “Why? Surely if he’s the best man for the job . . . ” he stuttered to a halt when he saw the expression on Herr Underwood’s face change.

The blood was rising in Quentin’s face as he stared angrily at Johannes. “The prick was canned for wasting money continuing a hole long after the geologist told him it was going to hit salt dome. He knows stuff-all about geology, let alone oil geology, and he should have listened to the expert.”

“But what do we do about the university’s lease?” Johannes pleaded.

Quentin shrugged. “You can do what the hell you like, but I’m not going to waste effort drilling your lease when I know there’s oil west of the village, around the surface seeps.”

“We have a contract . . . ”

“That contract only says nobody else can drill in the lease during its lifetime,” Quentin said. “It doesn’t say we have to drill.”

Johannes stood and glared at Quentin. What he said was true, but, “After the deprivations of Tilly’s men the university needs the funds it would earn from oil royalties.”

“My heart bleeds,” Quentin replied sarcastically. “You only get royalties if we extract economic quantities of oil, and with four attempts we didn’t even find traces of oil.” He paused and sat forward in his chair. “Hell, I’ll be generous. Talk to the lawyers and buy back the residue of the lease. Then you can do what you like. Hell, you can even employ Willcocks to drill your lease if you want to.”

Johannes stood back from the desk. He was angry. Angry that Herr Underwood wouldn’t drill in the University of Helmstedt’s lease, and angry that the university would have to buy back the right to drill their lease. He took an executive decision. “The University of Helmstedt graciously accepts your offer.” He stared at Quentin for nearly thirty seconds. “The university’s lawyers will be in touch with your lawyers,” he announced before turning and walking out of the office.

A tavern in Wietze

Ulrich felt as though people were staring at him as he stood at the bar waiting for his beer to be drawn from the keg. After paying for it he took the mug and finally turned to see if he was being paranoid or not. He wasn’t. There were four men seated at a table, three of whom were openly staring at him. He stared back at them for a moment before raising his mug to salute them, then he took that first luxurious swallow of beer after a hard day’s work.

One of the men made a “come here” motion with his hands. Ulrich pointed to himself. The man nodded and repeated his “come here” gesture. Ulrich made his way across the tavern to their table. “Yes?” he asked.

“Please, you are Ulrich Rohrbach?” Ulrich agreed that yes, that was who he was. “Please join us. We have a proposition to put to you.”

As Ulrich sat the fourth man left the table. Ulrich settled into his chair and put down his mug. “Who was he?” he asked, gesturing to the retreating back.

“Just someone who offered to point you out. I am Professor Dr. Johannes Wissel, of the University of Helmstedt.” He gestured to the younger man on his left. “This is Professor Dr. Joachim Wecke, also of the University of Helmstedt.” He pointed to the other man, “and this is Professor Dr. Heinrich Schmerheim, representing D uke August von Lüneburg, Bishop of Ratzeburg.” Johannes paused for breath. “We understand you run a drilling rig . . . ” Johannes left the question hanging.

Ulrich nodded. “That’s right. I’m the driller on Rig One.”

“Good, good,” Johannes nodded. “That’s what we were told.” He suddenly turned all his attention onto Ulrich. “How would you like to work for us?”

Ulrich stared at Johannes. “Work for you? Doing what?”

“Drilling for oil in the university’s lease.”

“The university’s and Duke August’s lease, Johannes,” Heinrich Schmerheim interrupted.

“Yes, yes, of course, and Duke August’s lease.” Johannes turned his attention back to Ulrich. “We have reason to believe Herr Underwood was premature in pulling out of our lease and having purchased back the drilling rights we wish to start drilling as soon as possible.”

Ulrich shook his head gently. “And what do you know about drilling for oil? I’m sorry, but I already have a job, and Herr Grave is not a man to react favorably to someone leaving his employ to work for the opposition.” Ulrich emptied his mug and put his hands onto the table in readiness to stand.

“Herr Willcocks recommended that we employ you and your men to drill our wells. Of course, the university is short of money,” Johannes paused to give Ulrich a regretful grimace. “Tilly’s men destroyed so much while they were garrisoned in the area that we still haven’t recovered, so we won’t be able to pay you a lot. However, Herr Willcocks suggested that you and your men might be happy to accept lower pay in return for a share of any royalties paid on the wells you drill.”

Ulrich managed not to jerk in reaction to the offer and immediately settled back in his chair. David had talked about the difference in possible income between “wildcatters” and regular drillers. Wildcatters drilled unexplored prospects for a share of the income, while regular drillers drilled in known producing areas and were paid so much per foot they drilled. Nobody drilled in an area known to have oil for a share of the revenue, but only because the people who owned the rights never made that kind of offer—except of course, when they couldn’t afford to pay the regular rate. Which raised another point. “Can you afford to buy new casings?”

“Not really,” Johannes said. “However, Herr Willcocks says he can recover the used ones from the existing wells in our lease area.”

Ulrich whistled. So David had thrown in his lot with the university people. The Graves weren’t going to be happy about that, which only made the university’s offer more attractive. He looked at the three men watching him with interest. “Very well, I’m interested. I’ll talk to the members of my crew. However, before any of us commit to drilling, first, David has to fish out those casings, because without them we can’t drill, and you have to get David and Ann Koudsi, the geologist, to agree on where to drill.” He smiled at the nodding heads. Chances were they didn’t expect any problems, but then, they didn’t know David and Ann like he did.

May 1634

The rig had long been dismantled and moved to the new drill site five hundred paces west of Prospect One and the only thing left to show that Prospect Six had once been a hive of activity was the wellhead casing sticking out of the ground. David Willcocks wished the boys luck, and they were going to need it. Ann Koudsi seemed pretty convinced that it was going to be another dry hole. He stood and contemplated the wellhead. Somewhere down there was a two thousand pound drill bit with about four hundred feet of wire cable attached. Ann thought they should continue drilling the prospect, even if she wasn’t sure they’d find oil. She’d had a pretty convincing argument that with information from this well she could make a good prediction on where they should drill next.

“So you have convinced the university men to let you drill their lease,” Gerhard Grave said from behind him.

David turned to face the Graves, uncle and nephew. They looked angry, but he wasn’t overly worried. He might be twenty-odd years older than Gerhard and forty years older than Christian, but Gerhard was already going to fat, and Christian looked like, given half a chance, he’d follow. They were soft, made softer by too much good living and a sedentary lifestyle. Not like himself, he was fitter and healthier than he’d been at fifty. Besides, coming up behind the Graves, ready to come to his assistance, were Ulrich and Ann. “That’s right.”

“You are wasting your time. There is no oil here,” Gerhard announced waving an arm to encompass the university lease.

David shook his head. “I think you’re wrong. And so does Ann Kousdi.” He looked past the Graves. “Hi, Ulrich, Ann, I was just telling these folk that we think there’s oil under the university lease.”

“You mean under the University of Helmstedt’s and Duke August’s lease,” Ulrich corrected.

David shook his head at Ulrich. “You’ve been hanging round Professor Dr. Heinrich Schmerheim too much.”

“He is very interested in what I do,” Ulrich said.

“They all are. I’ve had Professor Dr. Johannes Wissel and Professor Dr. Joachim Wecke constantly asking me about oil geology,” Ann said.

“Well, you might be able to finish Prospect Six, but without casings you’ll never be able to drill another one,” Gerhard Grave said smugly.

David looked toward the Graves. “Are you two still hanging around?” he asked with contempt. “Yeah, I bet you’ve tied up the suppliers so they can’t sell us any. Never mind, we weren’t planning on buying any. We’re going to recover the casings from the abandoned holes and reuse them.”

“You can’t do that,” Christian protested. “They belong to us.”

David shook his head. “You should have read the contract the University signed with Underwood. They bought back the lease and any materials the drilling company had not removed by April thirtieth.”

****

Quentin Underwood had arrived in Wietze only three days ago—although it seemed much longer—and, like an ostrich burying its head in the sand, Ann Koudsi was cowering in the geologist’s field tent like the coward she was, convinced that as long as she couldn’t see him, he wouldn’t notice her.

She checked her watch. Unfortunately, it was time to venture out to check the drilling progress. She grabbed her notebook and pens, and some clean sample cans before leaving the tent for Rig One, which was the rig closest to the oil facility.

Ann hurried up the stairs into the sanctuary of the derrick tower pulling on her hard hat and earmuffs as she went. Inside she waved to Ulrich, who acknowledged her entry before returning his attention to the temper screw which was used to make fine adjustments in the depth of the drill bit. Every few strokes of the drilling assembly, he lowered the drill cable a small amount by pushing one of the four handles on the collar which adjusted the screw length. The Graves had punished Ulrich for being too friendly with David Willcocks by ordering him to drill using the remains of the wire cable Johann Segelcke had had so much difficulty with. She slipped alongside him to check the log book.

“So you’re managing with the wire cable?” she asked.

Ulrich smiled. “It’s a lot less forgiving, that is for certain. Your friend, Fräulein Drahuta said something about ‘dynamic loads’ and ‘elasticity’ of the cable. Eventually I got her to translate from her engineer-sprechen: The heavy bit gives a lot more shock to the cable than it would to the hemp rope. As long as we pay really close attention to the ‘feel’ of the drilling, we can make sure that the bit hits bottom before the cable tries to stop it short.”

Ann nodded, “David said that you’ve the best ‘feel’ for the drilling out of anybody, even him.”

Ulrich felt warmth rising to his face at the compliment from the pretty geologist. “Well, uh, yeah, he did. Even so, we’ve still broken off a time or two, thankfully right at the bit. We’re getting better as we go.”

“As you say, ‘even so.’ But the drilling log speaks for itself: This well is going down faster than any did before.”

He nodded. “Yes. One part is that the drill doesn’t slow down so much when we’ve a hole full of water. That made drilling through the shallow aquifers much faster—we were able to drill the surface hole in one batch, and then run the casing. That’s much easier than having to stop drilling so we can under-ream and add on another casing joint every twenty or thirty feet.”

“And the other part is that your assistant drillers are learning your touch.” Ann responded with a smile.

Ulrich nodded vaguely. “Speaking of which, I ‘feel’ the bit starting to bog down in the cuttings. Time to bring her up.” He directed his roughnecks to swing the walking beam clear and started the winch.

Ann noticed that Ulrich, unlike Johann, kept the speed down when he hauled up the bit. He reeled in the wire cable slower even than he used to reel in hemp rope. If this was babying the cable she could understand his belief that if the cable hadn’t been damaged by Johann’s abuse he might be well ahead in his drilling.

“We’re being attacked!”

Ann swung round, not sure that she’d heard right. A rig worker was at the top of the stairs waving his arm toward the southwest. She hurried over to see for herself. She could see men—soldiers and oil workers—running away from the oil facility.

Ulrich joined her, and they were quickly crowded from behind by the three roughnecks on the rig floor. They didn’t have to push their way through, because Ann was off running.

She hadn’t gone far before a hand caught hers and pulled her. “You’re going the wrong way,” Ulrich cried.

Ann pulled her earmuffs off with her free hand and swung them at Ulrich’s hand until he released her. “I have to get my stuff from the tent,” she said before running off.

She reached the tent with Ulrich close behind and dived in under the loosely tied flap.

Ulrich untied the flap ties and pulled the flap clear. “What the hell is so important?” he demanded as he alternated between glaring at Ann and looking at the flames starting to appear over the oil facility.

“This,” she said holding up her backpack.

“Give it to me and let’s get out of here.” Ulrich pulled the backpack from Ann’s hands and slung it over his shoulders as he shepherded her out of the tent. A glance in the distance had him grabbing her hand and dragging her toward the River Wietze.

Ann looked over her shoulder as Ulrich dragged her along. “Why the river?”

“Because they’re cavalry. Horses won’t like the boggy ground there.”

They didn’t stop running until they’d splashed across the Wietze. On the other side they slumped to the ground and hid among the bushes. From their place of sanctuary they watched the oil facility being destroyed.

****

Ulrich and Ann stood up and watched the raiders leave.

“They didn’t hang around for long,” Ann observed

Ulrich pointed to the plane circling high above the scene of devastation that had arrived a few minutes earlier. “Probably scared that could guide in reinforcements.”

“Reinforcements?” Ann snorted. “All the garrison did was run.”

Ulrich gently shook his head. Ann was normally so smart, but she didn’t know anything about warfare. “Of course they ran. They didn’t have any pikes, and without pikes they couldn’t hold off cavalry.”

“But surely the new rifles and bayonets . . . ”

Ulrich shook his head. “They didn’t have the new rifles. All they had were matchlocks. Come on, let’s go and inspect the damage.”

****

Ann kicked around the smoldering remains of what had, only a few minutes earlier, been her field office. She glanced over to Ulrich. “It’s a good thing I grabbed my bag.”

Ulrich unslung the backpack and passed it to her. “I’m sure there’s nothing in here worth your life.”

She grimaced as she checked the contents. He was just a man. He didn’t have the same priorities a woman had. Yes, her handbag was still in there. She decided that maybe this wasn’t the time to pull it out and check that everything in it was undamaged. Instead she felt around for her first aid kit and pulled that out. She offered it triumphantly to Ulrich.

He took it, but after finding he didn’t have anywhere on his person to easily stow it, he gave it back. “You keep it for now. Let’s go and check how everyone else has done.”

Ann stowed the first aid kit away and shouldered her backpack as they walked toward the burning remains of Rig One.

They stared silently at the ruin as the rig’s roughnecks turned up to inspect the damage. “Someone cut the cable,” Ann observed.

Ulrich nodded grimly. “That means we’ll need to fish it out.”

“How much cable do you think is down there with it?” Ann asked.

Ulrich pointed at the cable remaining on the winch drum. “Too much, the Graves are going to have to let us call David in this time.”

“Someone taking my name in vain?” David Willcocks asked from behind them.

Ann turned. “David!” Then she realized there was no smile on his face. “What’s wrong?”

David dropped his head. “I can’t find Annie Laurie.”

Ann swallowed. David was looking for his wife. His wife who usually worked in the oil facility canteen. The same canteen that she could see burning in the distance. She reached out a hand. “Come on, Ulrich and I will help you look.”

****

They found Annie Laurie huddled together with Zona Goodman and other members of the staff staring blankly at the remains of the canteen where they had used to work, watching men throw buckets of water at the blaze. Tears fell from Ann’s eyes when David and his wife hugged each other. She brushed them from her eyes and looked away.

Ann started to take in the magnitude of the damage. The French hadn’t just destroyed the canteen; they’d done their best to destroy everything within the oil facility compound. The air was full of stinking black smoke from the burning oil and the rubber tires on an up-time pickup truck. Everything was burning. The oil stockpiles, the stockpiles of empty barrels and barrel staves awaiting the cooper, and the buildings. The main office was burning, the canteen was burning, and . . . Ann froze in horror as she realized that the chemical engineering laboratory was also burning. “Has anybody seen Lori?” she demanded of the people around her.

“She’s looking at the damage to the separator pots,” someone called out.

Ann released a sigh of relief. That was so typical of Lori. She tugged Ulrich to his feet. “Come on, I want to check on Lori.”

Lori was standing a safe distance from the flames staring miserably at what had been her pride and joy when Ann found her. She walked up and put her arms around Lori to comfort her.

“They killed them! The bastards killed my babies!”

Ann saw Lori’s tears and hugged her closer. She looked around for Ulrich and indicated that he should pick up the jacket and bag at Lori’s feet and follow them. Then she led her friend away.

****

It was two days before all the fires were out and a proper assessment of the damage could be made. By then Jerry Trainer had been flown in from Magdeburg, complete with a replacement radio, with the job of rebuilding the facility as quickly as possible. But Ann was aware that “quickly” was a relative term. The French had been complete in their destruction of the oil facility. Inside the compound nothing had been left standing, and anything that could burn had burnt.

You couldn’t walk within the compound without stepping into a pool of oil from one or other of the destroyed oil storage tanks, and there were still traces of oil drifting down the River Aller. Wietze was not popular, as communities downriver depended on that water. Lori had wanted to put berms around each of the storage tanks to prevent just this from happening, but Quentin had overridden her, calling it an unnecessary expense.

Still, all was not lost. While the French might have totally destroyed the oil processing capability, they’d been less successful destroying the oil production capability. Two producing wells—the only two producing wells so far—had been drilled across the Wietze from the oil facility where the French hadn’t penetrated. The two wells could produce, between them, about fifty barrels of heavy crude each day, for as long as the storage lasted. Unfortunately, the wood stave storage tank beside each rig only had a capacity of about thirty barrels, and they’d been forced to reduce the flow. But at least the wells hadn’t been damaged, unlike the wells being drilled by the two destroyed rigs. A smile flashed across her face as she remembered the destroyed rigs.

“Well, at least someone’s happy,” Lori said from behind her. “Do you want to see what those French bastards did to my babies?”

Ann let Lori lead her to the cluster of tipped over separator pots. Everything was scared by fire and she couldn’t help but notice the large rents and tears marring the separator pots. “Is that as bad as it looks?” she asked, pointing to the damage.

“Nah,” Lori shook her head. “That’s just a sheet metal outer casing to protect the insulation. Those pots are quarter-inch rolled plate. There might be a bump or two, but no real damage. No, the real damage is to the fittings. The Frenchies pinched anything in brass or copper, as well as taking or smashing all the gauges and fittings. We’re going to have to replumb just about everything . . . ”

Ann grinned. “But at least you won’t have Quentin Underwood riding you to get everything up and running?”

“Yeah. Having Jerry in charge is going to make a lot of difference getting this place running again. But it’s still going to take time.”

“But you’re going to be able to build in all your new improvements, aren’t you?”

Lori shook her head ruefully. “Not if we’re to get it up and running as quickly as possible. It’s the same story as when the original facility was designed and built. Do a good enough job now to get the fuel flowing. That means using standard fittings rather than what we really need. As it is, it’s going to be a pain trying to source suitable pumps and valves, let alone the instrumentation.”

“So how long do you think it’ll take?”

“Jerry thinks maybe two months to clean up the mess and rebuild the equipment, assuming no difficulties getting parts, but that’s only half the equation. Then we have to get the workers back up to speed with the new system.”

“How do you mean?” Ann asked.

Lori gestured to the cluster of damaged separator pots. “Running an operation as primitive as this is more an art than a science. Our most valuable resource is the experienced operators, but they’re going to have to relearn how to set the flow rates, burner settings, and where to keep the liquid levels in the separator pot in order to make on-spec product with the replacement system.”

“Surely you can make it the same?” Ann asked.

Lori shook her head and gestured to the burnt out remains of the central office block. “All the drawings were in there, and they’ve all been lost. Jerry’s checking to see if Mr. Underwood kept copies of the drawings in his office in Magdeburg, but he doesn’t hold out much hope.” She looked ruefully at Ann. “I guess you’re in much the same boat; all your drilling data would have been in the drilling office.”

Ann was suddenly conscious of the weight of her backpack. She hadn’t told anyone that she’d been keeping her own copy of the drilling data, but it hadn’t been a really conscious decision. It was more a matter that nobody had asked. She decided to say nothing and let Lori make her own conclusions. Besides, maybe the Graves had managed to rescue the data before they joined the rout.

A few days later

David Willcocks was enjoying himself. Jerry Trainer had insisted that the prospects being drilled be restarted as soon as possible, and there was only one person capable of fishing out the bits the Frenchies cut loose. Him, David Willcocks. He sent a silent prayer of thanks to the French because now he had the Graves by the short-and-curlies, and he was going to make them pay for having dismissed him. If he played his cards right he should earn enough to fund a drilling rig complete with donkey engine.

He stood back while Ulrich and the roughnecks carefully laid down the collection of fishing tools he’d had made by one of the blacksmiths attached to the garrison. He stared at the borehole a few moments before turning to Ulrich; “I think we should start with the confusion block.”

Ulrich looked confused himself. “Confusion block? I don’t know that tool.”

“Sorry, it’s just me getting stuck in the past,” David apologized. “See that tool with the lump of lead on the end? Its proper name is impression block, because you run it down the hole and drop it onto the top of the fish to make an impression in the lead. Usually you can figure out what’s sticking up; sometimes however, the impression makes no sense, so we nicknamed it the confusion block.” He gestured at the collection of heavy iron bars. “I want you to build a string of two of the five-foot weight stems, the six foot spang jars, and then the impression block.”

He stood aside while Ulrich directed his roughnecks to thread together the indicated tool string using three-foot long pipe wrenches to tighten each connection. When they finished he checked each part of the string personally before calling to Ulrich. “Take her down.”

About twenty minutes later the string was hoisted back to the surface. David waited patiently—time was money, and the more time he took the more money the Graves would have to pay—while Ulrich and his roughnecks disconnected the ‘confusion block’ from the tool string and carried it to the tool bench. David looked at it and gave his thoughts. “See that single mark on the side? It looks like there’s a sharp piece of metal laying on the side of the hole. That’s why your rope-grab couldn’t get anything. I think we’ll try a different approach this time . . . ”

”¦ And so it went. Fishing was definitely an art, one which David had practiced many times before in his years servicing oil and gas wells in West Virginia up-time. Over the next few weeks, David had Ulrich’s crew make hundreds of wireline runs into the well, using a dozen different tool combinations. Finally the impression block showed that they’d cleared out all the wire above the bit.

From this point Ulrich and his crew had the tools they needed. David had the roughnecks load his collection of fishing tools onto his heavy-freight wagon, then nodded to his hired teamsters, who set off to the next job.

David filled out the day’s service ticket on his clipboard and passed it to Ulrich for his signature. “As soon as you recover the bit I can file for completion of the contract on this well,” he told Ulrich. “And I can’t wait to see Gerhard Grave’s face when he realizes how much all the charges he’d agreed to pay before I started are going to cost him. Day-rate, tool rental, run charges, and completion bonus; it’s all spelled out in the contract.” He grinned.

Ulrich grinned in return. “And Prospect Eleven still to be cleared.”

“Under the same contractual conditions too. The bastard is going to squirm.”

The two men smiled at each other. Neither of them had much use for Gerhard Grave. “Well, hurry up and get that bit to the surface. We don’t have all day,” David said.

“Suddenly the man wants to hurry,” Ulrich snorted. “You just want to present your bill before Herr Grave goes to lunch.”

“And why not?” David demanded. “Any opportunity to give the Graves heartburn and indigestion should be seized upon.”

July 1634

Ann wrapped her arms around her friend. “I’m going to miss you. Why do you have to go to Hamburg?”

Lori hugged Ann back. “They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

Ann sighed. “Why can’t they build your refinery here in Wietze?”

“You said it yourself ages ago. Wietze just isn’t a great place for a refinery. And if we can find that oilfield east of Hamburg . . . ” Lori looked hopefully at Ann. “Have you found anything out about it?”

“No.” Ann shook her head. “The encyclopedias are pretty short on anything about oil in Germany. The only references are vague, like ‘Hannover Basin’ for salt domes. The best I’ve found is a bit about the ‘Reitbrook salt dome,’ which looks interesting, if I only knew where Reitbrook was.”

“You’ll find it,” Lori suggested.

“Yeah, right. Meanwhile, what are you going to use for oil at your refinery in Hamburg?”

“Well, my employers have already started negotiations to buy all the fuel oil they can from Wietze.”

“Isn’t that going to be kinda expensive?”

“It’ll cost about eighty-dollars a barrel to ship it to Hamburg, but thermal cracking should produce something like twenty-percent by volume lighter fractions from the fuel oil. We should be able to increase the value of every barrel of fuel oil we process by at least fifty percent.”

Ann sighed. It sounded like the people in Hamburg were giving Lori free rein to develop her dreams. There was no way to hold her, and Ann knew she shouldn’t even try. She hugged her once more and stood back. “Good luck in Hamburg.”

Lori smiled and nodded. “Keep me informed on the progress of your well, and your relationship with Ulrich.”

Ann felt warm. She wasn’t actually sure how she felt about Ulrich. She liked him, but he was a down-timer, and his formal education wasn’t much better than forth or fifth grade. She didn’t think she was necessarily more intelligent than he was, but . . . “I don’t think our relationship can go anywhere. He’s a driller, and I’m a field geologist. I want to search for the next big find, and he’s always going to be running a rig. We’d never be together.”

“You could always try wildcatting,” Lori suggested

Ann snorted. “Using what for money? A wildcatter needs a rig and a drill team, and plenty of money.”

“Well, you’ll just have to hope your well is a gusher.”

“Her” well was the second well David was drilling in the university prospect. The first well had been P-6, which had, as she’d predicted, come up dry. However, it had given a lot of useful geologic information for her to suggest a new drilling location. “So far the best flow we’ve had is P-4 at twenty-eight barrels a day. Nobody’s going to be able to finance wildcatting on the royalties from that kind of flow.”

October 1634

“Fräulein Kousdi, the schlämmbock will be up in five minutes.”

The voice bellowing through the flap of her tent jerked Ann awake. She rolled out of her cot with a groan. It seemed as if she’d only just lain down to sleep a few moments earlier.

“Fräulein Kousdi . . . ”

“I’m awake,” Ann called. Desperate to shake off the fog of insufficient sleep Ann splashed her face with the cold wash-water that had been sitting in the jug overnight. She pulled on her coveralls and boots before sticking her head out of the tent.

With the well approaching target depth, Ann just about lived on the rig. It meant she could study each load of drill cuttings and mud as soon they were brought to the surface, but the downside was she was getting very little sleep

When she worked for Quentin Underwood and the Graves she’d been content to work a more regular daytime shift, examining and logging the night’s cuttings each morning. This well was different. For one thing, she had a stake in the well’s success—an actual share of profits from any oil they discovered—but they had to make a discovery, of course.

The more important difference regarding this well was the fact that this location was one she’d chosen herself. Prior to coming to work for the university, Christian Grave had made it quite clear that he believed that because she was a female she shouldn’t be allowed to have input on such important decisions. Working for David and the university was different. True, David had argued with her about drilling so close to the P-6 dry hole, but he had listened to her. Ultimately she’d won him over to her case. Now only time would tell if her choice of locations was wise.

Ann grabbed her hardhat and earmuffs off of the hook by the tent flap and headed for the rig floor. She climbed the steps to find a much too awake and cheerful looking Ulrich working the rig controls. His two rig hands stood by dutifully, ready to spring into action once the bailer came to the surface. Ulrich acknowledged her appearance with a nod and a smile, but was too engaged with the task at hand to do much more.

She saw the tell-tale flag, woven into the drilling cable fifty feet above the rope socket, come out of the borehole at the same moment that Ulrich throttled back the rig engine. Next came the rope socket and the large pipe, about thirty feet long, which was used to extract the cuttings and mud from the bottom of the wellbore.

The moment the bottom of the pipe cleared the wellbore Ulrich and his two roughnecks got to work in a well practiced rhythm. The two rig hands slid a protective cover over the hole in the rig floor, then shouldered the heavy pipe and swung it to the edge of the drilling floor. At the same moment Ulrich let out cable to set the bottom end of the schlämmbock down onto the cuttings table located a few feet below the rig floor. Ann watched the mud, water, and crushed rock gush out of the pipe when the dart valve at the bottom of the pipe was pushed open.

Ann was disappointed to not see any of the thick oil yet. With a heavy heart she took the first steps down from the rig deck. Then the smell hit her.

She gripped the hand rail and sniffed. “There’s something here!” she called, suddenly excited and awake. “It’s . . . it smells like a mix of shoe polish and paint thinner. It’s stronger than we’ve ever had before!”

She ran down the steps to the sample table. Some portion of the liquid brought to the surface in the schlämmbock was a light oil. In the dark it was hard to discern the difference between the muddy water and the oil, so thin was the oil. She quickly scooped up some of the liquid before it could all drain out of the shallow basin that was her “cuttings table.”

She looked up to see three interested faces looking over the rail on the drilling deck and waved her jar of oil. “We need to wake David. He’d never forgive us if we didn’t.”

Ulrich turned to the men beside him. “Forrest, run over and get David. Tell him . . . ” He looked to Ann for help.

“That we’ve found sign of light oil,” Ann called back.

“Understood, Fräulein,” Forrest said before setting off.

“David’s right, that boy runs everywhere, just like the movie character,” Ann said.

Ann was sitting by the stairs outside the rig when she finally heard David’s old pickup coming down the access track. When they came into view, she saw that Forrest (actually Friedrich Gump) was sitting proudly beside him, a wide grin on his face.

Ann and Ulrich met David when he stepped out of his truck. “You don’t often fire that thing up.” Ann commented.

“I’m getting soft in my old age,” David said. “Besides, Forrest here suggested that I come as quickly as possible. I hope it wasn’t just so that he could have his first truck ride.”

Ann noticed the youth David insisted on calling Forrest was still beaming. “Forrest did well. We did want you as quickly as possible. Come on. We’ve got something to show you.”

Ann led the way to the sample table under the drilling floor where she laid a chunk of oil stained sandstone in his hands. “It looks like we’ve drilled about five feet into this nice oil sand.” She nudged for Ulrich to pass her the mason jar she’d almost filled with oil. She shook it to show it was much thinner than any oil they’d found previously before passing the jar over to David.

David opened the jar and sniffed. He almost purred. “It smells like money, and . . . . Oh Christ!” All color drained from David’s face. “Quick. We have to kill all of the lanterns. Right goddam now!”

Ulrich and his crew sprang to action while David ran up onto the drill floor.

Ann was a bit shocked by the change in David’s reaction. She followed him onto the drilling platform. Then she understood. “Oh. My. God! Light oil means there will be more gas, doesn’t it?”

David nodded. “The last thing I want is to burn up my crew and our rig. Luckily I don’t smell any gas yet; we can change some things around to make sure most of the gas vents downwind of the rig. We’re lucky that it’s only a few more hours until dawn. From this point forward we’re going to be on daylight operations only, unless we’re in a situation where we can’t shut down for the night.”

All the lanterns doused, Ulrich returned to where David and Ann were talking. “What now, David?”

“It’s going to be daylight drilling from here on,” David said. “I guess you two will have to find something to do to occupy your evenings.”

In her current sleep-deprived state David’s pointed comment flew right past Ann. “I don’t think I can remember sleeping in a proper bed. Right now I think I’ll find my cot and get what sleep I can before sunrise. See you then.” Ann waved an unsteady hand at the two men before making her way back to her tent.

Ann was asleep moments after her head hit her pillow and she slept soundly until the morning birdsong penetrated her slumber. She rolled onto her back and listened. Intermixed with the birdsong was the sound of activity on the rig. It was time to get up. She rolled out of her cot and pulled on the previous night’s damp and stinking coveralls, then her boots. Then she reached out for a tent pole and hauled her tired body to its feet. She grabbed her hardhat and earmuffs and pushed aside the tent flap and stepped out into the morning light.

The rig seemed to be overflowing with men. Then Ann realized that both the day and night crews were working on the wellhead valves and the surface piping; the diverter line, as David termed it. Young Forrest waved at her before hurrying to her side.

“For you, Fräulein Kousdi.” The young man proffered a steaming mug of coffee. “Herr Willcocks broke out his special stock for the occasion.”

“Ahh! Many thanks, Forrest.” Ann savored the aromatic brew. Good coffee was indeed a treat these days. She strolled over to where David and Ulrich were supervising work on the wellhead valves. Their roughnecks were bolting some new type of valve atop the uppermost flange.

“A new wellhead valve?” Ann asked.

Ulrich turned at the sound of her voice. “It’s another of David’s creations; from when he was retired from drilling.”

“Tinkering kept me out from under Annie Laurie feet while I waited for the call from the Graves,” David explained. “It’s just a modified gate valve I made. It uses blocks of rubber from old tires to form a collar we can tighten around the cable after the drilling tools are lowered in the well. That should stop any significant level of gas escaping into the rig—the rest should take the route of least resistance and flow out the open diverter piping.” He gestured at the roughnecks who were connecting lengths of pipe between the wellhead and a bermed pit on the edge of their drilling location.

David turned his attention back to what the roughnecks were doing. “That looks like we’re all ready. Leave the collar full open for now; we’ll start tightening after Ulrich gets started into the well with the drilling bit.” He turned to Ulrich. “Ready?”

“Let’s get back to ‘making hole,’ as you long-time oil hands would say,” an obviously excited Ulrich said.

Finally, Ann thought, back to drilling soon! Then she heard David’s next instruction.

“Let’s take it pretty slow going in the hole.”

“Slowly?” she muttered.

“Yes, slowly,” David said. “Ulrich is going to need to get the feel for the cable with the collar tightened.” He turned back to Ulrich. “See if you notice a fluid level as you run in hole.”

Ann waited expectantly while the bit was slowly lowered, and with anticipation as it neared the end of its eleven hundred foot journey.

“Bottom,” Ulrich called. “I didn’t feel anything.”

“Bring her up a couple of hundred feet and go down again. Faster, this time,” David instructed Ulrich.

“Bottom. I still didn’t feel anything,” Ulrich called out.

“Crap! It’s an effing false alarm,” Ann spat out.

“Don’t you start doubting yourself just yet, young woman,” David said. “We know there’s oil down there. It’s probably just that Ulrich here isn’t fully used to the feel of his drill cable with the packing blocks pinching on it.”

“David’s right, Ann,” Ulrich said. “And it’s not like we work for Grave. Can you imagine how he’d be screaming at us by now?”

Ann grimaced at the thought of that self-proclaimed expert trying to make them work faster. “You’re right. That little tyrant would be red as a beet by now.” She smiled at the latter image.

David nodded. “Good girl. Now we need to get back to drilling.”

Ulrich hastened to direct his roughnecks to connect the walking beam to the steel drilling cable. Moments later the rig echoed to the rhythmic pounding of the rock nearly a quarter mile below.

The day wore on. The excitement had quickly worn off as the routine of drilling set in, and the air of expectation died a little more with each trip with the schlämmbock returning the same result—some sand and silt, more of the thin oil, but no indications of flow.

With dusk fast approaching Ann noted that they’d drilled over thirty feet. The schlämmbock runs had brought up a lot of oil, but there was no sign that they had struck a real pay zone yet. While she could feel some satisfaction from finding some oil, it wasn’t enough. The well might as well be dry. She stood, chewing on her lower lip, while she watched the crew shut down for the night.

“What’s wrong, young lady?” David asked..

She gestured to the stave wood tank where they’d been dumping the oil they’d been recovering. “What if this is all we get? A few barrels a day is an oil well. I guess I should be happy with that, but . . . Maybe we should have moved further away from Number Six.”

“It’s too early to worry,” Ulrich said. “We’ve found oil-bearing sand at about the depth you’d expected. I’d say you’re on the right track. Maybe we just need to keep drilling and we’ll find some better quality sand. But what we all really need right now is a hearty meal and a good night’s sleep. Things will look much better come morning.”

“Okay, I guess.”

****

A hot meal and full night of sleep later, Ann awoke, more rested and alert than she had been for weeks. She was still nervous about how the well would turn out, but vowed to keep her unease to herself—at least for a few more days of drilling. She had to remind herself that nothing went as quickly as you’d like on the drilling rig. There would still be a lot of waiting before they achieved their final results.

She met David and Ulrich at breakfast. Not much was said; it seemed they were all lost in their own private thoughts. It wasn’t until they were walking toward the well that David broke the silence.

“I knew a young production foreman once, who was so superstitious about the well’s production, he forbade any of us to talk about what the well might produce, or to even discuss the test results until the well had been producing for at least a week. He likened it to bringing up the possibility of your pitcher’s no-hitter until after the end of the ninth inning.”

Ulrich snorted. “That’s nothing compared to the superstitions held by a lot of the old farmers—it’s the same thing. You can’t count your crops until they’re sold, but then you can’t count them for fear of ruining next year’s harvest. Nothing’s changed there, I see.”

They were greeted at the rig by the armed guard left not just to protect the rig from anybody who might have evil intentions, not that Ann really believed the Graves would go that far, but also to make sure no man or beast disturbed anything that could release gas into the rig. “Good morning, Herr Willcocks, Herr Rohrbach, Fräulein Koudsi. All is secure, and the rest of your crew are waiting by the engine,” the elder of the two guards said.

Ann snorted. Waiting by the engine was shorthand for taking a break. She sent the diverter line a hopeful glance, but there was no stream of oil flowing, so she waved to David and Ulrich and headed toward her tent to review her notes from the day before.

She was updating some of the entries in her drilling log, adding some notes born of the perspective that comes after a night of sleep, when Forrest interrupted her work. “Fräulein, I think you should come to the drill floor.”

She followed Forrest out the tent toward the rig. She could see David hurrying to the rig as well. They were confronted on arrival by a beaming Ulrich.

“I felt something,” he said. “This time I felt the liquid level when I ran the tools into the well. Just to be sure I went back. It’s there. It’s only down about two hundred feet. We filled nine hundred feet of borehole during the night.”

“Oh god. We’ve flooded the well,” Ann blurted.

Ulrich shot her a glance. “There wasn’t any water last night, was there?”

“Well no, but, uh never mind. I’m just worrying too much.” She answered.

“If it’s water, I know how to shut that off,” David said. “Come on, people. Let’s get drilling.”

Ulrich smiled, and turned back to his grinning roughnecks. “You heard the man, let’s get drilling.” The crew sprang into action to reconnect the drilling cable to the walking beam.

Ann watched them for a while then walked up to David. “If anything develops, I’ll be back in my tent,” she said before leaving the rig.

She’d barely made it halfway back to her tent when Forrest caught up with her. This time he grabbed her arm and pulled her back toward the rig. “Quick! Ulrich says come quickly!

Ann didn’t have much choice but to try and keep up with Forrest as he dragged her back to the rig and bundled her up the stairs. David and Ulrich were standing with their hands on the drilling cable grinning like idiots. “Feel this,” Ulrich said.

Ann put her hand on the cable. Intermittently, she could feel it vibrate. Then she heard something—it was quiet—but it was a sort of ringing hiss. “What’s that sound? she asked.

“Gas,” David said, “but that vibrating cable, that’s not just gas. Keep an eye on the diverter line, we may see something soon.”

Just then, the gas noise subsided. Ann and Ulrich both looked to David. “Here it comes.”

Almost on cue, the wellhead valves and piping rattled—and there was a burp of oil from the diverter line into the storage tank. It was followed by more gas sounds, then another rattle-burp, and then another, and another . . .

“Oh crap,” David muttered.

Alarmed, Ann looked at him. “What’s wrong?”

“The storage tank isn’t going to be big enough. We’re going to have to restrict the flow until we build a bigger one.” There was a gleam in his eye when he smiled at Ann and Ulrich. “I think we’ve just struck ourselves a gusher.”

****

Professor Dr. Johannes Wissel, of the University of Helmstedt stared at the three timber derricks being assembled in a line about a quarter of a mile away. “I see you’re wasting no time adding more wells.”

“Those aren’t ours,” David Willcocks said. “We only have the one rig and it’s going to be set up over there.” He pointed to a pile of lumber two hundred yards to the north.

Johannes stared in the direction Herr Willcocks was pointing. He could just make out a pile of lumber in the scrub near the river. He looked from that site to the three derricks to the west. “Then who is responsible for those?” he demanded.

“Gerhard Graves.”

Johannes nearly screamed. “Why are they drilling on our lease?”

Johannes didn’t like the smile that appeared on Herr Willcocks’ face just before he answered.

“They aren’t on your lease. They’re on their lease. What they’re doing is corner shooting our strike. By drilling as close to the edge of their lease as they can, they hope to strike the same formation we did.”

Johannes was outraged. “That shouldn’t be allowed.”

“There’s not a lot that you can do about it,” David said, “But if it makes you happy, Ann’s not sure the Triassic formation we hit extends that far west. I might be a bit worried if they had rotary drills, but If Ann’s right we don’t have any worries.”

“Pardon?” Johannes was confused.

“Back up-time there was a bit of a problem with poachers pitching a derrick close to the edge of a proven block and sending their drills down at an angle trying to strike the same formation. But you can’t do that with a cable rig.”

“Why not?” Professor Dr. Joachim Wecke, also of the University of Helmstedt, asked.

“Because a cable rig uses gravity to drill. There is no way to get it to deviate from the vertical and still drill,” David explained.

“So they won’t be able to poach our oil?” Joachim asked.

“Not without a rotary drill,” David said.

“Please, Herr Willcocks, tell us more of these rotary drills,” Johannes invited.

****

Ann Koudsi stood on the dock on the River Aller thinking that saying goodbye to her friends was turning into too much of a habit. She hugged David and his wife, Annie Laurie. “Don’t forget your friends now you’ve become an academic,” she told David.

“No fear of that, girl. With the miserable salary they’re paying me I’m going to need you to call me in as a consultant on a regular basis.”

“I thought you said they were paying you well?”

“Ah, well,” David started. “Don’t worry, me and Annie Laurie’ll be okay. Besides, there’s my share of the well, and there’ll be royalties on the rotary drill when me and the new faculty of mining get it working.” David glanced over Ann’s shoulder toward where she knew Ulrich was standing. “Do you have any plans?”

Ann chose to ignore the suggestive nature of David’s question. “Lori’s still dropping hints that I should join her in Hamburg. She’s found an area called ‘Reitbrook’ sort of east of Hamburg and she wants me to run a survey over the area to see it’s the salt dome mentioned in the encyclopedia.”

“What does Ulrich think about that?” Annie Laurie asked.

“I haven’t told him yet,” Ann admitted.

“They you’d better, hadn’t you?” Annie Laurie suggested as she looked pointedly past Ann.

Ann swung her head, and swallowed. Ulrich was standing right behind her, and he looked hurt. She swung back to Annie Laurie and David. “I’ll miss you both.”

“Nah, no need to miss us. You’ll see us again as soon as we have ourselves a rotary drill to test,” David said.

Ann wasn’t sure if Ulrich was still with her, and she didn’t really want to see that he’d walked off, so she stayed standing on the dock until the ferry disappeared. Then, and only then, did she turn around. He was there. He had waited. Sure he was looking slightly grim, but he was there. That meant he was prepared to listen. Ann released a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding and walked toward him. Ulrich held out his arm for her to loop hers through and they walked silently toward the village of Wietze.

****

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