1/05/2014

Petroleum (Short Story)

Petroleum

They are in a dark basement bar, down an alleyway, around the corner from the Hess Headquarters in New York City. There are exactly one hundred men, dressed in all black, half wearing backpacks. Behind a desk in front of the room, stands Andrew Cunningham, holding a detonator. Mid twenties, white, well educated, and the leader of an environmentalist cult.

Behind him is a chalkboard, with the words “Down With Crude Oil” sloppily written on it. There is a radio on the desk that transmits to each of the men’s earpieces. There is also a sack filled with C4 explosives sitting on the desk next to Raoul’s laptop. Raoul sits in a chair at the desk, typing into his laptop. He is working on gaining control of the cameras at the Hess building. Raoul is middle-eastern with a thick accent. He wears glasses, and is the only one dressed in plain clothes. He sports a clean white button-down and some jeans. There is a USB flash drive plugged into a port on the side of his laptop.

Raoul never really comes to the gatherings at the basement bar. He doesn’t like the atmosphere or how Cunningham preaches to these people who somehow worship his antics. He considers the men in the cult sheepish, but supports the overall cause, and dislikes the oil companies. He rides a bike everywhere, just like the rest of men here. Raoul rides a bike because he prefers to, the rest of the men do so because Cunningham tells them to. They are mere drones to his air of leadership. The bikes are all piled in a corner of the bar. Cunningham doesn’t like them to be left outside, for fear of his secret spot’s discovery.


The bar is abandoned, but Cunningham always keeps it fully stocked with whiskey. Whiskey’s his favorite, and that means the rest of the guys here like it too. He’s always been a hell of a drinker. The more he drinks, the more ruthlessly manipulative he becomes. The bar has no ice, not even running water. Piss warm whiskey for all. They’re going to need as much as they can get. The place has electricity, but there’s only a handful of working lightbulbs. The place gets darker every time they meet, and the lights that do work flicker incessantly.

Cunningham’s silent gaze is enough to quiet the buzz of conversation amongst his people. They know he’s getting ready to say something. He glances around at the faces in the room. Young men, all with college degrees, their facial expressions all the same. Nervous, but paying full attention to their leader in front of the room. His words will give them guidance. He holds his hand up to keep them silent.

“We’re finally going to expose these greedy bastards for what they truly are, and there’s even gonna be fireworks.”

Cheers and clanging glass is heard from the booming mass of brainwashed men, ready to do exactly what they’ve been planing on doing. Each of them has run over the plan in their head dozens of times. They will complete their task, and return immediately to the bar. They will not worry about anything but making it back to the bar.
“I’ve got the cameras,” spoke Raoul.

The vision from each camera in the Hess building is now displayed on the computer screen, divided up to give each one an equal sized box.

“Focus on the conference room, and the garage.” Cunningham stands behind Raoul, looking over his shoulder at the screen.

Raoul makes some simple keystrokes and the screen is expanded into much larger chunks, and we now see just two different places in the headquarters. The conference room, where executives from various oil companies are meeting with the U.S. Secretary of Energy, and the parking garage, where they all parked their cars. The men in the conference room are all wearing fancy suits and sitting around a table discussing something. They are representatives from various oil companies, here for a private meeting with the U.S. Secretary of Energy. The Secretary of Energy sits at the head of the table, in only chair with armrests.

“Can you get the sound?”, asked Cunningham. Raoul types some more code into the computer, and the speakers start playing voices.

“They don’t use the sound for security, because that would be illegal. But the cameras do have microphones.” His thick accent makes him hard to understand.

“Set up the broadcast, and make sure you save the recording on the flash drive”

The meeting is broadcasted live to Americans everywhere. Interested parties share a link with a few friends, and before long thousands of people are joining to watch the broadcast at a time. The number of viewers is shown steadily rising in the bottom corner of Raoul’s computer screen.

Raoul clicks the record button on his video software. Cunningham focuses on the screen, and the men are silent with anticipation. We hear the Secretary of Energy’s voice speaking calmly. “Our scientists have discovered this new oil. It’s synthetic, which means we can produce it in America at a very low cost.”

The well-dressed men around the table light up at the sound of this. Wheels are turning in their minds for a moment, until one of them speaks. He’s got slicked back dark hair and a slicker mustache. He’s your typical rich Sleaze-Ball. “Sounds like a ton of money for all of us if we can keep this whole thing away from the public eye” he says, with excitement.

The Secretary of Energy nods. “We’ll keep jacking up the prices, and blame it all on the Arabs.”

“And it will cost us next to nothing!” Sleaze-Ball fills in the blanks. He can’t even contain himself. He’s about to burst out of his freshly dry-cleaned blazer, with solid gold cufflinks. The executives are grinning like Cheshire Cat, it’s so perfect. They are going to get rich off synthetic oil that the public won’t even know exists. They are completely unaware that they are being watched, and even less aware that they are going to die after they leave the meeting.

“Please tell me you’re recording this,” says Cunningham. Raoul points to the USB drive and nods, still listening. The executives continue talking about the synthetic oil, tossing numbers around, figuring out exactly how much money they’re going to make. Americans tune in by the millions to watch this happen. Looks of disgust are shot amongst people everywhere. The bars in New York City are going absolutely wild with anger as the word spreads about the broadcast and the meeting. Hysteria is spreading among the people.

Cunningham has been following this synthetic stuff closely for months, ever since Raoul intercepted an email between the Secretary of Energy and one of the executives at the meeting. The synthetic gas was briefly mentioned in the email, but the main idea was the planning of the meeting that is currently happening. Another intercepted email implied the intent to deceive the public. This infuriated Cunningham, and he intended to do something about it. He meant for this something to be big, and explosive.

It’s time for action in the basement bar. Looks of apprehension are shot between the members of the cult. They are ready, but only because Cunningham wants them to be ready. The sweat pours down each of their faces, but they maintain an expression of solidarity, an expression that falsely claims preparedness.

“First group, go.” The fifty men without backpacks leave the bar, all at once. They are the foot soldiers. They will take out the security guards in the parking garage, and clog up every exit. Nobody is to come in or out of that place while the bombs are being planted. If anybody tries to come get their car from the garage, they are to be stalled. If they insist on entry, brute force may be used to any extent deemed necessary.

The garage is filled with the executives at the meeting’s personal cars. This meeting was supposed to be kept a secret. Not even a limo driver could know it was taking place. That’s why the executives all drove themselves here, and they fully intended on driving themselves home. They expected to make it back safely, with new knowledge about how much money they are were going to make off the blind public.

“Bomb squads, go.” The men wearing backpacks up and leave at the sound of Cunningham’s order. Each man grabs a C4 pack on his way out, and tosses it into his bag. The men trickle out of the basement bar, down the alleyway, around the corner, and into the garage. They know not to enter the garage as one big group, because Cunningham knows it. Almost every thought of theirs has been put there by him. They will do anything he tells them to, because they are his people.

Each man knows his assigned car. He walks over to it, and sticks the C4 under the car with an adhesive. Then, he walks away as casually as he possibly can. Keep in mind, he has just planted a very explosive bomb under a very expensive car. The casual walk isn’t as casual as he had hoped, but he manages to get away, and he doesn’t think anybody noticed.

Cunningham is left alone in the basement bar with Raoul. They can see through the cameras that the meeting is wrapping up. The greedy men planned to cycle the synthetic oil into mainstream use the following week, and the public wasn’t going to know the difference. It was top secret. The only people who were going to know, were the ones who were going to profit off it. One by one, they pack their things and leave the conference room. Headed for a place called home, where they would never even dare to speak of this synthetic oil. If somebody asked about it, they had never heard of such a thing, and they don’t even think it’s possible.

The executives get back to their cars and drive away. They all drive gas guzzling vehicles that are fitted with powerful engines. Who cares about gas mileage, when you’re the one selling the gas? Well, the gas is about to blow up in their faces.

Cunningham and Raoul had sociology class together during their senior year of high school. They were assigned a big presentation at the end of the year, a final project to pass the class. Cunningham had a lot of pull with both the faculty and the student body at the school. He was absolutely despised by the Dean, but everybody else at the school loved and respected him. This allowed him to arrange for his presentation to take place after school in the auditorium, instead of during class. He made it quite well-known that he had something big planned, but nobody knew what it was. The school patiently awaited the day of his presentation.

Cunningham turned the presentation into somewhat of a pre-graduation speech. He was set to speak at graduation, too, but that never happened. He stood at the podium holding a microphone, with a spotlight shining in his face. Cunningham had the confidence of a gladiator, even as a high-schooler. He took control of the room early on with a quick joke comparing the Dean to a penguin. The Dean’s waddle, along with the black and white suit he wore every day, made him look like he came straight from the North Pole. This got the whole room laughing, breaking the tension and allowing Cunningham to digress into his speech. The Dean stood in the back with his hands on his hips. He fully expected the presentation to get out of hand, and he really hoped it wouldn’t.

Cunningham’s presentation was all about the negative effects of the oil companies on society and the environment. He spoke volumes on the subject, citing example after example of greed and disregard for nature. The whole school nodded in agreement at each of his points. The speech was going very smoothly, but still, everybody wondered why this presentation was in the auditorium. So far, this was all They knew Cunningham would not disappoint.

Raoul was president of the technology club, and top of the class. He helped Cunningham gain access to the projector and spotlight booth above the stage. Cunningham gave him a USB flash drive to take with him up to the projector room. He had some files saved on the flash drive, to be opened at the end of the speech. There was a simple text image file that read “Down With Crude Oil”, and a sound file set to loop a fiery explosion. Raoul was told to wait for the right time to play the sound and display the image. He was told that he would know when the right time was.

Cunningham stood backstage swigging a flask of whiskey while the Dean introduced the entire student body to his speech. He told them that this incredible kid was going to talk to them about environmental awareness, and that it was going to be very interesting. At this point, the Dean really liked Cunningham and thought he was an upstanding character. Cunningham even gave him a fake slideshow, a clean version of his presentation so he could get it approved. He had covered almost all of his bases.

Cunningham had written everything except for the conclusion. He wanted to challenge himself, to make it up as he went along. When he got closer to the unplanned part of the speech, he became nervous. He spoke faster, fiddled with the papers, and when he reached the end of the written speech, he froze. He was left without anything to say, standing there nervous at a loss for words. Raoul took this as a queue for the explosion, and set it off. “Down With Crude Oil!” popped up on the screen behind Cunningham, and the sound of a fiery explosion repeated itself over and over. Cunningham was shuffling his feet, looking down. The only thing he could think to do was scream “Lets kill the motherfuckers!”.

Dead silence for a moment. Then, the students laughed, the teachers gasped, and the Dean rushed for the stage. Somebody yelled “Hell yeah!”. The students started patting their legs, producing a steady drum roll, getting faster as the Dean got closer to Cunningham. The Dean climbed the stairs on the side of the stage, and the drum roll was peaking while the explosion continued to repeat itself. He reached for the microphone that Cunningham held in his hand. Just before he grabbed it, Cunningham swung with all his might, and struck the Dean perfectly in his temple. The Dean went stiff and fell to the ground, unconscious. A few teachers rushed the stage and tackled Cunningham, while the student body cheered the knockout punch. Cunningham was expelled from school as a legend, just two months before graduation.

Raoul watched all this from the press box, shaking his head at the idiocy of the people cheering him on. He couldn’t believe how Cunningham was able to get everybody to give him whatever he wanted, but he admired his leadership abilities and his worldly views about a clean earth. The violence is a bit over the top, but in his defense he really gets his point across. These kids are watching a drunken classmate beat their Dean’s ass while explosions flash on the screen behind them.

When Cunningham met with the Dean about the incident, he was heavily questioned about who used the projector to show the image and play the sound of the explosion. Cunningham promised Raoul he would be safe, and he was. The black-eyed penguin Dean was able to get absolutely zero information out of the young Cunningham. The Dean never found out, and since there were so many possible suspects, he gave up trying and forgot about Cunningham. Cunningham walked out of high school with a confident smile, Raoul’s trust, and an A in his sociology class. Their teacher loved his presentation, especially the ending.

The mindless are returning to the basement bar, one by one. Cunningham stands beside Raoul, many years after the incident in high school. The difference here is that Cunningham has planned everything. The greedy executives are seen leaving the meeting and going to their cars. Cunningham and Raoul watch on the cameras. Raoul stops the recording as all the men get in their cars, and looks at Cunningham to speak.

“You know we’re all going to get caught, right?”

“We’ll live forever, because nobody is going to forget this.”

He presses the big red button on the detonator. Raoul shakes his head while Cunningham listens with satisfaction as a muffled boom is heard from outside. Every executive that was meeting at the Hess Headquarters is killed in a violent explosion. Each man is driving on some road somewhere when his car suddenly explodes. Sirens are heard all around as emergency teams rush off in any direction they can, hoping to make a rescue, but nobody is saved. The gas guzzling cars are dragged off the roads in what charred pieces are left of them. These once prestigious vehicles are filled with flames and the burning bodies of greedy men who were already rotting from the inside out.

“I’m getting out of here, man. This town is about to destroy itself”

Raoul takes the flash drive, and leaves as fast as he can. Raoul pulls the drive out of the USB port and shoves it in his pocket. He throws it in a messenger bag with the rest of his things, and gets his bike from the corner. When Raoul opens the door to leave, the sound of police sirens blast into the basement bar, piercing the ears of the people down there, all hoping to get away safely. By now, all of Cunningham’s followers have returned to the bar.

Cunningham formed his coalition simply by talking to people. He wandered around New York City during the daytime, and made “friends.” He went to parties at night, and made “friends.” These people weren’t his friends in the same sense that Raoul was his friend. These people were going to eventually be his little tribe, the ones who would be willing to kill for him. There was a specific profile he was searching for. Open-minded individuals, smart enough to hold a conversation, but not smart enough to realize that Cunningham was using them. Cunningham prodded at these people, getting an idea of their world views through manipulative conversation. He asked questions, trying to get them to reveal certain private aspects of their personality. If a guy didn’t fit the mold he was looking for, Cunningham simply stopped talking to him and walked away. If the guy was the right type, he told them about his club meetings in the basement bar, and the guy always showed up. He did this until he had a group of one hundred men, who all wanted to hear more of what this genius Cunningham guy had to say.

“Remember, if anybody gets busted, none of us know anything about anything.”

Cunningham has no further words for his people. He walks over to the bar and tunes the T.V. overhead to the News.

Riots broke out all over the country after millions of people watched the greedy oil representatives plan their next move. Insanity broke lose across America as people searched for an answer to their problems. Their lives were turned upside down with the knowledge that their government was involved in this deceitful operation. Cunningham sits in the back of the bar, admiring his destruction. He planned this night, and now he’s even going to get away with it. Bright lights shine on all the buildings as the rioting crowds shatter windows for fun. These people saw the broadcast from home and went out to protest in the streets. Cunningham knows the riots are his fault, and this makes him very proud. The city is in shambles, and the greedy oil reps are dead. In his eyes, he has succeeded. He’s watching society crumble around him from the comfort of his basement bar, all while drinking a nice glass of piss warm whiskey. He believes that complete destruction is the only thing that leads to positive change. When you take the power from the powerful, that’s when you’ve accomplished something.

Raoul is alone in his dark apartment. The only source of light in his room comes from his brightly lit computer screen. There is a USB flash drive plugged into his computer. The blue light from the screen is reflected on his face. He hasn’t slept in a few days. He’s on YouTube, and a video that he has spent much time working on is almost finished uploading. Raoul has created a short film for the public using the footage from the meeting that was stored on the flash drive. The upload progress bar reaches “Done.”

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