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Authors: Ben Bova

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BOOK: The Green Trap
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Gould himself interrupted the treasurer's little rhapsody. “Demand for oil in China and India is pushing prices constantly higher. Which is good. Our exploration division, however, has had no success in finding new oil reserves.”

“Which is bad,” piped one of the younger directors.

Gould glared at the dark-haired man, then resumed. “Increased demand without increasing supply means that the price for petroleum will continue to climb. So will our profits.”

“The indications are that gasoline will go well beyond seven dollars a gallon,” said the treasurer.

“Which is good,” said the young man, trying to redeem himself.

The oldest woman on the board, a flinty, hard-eyed heiress, added, “Until the government puts in price controls.”

“That will not happen,” said Gould.

“There's talk in Congress—”

“Talk,” Gould spat. “There's always talk in Washington. Washington is full of talk. A year's worth of their talk isn't worth a single barrel of oil.”

“Still…”

Gould smiled tolerantly at her. “I understand. You are looking at problems that may arise in the future. Which is good. We are already taking steps to avoid price controls. Which is better.”

“Steps?” several board members murmured.

Looking very pleased with himself, Gould told them, “Our research division is working with automotive engineers to produce a car that will not require any gasoline whatsoever.”

“Doesn't need gas?”

“How the hell can we make money out of that?” grumbled one of the older men.

“By controlling the new source of fuel,” Gould replied amiably. “We will control the market for transportation fuel lock, stock, and barrel. We will realize Rockefeller's old dream of having a monopoly on the market. Which is not merely good. It's wonderful.”

TUCSON:
STUDENT  RECREATION  CENTER

C
ochrane flew back to Tucson alone, spent a restless night of confused, frightening dreams about his brother and Sandoval and shadowy menacing figures coming after him as he struggled to get away from them.

He woke up early, his tangled bedsheets soaked with perspiration, his eyes gummy and bloodshot. Feeling exhausted, he dragged himself through a shower, skipped shaving, and phoned his department head to beg off teaching his class later in the morning. As he sat at his kitchen counter, munching on a bowlful of Grape-Nuts, she called back, sounding genuinely sympathetic, and told him to take the rest of the week off.

“Thanks, Grace. I can use some time to get my head straight.”

“Of course,” she murmured. “That's what TAs are for.”

Sitting around his one-bedroom apartment was no help. It took less than half an hour to dust the furniture, straighten up the newspapers and magazines, place his breakfast dishes in the washer.

Why was Mike murdered? What was he working on that was so fricking
important? Sandoval. Arashi. Mike's rooftop garden of stromatolites. How does it all add up?

Sandoval. The best-looking woman I've seen in—Christ, how long has it been since I've been in bed with a woman?

But she had bade Cochrane a curt goodbye at the San Jose airport after their fruitless visit to the Calvin labs.

“Forget about me,” she had said, while dozens of travelers shuffled slowly through the line at the airport's security checkpoint. “You're too nice a person to get involved with the kinds of things that I do.”

Just like that. Forget about me. Sure, yeah, forget about her. Easy. Who is she, really? he wondered. Whatever she's after, it sure isn't me. Hello and goodbye. I can't tell you anything. It's too urgent. You don't want to get involved.

Stuffing his dirty laundry into the mesh bag he always used, Cochrane muttered to himself, “She's right. I don't want to get involved. Mike's dead and nothing I do is going to bring him back. The hell with it. The hell with all of them!”

His eyeglasses darkened automatically as he walked out into the blistering midmorning sun, carried his dirty clothes to the laundry down on Speedway, then made his way back onto the campus and the Student Recreation Center. Walking is good for the leg, the doctors had told him. Yeah, but it makes the leg ache. Funny, fencing doesn't. When I've got a saber in my hand the leg doesn't hurt at all. Or maybe it does but I just don't pay any attention to it. Not with another guy trying to stick me with his blade.

Cochrane had been disappointed to find that the university didn't have a fencing team, not even a fencing club; the sport had been his one diversion, his only exercise, his physical therapy after the accident. He'd found a few kindred souls, though, who usually worked out at the north gym in the Rec Center. A couple of them had talked about organizing a regular club, and even gone so far as to borrow a coach who gave lessons once a week; they all chipped in to cover the man's fee.

The fencers usually practiced in the afternoons, but maybe a few of the guys would be at the gym now, Cochrane reasoned. Fencing was great therapy. It exercised every muscle of his body, and so fully occupied his mind that he could forget everything else. The fastest sport in the world. You're only an arm's length from your opponent, the flick of a wrist can be the difference between scoring a point or getting beaten.

The gym was busy with a basketball practice: tall guys running and sweating, their sneakers squeaking on the polished floorboards, shouting
and puffing as they raced back and forth, cut, feinted, jumped, and shot. Cochrane watched for a few moments, noticing wryly that most of their shots missed or bounced off the rim of the basket. Not like the TV highlights, where every shot went in.

Disappointed, he went to his locker and changed into his sweats, then climbed up to the second level and started jogging along the track that circled the gym below. Ignore the pain in your leg; it's not as bad as it used to be. Jogging didn't help him. It was so boring that his mind kept returning to Mike and Irene and her moose-sized brothers and that grinning Arashi and green-eyed Elena Sandoval. Especially Sandoval. I don't know how to contact her! Cochrane realized with a pang. She didn't leave me a phone number, e-mail address, nothing. Even if I had something to tell her, I wouldn't know how to reach her.

He thumped around the track half a dozen times, then went to the showers to let the hot water soothe his aching leg, dressed, and walked back to his empty, silent apartment.

The message light on his phone machine was blinking.

“Paul, it's Elena.” As if he didn't recognize her voice. “I'm in Tucson, at the Arizona Inn. Could you call me, please? Maybe we could have dinner tonight.”

He plopped down into his desk chair, his mind racing. First she tells me not to get involved with her and now she's come to Tucson and wants to have dinner. Don't do it! You're better off without her. Let the cops find out who killed Mike. Let her and Arashi and whoever else is involved in this go chase their tails until they screw themselves into the ground. Leave me out of this. Leave me alone.

Then he looked around his spare, silent living room. Everything neat and clean. Everything in its place. The blinds drawn against the sun, cool and quiet and orderly. It's like a cave in here, a mausoleum. Christ, he thought, you're just as dead as Mike but you haven't admitted it to yourself. What the hell do you have to live for? You're alone, practically a fucking hermit. Ever since the car crash, since Jennifer…

He tried to picture his late wife's face. And saw Sandoval instead.

That's not right, he told himself. Jen's mother was right, I'm a heartless sonofabitch.

But he didn't feel heartless. He felt hurt, and sad, and above all else he felt lonely.

He picked up the phone, pushed the “return call” button, and eventually got Sandoval's voice mail.

“Elena,” he said as brightly as he could manage, “I know a cool little
Mexican joint on the other side of town. Great food and the margaritas are terrific. I'll pick you up at the inn at six-thirty unless I hear otherwise from you.”

Then he headed for the bathroom to shave, thought better of it, went to the refrigerator instead, and started pulling out cold cuts and a stale loaf of seven-grain bread.

After lunch he returned to the gym. Half a dozen men and women were there in fencing uniforms, lunging and parrying. The gym rang to the click of blades clashing and shouts of “Eh-
lab
!”

Cochrane started to work out with the fencers and found a fury boiling out of him that he hadn't known was there. Rage. Murderous rage.
There!
he thought as he slashed at his surprised partner. They killed my brother.
There,
you bastards. Damn cops. Damn Tulius, what's he hiding? Arashi, smug little sonofabitch. Sandoval. Elena.

“Hey, Paul.” The assistant professor he was fencing against backed away from him and pulled off his mesh mask, a pained frown on his lean face. “Take it easy. You're gonna whack my arm off.”

Cochrane muttered, “Sorry,” but once they faced off again he couldn't control his wild, hacking attack. Despite the guy's attempts at ripostes Cochrane forced him completely off the fencing strip and still flailed away at him.

“Stop!” The wild-haired Latvian fencing coach stuck his saber between Cochrane and his frantic opponent. Cochrane dropped his arm, puffing and sweating, and yanked off his mesh helmet.

“Who you theenk you are, Conan de Barbarian?” the Latvian demanded in his heavily accented English. “Thees ees fencing, not brawl in alley.”

“I'm sorry, maestro,” Cochrane said mechanically. He didn't feel sorry. He wanted to kill somebody.

“Don't apologize to me,” said the coach, gesturing to the sullen-faced opponent, who was rubbing his arm.

“Sorry, pal,” Cochrane muttered, trying to make it sound real.

“Jeez, I can hardly lift my fuckin' arm,” the young man said. “It's numb.”

“Sorry,” Cochrane repeated. “Too much adrenaline, I guess.”

“Too much testosterone,” the coach said, unsmiling.

TUCSON:
LAS  CASITA  DE  MOLINA

C
ochrane whistled happily to himself as he dressed for his dinner date, but his buoyant mood vanished the instant he saw Sandoval walk down the steps of the Arizona Inn's front entrance. Arashi was with her.

She ducked into the front seat of his dusty blue Volvo S60 beside Cochrane, while Arashi slid into the rear.

“Neat wheels, for a four-door,” he said as he clicked his seat belt.

“So where's this great restaurant?” Sandoval asked, all smiles.

“On the other side of town,” Cochrane said tightly, pulling the sedan away from the curb.

He drove in sullen silence along Speedway to the I-10 entrance, then down the freeway to the Valencia Road exit. Sandoval made several attempts at conversation, but Cochrane cut her off each time with a brusque word. Arashi remained quiet in the back seat, but Cochrane could see him
in the rearview mirror, grinning as if he understood exactly what was going through Cochrane's mind.

“Is this restaurant in Arizona?” Sandoval asked facetiously as they drove along Valencia.

“Not far now,” Cochrane muttered.

The sun had set by the time he pulled up into the unpaved parking lot beside Las Casita de Molina, but the twilight was still bright. The restaurant was an unimposing single-story building with twinkling Christmas-type lights strung along its roof edge and neon beer company logos in its windows.

Inside, it was filled with workingmen and their families, Hispanics and Native Americans mostly, sitting at sturdy polished wooden tables heavily laden with dishes of tacos, tamales, enchiladas, and bowls of salsa and guacamole. The bar displayed a long row of beer bottles, most of the brands from Mexico. The children sat in their places quietly, no crying or whining. Very little conversation. Everybody was busy eating. Country music bleated from the speakers set up in the ceiling.

Cochrane spotted an empty table near the bar and weaved through the busy diners to it, Sandoval and Arashi trailing behind him.

“Order me a beer, will you?” Arashi said as Cochrane pulled out a heavy, carved chair. “I've gotta wash my hands.”

Sandoval sat opposite Cochrane, her back to the bar. He stared into her green eyes and heard himself ask, “Are you sleeping with him?”

Her eyes went wide. Then she broke into a girlish laughter. “Is that why you've been so grouchy all the way here?”

“Are you?”

“Mitsuo? Of course not! Don't be absurd.”

“What's he doing here, then?”

Her face went serious. “Business. About your brother.”

“Still on that.”

“Yes.”

Arashi returned and sat beside her. Sandoval suggested that Cochrane order for all of them. Arashi put on a pout, but glumly nodded his agreement.

Each of them had a beer: Negra Modelo for Cochrane, Corona for the other two. The waitress brought lime wedges for each of them.

“So what are you doing in Tucson?” Cochrane asked her after his first sip. He kept his voice down, just loud enough to be heard over the buzz from the other tables.

“We've come to see you,” Sandoval replied.

“What about?”

Arashi was holding his wedge of lime in two fingers, as though trying to decide whether to squeeze it into his glass or drop it in whole.

“I told you,” said Sandoval. “About your brother.”

Arashi suddenly let the lime wedge drop to the table. His grin disappeared and he quickly looked down at his empty glass.

“Did you see him?” he hissed to Sandoval.

She looked past Cochrane's shoulder and scanned the crowded dining room. “Who?”

“Kensington!” Arashi answered in a frightened whisper. “He was there, at the door. He went back outside to the parking lot. He's waiting out there for us!”

“Are you certain?”

BOOK: The Green Trap
10.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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