Excerpt

Prologue

Systems Analyst Glenn Silver sighed a deep sigh and tapped his seat arm to the throbbing rhythm of the big helicopter’s rotors. He leaned to the window and scanned the endless expanse of wind-riffled blue ocean for a glimpse of Global Energy’s Tango 5, the largest drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico and his home again for the next two weeks.

His seat mate, production engineer Mort Griswold, nudged Silver with his elbow. “Bummed out about going back to the platform?”

Silver was gangly tall with black brushcut hair. He pursed his lips. “Two weeks on and three off doesn’t bother me. Something else.” He leaned closer to Griswold. “Our figures and the numbers the company’s been reporting don’t match. Something’s going on.”

Griswold, his three-day stubble going gray, craned into the helicopter’s aisle and scanned fore and aft to check the other fifty-four oil workers in yellow safety suits on their way back to the platform. He put his mouth close to Silver’s ear. “Not here. Talk later.”

Silver nodded. So Griswold must have picked up on it, too. Surely nothing serious. After all, Tango was the largest field in the Gulf, estimated to hold enough oil for fifty years of full production.

The chopper hovered over the platform’s landing pad and slowly descended to touchdown. Glenn Silver grabbed his duffel, clocked in, and checked the work schedule on the big screen TV. He’d go on shift at 6:00 the next morning.

***

At 5:55 a.m. Silver entered the familiar Star Wars-looking operations center that controlled and monitored every system on the platform, from oil and gas production to waste disposal to safety warnings. He settled into his chair at the main console and picked up the clipboard from last night’s shift. His eyebrows rose. No entries, no signoff. He grabbed the phone and called Mike Panko, his shift supervisor. “Hey, nobody here when I came on and last night’s sheet is blank. Wasn’t Mitchell supposed to be on?”

“Yeah, weird,” Panko said. “The supervisor coming off the night shift said he didn’t find out till he made his midnight rounds. He tried to find Mitchell and the other two systems engineers, but they’d all disappeared. Said he had no choice but to wait for the new crew.”

“You mean the whole damn night shift wasn’t covered? What the hell’s going on?” Silver pressed the phone tighter to his ear. “Mitchell, Olson, Fantini — all missing? No trace?”

“That’s what the man said.”

Silver felt a trickle of fear in his belly. “Jesus! Listen, I better make sure everything’s okay.” He hung up and scanned the main panel before going down his checklist. One status light stood out in shocking contrast to the sea of green around it. The relief valve sensor on the Number 1 gas compressor tank glowed red.

He hurriedly rang the chief maintenance engineer. “Hey, the safety valve on number one gas compressor is stuck. Get someone over there to fix it and check for leaks. Red flag priority. Move!”

“How long has it been stuck?” the chief asked.

“I’m not sure. Control room hasn’t been covered for the last twelve hours, and the back pressure from the stuck valve might have caused a leak.”

The maintenance chief sounded harried. “Are you sure there’s a leak? Is it urgent?”

“When a valve sticks, that gas has to go someplace. Could be enough pooled under the platform by now to blow us sky high. Yeah, I’d call it urgent! Call me when it’s done.”

Glenn Silver didn’t know why his wife, Gloria, and their ten-year-old daughter popped into his head at such a crucial moment. The last three weeks at home in Galveston with his family had been among the best days he could remember. The wait for the engineer’s call seemed interminable.

He kept busy by finishing his checklist, and was ticking off the final item when the phone rang. He reached to pick it up and that was the last thing Glenn Silver ever did on this earth.

***

Tango 5 exploded with a blast that could be heard a hundred miles away on the Texas coast. Some said they saw the flash in the dawn sky before the thudding boom hit minutes later. The smoke and debris column surged ten thousand feet into the air and drifted eastward with the wind, carrying with it much of the shredded remains of the platform and the 132 people on it. All that was left was a field of debris bobbing in an oil slick.