Gil sat cross-legged on the floor watching The Jerry Springer Show . Today’s episode centered around mothers who dated their daughter’s boyfriends.
“Maybe we could get on the show,” Gil said.
“For what?” Avery asked from his position on the couch.
Gil shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Well they’re not going to pay you to just sit there. They want something sensational.”
“Well maybe we could just sit in the audience.”
“Kori would bust a gut if we told her we wanted to see Springer. And she’d bust me for sure if she knew I let you watch this.” Avery jerked his head toward the doorway, suddenly afraid Kori might be standing in it.
“How much do you think they pay them to fight like that?” Avery asked. One of the daughters on the show swung a fist at her mother’s head, making contact. The mother went down. A younger daughter, also on the show, went for the older sister’s face and prime time fisticuffs ensued. Gil’s eyes opened wide and he covered his mouth in shock.
“What do you mean?” Gil asked, his hand still over his mouth.
“I mean to keep the act going.”
“It’s not an act, Avery. It’s real. Those people are really upset.” Gil turned to look at Avery, but didn’t remove his hand.
“Gil. This crap is not for real. It’s made up for television.”
“Why would they make something like that up?”
“Makes everybody else feel like they’re not as bad off as they thought, maybe.”
Gil stood up and flicked off the television, then walked to the door and threw it open, still holding the remote.
“Hey, you little turd. Why’d you shut off the T.V.?”
“He’s almost here.”
“The man who’s going to help us.”
Avery walked over to Gil and looked down the street. All quiet. A cold gust of February wind blustered in, overpowering the warmer vapors lingering there. Avery shuddered and moved to close the door.
“No,” Gil said and put a hand up to stop him. “Just wait.”
Avery rolled his eyes, turned the T.V. on manually and returned to his reclining position on the couch. Gil stood at the door, refusing to move. After a minute, Avery covered himself with a blanket. After several minutes, he yelled.
“Gil! Close the door!”
In response, a car door slammed.
Hart was halfway up the drive before he noticed Gil standing in the open doorway. He stopped several steps away.
“Are you waiting for someone?” Hart asked.
“You,” Gil said.
“Me?! How’d you know I was coming?”
Gil shrugged. “Aunt Stella told me.”
“Who’s Aunt Stella?”
Avery appeared in the doorway wrapped like a pig in a blanket. Gil held out his hand and Hart stepped forward to shake it.
“Gil,” Avery said, pulling him back.
Hart introduced himself. “David Hartos. Akanabi Oil.” He held a hand out to Avery who ignored it.
“The oil spill in the Delaware?” Avery asked. “So what are you doing here?”
“I saw your picture in the paper,” Gil said.
“And I saw yours.”
“I give your performance of the last month two and a half stars,” Gil said.
“What’s that mean?”
“He’s got a rating system,” Avery said. “Like the movies. Only he’s much tougher.”
“Actually, on the performance itself I’d go as high as three and a half, but you did spill the oil in the first place and so you get an immediate deduction for error.”
Hart stared at the old creature in front of him until another gust of wind blew by and he shuddered. “Hey, do you mind if I come in? I’m from Houston and not really used to this East Coast cold.”
Gil stepped back, but Avery blocked Hart’s entry. They eyed each other a moment until Avery moved, just enough for Hart to squeeze by him. The three stood in a tight circle in the foyer, Hart waiting while the boys stared at him, Avery still wrapped in a blanket, Gil still holding the remote.
“So what do you want?” Avery asked.
“I read where you discovered a way to change trash into oil.”
Avery narrowed his eyes and bit his lip. Hart raised his eyebrows and gave Avery a tentative smile.
“Did you know that even a quarter-sized spot of oil on a bird’s feathers is enough to kill it over time?” Gil asked Hart.
“Actually, I did know that. I spent a long morning at a de-oiling station.”
“Yep. It breaks down their insulation and they can die from hypothermia. And it doesn’t just happen in the winter. But you know what? I think it’s cause they can’t stand that one oily spot. It makes them crazy. They keep trying to get it off and it won’t come off. It’s like Ophelia in Hamlet . You know the one with Mel Gibson? ‘Out, out, damn spot.’”
Hart stared at Gil, both incredulous and wary. The kid was serious and Hart wasn’t sure whether to run away or hug the crap out of him. Hands at his sides and feet rooted to the floor, he did neither. Instead, he said to Avery: “You’ve got a smart brother.”
Avery ignored the remark. “Do you have any credentials?”
Hart pulled out his Akanabi ID and handed it to Avery who looked it over cooly.
“Do you want some milk?” Gil asked.
“Love some,” Hart replied. “If it’s all right with your brother.”
Avery gave Hart the hairy eyeball. “So you’re the Chief of Engineering? What’s that about?”
“It’s about taking a lot of flak,” Hart said, accepting his credentials back.
“How’d you know about the TDU? I mean, the Thermo Depolymerization Unit? Did somebody from Cooper’s tell you? Or maybe it was your driver…”
Hart shook his head and reached into his back pocket. Avery took a step back and pulled Gil with him. Hart handed Avery the Inquirer article. In addition to the head shot, there was a photo of Gil, standing in front of the TDU.
“No way,” Avery said.
“Let me see,” Gil said, peering over the top to see his own face smiling back at him. “I hate that picture.”
“Did you know about this?” Avery asked Gil.
Gil nodded. “But I didn’t know when it was coming out. It doesn’t matter though, right? Since he’s here?”
“Who’s he ?” Avery asked. “Don’t you understand, Gil? This was in the business section of the Philadelphia Inquirer . The Sunday paper. Not Monday, not Tuesday, freaking Sunday. The whole world’s got our number now. He is just the first of many.” Avery sighed and rubbed his brow. The blanket fell to the ground. “What was she thinking?”
“Look, if this is a problem, I can come back another time.” Hart said.
“Good idea,” Avery said, grabbing Gil’s arm.
“No!” Gil grabbed Hart’s arm and held fast. “It’s okay, Avery,” Gil said. “He’s going to help us build it.”
“Gil. You can’t know that.”
“It’s him, Avery. I can feel it.”
“Build it?” Hart asked. Now it was his turn to raise his brows.
“You’re a trouble-shooter, right?” Gil asked. “Isn’t that part of your job description?”
“Well, we need some trouble shot. So you can do that. Plus you can help us build a bigger machine, something really big that will save the world from being buried under a gigantic trash pile. Plus, if we make our own oil, people won’t blow each other up for what’s left.”
Gil took a step forward and looked Hart directly in the eye. “My brother may be dead because of oil, but we’re not sure because my father says we can’t believe everything the government tells us. Plus, I don’t think my brother would leave us yet because we really need him.”
“Gil. Enough.” Avery wrapped the fallen blanket around Gil’s shoulders and knelt down to eye level with Gil. “How did you know he was coming?”
Gil shrugged. “I just knew.”
“Knew who was coming? Me?” Hart asked.
Gil just stared at him.
“Christ, I’m going to kill Kori.”
“Our sister. She likes this guy from the newspaper and she told him all about the TDU even though Avery told her not to tell. So he’s mad at her.”
“But this is a fantastic discovery. It should be made public. I mean, what if Alexander Graham Bell kept the telephone idea to himself? What you need is someone to buy the technology from you…”
“Somebody already tried to steal it from us. Twice. Once they blew up our porch and the other time they almost killed our dog. And our parents…” Gil stopped abruptly and looked at his brother.
Avery sighed and rubbed his temples as if he’d just developed a headache. He rose slowly, aging a hundred years in an instant, and, still holding Gil’s arm, turned to Hart.
“You have to leave. We can’t talk about this anymore. Not to you or anybody else.” He started shoving Hart to the door, but Gil intercepted, still holding Hart’s arm.
“No, Avery. He’s the good guys.”
“Gil. His company just spilled three hundred and fifty thousand gallons of crude in the Delaware River because they were using a forty-year old ship that, were it not for some medieval grandfather clause, would not pass half the safety requirements being imposed on today’s vessels. He is most definitely not one of the good guys. He works for Akanabi.”
“Not for long,” Gil said, certain.
Hart felt an electric jolt shoot through him at this proclamation, but shook it off, still pondering something Gil had said.
“Wait a minute. You said someone blew up your porch looking for this machine?” Something about Gil’s proclamation jarred his memory, but he wasn’t sure why.
“Yeah. They took the drawings, but they got the wrong ones,” Avery said. “Gil saw to that.” Avery smiled at his brother.
“C’mon,” Gil said. He led Hart out of the foyer while dragging Avery who was still holding fast to Gil’s arm.
“What are you doing?” Avery asked.
“He wants some milk. We’re going to the kitchen.”
“We have some cookies, too,” Gil said. “Aunt Stella made them. She’s an excellent baker.” Avery shook his head and sighed, but protested no more as he followed them into the kitchen.
Gil bustled about readying their snack. He served Hart himself – the first time he ever served anyone – and his pride and satisfaction wafted through the room like the aroma of breads baking, so much so, that even Avery’s heart warmed. After much probing and prodding from both Gil and Avery, Hart recounted his own unfortunate events. By the time he’d finished, the trio felt as if they’d known each other forever, or, at least, for half of this lifetime.
That’s when a profound silence seeped in like radon gas and settled over the kitchen. Gil’s discomfort with it prompted him to action. “Let’s go,” he said, and pushed them out the back door.
Gil gave Hart the tour of the barn where he explained the TDU in depth and encouraged Hart’s examination of it. By the time Gil had finished, Hart was convinced that Marty Tirabi was a genius and that Gil was no slacker either. According to Avery, the actual breakthrough on the machine’s salability came as a result of Gil’s dream about oil and water. From the start, Hart sensed something otherworldly about Gil and that information solidified his conceptions. It wasn’t just the machine either: Gil himself stretched the boundaries of the human imagination.
After the barn, they drove Hart across the fields to Trash Mountain, as they’d taken to calling it, the primary feedstock for the TDU. It was a monstrous pile, even by landfill standards, but what impressed Hart even more was the means by which they arrived there: an ATV that pulled a series of connected trailers coupled like railroad cars and built by none other than Gil Tirabi. Was there no end to this child’s inventiveness?
In the beginning of the day, if someone would have told him, as Gil tried, that Hart would be the one to help these boys raise the money to build the TDU on a grand scale, he would have laughed. Hart knew nothing about fund raising, that was more Bicky’s bailiwick, and had his doubts about a partnership with anyone. But by the end of the day, the little genius had sold him the farm, as it were, lock, stock and two technological barrels. Maybe he was going crazy, or maybe his alter ego, his “hero” persona as Sonia called it, was kicking in, but he really wanted to help these kids.
He was astonished with the ease at which Gil had taken to him and of Gil’s certainty that Hart was their man. Avery was older and more measured than Gil and Hart could sense his reticence. Whereas Gil was a full on green light, Avery was a blinking yellow. Hart felt Avery was right. It could be that they were a perfect match, but what they needed was a little time to get to know each other. It was early evening when Hart finally left with a promise to return the following afternoon for more discussion.
to be continued. . .