Page 11 of Overload


It was these profound changes, the Nim Goldman types argued, which a majority of top level executives had failed to accept, or deal with realistically. (Walter Talbot, Nim remembered sadly, had been a notable exception.) the oldsters, for their part, regarded Nim and his kind as impatient, troublemaking upstarts and usually, since the older group comprised a majority, their point of view prevailed.

"I'll admit to being ambivalent," J. Eric Humphrey told the group, "on this question of should we, or shouldn't we, bore in harder with our public statements. My personal nature is against it, but at times I see the other side." the chairman, smiling slightly, glanced at Nim. "You were bristling just now. Anything to add?"

Nim hesitated. Then he said, "Only this. When the serious blackouts begin-I mean the long-lasting and repeated blackouts a few years from now-we, the utilities, will be blamed, no matter what has, or hasn't, happened in the meantime. The press will crucify us. So will the politicians, doing their usual Pontius Pilate act. After that the public will blame us too, and say: Why didn't you warn us while there was still time?

I agree with Teresa-that time is now."

"We'll vote on it," Eric Humphrey announced. "A show of hands, please, for the harder approach we've just beard advocated."

Three hands went up-Teresa Van Buren's, Nim's, and that of Oscar O'Brien, the general counsel.

"Against," the chairman called.

This time the raised hands numbered eight.

Eric Humphrey nodded. "I'll go with the majority, which means we continue what someone called our 'moderate line."'

"And make goddam sure," Ray Paulsen cautioned Nim, "you keep it moderate on those TV talk shows."

Nim glared at Paulsen, but contained his anger, saying nothing. As the meeting broke up, the participants divided into smaller segments-twos and threes-discussing their separate, special interests.

* * *

"We all need a few defeats," Eric Humphrey told Nim cheerfully on the way out. "A certain humbling from time to time is good."

Nim avoided comment. Before today's meeting be had wondered if the old guard's laissez-faire viewpoint about public relations could be sustained after the events of last week. Now be had the answer. Nim wished, too, that the chairman had supported him. He knew that if the subject had been one on which Humphrey held strong views they would have prevailed, regardless of any vote.

"Come in," the chairman said as they neared their adjoining offices down the hallway from the conference room. “There's something I want you to handle."

The chairman's office suite, while more spacious than others on the senior management floor, still conformed to a GSP&L policy of being relatively spartan. This was to impress on visitors that shareholders' and customers' money was spent on essentials, not frills. Nim, following custom, went to a lounge area containing several comfortable chairs. Eric Humphrey, after crossing to his desk to pick up a file, joined him.

Though it was bright daylight outside and windows of the suite commanded a view across the city, all draperies were drawn, with artificial lighting on. The chairman always evaded questions about why he worked this way, though one theory held that, even after thirty, years, he missed the view of his native Boston and would accept no substitutes.

"I presume you've seen the latest report in here." Humphrey indicated the file which was labeled:

PROPERTY PROTECTION DEPARTMENT

Subject: theft of Power

"Yes, I have."

"Obviously the situation's getting worse. I know in some ways it's a pinprick, but it makes me damned angry."

"A twelve-million-dollar loss per year is a whopping pinprick," Nim observed.

The report they were speaking of, by a department bead named Harry London, described ways in which stealing of electric power and gas had become epidemic. The method of theft was through tampering with meters-usually by individuals, though there were indications that some professional service firms were involved. Eric Humphrey mused, “The twelve million figure is an estimate. It could be less, or perhaps a whole lot more."

“The estimate is conservative," Nim assured him. "Walter Talbot believed that too. If you recall, the chief pointed out there was a two percent gap last year between electric power we produced and the amount we were able to account for-billings to customers, company use, line losses, et cetera."

It was the late chief engineer who had first sounded the alarm within GSP & L about theft of service. He, also, prepared a report-an early and thorough one which urged creation of a Property Protection Department. The advice was acted on. It was one more area, Nim thought, in which the chief's contribution would be missed.

"Yes, I do recall," Humphrey said. "That's an enormous amount of unaccounted-for electricity."

"And the percentage is four times higher than two years ago."

The chairman drummed fingers on his chair arm. "Apparently the same is true with gas. And we can't just sit back and let it happen."

"We've been lucky for a long time," Nim pointed out. "Power theft has been a worry in the East and Midwest far longer than it has been here. In New York last year Con Edison lost seventeen million dollars that way. Chicago-Commonwealth Edison-which sells less electricity than we do and no gas, set their loss at five to six million. It's the same in New Orleans, Florida, New Jersey . . ."

Humphrey interrupted impatiently, "I know all that." He considered, then pronounced, "All right, we'll intensify our own measures, if necessary increasing our budget for investigation. Regard this as your own over-all assignment, representing me. Tell Harry London that. And emphasize I'm taking a personal interest in his department, and I expect to see results."

7

"Some people around here have the misguided notion that stealing power is something new," Harry London declared. "Well, it isn't. Would you be surprised if I told you there was a recorded case in California over a century ago?" He spoke in the manner of a schoolmaster addressing a class, even though he had an audience of one-Nim Goldman.

"Most things don't surprise me; that does," Nim said.

London nodded. “Then get a load of this one."

He was a short, craggy man with crisp speech which bordered on the pedantic when he set out to explain any subject, as he was doing now. A former master sergeant of Marines, with a Silver Star for gallantry in action, he had later been a Los Angeles police detective, then joined Golden State Power & Light five years ago as assistant chief of security. For the past six months Harry London had headed a new department-Property Protection-specifically set up to deal with thefts of power, and during that time he and Nim had become good friends. The two men were in the department's makeshift quarters now-in London's office, one of a series of cramped glass cubicles.

"It happened in 1867 in Vallejo," London said. “The San Francisco Gas Company set up a plant there and the man in charge was an M. P. Young.

One of Vallejo's hotels was owned by a guy named John Lee. Well, this Lee was caught cheating on his gas bills. What he'd done was put a bypass around his meter."

"I'll be damned! That long ago?"

"Wait! That isn't the half of it. The gas company man, Young, tried to collect money from John Lee to pay for the gas which had been stolen. That made Lee so mad he shot Young and was later charged with assault and attempted murder."

Nim said skeptically, "Is all that true?"

"It's in California history books," London insisted. "You can look it up the way I did."

"Never mind. Let's stick to here and now."

"You read my report?"

"Yes. So did the chairman." Nim repeated J. Eric Humphrey's decision about intensified action and his demand for results. London nodded. "You'll get results. Maybe as early as this week."

"You mean Brookside?"

"Exactly."

Brookside, a bedroom community some twenty miles from the city center, had been mentioned in the Property Protection Department report. A pattern of power theft cases had been discovered there and now a more thorough investigation was planned.

"D-day in Brookside," Harry London added, "is the day after tomorrow."

"That's Thursday. I hadn't expected you could set things up so fast."

The report had indicated, without specifying when, that a "raid" on Brookside was planned. It would be spearheaded by the Property Protection staff, comprising London, his immediate deputy Art Romeo, and three assistants. They were to be supported by a contingent of other CSP & L employees-thirty specially trained meter readers, borrowed from Customer Service, plus a half-dozen service engineers and two photographers who would record any evidence on film.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com