The Grand Design
by Ramin Rasul
“Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has turned on the seat belt sign. We’re expecting a rough patch ahead, so for your safety and that of your fellow passengers, please return to your seats and fasten your seat belts until the captain has determined it is safe. Thank you.”
“D’ya have yourself a good snooze there bud?” was the first thing he heard, muffled, compliments of the change in altitude.
“You know it,” was the only response he could manage, in between futile attempts at popping his jaw to relieve the pressure.
“You from Houston?” asked the man in the hat, twirling the ice in his bourbon with a little red straw.
“Umm … Originally yes. I’ve been living in Denver for the past five years but I’m going back home to Houston,” was the polite response.
He reflected on that last sentence for a moment. It was the first time he had said it out loud and the gravity of that statement really started to sink in. Andy’s mind started to race back through the past five years. He wasn’t old. But the reality was that he certainly wasn’t a college kid at all. He thought of all of the friends he grew up with. There was Tanner, now a successful trial lawyer. Christian was in the last year of his residency program. And Buck was at the helm of several successful bars in the greater Houston area.
Even Buck was doing better than him.
“What’s yer name?” the hat said.
“Andy,” he responded, the handshake accompanying the reply.
“What do you do for a livin’, Andy?”
“I was a … I’m a reservoir evaluation engineer for Bedrock Oil & Gas.”
The Cowboy consulted his skull with his eyeballs.
“Never heard of it.”
“Well, our corporate headquarters are in Houston, which is where I started with the company, but I’m based out of the Denver office now.”
The cowboy shifted uncomfortably in tight faded wranglers. His calloused hands loosened the seat belt off of his massive bronze belt buckle. It proudly featured the Texas state flag surrounded by bluebonnets and the words “Sesquicentennial 1836-1986.”
“What about you, what do you do?”
“Me, well I’m a rancher. Yeah, got a few cattle ranches, one out there in Eagle Lake, one near Ganado and another one out in Montana. In fact, I’m headin’ home now, but I got to get my ass back on another plane first thing in the mornin’ to tend to some business in my ranch out in Montana.”
“How long you been a oil engineer?”
“Five years,” Andy responded tersely, hoping to hide the discomfort in his face behind his tortoise-shelled glasses.
The cowboy didn’t seem to react to Andy’s response. Instead, he snorted heavily a couple of times before bringing his little plastic glass to lips hidden by wiry whiskers.
Newly refreshed, he rested his head on his left shoulder for a few seconds to look out the window at infinite blueness. Then the hat shifted right, where his attention focused on a sleeping fat man in the aisle across from him, a shiny snail trail of drool dripping down his chin and a newspaper resting on his Texas-sized gut.
He then resettled his gray Stetson on its silver throne. This was followed by a quick redistribution of his mustache with the right index finger and thumb. He savored the smell of Jim Beam on his fingers.
“Must be a tough time in the industry now … with the cheap price of gas and all. I read somethin’ in USA Today the other day about the A-rabs refusing to turn off the tap, somethin’ like they were doin’ that to get rid of American competition. Right now it costs less to feed your car than yer chickens,” he sputtered.
Andy reached for his in-flight magazine, letting out a sigh. He examined the cover before mindlessly thumbing through the articles.“Park City is the Place to be and Ski This Winter, Here’s Why!”
“Well, we’re a medium-sized company so it’s not that bad. It’s the smaller guys that are shutting their doors for good. They can’t compete with prices so low,” Andy said without lifting his gaze from the flipping his fingers did, hoping to conclude the topic.
“I guess you’re one of the lucky ones then.”
Andy’s fingers suddenly stopped. He looked over at the cowboy. “What do you mean, lucky?”
“I mean, at least you’ve got a job to go to, right? I’ve got a buddy that works the rigs for a small company in Beaumont. Got laid off last month thanks to the Saudis. Can’t find work anywhere. Ain’t nobody hirin’ in Houston. Everybody’s waitin’ to ride this thing out.”
Andy’s heart sank into the bottomless pit that had become his stomach. This man was confirming what he’d already heard from colleagues in the industry and friends back home.
‘Denver was a small market. There had to be opportunities in Houston,’ he had thought. This wasn’t supposed to happen.
Recruiters at Bedrock assured him he was almost guaranteed a steady position despite market conditions. ‘Nobody fires their reservoir evaluation team. You guys are the lifeblood of the whole operation’, they had told him.
‘I’d like to hear Larry Roberts say that’, he thought. ‘Larry Roberts, CEO of Bedrock and the bane of my existence.’
After all he’d done for them, the late nights, the weekends, countless hours at the office. All for what? So that at the height of the oil crisis, Leigh Anne from HR could sit him down in her drab office with its gaudy family photos and emotionlessly hand him his walking papers?
And to think, it all could have been avoided had Bedrock agreed to the acquisition attempts of Skillman Energy Solutions.
Skillman had made a generous offer to acquire Bedrock. Larry Roberts and Bedrock management had been foolish in investing heavily in capital expenditures. A high-profile feud developed in the press, with Roberts and Skillman’s management exchanging barbs. Roberts went on the record to say Skillman was being disingenuous and was just trying to squeeze the little guy out of the market.
Now Bedrock was scrambling to remain profitable. Its CEO refused to agree to the acquisition and instead tightened Bedrock’s belt by laying off its workers left and right.
Andy, out of work and beleaguered by mounting credit card and student loan debt, was forced to sell his car. He was afraid of losing everything.
‘So, I’ll go back home to Houston with my tail between my legs,’ he thought. ‘I’ll stay with my parents. I’m sure it won’t be long until I find another job in the industry and get back on my feet.’
“Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has turned off the seat belt sign. It is now safe to stand up and walk around the cabin. Please use this time to stretch your legs and/or use the lavatory.
“I think soon you’ll see that it’s all part of the ‘Grand Design.’”
Andy’s eyes opened. He’d spent the last half hour trying to subdue his thoughts of depression and court the sweet escape of sleep. He closed them again, hoping the cowboy would resign to amusing himself.
“It’s been written about for years. This is all part of a plan for world domination by a select few. They will enrich themselves further while world economies suffer, people lose their livelihood and in some cases, their lives.”
At this, Andy took off his glasses, rested his elbows on his drink tray and cradled his head in his hands for a few seconds before looking up.
“You ever heard of the Rothschild Group … or the Freemasons?” the cowboy asked in between sips of bourbon.
‘Oh god, here we go, whacko alert!’ thought Andy. ‘How much more time do we have on this flight?’
“Are you one of those ‘9/11 was an inside job’ guys?”
The cowboy’s shoulders spasmed so heavily with his gruff chuckle that he almost choked on one of the ice cubes from his now-empty glass.
“Listen, do you just believe what you see on CNN and read on the internet?” he asked, wiping his whiskers with the Delta logo of his napkin.
“Ya see, people fit into two categories. There’s the sheeple that believe what CNN tells you, and then there’s the people that seek and know the truth. Which are you?”
“Well I don’t have time to read much and I don’t really watch the news, but I like to think logically and use common sense. I don’t automatically believe everything I see and read but conspiracy theories are rarely provable, that’s why they’re called ‘theories.’ And I don’t think I fall into the ‘Sheeple’ category.”
The cowboy removed his hat and smoothed his gray hair with thick white fingers weighted with silver and turquoise.
“Forget about conspiracy theories, those are for teenagers. I’m talkin’ about the truth.”
This was the last thing that Andy needed. Why couldn’t he have sat next to someone else, anyone else?
“You don’t know the half of it,” the cowboy continued.
He used what was left of his napkin to wipe away the thin band of sweat that had developed across his pasty forehead. The stench of whisky hung in the air.
“See, I get it because I know the truth. I know how stuff works. Nothing is what it seems. All these main stream media and all that, it’s a bunch of boloney! It’s all made to distract people from what’s really goin’ on and why stuff really happens. All the wars, economic downturns and all … it’s not markets reactin’ to global demand changes or anything like that. It’s all the result of decisions made by these people.”
“Ummm … what makes you think that?” was all Andy could think to say. The cowboy was ruffling up like a country Peacock.
“I’ll show ya,” he answered, and got up out of his seat, his head disappearing beyond the overhead bin. He returned to his seat holding a leather carrying case.
“There’s a fella outta Waxahachie named Dr. Calvin Rutherford. See, he’s got it figured out,” he continued, before extracting a sparse periodical from the depths of his worn leather case. He handed it to Andy.
Andy read the front page. The paper consisted of only a few pages and was called “The Truth Exposed,” with a subscript that read, “and How You’re Far From It”, by Dr. Calvin Rutherford.
“This is the newsletter I subscribe to. It’s full of insight into the secret societies and runs profiles on the elitists that really make the decisions. Where the mainstream media tell you ‘what’ happens, Dr. Rutherford tells you ‘why’ it’s really happening.”
“I’m tellin’ you,” the cowboy started again, “You think this whole oil-losing-its-value thing is just markets adjusting themselves? Hell no. It’s people like the Saudis and OPEC, and the big banks, they’re all in this together. Ya gotta know who calls the shots for those guys cuz, it ain’t them,” he emphasized, his exasperation increasing.
“Um, yeah, ok. But this is all pure conjecture,” Andy said, handing back the newsletter. “There’s no real proof to any of this. This newsletter is just full of one man’s opinions.”
“Never believe all that you see buddy,” the cowboy snorted. “Ya gotta learn to read between the lines. I don’t trust nobody anymore, not even my own Government. That’s why I got to look out for myself. I went ahead and got myself some gold. I keep a little bit of cash in the bank, but the rest lies with me … gold.”
“A lot of people invested in commodities like gold when the markets were down. That’s super common,” Andy offered with slight disregard.
“No partner, you don’t get it. Forget the markets. Where will the stock market be when the shit really hits the fan? It’s failed us before and people lost everything. And banks, well they’re implicated in the whole thing. I didn’t invest in no gold. I bought it, as in … bricks of gold, purchased with cash. A lot of it. It’s buried right in my backyard, right in front of the sycamore tree, where it’ll be when I need it.”
Andy’s ears perked up. He tilted his head to look at the cowboy above the rim of his glasses. This guy could not be serious, could he? Who the hell buys bars of gold? Where would one even buy bars of gold? Why would you do that? This wasn’t 1860. What was he gonna do when the shit hit the fan, sell it to General Lee?
“You did what now?”
“Dr. Rutherford says it’s the safest and smartest thing to do, and he’s right. So I took my savings and swapped em. Got ‘em right where I need ‘em.”
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. This is your captain speaking. We will begin our initial descent into the Houston area in a few minutes. Should be a smooth ride and an on-time arrival into Houston Hobby. The forecast is uh … partly cloudy with a temperature of uh … 86 degrees. We’ll be on the ground shortly.
“Well I’d better hit the troth real quick. There’s already a line back there. Bourbon always makes me piss like a racehorse. Be right back.”
The Cowboy stood up and headed to the rear of the plane. Andy looked back in his direction. His hat had slipped to the back of his head and now seemed to take on a life of its own, bobbing up and down, left and right.
‘What a nut’, Andy thought. ‘Gold in his backyard. Get real.’
His eyes met the cover of “The Truth Exposed”, which the cowboy had left resting on his black leather satchel on the open tray table. His mind wandered. He noticed, without thinking, the bag tag dangling off of the handle of the satchel.
Bill J. Horton
1411 River Oaks Parkway
Houston, TX. 77019
‘Didn’t he say that he would only be home tonight before going off to Montana in the morning for a week?’, Andy find himself thinking.
He looked back down the aisle toward the rear of the plane. The cowboy was next in line for the lavatory. His mind racing at this sudden crazy thought, Andy reached in his pocket for his cell phone. His eyes darted around. The fat man across the way was fast asleep, his belly keeping time with the rhythm of labored breathing. Andy zoomed in the camera lens, making sure the letters were legible. An artificial ‘click’ sound was all it took.
A minute later, the cowboy reappeared by his side. He stowed his bag underneath the seat in front of him and folded his tray table.
“D’ya miss me? I’ll bet you did,” he said with a wry smile.
Andy forced a smile but did not respond.
The cowboy hacked out a series of juicy coughs into what remained of his napkin. He tilted his head back, lowered his Stetson and closed his eyes, resting like a man who had just finished a long day’s work.
Andy did the same.
The jolt of landing gear meeting runway startled both men out of their sleep. Soon, they were on their way down the aisle and out of the airplane.
“It was good to meet ya Andy. You take care of yourself now,” the cowboy said, patting Andy on the shoulder as they made their way down to the gate.
At the baggage claim, Andy found himself looking for the burly man in the gray Stetson among the faces huddled around the armored carousel. He was gone.
The second-story bedroom was just as he’d left it years ago. So this is what it came down to.
‘I might as well have never left Houston. Should have just stayed here at my parents’ house. I would have been better off,’ he thought. ‘Debt free and free to day dream.’
He couldn’t sleep, despite being tired from traveling most of the day. Staring at the ceiling, he couldn’t get the idea out of his head. It pounded around in his brain, dominating all else, his mind a hostage to it. He tossed and turned. How easy it would be, so easy. It’s wrong, but so simple. It’s there. So close. He took the cell phone off of the night stand. A dim light filled the room as the screen came to life.
That snapshot again:
Bill J. Horton, 1411 River Oaks Parkway, Houston, TX. 77019
He mapped the address with the phone’s GPS, 10 miles away. It’s there. So close.
The road to River Oaks Parkway was sinuous and lined with crepe myrtle trees. At every bend in the road, Andy reviewed the plan. He’d packed two shovels, a pick, and some light hand tools.
The neighborhood was indeed exclusive.
The ranching business must be good nowadays’, thought Andy as his father’s truck passed numerous houses, each one more extravagant than the next. Everything was supposed to be bigger in Texas and this neighborhood was no exception. What was exceptionally spooky was the silence, the quietness of it all.
1411 River Oaks Parkway was at the end of a cul-de-sac. It was a large, stone house with pillars and a meticulously manicured lawn. Aside from the porch light, no other signs of life emitted from the house. It was big and empty.
The sprinklers were on. Andy considered it a stroke of luck.
‘Good, the water should loosen the soil out back,’ he thought.
It was strange, Andy thought. Never in a million years would he have pictured a cowboy living in a place like this. This whole neighborhood was completely incongruous with the cowboy’s personality.
“Judging by the size of the house, this guy must have a fortune buried back there,” he said to himself.
A tall stone wall matching the house enclosed the perimeter of the backyard. A padlocked wooden door was the only point of entry to the back yard from the outside. Andy ran through the trees and back to his father’s truck. He grabbed the shovel, sledgehammer and portable lamp and extension cord. He looked around. There wasn’t a soul in sight.
Proud of himself for thinking to bring the sledge, it made little work of the padlock on the door. One good swing was all it took. Too easy.
‘Easy in, easy out,’ he thought.
The sight of the Sycamore tree made Andy’s heart skip a beat. The rush of adrenaline that followed was narcotic.
Approaching the massive tree, he looked around its base at the wet ground. Plugging the extension cord into the closest exterior outlet he could find, he fired up the lamp. He swayed the ray of light around the tree, looking for any divots, disturbed ground or unevenness in the soil. Even with the light, Andy strained his eyes to examine the subtleties of the moist earth.
Then he found it.
It was a patch of dirt unlike the rest. It was big. It was gravelly. It had to be here.
Andy inserted the tip of the shovel into the ground.
‘There was no turning back now’, he thought. ‘It’s there. So close.’
Although the initial soil was soft, allowing him an easy first few shovel loads, he quickly realized this would be more work than he originally thought.
Thirty minutes passed and a rather large hole had been dug. Andy hadn’t sweated this hard in years. But there was nothing yet. No sign of a box, container or gold. There were no signs of anything. He stopped, wiping his face with his sleeve.
‘It had to be here. There’s no place else.’
He began again, tossing the dirt more wildly than before. His expression changed from one of concentration to one of desperation, greed in his eyes. He had to find it, it had to be here. In an instant, his future depended on this gold, on what it meant, on how he could live. He dug with newfound vigor, which quickly gave way to a frenzied madness. Dirt flew in all directions. Andy found himself waist deep in the pit he had created. Each strike of the shovel brought him one step closer to his new future, the one he was entitled to.
Then it happened.
That was the sound that would catapult Andy to the unimaginable.
Another strike of the shovel.
“At last!” he exclaimed.
He dug around, bypassing the thuds. With the tip of the shovel, he felt around for the outline of the object. It was a large rectangle. He dug around it, this time with the furor of an animal uncaged. A steady stream of sweat was now familiar with the path to the tip of his nose. Slowly it appeared. It was a large luggage trunk, about three feet wide by eight feet long. Andy’s mind reeled at this revelation as he did rough calculations of the value of gold in a container of such dimensions.
‘How much had the old Cowboy put away?’ he thought.
The trunk was tall too, about three feet in height. When he finally managed to clear the dirt around the trunk, Andy gave it a quick wipe with the flannel shirt he’d discarded earlier. A heavy silver lock was now all that kept him from his riches.
Climbing out of the pit, he grabbed the sledgehammer. This lock proved less forgiving than its predecessor. It took several well aimed thwacks before it succumbed to his determination.
“Yes,” he cried.
A fire burned in his eyes with unmatched intensity as he opened the heavy lid. The mind-erasing creak of metal was the last thing he remembered hearing as his eyes struggled to make sense of what was in front of them, the undeniable. That shrill, rusty screech was the last thing he heard before everything changed, before everything was flooded with light. The flashes from behind lit up the darkness around him. Bewilderment.
“FREEZE! I WANT TO SEE HANDS … NOW!”
Texas State Penitentiary
Andy Tritchler had been caught red handed. There was no denying the evidence. He was arrested for the murder of one of Houston’s most prominent and philanthropic residents, Larry Roberts. Based on an anonymous tip, police were summoned to Roberts’ house on Red Oak Parkway and immediately noticed the open door to the backyard and the light that emanated from it. They found Andy, attempting to dispose of Roberts’ dead body by burying it in a luggage trunk in the victim’s own backyard.
The coroner’s report stated that Roberts had been killed by a blunt object. The murder weapon was never found and it was presumed that Andy buried it somewhere prior to police arriving on the scene.
Although Andy repeatedly denied any implication in the murder, the nail in his coffin was what officers on the scene found buried with the body. Enclosed in the trunk on top of Roberts was the personalized Letter of Release of Employment informing Andy that he was to be relieved of his duties at Bedrock Oil & Gas. The letter was on company letterhead and was signed by Leigh Anne Justison, Director of Human Resources and Larry H. Roberts, CEO.
Throughout his trial Andy maintained his innocence. When asked to explain the circumstances in which he found himself at the time of apprehension, he reiterated a story about a cowboy in a Stetson hat. The jury was not amused and Andy was found guilty of murder. He’s currently on death row at the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville, TX with an execution date scheduled for January 5th 2027.
Although Ramin Rasul has been writing for years, this is the first piece of work he submitted in hopes of publication. He lived in Dallas, TX for 15 years, and grew up there. This piece was inspired by a recent trip back home to visit his family.