Thursday, November 29, 2012

I never thought I’d be on Pat’s side of an argument.

I wish this article had run the day before yesterday; I could have included it in Thursday’s blog. But let’s dive in anyway. Thanks to this article on, I have now sided with Pat Robertson on an intellectual argument. Who would have thunk it?

Pat is on the side of science in the argument of how old the world is. He is on the side of logic. Reason. Observation and facts.

Concerning the same argument…It is also interesting to note that as you enter the Perot Museum of natural science in Downtown Dallas, at the top of the escalator is the date of the Earth — 4.5 billion years, give or take a few thousand years…or eons for that matter.

Science folks. Not myth.  You want myth, read my new novel.  Let’s teach science.

By Dan Merica, CNN
Washington (CNN) – Televangelist Pat Robertson challenged the idea that Earth is 6,000 years old this week, saying the man who many credit with conceiving the idea, former Archbishop of Ireland James Ussher, “wasn’t inspired by the Lord when he said that it all took 6,000 years.”

The statement was in response to a question Robertson fielded Tuesday from a viewer on his Christian Broadcasting Network show "The 700 Club.” In a submitted question, the viewer wrote that one of her biggest fears was that her children and husband would not go to heaven “because they question why the Bible could not explain the existence of dinosaurs.”

“You go back in time, you've got radiocarbon dating. You got all these things, and you've got the carcasses of dinosaurs frozen in time out in the Dakotas,” Robertson said. “They're out there. So, there was a time when these giant reptiles were on the Earth, and it was before the time of the Bible. So, don't try and cover it up and make like everything was 6,000 years. That's not the Bible.”

Before answering the question, Robertson acknowledged the statement was controversial by saying, “I know that people will probably try to lynch me when I say this.”

“If you fight science, you are going to lose your children, and I believe in telling them the way it was,” Robertson concluded.

Forty-six percent of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form at one point within the past 10,000 years, according to a survey released by Gallup in June. That number has remained unchanged for the past 30 years, since 1982, when Gallup first asked the question on creationism versus evolution.

The Gallup poll has not specifically asked about views on the age of the Earth.

Ussher’s work, from the mid-1600s, is widely cited by creationists as evidence that Earth is only a few thousand years old. Answer in Genesis, the famed Christian creationist ministry behind the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, cites Ussher as proof of Earth’s age. They describe the archbishop as “a brilliant scholar who had very good reasons for his conclusions concerning the date of creation.”

For Christians who read the creation account in Genesis literally, the six days in the account are strictly 24-hour periods and leave no room for evolution. Young Earth creationists use this construct and biblical genealogies to determine the age of the Earth, and typically come up with 6,000 to 10,000 years.
Most scientists, however, agree that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old and the universe is 14.5 billion years old.
The idea of creationism has been scorned by the mainstream scientific community since shortly after Charles Darwin introduced "The Origin of Species" in 1859. By 1880, The American Naturalists, a science journal, reported nearly every major university in America was teaching evolution.

The question about Earth’s age has been in the news recently. Earlier this month, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida attempted to walk the line between science and faith-based creationism in remarks that that provoked the ire of liberal blogs and left the door open to creationism.

“I'm not a scientist, man,” Rubio told GQ’s Micheal Hainey. “I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that's a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States.”

– CNN’s Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.

So can we get back to teaching science in our classrooms and leave theology to the churches, temples, mosques and synagogues? 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Science and Religion are different. Thank God.

 In an article about Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s beliefs concerning the age of the Earth, the New York Times quoted the Republican as saying, “Whether the earth was created in seven days, or seven actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.”

The Times went on to write, It may have been a mystery back in the 17th century, when Archbishop James Ussher calculated from the age of the patriarchs and other sources that Earth was created on Oct. 22, 4004 B.C. Today’s best estimate for the age of Earth, based on the radiometric dating of meteorites, is 4.54 billion years. The real mystery is how a highly intelligent politician got himself into the position of suggesting that the two estimates are of equal value, or that theologians are still the best interpreters of the physical world.”
I think this is a fair question. But what the article rightly contested was Rubio’s assertion that both arguments should be allowed to be taught. This stems from the age-old Scopes Trial and the battle over evolution, which theologians get heartburn about. In its argument, The Times wrote, Like those electrons that can be waves or particles, evolution is both a theory and a fact. In historical terms, evolution has certainly occurred and no fact is better attested. But in terms of the intellectual structure of science, evolution is a theory; no one talks about Darwin’s “fact of evolution.
“Unlike a fact, a theory cannot be absolutely true. All scientific theories are subject to change and replacement, just as Newton’s theory of gravitation was replaced by Einstein’s. The theory of evolution, though it has no present rivals, is still under substantial construction.
“Evolutionary biologists are furiously debating whether or not natural selection can operate on groups of individuals, as Darwin thought was likely but most modern evolutionists doubt. So which version of evolution is the true one?
“By allowing that evolution is a theory, scientists would hand fundamentalists the fig leaf they need to insist, at least among themselves, that the majestic words of the first chapter of Genesis are literal, not metaphorical, truths. They in return should make no objection to the teaching of evolution in science classes as a theory, which indeed it is.”
What this argument means is that quite simply, in science the age of the Earth should be considered with scientific instruments and measurements.  In theology class, it can be dated as of October 22, 4004 B.C. I think that was a Tuesday. The two have nothing to do with each other. One is like saying that gamma rays and other radio-active isotopes affect the growth tumors of certain known cancers; therefore, we will treat tumors with radiation…or we can just pray and rely on faith healing — handle a few snakes, speak in tongues and dance around the may pole with a witch doctor.

America is going to have to walk away from this anti-intellectual movement it is on. It is a dangerously narrow-minded course. Its pathway is always paved backward. You may in your church or even in your heart pretend that the world is about 6,016 years old. That’s fine. You may believe man wrestled with dinosaurs; that too is okay by me. And if you want to believe that the totality of creation was achieved in six working days, I’m down with that, too … so long as you keep it out of the science classroom.

The pulpits all across this land are full of flashy-dressed, demigods that preach an empty-headed gospel of anti-science. When in fact, what they should be doing is preaching about salvation and love and forgiveness.  They have no business talking about physical science or chemistry or anything else they do not know about. I even heard one preacher on TV talking about the discoveries at the CERN labs in Switzerland, where the scientists from around the globe are hunting for the Higgs bolson; he weighed in saying it was the work of the Devil.  Really?

And I suppose the Mars explorer is the harbinger of the antichrist, too.

Come on people. Follow mythologies all you want. Just do not foster it onto society as educated science.  It is not. 

And Senator Rubio, quit pandering to the far right so early in the 2016 Race for the White House.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Costco gets it.

I have recently been reading many sites about the difference between how Costco treats its employees and how the Wal-Mart Corporation treats the men and women who work for it.   

I am reminded of a talk I heard Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines give one day.  He was responding to a reporters question as to why southwest would eventually win the war of carriers in the DFW area.  He stated, “We will. Because we treat our employees better than the other guys across town.  If you put your employees first, they will take care of everything else for you. Take care of them and they will take care of your customers. Taking care of your customers will build business and that will take care of the shareholders and investors. The folks who don’t do it that way, have the model turned upside down.  And it doesn’t work as well that way.”

Costco has learned the lesson well. I wish other American companies would, too. 

Pay your employees a decent-life-living wage, give them benefits and treat them like humans and they will be loyal and work their buns off for you. Treat them like dogs and you get dog shit in return.

End of business school for the day.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Twenty questions.Twenty Answers.

Twenty Questions:

Name:             John Crawley

Title:               The Myth Makers

Genre:            Mainstream Mystery

Publisher:      Venture Galleries/Lulu Press

John Crawley has just released is 11th novel, The Myth Makers. It is his fourth novel from Venture Galleries.  John makes his home in Texas along with a wife, two cats and a rather spoiled dog.

1.         What was your first published piece?

       Answer:  I believe it was a letter to Paul Crume, a columnist at the Dallas Morning News. He had a column called Big D. It covered the goings-on in the area. Sometimes with a wink and other times with a tear. I, if memory serves me correctly, gave him a wink. Must have been around 1967. I also had my own column on the high school newspaper about the same time. It was a student’s perspective of world events. It had a less –than-subtle, anti-war point of view running through it. Unlike Fox News, I never cared to pretend to be Fair and Balanced.

2.         The Myth Makers is your 11th novel. It is your fourth with this publisher. But until recently you have been self- published. Why the change — why go with a publisher?

       Answer:   Less work for me. The publisher, in my case Gallivant Press, an imprint of Venture Galleries, handles all the details for me. They get the manuscript ready for publishing, see to a cover and then help with the promotional work at launch and beyond.

3.         Things you were not doing yourself?
      Answer:   No. I was, but not in such a detailed manner in which they do it. Plus, when I handled it, it took time away from writing and now I can write while they do their thing. I would send out a couple of emails to friends saying, “Come and get it.” But the guys at my publishing house have a strategy and a map and I am seeing some real progress. 
            You know, publishing has recently been turned upside down with the democracy of the web. There is a virtual avalanche of new faces and new voices appearing almost overnight. How do you compete in that environment? We are all learning the new publishing game. Even the giant houses are. They are merging trying to survive. We are doing guerilla tactics to be smart street fighters, taking readers almost block by block. It is a big battle, but we are starting to see the successes.

4.         Before Venture Galleries, you were using Lulu Press, is that correct?

      Answer:   Yes.  And we still are for our print-on-demand, hard-copy product like paperbacks and hard-cover books.  My publisher only deals in the eBook media.  But then again, that is where the lion’s share of our sales is coming from. I’d say well over 70% now.  That is up from about 40% just a few years ago.

5.         The Myth Makers reads like a real — how should I say — non-fiction story. Did it start out as a non-fiction article?

    Answer:   It was supposed to. It started out being a non-fiction research project for a different kind of book, but I kept running into dead-ends and hidden innuendo surrounding the invention that is the basis for the story. So in order to make it work, I turned it into a novel and focused the story on the reporter who was trying to uncover the truth surrounding the myth. Not unlike the very problem I was trying to do in researching and writing the book myself.

6.         What is the myth?

       Answer:  Actually it comes and goes and depending on where you live there is a slight variation of the story. But it goes something like this. During the energy crisis of the 1970’s there was a story about an inventor who developed a thing for a car, which doubled, tripled and even quadrupled its gas mileage. In fact, the worse the energy crisis became, the more outlandish the claims of his invention grew.  If you were in Texas you heard that the guy put his invention in a Chrysler New Yorker or a General Motors Buick Park Avenue and drove it from El Paso to Midland on a thimble-full of gas.  If you lived back East he was a blacksmith from Maine. Out West he was a chemist from Palmdale. And in the Midwest, he was a college professor who came from Canada.  But each story had a similar plot.  Man makes incredible invention. Puts it in car and then sells the car to a major car manufacturer or to the government. Car always disappears and in most cases, so too does the inventor.

            One day I got a lead onto the story and discovered some details about three research engineers in New Mexico who had actually made an early attempt at a fuel cell powered hybrid car.  They were very successful. And as in the myth, they sold their car and that’s where the story died. I couldn’t find anyone who knew anymore about it or them.

            Then one day I got a call from a man who claimed to be one of the engineers’ sons. He remembered the car being carried away on a transport truck under the watchful eye of the United States Army. Made me feel as if there might be a story here after all. I dug and dug but all I came up with is that the guys were frauds and the invention as a hoax. Not much to go on.

            But off the record, people would tell me they had heard that the invention had worked.  And just as the claims in the original myth grew exponentially as time passed, so too did the tales of people who remembered the car from Alamogordo. But there was never anything concrete to trace. No solid evidence.  So I turned it into a novel. But I asked and still ask the same question that Jack Lawrence, the reporter in the book, asks. Were these guys con artists or was their invention for real?  And who would sit on such an invention?  Big oil?  The energy lobby?  Government?

7.         And the answer is?

     Answer:  As my publisher has taught me to say, “You’ll have to buy the book and decided for yourself.”

8.         Your publisher taught you well. When you look back at your list of books, you don’t have to go far to find The Man on the Grassy Knoll. Another book based on conspiracy theories. There is even the hint of conspiracy woven into the plot of Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt. Is that a theme of yours?

    Answer:  The short answer is no.  But a good conspiracy does help weave a twisted tale and helps build intrigue, which is always good for book sales. But to your question — I have never thought Oswald acted alone.  My earlier novel was simply an exercise in a ‘what if’ scenario. It was a look at the dark and seamy underbelly of the nefarious arts practiced in our foreign policy.  How we recruit and train and then send these people out to do our bidding. And sometimes it bites us back.

9.         This was the book with which your publisher discovered you?

    Answer:     Yes. I had sent The Man on the Grassy Knoll to a friend of mine who had signed on with a publisher and asked him to take a read and if he would, write me a review. He did, but he also shared his new, yet-to-be-published book with me and asked for quid pro quo. He shared my review and my novel with his publisher, who said “We need to get this signed with us.” And the rest, as they say, is history.  I have been with them for four novels now.

            I had lunch with the publisher; he asked if I had anything I was working on, I happened to have with me (wink- wink) the manuscript for Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt. I gave it to him and before you can say John Grisham six times, I had a contract and was on my way.

            Next came Stuff, the novel about the wildfires, which raged through Bastrop, Texas last year (Editor note: summer of 2011). Then I was going to publish The Myth Makers but the publisher liked a book I had finished called Dream Chaser and wanted to use it in a new venture they were starting called serial novels, or chapter-a-day novels.  It was and is a great marketing took for people to find you and read you for free and be led to your other works. It is a fun and fresh new idea. And yet, it is as old as the serial books and the movies they begat.

            There are about ten of us doing these now at Venture Galleries. Some of the guys are actually writing their chapters day-by-day, but I don’t handle the stress of the deadline that well.  I wanted mine all tidy and bundled up nice and finished. 

10.       Have the serial novels increased sales for you?

    Answer:   To be sure. People, who before would never spend the outrageous sum of $4 for an eBook can now try me out on a test drive, see if they like me, and then go plop down some serious cash for an eBook. Heck, there have even been a few who have bought hard-copy versions of my books after reading the serial novel.

11.       You are getting some incredible reviews on The Myth Makers. Both from men and women. Why do you think it has struck such a nerve?

     Answer:  There is something for almost everyone in this story. There is a love story. A love triangle. There is a mystery to be solved. There is a sense of thrill in the chasing of the story. There is science —but no math, I promise you. It is not science fiction, either.

12.       That was one of the hardest things about writing The Myth Makers, — the science —as I hear it. Why was that?

    Answer:  To be sure.  For the myth to work, it has to be grounded in possibility. If it is not, it becomes fantasy. That meant the machine these guys “supposedly” made had to be practical. It had to be able, in some form or another, to do what they said it would do. So I went to an engineer friend of mine and proposed how they might have done what they did and he said, as engineers are want to say, “No way.” 

            I then recruited the help of some scientists — in theoretical chemistry and physics. They got into playing the ‘what if’ game about the invention and in fact, found several ways in which an early fuel cell, as it is described in the book, might have actually achieved some of the staggering numbers suggested in the myth.  They were the ones who suggested that what gave the car its incredible gasoline mileage was the hybrid nature of the system the inventors built— not simply some miraculous finding or discovery. 

            I returned to my engineering friend and still there was a phrase about the inventors discovering something new in the knowledge of chemistry and physics that gave him heartburn. Back to my two theoretical guys who suggested that the inventors didn’t discover something new, but tripped over some anomalies within the laws of physics. (By the way, this is what led to the scene where the scientists are having a meal with the journalists in Hollywood, and discussing the invention in the novel.)

            Finally everyone agreed with that language. And I was off to the races. But that was the hardest re-writing I had ever done. They were all so very critical of the details within the language of science to make this invention not only believable, but possible as well.

13.       So, with such a great invention, why the cover-up?

     Answer:   As Agent Harris, the FBI agent in the book says, and I am paraphrasing now— “If you invent a pill that cures all the know ailments of man, do you think for a moment that the hospitals, the insurance companies, the medical associations, the government, the pharmaceutical companies are going to let you go to market with this pill?  Fat chance.”  And that is the rub in the book. Who is conning whom? Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?

            I mean on one hand, the inventors could have been con men. Taking freely from the public trough. Duping investors and the government left and right. Or, they could have invented exactly what they said they did; then who is it that wanted it shut down? And why?

14.       I suspect you are not going to tell us here?

     Answer:   Nope. In fact, you have to make up your own mind as you read The Myth Makers. I am not going to do it for you.

15.   In Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt, you did the same thing. You made the reader become the jury to judge Mason Chase’s innocence or guilt. Is that a recurring theme of yours?

      Answer:  To a certain degree it has become that.  Even in The Man on the Grassy Knoll, I make the reader decide if the story they have just read from the transcript is for real or not. They have to get involved with it on that level. I think that makes literature interesting and fun. I will not spoon-feed you. You have to have some skin in the game.

16.  Why that process?        

     Answer:  I think that keeps the ball game interesting. In the case of The Myth Makers, the reader gets wrapped up in the who did what and how and why and suddenly you are into the book with the complete acceptance that this device actually works.  It is like a magician. I get you to look over here, while I replace the rabbit in the hat with a turtledove.

17.   What else do you have up your sleeve for the future?

            Answer:  I am working on a love story that surrounds an intellectual property crime. It deals with a philosophical look at life— winning, losing and just existing. I have a book of short stories coming out based on a fictitious East Texas community. And I am researching a novel based in the 1920’s-and 30’s in Paris, France.

18.       One of my favorite time periods. What will it be about?

     Answer:    There has been an on-going minor character that has had a cameo role in a few of my earlier novels: Clare de Fontroy. Her poetry even graces the pages of The Myth Makers. I have always wanted to do a longer piece about her and her life and her writings. She is a most interesting lady. A daughter of a slave, a member of the Harlem Renaissance and the Lost Generation, she was a Jazz singer, a poet, served as a spy and a journalist during World War II, as well as led the civil rights movement back here in America after the death of Rev. King. Her life and times have a most interesting storyline. It will make a great book. If I can find a way to effectively tell her story.

19.     Any ideas on how you will do that?

      Answer:  I am thinking of using a technique, not unlike that of Raul Salazar’s interview, in The Man on the Grassy Knoll. Only instead of a transcript, I will use Clare’s letters to friends and co-workers and other writers, as well as her columns from Europe during the war and her poetry. But that takes a lot of research and a lot of understanding the situations she will encounter. It is at least a year off.

20.       So you think that far into the future for your books?

       Answer:  It takes me about a year from the time I start writing to get a novel to press. Add another year for research. It is a long process.  The Man on the Grassy Knoll was started in 1984-’85.  I did six complete versions until I found a way to tell the story that wasn’t so damn boring.

            I had poured every fact and date and detail I had ever uncovered into the manuscripts and one right after the next they became more and more stilted.  Too academic.  I said that to a class the other day at the University of Texas at Austin and then I thought, ‘I probably shouldn’t have chosen that phrase.’ But they understood and even laughed. One professor said, “Yeah, I hate to read anything I have spent years researching. It is dry and boring as hell.”  We all had a good laugh at that.

            But I found a technique — the interview transcript— that allowed me to have Raul tell his story unburdened with all the facts and times and dates that I was putting in the way of the plot. It just came out to be a pure story.  I’ve used a similar technique in telling a story of two women’s lives in Baby Change Everything, by using the interwoven diaries of two very different women from diverse backgrounds and in so doing, I paint a picture of America’s have’s and have not’s.

So maybe I can find the same or similar technique for Clare’s story. One of the things that made The Myth Makers so much fun to write, like Stuff before it, it is simply a straight ahead mainstream novel. It was fun to get into that form and genre. It really makes you work extra hard at your craft to keep things interesting.

That’s the fun part of the creative process.  Finding the best way to tell a story and then telling it with all your ability. I mean, I love getting up and going into the studio every morning. It is a new adventure each day.

John Crawley’s The Myth Makers, from Venture Galleries and LULU Press is available on Amazon, Barnes and Nobel,  and other fine eBook and hard-copy retailers. Also catch his on-going serial novel, Dream Chaser at

Sunday, November 25, 2012

New park is a hit. New sun dial is not.

The new deck park in Dallas is a load of fun. People were out on a warm Fall Sunday and it felt as if we were in Chicago or San Francisco. It was multi-ethnic and mixed ages. Folks were walking, throwing balls, playing guitars and singing. And below us, traffic was whizzing buy at 60+ miles per hour and we didn’t even know it.  Dogs were out with their masters as were children. (I can’t tell who was better behaved, but I’m thinking the canines might have a slight edge here.)

I can see the activity in the park falling off in say, August or even July, but right now it is a great place, especially for downtown and mid town families to get out and stretch their legs and grab some warm Fall rays.

A job well done, Dallas. Well done.

Now, if we could do something about that giant sundial of a building that floods both the Nasher and the new park with bright hot spots throughout the afternoon.  They were all over the park. Very bright. Very hot. Like the hot spots from a magnifying glass when you used to burn holes in leaves. That hot.

Yeah, yeah, the architect says a giant scrim can’t be applied to the western side of the building. I call B.S.  Something about design integrity. That’s a load of sun-heated crap. It has been done in other cities and it has worked.  This architect screwed up and doesn’t want to admit it. It is an environmental eye sore and a potentially harmful one at that.

And photographers, be careful if you get too close to take a picture of it. Armed guards will approach you and tell you to stop taking pictures. It is a copyrighted creation and a photograph of it will violate the intellectual property rights of the creator (said architect…).

Just another way America is becoming the Land of the NOT SO Free…faster than you can say…hold it there, Mr. Kodak.

I say I can take a picture of any building in the city where I pay taxes to keep the place afloat.  Don’t like it?  Don’t build a building on the skyline of my city.  I am a citizen of this city and I will photographic it as often as I like.  End of discussion.

But the park is really great. Visit it. Take a friend. Buy a drink from one of the many vendors. A sandwich, too. Make a whole afternoon out of it. Play a game of chess. Read a book. Sunbathe. Practice yoga. You might even forget you are in Dallas.

I know I did.  Until I wanted to take a picture of the sun oven.  Then I remembered where I lived.

The beginning of an American Myth

Recently a friend asked me, what is The Myth Makers all about?  I said it is about a myth that some men at a rather top-secret military installation built an incredible machine that allowed a rather large piece of Detroit iron to get unbelievable gasoline mileage. “Is it true?” He asked. And I said, “You’ll have to read it and decide for yourself.”

I give you the same advice, but I will give you a head start.  Here’s the first chapter. Enjoy.

Chapter One:

Paul Austin

         He told me they had killed Michael Reinhardt. That was the first thing he said to me. In fact, his exact words were “They murdered him.”
         As a reporter I have a keen eye and a sharp nose for people and their character. I can tell a set-up when it is facing me – sometimes when it is a mile away. My job is to sift the few grains of truth out from the mounds of deceitful chaff as it is harvested for a story. So, I can say with great confidence, he didn’t look like a con man or a nutcase. He was very self-effacing and very genuine. A thin wisp of a man who once stood erect and proud was now stooped and bent under the weight of cancer. His thinning hair swept back onto a head that seemed larger in proportion than it should have been for his diminutive size. At times he was soft-spoken to the point that I often had to ask him to repeat himself for fear I was missing something important. At other times he could be most forceful, even bombastic and crude, to get his idea across, emphasizing each point with a skinny finger pointing right at me (he would have poked me in the chest with it had he been able to reach me), but always with empathy for his listener. On still other occasions, his anger would boil over and he would get frustrated and show the dramatic signs of an old and forgotten man that the world was letting pass away with little or no fanfare.
         All of that was Paul Austin.
         But the thing that truly amazed me was the fact that Paul Austin was an engineer. Trained in the rules of science. Schooled in the disciplines of physics and math, regulated by the conventions of proof and fact, and yet he was among the converted – an eyewitness to a scientific marvel that he and others truly believed would change the world: the same invention his detractors called a fraud, the same invention that he believed cost his partner, Michael Reinhardt, his life.
         How I met Paul Austin is a story unto itself, but for lack of space and time, here are the quick details, which will have to suffice.
         I was researching a story about the 2009-2010 federal bailout of the auto industry in Detroit and the ways in which General Motors and Chrysler spent the taxpayers’ funds. Because the two firms had accepted large sums of the people’s money – that is, money from you and from me, let us not forget – their books had to become very transparent and their files were opened up to public scrutiny like never before. My editor assumed there were many stories in those files and sent two of us to Detroit to sniff around.
Alicia Blackwell, the other reporter, took it upon herself to run the story of the numbers, for which I was most grateful: not that I don’t like numbers - I do. It is accounting and the ledgers and the long columns of digits that give my eyes excuse to succumb to mid-research naps. Alicia, on the other hand, had training as a CPA before becoming a journalist, go figure. I had training as a bass player in a rock and roll band, but that is not relevant to the story at hand, although as you may see, it certainly colors my worldview in many ways.
         I was returning to my home in LA from a week’s worth of research in Motor City. The flight attendant had just served me a soda and lime when a polite man in his mid-fifties slipped into the empty seat next to me and introduced himself as Paul Austin, Jr. I nodded, wishing I could ignore the stranger, enjoy my beverage, then go to sleep in my comfy, first-class seat earned by decades of frequent flyer points generated by grueling travels around the world chasing stories of wars, corruption, heroes and villains for hungry readers; and was about to say just that to the eager-looking man in his dark rimmed glasses when he said, “You missed a big story at General Motors.” I looked around to see if anyone had heard what the man in the tailored blue suit had said. Before I could ask him anything, he slid a card over to me and wedged it underneath my glass. “I live in LA too. Call me. I have a story that you will want.” I noticed as the card was slid toward me, his nails were manicured and perhaps even polished.
         Everyone who sits at a keyboard and types for a living has heard this. It is like a pickup line for goofballs and people with axes to grind. But he got up and returned to his seat deep in tourist class at the back of the plane before I had a chance to formulate a response. I looked at the simple black and white card.

Paul Austin, Jr.
Aeronautical Engineer
El Segundo, California

         His phone number was there and it told me that while we weren’t neighbors, we didn’t live that far apart. Okay, a guy sits next to me for an instant on a flight from Detroit to LA – tells me he has a story for me and that somehow in my rigorous pursuit of information at GM I have overlooked something he thinks will be a blockbuster. I was about to pass it off as just one more person peddling their story for fame and glory, when it dawned on me. Paul Austin, Jr. knew I was researching in the halls of GM. He knew I was looking for a story. And he claimed to have one. How did he know all of this?
         Okay. One phone call and if he has something I’ll meet him for coffee. If not, his card gets tossed along with a thousand others that have passed my way before.
         Two days later, after the call, we had coffee.

He had a story.

Actually he, didn’t, his father did. Paul Austin, Sr. There was a catch, though. Junior didn’t know if Senior would tell the story to me. And we didn’t have much time. Paul Austin was dying of cancer in a hospice facility in Orange County. He didn’t have long to live. “You’ll have to coax it out of him,” said his son. “My mother told me years ago about part of it, but he has never spoken a word to me of the invention and she didn’t know enough details to piece it all together.”
“So this invention does exist?” I asked with a bit more skepticism in my voice than I wished. But the word invention had piqued my curiosity. It had also set off my BS meter. There comes a time during an investigation when facts and fiction often intertwine themselves, and a good reporter must know how to prune those vines apart to keep the facts intact and growing while discarding the fiction.
“It did. We’re not sure what’s been done with it.”
         “What makes you think your father will talk to me?” I asked.
He reached into his sport coat pocket and produced a folded piece of paper. Opening it, he showed me a page from my newspaper’s magazine in which I had written a column about the massive intrusion of the federal government into business with loans to ward off recession’s ruin. “My father loved this piece. And he said ‘If only that writer knew what was there.’” I looked at him as if to say, ‘That’s not enough for me to go on.’ “He was talking about the invention. He said, ‘America owns my secret now.’”
Now that’s a story.

                                             X  X  X

“They killed him. Murdered him in cold blood.”
“Who? Who killed whom?” I asked.
The old man tried to prop himself up in the hospital-style bed – its crisp, starched-white sheets covering his frail body – a body that you could tell was once strong and proud. “They killed Michael. I know it as well as if they had shot me in my own damn heart.”
“And Michael is?” I got my recorder out of my jacket pocket slowly so I wouldn’t scare away whatever it was that was trying to come out of the wrinkled, dying man.
“Michael Reinhardt. Now goddammit, you came to talk about it, didn’t you?” He looked past me toward his son. “You said he’d come here to get the story. Is he the one?”
“Yes, Dad.” Paul Junior spoke slowly to his father, trying to keep him calm. He stepped behind me and to his father to help prop him up with pillows, so his position would be more relaxed and he could face me easier. “Why don’t you start at the beginning for him?”
         Paul Austin closed his eyes and turned his head away from me. His coffee brown hair was streaked with white and a gray stubble scratched across his chin and cheeks. His whole chest rose and fell with every breath he sucked into his failing lungs. There was a long silent pause. “Get me a smoke.” His son moved to a nightstand and handed the pack to his father. He fingered one slim cigarette out of the red and white box and held it to his parched lips. “You’re not supposed to smoke in here, but I do. Screw ’em.” His son lit the cigarette for him and Paul Senior took a long draw and then looked at me. “Sit. Sit. We got a lot to go over. You got enough tape?”
         “Yes sir. I believe I do.” I said, as I pulled a chair closer to the bed. His voice, rusty and crackling, could be difficult to understand at times.
         “One day, I believe it was in ’64, Lancaster came out to me – ”
         “Steve Lancaster. Shift boss at Northrup where I worked. Skunk works.”
         “Doing what?”
         “None of your damn business. It is not part of the story. If you want that story we’ll talk about that. But you came for Michael’s story. So let’s just leave it that I was working for Northrup.”
         “Lancaster comes in to the engineering department and tells me he’s got a new draftsman he wants me to train. Kid from Indiana. A Purdue dropout.”
         “This was the guy that built the invention? The one like Pogue’s and Ogle’s?”
         “Pogue and Ogle – ” He spit in disgust. He raised himself up as if to get better leverage at me. “Hell, they were carburetor guys. Flimflam men. Nothing they did worked. Hoax-masters. Michael was the real deal. This wasn’t a carburetor, son. Michael Reinhardt created a perpetual motion machine.”
         I became aware of the hiss of the air conditioning. It was that quiet in the room. I smiled. It was the type of smile you reserve for your grandmother or other elderly folk who tell you tales of the past. I looked at his son. He was astonishingly bewildered too. I winked at him.
         “Don’t patronize me, boy. If you want the story, keep up. My body may be old and rusty but my mind is still sharp. Yes, I said a perpetual motion machine, and yes, we’ve all heard our whole lives it can’t be done. I know someone who can dispute those facts.
         ‘It began about two years after Michael came to work for us. I’m guessing it was around ’66 or the beginning of ’67. Michael came to me and said he needed some help on a drafting assignment. Another engineer had dumped off some notes about a project and things were not adding up. The kid had caught the errors and was trying to reconcile the engineering in his head. He had done a damn good job of it too. I looked over his drafts and they were close. I made some minor – and I mean minor – modifications and he was off to show his work. That day he and I met up for lunch and shared a booth at this greasy diner that was not far from our hangar in Glendale. He asked me if I had some physics books he could borrow. I said sure and questioned him why he wanted them. He told me he was just brushing up on his sciences. He said chemistry had been his strong suit, but he never had too much of a go at physics after high school.”
         “Where did you say he was from? What school?”
         “Purdue. Listen, I’ve only got so much goddamn air and my old ticker has only got so many more beats, so let that damn recorder of yours pick up the details. You keep up with me.
         “He told me he had met a girl at school, fallen in love and fell right smack into academic probation the second semester of his freshman year. His old man must have been a hard-ass and told him he’d cut him off if he didn’t bring his grades up and soon. But Michael was in love. So he followed this girl out to Seattle only to be dumped.
         “Kid was heartbroken. He actually got ill, he was so lost. His mom and dad drove out and got him, brought him back to West Lafayette and dropped his ass off in the engineering department with a ‘This is your last chance, son’ kind of warning. It took two semesters, but soon wanderlust or differential equations got the better of him. He dropped out again and headed west and was soon working for me. He was a sharp kid. Very smart and fast on his feet. Good-looking kid. Tall with wavy blond hair. Looked like a surfer boy. The girls in the secretary pool were after him, I’ll tell you. But he was the worst dresser I ever did see. I swear he wore the same khaki pants three or four days in a row, and if he had another pair of shoes besides those scratched-up brown loafers of his, I never saw them.
         “He told me that day he just wanted to start studying the things he hadn’t gotten to at Purdue. I think he was torturing himself for being a dropout. Anyway, I loaned him a couple of textbooks I had boxed up and a few more after that. Soon I’d say he had gone through maybe a couple of dozen physics, chemistry, and applied mathematics books. Knew the stuff inside and out. He used to make me quiz him, like he was studying for a final or something. He knew the stuff.
“Then one day in ’69, we get called in to Lancaster’s office and told that we were leaving the skunk works plant in California and being transferred to New Mexico to work on a joint project with Lockheed. Nothing more than that. Pack your damn bags and be in Alamogordo, New Mexico, in five days. Our new home was to be Holloman Air Force Base. In the middle of goddamn nowhere.
“Helen, my wife, was none too happy about it. We had a nice home in Ventura. Had plenty of friends – kids were in good schools. Orange trees in the backyard. Everything was going pretty good. But a job was a job and you didn’t say no. And I figured if they were moving us to middle of the goddamned desert, it must be something big. Else, why hide it, right?
“As for Michael, he packed up his belongings and was about two days ahead of me. Only thing he cared about was poring over those textbooks I had loaned him. I reminded him as he packed up his boxes that those books were on loan. I told him I wasn’t a goddamn library, but still he needed to take care of them. He showed them to me and to my amazement, he had sheets upon sheets of notebook paper wedged into the pages with notes and drafting and math all over them. The kid was a sponge.”
         A coughing fit came over the old man and his son quickly stepped in and gave him a glass of water, which he sipped through a straw wedged between smoke-parched lips. “Better hook me up for a few minutes,” he said to his son. Paul Junior got the clear plastic tubing that was attached to some type of metering device on the wall and gently strung it around his father’s head, carefully slipping the tiny cannula into his dad’s nose. I could hear the slight hissing of oxygen entering the old man’s nostrils as he closed his eyes as if to enjoy the intake of something fresher than the tobacco smoke he had just inhaled moments before.
         A short bulldog of a nurse stuck her head into the room and asked if he had been smoking again and the old man waved at her as if to say “Leave me alone. Get out. I am on oxygen now and all is right with the world.” The nurse left barking orders that there were too many of us and we were not letting Mr. Austin get his rest.
         In a few moments the senior Austin resumed his story, albeit with breathy pauses, either for a fading memory to catch up with him or his lung capacity to be replaced – perhaps some of both. “Michael’s notes were meticulous. Deep. Very philosophical. He questioned principles. He directed math at solving problems I had never thought to explore. He was, perhaps, a genius. Not that I believe in such, but he was certainly gifted in the breadth and depth of the large quantities of math and science he was consuming and putting to both theoretical as well as practical applications.
         “You been to Alamogordo, New Mexico, boy?” he asked, abruptly changing the subject. I said I had not.
         “Let me tell you about the shithole we moved to. Holloman Air Force Base wasn’t at the edge of nowhere. Goddamn place was five miles past it. Flat desert, dry and lifeless on one side, and rock-hewn mountains stretching to the heavens on the other side. I thought Paul’s mother was going to divorce me the minute she saw it. Bad enough we didn’t live on base – we were just contractors, so we had to live in the town and those bastards didn’t like anyone who came from outside their own mothers’ wombs. Didn’t bother Michael none. His nose was stuck inside some textbook as soon as he left work each day. Hell, there were days I think he’d forget to eat if Helen hadn’t called him and invited him over. And when he came, along with him came his notebooks and questions. My god, did he have questions. One day he announced that he was going to get the Lockheed people to fund his education at University of Texas at El Paso, only then I think it was called something else.” More coughing.
         “Texas Western,” said the younger Austin. “It was called Texas Western University then.”
         “Yeah. Good engineering school. But I thought if this kid even thinks that Lockheed was going to spend a goddamn nickel on some punk draftsman to get a degree in engineering, he was crazier than the idiot who had sent us out there in the first place. But sonofabitch if he didn’t get them to spring for the whole ride.
         “Three nights a week he drove himself into El Paso and spent god knows how long in classes and in labs and doing in just two years all the things I had done in four. At night no less!
          “One day he comes up to me and says that he wants Helen and me and Paul Junior to come with him to El Paso on Saturday. I asked him what the occasion was and he said he was going to get his diploma and engineering certification. You could have kicked me in the ass. The kid had gone and become an engineer. And when we got to El Paso, we found out he wasn’t just an engineer, he had scored higher on their tests than anyone in the past ten years. Lockheed folks sent a PR guy to take pictures and we all went across the border to Juarez and had dinner and tequila till all hours. First time Paul Junior there ever got wasted. Am I right?” His son blushed slightly and nodded.
         “I was a senior in high school. I was pretty impressed with Mr. Reinhardt too.”
         “You goddamn right he was. Who wouldn’t be? Self-taught engineer is what Reinhardt was. Got such a solid basis for the study of mechanical engineering on his own from those books I had loaned him that he passed out of the first two years on testing alone. And took the rest as night school and correspondents courses – all the time working the day job out at Holloman. And doing a damn good job at that too. Lockheed took notice and so too did our old bosses back at Northrup in California. They drafted Michael to come back to work with them on some super-hot, super-dark project for a couple of years. I think this must have been sometime around ’72. He packed up his house. Packed up his stuff and brought me over about a dozen brown cardboard boxes full of the books he had borrowed. ‘Won’t be needing these anymore,’ he said to me. We both laughed. Hell, I guess not, I told him. You had everything in ’em memorized.
         “Michael was gone for three years. We’d get a card from time to time or a call on holidays. He always wanted to know how Paul Junior was doing. Paul was at Cal Poly then. Michael always promised Helen that he’d try to drop in on him and check on him. But he never did because somewhere in the wonderful basin they call Los Angeles, Michael met Cindy Hixon. She was the love of his life. If he had been dedicated to the study of science and math before, now he was doubly dedicated to the worship of Cindy.
         ”She was from Oregon. A nurse. And a real looker. Dishwater blonde with big breasts. A bit thick around the waist for my taste, but not so as you’d turn your head and look the other way. She had that Marilyn Monroe, filled in at just the right places look, if you know what I mean. He invited us to their wedding. A small affair in a hotel in Palm Springs. I think his old man hugged Michael harder than he did Cindy, on account of he had become an engineer. It was good times for Michael. Real good times.
“I remember we all sat up and drank till god knows when. Late in the night Michael told me he was coming back to the desert – to Holloman. Northrup had some system that they were working on with Lockheed and he had volunteered to manage it. And since no one was just jumping head over freakin’ heels to go to the god-forsaken New Mexico desert, he stood up and took the assignment. But first he drove Cindy out to see the town and the base.
“I remember she asked Helen if there was a liquor store in town, because she was going to have to find a way to cool down in this hellhole. We all laughed at her. Helen told her, ‘You ain’t in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.’ And Cindy shot back, ‘Kansas? Girl, I was just hoping for southern Oregon.’        
“But give Cindy her dues, she adapted like a good young wife and made quite a career out there with a doctors’ group who ran a family clinic for the Air Force on the base. 
“I used to kid with Cindy and ask her if she couldn’t work on the way Michael dressed. ‘He’s an engineer now, sweetheart,’ I’d say to her. ‘He dresses like he’s going bowling or something.’ She would just look at me and say some things only time can change.
         “Michael and I, we settled back into our old routines. Working the day shifts on a new bird that the Lockheed was  putting together out there and sitting in the shade to eat our sandwiches at lunchtime and trading stories, mine about Paul Junior’s exploits in college, and Reinhardt’s about him and Cindy trying to make babies.
         ”Then one day he asks me, kind of out of the blue, ‘You know anything about Tesla’s assistant de Grasse’s experiments with electromagnets?’ I told him that de Grasse, who had been a brilliant theoretical physicist, was suffering from delusions when he wrote his paper about perpetual motion. ‘Crazy yes, delusional, no.’ said Michael. ‘He was onto something.’
         “Michael and I went round and round for days and days on the concept of perpetual motion. He would make me argue for it while he used the laws of thermodynamics to repel my attempts at convincing him that there could be such an animal. Then the next day we would comfortably switch roles.
         “Soon I was questioning Michael as to why the sudden interest in the dark arts. I remember he smiled at me and said, ‘Paul, Tesla and de Grasse were onto something. Something big. His problem was he thought he could make a machine that would run perpetually – forever. We both know, as engineers, that was impossible. But suppose we could take his formulas, apply them in a different way and create a machine that would take the most efficient hydrocarbon engine and expand its efficiency by, say, a factor of fifty.’
         “I recall being very silent that particular lunch day. I asked him if he and Cindy had been getting into good grass or mushrooms or something. He scoffed at me. Waved me off like a child. He told me he was serious. He invited me over to his house that night. He had something he wanted to show me.”
         “The perpetual machine?” I asked.
         “No. Not quite. But so damn close it was scary.” The old man closed his eyes again and leaned his head back on the pillow. A smile danced across his hollow cheeks. He was remembering. Then as suddenly as the smile had appeared, a darkness chased it away.
He sat up. “This is why they killed him.”

                                    X   X   X 

         A coughing spell stopped our session for a few minutes. I stepped out into the hallway and jotted a few thoughts into my notebook. Inside, I could hear the old man spitting up into the sink. After a short time, his son came out and suggested we pick up the next day.
         Together we walked to the parking lot. The Southern California sun baked the lot and the cars in a hot, golden glow. “Are you getting where he is going?” The younger Austin asked.
         Nodding, I said I was.
         “You are hearing stuff I’ve never heard before. My mom doesn’t even know about all of this. I sure didn’t.”
         “I’d like to talk with her too.” I suggested a time and a day and the junior Austin said he would check with her to see if it was okay. I drove back to my house with a question or two still lingering in my mind. The main question: was this just the ramblings of a crazy old man and his even wilder sidekick who thought they had invented something great? I got my answer at close to eight that night.
         The phone rang and I removed myself from a Dodgers game on the TV. It was Paul Austin Junior on the line telling me he had dug into some of his father’s old boxes and had come across an interesting paper with a set of numbers scribbled across it.
I scooted across the sofa and grabbed a pen and some paper. It sounded like information was headed my way, and I live on information. Even more so than the pizza that had once lived in the infestation of boxes camped out on the coffee table in front of me, which I swept to the side in order to take notes. “Consider this,” said Austin Junior. “The most efficient engine at that time was producing numbers in the high 20s.”
         “High 20s?” I asked, not following what he meant.
         “27 percent efficiency. That means 73 percent of the energy was being lost to heat and friction. Not a good model. Today we can get somewhere near 35 percent, but that is still very exceptional and in perfect lab conditions.”
         “Okay, so the internal combustion engine is not the most efficient machine known to man. So what?”
         “If the figures I found in my father’s notes are to be believed, he and Reinhardt achieved something like 89 percent on their first try. Later that number grew to an astonishing 97 percent.”
         “97? That’s like a game changer, isn’t it.”
         “Exactly. You see why he didn’t want to talk about it until now?”
         “Was there ever a patent applied for?”
         “Not to my knowledge. But we should ask Dad tomorrow. You can see why someone would want to shut Reinhardt up. And after he was killed, my father never spoke about the invention again. It was his way to protect my mother and me.”
         “And himself.” I added.
         “Yes. That too.”

                                    X           X           X

         After the call my energy level shot up. I almost got high from the adrenaline that pumped through my veins. I was pacing around my three-bedroom apartment like a caged tiger. Room-to-room-to-room I would go. Faster and faster: my sock-clad feet building static charges over the hardwood floors, ready to explode on my fingers at contact with anything metal. I needed to think things out – out loud preferably.
I called a photographer friend of mine, Sammy Spradley, from the magazine and told him what I was doing and he suggested we think over cocktails. Never a bad idea in my mind. Sammy would drink night or day. And usually both.
In thirty minutes we were at a watering hole in Santa Monica and ten minutes after that, I had outlined the story to him.
         “Jesus, this sounds like a real deal. Huge invention. Guy claims his partner was murdered to keep it quiet. I think you need art on this. You need a photographer to go with you and document this.”
“Ever been to Alamogordo, New Mexico?” I asked.
         Sammy squirmed in his seat and made a face. “Why can’t the really good stories be in places where chicks like to hang out?” I laughed at him, but knew that down deep it was true. Great stories had a way of taking a reporter to the world’s outskirts – to the fringes of comfort and the good life. “I’ve got an assignment to cover the governor’s trade trip to Honolulu. I’d better stick with that.” We both laughed.
“Fine journalist you are.”
“You get the goods on these guys, and I’ll take their mug shots,” he said.
“They are supposed to be the good guys.” I explained.
“Who are the bad guys then?”
I shrugged. “Not too sure just yet.”
“Want my guess?” he asked. Sammy and I had been around the block a few times covering some very high-profile stories. Two tours of duty in the Persian Gulf for the war stories. I trusted his instincts.
“I bet it was the oil boys. Big oil. Think about what they had to lose.” He paused and polished off the remainder of his dark beer. He ordered another quickly, as if not having a drink in front of him would mean that all thinking would have to come to an end. That, and he knew I was buying. “How’s your insurance?” he asked.
“My what?”
“Insurance. Life insurance. How well are you protected?”
“Look, I’m not worried about me. This story happened in the ’70s. Maybe ’81-’82 at the latest. It’s old news. Hell, most of the players are probably dead and gone.”
“So, tell me something,” he said.    
“Why is this guy – what’s his name?“
“Yeah. Why has Austin waited so long to come clean? He’s got the Big C, isn’t that what you said?”
         “Seems convenient to me. ‘If I spill the beans now what are they gonna do? Kill me? I’m a dead man. I’m in hospice.’ Come on.”
         “So what are you getting at, Sammy?”
         “Be careful. Sounds like it could have a lot of rattlers crawling around this one.”
         “Yeah.” We drank for a few more minutes in silence. Then I said, “Need help in Honolulu? I could carry your cases.”
         “No way. But you know who I would call if I were you?”
         “Don’t go there.” I said, knowing the name he was thinking.
         “Look, she’s as good as they come. Just because the two of you had a spat a while back, give her some slack. She’s rebounded. She’s back. She’s a good writer. She’s got a good nose for a story.”
         “I’m not bringing Blackwell in on this. No way.”
         “Listen to me. It will have a money trail. That means math. It means accounting. Not your long suit, if you remember. It’s hers. Let her help you.”
         “If I bring her in on this, I really will have snakes creeping around me.”
         “You are one cold dude, you know that?” He said it, but he didn’t smile, so I took it that he wasn’t joking.
         I nodded. “Yeah. That’s what my dad used to say about me.”
         “You ever going to forgive her and make up with her?” Sammy asked.
         “Nope. She’s all yours. But watch her claws. They’ll rip the flesh off your bones.”
         “And that’s the kind of protection you’re gonna need on this story, dude. Besides, she’s good eye candy.”
         “Sammy, you never change.”
         “Yeah, I’m a photographer. I can spot ’em. And she’s one of ’em. Part of the club.” Again there was a pause in the conversation and we each nursed our poison down. Then Sammy asked, “So what are your next steps? On the story, I mean.”
         “Going back to prime the pump of the old man some more. Need to know how this thing worked, where they got their really exotic parts, who was funding it and who bought it. Where did it go? Who has it? That kind of stuff.”
         “And why his buddy was killed.” Sammy added.
         “Yeah. Especially that.”

                                    X   X  X

         “Those were old numbers. From early on. Michael and I knew we could make the thing much more efficient than that considering that the first motor was built out of stuff he had lying around the house.” Paul Austin looked refreshed and almost healthy compared to the day before. Color filled the hollows of his cheeks, which still bore shades of gray beard. His eyes seemed to radiate a bright blue that only a day before had looked cold steel gray.
          “But you got way ahead of the story.” He looked at his son. “You bring me all those notes and boxes we’re going to need them to tell this story.” He pushed himself up in bed and motioned for me to start the recorder and to sit. It was story time again.
         “The night we went to Michael’s house he had a page of equations and some drawings. We opened beers and he led me out to his garage where he had some tools and stuff on a workbench scattered about.”
         “The making of the machine?”
         “No. Just junk mostly. He cleared it off and opened a notebook and turned on the workbench light. What lay before me was a maze of equations, notes and pencil drawings – mechanical drafts – and graphs that led one to believe that a mad scientist was trying to defy the laws of gravity, physics and time, not to mention a hell of a lot of friction.
         “You must understand, sir, that the laws of Newton and the laws of thermodynamic energy are not to be taken lightly. As engineers we are trained to respect their limits and are disciplined to design around them. Here, lying before me were the ramblings of a madman – of a scientist gone astray. I told him so. He did not get indignant or defensive. He stayed calm and told me to keep reading. I did. And the more I read the angrier I got.”
         “Angry? Why, Dad?” The question, while in my own mind, was spoken by Austin’s son.
         “He was still a kid to me. A dropout who had educated himself into the ways of engineering and mathematics, but this – this was preposterous. It was silly. It was babble. But deep inside I knew it was also possibly brilliant. I pushed back from the workbench and told him that if he wanted to play mind games and try and dupe investors with black magic, so be it, but as for me I was going inside and drink my beer with the women and if necessary endure the conversations of knitting and sewing instead of this shit.”
         “He got mad then, right?” I asked.
         “No. He nodded and said simply that I should do what I thought was best. And as I turned to leave he asked me if I would help him build it. ‘I need a skeptic to keep me on track,’ he said. Well, buddy, you got yourself a skeptic all right, I told him. I said I would think about it, but it was a huge waste of time. A machine that could produce enough power on its own to run itself and do its work. It is fable. It is the dreams of con men. It can’t be done.”
         “How long did it take for him to convince you otherwise?”
         “Weeks. Maybe months. But I know a lot of time went by and we’d sit at our table on the patio outside our hangar eating our sandwiches and drinking our sodas and talking about things of the world. Baseball. He loved baseball. We would talk of politics if they were in season. Occasionally he would hand me a hand-scratched sheet of notebook paper with more ramblings on it. More equations and more nonesuch. 
         “I kept telling him that he was wrong. In fact I warned him that he was losing credibility in my eyes as an engineer. He was becoming a madman. But he would just smile and nod. Never defending the work beyond the pieces of paper he would hand me. Then one day, it was just after the World Series in 1974, I believe it was – he had been in New Mexico for a couple of years by then – he told me of an engineer, an older guy, who worked at Lockheed who had seen some of his plans and was interested. Said the guy had tried something like that earlier in his career, but never got it going. Guy’s name was Krenshaw with a K. Every now and then, Krenshaw would drop us a note or two about things to consider. Bright guy. Think he was working on the stealth fighter by then. Could have been one of the NASA boys. They were roaming around the place too. The whole desert out there was packed with big brains and slide rules. And here was Reinhardt, trying to make this goddamn machine and he was sucking me into it step by step.
         “Anyway, one day he says, ‘Paul, I got to have some development money. I can’t build the generator without some real cash. I’ve got to manufacture parts and the specs on them have to be real tight, very little tolerance.”
         “So he was going outside of the garage now?” I asked.
         “For sure he was. I told him I wanted some proof and he said to follow him inside to his desk. There, I found a neat, orderly area that looked like a place in which a sound-thinking engineer might ply his trade and science. Papers stacked neatly, project files in order. Reference books lined up on a back credenza just so, and a small electric fan to keep him cool in the heat of the hangar during those godforsaken summers we used to have. ‘So, where’s the proof?’ I asked. He just smiled at me and ran his long skinny fingers through that wavy blonde hair of his. He said, ‘It’s keeping you cool.’ I remember frowning at him, not in any mood to play his mental gymnastic games. ‘The fan, Paul. Look at the fan.’
         “I examined the small fan and found nothing unusual about it. ‘Where is it plugged in?’ he asked. I looked and I’ll be goddamned it wasn’t. ‘Now find a battery. I’ll bet you a year’s paycheck you can’t find a battery on it.’ He waited. I asked him how long it had been running and he said about two months, although he did stop it to bring it into the work area. ‘Nearly had it confiscated by the guards, but then I told them it was so hot in the hangars, they just shrugged and said to carry on. It was damn close.’
         “I picked the small fan up in my hands and turned it over and over. The soft hum from the motor was steady and true. A nice pitch, not too shrill.
“I asked about the power source. Reinhardt looked at me and grinned as he shook his finger at me. ‘No way, José! You can’t complain one minute and tell me it is impossible and the next minute want in just like that. I’ve spent years on this. You’ve got to earn your way in. I need a partner who can raise large sums of cash, as well as keep my engineering on track. But I must warn you that it fails from time-to-time, so it is not perfect yet. I need better parts with closer tolerances and I need a better, more-reliable energy source. And that means I need money.’
“Right then I assumed he meant nuclear or something just as exotic. But he surprised me. ‘No, pure hydrogen peroxide and salt water plus a small quantity of gasoline or diesel. I can get all the salt water I need. Gas is easy to come by. It’s the H202 that is the missing link. There are a lot of NASA guys around here with access to very potent H202. They pack their retro-rockets with it.’ I told him he’d need high-grade silver as well. Again he surprised me. ‘Nope. Not trying to burn the stuff like they are. I’m synthesizing it and creating an energy transfer. Then the energy drives a spinning magnet in one direction and a core in another direction, each alternating between positive and negative charges, so they continually propel themselves faster and faster. Works just like a high-powered brushless electrical motor. Problem is, sometimes it works too well and it comes flying apart. Tore the hell out of the rear garage wall a couple of months ago. Cindy was going to kill me. I told her it was an accident and would never happen again.  She is still mad.’
“I asked about running out of fuel. ‘So far that’s the beauty of my synthesizer. It releases hydrogen and oxygen from the source then combines them back into their original forms. The energy used in the synthesis is a fraction of what it produces and heat is held to a minimum because the hydrogen peroxide, as well as the petroleum, loves to absorb heat.’ I looked at the fan. ‘A couple of months, for real?’ ‘Yeah. Like I said, it stopped once and I had to reset it, but it was a fuel mixture issue. And I had to stop it to bring it in here. Other than that, it’s been purring away night and day.’
“I was looking at a miracle. The breeze on my face was being propelled by a myth, a fairy’s dream, a tinker’s folly. Pure science fiction. A perpetual motion machine was impossible, everyone who had an ounce of scientific training knew that, yet I was standing there listening to it run, feeling its gentle wind cool my sweating brow.
“‘How stable is the fuel cell?’ I asked. Michael shook his head. ‘I’m nowhere near that level of sophistication yet. It’s an office fan, for god’s sake. Every morning I come in here, I hope and pray it hasn’t exploded into a thousand pieces and filled the ceiling with sticky hydrogen peroxide gel and gasoline.’ I asked how much fuel was in the fan. ‘About two thimbles of each solution. The core is made up of ever decreasing porous clay-like material that is formed like a funnel. Like phyllo dough, it is laid up layer on layer and on top of each layer, a very fine network of copper, gold and silver filaments. Not the best for synthesis, but it’s all I could get my hands on that would fit into the base of the fan and run up its stem. It would be better with copper and gold impregnated carbon fiber or Kevlar. But that’s the next step.’
 “I must tell you I was amazed. We returned to our picnic table outside under the awning and ate for a few minutes in silence. Finally I asked him how big could he make it? ‘Could be as big as Hoover fucking Dam if we had enough capital. That’s not the problem. Keeping it together once it starts is the issue.’ ‘So you need better materials and better parts?’ He nodded. ‘How much?’ I asked.
“’For another prototype or the Hoover Dam?’ He exploded with laughter. I found myself giddy as well. It was like we had just opened the cages to Wonderland and all the fairies and goblins were now going to be set free. We were going to turn the world on its ear.”
“How much did he need?” I asked.
“He said that we could use $30,000 to $50,000 to build a prototype that would power a car. ‘But before I do that,’ he said, ‘I want to build another model, an intermediate size, so we can show investors how it might work. But Paul, I’ve got to have help. You are a seasoned man of science. A man of math.’ He meant I had gray around my temples. He was too young to be believed by these money people. I wasn’t. ‘They will listen to you. The investors I’m talking about. They will believe you. We need to do this. We can change science, Paul. We can change the world.’”
The old man paused and studied my face.
“Son, do you have any idea what we were into? Let me explain some things here. Let’s say that the finest, snazziest, best-engineered car in the world gets around 30 percent efficiency rating from its engine. Hell, Detroit balked when Congress wanted them to raise their rates above twenty percent from nineteen.”
“What kind of money?” I asked, starting to jot down comments in my notebook. I even made a point to check my tape recorder’s tape. It was fine.
Paul Austin said, “Wheel me to the patio. I don’t want a lot of busybodies walking in while I’m telling you this, and besides telling this makes me want to smoke. I wheeled him to the shady side of a terra cotta-tiled patio lined with small green palms and pink bougainvilleas. He lit a cigarette and took in a long drag; slowly he let the blue smoke come drifting out his mouth and nose. “Funny how the little things kill you, isn’t it?” He said this while studying the ash end of the cigarette. “You wanted to know about numbers, so I want to tell you.”
I placed the recorder on a glass-topped table and he moved his wheel chair a hair closer.
“If you are a CEO of a major oil company and you’ve just invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to drill a well on land, or millions for offshore, the last thing you want to hear about is some machine that is going to make your investment practically worthless overnight. Say you are a brokerage banker who has gone out into the markets and raised capital for Con Edison or for Pacific Gas and Electric, and now they are worth but pennies on the dollars.”
He paused. “Are you getting my drift?” I nodded. “We’re talking about trillions of dollars at stake. We’re talking about taking the known energy markets, electric, gas, all the big oil companies, automotive, trucking, appliances, railroads, everything you can think of that runs on a carbon-based energy and has a motor and turning it on its head. We’re talking about retooling entire industries. Not just a plant or two. I’m talking about in the United States alone, $100 trillion overnight. Now I didn’t just make that number up. I had several economist friends give me their best guesses.”
“How did you approach them with it?” I asked.
“Told them I was in a game at work and needed calculations for the impossible. They got in hook, line and sinker. They love doing shit like this. $100 trillion. I can’t even imagine a number that big. And all we had to raise was $30,000.
I interrupted him. “But you began to see the enormity of the situation? Right? I mean it’s the streetcars in LA all over again – only on a grander scale. You saw that, right?” I felt my own pulse quicken as I listened to his story. My own questions sounded like a lecture from someone who just realized the world had shifted under him.
“Instantly. I told Michael we couldn’t tell anyone about this. Not even our wives. I asked him how much Krenshaw knew and he told me enough to make him dangerous, but he could always be our fall guy.”
“Fall guy?”
“Michael had been thinking about this for some time, I could tell. Hey, pass me another smoke. All it’s going to do is kill me, right? I’m dying anyway.” I passed him a cigarette and he lit it, almost daring the wind to blow his lighter out. “His thought was that if someone came looking for the invention – someone who, say, wanted to do away with it, or to mess with us, we had Krenshaw as a backup. A foil, if you will. We could say that we were just running some numbers for this guy, what did we know. ‘Sounded like he was a bit off his rocker, officer. Hope you catch him soon.’ The old man laughed then coughed again. It was wonderful. A shadow man to keep us clean. I tell you Michael Reinhardt was one smart cookie.”
“So Krenshaw was being set up to be the fall guy if things got ugly?”
“Remember, they killed Michael over this. Anything was possible. But at that time I was thinking a bit more linearly.”
“How so?”
“My guess that if someone did come after us maybe we needed a place to cool off, maybe we needed to stash some money away to live while in hiding, if you know what I mean.”
“You were that concerned?”
“$100 trillion. You even know how to write that number? Hell, I’m an engineer and I’m not sure how many zeros are in that. There are people who will kill you for costing them a few thousand dollars. We had an invention that was going to revolutionize the way the world ran. You think we didn’t have targets on our backs? Coal mines, oil fields, even wind farms – obsolete overnight.
“So, my first job as I went out to raise money from investors was to pocket some for our protection. I didn’t tell Michael about this at first, because he was such a purist, he wanted every dime for R&D and supplies.
“You know what’s funny? The first $30,000 was a snap. So was the second thirty and the third. People were throwing money at this project. And he hadn’t shown them a goddamn thing. All they knew is we had a way of making a much more efficient engine. We never mentioned perpetual motion or anything like that. It was all about saving money at the pump. They were taking it on faith that we had a big idea that would stick it to all the Arabs and their goddamn oil. It was the ’70s and the oil embargo and the mess in the Middle East was going on and gas lines were forming everywhere. Timing was perfect.”
“Then what happened?”
“Somebody got scientific and wanted to see the damn thing actually work. They wanted proof. Evidence. And a small fan from the office wasn’t going to cut it with these guys we were now asking hundreds of thousands of dollars from.”
“How had it gotten that big?” I wanted to know.
“One guy tells another and another and he tells his brother-in-law and the goddamn barber tells everybody and the next thing you know you got investment guys nosing around with briefcases full of cash. It was intoxicatingly wonderful.
“Krenshaw said if we could make it work, Lockheed alone was in for a million dollars just in seed money. A million dollars!”
“So what happened?”
“We built a bigger motor. But it wasn’t easy. That meant building a bigger synthesizer and a bigger transmission system. All the systems got larger and more complicated. The math started getting weird on us. Controlling that much energy that quickly was a lot harder than it looked on paper. We also couldn’t just power some fan and let the investors stand in front of it to cool their balding heads.” A coughing spell interrupted the story as Paul Junior joined us on the patio. He had brought three beers with him, which seemed to really please the old man. “We settled on a Chrysler New Yorker sedan. Big, heavy and very American. If we could make that baby hum up and down the highways, we would be golden.”
“Could you do that?” I asked.
“In theory.” He asked to be helped up and his son lifted him from the chair. He stood for a moment balancing himself on the table that held the recorder. He suddenly looked frail and thin. His pajamas and housecoat seemed to be draped around a stick. But he was alive with the remembering of the story. He turned to me and said, “Let’s take a walk. Paul, you follow us with the chair in case I get tired.” We moved down the three small steps from the patio into a manicured lawn with flowers blooming at the base of tall trees covering the campus in ample shade.
“Think about this. It is impossible, according to science, to build a perpetual motion machine. We know that. But we were close. We were so damn close we could taste it. But moving a small plastic fan is one thing; to put that machine into a huge chunk of Detroit iron was asking the next level of expertise – or craziness – for us. What would our numbers be when we tried to push that much weight up a road? But hell, we were this far in, why stop now. Am I right?
“We built an intermediate machine. Had to funnel some money to Krenshaw to get materials out of Lockheed. We rented a self-storage unit to use as our clean room. Michael’s dirt-floored garage was just too messy to try and build the scale we were going to need. Besides, we could keep all kinds of materials and tools at the storage unit and the girls would never be the wiser. They thought we were just working on some car.
“The first large prototype we made was a failure. I don’t know why.” He spit. Blood flowed down his chin. He motioned to Paul Junior, who stepped in between us and wiped it away with a clean handkerchief.
“We followed every step Michael did on the first, smaller version. It just would not start. We must have tried a thousand times. Finally, Michael said we should tear it down and start over. He thought we missed something in the process. I suggested that we go for a larger version. If we were going to have trouble, let’s at least have trouble on a scale that would power the Chrysler for the investors to see.
“So we did. And sonofabitch if that one didn’t fire up and run like a goddamn Swiss watch.” A smile swept across the old man’s face as he gripped my arms securely. “Purred like a kitten. We were ready to go public.”
         “How did you get it in the car?” I asked.
Austin looked at me and grinned. “You’re a step ahead of me again, fellow. I like you. You got a brain on that skinny neck of yours.
“We had all fooled around with cars, so the engineering and mechanics were no big deal. But coupling our motor to a transmission in the New Yorker was something else. But leave it to Michael. He read and studied and questioned mechanics – hell, he even went over to San Angelo, Texas, where Firestone or Goodyear, I don’t remember which, had a test track. There, he spent a few days with automotive engineers talking about transmissions and gearing and came back with a way to engage our low torque engine to an automatic transmission with a fluid torque converter. It took about six months, but we did it.
         “There, sitting in his front yard was a silver and blue Chrysler New Yorker, just gleaming in the New Mexico sun waiting for our investors to drop by for a spin.”
         “Anybody show up?”
         “Oh, hell yeah. By invitation we brought them in. One  by one. Kept it secret and very competitive. Made them sign all kinds of confidentiality contracts. Then we took them for the ride of their life. Not fast, mind you. Michael would drive them out on the highway for a few miles then back. The motor was smooth, but the transmission was a bit clunky. We told them that up font. Goddamn, they weren’t there to buy a car, they were there to invest in a concept. And they did. By the millions.”
         “Millions? As in dollars?”
         “Well, pledges mostly, but still a lot of pledges. Felt like Public Radio we had so many goddamn pledges. I’d say less than a third was in actual money at this point. But we were getting close.
         “Michael even planned to leave the company and set up a small development company for us to produce the first few hundred motors, and then the plan was to sell it to somebody really big. General fucking Electric or Westinghouse or Ford.
         “But that somebody showed up before we knew it and before we were ready.”
         “Who was it?” I wanted to know.
         “Your Uncle Sam.”