Wednesday, June 10, 2009

AMERICAN CRUDE - Chapter 9-f

The following is a draft of Chapter 9-f of my post-oil novel AMERICAN CRUDE. Comments have been disabled. If you wish to comment, please go to TheKunstlerCast at and join the discussion.


--Innocent Byproduct

I pressed my face against the glass again, trying to see what else lay in the room. And then off against one wall I saw a pair of French doors leading to a granite floor lit by a floodlight. I squinted at the French doors, trying to discern what else lay beyond them. And I saw a very short set of just a few granite steps leading up from the granite floor to what looked like grass. A moth flitted past the French doors, lured by the floodlight. A moth! I’m at the surface! The granite “floor” was actually a patio. So this lovely TV room with the calico cat was in truth the nicely finished walkout basement of an actual house.

I again tried the doorknob, but it wouldn’t budge. And suddenly I heard the Blackberry beep. I pulled out the telephone and the screen now had a different message other than the same old tiresome “No signal.” This time the screen read “You have 1 new voice mail.”

Transmission range!

I looked at the bar indicator: it only registered one bar instead of the usual five. And that sole bar kept flickering right before my eyes, in and out of existence, so I knew the transmission here was very weak, but it was better than nothing.

I immediately dialed 911. As I waited for the line to start ringing, I fished out Catherine’s driver’s license. But instead of hearing a ring, the phone coldly beeped that same discordant tone at me of “No signal.” I grumbled, knowing the phone still couldn’t quite latch onto a firm connection with a nearby tower. I started walking around the utility room, holding the phone up high, trying to coax that sole flickering bar into a steady and unwavering reliability. But the further I got from the glass window, the weaker the signal got. Only when I was right up against the glass would the bar come back with any degree of steadfastness. So I pressed the phone against the glass and again dialed 911. But again the transmission dropped and the “No signal” text reappeared.

I glanced at her drivers license again. The address read: 17 Maple Street, Glicksville, PA. I had never heard of Glicksville before. It sounded very German and considering the region it was most likely a small Amish community. But just because that was the address on her license didn’t guarantee it was also the address of the house I was standing in.

I tried calling back several more times, but each attempt was cut short by the unmerciful text box that read “No signal.” My only hope now was if the standard 911 procedures concerning disconnected calls would kick in. Specifically, I hoped the first attempted call had made it through to the police with enough data intact for them to at least either try to call back or else send a squad car out to investigate. But even if the police did arrive, how could I possibly get their attention from this locked room? And even if they somehow got into the house and even managed to see me trapped behind the glass here in the basement and then break down the door, how could I possibly explain all of this?

And how could I convince them to come with me through the secret hidden passages, down the endless staircase and into the mysterious underground complex that used to be an above-top-secret black technology military base? What if I got arrested for trespassing before they were willing to believe me? Or what if I did convince them to come down with me into the bowels of Hell, and then we tragically found her dead?—would I then be blamed for her death? Or what if instead of the police showing up, the Men in Black came and took me away never to be seen again?

I also pondered the possibility that I could somehow bust out of this basement on my own by using the tools from the plumber’s shop. The navel piercer alone could probably put a good sized dent in the bullet-proof glass. And the flooring above me was merely wood, so I could easily saw my way through with one of several saws in that plumber’s shop.

I back-burnered those strategies and concentrated now upon the fact that I had been away from Catherine for nearly an hour now. I decided I needed to get back to her, check on her condition, and from there decide what to do.

I turned away from the glass, crossed the utility room, went through the studio apartment, and headed back to the long hallway full of food -- leaving all “secret” doors open behind me with my makeshift door stoppers. When I arrived at the top of the endless stairs I started the long descent back down again.

I reached the very bottom step in five minutes, utterly out of breath. My work shirt still sat wedged in the door. I snatched it up and slipped it back on again as I re-entered beneath the catwalk into that cold and cavernous level where over 400 oil tanks lay. I then looked toward the two closed sets of elevator doors where the work cart still sat -- but Catherine was no longer on it. All that remained was my letterman jacket in a heap on the floor!

-------------------End of Chapter 9-f--------------------

AMERICAN CRUDE - Chapter 9-e

The following is a draft of Chapter 9-e of my post-oil novel AMERICAN CRUDE. Comments have been disabled. If you wish to comment, please go to TheKunstlerCast at and join the discussion.


--Innocent Byproduct

No motion sensors kicked on any lights for me, so I groped along the wall and found a light switch. When the lights came on they revealed a very small empty room with the same low concrete ceiling and the same two elevator doors off to the side. A portable eight-foot banquet table stood alone against a blank wall with nothing at all on the table, not even dust. Across from the elevators stood a large pair of metal fireproof double doors. I glanced at the Blackberry -- still no signal. I went to the double-doors and they also were locked. But I applied the red key and they likewise opened -- inward toward me. As they opened, they triggered another motion sensor light.

The first light that kicked on revealed a long narrow closet before me with the same low ceiling. But this closet was lined on both sides from floor to ceiling with racks full of dry bulk food. Beyond the pale white gleam of the long thin overhead florescent light bulb, the closet continued forward into total blackness, the shelves of food disappearing in the dark.

How deep is this closet?

As I lingered in the doorframe of the closet, another light further into the closet suddenly kicked itself on, revealing more shelves. So now it seemed this “closet” was in fact a hallway, completely lined with food stores on both sides. And then another light kicked on, then another, and the length of the closet/hallway full of food continued to grow before my eyes. As the length progressed, I realized the floor of the hallway was actually sloping downward with a gentle curve to it. The curve of the floor reached its bottom-most point at about 40 feet from me, then started dipping upward again, but as it dipped upward, the rest of the hallway disappeared from my view. So this curving of the floor mimicked the same gentle downward-then-upward dip as the Lincoln Tunnel.

I lingered in the doorframe, listening to the sounds of more lights clicking on in the ever-increasing distance that lay beyond the upward dip. When it seemed the last of the lights had come to life, I waited and listened. I heard nothing but the hum of the lights.

I was about to start walking down this hallway until I checked the doors behind me to make sure they wouldn’t close. And I noticed they had no doorknobs. On further examination I realized they disguised themselves -- when closed -- as a blank wall to anyone inside the food hallway, with a thin seam down the middle of the “wall.”

I grabbed one lonely can of food from off a shelf and wedged it between the doors to keep them open. After I was certain those camouflaged doors wouldn’t shut behind me, I started walking. I traveled the length of the downward-curving hallway, passing by shelf after shelf of dry food, reached the very bottom of the downward dip -- which to my eye seemed to be the hallway’s mid-point -- then continued up the rising second half of the hallway where even more food shelves sat. I kept checking the Blackberry as I went. When I arrived at the far end, I again came to another double set of fire doors. They were unlocked. They opened into yet more darkness.

I groped the wall and found a light switch. This room was a small windowless and civilian-minded studio apartment. It had sparse furniture including a pair of double-sized beds with no bed clothes on the bare mattresses, a sofa, a kitchenette, and a small bathroom off to the side. It was obvious to me that no one actually lived here: no bed sheets, empty kitchen counter, mild dust build-up.

Dead ahead, across the living room area, another door sat. I went for it.

I emerged in the large, high-ceilinged, and very ordinary looking and unfinished utility room of a domestic household basement. For once I was beholding a room in this woman’s house that actually looked “normal.” A 550 gallon oil tank sat against one wall, right beside a string of six large-capacity hot water heaters, all top-of-the-line. I looked up at the wooden floor joists and judged the ceiling to be 15 feet high. There were plenty of pipes and vents zig-zagging above me, so if anyone ever wanted to one day finish off this basement room in such a way as to hide those ugly pipes with a drop ceiling, the final ceiling height could easily have been left at 10 feet with room to spare.

As I stood in this latest doorframe, I glanced back at the open door I held in my hand, and it also had no doorknob, and also was disguised -- when closed -- as a wall. I grabbed a chair from inside the hidden studio apartment and wedged it into the door before leaving it behind.

My latest Blackberry check once again proved fruitless. I glanced up from the Blackberry to scan the upper perimeter of all the walls and saw no windows anywhere. While I was still obviously underground, I was confident I had to be nearing the surface since I was now in the “house-proper.” So my hopes began to rise of emerging above ground any minute now and finally being able to employ the damned Blackberry.

The size of the oil tank told me the house was far more than the typical middle-class dimensions of just 2,000 square feet. And the “need” of six king sized hot water heaters told me the house was likely full of luxurious amenities: multiple full baths, multiple powder rooms, maybe a Jacuzzi, maybe a sauna, an ultra-modern dream kitchen, more than one washer/dryer, and a plethora of wet bars scattered here and there. And the master bathroom most likely had a heated marble floor.

I walked past the oil tanks, rounded the corner of a concrete wall, and spotted another metal fireproof door, and beside it hung a floor-to-ceiling curtain which seemed perhaps to be covering another door. I went to the fire door, tried the knob, and it was locked. This time the red key did not work. My heart skipped.

I turned to the curtain and yanked it aside. The curtain concealed a large glass picture window that came down to just counter-height. Through that widow I saw another room: a normal-looking domestic TV room with very high-end casual furniture and wall decorations. Unlike the studio apartment from a moment ago, this room looked “lived in.” I pressed my hands and face against the glass, peering through to see if I could spot another living person. Only one light illuminated the room: a tall and tasteful lamp on a handsome end table beside one of the easy chairs. I noticed something moving on the seat cushions of the easy chair, so I darted my eyes sideways from the end table to the chair where a calico house cat suddenly stood up from a nap and arched its back high to execute an extreme feline stretching ritual. And when I scanned my eyes further sideways from the cat, I noticed that the other end table on the other side of the easy chair sported a landline telephone.

“Oh shit!” I gasped when I spotted the phone.

I banged against the glass, shouting for help, hoping maybe a maid or a butler might have their sleeping quarters somewhere nearby. I saw the cat react sharply to my banging by coming to full attention and turning its head toward my window. I also saw the cat open its mouth and (I presume) give off a “meow.” But I couldn’t hear the meow. I contemplated breaking the window, but as I banged the glass with my hand, I sensed it was very dense. I turned my gaze sideways to the window encasement that the glass sat mounted within and I could see that the massive pane itself was over two inches in thickness, making it bullet-proof.

-------------------End of Chapter 9-e--------------------

AMERICAN CRUDE - Chapter 9-d

The following is a draft of Chapter 9-d of my post-oil novel AMERICAN CRUDE. Comments have been disabled. If you wish to comment, please go to TheKunstlerCast at and join the discussion.


--Innocent Byproduct

Out in the hallway I stood dead center. As I remained in that one spot I took a quick visual assessment left and right of the many door-pairings I had not yet entered. I estimated that there must have been at least a dozen more of these warehouses, and the thought of wasting time in exploring all of them began to anger me, making me think perhaps I should have tried my luck searching for the elevator key. I resolved to abandon this level and proceed up the stairs to the next one. As I headed back to the staircase I checked the time: ten thirty PM. I had been away from her for nearly half an hour. What if she woke up and I wasn’t there? What if she also was unable to locate the elevator key? What if she tried to walk up the stairs on her own and fell? Maybe I should never have left her.

I reached the door for the stairs but instead if entering I did another cell phone check. As expected: no signal.

I entered the stairwell and listened for the sounds of other bodies present (such as maybe Catherine struggling on the stairs below me). I heard nothing.

I climbed to the next level marked “SB-2.”

Again, I found a dark hallway that became suddenly lit by a motion sensor. Again, it was wide enough for two cars to travel. Again, it had a tangle of pipes and vents overhead. Again, many pairs of doors stood where a garage door was mated with a people door. The first set of doors I went to was labeled “Pharmacy.” I entered and found it stocked with non-perishable medical supplies. And again no phone anywhere. I held back my anger and stormed out.

After exiting that warehouse I returned to the staircase without bothering to explore the other storerooms, checking the Blackberry as I went.

I proceeded up to “SB-1.”

There I found unoccupied living quarters of military sensibilities: five barracks for twenty soldiers each, and several dozen private quarters for officers. None of the rooms had windows. Each room had phone jacks, but no phones. My frustration increased. I next found a completely unused mess hall, and then a medical clinic. The clinic caught my attention: surely there would be a means of communication in there.

I entered it and found a waiting room with no magazines, and a receptionist’s desk with nothing on it. Behind the receptionists desk sat a computer station with no computer and no phones. A door adjacent to the receptionist’s desk led into a large filing room whose open shelves sat utterly empty of any files. Beyond that I found many closets and store rooms, over a dozen examination rooms, several multi-bed hospital wards, and three operating rooms. But nothing that resembled a phone or a radio.

I exited the clinic and contemplated whether to explore this level any further. But I just shook my head and again returned to the staircase. Before exiting into the door for the stairwell, I did another Blackberry check: still nothing.

I proceeded up another level and arrived at the landing that was marked “LB.” I started to walk toward this door, but then paused and took the time to glance upward where I saw three more flights above me before the stairwell came to its termination. I turned back to the “LB” door, and that was when it suddenly hit me: “LB” stood for “Loading Bay.”

I took hold of the “LB” doorknob, but it wouldn’t turn: it was locked.

“Oh, God no.”

I tried banging and shouting. But there was no reply. I recalled what the elevator doors had looked like when Mystery Lady and I (Catherine and I) first stepped out of the limo. And I recalled the position of the sole fire door adjacent to the elevators --that door I had seen after exiting the limo was this door! I knew it without a doubt!

Was that limo driver still waiting out there all this time? I wondered. Would he hear me if I banged loud enough?


I began banging with everything I had. Then I stopped to listen. Again, no answer.

I took out the Blackberry, but it still proved lifeless.

I recalled the key ring, so I fished into my pockets, pulling them out with a jangle. I examined them all. I immediately eliminated the Mercedes key and concentrated on the rest. One at a time I tried them each in the keyhole. But one at a time they all failed to fit. Except for one—it was red, and it actually fit all the way into the keyhole, but it still wasn’t the correct key for this particular lock, so it simply didn’t turn.


I contemplated going back down to the bottom level and returning to the plumber’s shop beneath the catwalk. In that shop lay several excellent drills and saws capable of cutting through this doorknob. I tabled that idea for now and decided to keep ascending.

I re-pocketed the keys and continued up the stairs where I found two more blind and doorless landings. And then at last I reached the very top. The stairs terminated at a landing with a low concrete ceiling. I took another useless peak at the still-dormant Blackberry.

One wall of this landing had an air vent covered over by a metal grating. I briefly entertained the idea of popping off the grating and crawling through the air vent. But I instead turned my attentions toward the unmarked fire door opposite the vent. I turned the knob, but it was locked. Then I brandished Catherine’s keys and went straight for the red one. It likewise fit this keyhole. After I pushed it all the way in, I turned the key and felt the tiny locking pins effortlessly give way. The doorknob rotated and the door creaked open. I pushed through to yet more pitch blackness.

-------------------End of Chapter 9-d--------------------

AMERICAN CRUDE - Chapter 9-c

The following is a draft of Chapter 9-c of my post-oil novel AMERICAN CRUDE. Comments have been disabled. If you wish to comment, please go to TheKunstlerCast at and join the discussion.


--Innocent Byproduct

As I scanned the hallway left and right I saw other similarly paired sets of large garage-style doors mated with smaller people doors. Each set was spaced at least fifty feet apart before the next pairing of garage/people doors. Each additional pairing had a wall sign -- all too far away for me to read. The length of the hallway in both directions indicated it stretched as far as my football field many stories below.

“Hello?” I shouted, and it echoed back. I only half expected an answer. As before, I got none.

I again eye-balled the Blackberry. It was still out of signal range.

I walked past the useless elevator doors and headed for the Munitions Room. I took hold of the knob on the people door and turned: it wasn’t locked. I entered and found a huge and mostly empty warehouse far deeper than it was wide, so its dimensions were similar to a railroad boxcar. But the actual measurements made it ten times larger than a true rail car, making me a tiny mouse in the corner beholding its far wall spanning more than fifty yards of absolute emptiness.

If this had been a true munitions room, it would have held rack upon rack of guns, grenades, bombs, and ammunition. And access to those racks would have required getting past more than one heavily secured door as well as several guards and a ton of paperwork. But I only saw three meager racks of the sort one might expect to find in a private home, standing side-by-side in a straight and unbroken line, just to one side of the nearby garage door. All three racks sat draped with plastic dust cloths, blurred by a grayish yellow haze of dust. Through the blurry plastic I made out a fair number of hand guns, rifles and knives, all military grade, although I didn’t see any ammunition. I walked a circle around the racks and found an end-cap of drawers. I deliberately didn’t touch the drawers, but I suspected they held caliber-appropriate ammunition for each firearm.

I contemplated the danger of getting caught taking any of it, or of even being there. So after glancing around and spotting no phones, I decided it might be best to simply leave. But before exiting, I held up the Blackberry, again seeking a signal. (I got none.) I left that room and closed the door.

Back out in the hallway, I continued from door set to door set, not bothering to actually open the doors. I just read their many placards, hoping to find either a phone or another human being. No people presented themselves, but as for the names on the rooms, they bore such odd labels as “Millwork,” “Hardware,” “Electrical,” “Glass and Mirror,” “Metal Shop,” even one marked “Plumbing,” which peaked my interest.

I entered the Plumbing room. It was identical to the massive railroad boxcar dimensions of the Munitions room, except this room was actually full. Rack upon rack stretched through its whole length, every rack crammed full of supplies and covered with plastic sheets, and the plastic sheets covered with dust. It was like walking into a forgotten Home Depot, but just for plumbing. Pipes and valves and joints and faucets, all neglected for years. And then I found pipefitting equipment similar to what I saw in the workroom back down in the tank array. I also found one entire aisle full of small drawers, their exteriors labeled with content-descriptions: they all held small parts like washers and pipe caps and “O”-rings of assorted sizes and thicknesses. As I progressed toward the back of the room, I even found hundreds of dust-covered cardboard factory shipping containers full of brand name, high end, civilian bathroom fixtures: porcelain toilets, porcelain sinks, porcelain bath tubs -- all of which had at one time or another been the most expensive brands on the market. And lastly I found heating supplies including more factory shipping cartons of brand name home water heaters, home oil storage tanks, and home gas furnaces. Through the dust I recognized the brand names, and I also recalled that a few of those companies had either changed their logos since these boxes had been shipped, or else weren’t even in business anymore.

I checked the Blackberry, still got the “No Signal” warning, then tore myself away from this spectacle and returned to the hallway.

The very next set of doors was marked “Telecom” and that gave me hope. I quickly entered and found yet another dusty warehouse, also full of many rows of heavily stocked, plastic-draped racks, but this time it was all telecommunications equipment. I peeled back a few plastic, dust-fogged sheets to behold the myriad raw parts underneath, but no completed units -- just lots of wire and speakers and circuit boards. I also quite strangely found an entire aisle stocked with case upon case of many thousands of glass vacuum tubes -- I didn’t think anyone even used vacuum tubes anymore.

Toward the back I discovered hundreds of huge wooden spools of different grades of wiring, some insulated, some exposed. Next I found another aisle full of case upon case of small steel bells like an old fashioned windup alarm clock might have mounted on its topside in a matching pair, except these bells all sat loose and tumbling inside the cases. As I picked up one case to inspect it, the bells within all rattled and jangled on top of each other.

The final spectacle I came upon was a row of six massive heavy-duty wooden shipping crates, each large enough to hold a small automobile. They were all marked with the same label: “SWITCHBOARD.” I feverishly clawed at one and pried it open. A small avalanche of foam packing peanuts tumbled out and revealed a finely crafted and very old-fashioned looking wooden telephone switchboard. I had never seen a real switchboard in my life outside of an old movie. And here I was gazing upon the genuine article. But it wasn’t connected to anything, just sitting there in this packed and useless state. Mounted against the side of the crate I spotted an old and yellowing clear plastic pocket for documents. Folded up inside it I discerned an old pink shipping invoice. I fished it out, unfolded it, and read the details:

DATE: 02/24/2006
ADDRESS: 1892 Front Street, Philadelphia, PA
COMMENTS: 4 of 6 Kellogg telephone switchboards, circa 1928, Chicago, Illinois. Broker Jeffrey Beaumont, Philadelphia, PA.

I pocketed the shipping invoice and turned to leave.

I exited this room with both my mystification and frustration mounting in equal measures.

-------------------End of Chapter 9-c--------------------

Thursday, June 4, 2009

AMERICAN CRUDE - Chapter 9-b

The following is a draft of Chapter 9-b of my post-oil novel AMERICAN CRUDE. Comments have been disabled. If you wish to comment, please go to TheKunstlerCast at and join the discussion.


--Innocent Byproduct

“Oh my God,” I muttered.

I then started flipping through her family photos and found a wallet-sized portrait of an older version of the man whom twenty years earlier I had called Captain Warren, only in this photo he was much grayer and wore the uniform of a colonel. I continued to flip through the photos and found a snapshot of Mystery Lady standing on a tropical beach with Captain Warren/Colonel Warren. They wore bathing suits, and as they smiled for the camera they leaned romantically against one another. Although her hair in the photo was longer, her image here as compared to her present appearance told me the photo was as recent as five years, maybe less. She also looked quite good in a one-piece bathing suit and I lamented she hadn’t opted for a two-piece. I noticed he looked pretty good himself with no shirt on, although certainly older than when I knew him.

You came highly recommended, she had said to me earlier.

A flood of questions overpowered my mind, and the one that pushed its way to the forefront was:

“Is he really dead now?” and I asked it right out loud.

I flipped through the remaining photos and found one more item that answered my question: it was a “memorial prayer card.” That’s a laminated photo of a deceased loved one inscribed with either a prayer or a scripture and often handed out by the surviving family not long after the funeral. The photo on this memorial card was the same wallet-sized portrait of Colonel Warren I had found a moment earlier. According to the years indicating “birth” and “death” on the card, he had only recently died in that very calendar year. The scripture was a brief quote from the twenty-third Psalm: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”

The quest of helping Mystery Lady -- or Catherine, as I now knew her real name to be -- became far more urgent now. His wife! She’s his wife! One of the best men that I over met had married one of the best women that I ever met. I felt a sudden obligation to do my damndest in helping her, especially so soon after his death. I now reasoned that if I could somehow find in this place a live transmission zone allowing a cellular connection I could call for help on her Blackberry.

I pocketed her keys, the Blackberry, and her drivers license, then left her purse sitting by the computer. I ran from the control room, racing for the break room, hoping for an alternate exit somewhere in that hallway. I found nothing but a janitor’s closet and an electrical room. While still in the break room I glanced at the Blackberry, but there was no signal there either. I resolved to return to the stairs and climb until I could achieve a cell phone signal.

Once in the stairwell, I again checked the Blackberry. Nothing. So I braced myself and resumed my upward climb. It was another six flights up those merciless stairs until I found another doorway. This one was marked “SB-3.”

Exhausted and gasping for air, I staggered over to this still-closed door and leaned against it. I held off on opening the door so I could glance at the Blackberry -- again no reception. I snorted and tried the doorknob. It opened. I entered into pitch blackness and dead silence. All I saw was the dagger of light from my opened door casting down upon a pale tiled floor similar to the tiles in the break room. As I pushed forward, I again triggered a motion sensor and the overhead lights came on. I found myself in a very long, vanilla-colored hallway. The width was massive enough for two cars side-by-side to comfortably drive down, and the ceiling rose about thirty feet above where pipes and vents lined it in complex paths and connections. I recognized the sizes, thicknesses, and materials used in all the pipes and vents, and I was pretty sure I correctly knew which was which as far as heating, air conditioning, water, sewer, and fire sprinklers. I next saw a large garage-style door almost directly in front of me, tall enough for a bus to drive through. Beside it sat a normal “people door.” A wall sign between them both read “Munitions Room.”

-------------------End of Chapter 9-b--------------------

AMERICAN CRUDE - Chapter 9-a

The following is a draft of Chapter 9-a of my post-oil novel AMERICAN CRUDE. Comments have been disabled. If you wish to comment, please go to TheKunstlerCast at and join the discussion.


--Innocent Byproduct


I started running, skipping two and three steps at a time. And when I got to the first landing I found no door at all, just a blank wall. This unnerved me. Why was there no door? No floor to exit onto? But then when I recalled the height of the catwalk above, and the array of oil tanks below, I realized the catwalk was far too high for there to be any doors at all this soon in the progression of stairs. It would easily be a full three or even four stories yet before I’d hit the level of that catwalk. So I just kept climbing.

Level after level I climbed, blind landing after blind landing, and there were still no exit doors, just a blank concrete wall. By the third landing I was exhausted. No longer skipping stairs I plodded onward, my lungs heaving for breath. By the fifth level I found a door. It was marked “SB-4-A.”

I grabbed the doorknob and prayed it wasn’t locked.

It opened and I stepped out onto the catwalk beside the elevator doors she and I first emerged from earlier. Breathlessly I staggered toward the pipe railing, ignoring the spectacle of the tank array, and then I ran to my left along the railing and into the darkened control room with its sleeping computer monitors.
I hit the lights and looked around. All of the work stations sat vacant and unattended, their monitors softly glowing with screensavers, their keyboard trays all tucked under the counters, their rolling office chairs all pushed in … all except for one. The chair of that one rogue work station waited loosely to one side, the keyboard tray hung all the way out, and her purse sat beside the monitor with her Blackberry next to it.

I ran to the Blackberry and snatched it up. I started to dial 911 but then I stopped. She had insisted no ambulance crew was to come down and see this facility. After contemplating her preference for barely three seconds, I rolled my eyes and muttered: “Screw that! She needs an ambulance, dammit!” Then I finished dialing 911.

I held the phone to my ear and waited to hear the first ring. But instead it beeped out a disagreeable and discordant tone. I pulled the phone away from my ear and beheld the screen displaying the dreaded words: “No signal.”

I slammed the phone down to the counter again.

Next I sat at the computer and jiggled the mouse to disengage the screensaver. But all I found was a pop up widow prompting for a password. Through gritted teeth I tried to bypass the password requirement, but to no avail: it unbudgingly demanded a password.

I tried the other computers, and they all demanded passwords.

I looked around the room and spotted a neat and orderly row of a half-dozen old-fashioned wall-mounted telephones with long spiraling phone cords. I ran to them and picked up the first phone: no dial tone. I hit some buttons, and even tried hitting “9” to get an outside line, but still got no dial tone. I slammed that phone back onto its hook again and moved on to the next phone. It was dead as well. I went down the line of phones, trying them all. But all were lifeless.

I went back to her purse again and started searching through it. I unzipped and emptied every last internal compartment. I found makeup, a wallet, a paper address book, tampons, pens, and a set of keys with a round flat leather key fob shaped like a disk. I searched the many keys of her key ring, looking for a possible duplicate to the elevator key, but all I found were a few house keys, a Mercedes car key, and other smaller keys, none of which bore the distinctive shape of that round-barreled elevator key. I was about to put the keys back into the purse again when I changed my mind and decided to keep them in case they came in handy with any doors I might encounter. I held them up to give them one last look before pocketing them, but then I froze.

The thick round flat leather key fob caught my attention.

The fob had an easily peeled-back flap which covered over an inner-pocket where a round and shiny treasure lay tucked inside. That inner pocket was designed as a semi-circle of leather which half-way covered a large silver-looking coin that was perfectly fitted to the dimensions of the leather fob --or perhaps it was the leather fob that was perfectly fitted to dimensions of the coin. Even though I could only see half the coin while it sat in the pocket, I still recognized it.

I slipped the coin from that inner pocket and held it up … yes … it was exactly what I knew it to be. It read “Operation Desert Shield -- Iraq -- 1990 -- The Desert Rat Squad.” I flipped it over and beheld the cartoon image of a grinning rat wearing flight shades, a flack jacket, an army helmet, and sporting a machine gun over his shoulder.

After being sufficiently stunned by this, I went back into her purse and found her wallet. I bypassed the cash and the platinum cards and went straight for her Pennsylvania drivers license: she was 39 years old and her name was Catherine Warren.

-------------------End of Chapter 9-a--------------------

AMERICAN CRUDE - Chapter 8-c

The following is a draft of Chapter 6-d of my post-oil novel AMERICAN CRUDE. Comments have been disabled. If you wish to comment, please go to TheKunstlerCast at and join the discussion.


--Innocent Byproduct

I hit the “door open” button and the doors obeyed. I wheeled her back out of the elevator again and against the wall just near the open elevator. Then I closed her velvet coat over her and re-draped my letterman jacket over her, again tucking it in around her. After I finished with that, the elevator doors once again closed and I could tell the empty elevator car was merely sitting there behind those doors, utterly unmoving.

I glanced up from her to visually scan the walls on either side of the elevators, searching for a door. As a plumber, my experience with the skeletal construction of large modern complexes is that most architects positioned the vertical framework of an elevator shaft close to the vertical framework of a stairwell. So surely if there was a staircase anywhere, it had to be nearby.

Looking off toward the right of the elevators, I spotted a plain fire door just a few yards away. In faint letters it read “STAIRS.”

“I’ll be back!” I said to her even though she likely couldn’t hear me. Then I bolted away from her and opened that door. It led straight into a darkened and echoing staircase.

I stepped into the stairwell, taking care to not let the door close behind me. My presence triggered a motion sensor and the lights came on, revealing that I now stood at the very bottom landing of a typical, windowless, fireproof staircase of concrete and metal. No other level existed beneath me.

I didn’t want the door to close behind me, and I also wanted to leave a clue for Mystery Lady as to my whereabouts in the event she awoke, so I took off my blue work shirt with the embroidered oval name patch reading “Pete,” leaving me wearing just my blue work pants and white t-shirt. I bunched up the work shirt and wedged it onto the floor between the door and the doorframe, blocking the door open. I was now feeling the frigid cold of that place, but I ignored it. As I tested the integrity of my doorstopper, I noticed the door was marked “SB-4-B.” I then stepped forward and looked straight up to survey the ascending well of stairs.

It had more of the same industrial pipe-railings as the catwalk. I looked up the well and could see that the spiraling rectangles of stairs and landings continued upward for what was easily several dozen whole flights, far too many for me to count. I imagined carrying her up and shuddered at the prospect. It’s not that I wasn’t strong enough, I just dreaded the risk of inflicting internal injuries upon her or aggravating existing ones. I stood there and fiercely closed my eyes as I tried to assess what to do next.

I saw three choices before me now:

1) Run up the stairs and try to secure outside help. Maybe there was a phone in the glass control room that overlooked the tanks. Or maybe one of those upper levels would bring me into this mysterious and exceedingly private house I kept hearing about.

2) Run back to the repaired oil tank and see if I could locate the missing elevator key somewhere on the floor.

3) Carry her all the way up the stairs and try to bring her to help myself.

The last choice did not appeal to me since it could very well kill her. But leaving her behind also made me very leery. And searching further for the elevator key might prove a colossal waste of time in the face of needing to get her to a doctor immediately.

I opted to head up the stairs alone.

-------------------End of Chapter 8-c--------------------

AMERICAN CRUDE - Chapter 8-b

The following is a draft of Chapter 8-b of my post-oil novel AMERICAN CRUDE. Comments have been disabled. If you wish to comment, please go to TheKunstlerCast at and join the discussion.


--Innocent Byproduct

It wasn’t the most lady-like position that she’d collapsed into and was actually rather sad looking. I gently guided her body backward toward the floor to lay her out as flat as possible, and since I had to cradle her head with my hand I had no choice but to touch her soft beautiful hair for the very first time.

My immediate task was estimating how extensively her ribs might have been damaged: one punctured lung and she could easily be dead in ten minutes via drowning in her own blood as it oozed into her air sacs. If she had already suffered such a puncture, then she would soon be coughing up horrifying volumes of frothy pink foam, and by then it would be too late.

Once I got her on her back, I reached over and snapped off the clattering oil pump. I then leaned my ear down to her mouth to listen to her breathing: no wheezing, no liquid gurgling noises, so her lungs were probably fine. I breathed a sigh of relief while ignoring how lovely she smelled.

I stood up, and in frantic helplessness looked around the massive chamber.

“HELLO!” I called out, certain no one was there to hear. My voice echoed multiple times against the icy frigid walls. “WE NEED HELP! PLEASE HELP!”

No answer. And I expected nothing else.

I ran all ten fingers through my hair as I looked back down at her weighed out weather to leave her lying there or risk carrying her out. If her ribs were broken, moving her could indeed puncture a lung. But leaving her on the freezing cold concrete of this freezing cold dungeon would only encourage her going into shock. I thought back to my Army training and the course in emergency field medical treatment I was given. A litter! I need a litter! I looked at the work cart, paused for barely a second, then lunged for it.

I shoved the equipment off the cart, crashing it all onto the floor in just two sweeps of my arms. Once the cart was clear I turned back to her and knelt down. Gently! Gently! I told myself. Don’t screw this one up! I slowly slid one arm underneath her shoulders and the other under her knees. I lifted her very slowly, trying to avoid either compressing or flexing her torso in any way. When I reached a full stand, I pivoted back to the cart and set her down upon the empty tabletop. She was too tall for the cart to service her as a formal stretcher, so I draped her knees over the far edge so her feet could dangle down. Then I took off the letterman jacket she gave me earlier and covered her with it as well as I could to keep in the warmth.

Now it was time to roll.

I restrained myself from racing with the cart, and throttled back to just a very fast walk. My worst fear was that in my haste I might scuttle the cart and send her flying.

I maneuvered her through the many rose-less trellises, past the rectangular pits with their huge cylindrical tanks, following the 40-yard line toward the sidelines where I could now see the doors of the elevators.

After I decelerated the cart and came to a halt right at the elevators, I slammed my hand into the call button and pumped it with a rapid fire of machinegun-like button pressings -- a needless effort since the doors opened before my third button-strobe. I then wheeled her inside the huge hospital-sized elevator car and turned to the button panel. I hit the level marked “LB” but nothing happened. The doors did not close, and the light behind the button for “LB” did not even light up. It was as if the elevator was ignoring me.

The key! I realized. I need the elevator key!

I popped open the door of the emergency phone and yanked the receiver to my ear. But it was dead. At that moment, the elevator doors closed and I took a hopeful breath. With my eyes straining upward in the vain hope that I could see through the elevator ceiling to the cable above, I tipped the useless emergency phone slightly away from my head and hovered it above my shoulder as I waited and listened, praying the elevator would start rising. It didn’t. I lingered for one more moment, but it still wouldn’t rise.

I snorted and tipped the phone back to my ear again and leaned over toward the open storage compartment for the emergency phone. With my eyes scanning it and my free hand feeling around inside of it, I searched the interior of the cabinet for a call button, but there was none. I found nothing but an odd slit below the phone cradle, like an old fashioned razor disposal slot found in the rear of a bathroom medicine chest.

I sighed and slammed the phone back into its cradle again and turned back to the still unconscious Mystery Lady. She was no longer blue, but the paleness to her skin worried me.

“Mrs. Jones!” I called to her while gripping her shoulders, yet avoiding any actual shaking of them. “Mrs. Jones! Please wake up! I need the elevator key!” But not only did she not stir, she probably also was in no way being subconsciously stimulated by my calling out a name that we both knew was not truly hers. I leaned my ear down to her mouth as before to make sure she was still breathing. She was, but just barely.
I then pulled the blanketing letterman jacket off of her and started searching her various pockets, from her velvet coat to her designer jeans. But all I found was a lipstick and a purse pack of disposable tissues.

Did she drop it? I wondered. Did it maybe fly right out of her hand when the accident happened?

I contemplated running back to the repaired oil tank and searching the floor around it, but then the thought occurred to me that it had possibly bounced into an open pit, or was even hidden among the now broken mess of equipment I’d hurled off the cart onto the floor. Maybe I’d find it. Maybe I wouldn’t. The fact that her hat flew so far off her head made me wonder how far the key could have traveled.

“Dear God! How the hell do I get her out of here?”

My next instinct was to search for a staircase.

-------------------End of Chapter 8-b--------------------

AMERICAN CRUDE - Chapter 8-a

The following is a draft of Chapter 8-a of my post-oil novel AMERICAN CRUDE. Comments have been disabled. If you wish to comment, please go to TheKunstlerCast at and join the discussion.


--Innocent Byproduct


After the break was over, we headed back down the elevator together so I could show her the newly-repaired tank. When we arrived, the toaster-sized electric pump sat chugging away on the floor just near the pit and beside the work cart. It steadily drew the spilled oil up through a dangling hose then redirected it back to the tank through a second hose connected to the tank’s intake port. The oil in the pit had grown so shallow now that its color had faded from black to a murky yellow, and so the floor of the pit was once again visible through the spill. Soon the oil would be so shallow that the pump would be useless, so my next task would be to vacuum the remaining half-inch of oil with an oil vac.

As she stood near the rim of the pit and surveyed the diminishing oil spill, I walked past the rumbling pump to the work cart. There I picked up the charred remains of the broken valve I’d blowtorched off. I turned and held them up for her.

“Here’s the old valve,” I grinned. “Just scrap now.”

She grinned back at me and stepped closer to the pump to come over and get a better look. But as she walked she accidentally kicked the pump on its side, tripping over it. And then she fell forward onto the cart. I was so startled I actually bit my tongue.

She landed face-down on the cart’s tabletop where she hit the navel piercer with her right shoulder and set it off. First I heard the recoil, then I heard her scream and saw her body jolt sideways from the blow against her torso. The force of the impact was so strong that her brown velvet hat was knocked off her head.

I dropped the valve pieces and reached forward to her. I took hold of both her velvet covered shoulders from behind and found her whole body stiff with pain, her arms wrapped tightly around and in front of her, but more favoring of the right side of her body. I started to turn her over to get a look at the injury, but she screamed from the forced motion. I stopped mid-way in my turning of her and just continued to clutch her by her shoulders. I opted to do nothing more than speak to her now.

“Mrs. Jones! I wanna help you! Please tell me where you were struck!”

“My side!” she gasped through the pain. “My ribs I think!” Her whole body was taut and vibrating with pain. Her cheeks were a bright red.

“Does it hurt to breathe?”


With hardly any breath she started to sink to her knees, scraping one side of the work cart as she descended. I helped her to go down very slowly, supporting her just enough to prevent her from collapsing in a heap. When she finally hit her knees, she stayed utterly silent, her body quivering tightly, her cheek pressed against the cart as she desperately clutched at the side of her chest with both arms.

“Okay, I gotta call an ambulance!”

“No!” she broke away from the cart in a panic and turned partway to look me in the eye. Her face was no longer red and was a pale pasty white.

“What? Why not?” I kept holding her shoulders, worried if I let go she might fall over, but also worried if I gripped too hard I might hurt her.

“They can’t come down here! No one can see this place!”

“Mrs. Jones! You need a doctor!”

“Not here! Take me upstairs instead! Take me upstairs to my house so I can call my private physician. He’ll do a house call for me, but he can’t come down here. He has to see me upstairs in the house itself. No one can come down here.” In agony she turned her face back around toward the cart again.

“Mrs. Jones--”

“--No ambulance ….” Her voice was growing weaker. I honestly believe she was unable to breathe at that point. In a whisper she spat out: “Take me upstairs to call my doctor.”

With my face just behind her head I slid one hand down from her shoulder to the middle of her back, bracing her spine. And somehow the scent of the oil diminished and I could actually smell her perfume instead. Perhaps the burst of her own body heat and adrenaline intensified the perfume’s strength. Or perhaps my own sense of smell was somehow heightened in my panic. Whatever the reason, at that moment she smelled just amazing, and her coat’s velvet felt so soft. My frantic sense of medical urgency for her was suddenly joined by an innate sense of protectiveness toward her, and I now had to fight the sudden urge to cradle her in my arms. I instead forced myself to look intently at the wedding ring on her left hand upon her right shoulder.

“Mrs. Jones … where is your husband? Can I at least call HIM down here?”

She opened her mouth and nothing happened -- she could not get any air to move in or out. She was starting to turn blue! In the sudden silence, the chugging of the oil pump was all I could hear. And then her voice finally came in a deeply strained whisper: “My husband is dead.” At that moment the full weight of her upper body slumped in the sudden backward collapse of her spine against my hand. Then her head flopped straight forward to her chest: she had passed out.

-------------------End of Chapter 8-a--------------------


The following is a draft of Chapter 7 of my post-oil novel AMERICAN CRUDE. Comments have been disabled. If you wish to comment, please go to TheKunstlerCast at and join the discussion.


--Innocent Byproduct


We both sat in the break room, chatting over cookies and orange juice. But then after a while she gave off a loud sigh to preface her next statement:

“Well, Mr. Walczak,” she suddenly had a very quiet yet pointed tone, indicating she was about to say something weightier than mere small talk. “I’d like to thank you for refraining from asking unwanted questions, and simply doing what I paid you to do. I explained earlier that it was better that you not ask questions, regardless of how bizarre my home proved to be. And you have complied with my request. Meanwhile, do you think you might like to consider coming back again to perform future plumbing work here at my house? And again, I’ll pay you top dollar for your skill and your discretion.”

“I don’t see why not,” I smiled, delighted at the prospect of more easy money.

“Very good,” she nodded. “All I ask is that you maintain the status quo of no questions, no cell phones, keep up the world-class workmanship, and never deviate from absolute confidentiality.”

“Sounds fair,” I shrugged. “However, I do have one question: Why did you even pick me? And how did you get my home phone number?”

She paused to formulate her answer, and the longer it took for her to reply, the more I realized it would not be the complete truth: “You came highly recommended.”

“By whom?”

“Someone who highly recommended you,” and she wouldn’t say more than that.

I merely smiled and shut up.

-------------------End of Chapter 7--------------------

AMERICAN CRUDE - Chapter 6-f

The following is a draft of Chapter 6-f of my post-oil novel AMERICAN CRUDE. Comments have been disabled. If you wish to comment, please go to TheKunstlerCast at and join the discussion.


--Innocent Byproduct

After wheeling the cart out of the workroom and through the tank array, I set to work on the leak. I first had to load a new valve down into the gun-like barrel of the navel piercer. That very clever barrel -- an “open barrel” of long metal rods that could be seen through -- was the key to how the navel piercer worked. The upper-tip of my now-loaded barrel next had to be screwed onto the leaking valve much like a fire fighter affixes a hose to a fire hydrant. When I was certain it was firmly screwed onto the threads of the old and leaking valve, I raised the rifle-like butt of the navel piercer to my shoulder, took a deep breath and put my hand onto the trigger.

I squeezed.

A narrow rod shot straight up the barrel, out through the new valve and up into the leaking valve, accompanied by a noise like a loud pop-gun -- a noise which I not only heard but also felt reverberate through my shoulder. What it had done was it shot a butterfly valve into the tank’s leaking valve, and that butterfly was now inside there completely isolating the valve from the thousands of gallons of oil. The amount of pressure needed to ram that butterfly into a tank full of oil, fast enough to prevent any oil from seeping out was many tons per square inch. I waited a few moments and saw that the steady drip-drip-drip of oil suddenly ceased, indicating a perfect vacuum seal was now in place in there. I smiled -- I had done it correctly! (But I wasn’t finished yet.)

Then I activated a second feature of that nifty toy which was to suction all residual oil out of the butterfly’s isolation cavity, and that oil amounted to less than a gallon. After no more oil came out of the suction tube I was confident there was nothing left but a pure vacuum in the isolation cavity. Next I employed another trick from the wide arsenal of bells and whistles that the navel piercer offered: I injected a specially-formulated flame retardant into the butterfly cavity which would prevent any microscopic traces of oil left behind from igniting as I worked. Then I took out a pair of insulated gloves, a blow torch and a mask, and started to blow torch the valve right off of the tank. The metal rods of the open barrel -- still screwed onto the valve -- were oblivious to the heat of my blow torch due to the exotic metal alloy of their composition. It was some new-fangled space age material, developed God knows where, able to withstand temperatures of over four-thousand degrees Fahrenheit. Thus I effortlessly assailed the valve with metal-melting heat while the navel piercer’s barrel remained firmly in place, unharmed as it hung securely from the hidden butterfly within. That state-of-the-art material used in the manufacture of the barrel was more than half the reason why a navel piercer cost so damned much money.

I literally blowtorched the valve to pieces -- deliberately tiny pieces. And with my heat resistant gloves I removed each broken charred piece from the open barrel of the navel piercer, slipping them one at a time out from between the long rods like a dentist removing the broken pieces of a thoroughly decayed molar. Once the last chunk of dead valve was gone I beheld the hole in the side of the tank where the valve used to be. I could now see the butterfly inside the hole, clumps of congealed flame retardant clinging to it, and I knew that butterfly was holding back thousands of pounds per square inch of oil. Then I slid the new valve up the barrel of the navel piercer, affixed it to the hole, screwed the fire hydrant-like threads of the valve against the barrel’s upper-tip, and began to weld the valve into place. When I was done welding, I suctioned out the flame retardant to empty the cavity again.

The last neat trick that the navel piercer provided for me was to inject into the cavity another chemical which was literally an antibiotic, although not of medical grade and certainly not for human consumption. The antibiotic would kill any bacteria in the cavity, an important measure to prevent future rust and thus future leaks. Most oil tank leaks were caused by a small yet growing colony of bacteria -- typically floating within the tank on a layer of water -- which would slowly erode the tank’s metal over time and achieve a pinhole or two or worse.

And now my final task was to collapse the unseen butterfly, releasing the full weight of the oil against the new valve, thus putting the strength of my weld to the test. Would my weld hold? Would the oil slam its weight against the weld, break through, and come spurting out like the proverbial hole in the dike?

I took a deep breath, pulled the trigger, and my shoulder again felt the powerful explosion of ten tons of air pressure shoot into the butterfly, forcing it to fold itself up. Then with the now-closed butterfly still inside the tank, and with the barrel of the navel piercer still screwed against the new valve, I waited. The weld job held. I again smiled and exhaled that breath I was still holding. I unthreaded the barrel from the new valve, extracted the butterfly with just a few drips of oil, and examined my work. My new valve was securely in place and would do its job of holding the oil for years to come.

I stood back and stretched my arms fiercely with a broad grin and a very loud yawn. Twenty thousand dollars never felt so good. All that remained now was to pump the spilled oil out of the pit and back up into the tank again. I glanced at my watch: nearly ten PM. Thank God tomorrow was Saturday.

I finished my stretching and was about to pick up the small portable oil pump --about the size of a toaster-- from the work cart, when I heard Mystery Lady’s voice echo down in a strong shout from above: “Are you okay?” (I guess she heard me stretching.)

I stepped sideways to get into view of the control room. She and her brown velvet hat with the coral colored flower were leaning out an open widow awaiting my reply.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I assured her. “I finished replacing the valve. Leaks’s all fixed. Now I just gotta pump all the spilled oil back up into the tank.”

“Excellent! You wanna take a break while the oil is pumping?”

“Sure,” I nodded with a smile much friendlier than I intended.

-------------------End of Chapter 6-f--------------------

AMERICAN CRUDE - Chapter 6-e

The following is a draft of Chapter 6-e of my post-oil novel AMERICAN CRUDE. Comments have been disabled. If you wish to comment, please go to TheKunstlerCast at and join the discussion.


--Innocent Byproduct

I walked around the room carefully undraping plastic drop cloths. Someone took really good care of this place once, but that someone hadn’t been here in a while. I also noticed a portable compressor with an air gun which I immediately knew was meant for clearing dust off the oil tanks. That same someone also knew enough to supply that item, but no one had done that chore in ages. I contemplated offering Mystery Lady the additional service of cleaning off the tanks and valves. And yet I wondered if she even wanted me to ever come back again. Was that mention of the restrooms a hint of future work for me? Rich people were always on the lookout for good hired help. I decided I’d casually mention the dust later and then see if she might spontaneously offer me the job on her own.

I located a stainless steel, double-shelved work cart, the kind with a table-height work shelf above and wheel-height shelf below. I began loading it with everything I would need for this particular job, pausing at times while handling the equipment for no other reason than simply to marvel at the sheer excellence of the tools. Even the welding masks were of a superior grade. While the break room and all its contents represented leftovers from the 1980’s, this workroom had been kept state-of-the-art by someone who knew what they were doing. And yet who could that have been? Did she have another plumber before me who was suddenly unavailable? I merely sighed and pushed my loaded cart out the double doors and started on the journey toward my leaky tank.

As I rolled the cart along, I pondered the one obstacle to my job: the weight of the elephant bearing down upon my poor dying valve. Five years earlier, my only option would have been spending several hours draining the tank, thus relieving the pressure, then taking painstaking care to extract all trace remnants of oil (a decidedly flammable substance) from the valve, giving me the freedom to blow torch the old valve off and then replace it. But draining the tank wasn’t an option since all the other tanks were full and unable to receive any extra. Another alternative was to dump the entire contents of the leaking tank down into the pit. But that also could take many hours, stretching my job out to a day or two, and would mean all the more oil to clean up later. So the one really cool trick I had in my plumber’s playbook involved bypassing the pressure, which required some very specialized equipment. And Mystery Lady’s work room had just the toy I needed to do that.

I found in her plumber’s shop an expensive and relatively-new-to-the-industry tool -- it was so expensive and so new that I sadly didn’t own one. It was officially known by my fellow plumbers and me as an “ultra-high-pressure valve bypass,” but unofficially my plumber brethren and I christened it with the affectionate insider’s nickname “navel piercer” (and some even called it a “nipple piercer”). The only drawback of using that item was that it employed -- as its official industry name implied -- very high pressure and was thus capable of very violent accidents.

Improper handling could result in a recoil powerful enough to break my arm, or my jaw, or my skull. From what I’d read in the trade journals and from speaking with plumbers who actually bought one, the purchase of a navel piercer included an in-person instruction session from a factory sales rep who would verse the customer on all the safety requirements. According to the industry literature, getting caught in the path of a misfire from a navel piercer was more dangerous than when an auto mechanic gets popped in the face by a MacPherson strut. Injuries from navel piercers were rare, mostly due to their ownership being rare. But as a result of the sheer drama involved in the few accidents that did occur, the wrath of the navel-piercer quickly entered the ranks of the top ten most dreaded hazards of my profession, right up there with blowing oneself to kingdom come via a natural gas leak. So while I delighted at the promise of that tool reducing a two day job down to a two hour job, my only hesitation that evening was that I’d never even held one in my hands before, making me question whether I could wield it correctly.

-------------------End of Chapter 6-e--------------------

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

AMERICAN CRUDE - Chapter 6-d

The following is a draft of Chapter 6-d of my post-oil novel AMERICAN CRUDE. Comments have been disabled. If you wish to comment, please go to TheKunstlerCast at and join the discussion.


--Innocent Byproduct

I slowly walked the perimeter of the pit, scanning the integrity of the tank’s shell and its adjoined pipes, searching for my leak. The hulking cylinder --like all four-hundred and thirty nine of her sisters-- presented me with 25 feet of length to examine. Mystery Lady continued to stand passively back and just watch me as I carried out my examination. I eventually made it to the far end where the input/output ports sat in an orderly grid-work of pipes and valves. And there was my leak, right at the seam between valve and tank.

It was a fast drip. While not yet a free-flowing trickle, it would be soon. And if an influx of new oil delivered under pressure were to get pumped into that tank, it would easily burst forth and start spraying everywhere. As for the valve itself, it was fortunately one of the valves not currently affixed with any pipes. So it sat there closed and pipeless, like the nipple of a curbside fire hydrant with no fire hoses attached. I checked the tank’s oil gage: it was well over three quarters full. That meant that at that very moment, thousand of pounds of weight from the more than four-thousand gallons of oil still left in the tank were bearing down on that leak like an elephant balancing atop the creaking and fraying ropes of a backyard hammock. I studied the path of the overhead pipes leading into and away from the tank, and I could see that some pipes connected with neighboring tanks while other pipes independently tracked back toward the wall where Mystery Lady and I first started out.

“I have a question,” I called out to her. In response she quietly stepped forth from her hands-off stance and patiently waited. “Are these tanks connected to each other?”

“Yes and no,” was her reply.

“What does that mean?”

“It means that if I wanted to connect them, I would need to manually open all the valves throughout the network of short-length pipes that physically lie in between them all. Which could take days for one person to do. But at the moment all the short-length valves are closed and so the tanks are completely isolated from each other.”

“You’re sure about that?”

“Yes. My husband made sure of it, and he very firmly instructed me never to attempt to open those connections.”

“You know why I’m asking this question, don’t you?” I asked, certain she was smart enough to know at least part of the answer. And much to my delight, she did:

“Yes,” she nodded. “You’re worried that if one tank leaks, then all of the tanks will leak through that one leak and flood the whole room.”

I was impressed enough already with just that simple answer. And then she blew my doors off when she added:

“My husband also warned me that sometimes an unintentional siphoning reaction can get triggered during a situation with a leak of this nature when the leaking tank is connected to others. He said under the right circumstances, the leaking tank can act like a giant drinking straw, sucking the additional contents of any neighboring tanks into the stream of the leak. So I can assure you that these valves are all closed.”

“That’s good to hear. Meanwhile, are any of these other tanks empty enough so’s I can divert the oil from the leaking tank into them?”

“No. They’re all filled to capacity.” She paused in timid fear then asked: “… Is that a problem?”

“Not necessarily. There're ways around that, depending on the tools you’ve got. So this might be a good time to see what kind of equipment you have on hand.”

She nodded with a hint of relief and led me back toward the elevators and beneath the catwalk. But once under the catwalk we bypassed the elevators and turned left, heading along the wall, under the catwalk, toward my imaginary football field’s end zone, to about the 20-yard line. There we found a double set of metal fire doors. She opened the doors and hit a light switch. Within those doors sat a large workroom of professional pipefitting equipment draped with plastic drop cloths. It was relatively new and all very good stuff. I was stunned at the impeccable quality of it all, as well as the excellent condition and orderliness of the room. It was a pipefitter’s dream.

“Jesus!” I whispered.

“Is it not okay?” she sounded worried.

“No!” I sputtered. “It’s fantastic! Looks like you got everything!”

“Do you need me for anything else right now?”

“Long as the power’s on and all the equipment works, I’ll be fine.”

“Well then, I’ll be in the control room doing computer work. I’ll leave the control room windows open. That way I can hear you. So just give me a shout if you need anything.” With a pleasant nod she exited, leaving me alone in the very best plumber’s shop I had seen since plumbing school. I was now a kid in a toy store.
-------------------End of Chapter 6-d--------------------

AMERICAN CRUDE - Chapter 6-c

The following is a draft of Chapter 6-c of my post-oil novel AMERICAN CRUDE. Comments have been disabled. If you wish to comment, please go to TheKunstlerCast at and join the discussion.


--Innocent Byproduct

We exited down below the catwalk, emerging at about the 40-yard line to an eye-level view of the oil tank array. Again, the familiar scent of home heating oil #2 hit my nose. She stopped and stood in silence, looking across the rows of rectangular pits with their round tubular prizes enthroned half-way deep in them like hundred’s of Godzilla-sized eggs nestled on their mothers’ squared-off nests. I watched her and could see she was counting the tanks, even raising her finger in the air to point and to recall for herself which row we needed to take. She made her decision and plowed forward. I followed.

As we walked through I scrutinized the tanks. They were all of an older design from about the mid-1990’s. They also all had a thin but discernable layer of dust on them. The dust worried me because of how flammable dust can be if left to pile up, especially in an industrial environment -- one layer of dust is as good as a layer of gasoline. Up above each tank hung an interspersing of pipe trackings, each fixed at about the height of rose trellises (minus the roses) framed throughout the whole array.

The hundreds of concrete rectangular pits were all about seven feet deep. And the rim of each pit sported its own curved-top metal access ladder, mounted on the lip of the pit and dangling down into it -- industrial cousins of the ladders emerging from in-ground swimming pools. I also noticed that the concrete walls of each pit were marked by a progressing scale of volume measurements that indicated gallons, like the markings on a glass kitchen measuring cup -- thus the depth of an actual leak could be clearly gauged just by glancing at the height of the oil against the volume markers. Each pit’s highest volume marker was 6,000 gallons, thus if any one tank were to rupture, its rectangular pit would easily contain the entire spill with room to spare. And if what she said was true about the concrete being sealed against oil permeation, post-repair cleanup would involve little more than a pump. My only fear was that one or more tanks might be interconnected. If so then one leak could lead to an endless fountain of uncontainable spillage.

She led me across the array, under the many rose-less trellises of pipe, and the scent of oil grew stronger. As we progressed to the near-center of the array, I looked straight up to gawk at the ceiling: it was easily a 100-foot height, possibly higher. I also glanced back at the catwalk of metal grating where the elevators and the control room sat: the control room hovered just a little bit TOO high to have a proper line of sight of the array, which meant the control room was originally built to observe a much taller field of activity. Had I not seen the architect’s rendering framed on the wall of the break room, this tank room’s staggering height and the catwalk’s soaring perch would have seemed like a needless waste of space and poor logistical planning. But the framed drawing betrayed the original intent of this facility as an underground Jersey tank farm. And yet someone somewhere had a change of plans and settled for the smaller freight train-sized tanks instead. While I wasn’t sure of how much even one Jersey tank was capable of holding, I marveled at the notion that this room might almost have been outfitted with six or more of those monsters. So if these “tiny” freight car tanks could collectively hold two-point-two million gallons, I pondered that a full Jersey tank farm probably could have come close to the hundred million gallon mark.

Suddenly, before we reached dead-center of the football field, we turned a corner at one pit. And there it was: the leaking tank. We both stopped and paused to survey it. Now it was her turn to watch me. In a symbolic gesture on her part indicating hands-off resignation to me and my knowledge, she took one step back to allow me some breathing room. I sighed and stepped forth to peer over the edge of the oil-soiled pit.

No longer a mere puddle, the deepening oil currently filled the floor of the pit corner to corner. It was deep enough to where the liquid was a uniform blackness with no transparency at all. I eyed the volume scale and saw that she was indeed correct: 600 gallons, and then some.
-------------------End of Chapter 6-c--------------------