Page 31 of Overload

The chairman suggested, "I think we might all be seated and get on with business."

The five grouped themselves near one end of a long mahogany table, Laura Bo at the head.

"We are all concerned," she said, "about recent proposals of Golden State Power & Light which the Sequoia Club has already decided would 1be harmful to the environment. We will actively oppose them at forthcoming hearings."

Birdsong thumped the table loudly. "And I say: three bloody cheers for the Sequoia mob!”

Irwin Saunders appeared amused. Mrs. Quinn raised her eyebrows.

"What Mr. Birdsong has suggested in connection with that opposition," the chairman continued, "are certain liaison arrangements between our organization and his. I'll ask him to describe them."

Attention swung to Davey Birdsong. For a moment he eyed the other four amiably, one by one, then plunged into his presentation.

“The kind of opposition all of us are talking about is a war-with GSP & L the enemy. To regard the scene otherwise would be to court defeat. Therefore, just as in a war, an attack must be mounted on several fronts."

Noticeably, Birdsong had shed his clown's veneer and the earlier breeziness of language. He proceeded, "To carry the war simile a stage further-as well as doing combat on specific issues, no opportunity should be lost to snipe at GSP & L whenever such an opening occurs."

"Really," Mrs. Quinn injected, "I'm aware you advised us it was a simile, but I find this talk of war distasteful. After all . . ."

The lawyer, Saunders, reached out to touch her arm. "Priscilla, why not let him finish?"

She shrugged. "Very well."

"Causes are often lost, Mrs. Quinn," Birdsong declared, "because of too much softness, an unwillingness to face the hard nub of reality."

Saunders nodded. "A valid point."

"Let's get to specifics," Pritchett, the manager-secretary, urged. "Mr. Birdsong, you referred to 'several fronts! Precisely which?"

"Right!" Birdsong became businesslike again. "Fronts one, two and three-the public bearings on the announced plans for Tunipah, Fincastle Valley and Devil's Gate. You people will fight on all of them. So will my gallant p & lfp."

"As a matter of interest," Laura Bo inquired, "on what grounds will you oppose?"

"Not sure yet, but don't worry. Between now and then we'll think of something."

Mrs. Quinn seemed shocked. Irwin Saunders smiled.

“Then there are the rate hearings; that's front number four. Any time there's a proposal for increased utility rates, p&lfp will oppose them fiercely, as we did last time. With success, I might add."

"What success?" Roderick Pritchett asked. "So far as I know, a decision hasn't been announced."

"You're right, it hasn't." Birdsong smiled knowingly. "But -I have friends at the PUG, and I know what's coming out of there in two or three days-an announcement which will be a kick in the crotch to GSP & L."

Pritchett asked curiously, "Does the utility know yet?"

"I doubt it."

Laura Bo Carmichael said, "Let's get on."

"The fifth front," Birdsong said, "and a mighty important one, is the annual meeting of Golden State Power & Light which takes place two and a half weeks from now. I have some plans for that, though I'd be glad if you didn't ask me too much about them."

"You're implying," Saunders said, "that we'd be better off not knowing."

"Exactly, counselor."

"Then what," Laura Bo asked, "is all this talk of liaison about?"

Birdsong grinned as be rubbed a thumb and two fingers together sugestively. "This kind of liaison. Money."

"I thought we'd get to that," Pritchett said.

"Something else about our working together," Birdsong told the Sequoia group. "It would be better if it wasn't out in the open. It should be confidential, entre nous."

“Then in what possible way," Mrs. Quinn asked, "would the Sequoia Club benefit?"

Irwin Saunders said, "I can answer that. The fact is, Priscilla, anything which damages the image of GSP & L, in any area, is likely to diminish their strength and success in others." He smiled. "It's a tactic which lawyers have been known to use."

"Why do you need money?" Pritchett asked Birdsong. "And what sum are we talking about?"

"We need it because p & lfp alone cannot afford all the preparation and people which are necessary if our combined opposition-on the table and under it-is to be effective." Birdsong turned directly to the chairman. "As you pointed out, we have resources of our own, but not nearly enough for a project of this size." His glance returned to the others. “The amount I'm suggesting the Sequoia Club contribute is fifty thousand dollars in two installments."

The manager-secretary removed his glasses and inspected them for clarity.

"You certainly don't think small."

"No, and neither should you, considering what's at stake-in your case a possible major impact on the environment."

"What bothers me in all of this," Mrs. Quinn observed, "are certain implications of gutter fighting which I do not care for."

Laura Bo Carmichael nodded. "I have precisely the same feeling."

Again it was the lawyer, Saunders, who interceded.

"Certain facts of life," he told his colleagues, "ought to be faced. In opposing these latest projects of Golden State Power-Tunipah, log Fincastle, Devil's Gate-the Sequoia Club will present what we know to be reasoned arguments. However, remembering the climate of the times and misguided demands for more and more energy, reason and rationale are not certain to prevail. So what else do we do? I say we need another element-an ally that is more aggressive, more flamboyant, more calculated to excite public attention which, in turn, will influence the regulators who are only politicians once removed. In my view Mr. Birdsong and his whatever-he-calls-it group . . ."

"Power & light for people," Birdsong interjected.

Saunders waved a hand as if the detail were unimportant. "Both ahead of those hearings, and at them, he'll add that missing element we lack."

"TV and the press love me," Birdsong said. "I give them a show, something to leaven and liven their stories. Because of that, anything I say gets printed and is put on the air."

"That's true," the manager-secretary affirmed. "Even some outrageous statements of his have been used by the media while they've omitted our comments and those of GSP & L."

The chairman asked him, "Am I to assume you are in favor of what's proposed?"

"Yes, I am," Pritchett said. “There is one assurance, though, I'd like from Mr. Birdsong, namely that whatever his group does, no violence or intimidation will be countenanced."

The boardroom table quivered as Birdsong's hand slammed down. "Assurance given! My group despises violence of any kind. We have issued statements saying so."

"I'm glad to hear it," Pritchett acknowledged, "and the Sequoia Club, of course, shares that view. By the way, I presume everyone saw the report, in today's Chronicle-West, of more bombings at GSP & L."

The others nodded. The report had described havoc at a GSP & L truck depot where more than two dozen vehicles were damaged or destroyed during the night-the result of a fire started by a bomb. Several days earlier a substation had been bombed, though damage was slight. In both instances the underground Friends of Freedom had claimed responsibility.

"Are there more questions for Mr. Birdsong?" Laura Bo Carmichael asked.

There were several. They concerned the tactics to be employed against GSP & L-"continual harassment on a broad public information front" was how Birdsong put it-and the use to which the Sequoia Club's money would be put.

At one point Roderick Pritchett ruminated aloud, "I'm not sure it would be to our advantage to insist on a detailed accounting, but naturally we would require proof that our money was expended effectively."

"Your proof would be in results," Birdsong answered.

It was conceded that certain matters would have to be taken on trust. At length Laura Bo Carmichael announced, "Mr. Birdsong, I'll ask you to leave us now so that the rest of us can discuss your proposal privately. One way or the other, we will be in touch with you soon."