The Last Drop

THE LAST DROP is available from Kindle for $1.00 and in hard copy from most major book distributors.  Provided below is an an excerpt (three chapters) of the novel to whet the readers interest.

Synopsis

THE LAST DROP deals with a terrorist chemical attack against the oil infrastructure, causing readily flowing crude oil to become a non-transportable gel.  The resulting perception of unavailability due to this lost mobility causes the price of oil to climb above $400 per barrel, while the resulting economic shock wave leads to a dramatic crash of the world’s economy.  Emily Bradford, POTUS #44, the first female president of the United States, has barely had a chance to settle into the White House when the strike takes place.  She will need all her resources and guile to identify the source of the attack, and then exact retribution commensurate with the dastardly nature of the attack.

America has only 6% of the world’s population, and yet on any given day consumes 25% of the produced crude and 50% of the refined gasoline.  This is an imbalance that cannot last, especially seeing as how the rest of the world wants to live like the Americans do.  We would need the equivalent of over 5 worlds to satisfy the coming demand.  In a sense THE LAST DROP is an harbinger of the wars that are coming as we inevitably fight for control of this crucial yet dwindling commodity.

Excerpt

Prologue

 Supreme Leader’s Private Chambers, Tehran, Iran

The General finished presenting the facts.  He hoped nothing he had said would be construed as making a case for taking brash actions.  There was enough religion inspired self-righteous stupidity going around to last a while.  Unfortunately, the Grand Ayatollah appeared to be in a belligerent mood, and anything was possible. “By the grace of Allah,” said the General in closing, “we have now been gifted with three weapons we can use to strike at our enemy if they should attempt to use force against us first.” General Ishfansani had carefully rehearsed his ending, making sure that the emphasis was where it belonged.

It was understood that the enemy was America.

Those assembled nodded in agreement.  Prime Minister Kiyanpour looked anxiously towards the Ayatollah who appeared bowed in prayer.  The Prime Minister next turned to Rouzroky, Head of the Religious Council, but the man was staring stone-faced at the General.  The Prime Minister sighed with a deepening sense of despair.  The others would vote with the Supreme Leader.  Prudence and common sense did not appear to have the upper hand.

The Grand Ayatollah clicked his tongue impatiently.  “You do not give Allah enough credit for his munificence.  He has actually given us four.”

That pronouncement sent a shudder down the General’s spine.  He knew the Ayatollah well.  Numerology was the Ayatollah’s greatest superstition.  If he saw four there was bound to be trouble.

The Ayatollah stood up and waved the General to take his seat.  “Allah arms his soldiers with his unfailing bounty.  We merely have to see what he puts before us in the right light.  When next you prostate yourself during prayer, free your mind so you can better appreciate the fullness of the riches he has bestowed upon us.”

He was greeted with blank stares.  He understood their shortcoming.  How could anyone with less than a pure heart see all the hidden secrets of the holy book?  Nineteen and four were crucial numbers.  He had his four.  He would pick the nineteenth day of the month, and victory would be theirs.  “Consider what the General has put before us.  Our plan with al-Qaeda is ready for fruition.  Our retaliation is already in place and armed.  Out of nowhere Allah has sent before us a new messenger with a weapon so potent it is guaranteed to bring Sheitan’s progeny to their infidel knees.  I do not believe it is Allah’s plan for us to wait for Sheitan to attack.  Why would he give us the weapons to attack America if he did not mean for us to do so?”

There was a nervous shuffling in the ranks of the assembled.   A few even had serious doubts as to how well they would survive God’s bounty.  But the man’s titles said it all.  The Grand Ayatollah, Great Leader, Supreme Commander, Jurisprudential Guardian; however one rolled the dice, he got to pick the numbers that would show.  Right then his numbers said that Allah was giving them a green light to go after America.

Hazrat, you said four?”  Prime Minister Kiyanpour tried to sidetrack the train wreck he saw coming.

“Indeed four.  How is it that none of you see such an obvious truth?  Why else would he let a beorzeh, a motakabber pire zan become the leader of Sheitan’s army unless he wanted for us to defeat them?   Isn’t that the fourth weapon he has put in our hands?”

The others remained fearfully silent.  They had no arguments to counter the hidden messages in the Qur’an that kept turning up at convenient times.  Then, as though to remind them, the Ayatollah started intoning the first ayaat of the very first revelation in his richly practiced baritone voice.  The others knew the message he was conveying.  The number nineteen permeated throughout the Qur’an.  In fact it so richly populated the holy book that many saw in that coincidence the very hand of God.  That first ayaat had exactly seventy six letters. Nineteen times four came to seventy six.  If that first ayaat was God reaching out to his chosen people, and the significance of nineteen was already established, then no doubt four was also an extremely significant number.  America was doomed – at least in the Supreme Leader’s mind.

General Ishfansani made one more attempt to intervene.  “Hazrat, for whatever reason we cannot comprehend, Allah, may his name bring joy to all who speak it, has seen fit to give the Americans powerful weapons.  We might be better served to use our strength against them if they attack us first.”

The Supreme Commander lost his composure and let his displeasure show.  “Those infidel dogs attack us every day,” he stormed.  “Everywhere we turn we are confronted with their naked bodies and lewd gestures and their homosexual displays.  They are now condoning marriage between the same sexes.  How much more filth do you want them to fill the world with before we act to stop them?

“What do you think is the most popular TV show in Afghanistan right now?  Is it not Afghan Star?   Is not Afghan Star a copy off that distasteful American Idol show?  Was not one of the top three contenders on Afghan Star a boy from Kandahar?  How can you know that and say they do not attack us every day?

“Hear me well my brothers in Islam.  Kandahar!  That is where the Taliban started.  We spend millions of dollars to bring the Taliban back to power in Afghanistan, only to find all our efforts wasted by our enemy’s brazen display of sinfulness.”

He didn’t add that two thirds of Iran’s population was less than twenty five years of age – a group most susceptible to hedonistic influences and impulses.  There was no room in his theocracy for any freedom outside the box he could control.  Freedom led to choice, which led to confusion, with rebellion and anarchy only a few steps away.  Not to mention the widening corruption scandal and the double digit inflation rate which was leading to acute shortages of ordinary staples.  No question about it, the people needed a distraction from their growing misery, even if it led to greater misery.  The people would follow his bidding.  His army of well-paid and self-righteous zealots would see to it.

“Why do you think they have to strike you down with a bullet to destroy you?”  Shouted the Ayatollah, bristling and spitting with anger.  “At least a bullet will kill you, and Allah, the most gracious and merciful, will accept your martyrdom with open arms.  But how do you think Allah will receive you when you stand before him with a corrupted and impious soul?  I say to you that no more should the followers of Islam, the only true religion blessed by Allah, be asked to live with the ungodly filth that the Americans pollute the world with.

“Right now they are weak, while we are strong.  We also have Allah’s blessings in this endeavor.  He has sent us his warriors to destroy the infidel host.  I have consulted with our friends in Russia, China, and North Korea.  They are with us in spirit and will support us when necessary as they have done in the past.  They are all tired of that dog’s self-righteous barking.  American greed almost destroyed the world’s economy; America has lost the respect of people everywhere.  Nobody recognizes them as an economic superpower or a world leader.  They are on their knees and we have the opportunity and the responsibility to destroy them.  This is not the time for a true believer to waver.  In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful, I command you to go forth and destroy the enemy.”

His words had a chilling effect on some of the assembled.  If self-righteous pride, stemming from blind adherence to the perceived sentiments of a Christian God, had given rise to such utter stupidity as witnessed by the American fiasco in Iraq, why would any intelligent person think that the same adherence to a Muslim God would deliver a different outcome?

 

Chapter 1

 

Mozamba FPSO, Off the West Coast of Africa

 

The changing pitch of the rotors woke him up.  Startled, he jerked his head back with a snap, causing the young engineer sitting alongside him to smirk.  Abdullah Al-Barukhi glared at the young man.  Unabashed, the young engineer lifted his index finger and indicated his drooping right lip.  With an impatient gesture Al-Barukhi used his sleeve to wipe the drool away.

Al-Barukhi had been lost to the world, a condition he very much favored.  It was a troubled sleep, but at least it was sleep.  The past few nights were at best troubled.  Still in a daze, he stared out the window at the gargantuan structure that was slowly taking up his entire view.  Fully two football fields in length, this converted tanker, with its myriad pipes, pumps and storage tanks, was his home away from home.  He had been doing 28 day rotations for the past ten years, which meant he spent half his life on this Floating Production Storage and Offloading facility and the other half at home.  He loved this tangled beast, its belly full of flowing black gold, with a passion only a few would understand.  Which made it even more difficult to comprehend why his destiny would land him in his present predicament?

Of one thing he was sure; these men he had been forced to take up with meant to do this beloved second home of his some incalculable harm.  Yet the pill they had given him was tiny by comparison to the monster materializing before his view, and gave him cause to wonder how much damage it could really do?  Unfortunately, he was only the messenger.  He would not know the message until it was too late to take back a single line, and he was helpless to change a single word.  He thought of himself as a pious man, and consoled himself with the conviction that finally this must be the will of God.  Allah-u-Akbar he conceded, repeatedly, in the quiet corner of his mind where the echo seemed to surface out of nothingness.

By most reasonable standards, Abdullah Al-Barukhi was a religious man.  He read the Qur’an as required and paid namaz, homage, to Mecca the prescribed five times each day.  He was born and grew up in the modest city of Tidjikdga in the heart of Mauritania, along that shifting edge where the green of cultivation struggles against the harsh yellow of the Western Sahara.  Born the fifth of six sons, of itself a small miracle given the infant mortality rate, he grew up with much in a land of little.  If questioned he would readily point to the bounty Allah had bestowed upon him as all the justification he needed for his unflinching devotion to Islam.

So why now, in this tragic fashion, was his faith being put to the test?  His three sons were grown, settled young men, but it was his youngest, Fatima, that was the joy of his life ever since her mother died in childbirth.  Growing up she was spared nothing.  It was the custom of the land that the daughters be fat.  Unfortunately, in medical terms, quite painfully fat, but how else in a land of little could one show to the world that one was blessed with plenty.  Besides, it was so well known and commonly accepted that fat wives delivered many and healthy babies, that the issue was hardly worthy of debate.  How could pediatricians or doctors be expected to know the will of God?  He did his duty, successfully marrying a quite plump Fatima to a well placed and quite likable young man.

But Abdullah did not stop there.  In quick order he landed the boy a job on the Mozamba FPSO.  For her part, Fatima, in equally quick order, delivered two delightful grandchildren, with the little granddaughter already well along to fulfilling her destiny as a rotund young woman.  True to her sense of womanhood, and entirely in keeping with the way she was raised, Fatima stuffed that little girl until her eyes quite literally bulged, because that was the duty of a Muslim woman in Mauritania.  No matter how severely she was scolded by the pediatrician about continuing this absurd and down right dangerous practice, nothing changed.

Then one day, in a moment of hydraulic failure everything changed.  A chopper carrying a crew change to Mozamba reported an engine out SOS fifty miles off the coast; in spite of all the emergency and safety training and equipment available, no one on board, including Fatima’s husband, was ever found.

A devastated Fatima took refuge in self-indulgent eating.  A ballooning trend that bearing two kids had set in motion, accelerated with devastating consequences.  Within a year she was at four hundred pounds and could hardly move.  Already the neighbors were calling her Fatima the Pig.  She was only twenty eight and some specialist had the nerve to suggest that she get her stomach stapled.  The very idea seemed sacrilegious.  Six months later she was diabetic, and in another six, gangrene set in on her left leg.  She would have to quickly have it amputated below the knee if she was to make it through the year.  Unfortunately, the only place to do the operation correctly was at the better hospitals available in Paris, which eventually left him holding a pill in his hand and a pig of entirely different kettle sitting like a four hundred pound weight on his heart.

He needed money for Fatima’s operation.  His errant nephew, with the shifty eyes and perpetual need for jihad that occupied an otherwise empty head, came up with a scheme.  The nephew had connections.  He knew rich benefactors that would pay for Fatima’s treatment.  They would arrange everything in exchange for such a small favor.  In his desperation Abdullah agreed, and his nephew proved good on his word.  Everything was set in motion with Fatima quickly on her way to Paris for her treatment.  Following which a meeting was promptly arranged – the benefactors wanted their pound of flesh.

Whatever misguided notion of benefactors Abdullah might have conjured up was instantly dispelled when they met.  Three men showed up.  All three kept their faces covered, but only the short, skinny one had intelligent eyes.  The other two were no more than thugs assigned to serve his purpose.  “Salaam alaykum,” they greeted each other; without further delay the small one put a little pill in his palm.  Abdullah was to put the pill into the next tanker that visited the FPSO.

“But that’s impossible,” Abdullah insisted.  “I never even get close to a tanker.  I don’t think you understand how the system works.”  He then spent the next fifteen minutes trying to explain the process to the skinny one.  “Everything is a closed system that is electronically monitored and inaccessible to human beings except in the case of an emergency.” Abdullah concluded.

The little one that had handed him the pill stepped back to brood, only to return no more accommodating than when he left.

“It doesn’t matter”, insisted the little one, clearly unhappy with this development.  “You must get this into a tanker.  Your daughter’s life depends on it.”

Abdullah pleaded and argued in vain.  The little one would not be swayed.  In desperation Abdullah racked his brain for a solution, when the notion of the pig came to him.

“Pig!  Pipeline pig!” he blurted out in his frenzied state, almost bringing a sorry end to the discussion.  Where he saw a fat piston moving through a pipe, they saw the animal, reviled by the holy book and all men of faith, and thought he meant to insult them.  The two thugs reached inside their tunics and knives appeared.  His nephew, having concluded that his destiny was inextricably tied to his uncle’s, fainted.  Fortunately, with a voluminous discharge of flatulence.  The loud sputtering sound caused the two thugs to pause.  This was all the opening Abdullah needed to save himself.

The two thugs were about to shred him when the little one revived himself and held them back.  A lengthy discourse on the working of the pig followed, exclusively for the benefit of the little one, who also wanted to know the disposition of the oil.  When he learned of the difference between the Chilcola and Zarabba oils, his excitement grew noticeably.  “The pill should go after the pig,” the little one insisted.

Abdullah, who about then was too scared to give a damn, pretended to cogitate on the issue.  There was a brief silence following which Abdullah solemnly declared that he could get the pill in after the pig.  And that was that.  The pill was his to keep.  Abdullah would inform them through his nephew as to when he would be in a position to deposit the pill. With Fatima’s time quickly running out, as a sign of good faith in Abdullah’s intentions, her treatment would start immediately.  The rest of it was in Allah’s hands.  In a moment of weakness a sacrilegious thought crossed Abdullah’s mind that if such were indeed the case, this was hardly the first time God had sullied them.

The throb of the rotors deepened as the pilot eased back on the stick to kill forward motion, bringing the chopper down.  With a slight bump the helicopter settled down on the landing pad.  It was a calm day off the West Coast of Africa, which helped.  Abdullah had undertaken this rotation more times than he cared to remember; along the way he had encountered more than his share of problems. A gentle landing was to be cherished, perhaps even viewed as a good omen.  The pilot killed the engine; there was still a return trip to be made.  No need to waste fuel.

The ground crew, with their heads lowered against the downdraft of the still spinning rotors, opened doors to start unloading bags.  Abdullah let a crew member help him down as he stepped foot on the covered metal grate of the helipad.  Still wearing his life jacket, he made it to the outer edge of the helipad, then down a flight of stairs to the lower landing.

When clear of the landing deck and safe from the whirlwind of the spinning rotors, he took off the life jacket to hand off to the crewmen collecting them.  In turn the crewmen would pass them off to the leaving passengers, some of whom were already waiting on the departure side.  He recognized a few of the faces of the people leaving and waved briefly at the more familiar ones.  They cheerfully waved back, more than glad to be on their way home.  Twenty eight day rotations, with twelve to fourteen hour shifts on a hulk of metal a hundred miles from the nearest shoreline took its toll on even the strongest psyche.

Leaving the open deck, he joined the rest of the arriving passengers in the clearing room.  Here they were searched again.  They had already been searched once at the base camp before boarding the helicopter.   It was a complete mystery to him as to why Spartan Corp., his employer, thought it necessary to search them again.  What exactly did they think he could have picked up during the helicopter flight?  But it was a rigidly followed formality that required every employee’s cooperation.  He knew what the security officers were looking for—anything contraband in the form of alcohol, drugs, or pornographic material, possession of which was strictly forbidden while on the FPSO.  Which, of course, was a complete farce, because there was no way many of the infidels that worked rotations could last that long without their bottle; which meant that two sets of guards needed to be bribed— one at each end.  Everybody understood a bribe, and everyone could be bribed.  It was the primary currency of the third world; nothing happened without it, certainly not off the West coast of Africa.  The Mozamba FPSO was no exception.

The security guards doing the search recognized him, and knew him to be a devout Muslim.  There was nothing to be gained by delaying or harassing him.  The search was a mere formality, a casual poke through his single bag that would have uncovered nothing of substance, most certainly not the pill sized capsule he packed with the rest of his vitamins and medication.  The capsule looked deceptively like a slightly over sized gel tablet, and it gave him some comfort to wonder how much damage such an insignificant looking item could possibly cause.  He cleared security, made his way to the living quarters and the tiny room with its single bunk bed that his back-to-back had just vacated.  The housekeeping crew was already getting the room ready for him.  He dropped off his bag before making his way to the briefing room for a last check with his back-to-back Chris Walker on what items would need his immediate attention as he began settling in.

He liked Walker, whom he also considered to be a devoutly religious man, even if he was an infidel who worshiped false divinities.  Walker was a nondescript tubby fellow with ruddy cheeks and a dark pink complexion from too much exposure to the sun.  He would lose the pink on his twenty-eight off days living outside dank and gloomy Aberdeen, only to start the cycle all over again when he returned to the FPSO.  With a cheery smile Walker proffered a right hand which Abdullah accepted, following which they both raised their right hands to their hearts as was the local custom.  Walker’s first inquiry was with regards to Fatima.

“How is your daughter doing, my friend?”

“She suffers, yet accepts God’s plan.  But I also have good news. She is already in Paris for the treatment she needs.  Her brother is with her and the treatment has been started.”

Walker returned a crooked smile.  “How did you manage that?  Financially, I mean?”

“I forsook my pride and asked my family for help.”  In this instance the shifty nephew he should have avoided like the plague.

Walker glanced at his watch.  Al-Barukhi understood.  He was no different when it was time to leave.  Pass on the relevant information quickly to make sure you don’t miss the chopper going out with the seat assigned to you.  Any screw-ups and a man could find himself stranded in some remote location for days while alternate plans were made.  Worse yet, this delay getting home would be on his time, not the company’s.

“I reckon you noticed the Very Large Crude Carrier moored at the calm buoy as you flew in.”  Abdullah nodded in acknowledgement.  “About midnight we will be done unloading the Chilcola oil.  The intent is to pig the line before loading the Zarabba oil into the last three tanks of the VLCC.  No weather is expected and everything should go smoothly.”

Abdullah smiled half-heartedly.  If only life were that simple, that forgiving.  “Inshallah!” he replied…. God willing.

“Righty ho then!  This baby is all yours.  Take care of her until I get back.”

A hearty handshake, a cheery wave and Walker was off.  Abdullah continued doing paperwork until he heard the chopper lift off.  Safe in the realization that the bunk was completely his and most likely ready, he decided to turn in for a few hours.  This whole business left him feeling perpetually tired; he would need to be alert with his wits about him when the pig was run.

Chilcola and Zarabba were the two primary oil fields located within three miles of each other.  Chilcola was at a true vertical depth of close to 7,500 feet below the ocean floor, with Zarabba at 3,600 feet.  However, the water depth was a good 6,000 feet which made the development of the fields tedious and expensive.  All the oil needed to move almost three miles vertically before it could even start to be handled.  If both reservoirs hadn’t offered up hundreds of feet of clean consolidated sand that could deliver a throughput of almost 500,000 barrels of oil a day, the Mozamba FPSO project would never have made it to the history books.  Four billion barrels in reserves with a production rate of 500,000 barrels of oil a day, every day for the next 4,000 days before any significant decline would set in was what the reservoir engineers calculated.  Without these staggering sets of numbers there could be no green light for the 3.4 billion dollar commitment that the entire exploration, assessment and eventual production budget came to.

It helped Spartan Oil’s bottom line immensely that even though the price of oil stayed under 40 dollars a barrel throughout the evaluation period, they ran their economic models assuming a price of 20 dollars.  Within a year of the Mozamba project starting up, the price of a barrel of oil was trading in a tight band between 130 and 150 dollars with no relief in sight.  The company was raking in money faster than they could spend it effectively to find new oil.

A short but refreshing nap was all his circumstance would allow.  Abdullah awoke energized by the rationalization that this seemingly small transgression on his part would save Fatima’s life.  But as each passing second brought him closer to the deed, the apprehension crept back into his tortured reality. His self-proclaimed benefactors were truly dangerous; of that he was absolutely certain.  It was naive to think that they meant the company he served no irreparable harm.  And yet it was such a small pill.  Besides, he was irrevocably committed.  Failure, betrayal, and death, were now synonymous.  Who would care for Fatima with him gone?  Allah might be gracious, but for reasons unknown, he chose not to spare any mortal a quota of pain.  Fatima was his burden; he had no choice but to see this through to the end.

He freshened up, said his evening prayers, collected his tiny pill and headed back to the control room to discuss the transition with the facilities engineer.  He recognized the young engineer monitoring the gauges; their paths had crossed before.  Allan Tobin stood up when he entered and they shook hands.  “When will we run the pig?” asked Abdullah.

Allan glanced at his watch.  “We should be done with the Chilcola in say forty minutes.  Dapayo is getting the pig ready to run”

“Very well, I will go check on his progress.”

Abdullah wound his way past a maze of pipes and smoothly vibrating machinery to where the main offloading pumps were throbbing like some giant heart pumping black liquid out of the FPSO.  The pumps moved the crude to the Very Large Crude Carrier moored a half mile away.  The two gushing reservoirs sent up fresh oil to fill the tanks that had just been emptied.  Abdullah had worked with the Nigerian Dapayo Ibiyanga before, and they greeted each other cordially.

“The pig is ready to run,” said Dapayo.

Abdullah undertook a cursory inspection before nodding in agreement.  Running the pig was not an option.  On a fully burdened basis the FPSO cost about 250,000 dollars a day to operate.  The Very Large Crude Carrier rented at close to 100,000 dollars a day.  At these rates, every minute counted.  For safety reasons the VLCC was moored about a half mile from the FPSO.  Connecting the two was an umbilical line that was over two miles long.  It dropped straight down from the FPSO to the ocean floor and then went across, before rising again to the transfer buoy where the VLCC was moored.  It was also tethered where it passed close to the production platform on its way to the transfer buoy so the pipe has a sinusoidal curve to it.

Moving the thick, waxy Zarabba crude through the umbilical resulted in a steady layer of deposits forming on the inside diameter.  If the deposits were not regularly swept clean they would slow the movement of oil, and every minute of slowed operation was money wasted.  That’s where the pig came into play.  A large plug with wiper equipped edges, it could be pushed through the umbilical line to clean the deposits and return a smooth pipe.

Dapayo’s radio chattered.  It was Allan.  “Pig in ten,” he advised.

Abdullah closed the ball valve while Dapayo relieved the pressure in the shoot pipe.  The end flange came off; the overhead crane was used to lift and position the pig while the two men pushed it in place.  Dapayo unhooked the crane while Abdullah used a rubber mallet to tap the pig in place.  Just before the flange went back on he surreptitiously dropped the pill in behind the pig.  The flange plate was bolted back on, the ball valve opened, and on Allan’s signal a blast of nitrogen shot the pig into the flow line.

Pig with pill in tow was on its way.  The rest was in Allah’s care.

Chapter 2

Coronado, Vasquesa, Latin America

 

It was the revolution that should have been, could have been, needed to be.  It was also the latest Latin American revolution to fail because of individual arrogance, hubris and ambition.  Intellectuals start revolutions but thugs finish them.  Sometimes the intellectuals themselves prove to be the requisite thugs.

Umberto Gomez claimed his revolution was for the people, and they certainly needed it.  For all its oil wealth, Vasquesa was one of the poorest Latin American nations that could also boast a democratic tradition.  It was the will of the people that put him in power, and it was their collective wish for a better life that kept him there.  Oil was the only national resource that could keep him in power and also help him serve the people that elected him.  Unfortunately, it was a combination of hubris and cronyism that destroyed his oil wealth.

Within a year of taking office he completely gutted VSAP, the national oil company.  When management and workers rebelled against his absurd and arbitrary methods, he fired 20,000 of them.  The consequence to the nation’s oil production was disastrous.  Decline set in almost immediately and continued to spiral downward at an alarming rate.   In the early years of the Gomez revolution the consequences of his absurd policies were not immediately apparent.  Even though oil production was in decline, the price of oil climbed steadily to above the $130 per barrel range, which increased revenue more than offset the drop in revenue from declining production.

His hero was Fidel Castro, whom he supported by delivering 85,000 barrels a day of oil to Cuba.  The Cubans in turn used about 40,000 barrels a day, selling the rest on the open market to bring in desperately needed foreign exchange.

In return, the Cubans loaned Gomez medical and social services staff by the hundreds, which he, in turn, sent into the barrios to serve the poor.  In the eyes of the downtrodden of Vasquesa, Gomez could do no wrong.  They saw him as the new Messiah, their only hope for a better life.  Unfortunately, his policies decimated the upper and middle classes, and the whole country headed into a slow but relentless spiral of poverty.  Those that could escape did, in droves, taking their skills with them.  Those that couldn’t, watched their standard of living deteriorate daily until they were no better that the barrio dwellers that had been ignored for far too long to serve a nation’s purpose.  They started referring to him as the devil incarnate.

For a while the game played out splendidly.  With worldwide oil production holding steady at best while the world demand for oil kept growing, it didn’t take an advanced degree in economics to realize it was a sellers market.  Then the sellers made an interesting observation.  They merely needed to rattle their sabers for the speculators to drive up the price of oil.  Vasquesa threatened to boycott the dollar in favor of the Euro.  Iran threatened to destroy the State of Israel.  Oil went from 50 to 100 dollars per barrel in the space of months.  Without adding a single drop to the world’s oil inventory, rogue nations had doubled their oil revenues.  They were raking in dollars faster than they could come up with villainous ways to spend them.

Unfortunately for Vasquesa, there could be no escaping the lunch that had to be paid for.  To add to its revenue woes, gasoline was highly subsidized at a paltry twenty cents a gallon to keep social unrest in check.  As the oil production decline began to accelerate precipitously, taking revenue with it, Gomez had no choice but to cut off shipments to Cuba.  Cuba immediately pulled its citizens serving in the barrios, and almost overnight the poor of Vasquesa returned to being poor but without any support facilities.  Unfortunately, one other drastic change had also taken place.  Whereas in the past the poor could turn to the middle class for work, even if only for minimal living wages, suddenly there was no middle class, and the angst was widespread.  The poor turned to Gomez who pointed to the rich as the source of their plight, but there were no rich to be found to denounce.

A revolution cannot afford to be a zero-sum game for long.  Vasquesa became the poster child for that realization.  When an established democracy moves toward socialism, no matter how it is gussied up it is still an imposed benevolence.  All the old bastions of socialism had given up on that experiment.  The greater good was no source of inspiration or economic growth.  For all its faults, only a free market was effective at creating enterprise and opportunity.

Gomez knew he needed to reign in the declining oil production, but he was also out of options.  He had fired all the field hands, technicians, engineers, and managers that could have saved his ass.  Neither could he turn to the International Oil Companies whom he had done a thorough job of alienating.  By recklessly abandoning existing contracts and imposing outrageous taxes and tariffs, he managed to successfully strangle the goose whose eggs he was dependent on.  The investment climate in Vasquesa had become so onerous that a CEO could expect to be chased out of town by the Board of Directors for even thinking of investing money in that country.

But the worst blow was still to come.  The world wide recession dropped the price of crude oil below 40 dollars a barrel, and given the very heavy and poor quality  crude that represented most of Vasquesa’s production, his margins after subtracting lifting costs fell to almost nothing.  He could no longer pay his bills and support his social programs.  He needed the social programs or the same people’s revolution that had elevated him would as easily oust him.  He stopped paying his bills.  Including what he owed the few international service companies that were still hanging around like vultures trying to fill in where the IOC’s had abandoned the rotting carcass.  But when their payments due began to exceed three billion dollars, even they threw in the towel and Vasquesa’s oil production dropped to a trickle.  He desperately needed a white knight, which is where the Chinese came into the picture, riding a fiery dragon disguised as a white horse.

The Chinese were on the prowl.  The old colonialists had either been booted out by their ex-colonies or felt constrained by pangs of conscience.  The new colonialists were starting to make their way in the door because the exploited had short memories and their leaders were readily susceptible to numerous temptations.  It didn’t seem fair to the Chinese that the old exploiters, having becoming major powers through the spoils of colonialism, should now be allowed to declare exploitation a dirty word just as it was China’s turn to join the gang.

Given its turbulent history, China reckoned that between them the British, Russian, French, and Japanese owed China at least thirty years as an exploiter before there would be any need to feel guilty.  This, surprisingly, was exactly how the world carried on.  Everyone talked a good talk, but the bottom line was all about money, and how much and how quickly it could be made without really pissing anyone off.  Many wars were basically gross errors of judgment on the road to getting rich.

China had an agenda and a plan to work from.  The Chinese model had delivered considerable success in Africa, starting with the oil concessions in Sudan and spreading out to include mineral concessions in Congo and Equatorial Guinea.  There were other such African deals in the works, but none of them would address a fundamental Chinese shortcoming.  They needed oil – lots of it.  The exploitative Anglos with their powerful exploration tools had already cornered the market on the giant fields off the west coast of Africa.  China would have to look elsewhere, and quickly.

They had tried to do it the sensible way.  When the American oil company Unocal had come up for grabs, they had made a respectable bid, and would have remained competitive in their bidding following a reasonable capitalistic agenda.  But neither the American people nor their elected representatives would have any of that.  No way was China going to be an oil giant that easily.  Buying existing oil production was trivial, but the opportunities were shrinking fast.  Finding new oil was proving extremely difficult and expensive, and those opportunities were also shrinking fast.  China would have to work a lot harder to find the additional oil it needed, and America’s backyard was off-limits.

On the plus side China had close to one trillion dollars accumulated through the expediency of selling garbage to the gluttonous, consumption prone Americans.  All they needed to find was some sucker who had pissed off the international oil companies to the point where his production was in steep decline, but was there to be exploited.   ‘Tapped,’ in politically correct parlance.  On the surface, getting in bed with Vasquesa had all the makings of a match made in haven.  The kind of heaven the camel would need to jump through the eye of the needle to get to.  The People’s Party had morphed into the Profit party and there was no going back.

The deal was simple.  China’s National Oil Company had the expertise and the manpower to pull Vasquesa out of the mess it was in, but in exchange they wanted a percentage of the improved production, paid for immediately in kind.  The doctors and social workers were thrown in for free with a crash course in Spanish added on for good measure.  Gomez would at best buy some time, but he would also acquire an extremely harsh and expensive mistress.  The Chinese hired the accounting firm of LaRouche and Dumak that specialized in oil field acquisitions and accounting practices, and asked for a thorough understanding of the existing state of Vasquesa’s oil production capability including what it would take to turn it around.  After which they went back to a very fretful Gomez and made him eat crow.

The exact steps were precisely crafted and spelled out.  Gomez would start by nationalizing all the assets of the International Oil Companies and Service Companies.  No need for the Chinese to waste good capital when they could just grab what the gringos would be forced to hand over.  Next he would be informed on the number of ex-employees he would need to hire back, which positions they would fill,  how many of his cronies would be out of jobs, where Chinese experts would be imbedded, etc. etc.  Furthermore, at the end of the day the Chinese would get thirty percent of any production exceeding the currently defined base line.  And that base line was pitifully low because Vasquesa’s oil production had slowed to a trickle.  The Chinese had just landed themselves an oil bonanza fit to make any of the earlier oil barons proud.

Gomez and his minions sat through the entire debacle quite stone-faced, but seething inside.  It didn’t help that they had in fact bestowed this indignity on themselves.  As it was late in the day they asked for 24 hours to consider the terms presented.  The head Chinese negotiator gave them until six the following evening with no option to extend the deadline or reconvene negotiations at some later date.

The Vasquesans stayed with their deliberations until late that night, culminating in a point-by-point outline of their immediate circumstances.  There was a brief moment of dark humor while they tried to decide what belonged in the tank and what in the toilet, but after that the rest of the deliberations went smoothly.

The currency was in the tank.

Oil production was in the toilet.

Even the barrios were now talking rebellion.

The great revolution had fizzled.

Gomez had no credibility with his neighbors.

Those that had humored him out of fear were now openly ridiculing him.

No IOC’s or service companies were willing to work with them.

The Chinese terms were outrageous.

The Chinese had them by the balls.

They were out of time and options.

At six the following evening the Vasquesans accepted the Chinese offer.  It was agreed that there would be a joint announcement in the next few days that would formally present the agreement and the terms involved.  Their Chinese counterparts would provide additional details as to the timing.

Oil analysts throughout the world were closely following the negotiations and cheered the outcome.  As all negotiations were being conducted in strict secrecy, details for the analysts to mull over were few and sketchy.  The world needed increased output from Vasquesa to stabilize the markets in order to put downward pressure on the price of oil.  That Vasquesa was perhaps getting screwed was irrelevant.  Someone was always getting screwed.

In the ranks of Gomez’s enemies, this capitulation to the Chinese was viewed as a very positive event that would go quite a ways towards stabilizing the region.  If Gomez was forced to eat crow, it meant his dominating presence with his neighbors was being steadily eroded.  Meanwhile, back at home, necessary staples like rice and milk were no where to be found.  No doubt these little details had contributed to his lost referendum for lifetime tenure.  Clearly, it was just a question of time before the people of Vasquesa realized that Gomez was a one man disaster that needed to be replaced.

Intellectuals implement Revolution as a zero-sum game— someone wins, but only because someone loses.  Then the thugs take over, turning it into a lose-lose game where everyone loses.

 

 

 

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