He had spent every afternoon of the last two weeks brainstorming with Gil and Avery, reviewing plans, dreaming of possibilities, discussing permutations. Pizza and Chinese take-out had been the dinners of choice for the majority of those nights, but on the evening of the thirteenth day, Avery decided to cook. He made a fabulous dinner of moussaka, spanikopita, and Greek salad. They topped it off with a healthy helping of Aunt Stella’s baklava – Aunt Stella adored Hart – and by the end of the night, it seemed that he and Avery had discovered simultaneously what Gil had known all along: Hart was their man.
Back at the hotel, Hart grabbed a Sam Adams from the small refrigerator and sat down at the elegant desk. He drew a crude sketch of the TDU on the small Sheraton notepad, then did some calculations regarding the square footage needed to house the machine. In order to bring investors to the table, he’d have to sell the complete package, not just the conversion from trash to oil, but on to refined oil and gas. The problem was going to be with the refining.
Refineries were dangerous beasts. To convince investors to ante up for the revolutionary TDU was one thing. There were more than a handful of nouveau riche with not only the collateral, but the common sense to invest in such ground-breaking technology. But would those same people also wish to invest in the construction of an oil refinery to complement the TDU. The reduction in air quality, the potential for spills and explosions, the astronomical construction costs, and the staggering cost of liability insurance were all good reasons not to build a new facility. The last new refinery built in the U.S. was in 1976 in Louisiana. Would anyone really want to start again now?
Hart stared out at the shimmering city lights, his mind ticking through a list of possibilities when a broad smile crossed his lips.
Hart took his Sam Adams and the newspaper article about Gil and the TDU and headed down to the front desk in his bare feet. He handed the paper to the concierge and wrote down a fax number.
“Would you fax this for me? Now if possible.”
“Certainly, sir.” The concierge retreated to the back room. Hart stood at the counter and drank his beer, tapping his foot nervously. The concierge returned in a few minutes and handed Hart the newspaper article along with a confirmation sheet.
“Thanks,” he said and returned to the bank of elevators.
Minutes later, back in his room, Hart telephoned Houston. Bicky picked up on the fourth ring.
“Hello,” Bicky croaked.
“Am I waking you up?” Hart belatedly checked the clock. It was 2 AM.
“No, I’m generally up at this hour,” Bicky replied, his voice thick with sarcasm.
“Did you check your fax?”
“As is my habit in the middle of the night. What’s up?”
“Well, I’ve been officially on sabbatical for two weeks and I’ve already found what will take us to the next level, economically, and environmentally. Want to hear about it?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“Everybody’s got a choice.” Hart said. Bicky took so long to reply that Hart thought he’d fallen back to sleep.
Finally, Bicky sighed. “Go ahead.”
“How about this? A machine that converts trash into oil.”
Bicky began a hack so violent, Hart had the hold the phone away from his ear.
“Hey, man, are you all right? Drink some water or something,” Hart said. He heard the phone drop onto the night stand as the cough receded into the background. After several minutes, Bicky returned.
“What the hell did you say?”
“I said, how about a machine that converts trash, you know, from a landfill, into petrol? Would you invest in that? And before you say another word, believe me, this is for real. I saw it with my own eyes.”
“How? Where are you?”
“I thought that machine was south of the city, out in Delaware County?”
“Huh? You heard of it before?”
“Ah – something about it, but I’m not sure from who.”
Hart’s eyes narrowed and his nose twitched involuntarily, probably because his body smelled a rat, but his brain couldn’t make the connection.
“You saw this machine?” Bicky asked.
“You talked to the inventor?”
“Yep. Been hanging out with them for the last two weeks. Well, the actual inventor is dead. A tragedy in every sense of the word.”
“How’d you find out about it?” Bicky’s voice was coarse with sleep, which served to obfuscate his impatience so Hart didn’t notice.
“I read a newspaper article on the plane. It was luck, I think. Something weird.” Hart squinted into the past, trying to piece the events of that first day in Philly together, but like fragments of a dream, they scattered, leaving nothing but their fuzzy imprints.
“Bicky, I know you need time to think about it, but the implications…. This is beyond breakthrough.”
“I think you’re cracking up. You better come back to work before you go over the edge.”
“Listen. This machine eats trash. We install machines like this across the country and not only are our landfill problems eradicated, we are no longer dependent on foreign oil. And I’m not talking about in situ burning that releases harmful carcinogens into the air. And not trash to steam. We’re not replacing one problem with another. We’re solving two problems at once. It even helps with greenhouse gasses since that trash won’t be sitting in the landfill breaking down for a million years.”
“Yeah, yeah. You said this was in the paper?”
“The Philadelphia Inquirer. Go check your fax machine.”
“That means a lot of people know about it already.”
“It doesn’t matter. This kid wants to work with me. We. . .bonded.”
“Oh, Christ. Now I see where this is going. You don’t have any kids of your own so you’re out looking for some without parents.”
“That’s not it,” Hart said. “I got the feeling that he chose me, but how, I’d be hard-pressed to say.” Hart took another swig of his second Sam Adams and sat back in his chair. “If you think about it, you really can’t write a check fast enough.”
“Did you try buying him out? The board will want complete ownership.”
“We can’t buy him out, Bicky. He’s only ten.”
“Ten! Does the phrase ‘candy from a baby’ mean anything to you?”
“His father invented the machine.”
“So you said.”
“I did? I didn’t think I said that.”
Bicky started coughing again, so Hart waited until he finished.
“The kid idolized his father. He’s tweaked this machine to maximum efficiency. It’s . . . well it’s a beautiful thing.”
Bicky sighed. Hart could sense the conversation was winding down.
“We don’t need any investments. We’re making enough money on the product we have.”
“You’re being short-sighted. What happens when your supply dries up?”
“It’s not going to dry up anytime soon. The Middle East has plenty of oil.”
“It’s going to dry up, Bicky. Maybe not in your lifetime, but probably in mine, and definitely by the next generation.”
Bicky was silent for a minute. “I don’t have any grandkids. What the hell’s it matter about the next generation?”
Hart felt the barb in the pit of his stomach. “Kids or grandkids, we have a moral obligation.”
“Hey, maybe we’ll find a cure for AIDS while we’re at it,” Bicky snarled.
Hart almost hung up the phone, but tried one more time. “Just think about it. From where we sit, with our dwindling resources, this invention rivals the Internet.”
“Shut up, already. You’re sounding like a National Geographic article. When are you going to stop worrying about everyone else and start worrying about yourself?”
“When you stop worrying about yourself and start worrying about everyone else.”
“Very funny.” Bicky coughed again. “I’ll send somebody down to look at it.”
“Don’t send somebody down. I’m already down.”
“I’m on sabbatical, remember?”
“Did you even ask him about selling?”
“They’re not selling.”
“I just want to know if you asked.”
“Someone needs to help these kids, Bicky. Both their parents are gone.”
“So are mine, but you don’t see me crying.”
“Oh, Jesus,” Hart said, utterly exasperated.
“All right. Truth be told, I’m not interested. Now can I go back to sleep?”
Hart’s anger rifled through the phone like machine gun fire. “Just so we’re clear. I’m going to get this thing built, with or without you, and when it’s done, my company’s stock is gonna shoot so high you’ll need a telescope to see me in the night sky.” Hart could hear Bicky breathing into the phone, but no words were forthcoming. “Whatever. Go back to sleep. You always have been anyway.”
“Goddamn it!” Bicky barked. “What are you going to do? Flood the market with Akanabi?”
Hart hoped his silence conveyed the fact that he was smiling.
“Go ahead, you little prick. I can withstand your assault, you stupid. . . .”
Hart held the phone away from his ear so he didn’t hear Bicky’s last insult.
“You hear me, Hart?” Bicky screamed. Hart caught the echo.
He balanced the receiver on his index finger and watched it sway back and forth like the scales of justice. He could hear Bicky’s disembodied voice yelling after him, his tirade continuing unabated. With his free hand, Hart lifted the phone and dropped it in its cradle. He sighed, like a man who has just taken his last bite of a memorable meal, sat back and folded his hands over his stomach. After allowing several seconds for it to disconnect, he took the receiver off the hook, and laid it on the table. A minute later his cell phone started ringing. He switched the ringer to mute and opened another beer.
to be continued. . .