Tuesday, May 19, 2009


The following is a draft of Chapter One of my post-oil novel entitled AMERICAN CRUDE.

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--Innocent Byproduct


A Novel of the Coming Post-Oil Collapse
Innocent Byproduct


Getting kidnapped by men who do it for a living means they know how to silence you, how to prevent you from fighting back, and how to get you from a public sidewalk into their awaiting van in mere seconds.

I had seen the black-bag-over-the-head thing done in movies. But what I never realized prior to the night of my own abduction is just how well the bag works to keep you from screaming. Using the element of surprise, the bag takes your breath away. And then your voice box can’t function when your cloth-covered head gets snapped back a full ninety degrees as if you were a human Pez dispenser. After maybe ten seconds (if you have retained your wits and gotten a handle on what’s happening) you might be able to muster your breath and scream through the bag. But you’re already face-down in van at that point, and it’s already speeding away. The black bag also has a dampening effect on your instinct to swing your arms and legs at your assailants since you can’t see what to swing at. The kind of men who use black bags are professionals after all, trained to know that the human fight-or-flight reflex is almost 100% wired into the vision centers. So shutting down your vision prevents that very specialized cocktail of an adrenaline dump from ever happening, and makes it all the easier for them to force your arms behind you and loop the flat plastic cords onto your wrists. Of course, an entirely different adrenaline dump happens instead --one of fear and helplessness, one that sets your heart pounding so hard you can hear it as you lie on the carpeted floor of the fast-moving vehicle. While the cruel grip of many unseen hands, knees and shoes keeps you pinned to that floor, you feel your throbbing shoulders moan from being torqued back far enough to where they might dislocate. I learned first hand that night that the black bag robs you of any inclination to fight, and instead it makes you cower in quiet submission, leaving you to pant quick shallow breaths into its smothering darkness.

*** *** *** ***

MK called me at home late on a Thursday night. Her goal that evening was pure antagonism.

She started out with the false accusation that I’d endangered Jason. “He told me he saw a rat in your rear courtyard,” she said.

I might’ve laughed at her for being so petty, but held back when I noticed the extra care she took with her words-–too perfect, too well spoken. And that’s when I figured out she was “performing” for an eavesdropper --someone she’d arranged to listen in, either on conference call or standing right next to her. Exactly who she’d involve at nine PM had me worried. Maybe her sister, maybe her lawyer, God forbid it was our nine-year-old son.

“This is the City,” I kept my tone flat. “There are rats.”

“Well then, Peter, maybe you should get a proper apartment in an elevator building with a doorman.” She never called me “Peter” except to be condescending.

“Tell ya’ what, Mary Kelly, I’ll inform my landlord that our son saw ONE rat out back, okay?” And I never called her “Mary Kelly” except to return the favor.

As I intended, my reply prompted a lengthy pent up rage from her. While I at first delighted in her mistake of getting angry, my victory fizzled as I realized she wasn’t exhibiting the haphazard frenzy she typically thrashed around in during one of her tirades. Instead she voiced her grievances with a calm and glaring orderliness, indicating pre-phone call planning. And in my silence, as I endured her well-rehearsed attack, I became all the more certain her real intention was to renegotiate my custody of Jason.

Most of her ire that night took careful aim at my apartment, which I admit was old --a one bedroom mom-and-pop over an antiques shop near Locust Street. But it was clean and the neighborhood respectable. My lawyer said the judge was satisfied with the place so MK had no legal grounds to protest. Meanwhile she knew where all my buttons lay, and pushed them that evening for reasons I knew went far beyond her standard need of self satisfaction.

Her laundry list was so orderly it made me suspect she was reading from a sheet of paper: how dare I use a work vehicle to pick up Jason, how dare I not bring him to Mass on my Sundays with him, how dare I not have cable or internet for him, how dare I not have air conditioning, how dare I hang my Desert Storm souvenirs on my walls where he can see them, how dare I be a lousy cook. I at last demanded she tell me who was in the room with her, and added: “I sure do hope it’s not Jason.” She didn’t answer.

As my last resort I tried a “safe word” on her, a forgotten leftover from our bygone days of hot sex and real trust, a remnant of our now dead “marriage language.” She ignored it and continued her screed. So I gave up. I just stood there in my kitchen as she verbally flailed me, fixing my eyes on the wall-mounted phone base where a tiny red light blinked from that day’s unretrieved messages (mostly my creditors). Without telling her, I grabbed a pen and note pad and started writing down each of my alleged crimes.

All the while I imagined what she probably looked like at the other end of the line: standing in her own kitchen (which I renovated myself to her liking five years earlier), her phone-holding hand buried deep in her long blonde mane, her free hand jerking left and right as it brandished its lethal index finger of condemnation.

When she finished and hung up, I surprised myself when I slammed my own receiver into the cradle with a punch-like force. The blow made a spurt of white plaster grit fall from behind the phone base and sprinkle loudly on the floor at my feet. Shocked at my outburst I froze myself in place, still clutching the warm plastic phone, staring hard at the blinking red light. I took slow deep breaths to prevent a hallway stomping tantrum. After at last achieving a calm, I released the phone and glanced over to the fridge where I’d scotch taped a recent photo of Jason. He mugged for the camera with my smile and his mother’s bright blue eyes. It hung beside a water color he drew four days earlier at my kitchen table depicting the two of us standing with an elephant, a giraffe, and a kangaroo at Philadelphia Zoo.

I sighed and turned back to my list of her rants, determined to call my lawyer first thing in the morning.

Later in my living room I readied for bed by yanking open the futon, traces of anger evident in the force of that yank. As I undressed, a warm September breeze wafted through the curtains at me.

I lay on the mattress and obsessively replayed MK’s words in my mind, dreading the possibility Jason overheard everything. After ten minutes of enduring the torment of that endless audio loop I got up and took a sleeping pill.

I slept. And then I dreamt.

My dreams that night involved Jason. I suffered through a half dozen scenarios of him turning up missing. And each time I went ape-shit trying to find him. But the one that really scared me had a giant ocean-going freightliner sailing off with him hidden somewhere onboard. I don’t recall all the details of the dream but it was late at night in the dead of winter, and I ran along the docks of the shipyard, chasing the departing ship as it roared alongside me, and eventually right past me. Then I slipped and fell in the water, freezing and drowning on my way to the bottom of the icy Delaware.

I woke up from that dream both sweating and cold.

I looked over at the fluttering curtains next to my futon. The warm evening had turned frigid. Trembling from both the chilled air and the fright of my dream, I fought hard against the sleeping pill and dragged myself up to close the window. After I lay down again I tried (and failed) to shake off the terror of losing my boy.

-------------------End of Chapter 1--------------------

.....................................Chapter 2-a...>>>>