“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.
“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. . .