synomymous with Edison

Andromeda-Galaxy-640x353OIL IN WATER

Pam Lazos

Chapter Seventy-Seven

At exactly 10:00 a.m. the next morning, Bicky arrived at the Tirabi residence uncharacteristically dressed in a pair of khaki pants and a polo shirt. Kori and Jack were sitting at the kitchen table when he knocked at the front door. Kori jumped.

“You expecting company?” Jack asked.

“No.” She had called Jack the minute Bicky pulled out of the driveway the previous night and Jack had picked up on the first ring as if waiting for her call. They’d talked into the small hours where night blurs into day and the grandest ideas are born. After a marathon phone session, Jack showed up on the front step looking hanged-dogged and hopeful. Kori invited him up to her room where they’d continued their conversation, among other things, and now they were pleasantly exhausted. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, the fact that they hadn’t seen each other in a while, or that Jack had made sufficient reparations along with all the right promises, but whatever it was, when Jack proposed that they get back together, Kori acquiesced. And she hadn’t again thought, until this precise moment, about Chris Kane. So while she sat, still as garden statuary, wondering about the odds of him being on the other side of the door, and if so, how to explain it away, Jack got up and answered it.

“Kori’s in the kitchen,” she heard Jack say as he and Bicky entered the kitchen. Kori let out every cubic inch of breath she’d been holding and smiled.

“Good night, I see,” Bicky said.  Kori introduced the men.

“I heard all about you yesterday,” Bicky said, extending his hand.

Jack shot Kori a quizzical look and she blushed. “I was dreaming,” Kori said. “I’ll tell you about it later.”

“And I’ll keep all further comments to myself except to say that’s a very special lady,” Bicky said. “Should you have the good fortune for her to turn her unwavering gaze upon you, I suggest you rise to meet it.”

Kori popped up, planting a wet one on Bicky’s cheek. “I take back all the bad thoughts I had about you yesterday” Kori said. She gave Bicky a squeeze which he accepted stiffly, clearing his throat.

“It’s like hugging Gil,” Kori said to Jack. Bicky blushed at his own ineptness.

“They’re out in the barn,” Kori said. “Just Gil and Hart. Avery’s at the library working on the patent.”

Bicky nodded and whispered into Kori’s ear, loud enough for Jack to hear, “I think, my dear, that a mid-morning nap might do you wonders,” and he closed the door behind him.

“I think it’s an excellent idea,” Jack said, pulling Kori close. “No time like the present.”


The strains of Yo-Yo Ma’s cello on the soundtrack to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon filled every crevice, corner and cobweb in the barn. Gil practiced the martial arts techniques he learned from the movie using a broomstick and Max as his opponent. Hart reclined on the hammock, reading a backdated version of Omni magazine, one that waxed prophetically about the brilliance of an as then little known scientist by the name of Marty Tirabi who harbored radical theories and an insatiable appetite for breaking down paradigms. The article, written in 1983, donned Marty the proverbial new messiah of the scientific world, said his star was quick and rising, and that it was just a matter of time before he stood, not only the scientific community, but the world at large on its ear with some scintillating new breakthrough.

Hart stopped to watch Gil who executed first a side and then a roundhouse kick, both flawless. He poked the air with the broom handle while Max chased the other end. Waves of tenderness flooded Hart’s chest and rippled outward to his arms and legs, his fingers and toes, and kept on rippling until he felt the room go electric with it. God had given him back something that he’d been horribly denied, something minute yet infinite, small yet limitless. He breathed in the smell, like the air after a lightning storm, both burnt and wet at the same time, and gratitude filled him up so much that he got vertigo. He tossed the magazine aside and planted his feet on the floor. He felt like he’d received a divine download, a specific, yet wordless instruction from a source higher than himself. With guidance, this child could pick up the mantle his father was so unexpectedly forced to set down. And you’ll guide him…

The knock at the door made Hart jump and set Max to barking, but both relaxed when Bicky walked in. Hart walked over to greet his father-in-law, but Gil bumped past, throwing his arms around Bicky’s neck and his legs around his waist. Bicky reeled, then caught his balance, holding firmly to Gil with one arm and a support beam with the other. It was a light gesture, yet it landed in Hart’s stomach like an unexploded grenade, threatening to detonate with the import of it. The grandson Bicky would never have.

“What took you so long?” Gil yipped right in Bicky’s ear.

Bicky grimaced, patted Gil clumsily on the back, and set him down, slow and deliberate.

“You guys had a good day yesterday, I see,” Hart said. He lowered the volume on the stereo.

“Thank you.” Bicky said, rubbing his ears. Gil’s smile effloresced, a flower in full bloom.

“He’s got all kinds of ideas for marketing the TDU,” Gil said to Hart, “and he said that we can build a special wing in Akanabi and dedicate it to my Dad. Maybe even rename part of the company. But whatever we do, people are going to know all about him. By the time Bicky’s done, he’ll be as big as Thomas Edison.”

“Bigger,” Bicky said.

“Who do you think made the bigger contribution?” Gil said. “Edison or Bell?”

“Those are just the common names.” Hart said. “What about all those physicists, toiling away in anonymity. The ones who come up with the big theories that advance our understanding of the universe. Somebody needs to thank them. It can’t all be about the light bulb.”

Gil sat down on his stool, set his lips in a tight line and moved them back and forth across his teeth, apparently in deep concentration. “I think it’s got to be about the light bulb. Without that invention, everyone else is in the dark. Eating in the dark, swimming in the dark, making phone calls in the dark, even inventing in the dark.” He looked to Bicky for confirmation.

“Then we won’t stop until his name is synonymous with Edison. How’s that?”

“Excellent.” Gil smiled and jumped off his seat. “Let’s get started then. C’mon over.”

Bicky followed Gil to the TDU and stood in front of it. “So this is the machine with a hundred and one uses,” Bicky said. He pulled open the metal door and was met with a full blast of hot air. “Whoa,” he said and took a step back.

Gil nodded and raised his eyebrows. “Should have warned you. It gets pretty hot in there. Let me show you how everything works and then we can sit down with the drawings.”

“You joining us?” Bicky asked Hart.

“Go ahead,” Hart said. “Gil and I have already talked this through a bunch of times. I would like a fresh pair of eyes, though, in case there’s something we’ve missed.” Bicky nodded.

“Okay, Mr. Bicky.” Gil said. “This machine is small for what we want to do with it. In a real facility, the scale could be increased as much as you want. Twenty to one. Fifty to one – whatever.” Gil said. “In here,” Gil opened the TDU’s door and another blast of heat escaped, “is where we feed the beast. My dad excavated it twenty feet down to a fully-lined pit. Those side doors over there slide open,” he said, pointing to the wall. “We back the ATV into the barn. It’s got this little hydraulic cylinder that raises the front of the trailer bed – just like a dump truck – so the trash slides off the trailer right into the machine.“

“By the way, I called the bank and told them I no longer needed the financing,” Hart said, returning to the hammock.

“Thanks,” Bicky said, flashing a lopsided grimace.

Gil went over every square inch of the TDU. For his part, Bicky was unwavering in his focus and seemed enthralled, both in the presence of genius and in that which genius had wrought.



Half an hour later, Gil finished his tutorial and sat down on the swivel stool. “So. What do you think?” he asked. He pushed off and began spinning.

      “I think,” Bicky said, “that this may be the most important, money-making invention I’ll see in my lifetime. It’ll reshape the world. Maybe even put us in Bill Gates’ league.”

Gil’s stopped spinning to scrunch his nose at Bicky, clearly not the answer he wanted.

Bicky let out a long, breathy sigh: “I’m sorry… that I never met your father. What vision. And now his dream — ”

“More like his nightmare, you mean.”

Gil jumped. Everyone turned around to see Jerry Dixon emerging from the shadows in the corner of the barn. “Because if you had the opportunity to shake his hand, well then that would mean he’d be alive and you wouldn’t be taking his product to market for him.”

“What the hell are you doing here?” Bicky hissed.

“Where did you come from?” Hart asked.

“How’d you get in?” Gil said.

“Through the door, buddy,” Jerry said. He walked over to Gil and tousled his hair as if he were a toddler. Gil grimaced and leaned away.

“I’ve been hanging out listening to all this lovey dovey crap. It is indeed heartwarming.” He glanced over at Hart. “No pun intended.”

Gil smoothed his straight hair over to the side- and scowled at Jerry.

“Just came by to see how it all turns out now that everyone’s become such fast friends.”

“Hart, get him out of here,” Bicky said.

“Bicky, what’s going on?” Hart asked.

“I fired him a few days ago.”


“Fired. Just like that,” Jerry said. “Can you believe it, Hart? After thirty-three years of loyal service. And for what?”

“I’m going to give you five seconds and then I’ll remove you myself.”

“I’ll tell you for what. Because Bicky Coleman, our Commander-in-Chief, the man we’d follow blindly into battle without a care for consequence, was disappointed in me. Who knew disappointment carried such a huge price tag?” Jerry huffed, walked over to the wall phone and pulled the receiver from it’s cradle.

“Hello, Operator? What’s the number for disappointment?” He smiled at Bicky, a sardonic, dripping thing, and yanked the phone off the wall, tossing it to the ground. “She doesn’t know,” he said. He shrugged, walked over to Gil and shooed him off the stool.

At first nonplussed, Gil’s confusion over what was happening changed to obstinance. He stalwartly refused to give up his stool until Jerry gave him a shove which sent him spiraling to the floor. Max lunged at Jerry, nipping the fleshy part of his hand, before Jerry managed to put Max in a choke hold and press him to his chest. Max stood with two paws off the floor, alternating between sucking air and baring his teeth.

“I’ll break his neck.”

“No!” Gil yelled.

Hart grabbed Max’s collar and Jerry released his grip. Max collapsed on the floor, panting for air. Hart picked him up, all seventy pounds, and deposited him in the hammock.

“Jerry, what the hell is your problem?” Hart was at Gil’s side, pulling him to his feet, dusting him off. He scooped Gil up and placed him in the hammock next to Max. “Stay,” he said to both of them. Bicky stood in the corner, eyeing the bulge in Jerry’s trouser leg.

Jerry rubbed his temples with both hands as if he had a headache. “Because I had a little dalliance with a woman that he cared nothing for, other than to control her,” Jerry said, responding to a question that no one had asked.

“Dalliance, my ass,” Bicky quipped. “She left you billions of dollars. Billion does not equal a dalliance. Just how long were you screwing her?”

“It really doesn’t matter, does it, Bicky? What matters is money. It’s all that matters.”

“You son-of-a-bitch,” Bicky said. He lunged for Jerry, swung and caught him with a glancing blow to the side of the jaw. It was like hitting granite.

Jerry neither reeled, nor blinked, but caught Bicky squarely with a sucker punch to the mid-section. “Oh, does that feel good,” Jerry said on contact.

Bicky groaned and doubled over, but pulled up and swung again. Jerry blocked Bicky’s fist and returned it with his own while Max barked in time with the punches. Gil watched in fascination as if these were the recorded antics of daytime television. Jerry’s military training gave him the upper hand, but Bicky’s years spent working out with a personal trainer made him a worthy opponent. Hart stared at them, momentarily stupefied, before his brain roused his body to action. The men were locked in an angry embrace, each fueled by years of swallowing their own bitter disappointments. Hart broke up the fight and held them at arms length, a referee between two boxers.

“Knock it off, dammit. There’s nothing to be done,” Hart said.

Bicky and Jerry stood glaring at one another, less than a few feet between them, inhaling each other’s fury, fueling their own. The ambient air, dank and fetid with the ghost of so much lost love, reeked of hopelessness.

“She’s dead. You both lost.”

“Why’d you come here, Jerry?” Hart snapped. “You have a hefty inheritance. Take it and go buy an island somewhere. Have some respect and leave the man to his grief.”

“Grief? The only thing Bicky Coleman grieves for is a bad investment,” Jerry said. He spit at Bicky’s feet, splattering the warm Italian leather. “Nothing else matters to him.”

“Why don’t you say something back” Gil said to Bicky, a note of pleading in his voice. He walked over from the hammock, Max in tow. Both fear and loss were reflected in Bicky’s crystal blue eyes. “Don’t let him say those mean things.”

“It’s you he needs to say something to,” Jerry replied. “Isn’t it, Boss?” Jerry smiled grimly, a gargoyle at the palace gate. “Something he’s going to have a hard time telling.” Jerry shook Hart off and sat back down on Gil’s stool.

Hart turned to Bicky. “What’s he talking about?”

“Still didn’t tell him?” Jerry asked. “Why am I not shocked.” Gil stared wide-eyed, alternating between Bicky and Jerry. Hart moved Gil and Max back to the hammock.

“Get out,” Bicky said.

“You know, son, here’s a lesson for you. Before you go into business with someone, make sure you have a good idea of their character. And barring that, make sure you get yourself a damn good attorney,” Jerry said. “At least do a background check.”

Jerry picked at his nails as if he had all the time in the world before looking Gil straight in the eye. “Do you know if it wasn’t for this guy, you’d still have parents?”  He reached down to the leg of his trousers.

“What does that mean?” Gil asked. He turned to Bicky. “What does he mean?”

“Get Out!” Bicky yelled, his rage sputtering up, threatening to blow its sides. He took a step toward Jerry just as the former head of security for Akanabi Oil stood and pointed a 9 mm. at Bicky’s mid-section. Bicky halted in mid-stride.

“I mean, Bicky ordered me to have someone tail your parents the night they were killed. He really wanted those papers over there,” Jerry said, motioning toward the desk. “Told me to use all means, which, of course, I paid extra for.” Jerry cleared his throat. “It was me, by the way, torched your porch. I’m real sorry about that. In hindsight, it was sloppy and uncalled for.”

“You’re lying!” Gil screamed. He jumped down and grabbed the closest thing he could find, a snow globe. It was a clear plastic hemisphere sitting on a pink base and filled with water and faux snow. Plastic tropical fish swam inside and stirred up snow whenever someone shook it. The globe had been purchased during a family trip to Florida and for two months after, Gil slept with it every night. Now he heaved it across the room as hard as he could. It glanced off Jerry’s shoulder, hit the floor and landed with a distinct thud . Water leaked from the newly formed crack in the plastic and spread into a small, round puddle.

Bicky grunted and lunged for Jerry’s gun. Jerry fired and for an instant the room went quiet: the only sounds a whoosh of air as the bullet hurtled through time and space to its target, the sickening sploosh as it made contact. Hart pulled Gil and Max back. Bicky screamed in pain and collapsed in a heap on the ground. Gil’s head poked out from behind Hart’s back, his face a mixture of horror and awe.

Jerry smiled at Bicky, heaped on the floor like discarded packaging, clinging with both hands to his oozing thigh. Blood spread out, covering the distance in phases as it soaked into the fine cotton twill of Bicky’s pants, the smell of it acrid and strong. Jerry raised the gun to Bicky’s head and started to laugh, a maniacal, full-bodied thing that, like the whirling dervishes of Islam, showed no signs of relenting.

 to be continued. . .

it started here. . .

copyright 2013

one loyal group


Pam Lazos

Chapter Seventy-Six

Hart sat on the bed in his hotel room reading the newspaper behind closed eyelids. Two sharp raps on the door startled him awake.

“Hold on,” Hart called. He rubbed his entire face with one hand before rising to look through the peephole.

“What the — ?” Hart said, throwing the door open.

Bicky held up a hand to silence him. “May I come in?”

Hart stepped aside to allow Bicky ingress. Bicky headed straight to the window.

“I’ve been calling you all day,” Hart said. “What the hell are you doing here?” Hart grabbed two beers out of the mini-fridge, popped the tops and set one down on the window sill next to Bicky. “And what happened to your hand?”

Bicky appraised the appendage as if it were an alien species, but said nothing so Hart switched topics.

“I’ve secured financing. But it means I have to sell out. Completely sell out. Every last stock certificate.” Hart gave this information some time to sink in, but Bicky didn’t answer, just stared out the window, his face glued to the view. “Look, I know what that could do to you…to the company. And I’m not trying to undermine you, Bicky, so if you can get the money together….”

“I spent the whole day with the kids.” Bicky stood as still as Billy Penn atop City Hall Tower, staring out over the Delaware, watching the ships come in. “She came back nicely, didn’t she?” he said, nodding toward the river. “Not even a trace of the spill is visible to the naked eye. And it’s only been what? Two months? He picked up his beer and raised the neck to tap Hart’s own. “To the healing power of nature.” Bicky took a seat on the window sill and turned to Hart, his entire body engaged.

It was the atypical nature of the gesture that made Hart uneasy. “I’m guessing you didn’t come here to talk about nature.”

Bicky shook his head. “I was wrong. Too many times over these years I’ve treated you with less than the respect you deserved.” Bicky picked up the beer, but did not drink. “You’re a fine engineer, and a fine son-in-law. Probably the best I’ve ever seen in both categories.” He set his beer down and stood up. “I just wanted to tell you that.”

Hart stared at Bicky, mouth agape. In the ten years he’d known his father-in-law, Hart had received more than his share of the booty for a job well done: new cars, six-figure bonuses, vacations in exotic settings, even a boat once, but this one small comment, mixed with confession, was the most profound and heartfelt gesture Bicky had ever made. Perplexed and more out of sorts than when Bicky first walked in, Hart stood up, too.

“Thanks,” he said. He looked at Bicky queerly for a moment until Bicky’s words sunk in. “The kids? I guess you’re talking about my kids?”

“Very fascinating family. I’ve been thinking about this all day and I’m prepared to make a deal that benefits everyone. Truly benefits everyone.”

“I’m listening.”

“Tomorrow. Let’s meet at the Tirabis’ in the morning. Say ten?”

“You want to give me a glimpse into the future?”

“The thought struck me that you could benefit from an existing facility, not just for refining purposes, but for transport. We have pipelines all over the country bringing raw crude into our refineries. What if we reversed the process? Instead of pumping to us, we send the finished product, the stuff you distill from trash, away from us to be either sold or further refined around the country. We can run this without the additional capital and I predict….”

Hart’s smile was so wide, Bicky stopped in mid-sentence.

“What?” Bicky asked.

“Had you given me the chance on the phone that night…”

“Oh. You already thought of that, is it?” Bicky smiled, his trademark half-smile. “Thanks for humoring an old man.” Bicky patted Hart on the back and walked to the door. “Tomorrow.”

“The Tirabi kids know we’re coming?”

“Yes.” Bicky stood face-to-face with his son-in-law, his hand on the doorknob. “They are one loyal group. They wouldn’t deal with me at all until you were at the table. You should be proud of that. The ability to engender loyalty is a lost art.”

Hart smiled, but couldn’t formulate a response because of the large boulder in his throat. Bicky squeezed Hart’s shoulder and shook his hand at the same time.

“See you tomorrow, son.”

to be continued. . . .

this is what happened before

copyright 2013

assault the page

dancing poodleJournal THAT

Cynthia Gregory

Here is a writing challenge that is completely over the top: write with your non­-dominant hand for one page. No more. More than one page is just torture.

The reasoning behind this exercise is similar to the logic behind writing by hand and not relying on the computer keyboard for one hundred percent of your writing output. Writing with your dominant hand allows your thoughts to flow unimpeded from your dazzling brain, down your graceful arm and onto the page in a liquid script. You learned to do this type of writing so long ago that the muscular memory is well established and you no longer need to think about how to grip the pencil, focus like a mountain lion, rear back, and assault the page. This type of writing is automatic, never requiring a second thought to secure a type of fluency, and elegance of process. You pick up the pen, you write.

When you write with a computer, you access both parts of your brain and manage a fairly linear process of calculating thought, interpreting electronic impulses, dashing off messages with lightning speed. You are capable of producing great amounts of written material quickly; if you are an accomplished enough typist, your fingers can almost keep pace with your thoughts. Likely however, you are able to dash off great tracts of prose produced at a formidable rate, interspersed with small interludes of calm while the thinking apparatus generates more material, whereupon the typing commences at high speed.

Alternately, writing by hand slows you down by a least half. The statelier pace of recording thoughts on the page also slows your mind down, and everything relaxes. Your brain has time to linger over thoughts, to meander down lanes of memory and drowse in the dapple shade of summer trees. You can write quickly, but you are still operating at about half-throttle, and there is a more reflective quality to your thoughts and ideas. You can immerse yourself into an idea, you may actually visualize it, take it in with your senses, spend some time with it, date it, get to know it’s quirks, understand the sweetness of it, savor each nuance of meaning before moving on to the next idea. Writing by hand is a tactile and timely experience. You feel the gravity of each word, pushing your pen around the paper. You smell memories; you taste nouns. The idea in your mind merges with your heart and produces lines on a page that more or less mean something. Writing by hand actually means writing by body. It’s not as if your hand is a separate unit from your shoulder, elbow, neck, or heart. You write with it all; because it’s all connected.

If writing by hand is a physical experience, writing with your non-­dominant hand is meta-physical. It requires a concurrent focus just to grasp the pen, to align yourself with the paper, figure out at what slant to approach a line of dictation, how firmly or lightly to squeeze the pen. Suddenly, words with billboard-sized letters loom in your mind, waiting, while you work out the downward loop in your cursive f and move on. What an accomplishment!  

Don’t try to be perfect –you’ll frustrate yourself– unless you were born a leftie and a well-intended but completely disconnected nun forced you to be normal by learning how to write and color and cut paper chains with your right hand. If this is the case, allow me to apologize on behalf of teachers everywhere. You were perfect the way you were, and no one had the slightest right to alter your natural impulses.

Write with your weaker hand –and as you do, you will notice that you have to loosen up. At first you’ll be all stiff and stilted, which will be of no discernible help at all. Struggle less, write more. It’s almost as if with less effort your writing becomes more legible, and the mess of spaghetti on the page begins to resemble actual letters connected to convey meaning. Start by practicing writing your name, then the names of the ones you love. Then gradually, work your way up to words and sentences. A paragraph becomes a grand achievement. Once you master the paragraph, work your way up to a page. Don’t worry about speed, it takes as long as it takes, and it isn’t a competition.

As you write with your weaker hand, you may begin to notice simplicity of thought emerging in your writing. As your neural pathways struggle to fire and connect, you may find your writing taking an intuitive leap, a creative catapult toward new meaning. While writing with your non-dominant hand is awkward, difficult, unseemly, unruly, undignified, it is also as unimaginably liberating as a good walk in the summer rain, as a slice of pizza for breakfast.

We all walk around with a virtual circus playing in our heads and hearts. We carry a lifetime of memories, and a universe of potential. We are at once a young child, and a wise mentor. We are co-workers, and doting grandparents. We are friends and dog-trainers. Vegetarians and comparison shoppers. We are none of us completely and one hundred percent just one thing or even the face we show the world. This is maybe just one of the things that make us such interesting and complex individuals. When we write with our dominant hand, our worlds remain intact, there is no color outside of the lines; all personalities more or less behave as expected. When you write with your non-dominant hand, buried thoughts may rise up to the conscious level, may veer outside the lines in splashes of magenta and vermilion. It becomes messy and a trifle chaotic, but it becomes something beautiful, too.

Writing with your non-dominant hand is a bit of a magic trick; now you see it, now you don’t. While you focus on your inelegant claw struggling to grasp a pen, hidden thoughts may trickle in; tiny hairline fractures may appear in the wall you’ve built around the creative juices; the wall itself may start to crumble just a little, and ideas you’d forgotten you had may just trickle in. Et voila! A dove materializes from a handkerchief.

I believe in magic. I believe in illusion. I believe that coloring outside the box is not just fun; it’s an innate responsibility of the creative heart. So get out there and write with your less popular, ugly step-sister, non-dominant hand. You won’t like it at first. In the beginning it will be as difficult and awkward as a poodle in a tutu. But once you relax and flow with the process, you’ll learn to know yourself in a whole new way, chances are pretty good you’ll like the other, less dominant you.

shutting down

pondscum2OIL IN WATER

Pam Lazos

Chapter Seventy-Five

“All this,” Jack said, placing his hand on Kori’s heart, “is highly combustible. When things heat up like this, it always gets a little dicey.” Jack removed his hand from Kori’s heart and pulled her to him. “It’s all about chemical reactions, Kori,” Jack said. “The most dangerous part of the process is starting up and shutting down. That’s when things are the most precarious.” He squeezed her hand and smiled. “But you already knew that.” She smiled back despite herself.

“Are we starting up or shutting down?” Kori asked. She hoped her voice didn’t belie the need in her.

“That depends on if you can stand the temperatures?” Jack asked.

“Well, how hot’s it gonna get?” Kori asked.

“As much as thirteen hundred degrees Fahrenheit for some of these processes,” Jack said.

“What processes?” Kori asked.

“Refining processes,” Bicky said.

“What are you talking about?” Kori asked. She took a deep breath and rose back to the surface of consciousness opening first one eye and then the other. When she realized where she was, she groaned and squeezed both eyes shut.

“Boiling points, my dear,” Bicky said. “The beauty of crude oil is that it’s not just a single chemical compound but a mixture of hundreds of them. They’re hydrocarbon chains and they each have different boiling points. Refining is simply heating the crude to higher and higher boiling points and pulling off the vapor through the process of fractional distillation. Then you condense the vapor through cooling in the distillation column.” Bicky glanced in the rear view mirror. Kori’s scowled at him, but Bicky continued. “Each different hydrocarbon chain is useful for something. With a chemical process called conversion you can convert the longer chains to shorter chains depending on demand. You can also combine fractions to give you yet more usable products. Of course, much of it needs to be treated, but that’s a small price to pay. There’s a reason why crude oil’s called liquid gold. It’s one of the most versatile compounds known to man. Actually it’s a shame that so much of what we do with it is make gasoline.”

“Now who’s showing off?” Gil asked.

Bicky smiled. “Don’t blink now, ladies and gentlemen or you’ll miss it. To the right is the crude oil distillation unit and to the left is the delayed coking unit. Beautiful aren’t they?” Bicky asked.

“What a geek?” Kori mumbled under her breath. Max’s tail brushed her nose and the combination of smelly dog and too much expensive perfume from the pedantic idiot up front was making her head hurt. She sneezed and turned back to the window.

“Hey, Sleeping Beauty,” Avery said. “Have a nice nap?” Kori stared at Avery long enough to convey her distaste before returning her gaze to the storage tanks that looked like hundreds of giant white gum drops floating by her window. “You were snoring,” Avery said.

“And drooling,” Gil added.

“Shut up,” Kori said. Avery held his hand up for a high-five and Gil whacked it.

“I just want to go back to sleep,” Kori said, desperate to see how her dream would end.

“That’s the tank farm on the left, if you’re interested, Kori,” Bicky said.

Kori couldn’t be less interested. She yawned, rubbed her head and smacked Max’s twitching tail away from her face.

“Knock it off, Kori,” Gil yelled.

“I told you to keep his tail out of my face, you little brat.”

Gil scowled at Kori and pulled Max closer to him. “You better watch it or I’ll set him loose on you.”

“Yeah, right,” Kori snarled.

“No blood, please,” Bicky said. “It’s a rental.” Both Kori and Gil stared out their respective windows.

“So. As I was saying, there’s many different processes that occur in a refinery. There’s separation and conversion, and treating and blending. Crude oil gives us lubricating oil, tar, asphalt, petrochemicals which are used to manufacture things like plastics. And , it’s a model for recycling since many of the end products are used as feedstock to create new products.” Bicky craned his neck to look out the window. “See over there? That’s the catalytic reforming unit. And over there’s the catalytic cracker,” Bicky said.

Kori insulted Bicky under her breath and looked over at Gil to gauge whether he’d heard her, but Gil was listening with rapt attention to every word that came out of Bicky’s mouth.

“So far the TDU only makes oil and gas and there’s some mineral byproducts. But maybe we could make other stuff,” Avery said.

Gil nodded.

“Are we going home anytime soon?” Kori whined.

“That’s the hydrofluoric acid alkylation unit,” Bicky said. “And over there is the sulfuric acid alkylation unit. And that, I believe, is the light ends distillation unit.”

“Do you know how all these units work?” asked Gil.

“Years ago, when I first started out, I devoured chemistry and I knew the ins and outs of all these machines,” Bicky said. “It’s been awhile, though. I think I may have forgotten.”

“You don’t ever forget, really,” Gil said. Bicky looked at him in the rear view mirror and when their eyes met, Gil smiled.


At Gil’s insistence, they had stopped at Wendy’s for dinner, because Gil wanted a frosty. Although Bicky detested fast food, he acquiesced after Gil reported he was prone to car sickness brought on by a lack of snack food. Bicky smiled inwardly. The kid was clever. Bicky smiled and watched him in the rear view mirror, Gil’s countenance serene in sleep.

Recognition shot a bolt of adrenaline through his solar plexus as memory upon memory of a ten-year old Mason came flooding back to him. Although Gil looked nothing like Bicky’s brother who’d died around Gil’s age, Gil’s canny mind, crooked smile and clever dialogue lent him a whole six degrees of separation aura that Bicky couldn’t shake. A shiver ran through Bicky’s body, as if Mason himself had reached out beyond death to whisper in his brother’s ear. Bicky squeezed his eyes shut to quell the flood of memories, then opened them and focused on the lines in the road.

It was after 10:00 p.m. when Bicky pulled into the Tirabis’ driveway.

“Sorry about the time,” Bicky said. “I didn’t realize it was so late. You’ll be tired in school tomorrow.”

Avery shrugged and looked at Bicky with kind eyes.  Any malice he felt for the man had evaporated like distilling crude oil. “Thanks for showing us the refinery…how everything worked.”

Bicky dismissed the thank you with a wave of his hand. “You’re most welcome.”

“Kori could probably have done with something less than a marathon tour,” Avery said, but she’ll get over it.”

They turned to glance at Kori who, along with Gil and Max, was fast asleep in the backseat.

“He’s got a huge appetite,” Bicky said, watching Gil.

“Oh, yeah. Thanks for dinner.”

“Stop thanking me already. That’s actually not what I was talking about. It’s his voracious appetite for knowledge.” Bicky turned back to Avery. “You all have it.”

Kori snored, a small, inconsequential noise, but a snore all the same. Avery raised his eyebrows and looked at Bicky for confirmation.

“Yes. Even Kori,” Bicky said.

Kori issued another strange, guttural sound, waking herself up.

“We’re home?” she asked.

“You spent most of your day sleeping,” Avery said.

“I dreamt we were little. Before Gil was born. The three of us were asleep in the backseat.  Gil wasn’t even born yet.  Dad said he and Mom should carry us all in at once so no one would be left alone. Mom said she’d wait with two while he brought one in, but Dad said that still left someone alone, but on the inside. He hated to see anyone be alone.” She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and yawned wide, opening a fissure as deep as the Grand Canyon. “Mom had Robbie and Dad already had you Avery, and was leaning in, trying like hell to pick me up one handed. I peeked and he saw me, so I shut my eyes real quick, waiting for him to say I should walk inside since I was awake. But he didn’t say it – just carried me in, pretending I was still asleep.” Kori’s gaze grew wistful and her head lolled back against the seat. “Weird. The stuff you remember.” She got out and offered Bicky her hand. “Thanks for dinner. Sorry about how I acted before.”

“My pleasure,” Bicky replied his gaze falling once again on Gil. “How about I carry him?” He looked at Avery and then back at Kori and smiled. “You, on the other hand, will have to walk.”

 to be continued. . .

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