The white Gulfstream G5 jet crossed the south shore and touched down at Nantucket Memorial Airport just after 4:00 p.m. The pilot deployed the spoilers and reversed the engine thrust, quickly slowing the plane and allowing it to make the left onto the HS 2 taxiway. After making the turn, she proceeded over to the apron space reserved for general aviation and deftly rotated the plane following the ground crews’ visual instructions. They chocked the tires as the turbines wound down.
Being a Friday afternoon in the heart of the summer season, it was easy to understand how this rather small airport could be the second busiest in Massachusetts, trailing only Logan in Boston. The sleek G5 was cheek to jowl with dozens of other business jets, turboprops and private planes. It looked like half the wealth of the free world had descended on this irregular-shaped speck of sand thirty miles off the mainland.
The stairs descended, and Peter Bois appeared in the opening, his six-foot frame filling the doorway. He had put some weight on over the past few years, and as he said to himself nearly every morning, he needed to start exercising and drop a few pounds. He paused briefly, his light brown hair blowing in the wind, taking in the beautiful blue sky and inhaling a deep breath of the fresh, salt-tinged ocean air. Bois looked and played the role of a Nantucket summer resident perfectly. Just forty-four, he had made a fortune with his plastics company and was now one of the wealthiest men on the island, a pretty significant accomplishment when you consider the competition. And he looked the part as well with his youthful appearance and boyish good looks, features that attracted stares from most of the women who saw him. Those stares occasionally returned by his penetrating blue eyes.
This was usually his favorite moment of the weekend - a week’s work behind him and a full two days of relaxation ahead. But not today. The day’s events weighed heavily on him, and there was an uncomfortable feeling in his gut that he was struggling to understand. Usually, he’d have been able to unwind fully during the short flight but found himself tense, almost anxious about the upcoming weekend, and how things were going to be with Charlotte. He fought the urge to turn around and get back on the plane. Instead, he stepped quickly down the stairs and walked through the general aviation terminal and out into the arrival area.
Charlotte was waiting at the curb in their black Range Rover. Peter hopped in the passenger side and gave her a quick peck on the cheek. She looked fabulous as always, and despite the tension in their relationship, she still never failed to take his breath away. Her dark brown hair was cut short, and her dazzling blue eyes were just visible through new sunglasses.
She pulled out of the parking space and drove towards the airport exit. She looked over at Peter and smiled. “We certainly missed you this week, and it’s so good to finally have you here. How was your flight?”
“It was fine. And quick. Wheels-up to touchdown was just over thirty minutes. It was a short flight but long enough for the new flight attendant to screw-up my cocktail. Not only is she unattractive but incompetent behind the bar as well,” Peter said and paused for a minute. “I think I’ll have her fired.”
“Fired for being unattractive?” Charlotte asked with a tinge of anger. Although she had no evidence Peter had ever cheated on her, she did see his eyes wander when there was an attractive woman nearby. And as a woman, she boiled at the thought that this young lady could be fired based on looks alone.
Peter ignored her comment. “I mean, how difficult is it to make a Manhattan? Take some good whiskey, add the bitters and sweet vermouth, and stir.” He glanced out the window as the scrub oak, and pitch pine barrens rolled past. They came to the end of Nobadeer Farm Road and took a right on Milestone Road. For nearly three hundred years, this seven-mile stretch connected the bustling town of Nantucket with the quiet village of Siasconset or Sconset for those in the know. Summer was in high gear, and traffic down this narrow two-lane confirmed it. Hordes of mopeds, most with two people aboard, buzzed along at thirty miles per hour managing to do little more than back up faster traffic. Cars waited patiently for a clearing in the oncoming lane to pass them. Unfortunately, traffic the other way was just as busy dealing with their own menace of the powered bicycles, so opportunities were few and far between to dispatch the pests. Peter clenched his jaw and grudgingly accepted that it would be thirty or less all the way to Sconset.
“I wish they would ban those damn things,” he said.
“What things?” asked Charlotte, glancing over at him.
“Those fuckin’ mopeds. Dealing with them is a pain in the ass. All they do is slow things down for everyone,” replied Peter.
Charlotte rolled her eyes, it was not the first time she had heard this argument from her intolerant husband. “But honey, for a lot of people, it’s the only affordable way to get around the island. Rental cars are brutally expensive, and the taxis and Ubers in summer are so busy that it can often mean hours before one becomes available.”
“Then maybe those tourist assholes shouldn’t come here at all if they can’t afford it. Go somewhere cheaper, like the Cape. Or maybe just stay home and leave the island to those who have the money to enjoy it properly,” said Peter.
Not wanting to hear another of her husband’s rants on the current state of tourists on the island, Charlotte quickly changed the topic. “So how did she screw it up?” she asked.
“Who screwed up what?” asked Peter tersely, rolling his eyes.
“Your flight attendant. If I may quote you, you said,” Charlotte dropped her voice down a bit and said in a mildly mocking manner, “Our new flight attendant really screwed-up my cocktail. Not only is she ugly and not sexy at all but incompetent as well. I’m going to have her fired.”
Peter turned from the window, his eyes sparking anger at being mocked by his wife. “I didn’t say I was going to fire her, and I didn’t say she was ugly. Only unattractive and apparently incompetent behind the bar. I asked for a Manhattan, and the bitch made me an Old Fashioned. And she used the wrong whiskey. You know I prefer Makers’, but she just pulled the well crap we got for the golf outing with the guys last month,” Peter snapped.
“So she used the wrong whiskey and added sugar when she shouldn’t have. Do you think perhaps she could have been a little nervous? After all, it was her first week on the job and the first trip with you. Don’t you think it would be the right thing to do to give her another chance?” asked Charlotte.
“I suppose you’re right. Let’s see how she does on the return trip Monday morning. We’ll see if she can get coffee and cream right,” Peter said caustically.
He turned and looked out the window watching as the scrub oak and pine gave way to open moors with its low growing vegetation of bushes and grasses. Across the moor, he could just make out the cranberry bogs and in the distance Sankaty Head Lighthouse. He lowered the window and breathed in the scents of the moor - an aroma that always takes him back to being a child when he’d ride his Raleigh ten-speed along the Milestone bike path that paralleled the road. Back to a time when things were simpler, happier, and more carefree. Back to when he wasn’t worried about quarterly results, the stock price, or what new contracts his company was landing this year that would continue to drive revenue growth in the high single digits.
Although he had been coming here since he was an infant, his first memory of the island wasn’t until he was nearly five. He had been playing in the little park next to the Sconset Market, imagining the tree was his ship, and he was the captain, sailing the high seas in search of whales. Descending the tree to head home, Peter had stepped on an old rusty nail. His screams were followed by a trip to the ER at Nantucket Cottage Hospital. They dressed his wound, gave him a shot - which he remembered being as almost bad as stepping on the nail - and sent him home with his foot bandaged and instructions to forego his captain career for a few weeks.
“Peter?” Charlotte asked.
“Oh, sorry. I was thinking about when I stepped on the nail when I was a kid. Remember that story?” said Peter.
“Of course, especially since you remind us of that at least once a season...if not two,” Charlotte said, teasingly.
Peter replied with a chill, “I’m sorry if you have to hear it every year. It’s just that it stands out so vividly in my mind and certainly a defining moment of my childhood.” He paused briefly. “Seeing that nail poking out of my skin scared the crap out of me. Not to mention it hurt like a sonofabitch and made me scream like a baby. It was the first time I ever remember being scared, afraid of what might happen to me.”
Charlotte looked at her husband of nearly twenty years. The take-control CEO, master of the universe, and the father of her two children looked like a hurt little boy about to cry. She sensed there was more to this than just recalling a bad experience from his childhood. “Is something wrong?” she asked.
Peter looked back out across the moors. “The offices were picketed again today,” he said.
Charlotte took her eyes off the road and glanced at Peter. “What do you mean picketed...again?” she asked. “When have your offices ever been picketed?”
Peter shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I haven’t told you, but for the past few months, an environmental group, Clean Seas Forever, has been picketing our offices. They have spent the last few Friday mornings in our lobby, disrupting our business and claiming that the plastics we produce are killing the oceans and the wildlife in it.”
Charlotte wasn’t sure which made her angrier, that this organization was targeting her husband’s company or that he hadn’t bothered to tell her it had been happening in the first place. She looked at Peter, “Who are these Clean Oceans people?”
“Clean Seas Forever,” he corrected her. “They are a very well funded group and claim to have research linking our products to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of whales, dolphins, and other marine life. They believe that these animals ingest our products, thinking it’s food, and it fucks up their insides, and they die. Personally, it’s all a bunch of hysterical bullshit and just gives these people a cause, another reason to protest.”
“Is there any truth to their claims?” she asked. “About killing marine life?”
“Absolutely not! Yes, our products can last for many years in water, but in no way will they be mistaken for food. They are clearly exaggerating the situation and using it to siphon donations from sympathetic housewives who don’t know any better. And they need the money - and the cause - because I don’t think any of these fruitcakes could get a job in the real world.”
Charlotte looked at him, “Well, that might be, but these ‘fruitcakes’ could potentially harm your business. What if they started picketing some of your biggest customers?” she asked. “Do you think they might succumb to that kind of pressure? I’d think that could potentially be bad PR for them.”
“I don’t think you understand my business,” said Peter condescendingly. “My customers and their customers need our products. We produce value-added plastics that people use thousands of times a day. It makes their lives easier and more enjoyable. They need us. They depend on us,” he finished.
“But what if more of them start answering ‘paper’?” said Charlotte.
“What the fuck are you babbling about?” asked Peter, looking at his wife like he would dogshit on his shoe.
She stared back at him, her blue eyes blazing with anger, “I’m the one who shops for this family, Peter. And when I go to the store, they ask me every single time I check out - paper or plastic?”
“Don’t bait me.”
“Yes. You know that we don’t produce those types of plastics. Those are commodity items made overseas in crappy factors using low-quality plastics and cheap labor. Our products are made of the highest quality resins and used by several premium brands in the food and beverage industry. Yes, they might end up in the ocean, but it’s guilt by association with this bunch of wackos.”
“I understand that. After all, I’ve been there with you since you bought that company,” Charlotte scathingly reminded her husband. “But it’s that guilt by association that worries me. If more and more people respond with paper as their answer, then their perceptions and preferences are changing.”
“Meaning?” asked Peter, already tired of the argument.
“Meaning that they might start cutting plastics out of their lives where they can. Maybe these people will realize that they can probably still live a happy life without your products?” she finished.
Peter looked at her, unsure of how to respond.
“I think what I’m trying to say is that you should consider transitioning out of plastics.”
“What the fuck?” said Peter, nearly apoplectic. “Plastic products make up almost our entire sales portfolio. They generate hundreds of millions per year in revenue. And if we don’t make them, then one of our many competitors no doubt will,” he snarled. “Is it my fault that people don’t recycle or dispose of their trash properly? And how the fuck can I keep a whale from eating a piece of plastic floating on the surface of the ocean?” Peter was bristling now, the recollection of the morning’s activities helping to fuel his displeasure.
“I’m just trying to help,” Charlotte said shakily. “Anyway, I thought your guys in R&D had developed a new type of plastic using natural materials that would degrade quickly in water.”
Peter snorted, “Those ‘guys’ are very highly paid chemical engineers, and yes, they have developed some resins made from natural materials. In our preliminary studies, they appear to disintegrate fairly quickly when exposed to water, especially saltwater. But we abandoned that work last year.”
Taken aback, Charlotte said, “Abandoned? It sounds like it might be a perfect solution to this problem!”
“We had to abandon it because they were proving to be too damn expensive to make. Even looking past the very high capital needed to rework the production equipment, converting our entire product line would cost us over fifteen percentage points of margin. Do you know what that means in terms of dollars?” Peter stared at her intently.
“I don’t,” said Charlotte, “Especially since you won’t share the financials with me.”
Peter ignored the dig. “Over one hundred million. Per year! Do you know what that would do to our stock price?” Peter waved his arms to make the point. “Our stock price would tank and with that a lot of my net worth.” He slumped back into his seat. “I think you like the way we live. Plastics have taken care of us financially, and I seriously doubt you would want to give it all up to clean the oceans,” he said mockingly.
“But what about the wildlife some of your plastics are hurting? Like the whales?” Charlotte asked.
“Fuck the whales. I have margins to maintain and profits to deliver,” Peter replied with an icy tone.
They drove the remaining few miles to their house in silence.