These are preview chapters of the upcoming novel, Sedition. Please excuse mistakes and the block formatting. The novel has not been fully edited or formatted yet.
CHAPTER 9: George and Violence is Immoral
George sat in the chair next to the hospital bed, his bad leg straight, his good one bent. He wore jeans, no shirt. His T-shirt and shoulder sling were in his lap. He grunted, his shoulder grinding with pain, as he wriggled into his shirt. With his T-shirt on, he struggled back into the shoulder sling.
There was a cane leaning against the chair. He used it to stand and limp to the window. It wasn’t the cane of some dapper R & B star, but rubber and metal of the geriatric variety. Outside, angry clouds peppered the parking lot with sheets of rain.
“Mr. Chapman?” a male voice said.
George turned from the window. There he was, in the flesh—Congressman John Bradley with a power tie and a plastered smile.
“Yeah,” George said.
John moved closer, with a tightly wound woman at his side. She wore a skirt suit, with heels, panty hose, her blouse buttoned to her neck, and her hair pulled back in a tight bun. None of it looked comfortable.
“I’m Congressman Bradley, but I’m assuming you know that,” he said.
“I remember,” George replied. “What can I do for you?”
“I would prefer to know what I can do for you.”
George was quiet.
John’s smile went flat. He looked George in the eyes. “Thank you for saving my life. I will never forget your selflessness and heroism. I am deeply indebted to you. Thank you.” Congressman Bradley extended his hand.
“You’re welcome,” George said.
“I know you don’t have a ride from the hospital, so I’ve arranged for a couple of Secret Service agents to take you home.”
“I appreciate that, but I need to pick up my truck and trailer from the plaza.”
“We’ll drive your truck home as well. Also, I’d like to take you to lunch before you go.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t wanna do that.”
John raised his eyebrows. “You don’t want to go to lunch?”
“No, and I don’t want your agents driving my truck or taking me home. I can manage on my own. Thank you for the offer, though. Excuse me.” George limped past the Congressman and the woman toward the hall.
“Mr. Chapman?” Congressman Bradley said to George’s back.
George peered into the hall, hoping for the orderly with his wheelchair. No orderly, but there was a loitering camera crew and a couple of Secret Service agents.
“Mr. Chapman,” John said again.
George turned around and Congressman Bradley and his henchwoman encroached on his personal space.
“Excuse me,” George said, as he moved past them to the seat by the bed. George put his weight on his good leg as he eased into the chair.
“Let me give you a hand,” John said, but it was too late.
“I’m fine,” George said. “I’m leaving in a few minutes.”
“Mr. Chapman, I’m the type of person that pays his debts. There’s no doubt that I owe you … big time. I see that you’re a proud man that’s used to looking out for himself, but sometimes we all need a little help. Maybe not now or even ten years from now, but eventually we all need help. In the future, if you ever need anything, you can call me.” John reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and removed a business card. He handed it to George. “My cell number’s on the back.”
George nodded. “Thank you.”
“Call me anytime. I mean that.”
George shoved the card in the front pocket of his jeans.
The woman approached. “Mr. Chapman, my name is Donna.” She extended her hand to George.
They shook hands. “Nice to meet you,” George said.
“I was hoping you might appear with Congressman Bradley on a news piece honoring your heroism.”
“No thank you.”
“This country’s in crisis,” John said. “You’re a hero, Mr. Chapman. Americans identify with you. Your heroism and my gratitude is a perfect platform to bridge the gap between the people and our government. We can show that government really is for the people and by the people.”
“Is that what you’re selling?”
John put his hands on his hips. “I’m not selling anything. I’m just trying to do my part to keep this country together and give people hope.”
John clenched his jaw for a split second, then smirked. “This hasn’t gone how I thought it would go. Is there any way I can convince you to change your mind?”
George shook his head. “I appreciate your gratitude, but no.”
“May I ask why?”
“Why I won’t go on camera, or why I don’t want your agents taking me and my truck to Pennsylvania?”
“Who’s paying for those agents and the vehicles and the fuel?”
“The Federal Government.”
John chuckled. “No? I’m pretty sure I understand the budget items from my own office.”
“People pay for it with taxation and inflation.”
John’s face turned down. “Is this about government largesse? Are you worried about wasting taxpayer funds?”
“That’s good because your government also owes you a debt of gratitude.”
“That may be, but I’m not gonna participate in an extortion racket to collect.”
John raised his eyebrows. “Excuse me?”
“I think you heard me.”
John shook his head. “You’re an anarchist.”
George nodded, his jaw set tight.
Donna’s eyes were wide, her mouth open.
John chuckled again. “Well, I didn’t see that coming.”
George glanced at the door, willing the orderly to appear.
“Let me ask you a question, off the record,” John said.
“I didn’t realize we were on the record,” George replied.
“Did you know that the shooter was an anarchist?”
“I do now, but not then.”
“If you could go back to that day. Would you let him shoot me?”
Donna’s eyes darted to John.
George scowled. “Unfortunately, that young man didn’t know what it means to be an anarchist.”
“Assault rifle, shaved head, an assassination attempt,” John said. “Seems to me he knew exactly what it meant.”
“Unfortunately, neither do you.”
A dark-skinned man with green scrubs walked into the room. He was pushing a wheelchair. “Mr. Chapman,” he said, “are you ready to blow this joint?”
George smiled at the man. “Absolutely.”
The orderly helped George into the chair. He pushed George toward the door.
“Mr. Chapman,” John said.
The orderly stopped.
“I meant what I said,” John continued. “If you need anything, call me.”
“I appreciate the sentiment, Congressman,” George replied.
The orderly pushed George down the hall to the elevator.
“You got a ride home?” the orderly asked as he pressed the down arrow next to the elevator doors.
“I’m gonna get an Uber.”
The elevator opened and the man pushed George inside.
“There’s a lot of press out front,” the man said. “You want me to take you out back?”
“Please,” George replied.
The man pushed B.
“I’ll take you through the basement.”
The orderly dropped off George in the back of the building. There was a covered walk and concrete benches.
“This okay?” the orderly asked.
“It’s great, thanks.”
With that, George was left alone, the rain pelting the roof of the covered walk, and the grass and asphalt around him. A few hospital personnel hustled past. George tapped on his Uber app and found a driver fifteen-minutes away. He booked the fare, and shoved his phone back in the front pocket of his jeans.
A news van drove toward him. George looked around. There was no place to hide, not in his condition. The van stopped at the curb. A cameraman, and a female reporter stepped out of the van.
The camera was rolling and pointed at George.
The reporter, an attractive brunette with heavy makeup, stepped into George’s personal space and said, “Mr. Chapman, how are you feeling?”
George was silent.
“Mr. Chapman, how are you feeling?”
George was still silent.
“How was your meeting with Congressman Bradley?”
George removed his phone from his pocket and checked the time. Eight minutes. George frowned and shoved his phone back in his pocket.
“How does it feel to be a hero?” she asked.
George crossed his arms and looked straight ahead.
“Do you think the anarchists are domestic terrorists?”
George closed his eyes for a moment. “Define terrorism,” he said.
The reporter raised her eyebrows. “Excuse me?”
“It’s … umm, terrorizing people.”
George glared at the camera. “It’s the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims. Governments throughout this world have killed 250 million of their own people in the past hundred years. Our government has killed over a million people in Iraq, and another half-a-million in the so-called War on Terror from Afghanistan to Pakistan to Libya to Yemen to Syria. This doesn’t include the millions that have been injured and maimed, and lost their homes, and livelihoods. If you wanna talk about terrorists, let’s start with the U.S. government.”
The reporter’s mouth was open. “Mr. Chapman, this is off topic. Do you care to comment on—”
“You can’t tell the truth, can you?”
The reporter was dumbstruck.
“Of course, you can’t, because your government and corporate masters supply your network with a steady stream of propaganda that you gladly regurgitate to the American public because it’s easy, it’s profitable, and you don’t have to worry about being sued.”
A white Toyota Avalon pulled up behind the news van. George stood with the help of his cane. He limped toward the car.
“Why did you save Congressman Bradley?” the reporter asked.
George turned toward the reporter. “Because violence is immoral.”
CHAPTER 10: John, Next Question
“That was a fucking disaster,” John said. “Didn’t you do any research on this guy?”
“We did,” Donna replied, “but he doesn’t have much of an Internet presence. No social media accounts. He has a profile as a shipper on Cycle Trader and eBay, but there’s no personal information on that. He does have an excellent rating.”
“I’m assuming he’s not a registered a voter.”
“Actually, he’s registered as an Independent. We usually poll pretty well with Independents. That’s why I thought this would work.”
“Why would he register to vote? Aren’t these anarchists all about avoiding and subverting government?”
“They don’t register to vote to actually vote. They do it to get on juries, so they can subvert the rule of law through jury nullification.”
John shook his head. “Jesus, what is this country coming to? When I started in politics, I never would have dreamed that the most patriotic populace on the planet would change like this.”
“Anarchists are a tiny minority. Less than one percent according to recent polls.”
“Only three percent of Americans fought in the Revolutionary War against the British. Do you know what percentage of people actively supported that three percent?”
“Ten percent. Three percent willing to fight and ten percent support. That’s all they needed to overthrow the biggest empire the world had ever known.”
Agent Olson drove John and Donna and Agent Barnes back to the scene of the crime. They parked around back. Agents Barnes and Olson manned their posts. John and Donna stepped inside their campaign office. A half-dozen indispensable employees worked on laptops. The rest were given the week off. The floor was clean, the windows and glass door were repaired. If not for the bullet holes on the walls, it was like nothing had happened.
“They did a nice job with the cleanup,” John said.
“You sure you don’t want them to fix the drywall?” Donna asked.
“We talked about this.”
“The staff was traumatized. They may not come back, especially with the bullet holes.”
“We need fighters for the presidential run. I’d rather they quit now, than when we really need them. Besides, it’ll look good as the backdrop for my statement tomorrow. We’re in a war, Donna. I want the voters to know that I’m a fighter.”
Dave the tech guy affixed a mic to John’s lapel.
“Are you sure you don’t need a teleprompter?” Donna asked.
John grinned. “You worry too much. It’s all memorized.” He tapped his head with his index finger. “Like a steel trap.”
Donna smirked. “Make sure to call on Corrinne from USN to ask the first question. She’ll ask about Chapman’s comment. We need to deal with it head on.”
The press took their seats. John stepped up to the wooden podium in his campaign headquarters. Behind him was a wall with eight bullet holes. In front of him were lights, cameras, and an audience of news people arranged in neat rows.
“Thank you all for being here,” John said. “First, I’d like to thank Secret Service agents Greg Olson, Jake Barnes, and Derrick Stokes for their heroism during the attack. Agent Stokes was killed while protecting me and more importantly serving the United States of America.” John paused, his hands gripping the edge of the podium. “I extend my heart and my condolences to the Stokes family in this time of tragedy.
“Also, I’d like to thank George Smith Chapman, the civilian bystander that tackled the shooter. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be standing here today. I am deeply indebted to these four men.
“During the attack, I was afraid. I was afraid I’d never see my wife and children again.” John looked down for a moment. “The fear and stress I felt affected my memory, my judgement, and my actions. This is not uncommon, and something that victims of terrorism can attest to. I made a statement to the press shortly after the attack that I attempted to help Mr. Chapman. My statement reflected my memory. My statement and my memory of the event were faulty. I apologize for my error.”
John stared into the cameras, unblinking. His upturned fist moved up and down with the cadence of his speech. “I hope, moving forward, we can concentrate on the heroism of the Secret Service agents and Mr. Chapman, not on the faulty memory of a terrorism victim. Furthermore, I was the least affected by this heinous act. I was fortunate enough to be escorted away from the violence after the first gunshot. My staff on the other hand withstood a barrage of at least fifteen bullets, eight of which created the holes in the wall behind me.” John motioned to the holes. “It is only by the grace of God that nobody else was seriously injured or killed.
“A construction crew recently cleaned up our headquarters here. They fixed the windows that were shattered by bullets. They cleaned the glass and the blood from the floor. I asked that they leave the bullet holes in the drywall. It’s a reminder to myself, that I’m lucky to be alive. It’s a reminder to myself to be grateful for the Secret Service and my staff. It’s a reminder to myself that every day I have on this earth is a gift, and I intend to make the most of it. It’s a reminder to everyone here that we’re in a war, not on the battlefield, but for the hearts and minds of everyday Americans. It’s a war we intend to win. Thank you.”
John took a deep breath. “I can take a few questions.” A dozen hands reached for the ceiling. John pointed to an attractive brunette. “Corrinne.”
She stood, wearing a skirt suit. “George Smith Chapman made a statement yesterday that the United States is a terrorist organization. Does this change your gratitude for his heroism or make you question his motives during the attack?”
“Mr. Chapman saved my life. I am grateful, as is my family. As far as his political ideology, and opinions, I disagree, but we still have freedom of speech in this country, and that freedom applies to speech we don’t agree with.”
“Do you disavow his antigovernment statements?” Corrinne asked.
John frowned. “As I said, I disagree with his statements, but I will defend his right to free speech. Next question.”
The hands from the audience went up again.
“Greg,” John said, pointing to a dark-haired man.
Greg stood. “We’ve had reports that Jeff Hutton, the man who shot the video of the attack has been fired from your campaign. Was he fired because you were embarrassed by the footage?”
“Considering Mr. Hutton was an unpaid volunteer, there’s no obligation for us or him regarding employment.”
“Was he let go because of the footage he released?”
“No. Next question.”
CHAPTER 11: Katie and EROEI
Katie stood in a college classroom with seven hundred USC students crammed into the stadium seating. She wore a flowing black dress and a tiny microphone attached to her V collar. Behind her, on the pulldown screen, the title of her presentation—Social Media for Social Justice.
They hung on her every word. The guys were eager to impress their girlfriends with their progressiveness. The coeds were eager to assert their feminist power.
Katie said, “Everywhere you look, social and political movements are leveraging social media to reach more people and improve their influence. BLM started as a Twitter hashtag, as well as #RefugeesWelcome, and #MarriageEquality. #MarriageEquality led to the legalization of same sex marriage in the United States and Ireland.” Katie paced on stage, making eye contact with the audience. There were head nods in agreement. “Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring were effective in large part because of their use of social media to spread their messages of equality and fairness. After the Paris attacks in 2015, millions of Facebook users added the French flag to their profile picture.
“Of course, social media cuts both ways. Humanity is at a crossroads today. Undoubtedly, there have been incredible successes with the social justice movements we’ve discussed, but we’ve also seen a revival of other movements—movements fueled by hate, and supercharged with social media.” The hopeful, engaged faces in the audience turned somber. “The American Freedom Party is gaining support, and they may be able to get a candidate on the ballot in a few states such as Idaho and Michigan. This political party is only interested in freedom for whites. The Aryan Nation has seen a resurgence in large part because of their exploitation of social media. This is a group that the FBI classifies as a terrorist organization. Even the Ku Klux Klan is seeing an increase in membership. In 2016, it was estimated that their membership was between 5000 and 8000. Today it is almost double that.”
There was an audible gasp from the crowd.
Katie paused, shaking her head. “If that’s not scary enough, we have the American Nazi Party, an anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi organization based largely on the ideals of Adolf Hitler. Despite the principles of hate, this group has been successful in gaining members because of their claims of adherence to the American Constitution and the principles of the founding fathers of this country.” Katie was silent for a moment, still pacing and making eye contact.
“We have a much bigger threat to our way of life than these white supremacist groups. The biggest threats to liberty and justice in this country are the anarchists. The anarchist movement is by far and away the most successful of these hate groups, and by far and away the most successful at using social media. The fact that there is no central authority and no rules governing the group makes it more dangerous. In fact, describing it as a group is misleading. It is a loose amalgamation of individuals that believe government, in all its forms, should be destroyed.” Katie paused for effect, her jaw set tight. “These individuals are hiding in plain sight. Some have shaved heads and arms covered with tattoos, but many others look like you and me, have regular jobs, and families.
“Our government isn’t perfect. For those of you that follow me online, you know I often rail against government corruption, but we can’t give up on the institution that educates our children, feeds our poor, protects us, and cares for the old and sick. It’s up to us to make it better. We have the power and the voice to influence and create policies that will give us the country we all deserve—a country that will serve as a shining example to others.
“Does anyone know how many people actually comment on a piece of media, versus simply consuming it?”
“Very few,” someone from audience called out.
Katie nodded. “That’s right. Nobody knows the exact number, but most people lurk in the background consuming media, but not engaging in the comments. The anarchists on the other hand are fervent in their belief that they are right, and they’re not afraid to voice their ideology. So, it often seems like they’re everywhere, when in fact according to recent polls they make up less than one percent of our population. However, a vocal engaged one percent can do a lot of damage to this country. We’re already very aware of what one percenters can do.” The audience laughed. “So, when you’re thumbing through your Facebook feed and you see one of those taxation is extortion memes or the one with the cows.” The audience laughed again. “Speak up, defend this country and our way of life. Don’t let them dominate your social media feed. We have to fight fire with fire. Thank you.”
Katie took a bow, the applause washing over her. After a beat, the audience stood, and clapped louder. She blushed and beamed. A thin man with dark-rimmed glasses approached, walking on stage holding a microphone. Katie and the man shook hands as the applause dissipated.
“We’re going to have a question and answer period,” the man said. “I hope everyone will stay. I imagine the discussion will be enlightening. Anyone that wants to ask Katie a question, please form a line behind the podium.” The man gestured to the podium set up toward the bottom of the stadium seating.
A queue was already forming. A young woman with dark curly hair and a nose ring stepped up to the podium.
“Thank you, Katie,” the woman said, “for all that you do to further the cause of feminism and social justice.”
Katie smiled. “You’re very welcome.”
“President Reynolds and his administration have used drones in increasing amounts in countries like Yemen and Pakistan—countries that we are not at war with. Our military has killed over a million people in Iraq—a war that started because of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. Do you think the War on Terror has been an unlawful war?”
“That’s a great question,” Katie replied. “We’ve had a majority Republican congress, senate, and of course the presidency over the past six years. We have neoconservatives running our government and the military industrial complex making money hand over fist. My heart breaks for the people of the Middle East that have lost their homes, their jobs, and their loved ones. My heart breaks for our soldiers risking their lives for wealthy businessmen and corrupt politicians. Back to your question, I absolutely do believe it is a tragic and unlawful war.”
The audience applauded. There were a few whistles.
A baby-faced man stepped up to the podium. He said, “You mentioned the meme, taxation is extortion. Do you believe taxation is extortion? If not, could you explain why?”
Katie nodded. “Taxation is not extortion. Taxation is necessary to even the scales, to give back to the less fortunate. Without taxation, we wouldn’t have the funding necessary for government. Furthermore, taxation prevents bloodshed, because people will only take so much inequality. In my opinion, the problem with taxation is that there are too many loop holes for the wealthy.”
The audience applauded.
The young man removed a scrap of paper from his pocket. “That doesn’t explain why taxation isn’t extortion.” He read from the paper. “The definition of extortion is to obtain something, usually money, through force or threats. How many people would actually pay their taxes if they weren’t forced to?”
“Taxation is perfectly legal and necessary for the polite society we all enjoy,” Katie replied. “The government doesn’t always use our tax dollars in the most efficient manner, but it is up to us to police the government, to vote for the right representatives.”
“That still doesn’t explain how it’s not extortion.”
“You can always leave, you can always move to Somalia or some other place where they don’t have taxes. They also don’t have clean water, sanitation, safety, and an educated populace.”
There were chuckles from the audience.
“So, you’re saying taxation is not extortion because the government provides us services and it’s legal?”
Katie smirked. “That’s an oversimplification, but that’s part of it. There’s also the social contract.”
“What if I moved to a town in Italy, and the mafia provided protection services in exchange for ten percent of my income? And the town voted that it was legal for the mafia to do this. Would it be extortion?”
There were glares, scowls, and a few shouts of “bullshit” from the audience.
“I see what you’re doing,” Katie replied, “and this is exactly the type of esoteric, ridiculous argument that’s perpetuated by the anarchists. There’s a huge difference between a criminal organization and a democratically elected republic.”
“But the town voted.”
“We should move on,” the thin man said into his microphone. “Please step aside, sir.”
Katie sat in a metal and pleather chair facing enormous windows. Outside, airplanes were lifting off, landing, and hooking up to terminals. She sent a text.
Katie: Hey you. My flight is delayed but I should be home by seven. R we still on for dinner?
Katie put her phone in her purse. She bought an iced coffee and returned to her seat in the waiting area. Her phone buzzed. She fished it from her purse.
Declan: Sorry, babe. Still working on the edit. Interview is FUCKED.
Katie: L I’m sorry, babe. Anything I can do to help?
Declan: Don’t think so.
Katie: I’m just sitting here for the next two hours. Can I see it?
Declan: In a minute. It’s bad, just warning you.
Katie: I’m sure you were wonderful.
Katie set her phone on her leg and watched the planes. A few minutes later, her phone buzzed.
Declan: I sent the footage to your email.
Katie: I’ll look at it now. I love you.
Katie opened her email, and clicked on the video from Declan. The video showed Declan interviewing a white-haired man with a long face and arched eyebrows. The old man was identified on the screen as, Carl Humphrey, CEO, Unico Oil & Gas. She watched the professional video that started amicably. I still can’t believe he got Carl Humphrey. I suppose having a dad that’s the CFO of Chevron helps.
Declan started well, asking pertinent, but inoffensive questions. Good, get him talking.
Declan asked, “Do you think the oil and gas industry has hampered efforts by others to create a sustainable energy infrastructure based on solar and wind electricity, and not fossil fuels?”
“No, I don’t,” Mr. Humphrey said. “We spend half-a-billion dollars a year researching alternative fuels. Everything from algae, to ethanol, to methanol, to solar, and battery technology.”
Declan narrowed his eyes. “In 1949, your company was convicted of conspiracy to monopolize interstate commerce in the sale of buses, fuel, and supplies. Your co-conspirators were Firestone Tire, Standard Oil of California, Phillips Petroleum, General Motors and Mack Trucks. This conspiracy resulted in the dismantling of much of the electric transit infrastructure of our major cities.”
Mr. Humphrey chuckled. “I know I look old, but I’m not that old. First, I was seven in 1949, so it wasn’t my company then. Second you ought to get your facts straight. These companies and mine were acquitted of conspiring to monopolize the transit industry, and the oil and gas industry didn’t dismantle the electric lines, the transit industry did it themselves. They couldn’t compete with oil. It was too damn cheap and too damn plentiful.”
“There are photos—”
Mr. Humphrey waved his hand across his face. “I care about the facts, not some photos of piled up streetcars. Streetcars were in decline long before 1949. In 1918, half of the streetcar lines were in bankruptcy.”
“Do you think man’s excessive use of oil and gas are sustainable in the long run?”
“Son, in the long run we’re all dead.”
“From 1901 through 2017, ocean temperatures have risen at an average rate of 0.13°F per decade, with last year being the warmest on record. Do you think the burning of fossil fuels has contributed to this temperature rise?”
“I’m a petroleum engineer, not a climatologist.”
“The oil and gas industry has been suppressing global warming reports for decades.”
Mr. Humphrey frowned. “I can’t speak for other companies, but why would we bother?”
“To ensure that we don’t transition away from oil and gas.”
He laughed. “Transition to what?”
“Solar, wind, biofuels, geothermal, tidal … hydroelectric.”
“You have to look at the big picture. Oil and gas and coal provide about eighty percent of the world’s energy needs. That includes electricity, transportation, shipping, home heating, the whole lot. We get about ten percent from wood, biofuels, and waste, another five percent from nuclear. Hydroelectric another two and a half. Solar and wind and geothermal, and these fancy renewables everyone’s talking about, only provide about three percent of the world’s energy. It would be quite the undertaking to change that profile, and changing that profile would require quite a bit of our fossil fuel resources. Any idea how much rebar and concrete and steel go into a wind turbine?”
Declan pursed his lips. “No.”
Mr. Humphrey leaned back in his chair and crossed his leg, his leather shoe on his knee. “In a two-point-five megawatt turbine, you need six hundred and thirty yards of concrete and forty-five tons of steel for the rebar, and that’s just for the base. You know how much oil you need to produce that amount of steel and concrete?”
Declan was silent.
“Six hundred and thirteen barrels. There are forty-two gallons of oil in a barrel, so that’s roughly 25,000 gallons of oil just to make one base on a turbine. You still have to build the turbine. All the iron ore and minerals needed to complete the turbine don’t get pulled out of the ground with solar panels. Mineral resources are pulled out of the ground by massive diesel-powered machines. You know why?”
“Because guys like you have created a monopoly.”
The old man shook his head. “I really do hope you produce this interview, because this is important. Fossil fuels, specifically oil, are incredibly dense sources of energy. This is how the fuel can power the massive machines necessary to efficiently move and sort the earth to find the bits of minerals we need for modern society. That includes wind turbines and solar panels.”
“If we use our fossil fuels to build an alternative energy infrastructure, we’ll be much better off, then burning it.”
“Look Declan, I agree with you. We should be conserving our fossil fuels and building an alternative energy infrastructure. Hell, I have more money than I need. My life’s almost over, and I have children and grandchildren. I want them to have a nice standard of living in the future. The oil and gas industry is a dying industry, but when we die, so do most of the comforts we all enjoy. Are you familiar with the term energy returned on energy invested?”
“In 1930, the oil industry had a hundred to one ratio of energy returned on energy invested. In other words, they could use one barrel of oil to get a hundred back. Those extra ninety-nine barrels are what we use to power society and pay people and build our complex civilization. That make sense so far?”
“If your figures are correct.”
Mr. Humphrey folded his hands in his lap. “The fields we were drilling in 1970 were only a twenty-five to one ratio. We already exploited the cheap easy stuff. By the nineties, we were drilling fields that were returning around fourteen to one. The stuff we’re drilling today is maybe three to one. It’s barely worth doing anymore. You remember the BP disaster in 2010, with the Deepwater Horizon?”
“And BP got a slap on the wrist.”
“Forget about the politics for a moment. They drilled what at the time was the deepest well ever drilled. 35,000 feet. That’s over six miles deep. Think about that. It was an amazing feat of engineering. Now, why would BP risk their capital and the men that worked that rig, if they could drill a well on land, or in shallow water?”
“I don’t know.”
Mr. Humphrey leaned forward. “They did it because the easy wells have already been drilled.”
“All the more reason to transition to renewables.”
The old man leaned back. “These other sources of energy have low energy returns. Ethanol is barely over one to one. It would stop tomorrow without subsidies. People think they’re helping farmers with ethanol, but they’re killing poor people at the margins all over the world with higher corn prices. We still haven’t made algae oil better than one to one. Biodiesel’s a little better at two and a half to one. Brazil has a good thing going with sugar cane at eight to one. Wind and solar do have a nice energy return at twenty to thirty to one, but they produce electricity, not liquid fuels, and we haven’t found an economic, long lasting battery to make it work on a large scale. And we need fossil fuels to produce and maintain a solar and wind infrastructure.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because people need to know the truth. Government will never tackle this issue. It’s too big, and talking about something this bleak is sure to kill any candidacy. I’ve been dealing with government for forty years, and I can tell you one thing for sure. They’ll run this thing off the cliff, then find someone else to blame for the mess.”
“What’s the solution?”
Mr. Humphrey took a deep breath, his mouth turned down. “It’s too late for solutions. It’s like we’re all on an airplane that’s gonna crash. Some of us know it, some of us are in denial, but most of us are just plain ignorant. Those of us in the know have a choice. We can put on our seatbelts and get ready for impact, or we can party with the stewardesses.”
Katie stared at the screen, dumbstruck. She blinked and tapped on her text messaging.
Katie: Declan, I just watched your interview. Call me, I want to talk to you about it.
She navigated to YouTube on her phone and responded to a few of the latest comments on her channel. She checked the most popular videos on YouTube. Her latest video was in the top ten for a few hours. Three of the top ten videos featured George Chapman. She’d seen these videos, but she didn’t realize how popular they’d gotten. There was the raw footage of the attack, the spoof video that featured Congressman Bradley saying that he helped Chapman, and showing that he clearly did the opposite. The number one video was Chapman going off on some reporter and calling the US government a terrorist organization. She wasn’t overly impressed by the video. More ramblings by a pissed off anarchist. But there’s something about him that people respond to.
Katie smiled wide, and tapped Declan on her phone.
“Babe, I really can’t talk now,” Declan said in lieu of a greeting. “I’m in the middle of research on solar.”
“I thought the interview was really good. Shocking, actually.”
Declan exhaled. “The old man’s a fucking nut case.”
“It’s not true?”
“I just found an MIT study that says it is possible to power the planet with solar.”
“That’s a relief. I figured he was being overly pessimistic.”
“Big surprise, an oil exec talking out of his ass. And I can’t use any of it. A big fucking waste of my time. Now, I’m back to square one.”
“I might have a solution for you.”
“You have another oil exec that’ll admit that they’re ruining the environment?”
“What do you think about doing a documentary on this George Chapman guy?”
“Did you hear the crazy shit he said to that reporter?”
“Did you know that video is number one on YouTube?”
“Why are people so fucking stupid?”
“We could show the public who this guy really is. We just have to ask the questions. He’ll reveal himself as a fool.”
“He’s definitely popular at the moment. We could make some money.”
“And the exposure would be huge for both of us.”
CHAPTER 12: Julie and Anarkooks
Julie spritzed hairspray to give her locks a bit more volume. Otherwise, her hair was as flat as a pancake. She stood in the bathroom mirror, insecure about her appearance for the first time in a long time. She was still beautiful, but age was starting to show on the margins. Faint crow’s feet around her eyes. She smiled, checking the lines between her mouth and nose. They were a little deeper. Her sister was right. She was running out of time.
She stepped out of the bathroom, grabbed her purse from her dresser, and glanced at the clock. Shit. She hustled toward the stairs, stopping at Max’s room on the way. She knocked.
“Come in,” Max said.
She entered her son’s bedroom. Max sat at his desk. He swiveled in his chair, away from his laptop. There was an email on the screen.
“I’m going to meet Larry,” Julie said. “How do I look?”
Max shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“You’re no help.” Julie glanced at his laptop screen. “Who are you emailing?”
“What are you two talking about?”
Max frowned. “Have you decided about me going virtual?”
“I’m really late. Can we talk about it later?”
Julie hurried downstairs, stepped outside and shut the front door. The sun warmed her skin as she rushed to her car. Her lawn was mowed. There were piles of clippings strewn about the yard, and green mower tracks where she had turned the mower on the concrete sidewalk. Before she entered her car, she glanced across the street. Dan’s blinds were parted, then they weren’t.
She weaved in and out of traffic as she drove across town. Finally, she parked at Panera Bread. The clock on her radio read, 12:13. She shook her head. He may have left. She hustled inside the restaurant. It was crowded and noisy, plates clinking, and people talking. She stood just inside, and looked around. He walked toward her. He looked better in his profile picture, and he was shorter than advertised. He wasn’t short though. Why exaggerate.
Larry approached with a grin on his face and good teeth. He was thin with small wrists, spindly fingers, small hands, a narrow neck.
“Julie,” he said.
Julie forced a smile. “Larry.”
He extended his hand.
“Sorry I’m late,” Julie said, as she shook his hand.
“Don’t worry about it, I just got here.”
“You’re a bad liar.”
He chuckled. “I’ve been here for forty-five minutes.”
Julie raised her eyebrows. The time was twelve, right?
“I was worried about being late,” Larry said, “and I wanted to have time to get the lay of the land, so to speak.”
“Well, I’m sorry I made you wait so long.”
“Do you want to get in line?”
The couple took their place in the back of the line. They studied the menu and discussed what they wanted. Julie ordered a soup and salad, Larry a soup and sandwich.
“I got it,” Larry said as the cashier looked at them expectantly.
“I have money,” Julie, said, fumbling with her purse.
“Don’t worry about it.” Larry handed his credit card to the cashier.
Larry snagged the last available booth. It was near the bathroom. They sat down. He placed the receipt in front of him on the table, waiting for his name to be called.
“You look exactly the same,” Larry said.
“That’s nice of you to say, but I feel old. My sister said my dating market value is going down by the day.”
Larry laughed. “Your dating market value?”
“Because I’m forty and I have a son.”
“Well, I guess we’re in the same boat, because I’m forty too.”
“Men become distinguished with age, but women become wrinkled old hags.”
“Oh, come on, you look great, and I’m sure you’ll look great when you’re eighty.”
Larry grinned. “So, do you keep up with anyone from high school?”
“I have a few friends on Facebook, but we don’t spend time together in real life.”
“Me too. Apart from commenting on each other’s pictures, we don’t interact much. It’s interesting how those people that seemed so important in high school can just disappear from your life.”
“People definitely go their separate ways.”
“You don’t remember me, do you?” Larry asked.
Julie froze. “I umm …”
“It’s not a big deal. I was invisible in high school. Probably the worst four years of my life.”
“That’s awful. I’m sorry, Larry.”
He shrugged. “Thankfully, high school was a long time ago. You probably loved high school.”
Larry held up his palms in surrender. “It’s an observation, not an accusation. And I would rather you had a good experience than my miserable one, believe me.”
Julie’s face softened. “I did enjoy it. My son hates it, though. You two would probably get along.”
“I’d love to meet him someday. What’s he like?”
“He’s different. Very smart. When he was in elementary school they wanted him to skip a grade, but I decided against it, because socially he’s always been a bit behind. He loves comics.” She smiled. “Graphic novels. He gets mad when I call them comics. I think he wants to be a cartoonist. He makes the coolest cartoons on his computer.”
Larry nodded. “I liked comics when I was a teenager. They were just comics then. For me, I liked seeing justice prevail, and good triumph over evil. I guess that’s why I put away criminals now.”
“Larry, Larry,” the loudspeaker said.
“I think they called your name,” Julie said.
Larry craned his neck toward the pickup counter. “I’ll go check.”
“Do you need some help?”
“I can handle it.”
Larry returned with their food on a tray. They ate between bits of conversation.
“How’s your sandwich?” Julie asked.
“Not great, but edible,” Larry replied. “Your salad?”
“It’s good.” Julie took a bite.
“You know, I had a huge crush on you in high school.”
Julie almost choked on her walnut salad. She swallowed. “Really?”
Larry nodded. “Of course, I didn’t have the courage to even talk to you. And you had a pretty serious boyfriend, if I remember correctly. What was his name?”
Julie closed her eyes for a moment, her face rigid. “Justin.”
“That’s right, Justin, the football star.” One side of his mouth turned up. “Whatever happened to him?”
Julie pursed her lips and set her fork down with a clang. “I married him and he died.”
Larry’s eyes went wide, he spoke rapidly. “Oh, my God, I’m so sorry, I had no idea. I mean I knew you were a widow from your profile, but I didn’t know you married Justin.”
“No, it’s not. I’m really sorry.”
“It’s okay.” Julie picked up her fork and took another bite of her salad. She glanced at the analog clock on the wall.
“That’s a bad sign.”
Julie swallowed. “What’s a bad sign?”
“You were checking the clock. I’ve ruined our date, haven’t I?”
“I thought we were just meeting as friends?”
He blanched. “Of course. Sorry.”
“You haven’t ruined anything. I was thinking about Max. I have to work tonight, and I’m supposed to talk to him before I go. I was just making sure I was okay on time. To be honest, I’m a bit anxious about it.”
“Anything you want to talk about?”
“I can’t imagine this is first date material.”
He grinned. “I thought we were just meeting as friends.”
She smiled. “You got me.”
“I think we’ve already talked about things we’re not supposed to on a first date or meeting or whatever you want to call it. I am a good listener, if I do say so myself.” He adjusted his black-rimmed glasses.
“Max fell on the stairs at school last week.”
He leaned forward, his hands interlaced and his elbows resting on the table. “Is he okay?”
“He’s fine, thank you. But he doesn’t want to go to school anymore, or at least he doesn’t want to go to the physical building anymore.”
Larry furrowed his brow, lines erupting on his large forehead.
“He wants me to let him go to school online,” Julie said. “He doesn’t have many friends at school.”
“Are you going to let him?”
Julie sighed. “It’s more complicated than that. Do you know the guy that’s been in the news, George Smith Chapman?”
“Yes, I hate that guy. What an asshole. Pardon my French.”
“You might not want to tell that to Max. I think Max idolizes him.”
“I don’t understand his popularity. I mean he did do something patriotic, but then he disgraced everything this country stands for. Did you hear what he said?”
Julie nodded. “I saw the video. Max knows him personally, not just on those videos.”
Larry raised his eyebrows.
“They were in the same hospital room, and now they’re emailing back and forth. I guess they’re friends.”
“How old is your son?”
“Now that’s weird. I don’t know what this Chapman guy wants with a fifteen-year-old kid. I’d be careful, if I were you.”
“That was my initial inclination. I asked Max if he thought George might be a pedophile.” Julie whispered pedophile. “But Max seems certain that he’s a good guy.”
“They don’t come out and tell you they’re pedophiles. They groom kids.”
“I think Max feels connected to him, because George told him that he had had a rough time in school too.” Julie sighed again. “Apparently, they talked about all sorts of things. He hasn’t given me any details, but now he wants to go virtual. Should I be worried?”
“I think you have cause for concern.”
“You might be right.”
“Maybe Max just needs to connect with someone that understands what he’s going through—not that you don’t understand, but you don’t have that shared experience of having a tough time in school.”
“I thought about that.”
“If you ever wanted me to talk to him.”
“Oh, that’s really nice of you to offer. That would definitely be beyond the call of duty for a first date.”
Larry chuckled. “Well, not today. If you ever invited me over, and I met Max, I could casually talk about my time in school. Maybe it would give him someone to talk to other than that anarkook.”
He chuckled again. “It’s what I like to call the anarchists.”
“I do think you two would hit it off.”
“I’d love to take you out on a real date. Dinner next week?”
“I’d like that.”