Black Storm Over the Caspian

Editor’s Note: This work of fiction was part of the collection of writing I acquired as part the estate of the late Armand Charest. It appears to be unfinished, and Armand may very well have been working on this when he had his stroke, which incapacitated him and indirectly led to his passing 18 months later.

There are several citations to “The Chinese Connection” peppered throughout this work. I don’t know what that citation is, other than possibly another novel Armand was writing. To date, I have not located any work by this title in Armand’s papers.

This work has been edited for format and apparent typographical issues, but is otherwise presented as Armand wrote it. It’s a shame we may never know where this story was meant to go.

Ron Charest

Armand Charest, 1998
Armand Charest

Prologue

New York City, Spring, 1995:

          A spring rainstorm scourged Manhattan in typical fashion: high winds from Canada sent black storm clouds scudding down the Hudson Valley blanketing the City in a rainy shroud, forcing the usual hardy residents to take shelter wherever possible. Six men sat around the big oak table, vigilant and quiet as they watched the Chairman staring out the windows of the sixty-fifth-floor meeting room. The man was impervious to the winds and water slamming against the glass trying desperately to batter their way inside. He had more important matters on his mind, so the storm left him unmoved. The issue in question was oil, the black gold that propelled every nation’s economy.

          The Chairman of the Board of American Petroleum, J.W. Hawkins, at fifty-five the undisputed master of the oil-producing industry, faced a dilemma imposed on him by the marketplace whose merits he had championed all his life: though the demand for oil was not slackening but was, in fact, accelerating, the supply was considered to be declining. He knew that geologists were not entirely scientific in their conclusions about the world’s oil reserves, that they were really detectives poking around and coming up with estimates. Nevertheless, as chairman he could no longer delay positioning the company advantageously for the expected war over the last untapped field.

          He turned around and addressed the Board.

          “Gentlemen, we face a crisis. I have no need to enlighten you any further on the grave situation. American Petroleum faces a fight for survival. In the coming decades the Middle Eastern countries will demand a greater share of oil revenues for their own needs. I have no doubt that the American Government will continue to protect our, or should I say, its vital interests in the oil market. However, I have no idea how long the happy marriage will last. If, God forbid, the people bestir themselves, take back the government and destroy the partnership, then we shall be at the mercy of foreign nationalistic forces that no one can control. But we are safe for the moment. The economy is good, so no one wants to know or cares about lobbying and vote-buying, also known as campaign contributions. However, we must take steps now to protect our continued domination of the industry.”

          The chairman paused for a minute to allow the board members the opportunity to fully digest his remarks. He then continued.

            “As I see it, the Caspian Sea is the last frontier as far as exploitation and recovery are concerned. With the demise of the Soviet government, the countries around the basin are involved in settling old grievances the usual way: shooting each other. But that will not last forever. Already some of our competitors are moving in. Gentlemen, we must gain a footing in the area without any further delays. The floor is open for suggestions.”

          There was silence for a minute or two. Someone raised a hand.

          “Can we put a consortium together?”

          “Write up a report and have it on my desk as soon as possible, like tomorrow morning.  Any other ideas?”

          “Can we reach some politicians? It has worked before.”

          “Now you’re getting warm. Let’s continue along that line but expand on it a bit.”

          “It will be difficult at the present time since the area is undergoing such turmoil. We really do not know who is in power and who is not.”

          “Does anyone know which company Uncle Sam is favoring at the moment?”

          “He will no doubt favor the biggest political contributor.”

          Why do we have to depend on our government for help or protection? Why can’t we do it ourselves?”

          The Chairman broke in, a gleam in his eyes betraying his excitement.

            “We can and will. But in so doing, we must neutralize American and Russian influences in the area so that we have clear sailing. Otherwise, it will simply be an exercise in futility.”

          “Do you have any ideas, J.W.?

          “I have. It may be dangerous, but it is the only solution that I can see.”

          “And that is?”

          “We take over a country!”

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