Playing with an expansion on April Fool because so many want it…

This snippet is where I’m thinking of starting the backstory. Comments/recommendations appreciated as always.

April Fool

ARAMCO Refinery Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia- September 1995

Ten year old Sean McCampbell looked around to see where Farid ibn Farhan was. Seeing him heading for one of the berms that surrounded the huge oil tanks at the Ras Tanura port facility, he yelled, “Farid! Where are you going? The park’s this way.” Scrambling after him up the side of the berm, he caught up at the top.

Farid turned to him and said, “I am a prince. No one tells me where I can and cannot go!”

Sean shook his head. “My dad and your dad said we could go to the park. I…” He saw a flash of light out of the corner of his eye and saw a welder cutting into a pipe. The next thing he saw was a yellow flash and he knocked Farid off the top of the berm, jumping to follow him as a loud whoosh sounded behind him, followed by an explosion. The last thing he remembered was landing on top of Farid.

The two boys were found a half hour later, when Farid managed to get out from under Sean and stand up. Covered in the reddish dirt, he looked like a desert ghost and almost gave the fireman who saw him stand up a heart attack. It only took moments for them to recover Sean’s limp body and put both of them in the ambulance to the main hospital, even as the fire chief made the notification to management. Ian McCampbell, forty, slim, darkly tanned, and dressed in work khakis, and Prince Farhan, forty-one, burly, and dressed in a spotless white thobe met the ambulance at the hospital and followed the gurney into the ER. Prince Farhan glared at Ian asking, “Why were the boys anywhere close to that…explosion?”

Ian didn’t bother to look at the Prince. “No idea, we both told them to go to the park. At least Farid is moving…Sean…is breathing, so they are both alive.”

As the boys were moved into separate beds, the prince peremptorily ordered, “Check my son first.”

The older doctor looked at him over his cheaters and shook his head, then turned to Sean after a casual glance at Farid. “Your boy is conscious and alert there, Prince. This boy isn’t, so he’s my priority.” As the doctor rolled Sean gently over with the help of a nurse, they heard a moan and Sean started trying to sit up. “Easy, son. You just lay back down,” the doctor said reflexively as he pressed him back down. Ian huffed out a breath in relief, catching the Prince and his son’s conversation in rapid Arabic with part of his attention.

In anger, the Prince picked up his son, soiling his pristine white thobe, and stomped out of the ER, calling for his driver. Ian met the doc’s eyes and shrugged. “That’s…not going to end well, Doc.”

The doctor, still examining Sean laughed, “I’ve got a month left on my contract. What’s he gonna do PNG me? See if I care.” He gently helped Sean sit up. “How many fingers am I holding up?”

Sean mumbled, “Two? My head hurts!” The doc held up more fingers in a different direction, “Three.” Seeing his dad standing there, he said, “Dad, I saw what happened.”

Ian looked down at him. “What do you mean?”

Farid and I…were standing on top of the berm and…I saw a…welder…strike? An arc. The next thing was a yellow spark, just like in the safety video. I…pushed Farid off the top of the berm and jumped, I…think I landed on him and…” he shook his head and winced. “That…I don’t remember anything after that.”

Ian bit the inside of his lip and nodded. “Thank you, son.”

The doctor finished his exam, turned to Ian and said, “I think the only thing he has is a knot on the head, but I want to get some x-rays before I release him.” He rummaged in the ready locker, pulled out a small cervical collar and put it on Sean, then turned to the small blonde nurse. “Wheelchair him to x-ray, please. Cranial and neck, plus a chest just to make sure.”

She smiled and picked Sean up gently. “Ready to go for a ride, young man?” Sean started to nod but stopped when his chin hit the collar. She deposited him in the chair and wheeled him out of the ER with Ian following.

He hadn’t even gotten to the first door when he heard, “Boss?”

Turning back, he saw Jocko Harte, his number two standing there. “What?”

“Are the boys…” Ian nodded and Jocko went on, “Good news. The bad…news is that they’ve ID’ed the dead welder.”

Impatiently, Ian turned back to him. “And?”

Jocko motioned with his head toward the door and the two of them walked out into the afternoon heat. “Jameel Haseeb. He…was a probie in Sparky Shaw’s group. Sparky called a few minutes ago. Haseeb left his work order on the table in maintenance, went out and cut the wrong damn pipe. He was supposed to be on twelve bravo, which was drained, not fourteen bravo which was live.”

“Shit, the Saudis are going to blame Sparky.” Jocko nodded and Ian continued, “Get him and…Shona on the next airplane out. Have him backdate a vacation request two weeks. Sign it as if it came through channels, give it to me tomorrow, and I’ll have Edith stick it in his file.”

Jocko nodded. “The contract lift from Houston is leaving in,” he checked his watch, “Three hours. I’ll get on that right now.”


Three weeks later, Ian came home at lunch. As he walked in the door, he said, “Tina, might as well hang that last curtain.”

She looked at him curiously. “Why?”

He chuckled grimly. “Just got a call to report to HQ in Dammam with Sean and you. I’m going to…to hell with it. I’m going dressed like this. Change if you want, I’ll go pick Sean up from school.”

Tina’s pixie smile flashed across her face. “Before or after I hang that last curtain? We’ve been here twelve years, so it’s time for a change.” But I’ll be damned if I’m going to wear an Abaya. I’ll carry a scarf.” She made a shooing motion. “Go get Sean, by the time you get back, I’ll be ready.”

Two hours later, the three of them sat in the conference room at ARAMCO headquarters. Tina smiled, “It can’t be too bad, we got mezze and coffee.”

Ian looked at his watch, fuming. “I had stuff on my desk that needs doing.” He looked up and was surprised to see Prince Farhan, his wife, Sultana, and Farid walk in.

The prince said, “Marhaban bikum,” as Ian, Tina, and Sean stood.

Ian and Tina nodded and Ian said, “Thank you.” He looked curiously at the prince as he gave Farid a gentle push in the back.

Farid looked up at him, then came over to stand in front of Sean. His hands clasped, he said, “As-salaam ‘alykum,” and bowed to Sean.

Sean, surprising his parents clasped his hands together and replied, “Wa ‘alykum as-salaam.” Farid continued in Arabic, leaving Ian and Tina trying to grasp what he was saying. When he finished, he bowed to Sean and said, “Shukraan lak liainqadhi.” The two boys then rubbed noses as the Prince and his wife beamed, confusing Ian and Tina even more.

Farid walked back to stand between his father and mother, relief on his face as the prince said, “Farid has apologized to Sean for his actions, and thanked him for saving his life.” Sultana nudged him and he might have colored a bit. “And I would like to apologize for my…over reaction at the hospital.”

Ian nodded. “The…reaction is understood, Prince Farhan. I cannot blame you for what you did.” Glancing at Tina he asked, “Should we be prepare to leave?”

That startled the prince and he said, “Why?”

Ian pointed at the two boys, “This, and the unfortunate death of one of the Saudi workers in the explosion.”

The prince shook his head. “No! You are a good manager, And…Haseeb…was from a minor family, and a known problem due to his…lack of attention to his job.”

They heard whispering and found the boys at the far end of the table, whispering to each other. Farid came running back to his parents and asked something in a breathless spate of Arabic, causing his mother to cough to cover a laugh. The prince looked down at him for a moment, then at Ian. “Farid would like for Sean to…sleep over? Is the word?”

Ian and Tina looked at each other and smiled. “I believe that could be arranged. Would Sunday be acceptable?”

Farid whispered something to his dad, and the prince said, “He would like Sean to…sleep over tonight and tomorrow. That way he can see how we worship.” Sultana said something quietly, and he added, “I will send a car, if that is acceptable.”

Ian looked at Sean who was all but vibrating and smiled. “Two hours? That will give us time to get him home and some clothes packed.”

“Most excellent.” The prince and his family departed without another word.

Once they were in the Suburban heading back up to Ras Tanura, Tina turned to Sean, “What did Farid say?”

Sean hesitated then said, “He…apologized for accusing me of hitting him, even though I did, and thanked me for…saving his life.”

“Well, that was nice of him. Why do you want to go see them go to church?”

“I’m curious, Mama. We do our church on Sundays, but they do theirs on Friday.”

Thus, began Sean’s immersion in Arabic culture, and Farid’s introduction to American culture. The two families grew close as the children spent the weekends bouncing from one house to the other. Although their educations were different, Sean educated in the schools on the compound, and Farid in a private school in Dammam.

Bellaire, Texas- August 1999

Farid goggled at the trees as they drove into Bellair, west of Houston, whispering, “Trees. I’ve…never seen so many trees. How much does it cost to keep them alive?”

Ian glanced in the rearview mirror and smiled. “Nothing, Farid. There is plenty of water here for them. Matter of fact, there are times when there is too much water.” He turned into their driveway and pulled to a stop in front of the garage doors and hit the garage door opener. “Things are a lot different here. We don’t have servants, so we do everything ourselves. I know I’ve explained this before, and your father has been here, but this is your first time. So, you will have to carry your own bags and will be responsible for keeping your room picked up.”

Farid gulped and Sean whispered, “I’ll help you,” as he unbuckled his seatbelt. “C’mon. Lemme show you your room. You get the guest room.” He hopped out and ran around to the back of the Suburban, popped the latch, and pulled out his and Farid’s bags. Farid took his and followed as Ian made a beeline into the house.

Three hours later, Tina came in the den and woke the boys up. “Food. Go wash up. It’s nice, so we’re eating on the patio.” She laughed as they dragged themselves down the hall to the bathroom and stepped back in the kitchen. “They’re petered out. Which means they’re going to be up half the night when they get their second wind.” Pointing to the grill on the patio, she added, “You better not burn the steaks. I’ll get the salad out and bring the baked potatoes.”

“Yes, dear,” Ian said with a smile.

The boys came charging down the hall and into the kitchen, now bubbling with energy. She handed the salad bowl to Sean. “Take this out to the table, and you know better than to run in the house. Farid you go with him. This is our traditional homecoming meal. Steaks, baked potatoes, and a salad, with garlic bread. Simple and easy. Y’all got a nap, but we’ve been busy.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Sean took the salad bowl and went out, closely followed by Farid, with her bringing up the rear with the potatoes and garlic bread.

Ian was dishing up the steaks as she got to the table and Ian said, “Okay, boys. Come get your plates.”


Snippet… — 21 Comments

  1. Oh yeah. That looks good to me.

    Where you say ‘…the prince preemptively ordered, “Check my son first.” ‘ would ‘preemptorily’ be better?

    I can’t find a translation of ‘Iinaa qublat eadhrak’. Will there be footnotes. Is ‘eadhrak’ meant to be ‘sadrak’?

    ‘Glancing at Tina he asked, “Should we be prepareto leave?”. I assume that’s ‘…prepared to’?

  2. 10yrs old in 1995, not legal to drive yet in 1999?

  3. Looks like a good story line.

    Third paragraph after the Bellaire, Texas breakline, the conversation has Ian giggling and whispering to Fariqh when it should probably be Sean.

    Keep an comin!

  4. A friend of Saudi royalty at that level would not be living in Bellaire in 1999. No way. Perhaps not River Oaks but certainly Piney Point Village or Bunker Hill Village.

  5. Just noticed, the mothers name seems to fluctuate between Beth and Tina throughout the snippet.

    ‘The prince said, “Marhaban bikum,” as Ian, Beth, and Sean stood.

    Ian and Tina nodded and Ian said, “Thank you.” He looked curiously at the prince as he gave Farid a gentle push in the back.’.

  6. All- Thanks, fixed them. Stuart, actually the folks in real life had a place in Bellaire. He’d started with Humble before he went over to Saudi. They kept the house, as they only came home for a month a year. And when he retired, he was the senior non-Arab in ARAMCO.

    Robert- Not legal to drive at 14 in Texas.

    • Bellaire is third world for the last 20 yrs. Houston is my home town.

  7. Stuart- I know it hasn’t been great, but my cousin lived there for thirty years and was a doctor. It was convenient for them, he retired up to Temple when he closed his practice in 2000. And the model for Ian did the same thing. They are now retired and living in Fairfax, VA. He told me that what happened to Bellaire was sad.

  8. I have no experience with Saudi oil storage operations, but I have investigated an incident down on the Houston ship channel. I would find it suspicious that a welder would operate solo especially a probie (likely an apprentice). Those facilities generally do work in teams including welders, helpers, foreman and safety personnel. First task in a welding operation is taking readings with a VOC meter to insure no hazardous/explosive vapors are present. Just investigating the incident there were no less than a dozen people present and the same testing was done even though there was no hot work being done and the tank was empty (still blew the plumbers plug off a 24” pipe when the vent hose was disconnected prematurely allowing petroleum fumes to ignite and turn the pipe into a cannon).

    • I’ll try to sit down this evening and work up an email with more detail and some news article links to the case I was involved in. Might even still have a photo or two hanging around on the hard drive.

      • I agree it would have been a few people, not one. Not all welding is done in the complete absence of hydrocarbons. I had a friend from college get killed just outside of Houston back in ’81 when a hot tap went bad. He and couple of others were killed when something leaked and ignited, blowing back through a tank and creating a huge fireball that engulfed him. Lung damage. Took a week to die. I ended up working for Shell for 32 years. Finished my career as the Principal Safety Authority for E&P.

  9. Daddy- Thank you! Y’all are truly my salvation, keeping me on the straight and narrow.

  10. I like it, though I lived 200 feet from Bellaire that exact year, and it’s treated more like a neighborhood of greater Houston than its own thing. Houston has a bunch of those towns that are technically their own thing but are pretty much just a large neighborhood.

  11. Bob- Working on it!

    Scott- Thanks, and yes, Houston took ALL of them when they expanded, much like Jacksonville, FL did when they took over all of Duval county.

  12. Just read April Fool this morning and found this through the link on Amazon. I was on Amazon seeing if there was more about Mac McCampbell… So I’m definitely happy to see that you’re thinking of writing more about him!