Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hurricane+Gas+Panic=Murder

How gas pumps in Nashville looked on Sunday.
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By Chester Campbell

We’ve gone through a good scenario for a murder in Nashville this past week, and it isn’t over yet. It started on Saturday, Sept. 13, when Hurricane Ike blasted ashore in Galveston. The rumor hit Middle Tennessee that Ike had massacred the petroleum industry in the Houston area and there would be a gas shortage. A panic began the next day, with motorists crowding the service stations.

As people continued to fill up and top off their tanks in the days that followed, the Colonial Pipeline, which provides gasoline for Middle Tennessee, was reported shut down by the hurricane. Long lines formed at stations and some began to run out of gas.

By Friday, a week after Ike hit Texas, hoses on pumps all around the Nashville area were covered by plastic bags, and prices disappeared from the signs. Middle Tennesseans wondered why there was such a shortage here, a week after the hurricane, when the rest of the country was doing fine. AAA reported gas sales in the area were double the normal amount. Panicked drivers had created their own shortage.

By the weekend, the pipeline was back in service and some gas was being delievered, but lines at service stations lengthened and tempers flared.

Enter the mystery writer. Somebody out there had to be looking for a good opportunity to eliminate a troubling rival, opponent, competitor.

The killer stalks his victim until he finds an opportunity to sneak a small explosive device with a detonator beneath the seat of his car. Then he follows the victim to a service station. Taking advantage of the situation, he races up as though trying to get ahead of the guy in line, causing lots of anger and hornblowing.

Amidst all the confusion, the assassin flips him a bird and drives off. About half a block away, he triggers the detonator. When the police arrive, the immediate assumption is that the explosion had something to do with gas station rage (a first cousin of road rage). It delays the search until the killer has had plenty of time to get away.

Okay, it’s not a very original idea. If it were, I’d be using it in a book of my own. But it illustrates the process by which “breaking news” can be turned into a mystery plot. That’s all I can say about it for now, though. I have to get busy looking for a station with gas. My fuel guage is sitting on empty.

2 comments:

Beth Terrell said...

Hi, Chester.

Scarily enough, in the past two weeks, there have been two murders and a drive-by shooting (no injuries) in the area where I work. two of the incidents were within a block of my office. One was at a gas station, but police think it was gang-related rather than gas-related.

Chester Campbell said...

And I thought I lived on the high-crime side of town, Beth. We haven't had a murder lately, but that's probably because all the beer and discount cigarette stores have put their clerks behind bullet-proof glass. Plus in the middle of Madison there are three police cameras mounted on poles with blue lights flashing prominently. Fiction obviously can't get any worse than fact.