Monday, October 1, 2007

Chapter 5: Hard at Work, Part III

The tour ended next to a pair of drop presses. One of the machines was running, its operator feeding it sheets of plastic while large weights slammed down, forcing them into wide, shallow bowls. The other sat still, forlorn and quiet with an odor of ozone coming from somewhere inside. FRENDLY CHAT

“This is it,” Ethan said. “Once school starts up, we’re focused mostly on the Christmas trees, as you can see, but we keep a couple running on pools to stock up for the summer. We need this one back up as soon as possible.” He pointed Vernon to a rolling toolbox standing nearby. “Everything you need should be in there. If not, ask one of the guys or come find me. I’ll be around here somewhere.”

“Sure thing.” Vernon walked around the bright red toolbox and found his name stenciled on the lid. He flipped it open, retrieved a couple of adjustable wrenches and a reversible screwdriver and walked to the silent machine. “What’s wrong with you?”

The question reverberated as he worked, unscrewing an electrical access panel to get at the guts. It looked to need rewiring, and the insulation had worn in places, but he couldn’t find any scorch marks that would indicate the wires had crossed. What’s wrong with you? Ethan had bought that house and sent them there. Now half his family was gone. Do you think he did that on purpose? Vernon shook his head. Obviously, he couldn’t have known about the darkness in Jennings Grove, but he had noticed something strange there, and hadn’t even thought to give the Hamiltons a heads up. He should have told us there was something weird about the place. We could have… The thought trailed off. What could they have done? Found some other place offering free rent for half a year? Lived in the car? We would have been on guard, at least. That’d be something. Cheryl and Alexis might still be here if he’d given us a little warning. He shook his head again, trying to still the debate. It raged on until a hand dropped on his shoulder. Vernon jumped, dropped his tools and fell backwards off the press. His butt smacked painfully on the concrete floor.

He looked up to see the other press’ grizzled operator staring back down at him. “You alright, buddy?” he asked, extending a hand. Vernon took it and climbed back to his feet.

“Yeah. Just scared me a little.”

“Got any idea what’s wrong with her?” the man asked, jerking his head at the press.

“Not yet. Still looking.”

“Shoot. The way you were staring at it, I thought you’d found something.”

“Just thinking.” He rubbed his bottom, then scratched his head. “Did the thing go down all at once or did it run for a while first?”

The worker pulled his blue ballcap off and ran fingers through his blond hair. “A little of both, really.” He put the hat back on. “Today, we started it up, and she just died with a big sizzle and a sort of pop. But she’s been acting kind of wonky for about a month now, running in fits and starts.” He laughed.

“Something funny?”

“It’s just that the company spent a fair amount of money for the vendor to send a maintenance guy to come out and give her a quick overhaul last month. Looks like they should have sprung for the deluxe package, know what I mean?”

“Yeah.” He clapped the man on the arm. “Thanks a lot.”

“Don’t know that I did much, but you’re quite welcome.” He glanced at his watch. “Say, it’s lunch time. Want to knock off for a bit and grab something to eat?”

“Maybe some other time. I really want to see if I can get this machine up and running again.”

“Suit yourself.” He stuck out a hand. “I’m Bob Click.”

“Vern Hamilton,” he replied, shaking his hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

As Bob walked off, Vernon sagged to his knees next to the press. Lunch time already? The day’s half gone. That meant he’d have to go back home before long. Maybe they’ll need me to stay late, or perhaps I can talk Ethan into going out for a drink or something. He grabbed his screwdriver and tried to open the bottom access panel. The flat head chattered around the screw for several seconds before he could force it into place. He took a deep breath and turned. The process repeated itself for the remaining three screws, but eventually got the panel loose. The culprit lay inside.

“Some overhaul,” he muttered, retrieving a large crescent wrench. Scorch marks marred the shiny metal surface, and it had melted more than halfway through in a few places. A quick glance inside the machine revealed similar burns along the case and bare wires that looked eaten through.

He sat on the concrete floor, turning the mangled wrench over and over in his hands. He felt like that tool. He’d been tossed into a world he didn’t belong, and now he found himself trying to bridge the darkness there with a normal life that contained swimming pools, Christmas trees and malfunctioning machines. The strain was already taking its toll. How much longer could he keep this up before something short circuited?

“Wow. That’s one messed up hunk of metal.”

Startled, Vernon dropped the wrench to the floor with a clang. He hastily climbed to his feet, dusting off his pants before stooping to retrieve the battered tool. He straightened and turned to face Bob, who was busy working a toothpick between his teeth. Bob pulled the wooden sliver from his mouth and pointed at the wrench. “That what done it?”

“Looks that way. I guess the maintenance guy got a little careless.” He scratched his head and took a deep breath. “You seen Ethan around?”


“Ethan…Mr. Roodschild.”

“Oh, him, yeah. I think I saw him going back to his office.”

“OK, thanks.” Tucking the wrench in his back pocket, he nodded at Bob and walked past him toward the far side of the shop.


Part IV coming Friday!




At October 1, 2007 10:39 AM , Blogger Bret Jordan said...

Working through lunch? That fits the 'new guy' description to a tee.

Yet another good chapter. I liked the day at work feel, with just a touch of menace.FRENDLY CHAT  

At October 1, 2007 1:22 PM , Blogger Jeff Parish said...

Why, thank you!FRENDLY CHAT  

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