“What the fuck happened?” Henry asked in a somewhat thick voice. I put my phone down, nearly dropping it on the floor as I rose out of the chair at Henry’s bedside. I grabbed a glass of water with a straw so he could take a sip to clear his throat and mouth. I took hold of my boyfriend’s hand and looked down into his face. When I still hadn’t answered, he repeated in a clearer voice, “Well, what the fuck happened, and why am I back in the hospital?”
“Don’t you remember being shot?” I asked.
“By a sniper,” Henry answered for confirmation.
Shaking my head, I responded, “That was a couple of weeks ago. You were shot again a few days ago at the Indy 500 Victory Banquet at point-blank range. You’ve been in a coma since they operated on you. You lost a lot of blood.”
“Shit, we already went to the banquet?” Henry asked.
“You don’t remember?” I asked.
He started to shake his head but then thought better of it and answered, “The last thing I remember is winning the race.”
“Damn, that was a week ago,” I explained. “We went to the banquet, and Elon Musk was the keynote speaker —”
“He gave a pie-in-the-sky talk about colonizing space,” Henry interrupted.
“You remember!” I exclaimed.
“Vaguely, more like something from a dream,” he answered. “Now I remember. There was a kid. He was around our age. He approached from outta nowhere, spoke my name, pulled out a gun and fired it. How’d he get past the metal detectors?”
“Security was tight at the banquet,” I answered, “but they let their guard down. The banquet was essentially over, and participants were leaving in droves. They weren’t even paying attention when a kid purposefully walked in right past the metal detectors. Obviously, they assumed that at that late hour, he belonged, even though he was dressed in jeans and a sport coat.”
“Shit, did they get him?” Henry asked.
“Yeah, while Lance attended to getting you medical help, Brian went after him and tackled him,” I answered. “Does the name Blake Winston ring a bell?”
“Not at all,” Henry answered.
“His dad was Chuck Winston – Lieutenant Commander Chuck Winston,” I explained. “Five years ago, there was a collision during a training exercise at Offutt Air Force Base —”
“I remember that,” Henry interrupted.
Continuing, I added, “Anyway, your dad was in charge of the exercise, and Blake blamed him for his father’s death. Blake, his older brother and younger sister and their mom moved back to Northern Indiana to live with their grandparents, but Blake’s always resented that your dad went on as if nothing happened.”
“You know he didn’t,” Henry countered. “Dad took every death under his command personally.”
“Obviously, Blake didn’t see it that way, and then he learned that one of your dad’s kids was now a bazillionaire who raced cars for a hobby. Your coming to Indy for the 500 was his opportunity to get even. He snuck out and drove here; he’s only fourteen, but then I was only thirteen when I used a fake identity to get my driver’s license. Like me, he was tall enough to get away with it. Anyway, he brought his father’s sniper rifle with him —”
“Blake was the sniper?” Henry exclaimed in astonishment.
Nodding my head, I responded, “Yeah, and when that didn’t succeed, he hatched a plan to get you at the end of the banquet.”
“So, he didn’t even hear you talk about my dad having died last year.”
“He didn’t know,” I confirmed.
“It sounds like you spoke with him,” Henry responded.
Again, nodding my head, I replied, “Yeah, I did. He confessed everything to the police before they could even Mirandize him, so they read him his rights and had him sign a statement. He’s only fourteen, Henry. Fourteen fucking years old. Indiana will try him as an adult, and he’ll spend his life in prison. The earliest he can get parole is twenty years. For a fourteen-year-old, it might as well be two-hundred years.”
“Damn, there’s a part of me that wants him to pay for what he did, but there’s a bigger part of me that wants to help him,” Henry responded.
“Knowing you, I figured as much,” I agreed. “I requested that we speak at his sentencing hearing. There’s no getting around the fact that if you hadn’t been wearing a bulletproof vest both times, you’d be dead now. The concussive force of a large-caliber bullet hitting you at such close range fractured your sternum and the adjacent ribs and lacerated the overlying skin. I totally freaked out when I saw you lying in a pool of blood. I thought you hadn’t been wearing your vest. We’d spoken about it and agreed we didn’t need them anymore. I wasn’t wearing mine —”
“Our formalwear was altered to fit with the vests on, so my suit hung on me, you know?” Henry interrupted. “I don’t have muscles like you do, J.J.”
“I don’t have muscles.”
“You have more than I do,” he countered. “You spent your days in captivity working out. I lost a lot of weight worrying about you, and ever since, I’ve spent most of my time on my laptop running computer simulations. You were running all over the racetrack, and it shows. I wore the vest ’cause my suit didn’t look right on me without it.”
Shaking my head, I continued, “The fracture slashed your right internal mammary artery and because it was an artery, it was like slashing your wrist. Had you not gotten prompt medical care, you could have bled out. We could have easily lost you, Babe. You seem to have nine lives or something.”
“Blake shouldn’t be let off the hook, but I’d much rather see him get a second chance in the process than to be thrown to the wolves in an adult prison for at least the next twenty years of his life,” Henry stated firmly.
“I couldn’t agree with you more,” I chimed in. “What I’d like to see is for him to do full-time community service over the summer and then enroll at the Culver Military Academy in the fall when he begins high school. It’s actually not far from where he lives. He should remain on probation until he graduates, but I think the military discipline would do him good and maybe help him turn his life around.”
“Culver costs money,” Henry pointed out.
Smiling, I replied, “I think we can afford it.”
“You never cease to amaze me, J.J.,” Henry responded. “Even with all that happened to you, you’re one of the most level-headed, generous and thoughtful people I know. I love you more than anything. There aren’t enough words in the English language to express how I feel.”
“I love you, too, Henry,” I replied. “There aren’t enough words in all of the languages I know to express how I feel, and I speak dozens of them. To think that I could’ve lost you.” After pausing for a bit, I continued, “Henry, what would you think about getting married?”
“Obviously, I want to do it as soon as we’re old enough,” he responded. “I won’t be eighteen until a year and a half from now, but we could maybe plan our wedding for the fall, or maybe at Thanksgiving, which is a good time for family to get together.”
“How about this Thanksgiving?” I asked.
“Well, you’ll have just turned eighteen, but I’ll still be seventeen,” Henry pointed out. “Now that we’re legally emancipated, I guess there’d be no reason we couldn’t, and I doubt our parents would object, in any case.”
“I should hope not, particularly when we start adopting,” I replied.
“You want to adopt kids now?” Henry asked. “We’re just kids ourselves!”
“The sooner the better. I think we can make a difference,” I replied. “You’ll have finished your Ph.D. by then if all goes according to plan, so why not?” When he still didn’t say anything, I added, “Of course, it’s your decision as much as mine, but there’ll never be a better time. People have been known to wait their whole lives for the right time to get married or to have kids only to realize when it’s too late that the best time was when they were still young. In New York, you have to take classes and be certified as a foster parent in any case, but why not at least start the process?”
“I think we should talk to our parents first,” Henry responded. “After all, the wedding would be as much for them as for us.”
“From everything I’ve heard, that’s so true,” I replied. “Okay, we’ll talk to your mom and my mom and pop first, before we make any plans.”
“Deal,” Henry agreed.
<> <> <>
It was strange to be visiting Columbus, Indiana, after so many years. The last time I’d been here was with the man I thought was my father. However, we’d never been to the Culver corporate offices before. Even from the back seat of my limo, I could get a sense of the expansiveness of the commercial campus. Located adjacent to a sprawling park, the headquarters of one of the largest corporations in the world was a rather humble-looking structure until you took stock of the size of the thing. Although primarily a low-slung structure, that was an illusion owing to the immense dimensions of the modernist facility, which would’ve covered several blocks in Manhattan. It was four stories high with large areas that were all glass and greenery everywhere one looked. The whole thing was surrounded by water and most curious of all, in the center was an old factory building. It was interesting, the way they’d obviously chosen to preserve their humble beginnings.
The limo pulled up at what was, apparently, a more secure side entrance than the main entrance. When it came to a stop, the driver opened the door for us, and Brian exited first, followed by Jeff and then myself.
“Well, it’s certainly different,” Jeff exclaimed as we stood in front of the entrance.
“Not what you were expecting?” I asked.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect in tiny Columbus,” he replied.
“Columbus isn’t that tiny by rural standards,” I replied. “The population’s about fifty thousand, which is similar in size to Redmond, Washington, or Cupertino, for that matter.”
“Redmond’s a part of greater Seattle, and Cupertino’s just a part of Silicon Valley’s suburban sprawl.”
“I’ll give you that for Cupertino,” I replied. Cupertino was the location of our immense consumer-electronic-division headquarters, which was often compared to a spaceship. “Calling Redmond a part of greater Seattle is a bit like saying Poughkeepsie’s a part of greater New York City. Yeah, people commute from there, but it’s really an exurb. I doubt anyone thought of it as ‘Greater Seattle’ when Bill Gates founded Microsoft there.”
“That’s definitely true,” Jeff agreed. “I was just a kid, but I remember what Redmond was like in the late seventies and early eighties.”
“Besides Culver,” I went on, “Columbus is known for its architecture. Much of the architecture’s shockingly modern and designed by some of the best-known architects in the world. Seven buildings, all from the mid-twentieth century, are national historic landmarks. The Cleo Rogers Library was designed by I.M. Pei, City Hall was designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, The First Christian Church and the North Christian Church were both designed by Eero Saarinen but 22 years apart.”
Laughing, Jeff replied, “Is there anything you don’t know, J.J.?”
“What we’re doing here,” I replied earnestly.
“Yeah, that’s not clear to me, either,” he responded. “It was Marjorie Shapiro who asked to meet with us, and now that we know she didn’t try to kill Henry – twice – I guess we can listen to what she has to say.”
“Still, she tried to knock our cars out of the race – twice – and that doesn’t let her off the hook for playing dirty,” I countered.
“You know what they say about me,” Jeff challenged. “Most of it’s true. I’m widely quoted for saying that you don’t upend an industry by going after the lions first. You start by going after the gazelles. What they don’t mention is that the big book publishers had a stranglehold on the industry and forced booksellers all over the world to absorb most of the cost of doing business. It was a case of price-fixing, pure and simple, and it did far more to hurt the independent booksellers than I ever did. What’s worse, the small book publishers were suffocated by the big publishers and couldn’t compete for name authors. Yes, it was horrible of me to attack the smaller publishers first, and I’m responsible for putting some of them out of business. Those were the ones that were on their way to failing, but I did hasten it along. By going after the little guy, I was able to back the big publishers into a corner and to force them to lower their prices, and that benefited everyone.”
“Except the brick-and-mortar bookstores,” I countered.
“They used to talk about how Walmart was killing Main Street,” Jeff responded. Now, we’re the villains for giving the consumer what they want. The truth is that Walmart is still the largest retailer in the world, and what about Costco, Target, Home Depot and Best Buy? They’ve all played a part in destroying the mom-and-pop stores that used to be such a prominent part of the landscape. The truth, when you get down to it, is that tax laws and the corporate real estate culture reward greedy landlords for raising rents to levels the independent stores can’t afford. They also punish those that dare to offer leases at so-called below-market rates.”
“You have a point there,” I replied. “In New York, Walmart is virtually banned anywhere in the five boroughs, yet we welcome Target. In Manhattan, we almost see Target as the savior of brick-and-mortar retail. The truth is that Target is the only retailer that can afford the outrageous rents the landlords charge. You’re right, it’s the tax laws and corporate NIMBYism that make it more feasible to let storefronts go vacant than to keep existing tenants in place at rents they can afford, but that doesn’t let the landlords off the hook, either.”
Then, squaring my shoulder and looking right at him, I said, “Jeff, if you want to be the hero, start a program to help mom-and-pop stores survive where it’s feasible and to help new ones get a fresh start. You have clout and the tenants don’t. Negotiate with landlords for large swaths of retail space at bargain rates. If they don’t bite, then approach their competitors on the next block. Fix up the space and open it under the name, ‘Applazon Marketplace’ or ‘Emporium’ or something like that. Let small shops move in for free at first and gradually raise the rent to your cost, plus take a share of each sale as you do on the website now. The Marketplace shops could sell their stuff both on our website and in their brick-and-mortar stores. It would be a win-win situation.”
Tilting his head to the side and seemingly considering my proposal, Jeff responded, “I don’t know. It sounds like it’d be a lot more trouble than it’s worth, but I’m open to the idea. Why don’t you put together a business plan and get it to my desk by the time I return to Seattle? If it seems reasonable, I’ll let you run with it.” That wasn’t what I’d had in mind, but I felt strongly enough about the idea that I was willing to give it a try. I’d invest my own money if I had to and hire the right people to run it. I knew it could work.
Before I had a chance to reply, however, the door opened and out walked Marjorie Shapiro.
<> <> <>
We were seated in Marjorie Shapiro’s corner office, located on the top floor and overlooking a lake with fountains. It was a very soothing environment. We were seated in a grouping of comfortable chairs and a sofa around a coffee table, more typical of what one would find in a private residence. Naturally, we were all sipping coffee, and the coffee was excellent.
“I know you must be wondering why I invited you here,” she began. “First of all, I want to thank you for coming down and meeting me on my turf. I know how difficult that can be, but the last thing I wanted to do was to meet in a hotel room in the city or even in a conference room in our facilities up in Indianapolis. The setting here is so much more conducive to business negotiations, I think, and since you’re already in town and the two of you are on opposite coasts, I’m so glad we could make this happen.
“Secondly, I wanted to express my sincerest well wishes for Enrique Gonzalez,” she continued. “I understand that, at first, you thought I was responsible for the sniper attack. Although I’ve been accused of murder, I draw the line at physical injury. I’m not above exposing an affair or other deception. People who do such things dig their own graves, and I have no compunction about exploiting their own malfeasance. I have a reputation for ruthlessness and, frankly, it’s one I cultivated myself. There are advantages to being feared, but in the end, I’ll have to face my maker like everyone else, and when I do, I know I’ll be able to do so with a clear conscience.
“Now I understand the sniper was the same individual who shot Enrique at the banquet?” she asked. “Is it true he was just a kid himself?”
“The boy’s only fourteen,” I confirmed, “and he blamed Henry’s dad for his own father’s death some five years ago. He didn’t know Henry’s father passed last year. He confessed, and he’s being treated as an adult. We’re hoping to talk the judge into sentencing him to community service and probation, with remand to the Culver Military Academy for high school, which we’re willing to pay for. No kid should have to spend twenty years in prison because of a moment of stupidity.”
“But he tried to kill your partner!” Ms. Shapiro countered in surprise. “What if he’d succeeded? It was premeditated, and he tried it twice.”
“Yes, I know, but sending him to prison would only serve to satisfy a wish for revenge,” I replied. “It wouldn’t accomplish anything, and he’d eventually emerge a hardened criminal. Henry and I want to give him a second chance. He’ll still go to prison if he violates his parole, but maybe now he’ll realize it’s up to him to make something of his life. As they say, success is the best form of revenge, and by making something of his life, he has a chance to do something that would’ve made his father proud.”
“Dr. Jeffries, you’re either quite naïve or you’re one of the most impressive people I’ve ever met,” she responded.
“I can assure you it’s the latter,” Jeff chimed in. “J.J. Jeffries is one of the most astute people I know of any age and by far the smartest, although his boyfriend gives him a run for the money. You should see them when they bounce ideas off of each other. The synergy’s phenomenal. Why do you think I trusted them to run an entire program? They’ve proven their worth. Even when he tells me something with which I strongly disagree, I listen because, more often than not, he’s right.”
“Jeff, you know better,” I countered. “I’m always right.” That actually made Ms. Shapiro laugh along with Jeff and me.
Turning to look me right in the eyes, she began, “Dr. Jeffries, I’m truly sorry for my behavior. We may not see eye-to-eye regarding climate change, and I’m still skeptical of the ability of any battery-powered device to compete with our best diesel engines. That said, the performance of your electric motors in the race clearly shows that they’re ready for prime time in cars. Naturally, I was skeptical of their ability to work for the duration, much less win, and I thought a friendly bet for real money would be a way to bring you down to size. The last thing I expected was for you to up the ante.
“After making the bet, I had buyer’s remorse about accepting the possibility of having you on the board of Culver Diesel. Not only didn’t you know anything about the business, but your left-wing attitudes could do lasting damage to the company if they caught on with other members of the board, so I asked my security detail to come up with a way to keep you from winning the race, so long as it wasn’t dangerous. They assured me they had something on one of your drivers that could be used to convince him to throw the race and to sabotage the other driver in the process. If I’d known just what it was they had on Martin Frasier, I would’ve forbidden them to use it. I didn’t ask because I wanted plausible deniability. I realize it was crossing the line and I’m truly sorry,” she concluded.
“I’m not sure I can forgive you, under the circumstances,” I replied. “Outing a driver against his will is a dirty, rotten thing to do. However, slashing all our tires was downright dangerous and stooping that low was beyond the pale —”
“Dr. Jeffries, what are you talking about?” she asked. “I didn’t slash your tires. I didn’t arrange for anyone to actually sabotage your cars at all. I wanted to keep you from winning and nothing more. I never authorized any actual physical sabotage.”
“You didn’t pay, bribe or blackmail one of the mechanics to sneak into the garage and cut all of the tires on the inside sidewall, virtually ensuring a blowout?” I asked.
“Of course not,” she replied. “I’d never do anything to put the drivers in danger.”
“Yet you did by threatening to out a driver,” I pointed out. “It was enough to get him to deliberately try to clip the other driver, putting them both at risk. How is that acceptable?”
“It wasn’t my idea,” she responded, “but in retrospect, it was my responsibility, and for that, I apologize. However, if someone slashed tires, it wasn’t my doing nor the doing of anyone who works for me. It would seem you have another enemy.”
“In that case, we’ll conduct our own investigation,” Jeff suggested. “Our people will get to the bottom of it.”
“J.J.,… may I call you J.J.?” she asked.
“Actually, I hate it when people presume to call me by my initials or my first name without asking. It’s a bit of a putdown, frankly. I know I’m young, but not even asking if it’s okay, is a reminder and a sign that they think my Ph.D. in computer science and my numerous publications on solid state physics don’t matter. I appreciate that you asked, and of course you may call me J.J. Out of respect, I’d like to continue calling you Ms. Shapiro. unless you’d prefer otherwise.”
Fixing me with a cold stare, she responded, “Is that your way of suggesting I’m old?”
Backpedaling, I replied, “Not at all. I’m suggesting that you’re a true pioneer in your field and worthy of deference.”
Laughing, she responded, “You have to know me better to realize when I’m serious and when I’m pulling your leg. Please feel free to call me whatever you want. And there’s one other thing. You came within the width of a cat whisker of winning the race with a speed over 200 mph and thus earning a spot on the board. Close enough that, had it not been for our interference with Mr. Frazier, you would’ve won that bet. I’d therefore like to offer you a seat on our board.”
“Wow, I hadn’t expected you to capitulate on that,” I replied. “Just to confirm, your organization has already offered Mr. Barlow a seat in the board and, Jeff, you’ve accepted the position, and the rest of the board has approved.”
“We have, and he has,” Ms. Shapiro injected. “Frankly, I’m not looking forward to that, as I expect our relationship to be contentious.”
“It’s actually J.J. you need to worry about,” Jeff responded. “I’m not one to mince words when I have a strong opinion. J.J. is much more insidious. He manipulates people using logic, building broad consensus without you even realizing it.”
“You make it sound like I’m manipulative, but I’m not,” I countered. “It’s easy to build a consensus when you’re right. The question is, does the board want me, would there be a conflict of interest were I to serve on the board while negotiating a joint venture, and could I serve when necessary via video conference from New York – or Cuba – for that matter?”
It was actually Jeff who answered. “The nature of your involvement with the board would be part of the negotiation process. You’d have to recuse yourself from any votes that could be construed as benefiting you personally.”
“Exactly,” Ms. Shapiro chimed in.
“So, why do I get the impression we’re here to discuss something else?” Jeff asked.
“Well, I was hoping to get more information from the two of you to take back to the other members of the board before we enter into formal negotiations,” she replied. “The word on the street is that you inked an exclusive with GM.”
“It’s far from exclusive at the retail level,” I replied, “and for the moment, it’s only a letter of intent —”
“But why GM?”
“Because GM was the first to introduce a mass-market hybrid electric, the 2011 Chevy Volt, and then they followed up with the all-electric 2016 Chevy Bolt —”
“But were you aware that the Volt wasn’t GM’s first foray into the electric car market, and that they actually took the unusual step of destroying an earlier model, the EV1?” she asked.
“Of course I'm aware of GM’s checkered EV past. Frankly, none of the automakers has shown much enthusiasm for EVs outside of Elon Musk,” I couldn’t help but notice Jeff cringe at the mere mention of his rival’s name, “and frankly his greatest contribution has been in developing the infrastructure for rapid chargers. Barring that, Henry and I could have never spent a couple of weeks traveling by EV in the Dakotas last summer. Don’t get me wrong – I love my Tesla – but as was evident in his keynote speech at the Victory Banquet, Musk’s big on vision but not the best at bringing a consumer product to mass production.” Jeff's frown turned into a smile on hearing that.
Electric cars were actually first introduced in the late nineteenth century and Olds made a battery-powered vehicle in the early twentieth century. There were a number of conversions of conventional gasoline models to battery power during the 1960’s and 1970’s, particularly after the Arab oil embargo and the passage of the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development and Demonstration Act of 1976, but most were sold only to government agencies and none were marketed to the public.
GM’s EV1 was one of many EVs brought to market in the 1990s under a ‘zero emissions’ mandate from the California Air Resources Emissions Board that was well ahead of its time. Ford, Chrysler, Honda and Toyota all made EVs under the CARB mandate and public interest was high even after the mandate was effectively neutered by a successful lawsuit, brought by the auto industry in Federal court. GM in particular claimed they lost money on each vehicle and took the unusual step of leasing rather than selling the EV1. Then-CEO Rick Wagoner - what a name for a car exec - actually had more than 1100 vehicles recalled and destroyed in a vain attempt to erase all traces of the program.
“I know that begs the question of why we chose GM,” I continued. “Only 24 EV1s escaped destruction, and most of those ended up in museums after being rendered permanently inoperable. Although Wagoner’s successor, Mary Barra, brought the Volt and the Bolt to market, she killed introduction of the first plug-in hybrid and actually cancelled a production-ready plug-in hybrid SUV crossover that was shown at an international auto show in China.”
Nodding at Jeff, Ms. Shapiro interjected, “The boy’s a walking encyclopedia.”
I couldn’t help but smile as I continued, “Although Ford is to be commended for their recent success with the Mustang Mach E and the F150 Lightening, and as much as I love my Tesla, GM’s Delco-Remy division is particularly well-suited to bring battery-motors to market under our license.”
“Battery-motors?” Ms. Shapiro asked.
“It refers to a hybrid design in which we use layers of iron within the cyanosilicate ceramic elements. The iron acts as a mirror, trapping a perpetual current inside a magnetic standing wave. The principle’s similar to that of the laser, or more correctly the maser, because of the use of microwave wavelengths. We call it SCEMPER: superconductive electromagnetic persistence via electron resonance, and it provides dramatically larger energy-storage capacities – several times what a lithium-ion battery can store at the same weight. We can use the same inductive charging method that people use to charge an electric toothbrush, for example. We then reverse the process to create the rotating magnetic fields that drive the motor.”
“How much power can you store in one of your motors?” she asked.
“In our race cars, we stored twenty kilowatt-hours of electricity, which is comparable to what my Tesla can store per wheel. In my Tesla, it’s enough to go 300 miles,” I answered.
“I’m used to thinking in horsepower,” she said. “What is that in horsepower?”
“Four kilowatts are equal to three horsepower, so twenty kilowatts are equal to fifteen horsepower. I know that doesn’t sound like much until you realize that 80% or more of the horsepower in an internal-combustion engine is wasted as heat. Taken in that light, four of my motors can generate the output equivalent to a 300-horsepower gasoline engine for up to an hour. Factor in the use of regenerative braking and you can extend that time out to a range of 300 miles.”
“Do you have any idea how much horsepower it takes to drive an eighteen-wheeler?” she asked.
“Actually, it’s more a matter of torque,” I replied. “You sell a diesel engine with an output of 650 horsepower for use in an eighteen-wheeler, but it generates two thousand foot-pounds of torque – ten times what the gasoline engines in most cars are capable of. On the other hand, my electric motors generate up to fifty foot-pounds of torque each. If you were to take the motor in each wheel of our Applazon Indy cars and place one of them in each of those eighteen wheels, you’ll get the equivalent of a diesel engine with 1,350 horsepower and 900 foot-pounds of torque, but the technology is scalable. Double the diameter of each engine and you’ll get 3,600 foot-pounds of torque at that same 1,350 horsepower equivalent, and with a range of about a thousand miles on a charge. Not only that, but you’ll actually be able to climb a 12% grade without losing speed.”
“Something tells me the cost will be guaranteed to cause sticker shock,” Ms. Shapiro responded.
“Currently it would cost around eighty grand per motor, I think, which would mean $1.44 million for an eighteen-wheeler. That’s not economically feasible, even with the cost savings in fuel,” I acknowledged. “With economies of scale and based on our experience with our server business, I can get that down to under five grand per motor, or 90 grand for a new eighteen-wheeler. Depending on the truck, that could increase the price by 25 to 100%. On the other hand, it costs about two dollars per mile for diesel fuel, versus less than half that for electricity. For the average trucker, the investment in electric power will pay for itself in less than a year. An exciting possibility is that a trucker can retrofit just the trailer with electric motors. That’s eight wheels that can provide half the power, cutting diesel use in half. They can then use the savings to fund retrofitting the rest or for the down payment on a new truck.”
“You’ve done your homework, J.J.,” she responded. “I’d take exception with some of your figures, but you’re in the ballpark. The problem is that even with the thousand-mile range, you’ll need to build out a hell of a lot of infrastructure to make battery-powered trucks feasible.”
“It’ll be the biggest jobs program since the New Deal,” I acknowledged.
“So, tell me about your deal with GM,” she requested.
I then explained the basic layout of the tentative agreement we’d made with GM. Delco would build and operate factories to mass-produce our motors under license, and in return, we’d play a role in the redesign of the automobile. The reality of a drivetrain that was entirely located in the wheel meant that a lot of space was freed up under the hood. There was also an opportunity to add a Peltier engine to eliminate drag, and another Peltier module to provide interior heating and cooling.
We also explained that we planned to make overtures to Ford and Chrysler, but GM would take the lead in North America. Additionally, we hoped to partner with Volkswagen in the EU, Toyota in Japan, Hyundai in South Korea and SAIC Motor in China.
“So, what do you think?” I concluded. “Would Culver be interested in a similar partnership to revolutionize the trucking industry, diesel locomotives, and container and cruise ships? Would you be interested in a joint venture in China?”
“I think we’d be more than interested, J.J.,” she answered. “You have a young, dedicated group of researchers, and you’re developing the technology of the future. I’ve been a fool before, and I was a shortsighted fool to ignore the opportunity you’ve provided us. Let’s have our best people get together and make music together.”
“As long as it’s not country & western, I’m game,” I replied.
“I grew up listening to country you know, but then I discovered opera,” Ms. Shapiro responded.
Laughing, I suggested, “I bet you have a lot of great opera in Columbus, Indiana.” She laughed with me. “I’ll tell you what, next time you’re in New York, let me know and I’ll take you to the Met if I’m in town.”
“You like opera, J.J.?” she asked.
Nodding my head, I said, “I love it, but my favorite music is classic jazz.”
“Fred Hersch is going to be in Bloomington at I.U. on Friday,” she reported. “Would you and Henry be interested in going as my guests?”
“I’d be delighted,” I replied, “but Henry’s still in the hospital recovering from his surgery, and even if he gets out by then, I don’t think he’d be up to going to a concert. Much as I’d love to see Fred Hersch in concert, I’ll have to pass. I’m a bit surprised he’s coming to Bloomington, though.”
“Indiana University has one of the top music schools in the world, you know. In U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings, it’s always a toss-up between I.U. and the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music for the top spot. They’re often tied. Anyway, because of the music school, it’s quite often that we get top talent coming here to perform.”
Then turning to Jeff, she asked, “Would you be interested in going, Jeff?”
“Thanks for the offer, but I have to go back to Seattle.”
“I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot of each other in any case,” she responded. Then turning back to me, she asked, “So how about that offer of a seat on the board?”
Seeing Jeff nod his head, I replied, “I accept your offer.” I just hoped I wasn’t getting in over my head. I was going to have to trust Jeff on this one, but a conversation with Jitendra probably wouldn’t be a bad idea.
The author gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance of David of Hope and vwl-rec in editing my stories, as well as Awesome Dude and Gay Authors for hosting them. In addition, the author would like to thank Tony Bell for his insights into the history of electric vehicles and the role played by the auto industry.
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.