four stars

Aligning-Stars

OIL IN WATER

Pam Lazos

Chapter Eighty-One

Gil coughed and opened his mouth, pushing with his tongue. His eyes flew open and he found his face pressed against Max’s coat, a mouthful of the course bristly stuff, dry as cotton, poking at the insides of his cheeks. He coughed and spit the hair out, whacking at it with his unencumbered hand. The bushy mane turned, like a giant rock rolling away from the cave’s opening, and yawned. Max lay on his back, paws in the air, and whined, waiting for Gil to rub his belly. Gil grabbed his water bottle from the night stand, took a big swig and swished it around in his mouth.

“Yuck.” He sat cross-legged next to Max, adjusted his sling, then began to rub in slow, deliberate circles with his good hand, putting them both in a trance. Max moaned in ecstacy, scratching the air one front paw at a time until Gil stopped in mid-stroke.

“Oh my God.” Gil looked at Max. “I had a dream, Max. I had a dream.” Gil got up on his knees and bounced. “I had a dream, Maxie. A dream!” Gil stood up on the bed and began jumping up and down, then dancing in a strange, cohesive rhythm, singing all the while. “I had a dream. I had a dream.” He danced and sang and twirled, “I had a dream. I had a dream,” until his foot accidentally landed on the discarded water bottle and he toppled to the floor. He stuck the landing. Max stared over the side of the bed after him. For a moment Gil looked at him with wide-eyes before bursting into peals of laughter.

“I gotta tell Kori and Avery.” He leaped up and in two giant, awkward strides, he was at the door. “C’‘mon, Max. Let’s go.”

➣➣➣

Hart sat on the couch with his laptop and a cup of coffee. Avery sat at the other end reading the Sunday Inquirer . Kori and Jack snuggled together on the recliner. They could hear Aunt Stella, whistling in the kitchen while she made breakfast.

“I still can’t believe it’s a week already,” Avery said.

“Can we not talk about it please?” Hart asked. “I’m better if I just don’t think about it.” Hart sighed. Had Bicky, in a single and unlikely courageous act, not saved Gil from probable extinction at the hand of a man whom Hart had at one time considered to be his close friend and ally, things would be vastly different right now. For the past week, Hart had struggled to redefine his relationships with both men, but the matter was too close, the parameters too large, so he filed it under the category of Life’s Mysteries and Conundrums, the kind that need time and space for disentanglement. Kori’s yelp roused Hart from his reverie.

“Aaaah, your feet are cold,” she said. Jack rubbed his bare feet against Kori’s calf. After a few seconds of squirming, she wrapped both her legs around them.

“God, I love you,” Jack said, nuzzling Kori’s neck. “I come to you with cold feet and you embrace them.” He hugged her to him and whispered in her ear, “I really love you.”

“I love you, too,” Kori whispered back.

“No, I mean I really love you,” Jack said. “Really, really love you.”

Kori poked Jack in the ribs and he grabbed both her hands. She squirmed free just as Gil came running down the stairs, Max barking in his wake.

“I had a dream,” he said, jumping up and down. “I had a dream.” He stopped in the center of the room and did a little jig. Max jumped around Gil’s feet, barking until Gil picked him up by the front paws and danced with him.

Hart stared at Gil and Max, a smile gracing his lips. Drawn by the commotion, Aunt Stella waddled into the room.

“What was it?” Kori asked, sidling up next to Gil. Used to the last week’s worth of uber-mothering, Gil stopped his little dance and raised his face to Kori so she could feel his forehead with her chin. “No fever,” she said and shrugged.

“He’s alive,” Gil said. Robbie’s alive.”

Aunt Stella covered her mouth and folded into an armchair. Kori yelped as if she’d been poked and dropped to her knees. “Tell me.”

Avery joined Kori on the floor and Gil sat down next to them, wrapping his good arm around Max’s neck to keep him still.

“He’s someplace with a lot of water.”

“Water? Iraq’s a desert,” Jack said.

Gil shrugged and ran his closed lips back and forth over his teeth. He looked at Jack.

“Ssshhhh,” Kori said to Jack. “More,” she said to Gil.

“Well, there was a desert in the background, but there was so much water everywhere that I’m just not sure.” He scratched at Max’s ears and drifted off, back toward the dream.

“More,” said Kori.

“Robbie was wearing a robe and one of those head thingees,” Gil said, rubbing Max’s wide side. “And the people traveled by boat. Well, really by these little canoes. And they used poles instead of paddles to move the canoe through the water.”

“Interesting,” Hart said. He assessed Gil with his brilliant hazel eyes before typing something into the computer.

“More,” Kori said. Her eyes didn’t leave Gil’s face.

Gil thought for a moment, his mouth animated, his eyes and nose scrunched in concentration. “Oh yeah. He was digging a hole. He was using a little shovel and this long cylindrical thingee that was open at the top and bottom and some of the sides.”

“An auger?” Jack asked. Gil shrugged. Aunt Stella sat, fanning herself with a dishtowel.

“Got it,” Hart said. “Is this what you saw?” He turned the laptop’s screen toward Gil who jumped up and ran over to look at it.

“That’s it! That’s it!” Gil said.

“Where is that?” Avery asked. Everyone leaned in to peer at the screen.

“That, is the Fertile Crescent,” Hart said. “It’s in southern Iraq. And if you believe the bible, this is where civilization got its first leg up.”

“Wow,” Gil said.

“Are you sure that’s where he is?” Kori asked.

Gil nodded. “Looks exactly like it.”

“So how do we find him?” Kori asked.

“Depends. He might not want to be found,” Jack said. “He’s supposed to be dead, remember?”

“Which means…” Kori said.

“…that he faked his own death,” Avery finished.

“He doesn’t want to see us anymore,” Kori said, a crack in her voice.

“No. It’s not like that. He’ll come back,” Gil said. “When he’s done.” Gil nodded his head with enthusiasm.

Kori gave Hart a look which he interpreted as a need for deliverance.

“I’ll put feelers out,” Hart said. “See what I can come up with. I do have some contacts in Iraq….”

“Is that safe?” Jack asked.

“I’ll be discreet,” Hart said. He looked to Kori. “Okay?”

“Okay,” she said, hugging him so hard he yelped. She ran over to Aunt Stella whose eyes appeared to be leaking then floated back to her spot on the recliner.

Avery grabbed Gil by the shoulders and looked into his eyes. “You sure?” Gil nodded assent. Avery pulled Gil to his chest and let out a long, haggard breath.

“Of course he’s sure. He’s a visionary,” Hart said, smiling. “Okay,” Hart said. “Now — Gil. You feeling up to a little work?” He patted the seat next to him.

“Sure,” Gil said, and flopped down on the couch.

Hart smiled and gave Gil a brief hug, avoiding the sling. Gil, startled by the gesture, sat very still for a moment before awkwardly patting Hart on the back.

“I give you four stars,” Gil said, looking pleased with himself.

“Who? Hart?” Jack asked. “Why does he get four stars?”

Gil looked at Hart with complete admiration in his eyes. “He just does. And if he moves in with us for good, I’ll give him four and a half.”

Hart cleared his throat, blinked his eyes and stared at the screen, suddenly at a loss for words. Gil leaned against him on the pretense of following Hart’s gaze.

“Okay,” Gil said, “show me what you got.”

(c)2013

the boat drew closer

fishesOIL IN WATER

Pam Lazos

Chapter Eighty

Robbie sat on a small reed mat on the ground, his back propped against the base of a date palm tree. He ate a handful of dates and took small sips of water from a plastic Evian bottle. The sun scorched the earth almost everywhere else in this Godforsaken country, but right here in the Al Hawizeh Marshes life was lush and fecund, the river teeming with otter and minnows, and date palms lining the banks. An auger lay next to him and a cylindrical shaped mass of soil next to the auger.

Robbie analyzed the soil column against the Munsell Soil Color Chart and noted the lengths of the A, O and C horizons indicative of a hydric soil in his book. He squinted against the harsh sun and scanned the horizon.

Something small and swift approached, a mashuf with a single occupant, poling the boat through the marsh water: plant, pull, plant, pull, no struggle, no rush, just a sense of purpose with each movement. A light breeze blew across Robbie’s face and he raised his nose to sniff the air. The figure was closer now and he stood to get a better look.  A woman. She didn’t wear the abayas, the traditional black head-to-toe coverings of the Iraqi women, but the garb of a western university student: jeans and a t-shirt. He hesitated a moment before sitting back down. The way the military came through this place, one could never be too careful. But the military wouldn’t send a civilian or even an officer out of uniform to arrest him. It was probably somebody from Eden Again coming to help him take soil samples.

He popped another date in his mouth and waited as the boat drew closer. If this country had taught him anything, it was patience. Out here, life had made peace with time. But the truth was, here, like everywhere else, time was running out.

The sun cast a glare on the water making it impossible to see the woman’s face as she alighted onto the shore. She towed the mashuf another two feet out of the water so it wouldn’t drift away and Robbie thought he should stand or call out, offer a greeting of some sort, but his arms and legs felt weighted to the ground and his voice a sorry deserter. The woman walked right over to Robbie as if she’d known him forever, as if she’d known he’d be sitting under a date palm tree in the middle of the Al Hawizeh Marshes, eating flat bread and hard cheese, waiting.

He held his hand up to shield his eyes from the sun. Within a foot of him, her silhouette eclipsed those rays and he was able to make out her features. The vision made him choke.

“What are you doing here?” Robbie asked. “I thought you were…”

Ruth raised her hand to silence him. “We don’t need to say the “D” word, Robbie. It’s so… inconsequential. I mean, compared to other things.” Confusion swept across Robbie’s face like a push broom, leaving ragged trails its wake. He started to wheeze. Ruth grabbed his bottle of Evian and handed it to him.

“Are you all right?” Robbie took a long drink from the bottle and rubbed his eyes.

“You look wonderful, baby,” Ruth said. “Could it be this work agrees with you?” She knelt down and touched his cheek. He flinched. She drew him in, wrapping one arm around his neck and patting his back with the other, just like she used to when he was little.

For the next few minutes, Robbie cried: tears of grief and joy, long lodged in his heart and big as dates; tears that carried the sum total of his collective heartache, and of the absolute terror he’d felt every day since his plane touched down in this dry wasteland that only the last few weeks in the marshes had helped to dissipate; tears that every child saves up, be it minutes or weeks or lifetimes, to drop in their mother’s lap because only she knows how to dry them. Had he channeled those tears, Robbie could have re-hydrated the entirety of the Central and Al Hammar Marshes. Instead he stopped, dried his eyes and look into his mother’s eyes.

“Better?” Ruth asked.

Robbie nodded, took a deep breath. Ruth pushed back his hair and cupped his cheek in her hand. A small splash indicated of a school of minnows nearby and Robbie turned toward the noise. The midday sun sat high in a cloudless sky, unblinking, unmerciful and most undervalued. Robbie pulled the turban down to his eyebrows and mopped the sweat on his brow before its saltiness stung his eyes.

“What a completely underused resource,” he said, looking up at the sun.

“With that kind of solar energy, Dad could have powered the world.” Robbie kicked the dirt with the toe of his sandal.  “It’s not fair. None of it.”

“Mind if I ask . . .what happened?”

“You mean to me and Dad?” Ruth said. Robbie nodded.

Ruth searched his face before responding. “Does it matter? If you knew, you’d want to do something about it and there’s really nothing you can do. We think we’re in control. We strive and struggle and build our little empires to assure our safe passage. But life wrenches control from us every time.” Ruth stood up to face her son.

Robbie shrugged, picked up a spade and plunged it into the moist, fecund ground. Ruth watched as he dug a small hole.

“Six months ago, this dirt was dry as the Sahara. We did this. The Americans. By getting rid of Saddam, some of these people got their water back. A few anyway.” He dropped the spade and picked up the auger. “So it couldn’t have all been for nothing, right?” He twisted the auger back and forth, pushing it deeper and deeper into the ground.

Ruth shrugged. “On its face, nothing is good or bad. It just is.

“That’s not what you used to say.”

“I used to not be as smart as I am now,” Ruth said. “You can only do what feels right for you here.” She placed her hand over his heart. “And let the other guy do what feels right for him. Wouldn’t it be funny if at the end we discovered it wasn’t one religion or political ideology over another, but the simple acts of tolerance and forgiveness that were the most important?”

She pulled Robbie to her, wrapped him in a bear hug. “The only constant in life is change, Robbie. Have the wherewithal to go with the flow.” Ruth waved her hand over the flowing, abundant marshes. “I suspect you might learn a great deal about it here.” She smiled, then turned and walked to the mashuf.

“Amara’s pregnant!”

Ruth nodded. “I know.”

“Don’t leave, Mom.” Robbie dropped the auger and ran after her. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“Of course you do.”

“No. Honest.”

Ruth smiled and pulled him in for another hug, this one soft and gentle. She smoothed back his hair and wiped the tears that fell from clenched eyelids.

“Not all who hesitate are lost,” Ruth said.

“Tolkien?”

“Joseph Campbell.”

Robbie drew a deep breath. “That’s nice, Mom, but it doesn’t really help me. Just tell me what to do.”

“And deny you the opportunity of figuring it out?” Ruth said. “No way.” She kissed Robbie’s cheek. “You have lots to do. And your siblings need you. Especially Gil. His road will be difficult.” Ruth picked up the pole and pushed the mashuf back into the water. “He doesn’t even know yet what he’s being asked to bring forth into this world. But he’ll need your support and protection to do it.” Ruth climbed into the mashuf and held it steady on the shore with the pole. “There’s nothing else to tell.”      

“What if I need to talk to you. How will I do that?”

“Robbie… my first born.” Ruth’s eyes locked with his; Robbie could have held the moment forever. “I’m as close as your next thought.” She blew him a kiss and pushed off the shore.

Robbie watched her turn the mashuf around and pole away. He waved until she melded into the horizon.

 ➣➣➣

Robbie returned to the auger, pulled it out of the ground and laid it down carefully. He released half a cylinder’s worth of soil, making sure to keep the column intact and went back to the hole for another half, sniffling all the while.

“What’s the matter?” Gil asked.

A startled Robbie jumped and held the auger forth as a weapon. “Jesus. First Mom, now you. What the hell’s going on today? You’re not dead, are you?”

Gil shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

Robbie looked at the water, but there was no canoe. “How d’you get here?”

Gil nodded in the opposite direction.

“But that’s the desert!” They both looked toward the desert as if waiting for some mode of transportation to materialize. When he turned back, Robbie noticed Gil’s sling. “What happened?”

Gil shrugged. “I came to tell you we’re okay. It was scary for awhile, but it’s over.”

“What are you talking about, Gil? Talk in English.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t go into it now.” Gil looked around, surveying the area. “I mean, you might have some problems of your own.”

“Thanks a lot.”

“You’ll be okay though. I know it. Call us when you get in trouble. You know. When they catch you. I’ve recruited some outside help. A trouble shooter…”

“Mom said…”

“You talked to Mom, too, huh? I’m not totally sure what she was saying. Something about choices…

“Do you need me to come home?”

“I want you to come home. But I don’t want it to be like a Frank Capra movie with you going Jimmy Stewart on us. I’m no Clarence, you know.”

Robbie couldn’t suppress the smile. “I don’t know if it’s the time I’ve been away, but it seems I may have lost the ability to interpret whatever the heck it is your saying.”

“I know.” Gil toed the marshy soil with his foot. “Can you come home when you’re done?”

Robbie took off his turban and stuck it on Gil’s head. “First thing. I promise.”

 ➣➣➣

Amara watched Robbie sleeping in the stern of the mashuf. In the time he’d been in Iraq his skin had turned a deep golden brown, weathered by sun and wind, a fact that probably saved his life on more than one occasion. That he looked like one of the Ma’adan when wearing the traditional robes and head scarf, and that he’d mastered the language in his short time here had helped him escape unnoticed from the various American and British troops that periodically patrolled the area. Amara knew his life was in danger. She had no doubt that he’d be subject to a court martial and forced to stand trial for going AWOL, or worse, letting the army think he was dead. And so she brought him here among her people, her father’s people, these people who governed by consensus, people who the Americans and Europeans considered lawless, people who desperately needed Amara’s and Robbie’s help before they were wiped off the face of the planet. Robbie murmured something in his sleep and Amara pushed at him with her toes. He mumbled again, opened his eyes and looked at her blankly.

“Huh?”

“Such the dreamer you are,” Amara said and tugged at Robbie’s head scarf. You were talking in your sleep.” She tossed a canteen to him. “Drink. For I think you must be stroked by the sun.” Robbie said nothing, just smiled and took a long drink from the canteen.

“Thank you,” he said, handing it back to her.

“What were you dreaming about?” Amara asked.

Robbie stared blankly at her for several seconds. “I honestly don’t remember. But somehow I feel…better.”

“Then it was a good dream.”

“God be praised,” said Sayyid. “Our dreams are how we navigate the course of our lives. A good dream signals that you are following God’s path for you, and He is pleased.”

Robbie smiled and raised his head to see where they were going. “How about I drive for awhile, Uncle?” Robbie said.

Sayyid nodded and handed off the pole. Robbie took his place at the stern.

to be continued. . .

read backwards starting here

(c) 2013

she’s a heavy sleeper

praying mantisOIL IN WATER

Pam Lazos

Chapter Seventy-Nine

Bicky moaned and squeezed his leg above the wound.

“But you said he killed her,” Gil said.

“He did,” Jerry replied. “He just wasn’t in the room at the time.

“He’s already lost a lot of blood, Jerry. If he dies…” Hart stood up. Jerry fired the gun into the floor near his feet. Hart started then froze in place.

“Sit down and don’t ask me again. Sit down and let me finish my story,” Jerry said, waving the gun at Hart. “Sit down!” Hart sat.

“I was about to cross the street to my own car. I wasn’t really comfortable spying on Sonia.” Bicky snorted and Jerry fixed him with a vaporizing glare. “I had to jump back behind the house when the other car came. This one belonged to your mother-in-law.”

“What? Did the whole world visit that night?” Hart said sarcastically.

Jerry’s impatience released itself in a huff. “May I continue – please?!” Hart snorted and looked away.

“Pay attention,” Jerry said. “Because you never get a second chance.”

Hart rubbed his face as if deciding something, and turned back to Jerry.

“I went back to the kitchen window. Good thing your neighbors aren’t close by, because the girls were screaming at each other. Seems Kitty also wanted that report.”

Hart chuckled once, then twice.

“Go ahead, laugh,” Jerry said. “It’s ridiculous, right? Everyone running around like chickens for a few inches of paper. But it’s true.”

Bicky moaned in pain and passed out, his head hitting the floor with a thud.

“Oh! Can’t have that.” Jerry walked over and kicked Bicky in the injured right leg.

Bicky roused, bellowing.

“This is the best part, Boss. Don’t fall asleep now.”

Tears streamed down Bicky’s cheeks. With great effort, he propped himself up on one elbow. His head lolled against the cool stainless steel siding of the TDU.

Jerry knelt down and patted Bicky on the cheek. He grabbed Bicky under the chin and rolled his face from side to side. “It’ll all be over soon, Boss. Don’t worry. I promise.” He gave Bicky another smug pat and returned to his seat.

“He’s fading,” Jerry said. “We better jump to the end.”

Bicky sputtered and began convulsing as if freezing.

“Jerry, please…” Hart said, watching his father-in-law.

“Hey kid, that machine throws off a lot of heat, right?” Jerry asked. Gil nodded.

“Go open the door. It’ll be better than a blanket.”

Gil grabbed his water bottle, walked over and held it to Bicky s lips. Bicky tried to drink, but with his shaking, spilled half a swallow out the sides of his mouth.

“Hey, Florence Nightingale, I didn’t say do that.”

Gil set the bottle down next to Bicky, pushed back the outside grate, and slid open the door of the TDU. A blast of heat burst up and out and Gil recoiled from it. He walked back to his seat and threw an impetuous glare at Jerry as he did so.

“Ah, whatever. I guess it’s good to show a little compassion to your enemies now and again. Keep ‘em close. That’s what I say. You’re a good kid.” Gil held Jerry’s eye, but said nothing.

“Okay, where was I? Oh yeah. Kitty wanted the report, too. To bargain with him,” Jerry nodded toward Bicky, “for her freedom. That night, she finally told Sonia the truth. It was a secret she’d kept for thirty-two years. Nobody knew. Not even me. I got it all after the fact these last few months,” he said to Hart, “or I probably would’ve told her.” Jerry nodded as if in agreement with himself. “She didn’t believe it. Called Kitty a liar. I gotta think it wasn’t because of me, per say, but just the shock of it.”

Jerry furrowed his brow and stared at the back wall of the barn, his voice taking on a somnambulistic quality: “I should have walked in then and stopped it… all that pent up emotion flying out like machine gun fire. Kitty hit her. She didn’t mean to. I just don’t think she realized the toll all those years had taken on her. On them. I mean, if she wouldn’t have had Sonia, she would’ve never stayed in the first place. I would’ve seen to that.”

Jerry cleared his throat as if to dislodge the memory. He shook his head. “Sonia went nuts. I never saw her like that. She threw her tea cup at her mother. Kitty put her arm up – it was still steaming – and it broke all over the floor. Tea and shards of glass everywhere.” Jerry snorted defiantly. “She got a couple nice second degree burns on her arm because of it. Next thing I know she’s running from the house and I’m running after her.”

“What about Sonia?” Hart’s voice was cracked and tinny.

“I didn’t see her fall. Cause if I did, I would’ve gone back. She was crazy with rage. I think she slipped on the wet floor, maybe banged her head on the counter. I heard a noise, but I thought she just threw something else.

“You didn’t go back to see if she was okay?” Hart was on his feet.

“I couldn’t. I had to go after Kitty.”

Hart lunged for Jerry who was unprepared for the attack. He toppled Jerry from the stool and the gun clattered to the floor. Gil reached to pick it up, but Jerry’s foot kicked it away along with Gil’s hand in the process. Gil winced and dropped to the floor holding one hand in another.

The two men struggled, punching, kicking, biting, clawing, rolling up, around and over each other. Bicky crawled toward the center of the floor toward the gun, a painful, slow propulsion. With each inch forward he risked being trampled by the fighters, first a finger, then an arm, and finally his leg, the last of which caused him to lose consciousness for half a minute, passing out where he lay. Gil watched the fight in relative safety from his position in the corner, holding his injured hand, his body following every punch and kick.

Hart’s pent up anger launched him like a heat-seeking missile and he pounded Jerry inexorably with the full fury of it, but anger is not a thrifty shopper and after spewing it all over the room, Hart spent himself, leaving Jerry with the edge. Several minutes later, Hart sat in a heap in front of the TDU, with a black eye, blood dripping from his nose, and a variety of scrapes and gashes that would be telling their story for days to come. Jerry emerged with a gash over his right eyebrow which bled profusely, a broken pinky finger, jutting out in an unnatural position, and the gun. Both men had given and received more than a few blows to the stomach and now prodded their tender mid-sections. Jerry spat out some blood, turned to Hart, and pulled the trigger. It grazed Hart’s elbow. Hart howled and cradled the injured arm.

“Now you sit,” Jerry said to Hart. Blood oozed from the cut above his eyebrow, dripping into his eye. He blinked it away, but it was pervasive.

“I am sitting,” Hart spat back. Jerry raised the gun again, but Gil grabbed a rag and shoved it in his free hand. The gesture grounded Jerry who retreated by lowering his gun. He wiped at the wound before nodding at Gil to take his seat on the hammock, then walked over and dropped the bloodstained rag in front of Hart.

Hart ignored it, ripped off a sleeve of his shirt, and bandaged his elbow. He was sweating, given his injury, and that the temperature in the barn had risen considerably since the door to the TDU had been opened.

Jerry walked over and peered inside to the wide, gaping mouth of the giant stainless steel tank below. “How far down’s that thing go?”

“About two stories,” Gil said.

“Probably what hell looks like.” Jerry took a step back and wiped at his brow. “You can’t build this machine. It’ll ruin the only good thing we got left to us.”       

“What are you talking about?” Hart said.

“It’ll kill the oil industry. Akanabi’s stock price’ll go way down and my money’ll be worthless.” Jerry whirled around to face Hart. “Kitty left me all her money, you know.” Jerry smiled sardonically at Bicky who was trying to stand up.

Bicky grabbed the stool for balance, but fell back down with a sickening “oaaaaw.”

“And you know what I’m doing with it, Boss? Huh? Turning a profit, you say? Noooo. I’m giving it all to the environment just like she wanted. And it’ll be in our names. Together on the same legal document. Like a marriage license. Together forever in history.”

“I didn’t care what she did with her money, Jerry. I never did.”

“Hhmph,” Jerry grunted.

“I just wanted…” Bicky’s voice splintered like wood . . .“her.” Bicky took a faltering step up, his weight bearing on one leg, his arm leaning on the stool for support. “And the baby.”

“My baby,” Jerry growled. “Did you know that, Boss? That Sonia was my baby?” Jerry wiped at the dripping blood now mixed with tears that cascaded down the side of his face. “We may not have always known it, but we belonged to each other,” Jerry gushed.

A strange gurgling noise arose from deep in Bicky’s throat. He doubled over, first coughing, then hacking, then vomiting. When he was finished he stood taller.

As the fire in the TDU diminished the available oxygen in the room, Bicky began a slow march toward Jerry, stopping intermittently to suck in a raspy, labored breath. He leaned against one of the barn’s dozen posts for support. “I don’t know…what I knew. I just wanted…” Bicky grabbed his stomach and started hacking again. His pant leg, now a dark, saturated red, was plastered against him, the pain drawing him down from the inside. Bicky leaned against a post while gravity, always one to side with a downward spiral, forced him to crumple.

“Kitty said she had always been petrified you’d find out who it was. That’s why she never told me.”

“This is a bunch of crap,” Hart barked in disgust. “Bicky, set him straight, please.”

“Doesn’t he wish. Tell him, Boss. Tell him how you tried and tried to get her pregnant.”

“Shut up.” Bicky said. He pulled himself up by inches. He grabbed the post with both hands and pushed off, a ship leaving port.

“Finally went and got checked out by a fertility doc a few years after Sonia was born. Check the records for Mason Coleman.”

“Shut up!” Bicky hollered.

“It was Bicky’s brother’s name. The one that died. He used it as an alias. Didn’t want the highbrow Houstonians finding out that the great Bicky Coleman’s sperm don’t swim too well. When d’you figure it out, boss? When she left me all the money?”

“Shut…Up!” Bicky roared. He collapsed in a spasm, clutching his leg.

Hart rolled to the side, ready to stand, but Jerry motioned him back with a wave of the gun. Hart ignored him, pulling himself up into a crouching position.

Jerry fired a bullet inches from Hart’s face. There was barely a sound, just the friction in the air as it passed, and Hart fell onto his haunches. With one big breath, Gil sucked in his fear and covered his mouth.

“She wanted you to believe it was yours, but after awhile you knew better, right. You just didn’t know who, huh? Well, me neither.” Jerry grunted and shined his gun on his pant leg.

Bicky crawled to the next post and laid his head against it, catching his breath.

“You coming after me, Boss?” Jerry said, humor mixed with malice. “Well come on then. I promise not to shoot you.”

Bicky rose and took a slow, halting step, and then another, his face contorting in pain with each one. “This machine…will….be…built. With or… without you,” he wheezed. “It’s time…has come. You won’t…stop it.” He cleared the debris from his throat and spit on the ground.

“Watch me.” Jerry’s face contorted and he raised the gun to Bicky’s chest; Bicky continued his funeral march.

Jerry growled and squeezed the trigger. The bullet lodged in Bicky’s forearm. A shot of blood squirted out. Bicky grunted, more than screamed – as if all the screams already had previous engagements – and stood, eyes closed, swaying in the middle of the room. He pitched forward, but latched onto a beam forestalling the crash. He panted like a dog, trying to steady himself before walking, slow and stiff toward his nemesis, a plane locked on auto pilot, unable to alter its course. Jerry may have had the gun, but Bicky had the upper hand.

“Why didn’t you let her go?” Jerry said, the years of anger and longing, bubbling up to the surface like a spring.

Bicky stood within inches of Jerry now. The two men glowered at each other, breathing in rage, breathing out hate.

“I did. She didn’t want to.”

“You lying sack of….” Jerry raised the gun to Bicky’s heart, but Bicky just smiled, unsteady on his feet, yet undeterred, his ragged breath flowing more easily as adrenaline started a quick trot through his body.

“She said you wouldn’t let her go. That you’d disown Sonia if she left you. She didn’t want her daughter to grow up with no father and no money.”

Bicky shook his head. “You were her father. You had money. Not as much as me, granted, but you could have provided for…”

“But I didn’t know!” Jerry screamed.

“Stop it. Just stop it!” Gil yelled, and covered his ears. Jerry whirled to face the boy, raised his gun and shot him. The bullet hit him in the shoulder and came out the other side. Gil hit the floor without uttering a sound; his eyes rolled back in his head and his lids fluttered.

“Noooo!” Bicky grabbed onto Jerry for balance and the two men began an awkward choreography. “Damn you,” Bicky yelled, a strangled curse. He tried striking Jerry with his fist, but Jerry deflected the hit. Each held fast to the other’s arm, pushing, pulling, a scant few feet from the miracle machine, as exhaustion and heat coaxed the sweat from their pores.

“You could have let us go?” Jerry sobbed. “Why didn’t you…?”

Bicky glanced over at Gil who was lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood. Hart crawled to him and checked his vital signs. Jerry and Bicky struggled, edging ever closer to the open door of the TDU. Inside, the fire raged without apology at thirteen hundred degrees Farenheit.

“Gil,” Hart said. “Gil. Can you hear me?”

“Maybe the time just wasn’t right, Jerry. Unlike now.”

Bicky broke free of Jerry’s grip, and with all the force remaining in his battered body, shoved him.

Gravity stepped in again, bolstered by its cousin, Entropy, and Jerry started to fall. But like a magnet, or a mirror that reflects what we truly are, Jerry pulled to him that which was most like him: Jerry and Bicky plunged over the small lip of the TDU together. Jerry only had time to scream once, falling as he was at a rate of thirty-two feet per second per second, an angst-ridden, shrilly noise that reverberated in the barn even after the men had bottomed out.

Hart shuddered. The flames danced, then roared, eating all the remaining sound in the room until there was nothing left but silence.

➣➣➣

“Gil? Are you alright?” Hart squeezed Gil’s hand. “Gil?”

Gil opened his eyes and blinked at Hart. “Am I dead?”

“No, but once the shock wears off, you’ll wish you were.” He knelt down at Gil’s side and wrapped his good arm around Gil’s boyish, angular shoulders.

Gil hid, rabbit-like in the crook of Hart’s arm, scanning the room, assessing the casualties. “One hundred and two,” he said, a muffled observation.

“One hundred and two what?” Hart asked.

“One hundred and two uses.”

Hart laughed once and squeezed Gil, crushing him to his chest. He tore off the remaining sleeve of his shirt and wrapped Gil’s shoulder.

Gil flinched. Sweat had plastered his hair to his scalp so that he looked like a preformed plastic Ken doll. His complexion was the color of ash. Tears fell in careless, random fashion down Gil’s cheeks and Hart felt the steel grip on his heart loosen. He squeezed Gil again and brushed back his hair. Hart staggered over to the TDU, slid the door closed, but didn’t look inside.

“Kori can take us to the hospital,” Gil said.

“I’m surprised she hasn’t been out her yet, with all the noise.” Hart said, helping Gil up.

“She’s a heavy sleeper,” Gil said.

Hart laughed for real this time and threw his good arm around Gil’s good shoulder.        “Can you walk?” Hart asked. They breathed in tandem, heavy and erratic. Gil nodded and they walked to the door, a pair of contestants in a three-legged race.

to be continued. . .

read this first

copyright 2013

you’re in control

Comet_P1_McNaught02_-_23-01-07OIL IN WATER

Pam Lazos

Chapter Seventy-Eight

Fifteen minutes later due to Hart’s intercession, Bicky sat leaning against the wall of the TDU, his leg wrapped in a tourniquet that Hart was tying off. The tourniquet, made from pieces of an old ripped bed sheet turned rag, was streaked with dirt and motor oil; Jerry had refused to allow anyone in the house to get medical supplies. Bicky flinched as Hart secured the whole mess in place with a finishing nail.

“There are more civilized ways to get retribution, Jerry.” Hart snapped.

“Don’t tell me it’s not something you thought about yourself from time to time, Mr. Chief of Engineering.”  Hart snorted.

“You know what surprises me, Hart? What surprises me is that a thousand freaking people a day don’t just get up out of bed, strap on a semiautomatic, and blow the crap out of something. That’s what surprises me.” Jerry’s voice cracked. He cleared his throat and scratched the barrel of the gun against his scalp. “And everywhere there’s death. People dying.”

“People are always dying, Jerry. It’s just the one that’s got you upset.”

“Actually, it’s two. And if you give me a minute, I’ll tell you about it. But first I want to clear some things up with your boss, here. Before he passes out, that is.” Jerry stooped down next to Bicky.

“You proved your point, man. You’re in control,” Hart said. “Now let me call an ambulance.”

“And then what? Have me arrested? I’m a rich man now. Rich men don’t go to jail.”

“Look, Jerry,” Hart said, watching Bicky. “Given the extenuating circumstances, I’m sure we can work things out,” Sweat poured from Bicky’s ashen face, but he managed a nod.

“I want to tell you a story first,” Jerry said. “Sit down,” he said to Hart. “Keep the kid over there on the hammock. Take the chair over next to him.”

Hart laid a hand on Gil’s shoulder and pushed him toward the hammock

“And get that beast outta’ here.”

Gil snarled at Jerry, but did as commanded. “Come on, Max,” Gil said. Max ran over and stood next to Gil, wagging his tail. Gil walked him to the door and ushered him out. “Stay,” Gil said. Max started barking as Gil shut the door on him.

“You better shut him up or I’ll shut him up for you,” Jerry said.

Gil’s eyes watered, but his voice didn’t waiver as he opened the door again. “Ssshhh! Sit, Max. Be quiet. Understand?” Gil raised his index finger to his lips and Max whimpered once, but sat down as instructed. Gil’s sad, brown eyes blinked, shutting the spigot on them as he closed the barn door. He took a seat on the hammock. A soft low growl rolled in like a wave through the crack under the door.

“You did the right thing,” Hart said, squeezing Gil’s hand. Gil returned a brave smile. Jerry’s face clouded with something akin to regret. He rubbed a rough hand over his eyes and it was gone.

“Story time, eh?” Jerry folded his arms across his chest, facing Hart and Gil, the gun poking out from under his arm.

“You see, one night, I’m sitting outside your house — ”

“My house?” Hart narrowed his eyes at Jerry.

“— and I’m watching, and I’m waiting, and I happen to see a familiar car pull into your driveway and lo and behold, who gets out, but your father-in-law. That means kin-by-law, you know, and brings with it a certain degree of responsibility which a lot of people don’t take seriously enough, I think. It’s not just about a seat at the holiday dinner table.” Jerry fixed Bicky with an accusatory glare and the two men could not let go the sight of each other.

“Anyway, he doesn’t knock, just goes right in like he owns the place. You know what I’m talking about, right?” Jerry tilted his face toward Hart for emphasis, but wouldn’t break eye contact with Bicky. “So I get out of my car and I walk around to the kitchen window to see what’s happening. Bicky’s in there and Sonia’s got the kettle on for tea and it’s steaming, but not whistling yet. She’s putting a tea bag in her cup and she’s got her back to him. The windows are open, which I don’t understand because it’s hot as hell out…”

“Sonia didn’t like air conditioning,” Hart said, his voice thick.

Jerry nodded. “And if not for that small fact, I wouldn’t be relaying this story to you now as I’ve witnessed it,” Jerry said to Hart, his eyes still glued to Bicky’s face. Anyway, I hear bits and pieces of things. Bicky says: ‘Sonia, enough,’…and then something something. And Sonia says: ‘Where’s what,’” and Bicky says, ‘You know what…’ and the tea kettle starts screaming and I can’t hear a thing for a minute, but this ear-splitting whistle and Sonia and Bicky stare at each other and words come out of their mouths, but I can’t make them out until finally, he yells at her to ‘shut the kettle’ and she very calmly walks over, grabs the kettle and pours herself a cup of tea.” Jerry smiled at Bicky as if he had just one-upped him.

Sweat continued its downward spiral, pouring from Bicky’s face and scalp while his face changed from pale grey to pale green. Bicky squeezed his right leg, but did not avert his eyes.

“You never could back her up, could you? That’s what always pissed you off about her,” Jerry said. “How did it make you feel, Boss, to finally have no control over something?”

Using his hands for balance, Bicky tried to stand, winced in pain and dropped to the floor, both hands wrapped around his thigh just above the entry wound.

“Kind of like now?” Jerry asked, the pleasure of the moment apparent on his face.

“Jesus Christ, Jerry. What the hell are you talking about?” Hart said.

Jerry sidled over to Bicky and put the gun to his face. “You want to tell them?” Bicky shoved the gun away, breaking eye contact.

“Uh oh,” Jerry smiled and patted Bicky’s face. “You lose.” Bicky said nothing.

Jerry sauntered over to Gil and Hart. “He’s quiet tonight,” Jerry said, a note of mock concern in his voice. He let out a long, labored sigh. “So – Bicky whirls on her, like this.” Jerry grabbed Gil by both arms and gave him a violent shake.

“Hey!” Hart said, jumping up. Jerry dropped Gil’s arms, stuck the barrel of his gun in Gil’s ribs and held up a single finger. Hart froze.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” Jerry said, shaking his head and motioning for Hart to sit down. He grabbed Gil again.

“He was in her face, squeezing her arms, saying a bunch of what, I’m not sure, and it must have hurt because Sonia finally let out a yelp. So what’s the son-of-a-bitch do? He loosens his grip, but still doesn’t let her go.” Jerry shot Bicky a murderous look.

Jerry dropped his voice, his face taut with recall, one hand tightening around Gil’s arm, the other still poking the gun in Gil’s ribs. “I wish now I had gone through the window after him.”

“Oooww!” Gil said. Jerry jerked on Gil’s arm as if to bring him back in line, but when he looked at Gil’s small, pinched face, he released his grip.

“Sorry,” Jerry said. Gil inspected his reddened forearm, already forming a bruise.

Jerry’s eyes misted over, but he continued: “‘I don’t have it,’ she said. ‘Don’t lie to me,’ he said. ‘What you sent wasn’t what you took,’ he said, and then a bunch of stuff I didn’t hear.”       Jerry swiped at his watery eyes with his free hand, then rubbed his forehead with the barrel of the gun, leaving a bright, red welt. He pushed Gil toward Hart and motioned them back to their seats. He shook his head like a wet dog, before pointing the gun at Bicky. “Son-of-a-bitch,” he said, drawing back the trigger.

“Jerry!” Hart yelled, and pulled Gil behind him.

Bicky braced for the bullet, his face scrunched and tense, but his eyes were unwavering in their gaze. Jerry leaned back, inhaled slowly and fired, lifting his gun slightly before pulling the trigger. The bullet drove harmlessly into the wall above Bicky’s head. Bicky began shaking and sucked in a long, raspy, breath.

Jerry stood up and walked over to the drawing table where Gil had laid out a blueprint of the TDU. He thumbed through the drawings using his gun as a finger to turn the pages. He turned back to Bicky.

“What were you thinking that day, Boss? Did you understand? Were you resigned? I’ll never get why you so uncharacteristically backed up. Why’d you leave without it, huh? When you knew she had it? Cause you know, she’d be alive today if you would have just done what you always do which is not taken no for an answer.”

“I was with Bicky at the Union Club that night, Jerry,” Hart said. “I left before he did. So he couldn’t have been at my house.”

Bicky looked at his son-in-law; his lips forming into a slow, sad smile.

“Loyal to the end, aren’t you, Hart?” Jerry sat down on Gil’s stool, pointed the gun and spun around once. The moment he was in a direct line of fire with Bicky’s head, he planted his feet on the ground with authority.

“I tell you your wife would be alive today if not for him and you defend him. You’ve been duped. We all have.” Jerry spun around again and came to another abrupt stop in direct line with Bicky. This time he fired. The shot went into the wall just above Bicky’s right shoulder. Bicky heaved out a lung full of air, but refused to utter a sound.      

“‘Just tell me you didn’t go to the newspapers,’ he said, and she shook her head. Just the way he looked at her, trying to see inside her, to see what she was up to. But he never could, never did understand her. Not like I did. Jerry swiped at his eyes and stared at the floor.      

“What happened next?” Hart asked.

Jerry spun around a third time and once again pointed the gun at Bicky who was now sobbing quietly, the muscles in his face tight with pain. “I’ll tell you what happened next.” Jerry fired and the shot drove into the wall less than an inch above Bicky’s left shoulder.

“Bicky left.”

 to be continued

there is more before

copyright 2013

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?”

“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

little Einstein

roosterOIL IN WATER

Pam Lazos

Chapter Seventy-Four

Gil, Max and Kori sat in the back seat of Bicky’s Lexis so Avery could sit up front and “talk business.” Bicky set the cruise control and the car glided north on I-95 at seventy-two miles per hour.

“Why seventy-two if the speed limit is sixty-five?” Avery asked.

“The police don’t stop you for a five-mile transgression,” Bicky said. “I like to push it the extra mile or two.”

“Guess you get a lot of tickets.”

“I haven’t had a ticket since I was twenty-five.”

“Guess you’re lucky, then.”

Bicky raised an eyebrow and smiled wryly.

“So. Have you figured out the parameters of the deal you’re offering or are you waiting to see how sophisticated we are? The ‘Louisiana Purchase’ comes to mind.”

“I’m not trying to bilk you with a handful of beads, I assure you. My money’s as good as the next guy’s. I just have more of it.”

Avery checked off a note made on a small legal pad. “If we made a deal, we wouldn’t be interested in a lump sum payment. We’d want royalties. And if the stock goes public, we’d want dividends. We’d also want to retain a large portion of the interest. The controlling interest.”

“I’m confident I can meet all your needs,” Bicky’s eyes didn’t leave the road.

“Max, knock it off,” Kori snipped from the back seat. Max flipped his giant fluff of a tail in Kori’s face, his hair snaking its way into her mouth and nose. She pushed his tail aside and rubbed the itch from her nose.

“What about the requirement that Hart still be involved?” Avery asked.

“I told you, Hart works for me. He’s my Chief Engineer right now. Perhaps I could move him up to Chief of Operations for this project. Let him work solely on this.”

“You ever going to give this dog a bath?” Kori asked Gil.

“Let’s see how it sounds to Hart before we make any decisions,” Avery said.

“Because he stinks,” Kori said.

“He doesn’t stink,” Gil said. “He just needs a biscuit for his breath. He had garlic last night.”

Kori shoved Max’s tail out of her face again. “Get that dog’s tail out of my face, before I cut it off,” she snapped. As if in response, Max wacked her in the face again. She sneezed. “Gil, I swear to God…”

“Your sister sounds annoyed,” Bicky said.

“She broke up with her boyfriend this morning,” Avery said.

Bicky nodded slowly as if all had been revealed. “I know a little about that.”

“Come here, Max,” Gil said, pulling Max down to him with one hand. The other hand gripped an open package of Pop Tarts which Gil bit into two at a time. He broke off a piece and handed it to Max who inhaled it, swallowing without even chewing. Gil then stuffed Max’s tail underneath his body. Thus, both chastised and sated, Max put his head on Gil’s lap and went to sleep. Gil took another pass at the twin pop tarts. “I’m thirsty,” he said with a mouth full of wild berry.

“You should have brought a bottle of water with you,” Avery said.

“But I didn’t.”

“We’re on I-95,” Kori said. “Not a Wa-Wa for miles. Guess you’re just going to have to suffer.” Kori flashed a smug smile and turned to the window to watch the industrialized landscape glide serenely by. Gil flashed his food-laden tongue at her, but she didn’t see it.

“I can’t wait, Avery,” Gil said. Avery turned around and gave Gil a sympathetic shrug.  Bicky watched Gil in the rear view mirror, clutching his pop tarts and looking retched. He grabbed his own bottle of Perrier, sitting in between the console, and handed it back to Gil.

“Thanks,” Gil said with a full mouth. He took a swig and handed it back to Bicky. Bicky took one look at the minute traces of Pop Tart, swirling around in the bottle, suspended in crystal plastic and shook his head.

“You keep it,” Bicky said.

Gil nodded and smiled. When he finished the last bite, he said to Bicky, “Do you know that bottled water is responsible for an increase in tooth decay?”

“Well it’s a good thing you didn’t bring any more with you. We wouldn’t want your teeth rotting on the way,” Bicky said.

Avery chortled. Even Kori smiled at Bicky’s quick retort.

“Did you know that in 1990, a little over two billion gallons of bottled water were sold in the U.S and that it’s going to hit over seven billion gallons by the end of 2005?” Gil asked. “And that retailers sell more bottled water than coffee or milk or even soda?”

“That’s a lot of water,” Bicky said.

“Yeah, and you know where it comes from?”

“From natural springs?”

“Yep. From natural springs fed by groundwater that belongs to everybody,” Gil said. “Did you know you were paying for water that already belongs to you?”

“How’s that make you feel?” Avery asked.

“Cheated,” Bicky replied.

“That ground water that used to be going somewhere else, like to somebody’s well, or to feed a wetland is now being diverted to a little plastic bottle that sells for $1.19 in WaWa.” Gil held up the bottle by way of demonstration. Pieces of pop tart floated in silence.

“Who ever came up with that name anyway? WaWa?” Bicky asked.

“I think it’s the name of a type of Canadian Goose,” Avery said.

“Still, what’s that have to do with a convenience store?” Bicky said.

“Don’t you even care that you’re paying $1.19 for somebody else’s groundwater, and that that somebody isn’t even getting the money?” Gil asked. “Instead some multinational corporation is.”

Bicky turned to Avery. “Is he always like this?”

“He’s just getting warmed up,” Avery said.

“Fascinating,” Bicky said. “Maybe there’s a way we can bottle him.”

“What kind of water do you prefer, Mr. Bicky?” Gil asked. “This?” Gil held up the Perrier bottle.

“It’s true. I confess. I’m a Perrier man.”

“Did you know that Perrier has been sued by citizens of several different states? People are mad because they say Perrier’s using up all their groundwater. Perrier says that doesn’t make good business sense – to use up all of the resource that they’re selling – isn’t that what the oil people do?” Gil mused. “They sell fifteen different brands of water, you know, and pump it from like seventy-five different spring-fed locations. They sell more bottled water than anyone else in the country which means they pump more water, in some cases as much as five hundred gallons per minute from their sources – taxpayer owned sources.”

“Do you know who owns Perrier?” Avery asked.

Bicky shook his head.

“Nestle. The largest food company in the world. A multinational megacompany.”

Bicky looked at Avery as if he’d just thrown up a hair ball. “What is wrong with you people? You’re children for Godsakes. Children don’t behave like this. They talk about things like baseball and the latest creature feature at the cineplex.”

“You don’t have to dry up the entire aquifer in order to dry up your neighbor’s well,” Avery added.

“Did you know that after a certain point an aquifer loses the ability to recharge itself?” Gil said. “Do you think it’s possible Nestle knows what that point is?”

Bicky glanced in the mirror to find Gil looking at him with large owl eyes, unblinking and full of certainty, the way Bicky envisioned owl’s must look before they’re about to pounce on a tasty bit of prey. For the first time in years, Bicky thought, he might be out of his league.

“The thing is, if you watch a water commercial, they’re selling health. Health, health, health,” Avery said. “Pure, crystal-clear, uncorrupted health.”

“Did you know one company pulled water from a well in a parking lot adjacent to an industrial facility that had traces of hazardous chemicals in it?” Gil asked.

“Oh, come on. Now, you’re making this up,” Bicky said.

“Am not,” Gil replied.

“I’m sure there are water quality standards,” Bicky said.

“Huh! You wish,” Avery said.  “The EPA regulates tap water which, except for a very few places, is really safe. But it doesn’t regulate bottled water. The companies regulate themselves. “Get it?” Gil said.                   

Bicky saw Gil wink at him in the rearview mirror, an action so exaggerated it looked like his whole face was winking.

“The FDA’s supposed to regulate bottled water, but they don’t interpret the regs the same way and even worse, they don’t even have a full-time staffer dedicated to overseeing the whole bottled water craze,” Avery said. “EPA employs hundreds of people whose job it is to regulate tap water. Do you see a dichotomy there?” Avery pointed a finger at Bicky. “On any given day a water authority has to give you a list of what’s in the tap water you’re tied into. It’s required by law. Not so for the bottlers. They don’t even have to answer your letters. And tap water isn’t allowed to contain even traces of e. coli, where bottled water has a limit.”

“Oh, this is ridiculous. You’re telling me that bottled water contains e. coli,” Bicky said.

“I’m telling you it may contain traces, and it wouldn’t be prohibited by law,” Avery said. “The National Resources Defense Counsel, that’s the NRDC, they tested a hundred and four brands of bottled water over a four-year period and found about a third of them contained things like arsenic and other carcinogenic compounds. Odds are, tap water is safer than bottled, but people don’t find it as appealing.”

“It’s because the water authorities don’t advertise,” Kori said.

“Another country heard from,” Bicky replied, glancing in the rearview mirror at Kori who didn’t take her eyes from the window.      

“She’s sort of in advertising,” Avery said. Bicky shook his head and huffed.

“They say that if bottled water sits on your shelf for more than a year, it might go bad. Whoever heard of water going bad?” Avery asked. “I think it’s the plastic leaching.”

“Do you know the worst part?” Gil asked.

“No, but somehow I think you’re going to tell me,” Bicky answered.

“The worse part is that thirty million bottles a day go to landfill. Only one out of ten bottles is recycled. Did you know that it takes a thousand years for plastic to break down?”

“Enough. I get it. You’ve managed to depress me sufficiently to last for the rest of the millennium. So can we talk about something else?”

“Sure,” Gil said. Name a topic.”

➣➣➣

By the time they arrived at the Akanabi refinery, Bicky was more thoroughly drained than a kitchen sink after a visit from the Roto-Rooter man. The car ride with an adolescent, a teenager, and, from what he could tell, a scorned and scornful young woman had left him jittery and out of sorts. Hart was right. These weren’t normal kids. Perhaps he’d need to turn to contingency plan B before the sister – the putative leader of the group got bored and called the whole thing off. Bicky felt his blood quicken as he stepped out of the car. His mouth was dry, his tongue felt thick and spongy, and he wished for about the third time in the last half hour that he hadn’t given his bottle of Perrier away even if the little Einstein was right and the bottle, because of its very existence, would smother the earth’s surface. Who the hell cared? We may be unearthing and chopping down our collective resources at unprecedented rates, but he’d be dead by the time we managed to pave over the entirety of the Eden we called the United States.

Bicky parked and checked the rearview mirror. Kori was asleep, her head resting against the window, her eyebrows furrowed in concentration. On the opposite side, Gil stared wide-eyed at the tank farm directly across from the parking lot. Bicky cut the engine, but made no move to get out, just continued watching the sleeping Kori and insatiable Gil.

“We ready?” Avery asked.

Bicky turned to the third of the triumvirate. “You know what? Since your sister’s asleep, let’s drive the tour route. You can stop me whenever you see something you might want to investigate further.”

“Okay,” Avery said. “Vamanos.”

to be continued

read what came before here

copyright 2013

devils at the door

lucifer1OIL IN WATER

Pam Lazos

Chapter Seventy-Three

As Gil’s slippered feet hit the carpeted stairs, Kori was opening the front door. Gil froze. Sunlight blazed in through the door obliterating the man’s visage, but Gil could see the silhouette looming and spreading across the space between the door frame. Kori exchanged pleasantries which Gil didn’t catch because his ears were buzzing. She gestured toward Gil on the stairs and the large man in the Armani suit stood in the middle of the living room moving his mouth, but with no sound coming out. The man smiled his giant toothy smile, waiting for Gil to say something, Gil was sure. Kori slammed the door behind the man and Gil ducked at the sound. The man had one foot on the second stair now. Gil’s throat emitted a strange noise, even by his standards, as the man held out his hand for a shake. Gil grabbed Max by the collar, ran upstairs and locked himself in his room.

➣➣➣

Bicky stood with his foot on the stair, his hand outstretched in the gesture of greeting. He watched Gil’s lithe body retreat until he crested the top of the stairs and disappeared. Bicky turned to look at Kori, his arm still outstretched.

“Was it something I said?”

“He gets like that. He’s really smart. It comes out in weird ways.” She ran a hand through her hair and looked Bicky over, the Armani suit, the soft hands with nails more expertly manicured than her own. “Maybe you want to come back after breakfast? He’s usually pretty communicative after a meal.”

Bicky’s face contorted into something that had the capacity to be a smile, but fell short somehow.

“How about I talk to you for awhile?” Bicky said.

Kori shrugged. “I guess that’s okay.”

“Maybe your other brother, too. Is he home?”

Kori narrowed her eyes and opened her mouth as if to speak.

“The newspaper article,” Bicky said, intercepting her query.

“Oh. Okay.” She turned and led him to the kitchen. Avery looked up from reading his magazine, but his expression did not change.

“Avery, this is Mr. Coleman. He owns Akanabi Oil. He wants to talk to us about the TDU.” Bicky held out his hand for a shake, but Avery ignored it. Instead, he stood, coming eye-to-eye with Bicky, and sneezed.

“Excuse me,” Avery said, and walked around Bicky holding a hand over his nose to hide the runny mucus. He sneezed again, grabbed a few tissues and blew out a noseful of snot. He tossed the tissues in the trash can, then held out his hand to Bicky who dropped his own hand to his side. Avery sneezed again, but it was only the first in a continuing series.

Kori counted ten sneezes before she said, “Why don’t we go sit in the living room and wait until Avery’s done.” Bicky nodded and retreated. Kori glanced back over her shoulder to see Avery pulling out the tissues three and four at a time.

➣➣➣

Bicky settled himself in an armchair as Avery continued sneezing in the kitchen. Neither Bicky nor Kori noticed Gil sitting in the shadows at the top stairs, peering through the banister.

“So, I read about you kids in the newspaper. I understand you’ve invented an amazing new piece of equipment.”

“Actually, we didn’t. My father did.”

“Yes. I’m sorry about your father,” Bicky said with as much emotion as he could muster.      Kori nodded, sighed and drew a deep breath. “We don’t know what we’re going to do with it yet.”

Bicky kept the emotion in his voice well-checked, and continued. “Perhaps I’ve come along just in time.”

“In time for what?” Avery walked into the living room holding a box of tissues.

“You done now?” Kori asked. Avery nodded.

“Sorry. It’s like I breathed in something toxic.” He looked directly at Bicky’s impassive mask.

“You sound all stuffy now,” Kori said.

“I feel like someone sprayed caulk up my nose.” Avery said. Gil giggled from his spot on the stairs and covered his mouth. Bicky turned toward the sound, but said nothing.

“So, Mr. Coleman,” Avery said. “I’m sure that as the head of Akanabi Oil you’re acquainted with one David Hartos.

“Yes, I know one David Hartos,” Bicky said, struggling against the dozens of facial muscles tugging valiantly at the corners of his mouth, pulling them toward a full-fledged smile. “He works for me.”

“It was my understanding that he’s currently on sabbatical from the oil industry so technically speaking, he is not working for you at all, but rather, for himself at present.”

“You sound like every lawyer I’ve ever hired.”

Avery held his smile in check with a stern, tight-lipped countenance. “Kori, can I see you in the kitchen for a minute?” Kori gave her brother a weird look, but rose to go.

“Excuse us, Mr. Coleman,” Avery said. “We’ll be back shortly.

As soon as Avery and Kori had left, Bicky smiled, his first genuine, uncoached smile in years.

➣➣➣

Avery pulled Kori out the back door onto the deck, leaving the door ajar.

“What is wrong with you?” Kori asked. “First the gnarly sneezing and now you’re being so rude. This guy’s the head of a big oil company. He probably wants to buy the TDU and if that’s the case, I say good riddance for all the trouble it’s caused.”

“What about Hart? We told him we’d work with him.”

“You didn’t sign anything, did you?”

“Listen to you!”

“No, listen to you, Mr. Lawyer. If you didn’t sign anything, where’s your obligation?

“We made a deal to work with him, me and Gil. Gil thinks the guy walks on water. And I think we can trust him. He’s out looking for financing, right now. I’m not going to call him up and tell him the deal’s off.”

“Spare me the drama.”

“I’m serious.”

“So am I. If the TDU is so fantastic, investors will be pounding down our door.”

“Well it looks like that parade might have just started.” Avery poked his head in the door and strained his ear toward the living room. He could hear nothing.

“He might be about to offer us some serious money, Avery. And I think we should take it. Wouldn’t it be nice to be out of debt for a change? I mean, this morning…”

“We can’t do that, Kori. I don’t like him. And I don’t trust him.”

“You don’t even know him.”

“I know I’m having an allergic reaction to him.”

Kori rolled her eyes. “That is the dumbest thing I ever heard. You’re not going to take his money because of a few sneezes?”

Avery blushed.

“Give me one good reason why we shouldn’t work with him, Avery.”

“Dad.” Avery said. “Dad would never sell out.”

Kori stared at her brother and when she spoke, her voice was quiet, reluctant. “Well, Dad isn’t here to provide for us anymore, Avery. And we need to pay our bills and keep food on the table and all those other things that parents do for their kids, but we now have to do for ourselves.” Kori turned to go inside, but Avery grabbed her wrist.

Avery drew a deep breath. “All right. We’ll listen to what he has to say. But no decisions until we talk to Hart. Okay?”

“All right.” She sighed, squeezing Avery’s arm. “Let’s get back in there.”

➣➣➣

Gil strolled down the steps with Max. Bicky heard them coming, but acted surprised when they entered the room. Holding Max by the collar, Gil took a seat on the couch and stared at Bicky until even the unflappable Coleman became a bit unhinged.

“What?” Bicky finally said.

“What?” Gil replied.

“What are you looking at?”

“What are you looking at?”

“I asked you first.”

“I asked you first.”

“Is this some kind of joke?” Bicky shifted in his chair, annoyed.

“Is this some kind of joke?”

“You’re not one of those idiot savants, are you?”

“You’re not one of those…”

“Oh shut up, already. I get the game.” Bicky huffed as if the very idea was ridiculous to him. “My own daughter used to play it all the time. I didn’t like it then and I…”

“What happened to your hand?” Bicky covered his bandaged hand with his free hand in response.

“What are you doing here?” Gil asked.

Bicky looked Gil over, the piercing, intelligent eyes, the purposeful posture, the fact that he had his own hand resting lightly on the neck of a seventy-five pound ferocious looking dog with a mean set of teeth. In that instant he knew this child, for that was what he was, could not be trifled with, and moreover that it was more than intellect working in that compact, graceful body. He decided instantly, subconsciously, that truth was the best course of action.

“Well, I’m not here to help, obviously. I’m a businessman and businessmen do not become successful by helping,” Bicky said. True confessions.

Gil nodded, a beneficent king waiting for his subject to continue.

“But I’m not here to steal anything from you either. I’m willing to pay the fair market value for the product you’ve invented, and should that not be possible given the scope and reach of the product, then I’m willing to bring you in as a partner, to a limited extent, of course, given that I’m taking all the financial risks, and to make sure your family receives money from the development and sale of this product for years to come. You’ll never have to worry about money again, that’s for sure.”

“I’m ten. I don’t worry about money now. That’s for Kori and Avery to worry about.”

“Well, what do I have that would interest you? I’m sure there’s something I can give you to make this deal not just acceptable, but attractive to you.”

Gil shook his head slowly back and forth. “We don’t need you. We have Hart.”

Bicky smiled slightly, relishing the delivery of this news. “Hart works for me.”

“I know that. But he’s not doing this with you. He’s doing this with us.”

“Hart can’t give you what I can give you.”

“He can get as much money as we need to build a factory.”

“Hart’s a very rich man and I’m sure he’ll be true to his word. But have you thought about the expense of not only developing your machine, but building, staffing and maintaining an oil refinery? It’s not just the cost, but the labor that’s very intensive. The insurance alone on a facility like that’ll kill you. I can offer you a fully functional, completely operational facility. Already built and running and only a scant thirty or so miles from here.”

“We already have one in the backyard,” Gil said.

Bicky’s raised his eyebrows, but he didn’t say anything.

“They’re not hard to make if you know what you’re doing.”

“Surely you don’t think you’re going to build something of this magnitude in your backyard?”

“I told you. I’m only ten. That part’s up to Avery.” As if on cue, the backdoor slammed and Bicky heard strangled whispers and two sets of footsteps approaching. And given the four seconds he’d spent in the presence of the sixteen-year old – for Chrissakes was everyone in this family a prodigy? – Bicky knew he needed to make his move now or lose his chance forever.

“The plant will be a monument to your father. I’ll even rename the refinery after him. By the time we’re finished, not just the U.S., but all the world will know how great he was. We can even market some of his other inventions. I mean, he didn’t create something like this in a vacuum. The man was obviously a genius.” Bicky paused for effect. “Of course, I’ll leave it up to you whether you’d like to pursue those other avenues.”

“Hey, Gil,” Avery said, coming into the room. “I see you’ve met Mr. Coleman. He…”

“He’s taking us on a tour of his oil refinery this morning,” Gil said, before turning to Kori. “Do we have any pop tarts? Me and Max are starving.”

“Ah. Okay,” Bicky said. “Shall we take breakfast on the road?”

 to be continued. . .

read what came before

copyright 2013