Cassie Young kept scanning the horizon from her seat beside the pilot of the black Eurocopter as the engine droned and the rotor blades filled the cabin with the noise of their rapid-fire thumping. To her right she could see the Athabasca River, which appeared to be a muddy gray through the haze that had beset the landscape below. The river was flanked on both sides by the deep green of the great boreal forest, a vast, densely wooded wilderness that encircles the northerly reaches of the earth from Scandinavia through Siberia and from Alaska to the Atlantic seaboard of Canada.
She imagined that bobcats and moose and elk and maybe a grizzly bear or two wandered below her along the forest floor. The scene reminded her of trips she had taken with her father in northern Minnesota in the summertime, just the two of them in the wilderness paddling a canoe across lakes you could dip your cup into and take a drink.
The helicopter was ferrying Cassie from Fort McMurray to the tar sands operations of SandOil of Canada. SandOil was one of the first companies to coax bitumen, a black, tar-like substance, out of sands which sit under 54,000 square miles of forest in northern Alberta, an area the size of New York state. She knew these facts because she worked as an energy analyst who had written many reports that included information on the tar sands, or rather oil sands, as the industry preferred to call them.
With oil prices this high — oil had moved above $100 a barrel earlier in the year — the oil sands were having their day. It was finally profitable to dig them out. Just how profitable was part of what she came to find out. On this June day in 2008 Cassie was visiting the oil sands as an analyst for Energy Advisers International, a prestigious energy consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. At age 31, she was the youngest analyst in the firm.
CHAPTER 3 (Lunch Scene)
“Any wine for you?” Victor asked.
“No,” said Cassie. “I want to be awake for lunch.” She turned her attention to the waiter. “I’ll just have some iced tea.” The waiter nodded and retreated toward the kitchen.
“Have you eaten here before?” Victor inquired as he picked up the menu.
“Just had some drinks after work one time.”
“I hope you didn’t fall asleep.”
“I hadn’t been riding then. Just sitting all day.”
“How about I order us a couple of appetizers to share?” Victor asked.
“That would be fine.”
Victor said he would get the stuffed grape leaves and the goat cheese torte, which he called “magnificent.” The waiter came with their drinks, and Victor ordered the appetizers, indicating that the two of them would order entrées later.
“Tell me about yourself,” Victor said.
“What do you want to know?” Cassie asked.
“You said you work near here.”
“Yes, on 19th Street, just off the circle.”
“And what do you do on 19th Street just off the circle?” Victor had a slight smile on his face as if to acknowledge that Cassie was forcing him to ask for each bit of information.
“I work for Energy Advisers International as an oil and gas analyst.”
“You work for them?”
“You make it sound bad.”
“No, no. You must be a real big shot to work there.”