What is he talking about? Oh, yeah—something about a unique rock stratum that is supposed to be a tell-tale marker for the presence of petroleum. Jeremy had heard that claim too many times to count. His more experienced colleagues at British Energy, Ltd.—that was the politically correct term for the old farts close to retirement—had long ago convinced Jeremy that there are no absolutes when it comes to where petroleum and gas may be found.
Truth is, every few years someone makes a strike where it shouldn’t be, at least not according to accepted theory. Oil is where you find it, and being the first to find it—or just as important, control it—is what the game is all about.
But right now, what Jeremy really needed was a well-mixed gin and tonic, and sleep. Maybe with a couple drinks and two of those little blue sleeping tablets, he would pass the night with few stirs.
He was pulled back to the present by the sound of applause, and Jeremy realized the presentation was completed. All he had to do now was endure maybe ten minutes of questions, and then he could leave with 500 or so other zombies who, like Jeremy, were struggling to stay awake and attentive at 5:00 P.M. Caracas time, whatever that was.
All the attendees applauded again, then gathered up their notepads and briefcases and started to file out of the main conference room. The chatter from hundreds of voices merged into a mild roar, punctuated by an occasional metallic clang as the hotel staff began stacking chairs as soon as they were vacated. The opening day of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists Hedberg Conference had mercifully concluded.
The conference rooms were one floor above the hotel lobby. Jeremy decided he could use a short walk. Besides, the elevators would be packed for the next ten to twenty minutes with all the other conference delegates rushing to their rooms. Jeremy walked to the grand staircase that led down to the lobby with a graceful sweeping curve, checking his phone for messages along the way. There were a dozen emails from various colleagues, but he would answer them later, maybe over a drink in the bar.
The lobby of the Gran Meliá Caracas Hotel was indeed as beautiful as the conference brochure had promised. With rich wood paneling on the ceiling, wood wainscoting, French marble tables thoughtfully placed around the lobby, crystal chandeliers, and 16th-century Spanish tapestries decorating the walls, the European elegance was obvious yet tasteful.
This would be a nice place to visit with his family, he thought. His two daughters, Mary, age five, and Madeline, seven, would be perfectly happy spending all day at the pool under the tropical sun. His wife, an ardent sun worshipper, would also like that. And with Prosciutto’s serving poolside meals and drinks, who would ever need to leave the comfort and luxury of the hotel?
Jeremy walked up to the reception desk, stretching his lower back as he did so.
The receptionist greeted Jeremy with a warm smile. “Good evening,” she said. Her command of English was good, with only a moderate accent.
“Hello. Are there any messages for Dr. Jeremy Hitchcock? I’m staying in room 1143.”
She looked down—obviously a computer monitor was installed below the leading edge of the reception desk—and typed in a query, pausing for a moment before looking up again at Jeremy.
“No sir, no messages. Is there anything else I may do to be of assistance?”
“No, thank you. Have a good evening.” Jeremy turned and walked to the bank of elevators. He stretched again and took a deep breath, then slowly exhaled. Time to take a quick shower, put on a clean change of clothes, and then find the gin and tonic that he was sure he could hear calling his name.
The shower did wonders to energize Jeremy. As he grabbed his passport, wallet, and room keycard, he decided to take the hotel-supplied newspaper with him: the International Herald Tribune.
Born, raised, and educated in the United States, Jeremy was an expatriate living in the United Kingdom. He had taken his first job with British Energy following graduation with a degree in geochemistry. He was given an assignment out of an office in London. There he met Molly, a colleague who, like Jeremy, was a recent graduate beginning her professional career. They dated for six months before he proposed and she accepted.
Upon first meeting, Molly and Jeremy were to many to an odd, unexpected couple—he with his six-foot, wire-thin frame, short black hair, and wire-rim glasses in stark contrast to Molly’s short but athletic build and sandy-blond, wavy hair that fell gracefully to her shoulders. But whenever they were together the intimate bond they shared radiated from the pair, an unmistakable beacon communicating a deep love and respect for each other.
Molly had no interest in leaving her native England and moving to the United States, and Jeremy’s career path did not point in that direction anyway. So they had settled into a comfortable life just outside of London, although Jeremy still carried his U.S. passport. Someday, perhaps not until he retired, he assumed they would leave Britain for America. Sometimes they would talk about where they would live after Mary and Madeline had gone off to college—would it be New England or the Rockies? Maybe southern California—Molly had heard so much about California but had never been there.
Jeremy tucked the newspaper under his arm and walked into the hallway, pausing to ensure the door was securely latched. Arriving at the bank of elevators, he glanced at his reflection in a mirror and was adjusting the collar of his polo shirt when the familiar chime sounded, announcing the arrival of the elevator.
The Gran Meliá Hotel did not earn a five-star rating by cutting corners. That was equally true for the hotel’s restaurants. Tonight, Jeremy decided to eat at L’Albufera, which was serving a tantalizing blend of Spanish and Mediterranean cuisine.
He was seated quickly, somehow managing to beat the crowd of conference delegates. As Jeremy scanned the menu, thoughtfully printed in both Spanish and English, the waiter approached his table.
“Good evening, sir. May I get something for you from the bar?”
“Absolutely—I’ll have a double gin and tonic, Bombay Blue Sapphire, please.”
“Certainly. Would you also like some tapas to enjoy while you are looking over the menu?”
“Yes, I think so. It all looks very tasty. What would you recommend?”
“The sampler plate is very popular, but the portions are rather generous. You may find it a bit much if you also plan to order a full dinner.”
“You know, the sampler plate does sound good. Let’s do that.”
“Very good, sir. I’ll be right back with your cocktail.”
Jeremy found himself beginning to relax. He opened the Tribune and scanned the front page. The headline story concerned tensions between the governments of Colombia and Ecuador over a long-standing border dispute. His gin and tonic arrived, and Jeremy took a sip… then another. Further down the front page was a story about Venezuela’s role in OPEC. It was written with the usual anti-U.S. propaganda, proclaiming that the U.S. and European countries were essentially stealing the national resources of Latin America, as they had done for centuries.
After Jeremy had another sip of his drink, the waiter arrived with the plate of tapas. It was indeed a very large portion, and Jeremy did not waste any time digging in. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was.
Finished, he wiped his mouth with his napkin and leaned back in his chair. His attentive waiter appeared, as if on cue, to take away the plates and brush the crumbs off the table. “Would you like to see a dessert menu?”
“No, I don’t think so. It was all very good, and I’m stuffed. I’ll take the check and retire to the bar for another drink.”
“Of course. I’ll be right back.”
In keeping with the lobby furnishings and decorations, the bar suggested a classic Old World style and was fabricated from solid mahogany stained a traditional deep red-brown, surfaced with sheets of copper. An assortment of stemware hung from brass rails above the bar. Jeremy pulled up a stool,
and his eyes were immediately drawn to the selection of gin on display, amongst a great variety of vodkas and whiskeys—including American bourbons, Canadian, Irish, and single-malt Scotch.
The bartender took Jeremy’s order and promptly placed a gin and tonic in front of him. Jeremy continued to skim through the paper and sip his drink. It had been a long day. He would get to his email in due time, but for now he intended to enjoy his drink and newspaper.
He came to the international section, which was mostly a collection of one-paragraph pieces picked off the wire services. A story on the lower right corner of the page caught his eye: “Body Found at London Ritz.”
He read further:
“The body of a man, believed to be a hotel guest, was discovered at the Ritz at Piccadilly Circus. According to London police the cause of death is still under investigation, but early reports suggest the man died of ricin poisoning.”
Jeremy was no biochemist, but he was pretty sure ricin was not a substance someone was likely to encounter in daily life. The deceased had been identified as Professor Mark Phillips of Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
Jeremy read the name again, thinking he had surely made a mistake. After all, he was tired and was on his second drink. But he had made no mistake. There it was, in black and white—Mark Phillips.
“No, that can’t be…”
Mark Phillips was a friend and long-time colleague. They often met at conferences, and Mark had offered to host Jeremy’s family should they ever wish to vacation in the States. In fact, Jeremy had expected Mark to be at this conference.
Mark… dead? How could he come in contact with ricin? It just didn’t make any sense.
Jeremy was stunned. His arms collapsed to the bar with the crumpled newspaper still clenched tightly in his fists. He stared at the story.
The bartender approached. “Is everything all right, sir?”
Jeremy seemed to not hear the bartender as he stared in silence at the crumpled paper.
“Sir, may I get anything for you?”
He looked up from the newspaper but not at the bartender. “No. I’m fine.”
Jeremy continued to nurse his drink. His thoughts went back to his many visits with Mark. They had first met years before at a conference on petroleum exploration. Mark and Jeremy hit it off from the beginning. They often enjoyed discussing their work; Mark was passionate about his theories on abiogenic oil formation—the theory that oil is not derived solely from dead plant and animal material but is also a product of inorganic reactions. Jeremy was part of a small group within British Energy that shared similar ideas.
In fact, that was why Jeremy was here at the Hedberg Conference. Tomorrow morning he was scheduled to present a paper discussing recent progress on correlating significant new oil-producing fields with predictions from the abiogenic group.
My paper, yes. Jeremy glanced at his watch—it was almost 8:00 P.M. He decided to finish his drink and go back to his room and try to sleep. Suddenly, Jeremy felt very, very tired.
Jeremy woke the next morning, five minutes before his alarm. He felt rested despite being upset by Mark’s death. He would contact Mark’s family when he returned to London. This morning, he needed to focus on presenting his paper. He dressed quickly in a gray suit and white shirt with a golden-yellow patterned tie.
He was scheduled to present his paper in a special breakout session focused on abiogenic theories of oil and gas production. With the theories no longer cast off as nonsense, the professional community now allowed for a small portion of the mainstream conference to be devoted to this rather unorthodox collection of hypotheses.
Jeremy walked confidently into the meeting room. It was still early; the session would not begin for fifteen minutes. At the front of the conference room was a small stage, elevated maybe twelve inches from the floor, containing a podium in the center with a table and four chairs to its left. The first group of three speakers along with the session chairman would be seated at the table.
Since Jeremy was scheduled to be the first to present his results, he walked to the front of the meeting room and introduced himself to the man who, he guessed, was the session chair.
“Hi, I’m Jeremy Hitchcock.”
“Pleased to meet you. I’m Bill Shell.”
As they shook hands Jeremy glanced at his name badge. William Shell, Group Leader, Excelon Petroleum.
“I’ll queue up your first slide after I introduce you to the audience.” Pointing to a small remote controller with two buttons, Bill continued, “Press this button to advance the slide and this button if you want to go back.”
“Got it,” Jeremy confirmed.
“You’ll have no more than 25 minutes for your presentation, and I’ll stop you if you go over. There will be five minutes for questions. Be sure to repeat the question so everyone hears it. I think that’s it.”
Jeremy nodded his head. “Should be fine, thanks.”
Bill clipped a small microphone to the lapel of Jeremy’s suit and showed him how to switch on the transmitter, a box the size of a pack of cards connected by a slim wire to the microphone. Bill clipped the transmitter to Jeremy’s belt.
By now the room was beginning to fill up. Forty to 50 people had already arrived and taken seats. Many were sipping coffee from paper cups. Several groups of two or three people each were talking quietly—probably colleagues catching up on the latest gossip.
After introducing himself to the other speakers, Jeremy sat at his place at the table along with the second and third scheduled presenters. Bill took the podium and addressed the audience to signal the start of the session.
“Good morning! Welcome to this special session on abiogenic oil formation.”
The security guard at the back of the room closed the double doors as everyone became quiet and looked towards the front.
“I’m sure you’ll agree we have an interesting program this morning, one that is certain to stimulate a lot of lively discussion. Our first speaker is Dr. Jeremy Hitchcock. Dr. Hitchcock has been with British Energy for nine years, where he leads a group—“
Suddenly the double doors at the back of the meeting room burst open and five men stormed into the room. They were dressed in loose-fitting black robes with wide sashes tied around their waists. Their heads were covered in scarves so that only their eyes, noses, and mouths were visible. From where Jeremy was sitting, he could see that the men had dark complexions.
“What the heck?” Jeremy thought he mouthed the words, but it must have been audible because the lady sitting next to him answered “I don’t know,” as she shook her head.
The lead man abruptly turned to his right, facing the security guard who had a startled look on his face. In one fluid motion the robed man pulled a pistol that had been hidden beneath his sash and shot the guard in the head, killing him instantly.
A scream emanated from somewhere in the back of the room, and immediately men and women jumped from their chairs, moving away from the robed intruders like a wave pulsating away from a rock thrown into a pond. The scream was soon replaced by a din of shouts and clattering of chairs knocked over by the human surge seeking distance from the murderous men. But this sound, too, soon died down and was replaced by an eerie stillness.
The other robed men closed the doors and then moved out around the periphery of the room. The man with the pistol strode confidently down the center aisle, pistol still clutched in his hand; the stunned audience stared at him. No one dared to make a sound. He stepped in front of the podium and nodded to his comrades. They all opened their robes to reveal short automatic rifles.
At the sight of the weapons, the woman next to Jeremy began to whimper softly. Her mewling sounded mournful, and in the absence of any other sounds a dozen pairs of eyes looked at her curiously.
Jeremy placed his hand on her arm to comfort her. But she brushed his hand away and pushed back her chair, starting to rise.
“Sit down and be still,” Jeremy commanded, making no effort to be diplomatic. The man holding the pistol turned and glared at him, and the woman did as she was told, but her sobbing carried on.
The initial confusion in Jeremy’s mind was rapidly overcome by raw terror. Beads of perspiration formed on his forehead; he tried to swallow, but his throat was dry. Then he noticed a small package strapped to the waist of each of the four intruders who now surrounded the audience. The olive drab packages looked to be made of plastic.
Jeremy could clearly see the package on the closest man. It had writing molded into it that read: “This Side Toward Enemy”. His blood turned ice cold; he recognized these as mines from scenes in the movie Swordfish—Claymore directional antipersonnel mines—engineered to blast hundreds of steel balls forward in a sweeping arc of death and destruction. Each mine contained about a pound of C4 explosive, and that alone, in the confined space of the conference room, would likely kill everyone.
The man with the pistol stretched his arms above his head and spoke, “Listen to me!”
The command seemed to catalyze another wave of fear, and a chorus of sobbing began anew. He spoke again, this time more forcefully. “Quiet! Listen to me!”
The room quieted, but only somewhat. He continued, “My name is Kaseem. We are here to conduct a simple business transaction. You people are our insurance policy. Do what you are told, and no one else will be harmed.” Despite his foreign appearance, Kaseem spoke English well, and his accent suggested an American education.
He looked around the room, the pistol still plainly visible in his hand. “Everyone move to the center of the room.” Slowly, three men sitting near the back of the room stood and moved forward toward the center. Bill Shell, Jeremy, and the two other speakers stepped down from the stage and also gathered in the center of the room. Jeremy had his arm around the shoulder of the woman he had tried to calm, her panic seemingly replaced by a state of shock, her face ashen and eyes unfocused.
“Sit down and shut up!” Kaseem ordered. He then removed a cell phone from under his robe and dialed.
In a calm voice Kaseem said, “I wish to report a shooting at the Gran Meliá Hotel in Sabana Grande. I have hostages. I will negotiate a ransom for their safe return.” He hung up and addressed the room. “Soon the police will arrive. Then we can conduct our business and be gone.”
To the side of Jeremy a voice spoke up, “What do you want with us? When can we go?” Jeremy glanced towards the voice.
Kaseem replied, “I should think our intentions are quite clear. You are our hostages. We intend to ransom you to the Venezuelan government. If you resist or try to escape, you will be killed. We have explosives strapped to our bodies—we are all ready to die if necessary.”
The room was silent. No one dared speak. Everyone, except for the five terrorists, was seated. Jeremy glanced around at the faces. Terror and shock registered on every one of them. Only moments before these people were proud, confident… even arrogant. Now they were cowering like beaten dogs, heads hanging down and avoiding eye contact with the terrorists.
Finally, the silence was interrupted by the sound of frantic movement outside in the hall followed by a knock at the door and the sound of a bullhorn.
“This is Captain Ortiz with the Caracas police department. We wish to speak with whoever is in charge.”
“I am in charge. I can hear you fine!” Kaseem shouted. “Carefully slide a cell phone past the door. But do not try anything that you will later regret.”
The door was pushed open slightly and a cell phone slid across the floor, then the door closed again. One of the robed men picked up the phone and carried it to Kaseem. A minute later it rang. “This is Kaseem. We have explosives and we will kill the hostages unless we are paid ten million U.S. dollars. We also want safe passage to any destination of our choosing in South America. We will take several of the hostages as insurance; they will be released after we have escaped unharmed. You have one hour. Have I made myself clear?”
Captain Ortiz replied, “Yes, I understand. But you must also understand that I do not have the authority to agree to your demands. I must report to my superior.”
“Then contact your superior. I expect your answer within 60 minutes, or the first hostage will be shot.” Kaseem did not wait for a reply; he simply closed the phone and smiled wickedly.
Barely 30 minutes had passed since the robed men burst into the room. A paramilitary team arrived and barricaded the circular driveway in front of the hotel, posting two guards with machine guns at the lobby entrance. A man wearing the insignia of an army major emerged from the command vehicle. Above his breast pocket was a patch that bore his name—Muriel. He strode confidently through the lobby and was met by Captain Ortiz.
“Major, I am Captain Ortiz. I have spoken with the terrorists. They are demanding ten million U.S. dollars plus safe passage. They say they will begin to kill the hostages in…,” Ortiz glanced at his watch, “sixteen minutes, unless we agree to their demands.”
The major stared, devoid of expression, at Ortiz. He appeared to be deep in thought. Ortiz saw cunning and purpose in the major’s eyes.
“Take me to these terrorists,” Major Muriel ordered. They turned and marched up the staircase to the door of the meeting room. Captain Ortiz gave a cell phone to Muriel. “We have spoken to the terrorists by phone. Just press #1 and the connect button.”
As they reached the top of the stairs, the major opened the phone and speed-dialed the terrorists. Kaseem answered. “You are almost out of time. Are you prepared to meet my demands?”
“This is Major Muriel of the Venezuelan Army. I have spoken with Captain Ortiz; you are asking for a lot. I am not sure we can agree to your demands.”
“That is too bad, Major, for you and me. We are prepared to die today. Are you prepared to have these hostages die as well? That is what will happen, I assure you. A security guard is already dead. You will have the next body in precisely seven minutes unless I have assurances that my demands will be met.”
“How do I know that the hostages are still alive and well? Allow me to enter the room and speak with you face-to-face.”
Kaseem paused for a minute, then, “Very well. But I warn you, no tricks. If you bring a weapon in here, you will be executed. Is that clear?”
“Yes, very clear.”
Major Muriel gave the cell phone to Ortiz. “I’m going in to check the condition of the hostages and buy us some time. I need to know how many terrorists we have in there and what weapons they have.” Then he unbuckled his pistol belt and gave it to Ortiz.
Muriel slowly cracked the door open. “I am coming in, alone and unarmed.”
He walked in slowly and deliberately, hands above his head, fingers interlaced. The door closed behind him. Muriel stood inside the door, slowly looking around the room. The hostages were clustered in the center while the terrorists were stationed so that each had control of a quadrant. All brandished AK-47 rifles with either short or sawn-off butt stocks.
The terrorist nearest to his left approached with his rifle casually aimed at Muriel’s torso. The terrorist leader walked swiftly to Muriel from the front of the room.
He spoke softly to avoid being overheard by the hostages. “Praise be to Allah.”
And the major replied, “Blessed are his children and all who follow the words of the Prophet.”
“I am Kaseem. You have our money and transportation ready?”
“All is proceeding according to plan. Are the Claymores armed?”
“Yes, just as we were instructed. I have the detonator.” Kaseem produced a small remote control device from his waist belt.
“Very good. Keep your men tightly positioned with the hostages, just in case some macho policeman barges in here trying to be a hero. I will go back out and make a show of our negotiations and explain to the local police captain that you and your men and a handful of hostages will be escorted by me and my team to awaiting transportation. He may object, but he has no authority in the matter. I will calm him by explaining that you have agreed to release the remaining hostages at the airport.
“I will return in ten minutes with six of my men. Together we will bind the hostages and then place the Claymores. Two minutes after we leave the room you will detonate the mines. The explosion will confuse the police and soldiers and aid our escape. Your money will be waiting in the escape vehicles.”
With his brief instructions issued, Major Muriel turned smartly and left the room. Kaseem quickly faced back toward the group of hostages and ordered his men to pull in tight near the terrified scientists and engineers. If they were stormed, either through the main entrance doors or from the back by the stage, no one would dare shoot for fear of killing a hostage.
Muriel walked down the hallway, and as he reached the staircase to the lobby, Captain Ortiz intercepted him. “Sir, what did they say?”
“The terrorists repeated their demands, but the hostages are all in good condition. Keep your men posted here and stay alert. I will communicate the situation to my commanding officer and will return shortly. Captain, do not leave your post. Is that understood?”
Major Muriel proceeded down the staircase. When he reached the bottom, he turned toward the lobby door and removed a small transmitter from his breast pocket. It was a small black plastic device with a single button—just like the one Kaseem had shown him. Muriel pushed a toggle switch on the side of the transmitter to the on position and a tiny red LED illuminated. Then he moved his thumb to the button and, without a further thought, pressed it.
The result was instantaneous. There was a deafening sound followed immediately by the blast wave. In the meeting room, all four of the Claymores strapped to the bodies of the terrorists simultaneously detonated, sending their deadly volley of steel balls ripping through the hostages as if they were made of paper.
The terrorist themselves were killed instantly by the force of the explosives; many of the hostages were not so lucky.
The police officers in the hall outside the meeting room panicked. The blast and the steel balls were not contained by the flimsy walls of the meeting room. Three officers were on the floor, bleeding from leg wounds where shrapnel had torn into their flesh. The two officers standing guard at the entry doors lay dead, having been hit in the head and back by the doors when they were blasted from their hinges and hurled into the hall.
In the ensuing confusion Major Muriel calmly walked out of the hotel and into a waiting white Mercedes sedan parked around the corner on Avenue Casanova. He sat in the back seat and closed the door, then instructed his driver to take him to the safe house. His mission was completed exactly as planned.
Inside the conference room the scene was horrendous. Chairs were thrown about; papers littered the floor. A crystal chandelier dangled precariously from the ceiling, with most of the light bulbs shattered. Blood splattered the walls, and the carpet was soaked with more blood and gore. Bodies were scattered haphazardly.
Jeremy was lying on his stomach. He hurt in too many places, and he could not feel his legs. The world was strangely silent, both eardrums shattered by the explosions; blood trickled from his nose and ears. His right hand felt wet, and it was very hard to breathe.
He thought of Mary and Madeline — their golden hair bouncing as they ran toward him—smiling, laughing. He was sure he could hear their giggles.
Oddly, Jeremy thought he was having a bad dream, a horrible nightmare. Somehow, in his mind, he was looking down at himself lying on the green, cool grass at home, and Mary and Madeline were tugging at his sleeve, begging him to wake up. He could hear them and feel their touch, but he could not make his eyes open.
All he had to do was open his eyes and the nightmare would be over, but he couldn’t shake the slumber. It was so strange, he thought, being able to look upon his prone body sleeping while his daughters frantically tried to wake him.
Then his mind focused again on their bright, innocent faces framed in wavy blond hair, just like their mother’s. Only now they were shouting to him.
“Daddy! Daddy! Wake up! Please, wake up!”
He wanted so much to reach out and hug them, to tell them how much he loved them, how much he loved their mother. He thought of his beloved wife, how beautiful she was, her warm embrace.
Then a stabbing, slicing pain racked Jeremy’s body as his conscious mind fought to regain awareness. He felt wetness in his eyes and on his face. As his broken body lay on the floor, his lips were moving, mumbling a prayer that he would somehow survive this horror and hold his precious children and wife again.
At the thought of his family his subconscious psyche mercifully took him again to paradise. He was holding Mary and Madeline, squeezing them in a warm embrace; he was sure he could feel their delicate arms wrapped around his waist. In his mind it was all so real. He tried to stretch his left hand out to touch Mary’s head and rustle her curly locks, but his battered body wouldn’t move.
Jeremy could see Mary and Madeline, smiling…
Calling to him…
Pleading with him…
But he couldn’t move, he couldn’t touch them.
And then his vision went black.
His prayer, like all the others voiced that morning, would not be answered.
The afternoon was sunny and warm, with barely a breeze and not a cloud in the sky. With luck, this weather would hold for the weekend. One never could be sure—autumn in Central Oregon was more often than not a mixed bag. Peter could remember more than one Halloween when he had taken his two children trick-or-treating in snow. Still, it was early September—the shoulder season between an all-too-short summer and an even shorter fall. If the weather was this nice tomorrow, Peter planned to take his canoe up to Todd Lake and try his luck at fishing.
He and Maggie had often visited Todd Lake, nestled between Mt. Bachelor and Broken Top, the aptly-named remnant of a long-extinct volcano. They would pack a picnic lunch and bring towels for the kids so they could splash in the cold, blue water. And it was at Todd Lake that Peter and Maggie chose the names for their two children. But that was a long time ago—a time of boundless love and endless possibilities, when a lifetime to share still lay before them.
As hard as Peter tried to keep those memories locked away, they would occasionally rise to his consciousness, threatening to claw away his sanity.
He shook his head and turned his eyes again to the calculation displayed on his computer monitor. He knew he needed to focus on interpreting these equations, but his mind resisted, constantly wandering in a different direction. He glanced at the time—4:20. Late enough, he thought. Besides, depending on his mood he might come back to the calculations in the evening; that was just one of the benefits and curses of living above his office and workshop.
Many times he found that the soft crackling of a fire and a tumbler of whiskey freed his mind and allowed him to solve even the most difficult problems, and then he could easily walk downstairs to his office and capture the ideas before they vanished.
Peter had started to shut down his PC, only to have the process interrupted by an automatic download of updates, thirteen in all. He sighed and mumbled, “Can’t they come up with a better solution?”
He was still staring at the screen, mentally issuing a litany of silent curses aimed at the software giant, when his phone buzzed. “This is Peter Savage.”
“Hi, Peter! It’s Jim Nicolaou! Your ol’ buddy from high school… remember?”
Peter didn’t even pause. “Of course I do, are you kidding? Wow, it’s been a long time since we last spoke! What has it been—22, maybe 23 years?”
“I hate to count, reminds me of how old I am.” They both chuckled.
“True enough, but getting old is infinitely better than the alternative. So, what’s going on? Last I heard you were planning to follow a pre-med major in college.”
“Oh man, that was a long time ago. I just wasn’t ready to commit to the demands of the curriculum, and the thought of seven or more years in school plus the debt turned me off. So, I enlisted in the Navy and served with the SEALs. You know the slogan: It’s not just a job; it’s an adventure. It worked for me and I seem to have found my home. After ten years as a SEAL, I was recruited into military intelligence. I work at McClellan Business Park in Sacramento.”
“I never would have pegged you as a career military man. I’ll bet you get to play with all kinds of cool toys.”
“Oh, yeah. Uncle Sam has the best toys for big boys!” That brought a short laugh from Peter before Jim continued.
“Believe it or not, I’m in Bend as we speak. I found your number and wanted to see if you have plans for tonight or if we can get together for dinner?”
“Are you kidding? No, I don’t have anything planned, and it would be great to see you again. We can have dinner, then go back to my place and catch up.”
“Fantastic! I need to get to my hotel and check in. Where should we meet for dinner and when?”
“Forget about the hotel, I have plenty of room. It’s just me and the dog these days—the kids are grown and on their own.”
Jim started to ask about Maggie. He had not been able to attend the wedding many years earlier and had never met Peter’s wife. But since Peter hadn’t mentioned her, he decided that question was best left for a later time.
Peter continued, “Do you know where the Old Mill District is? I have a condominium there. The address is 382 Powerhouse Drive. We can walk to a good restaurant—is seafood okay?”
“Yes on two, no on one. But I can find it.”
Peter gave Jim directions, just in case he didn’t have a GPS in his rental car. He hung up and thought back to high school and the crazy group of guys he hung out with. After graduating, Peter had made no attempt to stay in touch with the guys, although he exchanged Christmas cards with Jim for a few years. He had not attended even one class reunion, and he had no idea at all where any of his buddies had ended up. He and Jim would have a lot to talk about, no doubt.
Peter left his desk and walked up the stairs to his condominium. He stepped onto his balcony, facing southwest. From there he could see Anthony’s seafood restaurant. The Old Mill District was well-known as an upscale shopping district, with boutique stores, good restaurants, art galleries, and fantastic bars.
At 5:00 P.M. sharp there was a knock on Peter’s door followed almost immediately by a single bark. Peter told Jess to sit. Then he opened the massive front door and stretched his right hand out to clasp Jim’s.
James Nicolaou had been Peter’s best friend throughout high school. They were always hanging out together—and raising hell together. Between drinking and driving way too fast, it was a wonder, Peter thought, that one or both didn’t end up seriously hurt or dead.
The intervening years melted away as Peter looked Jim over with a critical eye. Jim hadn’t changed much in appearance from Peter’s memory, although the cowboy boots and wide-brimmed hat were new additions. He was not too tall—five feet eight or so, and very muscular. Peter estimated that Jim weighed about 200 pounds, but there didn’t appear to be any fat on his frame.
Jim had always enjoyed sports, especially football, and with his build and athletic talent he excelled at the game. He still sported a full head of thick black hair and a black mustache, just as he had the last time they saw each other, which gave him a ruggedly handsome appearance. True to his Greek heritage, Jim had a dark complexion and dark brown eyes.
In contrast, Peter had never really taken to sports, spending more time on the academics. He played some softball in college, and like all kids of the generation prior to the proliferation of electronic games, Peter ran around the neighborhood playing pick-up games of baseball or whatever. Taller than Jim, Peter stood an even six feet. But when standing next to Jim he appeared taller because his build was much slimmer—not a bony frame, just leaner. With his light complexion and brown hair, Peter always felt that he was, at best, average in appearance. He recalled that Jim always managed to get the girls when they were kids.
Peter invited his friend in. “This is really cool, Peter. Driving up I thought it was all retail here. Then I saw this big brick building and the huge old smoke stacks… and you live in it!” As Jim stepped inside he removed his hat.
“It used to be a power generating plant. Now it’s a shopping district. REI is in the neighboring building. There are a surprising number of apartments and condominiums on the second and third floors above many of the stores. My company is below us, at the ground level. Several years ago, the city of Bend undertook a comprehensive plan to mix retail and living spaces—their idea of what a modern village should be, I suppose.”
“Looks like it worked out well.”
Peter nodded. “Here, let me take your bag, and I’ll show you to the guest room and give you a quick tour. We have a dinner reservation at 5:30 and Anthony’s is only a short walk down the street.”
Jim gave his small duffel bag to Peter and then leaned down to scratch Jess behind the ears. The muscular, black pit-bull mix was well disciplined and looked up at Jim with soft eyes, yet Jim had no doubt that Jess could tear a man’s arm off if provoked.
Peter led his friend into the large great room. The floor was wide-plank pine with an aged honey patina. All of the walls were brick—floor to ceiling, and the ceiling had to be twenty feet high. There was a large fireplace to the left, centered along the wall. The mantle above the hearth was a single, massive, aged timber. The hearth had to be six feet wide and nearly that tall.
On the opposite wall stood a bookcase that spanned from corner to corner, floor to ceiling. The bookcase was entirely natural-finish oak with an oak library ladder to provide access to the upper shelves. In the center of the wall, surrounded by the bookcase, was an oversized arched opening that led to the kitchen and dining area.
But the most dramatic feature of the great room was the deck facing west. With access through two pairs of French doors spaced apart on the wall separating the fireplace from the bookcase, the deck offered breathtaking views of the Cascade Mountains.
They walked through to the kitchen and then down a hallway that provided access to a couple of bedrooms with a shared full bathroom between them. “Take your pick; the one on the left has a nice view of the Cascades.”
“Wow, this place is great, Peter!” Jim entered the left bedroom and looked out the window. Sure enough, there was Mount Jefferson to the right and the Three Sisters to the left of his field of view. The mountains were only sparsely covered with snow, and the contrasting green really stood out. “If you don’t mind me saying so, whatever it is you do, you must be good at it.”
Peter smiled. “Come on, I’ll finish the tour then take you downstairs to the workshop. I own my own business—a combination of engineering, physics, and small arms. I named it EJ Enterprises after my two children: Ethan and Joanna. She goes by Jo. Peter paused before continuing. “You know, we’ve successfully developed a magnetic impulse gun.” Jim raised an eyebrow, clearly interested.
They walked back to the great room and climbed the wrought-iron spiral staircase located between the French doors, emerging into a real man-cave.
“This is the game room,” Peter explained. The room was large by any standards. Jim estimated it to be 40 feet long and maybe 30 feet wide. The walls were brick and the vaulted ceiling exposed rough-cut timbers with clear pine decking. Windows covered the two exterior walls, and a large gas fireplace was located to their right. Spaced suitably distant from the windows was a regulation-sized billiard table. It was framed in mahogany with burgundy-red felt over the slate. The billiard balls were racked, waiting patiently for the next game to begin.
Beyond the billiard table stood the wet bar. It was built along the wall with a dog-leg counter extending out from the right end, so that the bartender could stand behind the bar and serve his guests. The counter was covered with a light tan granite sprinkled with black crystals, and the cabinets were hickory. No less than six large skylights, framed in decorative wrought iron, brought in enough sunlight to make the large room very light and cheerful.
Mounted on the wall above the fireplace was the head of a large bull moose. Several other mounts—deer, ram, wild boar—adorned the walls, and two large bear skin rugs lay open on the floor. A collection of antique rifles, flintlock and percussion lock, were hanging from brass hooks on either side of the fireplace. Jim was awed; he had never been in a room like this before.
“Did you shoot all this game? I didn’t know you hunted.”
“Oh, yeah. I’ve collected these from various trips over the years. I took up hunting in college and still enjoy it. I try to get out at least once in the fall, and if possible I’ll do a spring trip for bear or boar. I really enjoy those trips. In fact, I have a lease on some acreage on an island in the Aleutians if you ever want to come along.”
“I just might take you up on that.”
“The shop is on the ground floor. There’s an access stairway off the great room.”
Jess was still closely following her master and her new friend as they descended the stairs into the workshop. Jim’s trained eye noticed the wireless sensors placed discretely at the exterior doors and windows. He guessed the sensors were tied to an automated radio messaging system to alert the local police during an attempted break-in.
Jim surveyed the combination shop and office space. There was a faint odor of machine oil, and the space was brightly lit. It was comfortable, but not excessively large. He noted that the workbenches and desks were neat; the floor was clean and everything appeared to be in its place. There were only four desks, but a total of eight large workbenches with various parts and assemblies on each bench. Several mills and two lathes were off to one side of the shop behind a thick glass wall—sound-proofing, Jim thought.
A man was working intently at one of the desks, his back toward Jim. As Peter approached he said, “Todd, let me introduce you to an old friend of mine, Jim Nicolaou.”
Todd turned from his computer monitor and stood up, stretching out his hand. “Pleased to meet you. I’m Todd Steed.”
“Todd is my Chief Engineer—he’s been with me for years. He pretty much makes everything work.”
Todd smiled. He was a trained machinist but did not have the benefit of a formal education in engineering. Still, he was a quick learner and very creative. “Peter is stretching the truth just a bit,” said Todd, his neck flushing slightly. “Peter does all the design work and then I machine the parts. Together we assemble and test the prototypes. I have two machinists who work for me, taking care of our production orders.”
Peter jumped in, “Todd is being rather modest. He’s damn good at taking ideas and making them work.”
“What exactly does EJ Enterprises make?” Jim asked as he turned from side to side, making sure he hadn’t missed anything. “You mentioned magnetic impulse guns. I’m aware of the Navy’s effort to develop a practical rail gun, but that’s a large cannon. Clearly that’s not what you’re building.”
“No. We design and build small arms, but they are based on the same concepts as the rail gun.”
Peter moved to the nearest workbench and picked up a barrel-like object, approximately nine inches long with copper-wire bands wrapped around the barrel at regular intervals. Jim counted quickly; there were ten bands.
“Basically, we have an array of electromagnets arranged along the barrel.” Peter was pointing to the wire bands. “They are sequentially switched on and off to drive a magnetic projectile from the muzzle at high velocity. It’s actually a bit more complicated and involves rapid pole reversal through an innovative application of optical sensors that actually detect the location of the projectile as it travels down the barrel. That’s how we obtained a breakthrough—extremely rapid muzzle velocity in a reasonably compact package.”
Peter was very much in his element. He was clearly excited and eager to describe his inventions to Jim.
“How fast is fast?” asked Jim, showing a keen interest.
“We routinely achieve greater than 3,000 feet-per-second from a fourteen inch barrel, using a 100 grain magnetic projectile. The exact capability is classified.”
“I gather, then, that the Defense Department is your primary customer?”
“Yes; our only customer for now. We haven’t been granted an export license, even to NATO countries that are our closest allies.”
“Guns are an old and proven technology. Everyone has access to them, and they are pretty durable and cheap. So what makes your invention special? Why is it export restricted?”
“The answer is simple—noise. Or, more correctly, the lack thereof. With your background in the military, Jim, you can understand how useful a nearly silent weapon can be in certain circumstances.”
“Of course. As SEALs, we always used suppressors on our weapons. Kept the bad guys from guessing our exact location. They can’t hit what they can’t find.”
Todd spoke up, “We’ve done a fair amount of testing in the shop, and the magnetic impulse technology—we call it MI—is much quieter than a suppressed 9mm. Isn’t that right, Peter? And even with this nine-inch barrel we can push out a projectile at up to—”
Peter interrupted, “Let’s just say we can deliver several times the muzzle velocity of a standard 9mm round and be virtually silent. And unlike conventional guns, the shooter can turn the power up or down to adjust the muzzle velocity of each and every shot. The benefit is that sometimes you may want a subsonic projectile and at other times you may want maximum velocity.”
“I see. Now I understand why the government is showing interest. Judging from our surroundings, I’d guess they’re giving you enough business?”
Peter smiled. “Business is good enough that I can keep a small group employed. In addition to Todd and his two machinists, we have two mechanical engineers that make sure we have complete documentation packages. They also help with the design work.”
Jim was genuinely impressed. “If you ever need help with field testing, just let me know.”
Peter smiled. “The basic model is single-shot, but we’re currently prototyping a six-shot version—kind of like a futuristic revolver. I’d be happy to send one of the prototypes to you in about three weeks if we can get the proper authorizations in place.”
“Excellent. When I’m back at my office I’ll send an official request to you. I’m confident you’ll find the security clearance and authorization are more than adequate.”
“It’s a deal. Now, if we’re going to make our reservation at Anthony’s, we better get going.”
Jim thanked Todd and followed Peter out the street-level entrance into the cool evening air. As the door closed, Jim said, “You know, you should think about upgrading your security. Looks to me like you just have a standard commercial system.”
Peter was taken aback by the comment. “It satisfies our DoD contract monitor. Besides, the neighborhood here is pretty quiet.”
“I’m sure it is. But the desk jockeys at Defense seldom have the first clue as to what adequate security really means. Just a thought. I can have one of my techs follow up with you if you’d like.”
Peter nodded. “The system we have has worked fine for us. But, sure, have him give me a call sometime.”
Jim inhaled deeply, enjoying the fresh air. He also noticed how quiet it was, with little street noise compared to his work and living environment in Sacramento. This was despite the many pedestrians window-shopping the store fronts lining both sides of the street. As they walked to the restaurant, Jim paused at Lahaina Gallery to admire a western bronze sculpture of a cowboy sitting tall in his saddle.
“When did you take to western art and clothing?” inquired Peter.
“Not quite fitting with my Greek heritage?”
“I didn’t mean that. Just curious, since I don’t recall you showing any interest in boots and hats and cowboy culture in high school.”
“Hey, we all change as we grow up, right? For me, it was an awareness of the outdoors. Wide-open spaces, wildlife, being close to the land. And, I suppose some of that John Wayne philosophy from the movies resonated with me when I was leading men into conflict.”
“You mean good guys versus bad guys?”
Jim smiled at the simplification, knowing there was a strong core of truth in Peter’s question. “It’s not as corny as it sounds.”
Now it was Peter’s turn to smile. “Sure, buddy. I believe you.”
They finished the short walk to Anthony’s in silence. Peter checked in with the hostess and they were seated promptly at a large table for two next to a wall of glass. Beyond the windows lay a manicured lawn, and beyond that a walking path and the Deschutes River. There was a steady stream of joggers and people walking both ways on the path, many with dogs on leash.
“This must be a paradise for people who enjoy the outdoors,” Jim observed.
“That it is. You’d be surprised at the number of folks who have moved to Bend primarily for that reason.”
“Maybe someday I will, too.”
Their conversation was interrupted by their waiter who took their drink order and recited the daily specials. Despite the crowd, service was punctual. Laughing and telling stories, they tried hard to recount all that had happened in their lives since graduating from high school in Sacramento. Eventually the conversation returned to work.
“You said you work for military intelligence. Do you travel a lot?”
“Yeah, but usually not to vacation destinations.”
“Any exciting stories to tell?” Peter knew he was pushing.
“Only if you have the proper security clearance,” answered Jim with a polite smile. But before Peter could answer, Jim continued, “And yours isn’t high enough.”
“How do you know?” retorted Peter, somewhat defensively.
“Let’s just say I do, and leave it at that.”
“Okay… for now. But I have a feeling there’s something you’re not telling me.”
Just then the waiter arrived and cleared their plates from the table. Neither had room for dessert, so Peter paid the bill and they vacated their table.
As they were walking back, Peter glanced at his watch—the evening was still young. “Can I interest you in a drink?”
“Sure, if you’ll let me buy.”
“We can arm wrestle over it. There’s a nice bar just ahead to the right.”
They took a small table looking toward the west. A dozen or more conversations blended into a din, forcing Peter and Jim to raise their voices somewhat to be heard. The waitress brought a generous bowl of pistachio nuts and took their orders: a gin martini, shaken, three olives for Peter and a vodka tonic for Jim.
“So tell me, Jim, what really brings you to Bend?”
“Well, actually I’m passing through on business. I have a meeting in Corvallis tomorrow.”
“Really? My father works in Corvallis at Oregon State University. He’s a Professor of Chemical Engineering.”
As the drinks arrived, Jim continued, “How is your dad doing these days?”
“Pretty well, I suppose. He still works hard but seems to enjoy it. He has enough seniority that he doesn’t have to teach anymore. Now he focuses solely on his research—he’s working in the field of geochemistry. Seems to have a productive collaboration going with a Japanese professor.”
“So tell me about your kids, Ethan and Jo.”
Peter smiled at the question. “Ethan is attending the University of Oregon. He’s in his second semester and still hasn’t declared a major yet. Joanna is an interior designer. She’s a partner at a local firm and seems to be enjoying herself, and she makes a good living. She did all the decorating in my home, even helped me pick out the furniture.”
“Did she advise you on that pool table too?”
Laughing, Peter answered, “No, I was able to choose that on my own.”
Jim noticed that through all the conversation, Peter had not mentioned anything of Maggie. He decided to probe further. “How is Maggie?”
Peter’s smile vanished. He looked down and became quiet. His face, which had been bright and full of cheer, was now dark and sad, and his eyes seemed to sink back into his head with a faraway look.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.” Jim immediately recognized his mistake.
Peter shook his head, but didn’t look up. “Maggie died a little over two years ago. She was in a car accident—you know, slick winter roads.” Peter drew a deep breath before continuing. “She was in intensive care for five days. We tried to maintain hope, but the doctors were pretty clear. The head trauma was too severe for recovery. Only machines were keeping her alive; there was no brain activity.”
Peter paused again and fought back tears. “Maggie had always told me that she didn’t want to exist as a vegetable. If that ever happened, she wanted me to pull the plug. It said so in her advance directive, too.”
Another pause and Peter cleared his throat. Even though he was still looking down at his drink, Jim could see that Peter’s eyes were moist; a single tear was slowly tracing a wet line on his cheek.
Finally Peter spoke. “She had no other family, only me and the kids.” He shrugged his shoulders before continuing. “So, I did what she asked.” As he confessed this, a second, larger tear rolled down his face.
“Hey man, I’m sorry. I can’t imagine what you went through.”
Peter nodded subtly. “Well, as they say, life goes on. It still hurts though. I think it always will.”
Both men were quiet—Jim didn’t know what to say. Then Peter spoke, still staring at his drink, his face devoid of emotion except for the wet lines on his cheeks. “Jess—was our dog. Maggie trained her; I was no good at that, and she loved training her.”
Peter looked out the large wall of windows. The sun had just set and a brilliant red glow shown off high, thin clouds above the mountains. “She loved this view. We would come here for cocktails and just to talk. She was fond of vodka tonics, too.”
Jim looked at his drink and felt strangely guilty for surfacing the memory.
“It hasn’t been the same… you know, since she died. We shared so much, and she meant everything to me. I never thought it could come to an end. Then, one day… pretty much just an ordinary day… it did.”
“I’m sorry, Peter. I wish I could have been here for you.”
Peter was still staring off into the distant horizon. “The emptiness was all-consuming.” Peter spoke as if no one was around to hear him––his voice soft, almost a whisper. “I didn’t know what to do. One morning I found myself staring at the wrong end of a gun. But I couldn’t do it. I love my children too much, I suppose.”
Peter shifted his eyes, taking Jim in as if seeing him for the first time. “I devoted myself to my work and my children. It’s better now, but I’m not the same man I was.”
Jim could see that the memories and pain were still very strong, and some were connected to this bar. “Come on, Peter, let’s go.”
Jim paid the tab and they left. Neither man spoke during the short walk back to Peter’s condo.
Once inside, Peter seemed relaxed again, having pushed the pain back into the far corners of his mind. Jim took note of how quickly and markedly Peter’s personality had snapped back from that of the grieving widower once they stepped into the condo. He was no psychologist, but he wondered if the loss felt by his wife’s death had altered Peter’s mental state a bit more than a normally grieving person might experience.
Jim sat in an over-stuffed leather chair, one of two facing the massive fireplace. A small table separated the chairs. Peter quickly laid a fire and soon it was crackling and giving off comforting warmth. Then he put a CD in the player, selecting Jimmy Buffett’s “Songs You Know by Heart.”
“Can I offer you a Scotch? I have a broad selection of single malts.”
Jim was eager to have the conversation move in a new direction. “Since I’m not driving anywhere tonight, sure. What do you recommend?”
“Lately I’ve been rather fond of Oban. It’s not too peaty.”
Peter retrieved a bottle and two small tumblers from a shelf in the bookcase and poured a shot for Jim and one for himself. Reclining into the large chair next to Jim, he took a sip. “So where is your meeting tomorrow in Corvallis?”
“At Oregon State University. I’m meeting with your father.”
Peter raised an eyebrow and cocked his head. “Really? Why didn’t you say so earlier. What’s up? I’m surprised my father would agree to meet with someone from military intelligence—he hates the military.”
“I sort of guessed that; he was a difficult man to persuade. Actually, that’s why I’m here. I need your help.”
“What do you need my help for? You said you had a meeting scheduled; Dad won’t stand you up. If he agreed to meet, he will.”
“I’m part of a team investigating a matter of national security. I need to interview your father because we think he could become unwittingly involved. We also have reason to believe his life could be in danger.”
Peter set his glass down and sat upright, looking squarely at Jim. “You’re joking, right? Exactly which agency did you say you work for?”
“I didn’t. But they’re all the same, just different bowls of alphabet soup—NSA, DIA, CIA. I work at a place simply called The Office. Catchy, isn’t it? It’s a different world since 9/11.”
Peter stared at his friend, contemplating what he had said. “Dad’s a professor in the chemical engineering department. He works on far-fetched geochemical theories. I’m not really sure exactly what his research area is, but it’s hard for me to believe that it could have anything to do with national security, or terrorism, or whatever.”
“I understand how bizarre this sounds. But believe me, I wouldn’t be asking for your help if I didn’t think it was in the best interests of you, your father, and our country.”
“You know, I wasn’t really buying your story that you just happened to be cruising through Bend.”
Jim silently held Peter’s gaze, choosing not to offer any further explanation.
“Okay, tell me why you think Dad needs help.”
“Your father’s work is related to a field of study called abiogenic, or abiotic, petroleum formation. There are some credible theories that petroleum and natural gas are made all the time through reactions deep within the earth. No one really understands how, but we think your father is close to finding some key answers.”
Peter was transfixed, absorbing all Jim was saying and trying to make sense of it. His father had never spoken much about his research, so Peter really didn’t know if Jim’s facts were correct or not.
Finally Peter shook his head. “I’m not following you. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you’re right and Dad’s work is aimed at figuring out how oil is made. So what? Why would that make him a target?”
“We don’t know. There are too many pieces missing from the puzzle. What we do know is that in the last six months, many prominent researchers in the field of abiogenic oil formation have been murdered or have died under very suspicious circumstances.”
“In June, 45 delegates at the Hedberg conference in Caracas were blown up by terrorists. Those delegates were all attending a special conference session on theories of abiogenic oil production. Many of those murdered were American citizens.”
“Suicide bombers are blowing up innocent people every day. Why do you think that was different?”
“The terrorists had made a demand for ransom, and while the authorities were putting together a response, the bombs were detonated. Why would they do that? Why detonate the bombs when there was still a chance of negotiating the ransom and safe passage?
“And there are others. A professor from Georgia Tech was murdered in London in early June—ricin poisoning. He was a close collaborator of many of the delegates murdered at the Hedberg conference. And before that, in May, a leading theorist in abiogenic oil production was shot—execution style—on the streets of Kiev. There have been many others. Do I need to go on?”
Peter sat stunned, not knowing what to say. Jim finished his Scotch and looked at Peter. “I can see that your father is stubborn, and he’s very skeptical that his work has any significance on the scale I’ve described to you. I need your help to convince him to lay low for a while and let my team have time to figure this all out. I can put a 24 hour guard on him, but that only works if we have his cooperation.”
“All right,” Peter replied. “I’ll go along with you, and we’ll talk to Dad together. What time is your appointment?”
“Just before lunch, 11:00 A.M., at his office in Gleason Hall.”
“We’ll need to be on the road early in case we hit traffic. Perhaps we should call it a night.”
Peter finished his Scotch in one gulp, and the two friends retired to their rooms. But it would be a fitful night for Peter.