----------------------WINNER TAKES OIL----------------------

C H A P T E R O N E

"Still no facts have come to light identifying any suspects. Government officials believe that the attacks were perpetrated by a newly active terrorist group located within the United States; however, that is as specific as they have been this entire tragic day…" The News had been covering the event the whole day. They had reason to. After all, the sinking of an oil tanker is a major crisis, especially while it is sitting in port.

"… fortunately, out of the 45 man crew of The Oil Pan Express, only one was killed and four wounded," the News continued. "It seems that the projectile entered the side of the ship nearest the port leaving a large hole in the hull. In this strike, unlike the last one, no explosion has been reported. We have word that government workers have begun cleaning the resulting spill."

Agent Ferguson Beem sank slowly into his couch. In the back of his mind, he realized that he was reaching the "point of no return" at which freeing himself from his couch's quicksand-like cushions became a task so difficult, it had once involved twirling his shirt up, swinging it around like a lasso and latching onto his ceiling fan, then tugging with all his might. Despite that ordeal, his mind wasn't on the couch; he was inextricably focused on the News. This was the second attack of this nature in the past three weeks. It was becoming quite disturbing, especially since neither the police nor government investigators had picked up on a pattern, a suspect, or even what type of projectile had hit the ship. Most frightening was the proximity of this event in relation to his home. The Port of Miami was about a ten-minute drive away, while the last strike had been as far away as Norfolk, Virginia.

Eventually, Beem shook himself out of the trance. He had stuff to do: taxes, chores, an assignment, etc. You see, Ferguson was an F.B.I. Agent based in the city of Miami. All of his recent assignments had dealt with theft, which bored him to no end. The extent of his serious crime-solving experience had been investigating a serial underwear thief, who infiltrated clothes stores after closing hours. Needless to say, he was a low level F.B.I. Agent; not because he lacked skill, but merely because he was new. He had caught the underwear nappers using magnificent deduction and attention to detail. Beem hoped desperately that he would get a real case soon.

"Maybe someday," he thought to himself, but now he had to focus on the task at hand: prying himself from the Death Couch.

Hundreds of miles away, at OxiClean Headquarters in Colorado, a staff meeting was being held to cover OxiClean's contract with the Federal Government.

"I'm glad you could all make this meeting," booms the ear-pounding voice of Billy Mays. "Let's begin! Just a few hours ago, our own OxiClean Corporation sealed an exciting new deal with the U.S. government! The Federal Government's Waste Management Department, or FeGWuMDuh for short, agreed to buy large amounts of our fantastic Kaboom Bowl Blaster, the revolutionary toilet bowl cleaning substance, due to the recent discovery that it can be used to emulsify even the thickest oils such as those in oil spills! I'm sure every one of you has been following the recent attacks on our beloved nation's oil tankers! Because we are in an hour of such dire need, I believe we should make our Kaboom Bowl Blaster available at the startlingly low price of $19.99 AND, when they order one bottle of Bowl Blaster, we should throw in a second one ABSOLUTELY FREE!"

"Sir," one of the employees piped up, "we already do that."

"I know! Isn't this corporation fantastic!? Who thinks we should throw in a car-size bottle of Kaboom Bowl Blaster ALSO FREE!?" All of the attendees raised their hands except for one particularly nerdy-looking employee. "Stan," Mays blared, "why don't you agree with the rest of the staff?!"

"Well frankly, sir," said Stan skittishly, "I don't know of many people who own cars with toilet bowls in them."

"Thank you, Stan, I'll take that into consideration," Mays declared. "Until that can be thoroughly researched, however, the car-size bottle will be included in the package. The hard-working employees at FeGWuMDuh will need all the help they can get! That is all!"

The next day, Agent Beem reported in at the F.B.I. complex in Miami. He arrived punctually at 7:30 A.M. and signed in. Then, he headed straight up to his office on the third floor.

He heard a knock at his office door and his director entered. "Son," his boss began in his normal fatherly manner, "I have a proposition that I think you'll like." Agent Jeremy Boznosky was an aged man. Well into his fifties, he had lost none of the perceptiveness or leadership skills that had earned him his job. "Boz" had been with the F.B.I. for twelve years. Ten of those years had been at the Miami branch, so he had a great amount of experience, especially in the Miami area. "If you're up to it, I'd like you to take over investigation of the attacks on those oil tankers. The other agent I offered it to declined, so since he's finished his previous assignment, I figure I'll give him your humdrum theft case."

Agent Beem just sat there without speaking for a moment, staring through his director's head. Boz mistook Beem's shocked stare of overwhelming joy as a refusal to his offer. "I understand: you like the predictable routine of local assignments. I'll just find someone else to…" "NOOOOOOOOOO!," Beem shrieked. He would NOT let this miracle slip away from him. Tears of happiness welling up in his eyes and his voice wavering, Beem replied, "I accept!" "Okay then," Boz said. "You begin immediately."

Once the tears had subsided and he could see again, Agent Beem went to work. He left the F.B.I. complex and drove down to the port, which was the obvious place to start his investigation. As soon as he arrived at the port, he was notified that the projectile had been recovered. As he was trained to do, Beem photographed the projectile from a few different angles with his digital camera. It was some kind of rocket or missile. Amazingly, it had remained mostly intact. The tip of the nosecone was beaten flat, the fins had been dented and chipped, and the body was bent into a slight "V" shape, but it was still distinguishable. Agent Beem was satisfied with the discovery. "Time to do some research," he concluded.

That night, Agent Beem spent hours online going through government databases and trying to find a rocket or missile matching the one he had photographed, looking over the crew members on the two ships that had been hit, the cargo, the travel routes, news releases on the attacks, and any other relevant scrap of information he could grasp. He identified the projectile as a Katyusha rocket, one type of rocket that Hezbollah was firing at Israel. He discovered that the Katyusha had a range of about 50 miles, but that it was incredibly inaccurate with a margin of error up to ten miles in diameter. This didn't make sense! How could a rocket with such a large margin of error hit two consecutive targets with reasonable accuracy? He guessed he'd find out eventually. The rocket was also described as unreliable, but this came as no shock to Beem since this one didn't explode.

Agent Beem had a good lead, but he still could not determine a pattern as to which tankers were being attacked. After all, there had to be at least 50, if not more, functional oil tankers going to and from the U.S. To his dismay, Agent Beem had to wait until one more tanker was attacked in order to determine a pattern.

Agent Ferguson Beem did not have to wait long before yet another tanker was attacked. This time, the attack took place at the Port of Baton Rouge in Louisiana. This time, the rocket did explode. Nine died and twelve were wounded aboard The Oily Mama. Due to the chaos, the Terror Alert Level had risen from 'Elevated' to 'Severe', and gas prices had skyrocketed (more).

As soon as details were available online, which took about eight hours, Beem went to work. He looked over all the same categories as before. At first, his search seemed to yield nothing, but after further scrutiny, he came upon a pattern.

"It seems that on all three ships that have been hit, all of the crew members have been Caucasian," he explained to Agent Boz. "I know that doesn't sound like much of a lead, sir, but it is the only pattern I can find." His director listened intently, not at all skeptical of Beem's findings. "So what can you conclude from that?" Boz asked. "Well," Agent Beem responded, "I have narrowed the ships with such crews going to and from port down to only three after the first three attacks, and since each attack seems to be geographically close to the next, I calculate that the next ship to be hit should be The Slippery Bucket, which will dock in Galveston, Texas in three days." "Then follow the evidence, son." the boss affirmed. "We'll get you a flight there by noon tomorrow. Make sure you alert the captain of The Slippery Bucket to evacuate his ship upon reaching port. I'm sure you can confer the urgency of that order." "Yes sir. I'll get on it immediately," replied Beem.

This case had become intensely serious, yet equally exciting. Beem had been given exactly the assignment he had hoped for. However, as confident as he was about solving this mystery, one question still bothered him; one he believed he could search for his entire life and never find the answer: "What ON EARTH were these captains thinking when they named their ships?"