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Finally, the carnage he had witnessed on the ground began to make some sense. The fifty-three-year-old retired marine JAG and grizzled Vietnam vet was embarking on a new mission, perhaps the most important mission in his life. The flight he took that muggy afternoon over the coastal plains of North Carolina would change everything. Rick would finally understand what was killing the river. His river, a river called the Neuse. Rick and his family had lived for years near the broad, muddy mouth of the river.

As a result, according to local media reports, a rising backwash of flush water was now spilling from the barns and milking parlor and pooling into a massive manure lake that engulfed the cattle confinements. The lake, growing by the hour, already held two million gallons of brown stinking water. Workers had to fence off much of the area after Holsteins were found wading around in fetid liquid up to their udders. “Maybe this disaster will finally do something to strengthen the law; maybe this will be precedent setting,” Karen told one journalist.

He couldn’t remember which courtroom he worked in, or find his way back to chambers from the law library. Rick was convinced he had a brain tumor. But doctors found nothing wrong with him. He took some time off to recuperate, and within three weeks, the problems abated and he returned to the bench. At the same time, Rick began noticing that some of the menhaden in the Neuse were turning up dead, with open, bleeding lesions on their silvery flanks. It would be years before he understood the connection between his memory loss and the ghoulish fish kills.

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Animal Factory by Kirby, David

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