Friday, December 28, 2007

Chapter 7: Back to Work, Part IV

Rose smiled at him as he walked through the door. Vernon waved and started by, pausing when she cleared her throat. He turned back and raised his eyebrows.

"Do you have that Social Security number?" she asked. He frowned. "Your son's number, remember? You need it to finish your paperwork."

Vernon rapped his knuckles on the desk and shook his head. "Sorry. Clean forgot about it. Still can't sleep – trying to get used to the new house. I'll bring it tomorrow, I promise."

"Alright – just keep in mind we can't finish processing your benefits without it. The longer you wait, the longer it's going to take."

"I know. I'll have it first thing in the morning."

Rose nodded and turned back to whatever paperwork lay on her desk. Vernon sighed and headed for the double doors, refusing to look at his reflection as he passed through. He found Ethan at his desk. His friend poured over paperwork in the exact same position as the last time Vernon had seen him, as if he hadn't gone home at all. Maybe he didn't. He'd been known to pull all-nighters in the past if the situation demanded it. Vernon cleared his throat. Ethan looked up. He glanced at his watch, pursed his lips, then waved Vernon in.

"Still not sleeping well?" Ethan asked. Vernon sat down across the desk from him and shook his head. "You need to go home?"

What is there for me at home? Or do you really care? He shook his head, trying to drive the thought away. His friend didn't deserve that. Not really. "Nah. I'll be fine. I look worse than I feel."

"If you say so." He looked and sounded uncertain. Vernon jumped in.

"I believe you said you had a problem with a vacuum mold?"

Ethan eyed him askance, but let himself be distracted. "Yeah. Sometimes it works just fine, sometimes all we get is a mess. We've checked all the controls, hoses and the vacuum pump several times. Everything checks out."

He rummaged in a drawer and pulled out a sheet of paper. He drew a couple of circles and a snaking line in red before handing it over to Vernon. The page showed a map of the building. Ethan had circled his office and the troubled machine's location and drawn a path between the two. "I'll see what I can figure out," Vernon said. He glanced at the paper and walked out into the shop.

Bangs and buzzing filled the air. The sound cut through nearly every attempt at thought. He wandered down aisles lined with machines and operators hard at work, glancing at the map every so often without really seeing it. His mind kept turning back to his wife and daughter. Ignore them, everyone said. Think of your son. Go out there and you'll never come back. How do they know? He stopped next to a machine twisting green wire for a Christmas tree's branches. Jennings Grove's residents seemed so sure of themselves, but how could they know for certain? They were too scared to even stare at the darkness cross-eyed. The idea they might actually try to find its limits seemed ridiculous. Chewing his lip, Vernon started walking again. The night in Jennings Grove was certainly a fearsome thing, but his family weren't part of the night, were they? They'd been dragged into it against their will, perhaps imprisoned somehow. Given enough time and effort, a person could bust out of any prison – especially if they had help. What if that's why Cheryl was reaching out, not for me to come to her, but for help? They kept telling him to think of Raymond, what was best for him. What could be better than to give him his mother and sister back? That's got to be it! Cheryl wouldn't want to take me and leave Raymond all alone. She wants to come back. But how do...

"You OK, Vern?" He jerked back, skidding to a halt just in time to avoid running over Bob Click. "You look kind of lost there."

Vernon blinked and looked around. His feet had taken him back to the drop press he'd been working on the day before. Both machines were up and running today. He found it hard to believe that had only been yesterday. Bob arched an eyebrow; Vernon forced a weak laugh. "Just lost in my thoughts. Guess I wasn't paying attention to where I was going."

Bob took the paper from his hand before Vernon could stop him. He looked at the red line wiggling across the map, glancing up at Vernon every few seconds. Finally, he chuckled and handed it back. "You need to be clear on the other side of the shop." He took a pen out of his shirt pocket and added a black snake to Ethan's red. "That'll get you where you need to go. Try not to get too lost on your way there."


Part V of Chapter 7 coming Monday!

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