I was sitting by Henry’s bedside in the observation wing of Emergency at Sidney and Lois Ezkenazi Hospital on the campus of Indiana University Medical Center. As the closest Level I Adult Trauma Center, it was the logical place for Henry to be taken after being felled by a sniper.
We’d been lucky, at least as far as being shot by a sniper could go. The four of us had been bunched together, making a clear shot very difficult. More than likely, I had been the primary target, but without a clear shot, the sniper went for the alternate target, Henry. A head shot would’ve been preferred, but much more difficult, particularly if we were moving unpredictably, as we were. The sniper therefore went for the easier target to hit and the most likely to be fatal, Henry’s torso and more specifically, his heart. The shockwave from the bullet was bound to rip through the heart, the aorta or the pulmonary arteries, any one of which would be instantly fatal had Henry not been wearing a bullet-proof vest.
I’d thought it ridiculous when the vests arrived unannounced, courtesy of Jeff Barlow, and had planned on leaving them unopened, but our security detail insisted we wear them, so we did. It meant we couldn’t wear tank tops or even t-shirts or polos, much less go shirtless as we’d been doing much of the time. Instead, we had to wear button-up shirts, just as the mechanics did, and we had to have our suits and formalwear altered to fit over the vests, so we could still attend all the events associated with the race. However, my baby would be dead now if it hadn’t been for that vest, and I’d be planning a funeral instead of sitting by Henry’s bedside.
As it was, the impact of the bullet did enough damage. Hitting the vest just over the spot where the ribs attach to the right of the sternum, five of his ribs were cracked. Had one of them actually broken and pierced the lung or the liver, the result could’ve been fatal by itself. As it was, there was bruising of the heart, with an accumulation of fluid inside the pericardium, the sac that surrounds the heart. Without prompt treatment, that could’ve led to cardiac tamponade, in which the fluid compresses the heart and prevents it from pumping blood. The physicians in Emergency knew just what to look for and what to do, and a needle was inserted and the fluid quickly drained. Henry would need to stay in observation overnight to make sure the fluid didn’t re-accumulate. He’d likely be discharged in the late morning, just in time to see the race.
The worst thing about being shot, for Henry anyway, was the significant bruising of the chest wall. He was wrapped with bandages now to help support the cracked ribs, but when he first came in, he had an enormous bruise involving much of his torso. I was told it would get much worse-looking before it got better, just as a black eye evolves from bluish discoloration to black, before fading to green and then a normal appearance. The cracked ribs would be very painful for a good six weeks until the bones knit themselves back together and began to heal. For now, he was sedated, but they were recommending he go home with nothing more than acetaminophen, better known as Tylenol in the States and Paracetamol elsewhere. With only that for pain, my boy would be hurting for quite some time, but I understood the reluctance to use narcotics, which were highly addictive, particularly with his history of cannabis and alcohol use. Speaking of cannabis, I’d have to ask if CBD oil would be okay.
Of course, we could manage the pain, and the physical damage would heal, but the mental anguish to both Henry and me was something that would always be there. I certainly had enough experience with emotional trauma for a lifetime. I used to have nightmares, but Henry helped me to get through the post-traumatic stress, to face my past and my greatest fears and to grow stronger as a result of them. I feared it was likely this latest insult would trigger a new round of nightmares, but there was no time to worry about that now. I could survive PTSD, as I had before. PTSD was treatable. A sniper’s bullet was whole other story.
The thought that my boyfriend could’ve been killed or that I could’ve been killed was bad enough, but the thought that we were still in danger was almost unbearable. I was certain that Marjorie Shapiro was counting on that. Obviously, she’d planted a spy or spies to make sure the sabotage to the race car tires went undetected. When it became obvious that we’d not only detected sabotage, but taken action to repair the damage, she left instructions for a Plan B, meant to take me out of the action entirely. Almost certainly, the intent was to kill me, but if not me, my boyfriend, which should have been enough to scare me away from pursuing electric replacements for diesel engines. However, it only made me even more determined to get even with her the best way I knew how, by either crushing her company or taking it over from within.
I didn’t want to put Henry at risk, but the reality was that we were already both at risk and not just from Marjorie. We represented an existential threat to entire segments of the economy, and there were a number of very powerful people who stood to lose fortunes because of us. No one doubted that electric cars were coming and that renewable energy was coming, but lofty goals such as GM’s vow to be all-electric by 2035 would undoubtedly slip under pressure from those with a vested interest in the status quo, and the change would be made gradual. The trouble was that planet Earth wouldn’t wait for humans to get their act together. Global ecosystem collapse was already well underway, and rising sea levels would soon follow. Humanity’s very survival depended on technologies such as ours, and for that reason alone, I couldn’t let Marjorie Shapiro get away with intimidating me.
There was a police officer stationed outside the door to Henry’s room as a precaution, given the attempt on his life. It was thus startling when the door suddenly opened and in walked Jeff. As I stood up, he came straight to me and engulfed me in a hug. I guess in a way, Henry and I reminded him of his three sons, whom he rarely saw, and we’d grown increasingly close since my return from Cuba.
“How’s he doing?” he asked as we sat down next to each other at Henry’s bedside.
Shrugging my shoulders, I answered, “They have him sedated. Otherwise, he’d be in a lot of pain. They aspirated some fluid from around the heart. He has a little myocardial bruising, not to mention half-a-dozen cracked ribs and one hell of a chest-wall contusion. If he’s stable overnight, they’ll release him in the morning, in time for the race,” I said.
“It’s good that he’s okay, but what happened is one hell of a shock to us all. I can imagine how it must be for you —”
“If Marjorie Shapiro thinks she can stop me from my work, she has another thing coming,” I interrupted. “Even if she were to kill me, there’s no putting the genie I’ve unleashed back in the bottle, but as long as I breathe, I’m going to do whatever it takes to free humankind from their addiction to fossil fuels and to save the planet from global-ecosystem collapse.”
“Well, that’s a surprise,” Jeff responded. “I thought for sure this would make you want to call off our participation in the race.”
“No fucking way,” I replied, causing Jeff to laugh.
“It’s good to hear you’re still committed,” he replied, “but I’m not ready to lose either one of you. I was going to suggest that you return to New York and leave it to the team to do their best to win the race without you.”
“No, Jeff, I want to be here,” I responded. “I need to be here. I couldn’t stand it if anything happened to Henry, but I’ve been to hell and back several times in my life. If you think I’m going to let a little thing like a sniper’s bullet stop me, you have another thing coming.”
“Well, when you put it that way, I guess you’d better stick around,” Jeff replied. “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take precautions. We’re keeping the attack quiet, as the last thing we need is to panic Indy fans for tomorrow’s race. The track officials and owners are all aware of what happened, though, and security will be tighter than it ever has been since 9/11. We’re going to provide you with true security and not just bodyguards. That means there will always be someone with you who knows how to handle an active shooter, 24/7. I realize it’ll be an imposition and will take some getting used to but, hopefully, it’ll be only temporary.
“Now regarding what we’re going to do about Marjorie Shapiro, I’ve spoken to some members of the Culver board and they will do as much as they can to box Marjorie in and limit her authority. Unfortunately, she’s a direct descendant of Bill Langley, one of the co-founders of Culver, so short of her going to prison or the undertaker, removing her from the board just isn’t going to happen. However, I did get tentative agreement to have them nominate me to the board, so I’ll have some influence from now on. They have an initiative called Culver 2050 that includes a 50% reduction in greenhouse gasses by 2030 and a net-zero carbon footprint by 2050. They have a division called Future Power that’s dedicated to alternative-energy sources and electric vehicles. Even though Marjorie doesn’t believe in renewable energy, the rest of the board is hedging their bets.”
“I appreciate what you’ve done, but I was hoping for a lot more from them,” I replied.
“There’s another issue to consider. I spent some time talking to Ronald Culver, the great, great, great grandson of Carlyle Culver and the heir apparent to Marjorie,” Jeff continued. “There are a lot of details to work out, but Culver already has a substantial presence in China. You got agreement on a handshake for some epic concessions from the Chinese, but that won’t mean much without having a network of public officials in the right places to remove the barriers that generally limit foreigners’ penetration into the market.”
“In other words, we need a network of corrupt politicians whom you can bribe to make inroads into China,” I replied.
Laughing, Jeff responded, “In a word, yes, but it’s more than that. The Chinese even have a word for it —”
“Guanxi,” I interrupted. “It lacks a direct translation in English, but it means knowing the right people with the political connections to get things done. In business, it’s the social power network that makes business possible.”
“Yes, it’s a form of corruption,” Jeff continued, “but it’s integral to Chinese culture, and it predates Communism by a matter of centuries. To Westerners, it’s an impenetrable barrier that frustrates everyone. No advanced country stands to lose more than China when it comes to climate change. Pollution is already a major source of ill health in China. Rising sea levels will submerge all of China’s coastal cities, affecting hundreds of millions of people. The Chinese government is committed to ending the dependence on coal, and China produces more solar panels than the rest of the world combined. They can pass all the laws they want, but they’ll never be enforced so long as there are politicians who can be bribed to look the other way. It frustrates reform-minded Party leaders to no end. Guanxi defies the rule of law.”
“But we need it to do business in China,” I interjected.
“Yes, and it can take decades to establish those relationships,” Jeff went on. “Culver already has a network of cooperative officials – their Guanxi – who can ease the process of opening new factories. Unfortunately, they also have the burden of a signed agreement to turn over their intellectual property to the Chinese government. It’s the price of doing business in China. You, however, negotiated concessions that presumably supersede the standard arrangements. Combining those concessions with Culver’s existing Guanxi could dramatically speed the deployment of factories to manufacture your green technology over there. It would be a major win for both companies – and for China, too.”
“Assuming, of course, that we can get both governments to sign off on it.”
“Yes, thee is much to be negotiated and as they say, the devil is in the details, but without Guanxi, it will never happen.”
“Not that I’m not interested and wouldn’t welcome such a business relationship, but that still doesn’t make up for the fact that Marjorie Shapiro paid a sniper to shoot Henry,” I replied.
“Yes, I know, J.J.,” Jeff responded, “and we’re going to do all we can to legally eliminate her as a threat. It will take a few days, but I have an investigator going through all her bank records, on- and offshore, and going through reams of data from her communications during the past several days to try to gather evidence that she was involved. We’ll turn everything we obtain over to the FBI, but most of it probably won’t be admissible in a court of law. Hopefully in connecting the dots, the FBI will have enough to interview the right people and get them to flip on her. Otherwise, we’ll use what we unearth to box her into a corner and prevent her from doing any more damage than she already has.
“Changing the subject to something much more pleasant,” he went on, “I’ve been asked by the President himself if we have a strategy for carbon-capture technology. Your work on renewable energy has impressed the hell out of everyone, including key people in the Administration, but not even a ‘moonshot’ level of effort would deploy the technology fast enough to prevent catastrophic sea-level rise. We’re seeing positive feedback loops from things such as the thawing of the permafrost that will affect the climate for centuries to come. The only way we might mitigate those changes is with carbon capture.”
“I do have a strategy,” I replied. “I have in mind a very efficient machine for removing carbon dioxide from the air and sequestering it in stable organic compounds. Not only that, but the machines are solar-powered, and they’re self-replicating. I have designs that can be used all over the world, in the mountains, on the planes and even in the oceans —”
“J.J., this is serious,” Jeff interrupted. “Yes, plants are highly effective at removing carbon dioxide from the air, but even if you fully reforested the planet, it wouldn’t be enough. Once we stabilize planetary carbon, we can talk about sustainable agriculture, reforestation, restoration of the oceans and so on, but we need a more aggressive technology.”
“You want me to reverse the burning of fossil fuels?” I asked.
“That’s one approach, but it’s probably still not enough. Getting the carbon dioxide out of the air and somehow sequestering it is the priority. Reducing the CO2 to other compounds might then come later. Sequestered CO2 might find utility to enrich the atmosphere in hydroponic greenhouses, for example,” Jeff suggested. “There’s been a lot of talk about injecting carbon dioxide into vast caverns underground, but the air in those caverns is itself rich in organic compounds, and displacing it could make things worse, I think.”
“Polymeric carbon dioxide has been demonstrated in the lab,” I related, “and it’s thought that a significant part of Earth’s core might consist of carbon in that form, but we’re not going to duplicate the pressures and temperatures necessary to generate something like that. The simplest approach is usually the best one. If we could convert atmospheric CO2 to dry ice, we could store it in vast caverns underground. We could use the Peltier effect to cool significant volumes of air to the point that the CO2 freezes and crystalizes out of the atmosphere. Using the Peltier effect, we could store the resulting dry ice underground to maintain the CO2 in the solid state. The rock would be a natural insulator, and the pressure inside would keep the dry ice from thawing, too.”
“Something tells me you’d need to make a hell of a lot of dry ice,” Jeff related.
“I read that we need to remove about 300 billion metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. That’s… oh, wow,” I continued as I approximated the calculations in my head. “You’d need to store about 52 cubic miles of solidified CO2 to remove that much CO2 from the air.”
“Hold that thought,” Jeff responded, “that’s actually doable using strip-mining techniques. Dig 265 pits just over a mile in diameter and a quarter mile deep, line them with concrete, fill them with dry ice, cover them with concrete, and then cover them with the dug-up fill. If you come up with a way to generate that much dry ice at a reasonable cost, I’ll dig the pits and bury your dry ice.”
“I think reforestation would be cheaper,” I replied. “I hear planting a trillion trees would be sufficient, and it would be a permanent solution…”
“Do you have any idea how many trees that is?” Jeff responded. “Ultimately, yes, we need to reforest the earth, and planting a trillion trees makes sense. So does better use of agricultural land. Land should never sit fallow. But getting back to trees, it takes about twenty years before a tree grows large enough to sequester significant amounts of carbon. I’m not sure how many seeds can be harvested from a single tree, or even what the yield is in terms of growth to maturity. Chances are that it would take more than a hundred years to plant a trillion trees and grow them to maturity. In the meantime, we need a solution based on technology.”
“I think I can design an industrial-scale, dry-ice factory on top of your one-fifth-cubic-mile pit,” I said. The wind energy captured would gradually fill the pit with dry ice over a timespan of perhaps ten years. The wind farm would then keep the dry ice frozen indefinitely, so long as the wind blows, until such time as the CO2 is needed for other purposes. Alternatively, I might dust off an idea I had in Cuba for superconducting solar cells,” I suggested. “Sun is more prevalent than wind in some places, such as the American Desert Southwest, and the technology could find numerous applications elsewhere.”
“Perhaps in space,” Jeff chimed in.
“Indeed,” I agreed. “The cost per pit would be well into the billions of dollars. However, the economic damages from sea-level rise to New York City alone would probably cost more than the entire system of pits would cost.”
“What about all the heat generated in freezing that much dry ice?” Jeff countered. He was right – to generate all that dry ice, we’d be pumping heat out of the atmosphere. It would do little good if we removed heat-retaining CO2 from the atmosphere, only to add still more heat in the process.
“I think perhaps if we could find an efficient means of transporting the excess heat, we could use it during the winter in place of conventional heat sources for commercial heating,” I replied. “In theory, if we use superconducting transmission lines, we can transfer that heat anywhere in the world. It would help speed our dependence away from burning fossil fuels for heat.”
“Yeah, I guess that would work,” Jeff agreed. “I figure we need to get the U.S., China and Europe, Japan, Korea and a mix of other industrialized countries to kick in a few trillion dollars combined, and we can build them. I’m willing to fund building a demonstration project, most likely in the American Southwest. I’ll negotiate with one or more indigenous tribes for a square mile of their land, to be leased in perpetuity. If I fund it, could you build it?”
Laughing, I replied, “Yes, and I’ll even kick in the design time at no cost. I’ll have a proposal on your desk in two weeks tops.”
With a smile, Jeff responded, “I never doubted that you could.”
<> <> <>
“Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines!” came the cry that announced the start of the Indy 500. Henry and I were seated in the Applazon hospitality suite, perched high above Gasoline Alley. Although there was a set of bleachers on top of the suite and available for our use, and although most of our guests were seated there now, Jeff felt it was best for us to remain out of sight in the enclosed, air-conditioned space of the suite. As the Grand Marshall, Jeff was needed to ride in the pace car and would be joining us later. Lance and Brian were with us today, as was Flip, an ex-Navy Seal who was trained in the handling of active-shooter situations. A number of our guests had chosen to forgo the sunburn associated with sitting outdoors and were with us, too, and there were a few members of the press who were covering us rather than the race.
Henry winced as he got up to get a better look at the lineup as the pace car pulled out of the pits, followed by 33 race cars.
“How are you holding up, Babe,” I asked in concern.
“Believe it or not, I’ve suffered worse,” Henry replied. “I’ll survive.”
I stood up and slid next to him. Even inside the suite, the roar of the engines was deafening. At least I knew that our two cars weren’t contributing to the cacophony. Our motors were silent. Only the whine of the tires on the pavement would emanate from our entries, but with the roar of the engines in all the other cars, no one would ever hear it. The pace car finished its lap around the track and pulled back into the pits. The race cars approached the start/finish line, and with a wave of the green flag and the lighting of the green light on the tower above the track, they were off!
The cars in the front row immediately pulled into the lead, with Angie Brae out in front, but Martin Frasier was almost right beside her and trying to pull ahead of her. That wasn’t a particularly good strategy so early in the race, but then I realized that he was too close to her, and it appeared to me that he was trying to clip her. It was only the proximity sensors and control programming that were keeping him for taking them both out of the race, but his closeness to her had to be affecting Angie and taking her focus off of where it needed to be. I couldn’t believe that Marjorie was making a third attempt to keep us from winning the race.
“Using my phone, I connected to the speaker in his helmet and calmly said, “Martin, you need to fall in behind Angie and stay there. Otherwise, I’ll kill the motors and bring you into the pits. I don’t know what you may have been offered, or more likely, what they threatened. Whatever it was, I’ll take care of it and keep any harm from coming to your family. The authorities are already on alert. Stay the course and I’ll let you finish the race. No one will ever know what happened, and you’ll be able to race again. Ignore me, and this will be the end of your career.
“So, Martin, can you tell me how you were threatened?” I asked as he fell in behind Angie’s car.
“No, I can’t,” he replied.
“Tell me, Martin,” I asked once more. “I’m a good listener, and I swear what you tell me stops with me unless and until you tell me otherwise.”
“After the way I treated my son, he’ll never forgive me,” he replied. “I’ll lose him for sure.”
Huh? What the ‘f’ was he talking about. “You’re going to have to fill in more blanks than that, Martin.”
“Last year my son came out,” he explained. “He’s only fifteen…well, he was fourteen then and just starting high school. He wanted to come out to the whole school, and I really let him have it. Threatened to toss him out of the house and all that, you know?”
Fuck, the guy was a real homophobe. I had to let him know before he continued, so I interjected, “Martin, you do know that Henry Gonzalez and I are together, don’t you?”
“Yeah, everyone knows, I think,” he replied. “The thing goes deeper than that. I’ve been deeply closeted all my life. Being gay and in auto racing weren’t exactly compatible when I was growing up.”
“You do know that there are several gay drivers now, don’t you? Including Angie. Dale Smith in position fourteen has been out and proud for years. There’s no shame in being gay.”
“There is when you have a wife and a kid,” he responded. “I just don’t think I can face them.”
“Would you like me to talk to them?” I asked. “Maybe I can help them understand what you’ve been going through. I went through a lot myself, having been kidnapped twice and nearly killed by the man I though was my father, but neither of those things had anything to do with being gay. Still, my experiences make what others have gone through seem pretty trivial sometimes. It can help them accept things that otherwise might be difficult.”
“Actually, yeah,” he replied. “It would be a big weight off my shoulders to not have to worry about telling them myself or having someone hold it over me for blackmail.”
“I’d be happy to help.” I responded. “When would you like for me to talk to them?”
“Could you, like, do it now?” he asked. “I might actually be able to get through this race if I know that they know, come what may. The worst is the fear that some stranger’s gonna tell them.”
“Are you sure about this?” I asked. “What would you do if I come back and tell you they left in disgust?”
“That would happen anyway if some stranger who’s blackmailing me told them,” he countered. “Better that someone with a kind heart do it, no matter how the chips may fall.”
“Are they here at the track?” I asked.
“They’re probably in the grandstand above the hospitality suite,” he replied. “Just please don’t tell them what nearly happened, okay?”
“I’ll tell them you had some trouble with the way the dynamic suspension was handling, so I turned it off manually, and it seems to be fine now.”
“That sounds great,” he replied.
“I’ll let you know how it goes,” I concluded before turning off the speaker. Turning to Brian, I asked him, “Martin Frasier’s wife and kid are here at the race. He says they’re upstairs in the grandstand over the suite. Could you find them and bring them here?”
“I know who they are,” Brian replied. “After all, you pay me to be observant.”
A few minutes later, Brian returned, along with a petite woman with blond hair, who appeared to be in her mid-thirties, and a tall, athletic youth with short, blond hair. “Is everything okay?” the woman asked.
“Dad seemed to be having trouble steering the car at first,” the boy noted.
“There was a problem with the dynamic suspension system,” I explained, “so I turned it off remotely. The car’s handling fine now.”
“Except that he’s not gonna win the race now,” the boy chimed in.
“When I spoke with him, he asked me to talk to you guys about something that’s been weighing heavily on his mind.” Looking at the boy and realizing I didn’t know either of their names, I said. “By the way, I’m J.J. Jeffries. I’m sure you’ve seen me around the track, and although I’m in my teens myself, I have a Ph.D. in computer science and I’m the guy that designed the motors in our cars. This guy standing next to me is Henry Gonzalez, my partner in both business and in life. He’s a math genius, and he’s responsible for those motors actually working.” That got a laugh from my boyfriend, but what I’d said was absolutely true.
“I know who you guys are,” the boy responded. “You guys are fuckin’ awesome!” His mother gave him a sideways glance, causing him to blush in embarrassment. “You guys give a gay kid like me hope.”
“Now that you know our names, would you mind giving me yours?” I asked.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” the woman answered. “I just assumed you knew. I’m Amanda; my son’s name is Chad.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Amanda,” I said as I shook her hand, and then I said, “Hey, Chad, it’s nice to meet you,” as I bumped his fist. “Yeah, your dad was pretty bummed out about the way he treated you last year when you came out. He really regrets being so judgmental.”
Rolling his eyes, Chad responded, “A lot of guys have trouble with their own masculinity when a son comes out to them. I imagine it must be especially hard when they themselves are gay.”
“So, you know?” I asked in surprise.
“Mom and I discussed it when we were goin’ through it. Every now and then we talk about maybe coming clean all around, but that’s a conversation that’s hard to start.”
“What Chad’s talking about is that I’m also gay,” Amanda explained. “I kind of knew about it when we met, but I didn’t want to confront him, particularly since I was using him as my beard, too. But then there were some awkward situations where we couldn’t escape getting physical. Martin was making a name for himself in NASCAR at the time, and there was no room for gays back then. Then I got pregnant, and Martin asked me to marry him, and it seemed to be a good situation for both of us. I didn’t need to tell my conservative Christian parents, and Martin could race without anyone knowing about his extracurricular activities. I had mine, too.”
“Mom!” Chad exclaimed.
“Chad, you’re old enough to know the truth,” Amanda replied. “Women get horny, too.”
“Jeez,” Chad exclaimed as he hid his face in his hands.
“Apparently, Martin’s been thinking about coming out and worrying about how you guys would react was affecting his performance during the race,” I went on to explain. “Would you guys be okay with me telling him you already know?”
“Why would I mind?” Amanda responded.
“Sure, go ahead,” Chad agreed.
Disclaimer: This story is purely fictional and any resemblance of characters to real individuals is unintentional. Although it takes place in actual locations, in no way are any official policies, opinions or events inferred. Some characters may be underage and at times engage in homosexual acts. Anyone uncomfortable with this should not be reading the story, and the reader assumes responsibility for the legality of reading this type of material where they live. The author retains full copyright and permission must be obtained prior to duplication in any form.