Kelli Parsons, a beautiful tough writer, has written a series of articles about the religious practices of the Muslims. Now a fatwa or contract for her death, along with it a million dollar reward has been given for her death. Desperate to escape she is forced to hide in the treacherous Atchafalaya Swamp where living or dying depends on one man--the Cajun!
A little Crocodile Dundee and a little Rambo. Edgar Rice Burroughs had Tarzan---Joe Barfield has the Cajun!
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK:
In 20 years with the FBI, Richard Staley had protected many people, but never anyone as beautiful or stubborn as Kelli Parsons. Even in the midst of the dangerous terrorist situation, he found himself physically excited by her presence. He had protected people from hired assassins, Mafia hit men, even their own families—but this was his first time to protect someone from Islamic Fundamentalists. Thanks to an elaborate system set up by the FBI, he felt confident he and his charge would escape detection. Contrary to the television versions of federal agents’ fast-paced lives and dangerous missions, his life remained almost boring. None of his cases involved unusual incidents or even any gunfire, and he doubted this case would be any different. A journalist, Kelli had written about the Muslim religion, provoking a similar reaction as that produced by Salmon Rushdie’s tome, Satanic Verses. Her biting commentary into what she called “atrocious” religious domination and denial of women’s rights in Arabic states had brought threats against her life and forced her into hiding.
“Sometimes I think writers don’t have the sense God gave them to come in from the rain,” said Richard Staley disgustedly. Smoke from the filtered Salem cigarette rolled from his mouth with each word. Staley twisted the burning stub in the ashtray of the armrest. Mechanically, he dug in his shirt pocket for his lighter and another cigarette. The woman Richard’s orders demanded he protect sat beside him in the back seat of the navy blue government car.
“Nobody asked your opinion of writers,” Kelli snapped. She quickly opened the passenger’s side window in retaliation for the cigarette.
The interior of the car was as dark and cold as a coffin. From the comfort of the passenger seat, they argued about the present situation, while the driver sped hastily toward their destination in Houston. Wedged securely between two other identical cars, their vehicle headed west on Interstate 10. Baton Rouge lay behind with Lafayette just ahead. They were traversing the 25-mile-long twin bridges stretching safely above Louisiana’s Atchafalaya River swampland. The bridge cut through the swamp like an unwelcome foreigner, splitting to carry double lanes of traffic quickly in opposite directions and separated by a black void. Approaching headlights appeared to float in a vast darkness, the road sounds muted by the car’s air conditioning. Other than the cars, there were no other signs of civilization. A low-hanging fog crawled from the Atchafalaya swamp, weaving its way along both sides of the highway. No stars lit the hot, overcast, summer night. They were deep within an area of Louisiana with strange people and even stranger customs. Hidden in the Atchafalaya swamps were thousands of untold secrets. Secrets interwoven with danger and romance—mysterious secrets as haunting as the people living in the swamps. This was Cajun country.
“It’s our right—no, it’s our obligation—to expose the atrocities and suppression of civil rights committed in other countries,” said Kelli strongly defending her beliefs.
“Sorry, Kelli,” said Richard Staley, “I just don’t buy it. Apparently you and other writers haven’t learned from that Salmon Rushdie incident. You shouldn’t have written what you did.”
“Oh, you read my book?”
“I read your book—only to get familiar with your case. Not what I like to read.”
“I suppose you prefer picture books like Playboy.”
Richard shrugged his shoulders, “It wasn’t so bad you wrote about their religious practices, but you should’ve kept it objective. When you inserted your opinion about the religion being—how did you put it? Barbaric and uncivilized? Oh, yeah, and their masochistic practices should be stopped by the world . . . a little heavy, don’t you think?”
“So is the fact they’re chasing you.”
He sucked long and deep, making the cigarette glow red, hoping to glimpse more of Kelli’s lithe figure. He feasted his eyes on the full breasts, half protruding from the low V-cut shirt she wore, and the loose-fitting jeans did little to hide her fine figure. Smoke hung heavily in the car.
Kelli waved her hand in front of her face, turned her head, and frowned, “Those things are awful—you really should stop.”
Staley gestured with his finger ineffectively in the dark and stuffed the partially used Salem into the ashtray, until the smoke ceased to rise. He touched the button on the door lowering his window only slightly. “You’re safe. The FBI has you in protective custody. Still, you should have left them alone.” The smoke cleared, and he rolled the window back up.
Defiantly, she lifted her head. “I told the truth. Nothing more and nothing less.”
“And now a foreign country has put a price on your head,” he said, with a cold stare. Her silky blonde hair hung below her shoulders. Her presence excited him to a point he wanted to grab her.
“Is it too hard for the FBI to protect me?” she asked.
Richard’s reflected a touch of anger, “You have nothing to worry about. As long as the Bureau is involved, those camel jockeys won’t be able to find you. We’ll be in Houston soon, and you’ll be safe.”
“Can’t find me? They found us this morning. Ask yourself how! Your beloved Bureau has a leak!” she snapped, spitting out the words. Anger and fear echoed in her voice. “I’ve lived with those people. Don’t underestimate their abilities. Remember, you couldn’t prevent them from finding me this morning.”
“We don’t know if it was them. It looked suspicious, so we got you out of there,” Richard explained. Although only mildly concerned, he wondered if Kelli was right. If so, then who revealed their location? Surrounded by his most trusted men, Richard was confident. He let his body relax in the comfort of the plush velour seats of the briskly moving automobile.
The green mile markers and blue call boxes flashed past the car. From each call box protruded a tall antenna, all equipped with a phone for stranded drivers to call for assistance. The three-car caravan passed mile marker 131 and call box 1295. Richard’s four best agents accompanied them. Two long time friends, Del and Ralph, were in the lead car along with the driver, Jerry, a somewhat over zealous and agitating agent at times. Dependable and trustworthy, Ted and Ron brought up the rear. For added protection, a young rookie FBI agent, Mike, rode in the front seat of the car along with the driver, Steve. Both excellent marksmen. A total of eight agents to protect one nutty writer.
On the last protective case, Richard harbored another woman so she could testify against Miami drug dealers. Not much of a looker, it took Richard only two days before he slept with her. Playing on their fears always enabled him to get close, and such escapades had cost him his marriage.
Now he sat next to a woman with a hot temper and the body of a topless dancer. He savored the anticipation. Richard would enjoy screwing Kelli. Soon he would convince Kelli she was safe—but only if he was near. Then she would be his, like the others, he mused.
“If you plan on going to bed with me, forget it!” Kelli snapped.
Richard coughed self-consciously and fumbled nervously with a fresh cigarette, trying to hide his surprise and guilt. “I’m afraid you have me pegged wrong. My job is to protect you,” he added defensively, wondering if she had read his thoughts.
“Yeah, sure, you bet. I’ve been around the world. I’ve met men from many places, and, let me tell you, men are the same everywhere. You won’t get in my pants,” she repeated, chiding Richard. “If I were you, I’d concentrate on keeping your zipper shut and your mind on business.”
“Stop worrying, we’ll be there soon,” Richard said. The terrorists were of mild concern to him. Soon the morning incident would be forgotten.
Halfway across the Atchafalaya swamp, two automobiles approached rapidly from the rear. Both slowed as they pulled alongside. From within the lead FBI car came two bright flashes. Instantly, Richard recognized them as gunshots from the driver’s side. What had happened?
“Get down!” he yelled at the same time shoving Kelli’s head down.
Suddenly the two charging automobiles started shooting at the trailing FBI car, killing Ted and the other agent. The car crashed viciously against the rail, lifted vertically, and pirouetted across the causeway ending with a violent somersault that catapulted it over the steel guardrail into the swamp below.
Unassisted, the lead FBI car slid sideways forcing Steve against the railing. The car bounced against the barrier grinding sparks from the steel rail before coming to an abrupt stop parallel to and less than six feet from the railing. Richard forced the rear passenger’s door open and pushed Kelli from the car as gunfire shattered the windshield. Fatally wounded, Steve slumped from the driver’s door on to the highway. Mike escaped from the passenger door. Finding cover behind the right front fender, he responded quickly with his gun.
Richard crouched at the rear of the car, firing back at what he presumed to be those who pursued Kelli. For the first time, an agent on one of his assignments was killed in the line of duty. For the first time, Richard felt fear.
“This is fucking great! The FBI is going to let me die on some God forsaken bridge in the middle of a swamp,” moaned Kelli. “Help! Help!” she screamed at the top of her lungs.
“Shut up!” snapped Richard as he shook her harshly.
“Don’t worry, ma’am,” said Mike, the young innocent-looking agent near the front of the car. When he turned to return fire, a bullet caught him in the face and he stood erect, screaming and clutching at the pain from his shattered jaw. A barrage of gunfire hit his defenseless body, hurling it over the railing to the watery abyss below.
”Oh, God!” gasped Kelli.
An eerie silence followed. Suddenly, a familiar voice broke the quiet, “Hey, Rich? Rich, can you hear me?”
The voice belonged to Jerry Hyatt, who had been driving the lead car. Jerry’s relaxed voice and manner indicated he was not a victim of the assailants. Nor was it hard for Richard to figure that the flashes of gunfire had come from Hyatt’s gun. Jerry had killed Del and Ralph.
“That motherfucker killed ‘em,” Richard mumbled. He wanted to kill Jerry, but he tried to make his voice sound nonchalant through his fear. “Jer, is that you?”
“You got it. These men want to make a deal. They’re willing to give you $500,000 if you hand over Parsons.” Jerry paused, “I hope she’s not worth your life.”
Both hands trembled while Richard ejected the clip from his .45 and replaced it with a new one, “Jer, what the hell is going on? When did you change sides? Why’d you murder Del and Ralph?”
“Listen, Rich, consider this a business deal. Del and Ralph wouldn’t listen. Don’t be as stupid as they were. This is a chance to leave the Bureau with more money than you could make in a lifetime! Otherwise, you die with Parsons. These men can’t be stopped, I promise you that.”
The offer was tempting and for an instant he thought it over, but Kelli interrupted his thoughts. “Well, Wyatt Earp, are you going to tell them to leave at sundown and defend your lady?” she prodded sarcastically when she noticed his hesitation. Reality jerked him back, “Jer, the police will be here soon and your sellout will end.”
“Sorry, Rich, but we stationed half dozen men down the road. They’re dressed as FBI agents and are holding the local law enforcement at bay. If we have to kill you, the law will never know the difference.”
A voice called out to Richard, a voice he had never heard before. He detected a heavy accent, but could not detect what nationality, although he suspected somewhere from the Mid-East. “Richard Staley! This is Kaja Aboujawdeh . . . we will give you one million dollars for Kelli Parsons! The woman will die; you don’t have to die with her.”
“Can’t beat that, Rich,” said Jerry enthusiastically.
This time, the numbers sank in, and the idea of turning this woman over became a real possibility. Why die? He could give her to them and live a life of leisure with a million dollars. Defend her and die, or surrender her and be a wealthy man. Wealthy sounded better than dead, he figured.
Carefully, Kelli watched his reaction. She had few alternatives and could do but one thing, “Hey, Wyatt, you and the boys can play O.K. Corral, but I really have to be going.”
Confused by the statement and his own thoughts, Richard reacted slowly, “No . . . you can’t.”
“Really? Fuck you!” she snarled, giving the international one finger salute in front of her face. Before Richard could stop her, she took two quick steps, jumped to the top rail, and in a hail of gunfire, leaped to the black water 20 feet below.
Staley heard her hit the water. “Well, shit!” he responded angrily between clenched teeth. How would the terrorists react to her jumping from the bridge?
“Awww, Rich, you fucked up,” said Jerry despondently. “We don’t need you anymore.” An ear-piercing scream from the waters below finally penetrated the long silence.
“Jer, I was gonna give the bitch to you, but she got away,” Richard whined. “Sounds like she’s a goner anyway?”
“No deal!” said Kaja, “Kill him!” With a wave of his arm, the men opened fire.
Richard returned the fire until his clip ran out, then he replaced it with another. With only two clips left, his death seemed imminent and certain. There was only one way out. In a flash, he vaulted the steel rail and found himself hurling to the water below.
Ex-policemen are taking wealthy men on the hunt of their lives--human prey! The only two witnesses have already been murdered. To solve the case the lead detective must find a pimp called The Rat and the drug addict Pinky, because they have the answers. But the Rat and Pinky are trying to kill each other. The only ones that can help him are a gay bar owner, a hyper, absent-minded forensics expert from India, and his one-eyed, three-legged dog, Lucky.
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK:
The stench of the alley was overwhelming—to Pinky it was home. He sat in the window on the third floor of the run-down tenement. His legs dangled over the emergency fire escape leading to the narrow alley. The building was crammed between numerous others on the Southeast side of Compton, one of the more dangerous parts of Los Angeles. Seldom would police venture into the area, even in the event of a riot. In the alley below, a bag lady moved through the mountains of discarded trash with reckless abandon, followed closely by two cats, an old red Tom with a slight limp and a young grey Manx. An October chill hung in the night air.
Dressed in shorts and a dirty white undershirt, Pinky sweated profusely. Seldom removed, a stocking cap covered his pink, scarred, hairless head. The cap was pulled down to cover two patches of melted flesh where once had been ears—a result of a free-basing cocaine accident some years before. In a drunken stupor while purifying cocaine with 190 proof Everclear, he had spilled the liquid and caught himself on fire. This was the one and only lesson in life he had ever learned.
With his back pressed against the window frame, Pinky placed a tan-colored surgical cord in his mouth, extended his left arm, and then with his right hand (and with the experience gained from years of practice) he deftly looped the cord tight just above his elbow. He reached for the nightstand and pulled it near the window. The small caliber .38 special resting on the table gave him an added sense of security, but his needs were wrapped within the red rag beside the recently fired gun. From the bundle he pulled a frequently-used syringe, stuck the dirty needle in a pan filled with liquid, and sucked the contents up into the hollow, dirty, plastic tube of the device. Holding the syringe firmly, he thumped his needle-tracked forearm in an effort to find a vein. Finally, he slid the needle beneath the skin and injected the "speedball," a mixture of cocaine and heroin.
Pinky’s real name was John Swift, a black man born to be an athlete; instead he found crack cocaine. Drugs and a belief that white men had created his problems and were completely responsible for all his failures had shattered his dreams and aspirations. He had sworn revenge and death to whites and yet he killed blacks. After years of drugs and violence, he was a hollow shell of his former self. It was his substance use and the fire that led to him being called Pinky.
The speedball was sweet relief. Already the murder he’d committed hours earlier was but a fading memory. To obtain his drugs he'd killed a thirteen-year-old black boy with the indifference of a lion taking down a zebra. In his mind, it was not murder. It was survival. The boy was a drug pusher, streetwise beyond his years and a formidable antagonist. Two days without a hit and pushed beyond his limits, Pinky shot the boy when he refused to give him drugs. When Pinky stripped him of his paraphernalia, he found the boy still clutched a gun in his hand. Another moment and Pinky would have been dead. Predator against predator, family against family. There were no bloodlines on the street.
His snitch, Carlos "The Rat" Raton, had told him of a liquor store he could hit. There was supposed to have been enough money to keep him high for a week. Pinky had been unable to wait. Now a small boy lay dead. He would hit Leon's Liquor Store tomorrow night. Pinky didn't trust the Mexican, but if the Rat crossed him, the Rat would be a dead man. Beneath the gaunt shell of a once powerful black athlete, poised a deadly man with a terrifying strength of demonic proportions bolstered by drugs.
Pinky walked from the window and lay on the bed. A gunshot sounded from around the corner, a child cried from a window across the alley, and in the distance a siren sounded. All of it was soothing tonic to his shattered nerves. Pinky was another hopeless creature; a by-product of America’s slums. Tomorrow night he would be on the hunt again.
Murder did not surprise Emmit Sanders. The sky-blue and gray Windbreaker he wore, with Dallas Cowboys emblazoned on the back, concealed the Dan Wesson snub-nosed .38 revolver tucked away in his shoulder holster. Beneath the jacket he had on a blue T-shirt with a print of the lower half of a duck above which were the words, "Not Playing With a Full Duck." Emmit stood near the window of the Tommy's hamburger stand at Westwood and Gayley near the UCLA campus. When the order was ready, he took the greasy hamburger, fries, and Diet Coke and returned to the street-side table located near the alley. He spread mustard over his French fries and kept a close eye on the dumpster where the briefcase filled with money lay like bait to catch a fish—only this fish was human.
Emmit waited patiently for the man to show. After all, Emmit was the lead homicide detective for the Los Angeles Police Department. Assigned to the Wilshire area of Los Angeles, he was supplied a steady job with hundreds of murders a year. He had seen everything: mass murders, gang slayings, serial killers, and murders for love, hate, and money. Emmit had seen them all . . . or at least he thought he had. He had been assigned to a case no one wanted—twenty-six murders, all with the same MO—modus operandi or method of operation. The victims were all killed after committing a crime; usually a theft or armed robbery. Two of the victims had committed murder just prior to being killed. At first there was one killing a month, but in the past several weeks it had quickly escalated to three or more victims a month. The killings occurred in economically poor areas: Watts, parts of Long Beach, Inglewood, City of Commerce, Downey, South Gate, Compton, and East Los Angeles. The murders were not racially motivated; the dead included six whites, seven Mexican Americans, and thirteen African Americans. All had been killed with high-powered rifles.
Emmit’s mind was on that case, but he was currently working another. At the other end of the alley his best friend and fellow officer, Mike McCann, sat in a car waiting for the kidnapper to show and collect the money out of the dumpster. McCann had requested Emmit be with him on this strange case assigned to him by Commander Randall Jordan, and Emmit was happy to be working with his friend again.
This was the third kidnapping. The first two were children of an attorney and a judge. This time, another judge's daughter was missing from school. A note demanded $100,000 be placed in the dumpster near Tommy’s in exchange for her return or she would die.
In the two previous cases the children had been returned unharmed and the money left uncollected at the drop-off site. More pressure was being put on the police department to find the kidnappers than to find the killers of the twenty-six criminals. Emmit laughed to himself. Who was more important? Well, the kidnapped victims were the children of an attorney and two judges. That said it all.
There was another reason he didn't mind the wait. Luna Arias worked out at the nearby Gold's Gym Monday through Friday nights, the same times Emmit worked out there. On Tuesdays and Thursdays she walked, and on the other nights she drove. This was Tuesday night, and Luna would be passing by anytime now. From the talk he heard at the gym, Emmit knew she was from Venezuela and attended classes at UCLA. And she was a Latin beauty in workout tights. No one had to tell him that.
On numerous occasions he’d thought of asking her out, but he always shied away. What would someone so pretty see in a bald, black man over forty? Hell, his daughter Corey was twenty, and he reasoned Luna could be no older than twenty-five. Emmit was an unusual man. Raised in Tomball, a town just north of Houston, Texas, his sports were football and rodeos. He could ride a bronco and steer wrestle with the best. His friendly attitude and deep Southern drawl made him accepted, even though he was the wrong color for the town. Emmit sounded like John Wayne and could keep a good tune to most western songs. The only problem he'd run into was his interest to date white girls. His personal life not only bothered his friends but also his parents. They even bribed him to leave Tomball and go away to USC to study law. He was interested in things of a legal nature, but he was not interested in being an attorney. Like in bronco busting, he wanted the action and not the confinement of a suit. Being an undercover cop was perfect for him.
Emmit finished his hamburger and thought about Luna and the twenty-six murders that needed to be solved. He doubted the kidnapper would show.
Three college boys still in their teens and testing their manhood took their food from Tommy's take-out window and sat at the table to Emmit’s left. Dressed in jeans and leather jackets and parading long hair below their shoulders, the boys were loud in their conversation. One pulled a marijuana "joint" from his pocket and casually looked around before lighting up.
With his mouth full of fries Emmit spoke. "You boys ought to throw that away. It's against the law. And it's bad for your health."
The boy with the joint laughed and passed it around. "Oooh, listen to the cowboy talk, and look who's calling who boy." The other two laughed. "Who the fuck do you think you are, my mother?"
Emmit smiled and wiped his mouth. "Nope, one better," he said as he pulled his Dallas Cowboys jacket open revealing the gun. He reached inside his jacket pocket, pulled out a leather identification, and flipped the cover open showing the three youths his LAPD badge.
Instantly the smirks on their faces disappeared and were replaced by fear. The youth with the joint quickly threw the remains to the concrete and stomped it out.
"I'm in a generous mood tonight. Don't really want to go to the station. Do ya'll?”
“No, sir,” they said in unison.
“How about you boys pack it in and go home to momma."
"Yes, sir!" They grabbed their food and were quickly off.
Sanders cracked a smile and barely kept from laughing. He continued waiting. Waiting for the kidnapper he knew in his heart would not show. He hoped Luna would pass by soon.
Not far away along exquisite Mulholland drive, lined with houses in excess of millions and belonging to the elite, two men peered across the city of Los Angeles from the multi-storied house suspended high atop the hill. These two were an unlikely pair. Clayton Anderson was a self-made millionaire, while Alan Bristol had been born to money. Until only recently Clayton had worked hard all his life, but then his financial situation changed and enabled him to retire. Alan was one of the Hollywood brats: spoiled and rich. Both men were married and in their mid-forties, but that didn’t stop them from chasing women and racing cars seven days a week. Smooth, brown skin and jet black hair gave Alan Bristol a youthful appearance and enhanced the cosmetic surgery he’d had done. Clayton Anderson, aged from years of hard work, carried a full head of naturally graying hair.
Their one mutual love was hunting, a pursuit which brought them together with a passion. For months Bristol had been telling Anderson about the ultimate hunt. With drinks in hand, he led Anderson to a locked room. Inside were trophies from around the world. Most were animals on the endangered list and known to be illegal for import and banned to hunting around the world. The African elephant trophy hanging on the wall intrigued Anderson.
“I shot him last year,” Bristol said.
Anderson pointed to the elephant head mounted on an ornate maple backing. "I thought the elephant was illegal?"
"Of course it is," said Bristol taking a sip of his wine. "But if it was legal, it wouldn't be any fun!"
Both men laughed and Bristol raised his left hand to the trophies on the wall and turned about in a circle. "They're all illegal. With enough money you can hunt any animal on Earth."
"I can't wait," said Anderson, eager with anticipation.
"It's already arranged. You'll have to be ready at a moment’s notice, but it should be any day."
Bristol raised his glass and Anderson followed, both men toasting to the hunt and the ultimate kill.
John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana was busy for a Tuesday night. Not far from the Continental Airlines ticket counter, Carlos "The Rat" Raton paced nervously before the row of pay telephones.
Short and thin he tried to dress well but failed. The long, black hair was slicked back, and he was clean shaven except for a finely trimmed moustache.
Born to an influential Mexican family, Raton attended UCLA where he disgraced his relatives by becoming involved with drugs and illicit sex. His brushes with the law became numerous, and money from his father ceased to come.
Out of necessity Raton became a pimp and found that he loved reaping the benefits of his job: drugs, women, and money. He developed a sideline making more money and at the same time keeping him away from the law—Carlos was an informer. Ironically his nickname “The Rat,” cut from his last name, fit well, although only a few police officers actually knew of his cooperation with the department.
Even now he waited impatiently for the call and the Voice. The Voice was clearly a white man, and he suspected it was someone connected with the police. Carlos liked the extra money he got being a snitch, but something about this time made him uneasy. The men he informed on were dying. The Rat was afraid to quit and almost more afraid to continue. The Voice knew everything about him, and he knew nothing about the man who sought the information.
The phone rang. Raton hesitated, then picked up the receiver. “Turn to page 500 in the phone book,” The Voice told him. He found the usual ten, crisp one hundred dollar bills.
Raton felt brazen. "Will he die, too?"
The Voice was calm. “It would be unhealthy for you to ask too many questions. You could find the answers deadly. Take the money." There was a pause on the line. "Now, tell me what you have."
The Rat was afraid. "Tomorrow night, after dark. Leon's Liquor Store in South Compton. A black man, John Swift . . . they call him Pinky." There was silence, then a dial tone. The Rat hung up the phone and cast furtive glances about. Was the Voice watching him? Would the Voice one day search for him? The Rat shoved the ten bills in his pocket and disappeared in the crowd.
Jean Alexander, a reporter for The Houston Post, has gained unauthorized access to a chemical plant where she finds five dead bodies. She wants to know why they died and enlists the aid of a Civil/Chemical Engineer, Travis Selkirk, who agrees to show her the dangers that exist on the Houston Ship Channel. Now they must race to save Houston from a disaster worse than a nuclear explosion—a chemical storm!
I have worked in and around chemical plants for over 40 years. The first part of the novel are things that have been changed but actually happened to friends or people I knew. Then comes the disaster. Could Houston be a disaster waiting to happen?
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK:
In 1988 I started writing Chem Storm, relying on my twenty years of working in numerous plants on and around the Houston ship channel. Events included in Chem Storm are as close as possible to what could actually happen.
After reading the novel, one of my engineer friends said something that still sticks in my mind:
“Chem Storm is very realistic but the odds are a million to one for a disaster of that proportion.” My friend laughed and added, “Then again the Texas lottery is fourteen million to one--and somebody usually wins it.” The following are quotes, descriptions, and headlines that describe actual accounts from previous chemical disasters. Some of them you may even remember.
CANADA SALVAGES MEMORIES OF DEADLY 1917 SHIP BLAST
Halifax, Nova Scotia - More than 2,000 people were killed when a French munitions carrier, the Mont Blanc, exploded after being accidentally rammed. Nine thousand people were injured, 200 were blinded, 1,600 buildings were destroyed and 6,000 people were left homeless. The killer explosion was followed by a tidal wave. Windows were broken 60 miles away in Truro. The 10,000-ton Mont Blanc disappeared; a portion of the boiler was found atop a building, and a 1,500 pound section of the anchor was discovered two miles inland. One survivor said, “I was a little over a quarter of a mile away. The explosion blew me up and over the hill.”
-Tim Jones, Knight-Ridder Newspapers
TEXAS CITY DISASTER KILLS MORE THAN 500
The French ship Grandcamp, loaded with ammonia, exploded while docked and set off a chain of other explosions, producing the worst industrial accident in U.S. history, killing at least 576 and injuring 5,000.
- Baytown 1947
411,400 BARRELS OF OIL WERE LOST
A total of 411,400 barrels of oil as well as substantial quantities of benzene, kerosene, gasoline and naphtha were lost in the Texas City disaster.
-The Houston Post April 1947
THREE EXPLOSIONS ROCK TEXAS CITY
A French ship loaded with nitrate and fertilizer exploded in the dock, setting off a chain of other explosions.
The Pan American Refinery, two miles from the Texas City disaster, suffered damage with numerous windows also shattered. Mr. Turner said, “We heard some windows in Galveston, across the bay, were blown out.”
“We heard it before we felt it,” Criss said. “I snatched my little girl away from the window just in time. All the windows blew in and one wall buckled but didn’t fall. Glass was all over me.” (Criss’s house was about a mile away from the scene of the explosion.)
-The Houston Post April 1947
CALLS FOR AID SENT TO HOUSTON AND GALVESTON
In another instance, Walker saw 20 people pinned under a barge that was lifted 200 yards in the air by the repercussion.
1500 autos were destroyed in company parking lot.
Four-ton anchor found two miles from explosion.
-The Houston Post April 1947
24 FEARED DEAD IN NEW ORLEANS EXPLOSION
A chain-reaction explosion ripped through 45 units of a 73 silo grain elevator like a string of giant Roman candles.
-The Houston Post Dec. 1977
2200 DIE IN BHOPAL, INDIA
More than 2200 people died from a cyanide leak in the Union Carbide Plant.
-The Houston Post 1984
(The total reached 3300 with more than 20,000 injured.)
25 TONS OF GAS LEAKED: COMPANY
25 tons of deadly methyl cyanate spewed out of its Bhopal, India, pesticide plant Monday after a “runaway chemical reaction” caused a pressure buildup in an underground tank.
“It is a sin to bury two bodies in one grave but we must bury three and four and more together,” said Abdul Karim. “I pray Allah I never have to do this again.”
-The Houston Post 1984
PROPANE TRUCK EXPLOSION KILLS 6 IN MEMPHIS
Memphis, Tenn. - A 10,000 gallon propane truck exploded killing 6 persons. “I heard the explosion and saw the tanker flying through the air. It just fell on the house and blew up,” said Marvin Mitchell, a witness.
STAGGERING NUMBER OF TRUCKS CARRY POTENTIAL DISASTER
As many as 100 tankers filled with deadly liquid or gaseous chemicals are moving through the Houston area at any one time.
-The Houston Post 1984
TEXAS LEAD IN TOXIC DISCHARGES
230 million pounds of chemicals released into air in 1987
- Houston Chronicle
HAZARDOUS CHEMICALS PUT CITY AT RISK
“Houston is so exposed to hazardous chemicals that there is virtually no place inside the city where residents are not potentially at risk, according to a report commissioned by the Houston City Council.”
- The Houston Post Dec. 1988
CHEMICAL DEFENDERS WORRIED
Norman Driskell of the city’s Hazardous Materials Response Team summed it up:
“Houston is sitting on a powder keg. We’ve been real lucky so far.”
“More petrochemicals come through this city than any other,” said Mike Stockberger.
-The Houston Post 1988
SENSITIVE STUDY OUTLINES AREA’S HIGH VULNERABILITY
“Houston Fire Chief Robert Clayton has refused to release a report commissioned by the Houston City Council on the chemical dangers in Houston, because he did not want to unnecessarily “alarm Houstonians.”
“I don’t want people to get the impression that the whole city is going to blow up. My fear about the thing is that it makes the whole city look like it’s vulnerable,” said Chief Clayton. Then he added, “I guess in some ways it is.”
-The Houston Post 1988
BLAST FLIPS CARS, SHATTERS WINDOWS, JOLTS PLANE
Henderson, Nev. - The blast just before noon at Pacific Engineering & Production Co., which manufactures ammonium perchlorate for use in space shuttle rocket fuel, also rocked buildings 10 miles away in Las Vegas.
-The Houston Chronicle 1988
LEARNING TO HANDLE DISASTER
At least 1,000 Houston facilities handle hazardous materials, but only 69 producers complied with a federal law to report what chemicals they handle in excess of 500 pounds or 55 gallons.
-The Houston Post 1988
Merck’s Index (a directory of chemicals and drugs)
Hydrogen cyanide--A quantity one sixth the size of an aspirin can kill an adult. Six people per aspirin, forty aspirin in an ounce, and 16 ounces in a pound. One pound of hydrogen cyanide is enough to kill 3840 people.
DUPONT TO BUILD PLANT IN LA PORTE
“The company will use a like amount of waste hydrogen cyanide to make 60 to 100 million pounds of sodium cyanide a year.”
-Houston Chronicle 1988
POISON VAPOR KILLS 4, INJURES 20 AT PLANT
“They were cleaning out a tank of zinc cyanide. Whoever did the cleaning put in the wrong cleaning solution--muriatic acid,” said Betty Cadou.
(The combination of the two produces hydrogen cyanide, a powerful poisonous vapor.)
“The rescue workers who went to the plant were wearing self-contained breathing units, but the gas can be absorbed through the skin, which may explain why so many were affected,” said Robert Corkwell, State Police hazardous materials officer.
-Houston Chronicle June 1988
BLAST RIPS PHILLIPS PLANT- 109 INJURED, 22 MISSING
Three explosions sent a huge orange ball of flame into the air and hurled chunks of metal and other debris for miles. Seismologists at Rice University said the explosion was roughly the equivalent of 10 tons of TNT.
-Houston Chronicle 1989
FIREBALL ALMOST ENGULFS EMPLOYEES
“I was running toward the back of my truck when the next explosion picked me up and carried me 15 or 20 feet and threw me down on the ground,” said Buckner. “I looked back and saw a solid wall of gray smoke coming at me real fast.” Buckner said the main building in the Plant 5 area, where the explosion occurred, “…Came flying apart like a child’s toy.”
-The Houston Post Oct. 1989
BLAST SHOWERS NEIGHBORS WITH DEBRIS
“From far away, when it was up in the sky, it looked like little pieces of paper floating around,” Perez said. “When it got closer we realized it was sheets of metal--big pieces of metal--and we all started running.”
A series of explosions that could be heard and felt 25 miles away rocked the Phillips Petroleum Co. plant on the Houston Ship Channel. A Rice University geophysics professor, using a seismograph, estimated the blast to be the equivalent of a 3.5 magnitude earthquake.
-The Houston Post Oct. 1989
FIRE DEPARTMENT JUNKS ‘CODE YELLOW’ SYSTEM
The Houston Fire Department has scrapped its “Code Yellow” program in which hazardous materials teams were secretly sent to train derailments and rail car leaks to bypass media attention.
-The Houston Post 1989
ARCO BLAST DEATH TOLL REACHES 17
An area roughly the size of a city block was virtually destroyed and looked more like the aftermath of an atomic explosion. The top of a wastewater treatment tank was thrown about 100 yards.
-Houston Chronicle 1990
FIERY EXPLOSION RENEWS CONTROVERSY OVER SAFETY
After the ARCO blast Sylvia Krekel said, “I think these plants are being run to the max, with no preventive maintenance taking place.” She added, “Something has to be done. Since they are insured, there’s just no incentive for industry to practice prevention.
-The Houston Post July 1990
BLAST AT TEXAS OIL REFINERY KILLS 15
The blast left a gaping hole in the earth, mangled offices and covered cars and trucks in an employee parking lot with ash and chunks of charred metal. Witnesses said the blast was felt as far as 5 miles away.
-The Houston Chronicle March 2005
ARE REFINERIES UNSAFE?
Petroleum: A recent series of fatal fires and explosions at oil and petrochemical plants has raised questions about the industry’s safety practices and use of contract work.
-Los Angeles Times
Could Houston be a disaster waiting to happen?
Some say that the greatest sports movie ever made was Hoosiers. This is Hoosiers on Wheels with a little heart.
Keeping a promise, a father enters his son in the Formula 2000 race series with only a dream and a prayer. When things go from bad to worse it takes a crusty old mechanic to show them how to win.
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK
The legendary Watkins Glen lay nestled in the Eastern New York woods. The Glen, as those familiar with the road course called it, offered an interesting combination of turns and elevation changes, challenging even the most experienced race driver. The Glen offered two options, a short 2.4-mile version, which eliminated the boot, or the longer, much more challenging 3.38-mile version, which included the three-turn boot.
Watkins Glen, where men came, again and again, to check their nerve and boys came to test their mettle. The Glen, a track some said was as old as cars. When men first sought the dangers and excitement of speed, they came to the Glen. Possibly the most exciting and legendary racing spot in the country, the Glen, offered one of the first 24 hour endurance races in the United States. A track where men tempted and cheated death, challenging the road course with only their skills and equipment. They raced for the fun, the glory, and occasionally, the stupidity of it all. The early May race would provide an unusually cold testing ground for the opening race weekend of the highly touted U.S. Formula Ford 2000 National Championship series, sponsored by the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and the United States Auto Club (USAC). Another step on the ladder for Indy racing hopefuls. This was usually the third step of a long frustrating ladder most failed to climb. Many started in Go-carts, then advanced to Formula-Vee or Formula Ford. The next step was to Formula Ford 2000 or Formula Continental. Some also called the sleek racecars, "The Continentals" or "FC," while others affectionately called the speedy cars, "Formula 2000."
Previously three organizations offered Formula Continental series; SCCA with the American Continental Championship (ACC) series, the United States Auto Club (USAC) with the USAC 2000 series and Hooters F2 SuperCup oval series. When Hooters exploded on the racing world in '94, it forced USAC and SCCA to join forces and merge their Formula 2000 series in '95 to make a single series more competitive against Hooters Supercup. Both SCCA and USAC offered a unique opportunity with a variety of professional racing series, which were both challenging and relatively inexpensive. Inexpensive--that is compared to some series that ran in the tens of thousands per race. Formula 2000 could be run in the thousands and even with a team, could come in less than $10,000.
Often televised, the three series gave the competitors an opportunity to find sponsors and more important, be noticed across the country. For those with racing ability, the most insurmountable problems were money, obtaining adequate equipment, and time. Time they needed to devote to their dream, and time their jobs demanded. Many times their jobs were the only means of providing money to follow the elusive dream. The young and the rich came to these races to prove themselves. They came to live their dreams. Some came hoping to fulfill them. Some barely scraped along, while others used unlimited funds but all with the same dream--WINNING!
The Formula Continental used a modified two-liter, four cylinder, Ford engine boasting 140 horsepower. Including the driver, helmet and fireproof suit, the small open wheel Indy type racer weighed in at a minimum 1175 pounds. Some tried to build their own engines, but most preferred to rely on proven engine builders like Ivey, Elite, Quicksilver and Atwell. The price tag varied but usually cost around $6000 for a complete engine. All Formula Continentals used 4-speed manual transmissions and changed the four gear sets to fit each individual track.
Previous winners in the series ran Swift DB-8 and Van Diemen RF95 chassis while some relied on the Crossle 95SF, Citation 95SF, or Reynard 95F. And still others gambled on new chassis setups like the Vector TF95-C, Stohr F3, Spirit F291, and BRD AFC-04. A new season for me, Charlie Pepper, as the mechanic for Anthony Benson's son, Tony Joe. Anthony Benson was well known and an exceptionally rich man who rose quickly in the computer field during the 80's. Now his son, TJ, pursued lofty aspirations of becoming a professional driver. Anthony wanted to start TJ in a lower series and let him progress on the condition that each time TJ won a series, he could advance to the next. After Formula Continental, the next step up on the ladder was Formula Atlantic, INDY Lights and then to the INDY cars and CART.
This was TJ's year, and I knew it. For two years, I had taught and watched as TJ learned and improved. I tolerated the idiosyncrasies that seemed to follow wealth as TJ occasionally proved stubborn and hard to deal with. But I had what I wanted; involvement with my first and only love, RACING.
Here I was in my mid fifties, already having built cars for INDY, even crewing in the legendary race, and I was still getting a charge out of the sport like I was a kid. Outside the van, it was still cold. I looked at my hands, cut from two day's previous preparation on the racecar. Eternal grease was still under my fingernails Using my jacket, I covered my small companion of twenty years, "Tex," a small green and orange parrot. I jumped from the vehicle and darted to the building to register for the race.
"Jesus, Jesus," I mumbled with each chilling stride until I reached the building. Quickly, I closed the door behind to lock out the cold. "Jesus Christ," I yelled, rubbing my arms together trying to warm myself. "To think I left Atlanta and came north to the cold of "The Glen." I must be getting senile in my old age. You'd think the people scheduling these races would think about people like me when they do that."
From behind me a familiar voice suddenly spoke up. "Aw, stop your bitchin', Charlie," said Wesley O'Brien.
O'Brien also worked as a mechanic for an opposing team run by Bob Dotson of Dotson Racing. With him was another mechanic, Rusty Thomas, who worked for a friendly racer, Guido Pepin. Both O'Brien and Thomas wore jeans, tennis shoes, and jackets covered with team logos and colors.
"Hey, Wesley. Ready for another year?" I asked, extending my hand.
"Yep. Where's Tex?" O'Brien asked, wondering about the parrot he always expected to see with me.
"Kinda chilly for my fine feathered friend, so I left him in the van," I said. I took an open bag of lemon drops from my pocket. Lemon drops that were as familiar around the racetrack as my parrot, Tex. I popped one in my mouth, then offered one to Wesley and Rusty, but both politely refused. "Rusty, where's the rig and Guido?"
Thomas pointed outside to the large black and white eighteen-wheeler with the word, "GO," tilted slightly forward, to appear as though moving. The block letters "Racing" followed the "GO," which stood for Guido's Operations, and was painted on both sides of the lavish semi-trailer. Guido Pepin, who also raced, owned GO Racing and was closer to Pepper's age than the much younger O'Brien. The trailer housed Guido's car and two other team members' Formula Continentals. Each racecar also carried the insignia. The setup attested to the wealth Guido had amassed in the restaurant business. Now Guido played and spent money he earned, and Guido's game was racing.
Guido was physically unfit for racing. In simple terms, he was fat and nearly incapable of finishing each race. But as big as Guido was--he had a heart to match. He was an average driver and he knew it, progressing to the highest level he intended, content to rub shoulders and visit with the likes of Pepper, O'Brien and the up and coming 'wanna be' racing drivers. The slogan, painted in script across the back of his tractor trailer, showed Guido's feelings toward racing: "Behind these doors lies an obsession even a woman can't cure."
"Guido will be here in a little while," said Thomas.
"Almost missed it with all those rigs out there."
"Well, I better get the rig inside," said Rusty. "See you guys later."
Wesley nodded and I waved when he walked away.
"I hear we're the Saturday prelim for the Sunday SCCA Endurance race," I said.
"Yep. You staying?"
"Hell, no. I gotta get back to Atlanta."
"You usta stay, Charlie."
"Yeah, but it doesn't hold the interest it used to," I said. “You haven't stayed for the Sunday race since you came back from the INDY circuit."
"Things are different, Wesley," I said. "Do we still practice today and qualify Friday and Saturday?"
"Yep, and race Saturday afternoon. Only difference is "The Glen" is charging an extra three hundred dollars to practice today."
"Shouldn't hurt most drivers."
"Only the ones with limited funds."
"Boy, howdy! Not a sport to try with limited funds," I retorted.
"Maybe, but the budget racers give us drivers like Moses, Patches, Turtle, and Murf," snapped O'Brien, who always angered at watching talent passed aside when money could buy its way on the track. "The young guys without money don't have a chance!"
"Where are Les and Marty?" Wesley asked, referring to the two young mechanic helpers who also worked for TJ Benson or actually worked for me.
"Hopefully, they're already inside waiting for me."
Wesley and I talked about the new season while we stood in line waiting to register for the race. We showed our credentials, signed the release forms, and had new picture ID's made.
Outside, two rows of incoming traffic paused as drivers, crew and racers parked and took time to fill out their registration forms. Also adding to the congestion were Stewards of the event and helpers. The all-important Sports Car Club of America corner workers, the life support system for drivers involved in life threatening wrecks. Patches from previous events sewed on the white uniforms easily distinguished the Corner Workers. The patches literally covered a few uniforms, attesting to the desire and participation of the corner workers. All waited in the appropriate lines ready for the event to begin.
With registration completed, Wesley and I paused at the door near a bulletin board, filled with posters and information, to look at the previous year's final standings of competitors. Neatly typed additions of rookies at the bottom completed the list of drivers competing in the coming season.
"How's Flash?" O'Brien asked. In the past, Wesley had his encounters with my driver, TJ. And if not for me, I don't think Wesley would ever have ventured near the BRM team. "Flash" was a derogatory term Wesley and a few others used when they spoke of TJ Benson. TJ had everything done and never worked on the cars. That was something I intended to change and felt would speed up the learning process if TJ had hands on experience.
"If he can control his temper, this will be his year," I said, shrugging my shoulders as we studied the list.
For me, the list offered a comprehensive quick check, not only of the drivers, but also of the racecars each driver intended to compete with and their team names. Those with money usually joined a proven team, which consisted of six, as varied as the rainbow of colors used to represent them. The six major teams were identified by large eighteen wheel diesel rigs or diesel crew cab pickups and long trailers all splattered with teams' logos and sponsors' names, each with crews and mechanics. The independents relied on Ford, Dodge, or Chevy crew cabs usually powered by diesel or large V-8's with most pulling shorter trailers to satisfy their personal needs. Some chose to pull smaller trailers with motor homes from elaborate to simple cabover. Many had their own personal team names even though they were the only team member. The dreams never stopped.
Those without money fended for themselves, although many independent drivers tended to group together. All offered each other assistance and help whenever necessary. Including my BRM team, there were six major teams: Wesley's team, Dotson Racing; TART, a Canadian team run by Ron Leclair; PACE, a French Canadian team Ian Poirier owned; Spratt Racing owner, Phil Spratt; and, GO Racing with Guido Pepin. Only Spratt and TART relied on something less than the large eighteen-wheelers. They used diesel Cummings, 1 ton crew cab Fords to pull their 42 foot fifth wheel trailers. Although not as impressive as the larger teams, they still came well prepared. I scanned the impromptu drivers' list, a copy from the previous year's standings with new drivers added at the bottom. The number 1, 4, 5, 12 and 13 positions, marked through with a wide black marker, showed five previous competitors who either advanced to another series, fulfilling yet another step in their dreams, or reached another temporary stopping point along their rough road of dreams. They would surely return another time or another place. I continued to survey the summary sheets: O'Brien reached into his back pocket and pulled out a black billfold, took out a five-dollar bill, and held it in front of my face, "Let's see if you can do it three years in a row. Go ahead, Charlie, pick the winners again."
As though in thought, I rubbed my chin and smiled, knowing the top three vacated positions moved to other more lucrative series in their quest to win and rightfully so as they proved themselves well. If TJ Benson had shown more humility and tact at the proper times, he also would have advanced. TJ let his temper and attitude beat himself, something I hoped to correct. I also intended to teach TJ the proper preparation for a racecar.
"Well, TJ should win the series hands down, but Ian Poirier will give him a run for the money."
"Aw, come on, Charlie. Don't you think anybody else has a chance? What about Reckert, Mercury, Dotson, or Spratt?"
I shook my head and continued to scan the sheet attached to the wall. "Sorry. They're all good, but I still say TJ. After all he does have the Van Diemen. Dotson's still screwing with the Spirit chassis, and Reckert with the Stohr. Both would be more competitive with the Swift or the Van Diemen. Mercury should do well with the Reynard, but I don't think any of 'em can touch TJ or Ian." "Look Charlie, I don't care who wins as long as it isn't Flash or the Dwarf. TJ needs to learn some manners and Ian . . well, he's dangerous. I swear if Ian's mother was in front of him, he would knock her off, just so he could win--and he'd never look back."
The year before a young racer had dedicated the song, "Cold as Ice" to Ian Poirier. Ian had knocked the driver out of a race, without seeing Ian's expression change. Ian was cool all right. Yes, maybe even cold. Occasionally, when Wesley got mad at Ian, he would refer to him as the Canadian Dwarf, because Ian was only five-foot-five and wore two-inch heels when he didn't race. Everyone knew about Poirier's inheritance and the two million dollars he collected from his trust fund each year. Still, I held hope for TJ. Obviously, TJ had the ability. And true, TJ was arrogant and occasionally short with me; but hopefully, he could be molded into a fine racer. I had almost quit in the middle of the previous year, but when TJ sincerely apologized, I stayed on, even though the same problem reoccurred when TJ won the last two races.
"Give the kid a chance, Wesley. He'll be okay, you'll see," I said.
"It's not fun for you, Charlie. It's not like working for Mercury or Dotson. I really look forward to the race weekends with them. You should with TJ," said O'Brien.
A voice from behind me said, "Who do you think will take the series this year, Pepper?"
Neither I nor O'Brien could mistake the French Canadian accent as we turned to face Ian Poirier. Poirier wore the familiar two-inch heels enabling him to reach all of five foot seven. His long black hair was tied back in a ponytail with a rubber band. His arrogant and confident tone was supported with an ability to race with the best. Standing beside Poirier was another French Canadian with flowing black curly hair even longer than Poirier's. He was obviously unable to speak English when Poirier appeared to tell his much taller companion what was happening. Poirier wore a jacket with the lime green and white team colors trimmed with the dark green letters, PACE, on the back. Those letters stood for Poirier Automotive Competition Enterprises.
I laughed, "TJ will win because he has something you don't have."
"And what is that?" Poirier challenged more than asked.
With a fist, I slapped my chest, "Me!"
Poirier retaliated, "I have Shea LaForche."
Again, Poirier appeared to translate to his companion, which brought a nod and a smile--but not a smile from Poirier.
"Yeah, LaForche is good--but he's no Charlie Pepper," I laughed, to Poirier's immense irritation.
"I intend to take the series," said Poirier. "We'll see when the races start."
"Boy, howdy--that we will."
The two Canadian teams were as different as night and day. Poirier's team usually consisted of French Canadians, while The American Racing Team, or TART, boasted two fun-loving Canadians, Ron Leclair and Alan Reckert, who spoke better English than me.
Poirier said something to his companion who looked at me and smiled. They spun around, walked away from the building, and returned to their rig, so they could enter the track.
"You were kinda rough on the Dwarf," laughed O'Brien. "I loved it."
Again, I smiled, "Might as well start the mind games early."
"Well, ya sure got under his skin," O'Brien added.
"Who's the guy with Ian?" I asked.
O'Brien pointed to the bottom of the list to the rookie, Claude Marcoux.
"Let me clue you in on Marcoux," said O'Brien. "He was suspended from a Canadian series for dangerous and reckless driving. The Canadians took his license away, but he was able to get another racing license with SCCA. Poirier put him on his team, and that looks bad. I don't like it."
"Wesley, you're too suspicious. I doubt if anything will happen. And don't forget the Stewards will come down hard if he does anything dangerous."
"Just suppose Ian has a chance to win by putting TJ out."
"People don't do that--besides I thought you didn't like TJ."
"I don't. I think TJ is an asshole. Just a cocky, little rich-kid, but he doesn't drive dirty . . . I'll give him that."
I smiled and clapped my hands in mock celebration, "Will miracles never cease."
"Yeah, but even if the Stewards catch Marcoux doing something dangerous, once he's done it, it will be too late."
Wesley had a point, but I passed it off and continued checking the list, "With the new Swift and Van Diemen chassis this year, you're gonna see every track record fall."
"Every track record?"
"Yep . . . unless it rains. If that happens not only will the times be slower, but the rain will also make all the cars equal . . . and few drivers excel in the rain.
It's a driver's race in the rain," I stated, remembering the many previous rain races I had seen.
"Well, I hope it doesn't rain," said O'Brien. "The rain sucks, and Poirier never loses in the rain."
"Look, Wesley," I said, pointing far down the list to the rookies, "a woman . . . Hanna Lee in a Swift with your team."
"Yeah, I know. Everyone says she's related to the Lee Jeans' people. They say she's a looker and only twenty-three. Looks like she's got the money, if she's with Dotson," said O'Brien. "Say, the last year you were at INDY, there was a woman racing, wasn't there?"
"1992 . . . quite a woman. Lyn St. James won rookie of the year. A tough legacy to live up to for our new little Miss Blue Jeans."
"Didn't somebody get killed in that race?"
For a moment I stood there, my smile vanishing as I was transported to an INDY practice session in '92. Practice. A crash. A death. After a long pause, I answered.
"Marcelo got killed in qualifying." O'Brien couldn't hear the last words I mumbled as I remembered, "Just a kid . . . a real swell kid."
Marcelo's death was my reason for dropping from the INDY circuit. Only at Anthony Benson's insistence had I returned to racing to train young TJ. No one really knew the reason I had dropped to the lower bracket of Formula Continental racing. But racing was my number one love and I was unable to stay away. Still, INDY and Marcelo were as fresh in my mind as though it were only yesterday. Killed at INDY. The kid in his prime . . . his whole life ahead of him.
O'Brien saw the instant transformation and I know he tried to change the subject quickly, "You think the other rookies have a chance?"
I blinked my eyes as I came out of my self-induced trance, and turned my attention to the list, "Obviously, Claude Marcoux from what you said. Roberto Cruz has the right chassis and a good team, but no matter who they are, I don't think they will touch Ian or TJ."
Then I spotted the name Shannon Kelly and his old Crossle 71F. "Well, this Shannon Kelly is dead meat, if he's driving that antique Crossle. No one can win with a Crossle. He can't be a serious contender."
Suddenly, Wesley's words haunted me when I remembered what he had said about what money could buy. Maybe the kid had all he could afford. I thought about Murf, Patches, Turtle, and Moses. Murf the Smurf, Bill Murfy, who painted his car blue and white, and when his car was in the pits, always had a stuffed Smurf in the driver's seat. Patches, Tom Craig, who somehow always seemed to ding his car in practice and qualifying. He did his own repairs, which were painfully obvious to everyone. His horrendous craftsmanship got him his nickname "Patches," but he took the teasing good-naturedly. Then, there was Will Jones, who almost always managed to finish last. Turtle wasn't a hard name to stick on Will. Still, he loved to get out on the racetrack. When you talked old nobody beat Gordon Chappel, who was in his fortieth year of racing and would soon celebrate his seventy-first birthday. Everyone called him, "Moses." Not only did he enjoy racing, he consistently finished in the top ten and even at seventy was a very competent and competitive racer, still capable of winning.
"Think he'll win?"
Suddenly, I was pulled from my thoughts. "What?"
"This kid, Shannon Kelly, do you think he'll win?"
"No way. Not with that old Crossle." Across from Shannon Kelly's name under the column for teams were the letters, DAD. "What the hell race team is, 'D-A-D'?"
"Dunno." O'Brien laughed, "They say this Kelly kid wants to race at INDY. He just turned nineteen, and he'll be the youngest obstacle we'll face on the track."
"What's he won?" I asked.
"I don't think he's won anything. Least ways, nothing anybody knows about."
"Great, now we gotta worry about lapping a kid every race. As if Ian and those Canadians won't be enough. Shannon Kelly doesn't have a prayer."
A moment later, someone tapped me on the shoulder and I twisted my head around. Before me was a kid slightly over six feet, forcing me to look up. The boy had thick black hair and was extremely muscular, evidenced by the tight T-shirt he wore. He, too, seemed unprepared for the cold weather. His smile was infectious and the grey piercing eyes never strayed. Just like the kid at INDY . . ."Man, this sure isn't like the weather in Texas. Good thing my Dad told me to pack a coat," said the kid.
"Boy, howdy. I'm from Atlanta, and I wasn't ready for the cold either."
"Say, could you tell me where I sign in?" the tall kid asked.
"Yeah, the workers are over there," said O'Brien pointing to the other side of the room.
For a split second, I froze, I couldn't move . . . I could see the spark in the kid's eyes--the fire!
The kid laughed, "That's probably where I should be, but this weekend I'm racing." He stuck his hand in my direction, "I'm Shannon Kelly."
"Charlie Pepper," I said, still searching for the fire and feeling the confidence in Shannon's handshake.
"Nice to meet ya." The smile was contagious as was the youthful enthusiasm, "Man, have you ever seen so many cars. I can't believe we're gonna race the day before the Showroom Stock Endurance race. I'm staying to watch, are you?"
"I don't know yet," I said, which got an inquisitive glance from Wesley. "Say, what kind of a race team is D-A-D?"
Shannon laughed, making the dimples and the cleft in his square jaw more prominent, "Shoot, they asked if I had any sponsors, and I told them my Dad. I don't have a race team, and if it wasn't for my Dad, I wouldn't be here."
Nodding my head, I said, "Oh."
Shannon held the series racing schedule in his hand and had a puzzled look on his face. He moved it, so I could also see the schedule:
The sheet contained a list of the ten races for the US Formula Ford 2000 National Championship series. Many tracks to pick from but only ten were chosen. Tracks not chosen were Shannonville and Trois-Rivieres in Canada, Limerock, Daytona, Laguna Seca, Firebird Raceway Park, St. Louis International Raceway, Sears Point and Charlotte. Each track had legends and stories of their own.
Shannon pointed to race number 3 and asked, "Maybe you could help me, and I hope this doesn't sound dumb, 'cause I've never raced in a real series before. I know IRP is for Indianapolis Raceway Park, but TBA . . . where is that?"
O'Brien could not suppress a laugh. I smiled, but realized the kid was serious. I waved a hand, "There is no where, TBA means, 'To Be Announced.'"
Shannon turned slightly red and half laughed to himself, "Ohhh."
"Hey, I never would have known if somebody hadn't told me the first time. Remember, this is all a learning process. You aren't born with the knowledge, and if you don't ask, you'll never find out. What I will tell you is race seven will be either at
Charlotte Motor Speedway or Daytona."
"Daytona? Like the Daytona 500?" asked Shannon, the awe evident in his voice.
"Yep," I said. Again, Shannon pointed to the list and the number 8 race, "Where is Ruan?"
"The Ruan Grand Prix is held on the streets of Des Moines, Iowa. You'll get to race seven road courses plus the oval of Indianapolis Raceway Park. The other two races will be tight street circuits. The one you just pointed to, Ruan Grand Prix and the Dallas Grand Prix, will make this a hellva race season."
"Wow! Well, I better get signed in," said Shannon. "Hope to see ya later."
We nodded to Shannon as he moved to the drivers line, then Wesley and I walked away from the registration area.
"Sure as hell seems like a nice kid," said O'Brien. "Hope he didn't hear what we said. TBA--now, that's a classic."
"Boy, howdy . . . and he wants to run INDY. Humph."
The Single Male Parents’ Cookbook, is a delightful combination of food and humor, two subjects everyone will enjoy. As a single parent the author raised his children from the time they were four and six, and soon became an expert in the kitchen. As he said, “My cooking must have been good because both are adults now and still alive, which only attests to culinary skills . . . or luck!”
The Single Male Parents’ Cookbook combines recipes with humorous anecdotes of things that did and didn’t work in the kitchen (and in my life!). Joe includes lots of fun cooking ideas along with some that were not so good, and even a few you don’t ever want to try at home! Everything from his Friday Night Special to his Motel Doggy (the electric hotdog). And let’s not forget the ROC (Roaches on Chocolate). Each recipe is followed by a short story about his childhood antics or raising his children. Not everything always ran smoothly. There was that time his boiled eggs blew up all over the ceiling. Oh, and that grease fire. Don’t ever pour water on a grease fire! But they say experience is the best teacher, and they are right. It wasn’t always easy in those years, but he managed to retain his sense of humor. Joe said he once heard George Carlin say that although he’s over sixty, he never stopped being ten. That describes the author perfectly. In fact, he said, “I’ve been ten six times over, and my life is as fun as ever.” His final comments were, “Are you curious about my recipes for rattlesnake, rabbit, squirrel, and armadillo? I think you’d enjoy the rattlesnake. Can you picture me cooking the Roaches on Chocolate (ROC) on Rachel Ray’s show?”
Don’t let the cookbook confuse you. Joe is just a normal type of guy. Well, maybe except for the time he got married at midnight in a jail in Mexico. But that has nothing to do with cooking. Neither does the time he almost got kidnapped in the mountains of Colombia when he met his second wife. He’s just a wild and crazy guy from Texas.
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK:
November 15, 1958
You asked me to tell you what I learned this month. Well, I learned a whole bunch of neat stuff.
My father said that Dwight D. Eisenhower is the best president we ever elected and Richard Nixon is the only other person in this whole darn country we can trust to continue on a path of honor and integrity. I’m not really sure what “path of honor and integrity” means, but that’s exactly what he said. And last weekend my father bought a brand new Ford Edsel. He said it was an excellent investment.
I think my family should be in the movies. Mom is like Beaver's mom from that TV show, Leave it to Beaver. She's the best. My sister should have been in the Wizard of OZ, because she would have made the best Wicked Witch of the West anybody’s ever seen. Only my sister’s not green, except that she turns a funny color when I do mean things to her. When my brother screams . . . man-o-man, he could be one of those loud sirens in the war movies Dad likes to watch. And speaking of Dad, he reminds me of Zorro's bad brother. My dad keeps his whip tied around his waist at all times. He calls it a belt. But it's a whip. I should know.
My nickname is Tiger, because my parents say when I was little I was always in trouble. Seems funny though, because the times when they call me Tiger, I'm not in trouble and everything is okey dokey. I know I'm in trouble when they yell my name,
"Joe Willis!" That’s when I’m in real serious trouble.
This month I learned a really valuable lesson. I was with my mom when she got some things at the hardware store. At the checkout counter I heard her say, "Charge it." Then she started to walk out but I stopped her. "Mom," I whispered. "You have to go back and pay!"
She smiled at me just like Beaver's mom smiled at him and said, "It's okay. I charged it."
Charged it? What does that mean?
A few days later Mom asked me to ride my bike to the hardware store and get a few things for her. She told me to go up to the counter and say my last name and the words, “charge it.” I was curious about how this charge it stuff worked, so I got the things for my mother plus a model of a spaceship and a comic book for me. At the counter I told the nice man, "Smith, charge it." I waited, excited and scared all at the same time.
He put everything in a paper bag and handed it to me. I hesitated, and then walked from the store.
That night while my parents watched Perry Mason on our new black and white television, all I could think about was how my family didn't have to pay for the things we wanted anymore. I didn’t understand how it worked or why, but all we had to do was say, “charge it.” Wow! This was like a dream come true.
Almost every day after school, I pedaled my bike to that hardware store just as fast as I could. For a whole month I got models, and comic books and candy and gum! And the best part is I didn't have to pay! It didn't seem right to take everything I wanted so I just got a little bit every day. Besides, the basket on my bike wasn't big enough to hold everything.
Well, this weekend I was building one of my new models in the bedroom I had to share with my brother. That's when I heard a blood curdling shriek from my parents—both of them—and the words, "Joe Willis!" I heard Zorro's bad brother snap his whip and didn't even know why he was so angry. Then my mom and dad burst into the bedroom. My brother, in fear, pointed at me saying, "He did it!"
The whip was hanging in the air ready to snap. My dad looked so mad even the real Zorro would have lost against him that day. They demanded to know if I had bought all those toys and candy at the hardware store. My dad reared back, ready to strike. I held my hands up and screamed, "It's okay, it's okay. They didn't cost anything!" I was serious and I’m sure they could tell, because my dad hesitated and said, "What in the world are you talking about?"
In defense of my life I continued, "It didn't cost anything. I just charged it!" My mom saved me that day when she started laughing. My dad dropped the whip. They took me into the other room for a good talking to and that's when I learned that even if you charge it, you still have to pay for it…eventually.
When they were gone my sister came in my room and said, "You're so stupid."
"Oh, yeah? Wait until tonight," I mumbled under my breath.
That night when my sister was taking a hot shower, I took a glass of ice water, went in the bathroom, stood on the toilet, and threw the water over the curtain. Actually, come to think of it, she screams louder than my brother. Justice, I thought. I was laughing so hard and then she screamed, "Daddy, Tiger did it!"
"Joe Willis!" I could hear the snap of the whip. When Zorro’s bad brother stormed into our room, I pointed at my brother and said, “He did it!”
MY GRILLED TUNA
I like grilled cheese sandwiches but I like this one a lot better than the traditional kind. I prefer cheddar cheese but Velveeta will work in a pinch, and I always seem to have it around. When my kids were growing up, the good cheddar cheese seemed to disappear with them as fast as my peanut butter did with me.
Any type of bread will work but I prefer wheat. Use a lot of butter in the skillet and grill the bread until it’s brown and crispy or the cheese oozes out the sides. I use a half can of tuna and a lot of jalapenos. I leave the seeds in, but if you don’t like it too hot take the white seeds out of the peppers. If it’s Saturday it goes good with a beer, but I usually drink a Diet Coke. Then I’ll get out a can of corn or spinach, spice it up a little, and nuke it in the microwave. Makes for a nice little side dish to go with My Grilled Tuna.
Remember lying on the grass in your front yard and watching the stars? Your best friend was beside you and neither one of you uttered a word. Then a meteor flashed across the sky and both of you got excited and pointed to the sky. Our lives are like a flashing meteorite. Often the moments go unnoticed, but we do manage to brighten and touch the lives of those around us. Although we are not all famous or well-known, our stories are important. Each of us has a life in time. These are a series of short stories about my life. In the past I have heard a comparison I'm sure you have heard before, so let me ask you again. Who won the Super Bowl last year? Who won the Indy 500? Who won the last game of the World Series? Who were the Best Actor and Actress at the last Academy Awards? You might remember one but you probably don't know the others. Now ask yourself these questions. Do you remember the names of some of your teachers? What teacher helped you in high school? What valuable lessons did your mother and father teach you? And who was your best friend? They may not be famous but they brightened your life the same as that flashing meteorite.
I believe life has been an adventure and that we learn from all the things that have happened to us. The one thing I try to do is look at things in a humorous way. As a child I was called Tiger because I was always into things. I thought I was just curious. As a teenager the death of my father weighed heavy on me. We began to move around. I became angry; a “Rebel,” as some of my close friends called me. I had conflicts with religion. When my children were four and six I became a single parent. I learned a lot from them. .Most of the stories, I hope, will keep you laughing. There are some that are sad, but that is life. And that is what A Life in Time is all about.
As a child I was called Tiger because I was always into things. As a teenager the death of my father changed my life and my faith. We began to move around when my mother married my father’s best friend. The marriage didn’t last a year. I became angry; a “Rebel.” I had conflicts with religion. When my children were four and six I became a single parent. I learned a lot from them. I hope my stories will keep you laughing. Some are sad, but that is life.
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK:
The World is Round
The memory is still vivid in my mind. When I was in first grade I developed a love for science. It all came about in a strange way; beginning the day I learned the Earth was round.
First grade was so boring. See Spot run? I could watch my own dog run. I was sick of Spot.
One day Sarah Holcomb asked, "Mrs. Arrington, what is gravity?"
Stupid girls. Everybody knows what that is.
Mrs. Arrington asked the class, "Does anyone know what gravity is?"I waved my hand wildly. Time to shine. "Yes, Joe,” the teacher said smiling at me. “Tell us about gravity."
I was excited when I blurted out, "It's those little rocks. I watched my dad fill the flower bed with them on Saturday."
Everyone laughed, but the teacher just smiled. "No, that's gravel.
I shook my head up and down saying, "Yeah, that's what I said, gravity."
Everyone laughed again, but the teacher just smiled. "Hush class. If you know what it is raise your hand." Everyone was quiet. She continued, "You will learn about gravity in third grade."
Suddenly, it hit me. If I knew about gravity I'd be as smart as a third grader, so I said, "Tell us what it is, please.”
"Yes, tell us about gravity," Sarah interjected. Hey, that Sarah was okay.
Mrs. Arrington smiled. "Gravity is what keeps us on the ground."
I immediately looked at my shoes and was confused. How the heck do my feet keep me on the ground? And what about when I was always running around barefoot? I could see gravel but I sure couldn't see any gravity on my feet. What did gravity look like? She continued to tell us we lived on a planet called Earth and that the Earth was round.
Earth was what was under the gravel. My dad explained that to me when he put the plants in the ground. Only he called the dark ground earth. This teacher sure didn't know much. And round? I looked out the window. For as far as I could see the earth was flat. I thought I should show her but I didn't.
She went on to talk about magnetic pull and how it’s what keeps us on the ground. The kids all laughed again when I asked her how I stayed on the Earth since there was no magnet in me. I didn’t understand her answer. I looked at that round model of Earth she had and watched as she stuck magnets to it. And then I understood. If the Earth was round, then we must live on top. Well, it looked like the gravity, magnet, Earth thing was gonna have to wait until I was a third grader. But sitting at my first-grade desk, that seemed like forever away.
Then Mrs. Arrington said something that really got me. Circling the earth with her finger, she said, "You can travel around the Earth in any direction and you will eventually come back to where you started." No way. I'd been to my grandparents’ house and we always had to turn around and go back home the same direction we came. And my grandparents lived on the edge of forever because that's how long it took to get there. I remember begging my mom, "Are we there yet?" With a big smile, she would always tell me, "The sun has riz, the sun has set, and here we is, in Texas yet." That was forever.
The Earth is round. I just couldn't get that out of my mind. I drew a circle on a piece of paper and held it up. Yep, I was right. The Earth was flat. But there was something very important my first-grade teacher had done. Her words sparked an interest in science. From that moment on, I wanted to know why.
When I got home from school I went outside and lay face down on the sidewalk. With one eye closed and the other one lined flat with the concrete, I looked down the sidewalk. The earth was still flat. I thought about going around the world and ending up where I started. Impossible.
I asked my mom if the world was round, and she said yes. My mom never lied. But how could it be true? Even so, I needed to see it with my own eyes.
A few hours later my mom and dad said that they were going out to dinner and would be home late. They told me to mind my sister. I hated when my sister was boss. She was so mean. She would squeeze her fingernails in my arm until I did whatever she wanted. This night was no different, but this time when she let go I ran to the front door. She was gonna get it when they got home.
I yelled, "Tell Mom, I ran away." Then I ran out the front door. I'd fix her. We really weren't allowed to leave our yard. Sometimes I went to the house next to us, but that was only when my mother was with me. It was different this time. Today I was running away and I was already as far as I had ever gone. I was standing on the sidewalk in front of the house next to ours. I looked back at my house, turned, and continued to walk along the sidewalk, determined to go wherever it took me. The sidewalk made a sweeping curve to the left and then another. I kept walking and walking. There were so many things to look at and I looked at every one of them. There was another curve to the left. I followed the fascinating concrete path as it curved to the left again. I had rounded the fourth curve when I heard the bloodcurdling shriek. It was my sister, who had followed me and was not far behind. I looked ahead and ran for my life. And then, just down the street was the most amazing sight. Only two houses ahead was my own house. It shocked and awed me. The world was round! With no idea what I was doing, I had just made a complete circle of our block. Coming to a complete stop I realized I had just gone around the Earth! Stopping was the stupidest thing I had done. With her fingernails stuck in my arm, my sister started to drag me back the way we had just come.
I yelled and pointed. "No, look there is our house. We just went around the world."
"Don't be stupid," she snorted, without even as much as a glance back.
"No," I begged. "We're going the wrong way."
The fingernails kept me with her, but I pleaded my case the whole way, one right curve after another. My mouth dropped open. We had gone the other direction but there we were in front of our house! “Wow!” I thought. The world really is round!
These short stories are based on actual events, and parts from some of my novels, and children’s stories. Sebring, the Rainman is based on a race my son, Beaux, actually competed. What a race it was!
Some of the dialog from Flight 223 actually occurred. You see I was on flight 223 from Seattle to Houston during the 911 attack. A very strange and chaotic event I will never forget. I hope you enjoy these as much as I did bringing them to you.
Some of These shorts are based on actual events, and parts from my novels. Sebring, the Rainman is based on a race my son, Beaux, actually competed.
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK:
We had been in the air only a short time when the Continental pilot made his first announcement. I will never forget his words.
Flight 223 had been the worst flight I'd ever been on until the pilot spoke. The 6 AM Tuesday flight from Seattle to Houston seemed no different than any of the others I had flown every month for the last five years. But this morning everything was different. This was the first time in over a year I was not upgraded to first class. Still I hadn't thought this flight would be different from any of the others. Oh, if I had only known.
Flight 223 was the fourth leg in a trip that took me home to my wife and daughter every month. First I departed from the island drill site of Alpine in the Arctic Ocean, then caught BP's charter jet from Prudhoe Bay that took me off the slope to Anchorage, Alaska. From there I caught a flight to Seattle. The only bright side to being squeezed into row 27, seat E, was that as a gold member I could board first. A few coupons stuffed in my shirt pocket would get me a free glass of wine. A stiff drink was the first thing I needed, even though I didn't drink in the morning. I had stashed my bag in the overhead bin, taken my middle seat, and wondered how much worse the flight would become. I would soon find out.
As luck would have it a friend of mine, who had been waiting for another flight, pointed to a woman with a screaming child and had said she would be sitting on one side of me and a fat woman on the other. An oversized woman already sat to my right side. I laughed to myself and was relieved that she was not extremely large. Two beautiful women came towards me and I decided either one would be okay sitting next to me. They walked past. Funny how we grade people. Sometimes it comes back to haunt us.
I sat in my seat and watched more passengers board. Then the very woman my friend had pointed out came toward me on a mission. The child still cried. Well my friend was wrong. The woman and her child sat directly in front of me. I made a mental note to tell him he was only halfway correct. A Middle Eastern fellow came toward me, looked at the aisle seat next to me, looked up at the seat letters on the overhead bin, turned around and sat in seat C. It's a terrible thing to say but I was relieved. Funny how we stereotype people. And then I saw a huge man waddle down the aisle toward me. I wondered how on earth he could even get in a seat much less buckle up. I don't even think the aisle was wide enough but he still managed to squeeze through. I prayed he didn't have the seat next to me. I guess God was busy. The man had the seat next to me. I watched as he tried to stuff himself in the seat. He slowly crushed me over to the woman on my right. Curiosity more than anything made me watch and wonder how he would fasten his seatbelt. About that time the flight attendant brought him two seatbelt extensions. I found myself wishing the Middle Eastern man had sat next to me. A very nice couple sat next to him. Now I was sure it couldn't get any worse. Was I ever in store for the surprise of my life. It could get worse and it did.
When we lifted into the air I took my shoes off and tried to stretch out best as I could. I was sipping my red wine and it was a good thing because the kid in front of me continued to cry. The woman on my right started sneezing and the man on my left couldn't get his tray down to eat. Suddenly my socks felt wet. "Oh my God," I screamed silently, sure the kid in front of me had urinated on my feet. A few moments later I was somewhat relieved to find out the woman's child had only spilt his milk. I hate the feeling of wet socks.
I gritted my teeth and told myself, "Only four hours and this flight will be over." I had no way of knowing this flight would not be four hours and it would not end in Houston.
The flight attendants walked down the aisle serving us peanuts and drinks. Their faces filled with helpful smiles and pleasantries. Whatever you needed or wanted they were instantly ready to serve. It was always that way.
Then the captain made that fateful announcement, "Ladies and Gentlemen, we have word that a plane has hit one of the World Trade Center towers in New York."
That was when it all started. It wasn't funny but we all laughed, including me. We didn't really know.
An older man spoke up, "I don't understand why they let those small prop planes fly so close to those tall buildings."
People laughed. One passenger snidely said, "It was inevitable a small plane would eventually get stuck in the side of one of those buildings. Some of those pilots are just stupid."
"Can't wait to see it on the news tonight," said another.
Again, some of the people laughed, others shook their head. The two beautiful women kept talking to each other like they had never heard anything. The big guy next to me kept eating food he had brought on. Man where did he hide all that food? A few shook their head in disgust and I noted that the Middle Eastern man smiled and nodded his head like he knew something.
A moment later the pilot made another disturbing announcement. "I'm sad to announce that a second plane just crashed into the other Twin Tower. I'll have more information in a minute."
People weren't laughing this time. It made a person wonder how two planes could have hit the Twin Towers. But the speculation ended quickly.
There was no humor in the Captain's next announcement. "This is the Captain we have terrible news," he said. "We have confirmed that each of the Twin Towers in New York have been hit by passenger airliners. We're sorry but when we land in Houston this flight will not continue and you will need to reschedule your flight. We will keep you updated on this tragic event."
Visions of a small prop plane vanished. The Captain was clear and we all heard: A second passenger airliner! The horror of a passenger jet smashing into a skyscraper could not even be fathomed.
Funny, in an instant that kid, the milk and the people on each side of me were forgotten.
Many were horrified at the news. A few cried. Some showed fear and confusion. Everyone started talking at once. For the first time I could ever remember, the voices of the passengers actually drowned out the scream of the jet engines. People could not comprehend. They all spoke at once.
A young woman asked, "A passenger airliner?"
"That's what he said," verified another.
"Not a passenger plane?"
"It can't be. That's impossible."
"How did it happen?
"He said two."
And then the question everybody really wanted to know was finally asked, "Who do you think did it?"
Many started tossing out wild guesses like popcorn popping in a microwave. A few gave their personal theories as to what had happened and who had done it.
I was shocked and stunned, not so much by what had happened to the Twin Towers, but rather what I had written about such a thing actually happening. Things were beginning to transpire just like I had written in my novel Moon Shadow. It was eerie, almost scary. I could feel my spine tingle and the hair rise on my neck. The woman next to the Middle Eastern fellow ventured, "You know the President threatened China if they tried to take Taiwan. Do you think it was China attacking?"
In perfect English the Middle Eastern man assured her, "I'm sure it wasn't China." I added, "China wants our trade. Their economy is growing. China doesn't want this."
"What about Russia?" someone else guessed.
"It couldn't be them either," said another passenger. "They're still too weak. And besides we've become like allies. We need each other.
I wanted to tell them I knew who had done it. But I hesitated. When I opened my mouth they would all think I was crazy.
An angry man next to the lady in front of me stood, turned to the others and said, "It's God's will against us."
The Middle Eastern man chuckled to himself.
"Bullshit!" snapped a person a few aisles behind me, "Always blaming God."
"Or Allah," quipped the Middle Eastern man.
The angry man continued, "You didn't let me finish. Someone always uses God or Allah as an excuse to explain or condone everything that happens."
Some nodded and mumbled in agreement and disagreement.
The angry man looked at the Middle Eastern man and extended his hand. "Mike."
The Middle Eastern man extended his hand, "Rasht, Rasht Sharafan."
I tried to stand and extend my hand to them, "Bo."
The lady next to Rasht extended her hand, "Maggie." She motioned to the man sitting next to her, "My husband."
He flashed a quick smile and greeted the others including me, "Rich Pyle."
Mike continued, "Whoever did this hates America and let me tell you we have a lot of enemies. Our own government has become the policeman of the world. We sanction any country, or remove any leader we decide to take out. Somalia, Grenada, Cuba, Panama, Noriega, Saddam Hussein and the list goes on."
While he spoke I could hear others break off and begin to quibble and argue.
Another passenger said, "It's Bush's fault. How could he let this happen?"
"This wouldn't have happened if Clinton hadn't screwed the country and left the government in shambles," another speculated.
"Clinton didn't screw the country," said another seriously. Then he chuckled and added, "He was too busy screwing the interns." The man's wife tapped him on the head with her hand.
"Those damn illegal aliens are responsible."
Mike continued, "We remove and replace leaders in the world like they were pawns on a chessboard. There was a war under Bush's father; you can bet there will be another one for Corporate America this time too."
One of the beautiful women I had seen earlier speculated, "We arrested those drug dealers from Colombia. Do you suppose they did it?"
This time I interjected, "I'm married to a woman from Colombia and I can tell you now it isn't anyone from Colombia."
It was too late. I felt I had the answer and although I knew no one would like my response I decided to tell them anyway.
"I think I know what happened." Many heads turned towards me. "First of all, whoever did this committed suicide. If a jet crashed into a building no one survived." I waited for that to sink in to their minds. "No Colombian drug lord is willing to commit suicide. Oh, they'll kill you but not if it will cost them their life. Whoever did this died. And I can also tell you it wasn't any American pilot."
Before I could finish someone snapped sarcastically, "And how would you know that?" "Simple," I said, "even threatened with death an American pilot would not fly into a building knowing it would kill more people. Someone else was flying each of those planes. They knew what they were doing and they knew they were going to die." Sharafan tried to hide his smile.
"I could be wrong because the last time something like this happened we all pointed our fingers at the Middle East, but it turned out to be an American; Timothy McVeigh. Still if I had to venture a wild guess, I would say it was someone from the Middle East. I'm sure you remember the 1993 bombing of the Twin Towers?" I paused to get their attention, and none listened more attentively than Sharafan, Mike and the Pyle's.
All of them listened to me, "I think the man behind this attack is a man called Osama bin Laden."
"And how did you come up with that analysis?" someone asked.
I noticed Sharafan listened even more intently.
For a moment I hesitated. I was afraid my words would be the death of me. My stand against the government had caused me grief in the past so I tried to tone my words down but it was difficult. I prayed it didn't happen again.
"I wrote about something like this."
"You’re a reporter?"
"A news broadcaster?" another asked.
Everybody started guessing at once and then I held my hand up. "No. I'm none of these. I wrote about Osama bin Laden in my novel Moon Shadow."
Suddenly there was silence but someone a few rows back groaned, "Fiction?
Give me a break," snapped an angry passenger.
Someone spouted, "This isn't fiction buddy. It's actually happening."
A few of the passengers laughed and waved me off.
"A novel," Sharafan mused.
Mike and Maggie still seemed interested. Maggie even said, "I'd like to hear more."
"Then who could have done this?" someone asked me.
"In my novel the United States is attacked by a Coalition of Middle Eastern and South American countries, tired of American world Domination." I pointed at Mike,
"He is close on his guess."
"See I told you," said Mike.
"Continue," said Sharafan.
Things were happening so fast. My head was spinning. Who would believe me? I had written a novel where three passenger airliners were hijacked and used to attack the United States. I had written a story of fiction. It was hard for me to believe but it was actually happening. "Well in Moon Shadow they used three hijacked airliners to initiate the attack."
A few chuckled and a few mumbled obscenities but Mike, Sharafan, Maggie and Rich were still listening.
I had their attention. "Whoever did this was someone who was willing to die for what he wanted. I'm probably wrong because like I said the last time something like this happened it was Oklahoma City and many thought it was someone from the Middle East, when it actually turned out to be an American. But, I've been studying, reading and writing about Osama bin Laden for years. His dream has been to destroy the World Trade Center. It is said he was associated with the Twin Towers bombing a few years ago. If I were to pick someone who was responsible for what has happened today, Osama bin Laden would be my first choice."
Most of those listening looked at me like I was crazy.
A passenger scoffed, "Three airliners. Yeah, right."
And then the Captain made another announcement, "Ladies and Gentlemen, we have more terrible news. A third passenger airliner has crashed into the Pentagon."
All heads turned to me and there was a deathly silence except for the roar of the jet engines.
Oh, my God they had done it, and it was in my novel.
There were gasps and cries as the Captain continued. "The president has ordered all planes to return to their point of origin. We are returning to Seattle." Mike screamed, "Bullshit, I need to be in Houston."
We could all feel the aircraft start its turn signaling our return to Seattle. I was just as angry as the others. Most were still in shock. Only a few appeared calm, including Sharafan.
"Damn I need to get home," I mumbled.
The flight attendant made an announcement, "I'm sorry but this flight has been cancelled. When we arrive in Seattle you will need to go to the ticket counter and make arrangements for an alternate flight. Thank you for flying Continental and keep us when mind on your future flights."
"What about now, this is a crock of shit!" screamed Mike. One of the flight attendants confronted Mike, "Please sir you must return to your seat."
"I have future plans right now. I want to go to Houston."
I tried to intervene, "Hey Mike, calm down there isn't anything any of us can do.” Just when the flight attendant appeared to have calmed Mike, anther man created a new panic.
With each word his voice rose in intensity, "Why are we turning around? What's wrong with the plane?"
It appeared to be his wife or friend that pulled on his shirt, "Jim, sit down."
"Everything is fine," the flight attendant tried to reassure him.
Then Jim panicked, "What's happening? Who's flying the plane?"
Jim glared at Sharafan who caught his gaze. Sharafan groaned and looked away like,
Jim asked, "Where are the pilots? They didn't turn this plane around. Someone else is flying."
"Please sir," begged the flight attendant. "Sit down."
He moved toward the flight attendant but another passenger stepped between them.
"Hey buddy, stop."
I jumped in, "Jim, I would bet this is a precaution. The Captain told us the President said to turn around. I guarantee the President didn't pick us out. I would bet we are not the only plane that just turned around."
His pleading eyes turned to the flight attendant. She was relieved, "That is correct. The Captain told me that all aircraft in the air have been ordered to land"
The man appeared to relax. His wife pulled on his shirt and begged him, "Sit down Jim."
He looked around rather confused then sat down quietly. The man that was ready to stop him returned to his seat and the flight attendant smiled to me and said, "Thanks. Can I get you anything?"
I smiled, "Another small bottle of red wine."
People need to look at their government. I have written articles for over 20 years; from the first Bush to Obama. We have problems we need to face and quit sticking our head in the sand. It's okay to be a liberal or a conservative, but neither exists in our government today. Our politicians do everything but what they were elected to do: Represent the People. If you are open minded you will enjoy this. If you've only voted one party all of your life then don't download this book. Stop to look at what our politicians are doing today. If you are an open minded Christian you might enjoy this. And if you are you must admit God is probably not too happy. Atheists are offended. Everyone should be offended that they are offended. When talking about being Christian in the military becomes an act of "treason," then we have bigger problems. America has spent so much time protecting each individual’s rights that no one has any rights. Throughout history every great empire has collapsed; there have been no exceptions. To all the military living and dead who served the United States of America, with honor and sacrifice for freedom and their country, may the actions of Congress and our Presidents not make their dedication in to God and country in vain. WARNING! This is for mature audiences so if you’re a Democrat or Republican who always voted the same ticket, this is not for you, because it means you are incapable of thinking on your own, so I’d rather you not buy it. If you are a frustrated American upset with the current administrations then you may find these scribbles quit enjoyable. Should I Forget A simple reminder, since I might forget. These are scribbles of an Old Fart and you may find repetitions. This is due to “Oldheimers.” DISCLAIMER Any resemblance to political persons in office is purely intentional. FOR PETA’S SAKE! For your peace of mind let it be known that NO animals were injured during the making of these meandering scribbles. GIVE ME A BREAK! I’m not a racist, and I’m not a terrorist, I’m just trying to be funny and open your eyes to other solutions. If you have better ideas then you write a book. FINAL WARNING! Before you read this I must remind you that you have three choices. You can only pick one so be careful. You are a Democrat, a Republican or an American. If you picked one of the first two then don’t get this book and if you do then don’t complain. Americans tell the truth, the other two don’t. Offended yet? You will be; unless you’re an American. FOR OBAMA I’M AMERICA’S BIGGEST THREAT I’m a white, Christian, heterosexual, and I believe in traditional marriage. I am America’s Biggest Threat. Get Over It!
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