Martin Bell is sitting in a faded blue recliner, a hardcover book about the arctic laid out on his lap to support the slow scribblings of his pen on a folded newspaper. He is staring, number twelve across, five letters, “to act under a heavy burden.” He presses his pen into the first square. The answer should be “labor,” but that would mean eight down couldn't be “dilemma.” He looks again to the index. Eight down, “Crisis.” Using Dilemma fits with twenty-five across, but Martin is leery about the chances that there is a word for “acting under a heavy burden” that ends with an “I.” Twenty-one across doesn't help because he doesn't know the “one-eyed time-traveling Marvel mutant.” He picks the pen back up and considers what eight down might be if twelve across is “labor.” He looks back to one down and questions his answer there, too. “Predict,” four letters, could be a lot of things.
The pen digs into the paper. He presses harder here than he has in the other boxes and the letters stand out in the puzzle. He looks to eight down and considers what sort of word conveys a crisis and has “R” for a second letter. It could be “problem,” he decides. It has seven letters and there are seven spaces, but “problem” would change twenty-five across.
Martin's fingers tighten around the pen. While considering the three intersecting words, his eyes can't ignore how much darker “labor” is than the rest of the words in the puzzle. It's bothering him too much to focus on the right combination of possible words and their intersecting letter corroborations. He has, so far, written twelve answers into the crossword puzzle's squares, and he begins to darken these other guesses.
The recliner is the only piece of furniture in the apartment's living room. To Martin's left, a small black bookshelf sits, half-done, beside the piles of books that might one day complete it. Against the wall to his right, five boxes form a cardboard table where Martin has thrown clothes, shoes, and a lamp that is missing its bulb.
Directly in front of the recliner, pushed nearly and unevenly to the wall, is a small entertainment center with an old forty-two-inch TV. It is not a lightweight flat screen. The particle board platform of the entertainment center is bowing under the weight of the three and a half feet wide and nearly three and a half feet deep behemoth. It even has a long, external antennae. As Martin darkens the last letter in the puzzle and squints to check the consistency again, a commercial for a cell phone provider pulls him from his frustration. The commercial asks him about his cell service, about dropped calls and limited reception and expensive data plans. It asks him about his family members using all of his data and going over the family limit. Then it asks him if he wishes for a better way.
The only other unpacked box in the room is beside the recliner, sitting on the floor within Martin's reach. The box contains items for the kitchen and a dozen DVDs, but for now he is finding more use for the box as a side table. On top of the box is another small reading lamp next to a crumpled Baby Ruth wrapper, the TV remote, and a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniel's whiskey. When Martin reaches for the remote, he bumps the bottle, nearly knocking it to the carpet below. He doesn't react, just picks up the remote and tries to change the channel as the bottle wobbles back and forth and then rights itself.
The TV doesn't change. Martin presses the button again, channel up, and a third time. The screen clicks to a new channel, which is in the middle of its own commercial. It is a woman talking about car insurance. Martin clicks the remote again. The woman remains, her smile too white, her eyes too blue, her world too clean and shining and bright. He pushes the button, harder. She remains. She laughs. Martin looks down to the remote to make sure he is pressing the right button. He is, and he tries again. She is still laughing, clasping her hands and swaying back and forth as if nothing in the world could ever be difficult for her or anyone, anywhere. Martin's thumb pops under the pressure of jamming the button down again and again.
He lays the remote down on the recliner's arm and trades it for the bottle of whiskey. He takes two gulps and shuts his eyes against the TV's insistence. He breathes out, coughing once, and puts the bottle back on its box. He cradles the remote in the left hand so he can press harder with his right. The woman remains. He reaches out, getting the remote closer to the screen. He bangs the remote against his palm. Maybe the battery is loose, he thinks. Something cracks in the remote's base and he presses the button again. The woman remains, confident, all-knowing, and she smiles her victorious smile as the company's phone number and website appear on the screen.
Labor, its letters black, not written so much as carved into the rough, cloudy gray surface of the newspaper, pulse in Martin's eyes and pound in his head. Labor, labor, he feels the heavy burden and his arm swings in a long, violent backhand arc across his legs. The crossword puzzle and the book about the animals of the arctic fly from his lap. They flap through the living room like startled quail and crash against the bookshelf wall. Before they have settled on the piles of other books and papers, the remote hits the hard glass of the TV, its cheap plastic bindings exploding its rubber buttons and its batteries and any weak or unsecured electronic parts around the room. One piece makes its way back to Martin, bouncing off of his forearm and settling in his lap.
The piece falls to the floor as Martin stands. He has the bottle of whiskey by the neck and roars at the TV. He grips the back of the recliner and heaves it onto its side. He kicks the box and the lamp hits the floor with a pop. The bulb bursts and its white shards tinkle against each other and settle quietly into the carpet, the smaller pieces embedding themselves deep enough in the fibers that the vacuum will have trouble finding them.
The box flips over onto its top, spitting out a single DVD on its way over. With the chair down and the box upended, Martin turns to the TV. He pauses, like a pitcher reading a batter's stance, but he has no need to pause. He knows the pitch he is going to throw. He winds up, a small step driving him forward, and he looses the bottle. He is screaming as it leaves his fingers and he is screaming as the bottle flips end over end into the wall behind the TV. The bottle tears through the paint and sheet rock bottom first and lodges there, nearly upside down, a foot above the TV. Martin coughs through a sore throat. His throat wasn't prepared for his primal scream and he heaves and hacks and lets the rage radiate outward and come back to him.
His rage screams out and echoes back. His rage tears at his throat and pounds blood through his neck and shoulders. He heaved the bottle at the TV wanting, needing the glass to explode and scatter shards and noise all over the room. His rage needs to throw things and kick things and break things, to break all of the boxes and their spotted glasses and chipped dinner plates and cracking, fading, needlessly painful picture frames. He wants the whiskey to spray out over the TV and ignite and burn through the living room and the kitchen and the bedroom and take all of the clogging, choking, enslaving boxes and bags and clothes and tools and pictures and papers and clear them out. His rage wants to destroy his little things and his little apartment and his little life. It wants to be clear, to walk freely through a single day and not have to step over things and around things and through things, to not have to file anything or clean anything, to not have to use hangers or drawers or walk-in closets or cell phones or check books.
He doesn't get his explosion or violent chaos. He doesn't get the life-clearing brush fire, not a single flame. Looking around now, he gets, instead, a tipped over reclining chair, a broken light bulb, maybe even the lamp itself. He gets a broken remote control. He gets a whiskey-bottle-sized hole in the wall behind the TV. The rage doesn't gets its destructive outpouring. Instead, it goes inward. He can feel it start, the pulse in his neck and the noise thumping up under his skull. It is like claws on this inside, scraping the bone, clawing for a way out. The scraping creates a low hum. It vibrates beind his eyes, across to his temples, to the top of his head and the back of his skull and down into the base of the skull. The claws dig and scrape, looking for a way out, until Martin drops to one knee. He tips forward, nearly collapsing face first onto the floor. He catches himself on the tipped recliner.
The storm in his head softens. He feels it collect, pooling at the base of his skull, before it begins to drain, down into his chest and out to his fingertips, into his stomach and pelvis, into his balls and behind his hamstrings into the backs of his knees, down into his shins, to his ankles, into his feet. The rage is trickling down, but everywhere it touches stays charged. It is calmly spreading, shifting from a loud, explosive, forceful rage he was controlling to something else. He can feel the power, the choice, draining from him. There is usually strength in his rage. There is a calm he feels, something about being able to scream and lash out, that always helped him feel in control. The choice to destroy the whiskey bottle and the TV was control. Burning the apartment to the ground would be a sort of control. The rage is a beast with a saddle and reigns and when Martin screams its name and lives out its presence, he feels a control he doesn't feel anywhere else.
He has lost it. The rage has dissipated, returning to the corners of his body, to the ends of his limbs and the center of his chest. He laughs, quickly in between harsh breaths. He stands for a moment, then lets his hands go to his knees and he breathes there, looking up to laugh, again. He stands to full height and looks around the room, looks behind him, looks through the blinds into the outside world, and laughs. He knows he has lost control of the beast. He won't be able to ride it on the destructive rampage he hoped.
The bottle, lodged in the wall, spout down, is pouring whiskey out on the TV below. Martin laughs at how a grown man who played baseball his whole life could fly into a rage and throw a whiskey bottle at a large TV set from less than ten feet away and miss. As the rage dampens and the shuddering in Martin's fists and throat slow, the trickle of whiskey begins running into one of the cooling vents on top of the TV. Martin stops laughing when he hears the first hissing and popping of the liquid hitting heated circuits and exposed wiring. A slim trail of smoke curves its way through one of the vents, then the other, and puffs out from one of the speakers on the front before the commercial disappears and the screen crackles to black.
No explosion, no crash, no fire. The TV dies quietly with some popping circuits and a cut to sudden, black silence. Martin's stained t-shirt is heaving, his breathing accelerating. He wanted to end the TV himself, loudly, violently. He stares back at his reflection in the glass, the white blob of his shirt, the blue blob of his jeans, the two pale arms and the blank face. He watches the distorted figure grow on the glass, watches it reach out, mouth open, and follows the dark rage back from its hiding places to the center of his throat as he fills the apartment with his fury.
A jack hammer tears into the ground. Martin stares through his protective goggles at the crumbling rock and dirt below. When bits of chipped rock and dirt fly up to his face and ping off of his mask and helmet, he doesn't flinch. He doesn't blink. He clenches his teeth and grips the jack hammer's handles and leans more heavily into the machine.
Behind him, across a fresh black asphalt parking lot and a newly cured cement sidewalk and flower bed, beige siding, dull metal, and glass rise from the ground five stories into the northern Oregon haze. The large new building going up behind him says “Carson Medical,” and a nearby trailer reads “Three Peaks Construction.” Men carry long rolls of carpet and spools of wiring from their trucks to the glass entrance. The automatic doors are locked open, and the worker's dusty steps are tracked by protective paper they've taped down from the sidewalk in through the entryway.
Martin is lost in his jack hammering. The drainage ditch he is altering stretches to the west, and has put him by himself at the far end of the lot. He doesn't notice when another worker walks up behind him and begins yelling questions. The worker's badge says “Bruce,” and he cups his hands into a funnel shape and his yelling grows. After a third try, he is done yelling. He looks around on the ground and finds a small rock. The throw is perfect, hitting Martin in the back of his over-sized orange helmet. Martin turns and the man continues yelling.
“Hey, lunch, are you ready for lunch?” Bruce yells. Martin removes his ear protection and points to his ears. He shakes his head, waving for Bruce to say whatever it was again. He cups his hand around his ear. Bruce holds up an imaginary sandwich and bites into it.
“Eat, do you want to eat?” he yells.
Martin cuts the jack hammer out completely. He surveys his progress and is pleased enough. He shrugs and nods to Bruce and lays the jack hammer down.
When Martin finally sits at the outdoor lunch table, the sounds of construction are still in the background. Distant and muted, but still there. This is an outdoor eating area the crew has built for the medical building. Martin, Bruce, and another man, Jerry, all sit eating their lunches. Their lunch courtyard stretches out from the southwest corner of Carson Medical. The landscaping crew planted trees and a hedge that wraps around three quarters of the space, nearly enclosing it completely. The bushes and trees help dull the sounds of power saws and nail guns and generators. The area has picnic tables with umbrella holsters at each table. In a few weeks, doctors and nurses will be breathing fresh air under the shade of the umbrellas and feeling the cool cement tables on their forearms while they gobble their lunches down in weary shifts.
Jerry, Bruce, and Martin smile as they sit at tables they built and enjoy their own handiwork. They joke about each others choice of lunch. Jerry gets roasted for his giant meatball sub. Bruce's masculinity is questioned because of the crust-free sandwiches his wife makes him. As the conversation moves to the upcoming MMA fights, Martin sits quietly, slowly chewing his burrito, absent. When he notices the other two looking at him to either agree or disagree with the statement that was just made, he does his best to fake a laugh and nod his appreciation. His clueless response doesn't cut it.
“Come on, Marty, you know Serra got lucky in their first fight and St. Pierre is going to destroy him this time.”
Jerry takes a bite from a massive meatball sub and begins his fight commentary while the marinara sauce is still wet on his bearded chin.
“He's a fruity french Canadian, the worst kind of Canadian, and he's been faking his way to the top because women like him.”
“Women like him, that's why he has knocked out or submitted so many opponents?” Bruce asks. Jerry wipes his chin and mouth with the back of his hand.
“He is the UFC's secret weapon for gaining female fan support. He's not a real fighter.”
“And what, his good looks out-wrestled and then knocked out Matt Hughes, one of the greatest UFC champions of all time? Hughes lost because, what, St Pierre was too pretty?”
“Hughes was a worn-down champion past his prime,” Jerry says.
“Worn down? He is like thirty years old.”
“Nah, he's gotta be almost forty,” Jerry says.
“He's early thirties, thirty-one or thirty-two, maybe.
“That is old in wrestling years.”
Bruce puts his sandwich down and takes two gulps from his thermos. The argument requires him to stop eating and focus his attention. He can't believe what he is hearing. He shakes his head.
“Oh now we're going by wrestling years?” he asks. “First of all, please tell that to Matt Hughes yourself, in person. Please go to his next fight and yell that from the front row, 'Hey Matt, you're too old, you're like eighty in wrestling years, give it up!' Second, Matt Hughes is Matt Hughes. He will never be that worn down.”
“GSP was too big, too fast, Hughes isn't big enough for welterweight anymore. Some of these new guys are cutting almost thirty pounds, coming down from one-ninety-five, two-hundred pounds to fight at one-seventy. GSP is probably coming down from at least one-ninety.”
“Weight isn't everything in a fight,” Bruce says.
“These new guys are too big,” Jerry counters.
“You're insane,” Bruce says, waving at his helpless friend's nonsense. He turns to Martin, who is quietly eating raw, full-sized carrots, the same type of carrots he always brings with him in his work lunch. “Marty, please, talk to him. Talk some sense to this man.”
Martin takes out another carrot and twirls it through his fingers before biting it nearly in half.
“You guys hear about Donovan's crew?” he asks them, without looking up.
Jerry stands up and looks out at the site trailer. Bruce shakes his head as his smile fades. He had picked his sandwich up again and was about to take a bite. He puts his sandwich back down and turns sideways to brush the crumbs from his hands off onto the cement. Bruce looks at Jerry. It is like looking into a mirror, their pained expressions sharing the same question.
“While we're eating?” Jerry asks, also putting his meatball sub back down on its wax paper, “Come on, man.”
Jerry's wipes his mouth and beard with a napkin and wraps the other half of the sandwich back up in the paper it came in. He crushes the edges to keep the wrap tight and stuffs it into his small cooler. Bruce shakes the ice in his thermos and then stares at it before talking.
“We're talking about fights, man, you can't just drop a massive turd right in the middle of the lunch table.”
“That is pretty messed up, man,” Bruce says.
“Rumor is the suits are headed our way sometime this week,” Martin says, ignoring the men's requests. “You can ignore that, if you want.”
Bruce finishes his sandwich and pulls four hard gulps from his thermos. He tightens the nozzle down and crumples up his trash.
“Well, if they're coming to our site, they're coming today. If they don't come today then we may have dodged the chopping block. We may be off the hook.”
“I don't know, man,” Jerry says, “I've been up nights thinking about this. What else do we have to do around here? The project is almost wrapped, they finished the sealants and coatings and I think the last of the carpeting goes in tomorrow. If not tomorrow, next week at the latest. Once you finish those trenches and we fit those drainage pipes, you're all but finished. What else would they have for us here? With the market taking this massive shit...”
Bruce waves his hands and then slams them into his chest.
“Hey, hey, stop. Just stop. There is always room for the best. That is true in anything, even in the worst markets. You think people are just going to stop building shit?”
“They will if there's nothing to build, if there's no money,” Jerry says.
“There is always work to do. Always. And for that work, who is the best?”
Jerry and Marty don't answer. Martin is rolling another carrot between his palms. Jerry is standing behind him, watching over Martin's shoulder.
Bruce stands up.
“Are my best friends bitching out on me? I asked you a question. Who is the best? Who has been doing this since they were teenagers, hell, since before that? Who has been doing this their whole lives?”
Jerry and Marty finally look up at Bruce and then at each other. Martin has been doing this his whole life. He remembers sawing dowels his father gave him when he was five. He remembers trying to drive nails into the spare boards his father brought home from his own work sites. He has been doing this, and only this, for as long as he can remember.
“Who is the best?” Bruce asks again.
Jerry slowly stretches his arms out to the side, encompassing the three of them in his arm half-circle.
“You're goddamned right!” Bruce says.
Bruce sits down again, this time next to Martin. He pulls one of the smaller carrots from Martin's bag and holds it up to his face like he has never seen anything like it before.
“How can you eat these every day?” Bruce asks.
Martin crunches into another one.
Jerry sits down, too, and takes a carrot of his own.
“Are these why you're so big and strong,” Jerry asks, smiling.
“It's why his ears and his front teeth are so big.”
“I bet you take giant, orange shits. I bet it looks like a Uhaul truck coming out of the Lincoln tunnel.”
Bruce laughs as he bites into his carrot. He winces and continues to chew as if being forced to finish the vegetable by cruel terrorists.
Martin throws the last bit of his burrito into his mouth. He chews it quietly and swallows before clearing his throat.
“St. Pierre will dominate Serra,” he says, still without looking up. “He is a scared fighter. He fights at his best when he is the most terrified and he just wasn't scared enough last time. But now he is so afraid of losing again, of getting embarrassed again, that he will be training his ass off. He's going to take it to the bone. I think Serra started something. I think GSP is going to be out for blood this time. He is the future of the sport, a super athlete who trains with world-class coaches and is going to be incredible at everything. No way Serra survives a scared GSP. GSP by knockout.”
Bruce and Jerry are stunned by the sudden fully-formed thoughts from their very negative, seemingly distant, distracted friend. Bruce takes a moment to take it all in, but then nods aggressively in agreement. He is still somewhat surprised and confused by the sudden topic shift, as well as the cold fighting logic from Martin. He wasn't prepared for it, but he welcomes having an ally in the argument.
“Definitely,” Bruce says, still nodding, “I agree, St. Pierre by first round knockout or submission. Probably knockout because he is going to be mad.”
“He will want to make a statement,” Martin continues. “If he can make an example of Serra, he can put the other welterweights on notice. I think his performance will put a little fear and doubt in the hearts of the other guys in the division.”
Jerry spits the chewed carrot into a napkin and crushes it in his hand.
“Well, those are interesting theories, Doctor Martin, but Serra wins again, this time by submission. He is going to expose the fake champion and then break him.”
“So what's the bet, tough guy?” Bruce asks. “If you're so sure, lay your money down.”
“Five hundred bucks, winner take all,” Jerry says.
The men look at each other. They know they don't have that kind of money to throw around right now, not with the economy the way it is. Jerry himself realizes this, too, and back tracks with a laugh.
“Yeah, I wish I could do that. How about... loser brings lunch for a week?”
“Deal,” Bruce says, “and don't forget, I don't like mayo, or the crusts, on my sandwiches.”
Back into their work, Martin re-enters his zone. The hammering drowns out all other noise. It sets a rhythm, a hypnotic rhythm, and sends him speeding through the rest of the afternoon.
The sun is low in the afternoon sky when it finally breaks through the cloud cover. The rays glow in the windows of the two on-site office trailers a few hundred feet behind Martin. The trailers are white, pristine, and he turns his back to avoid the sting of the glare. While his back is turned, the door to the lead trailer opens and a man in jeans and flannel steps out. He is on the phone and looks to his right. Up the road, a large black SUV is pulling into the parking lot. When it stops and the occupants, two men and a woman, get out and close their doors, Martin's hypnosis ends. Even amid the chaos and noise of his work, the muted thud of the SUV doors draws his attention. He stops the jack hammer. As he steadies it up against one of the ridges he carved in the asphalt, Jerry walks up behind him. Jerry's eyes, too, are on the SUV.
“You gotta be shitting me, Marty!” Jerry says. “I told you. I told you our time was up. We're winding down and they're done with us, I told you!”
Martin takes off his helmet and wipes his brow. He squints through the glare at the three figures making their way onto the site. He is trying to see who has been sent.
“We don't know that for sure,” he says.
“Are you high? Why else would they come out here? You think that big black company SUV is here for a tea party? Are they here to give out gold stars for how good we've been? The only reason to send the suits is to trim the fat. They need to assess productivity and expenditures or some shit. They need to streamline profit margins, limit their overhead and risk, right?”
Martin furrows his brow and cocks his head at Jerry's word choice. Bruce joins the two in watching the suits make their ways up the trailer steps and into the site office.
“They need to put us on the street,” Bruce says, spitting into Martin's drainage ditch.
Jerry spits, as well. He shifts from foot to foot and pulls his hard hat back on his head, jamming it down into his scalp as if his head has grown in the one minute he has had the helmet off.
“What the hell am I supposed to do? This is our only income, we have two kids and another one on the way, just what the hell am I supposed to do?”
Bruce offers an option:
“You could go back to selling your body. You still giving those blow job lessons in Tilly Park?”
“Yeah, jackass, and could you thank your mom for me, she's been really helpful. Showed me a lot of nifty tricks.”
The three men watch the suits walk into the trailer. When the door closes, Martin looks around the site. A dozen other men have stopped working to watch the new arrivals, too.
“I swear to God, if they call me into that trailer I'm going to lose it,” Jerry says.
“If they do fire us, they have to give us money, they can't just fire us without a reason and kick us out, right?”
“There might be a severance package,” Martin says, still looking at the other men.
“I'll sever their packages,” Jerry says.
“Not necessarily,” Bruce counters, “this is what we've been paying into unemployment for.”
“That's not enough for a family, though, not for long. My kids, man, you think my unemployment check will cover three kids for the next six months?”
“What am I going to tell Sheila?” Bruce asks. He isn't looking for a response. It's the first time he has considered actually telling his wife that he lost his job. He tries to imagine what she will say. He starts to imagine the worst things she could do, but stops himself.
Martin is not showing the fear Bruce and Jerry are showing. He doesn't really seem to care, at all. He puts his hard hat and gloves back on and goes to pick up the jack hammer. The thoughts make him want to bring the noise back.
“I guess someone isn't too worried about all of this,” Jerry says. They turn and watch Martin pick up the jack hammer and put his goggles back on.
“Aren't you worried, man?” Bruce asks. “You have some other high-paying job lined up we don't know about?”
“Well, if they're going to fire us, there isn't anything we can do. If they fire me I won't have to do this shit anymore. If they don't fire me I have to keep doing this shit. So I don't know, either way is kind of like, who cares.”
Martin puts on the helmet and slides the chin straps around the arms of the goggles. He looks at the other two:
“Maybe getting fired is just what we need.”
Jerry and Bruce look at each other. They can't believe what they are hearing, and from Martin Bell of all people.
“Marty, this isn't Fight Club,” Bruce says, shaking his head. “This isn't the push we need to wake up and start getting serious about our lives. We need these jobs, man. Our families need these jobs... wait, is that shit from those CDs Jerry gave you?”
“Hey, those CDs are really helpful,” Jerry says.
“Is this God closing a door but opening a window or some shit?”
“Seriously, Marty, what's your back up plan? What about your girls, man? What about your alimony? You think you're going to walk off this work site and straight into another job that pays just as well? Do you know how long it took Greg Simons to get another job after they let him go? Nine months. And do you know where he's working now?”
“Burger king,” Martin says.
“Motherfucking Burger King,” Jerry yells. “One of the best cement guys in the business is flipping burgers and going home every night smelling like colon cancer and shattered dreams. Is that your plan, flip burgers with teenagers and junkies?”
Martin adjusts the goggles and fires up the jack hammer. As it roars to life, Bruce and Jerry shake their heads and walk away.
As the trench continues to stretch out away from the building, the first workers are called into the trailer to receive the news of their prospective employment. One of the first men called in is Shawn Mackay, a concrete and asphalt man with a blonde ponytail and a beard. At six-foot-three and two-hundred and forty pounds, he has to turn sideways to fit through the trailer door. He doesn't have to duck down but he does. It makes him feel bigger when he straightens back up again on the other side of the door.
Whatever meeting takes place, it takes less than sixty seconds before he bursts back out through the door, screaming. He doesn't turn sideways are duck on the way out. He simply kicks the door and walks through, his shoulders scraping at the entryway margins as the door slams into the side of the trailer. When the door swings back again, Martin can see that the door did some damage on its swing. A long, thin dark line mark a continuous dent in the trailer's siding exactly as tall as the door. The sunlight wobbles on the glass as the trailer trembles from the impact.
Shawn makes his way down the stairs and spikes his helmet into the sidewalk like it's a football. Two men, nearly-as-large, exit after him. Martin doesn't know them. They follow Shawn as he makes his way into the parking lot. When he turns back toward the trailer to wave his arms and scream threats and obscenities, the men stop and stand side by side, silent. They don't respond to his threats. When Shawn moves toward them as if he has had enough and wants to fight, they remain still except for a slight raising of their chins. Martin realizes they are here to ensure that no one gets desperate, or manic, or violent, or suddenly inspired to cause massive and expensive property damage.
Shawn turns from the men and their upturned chins and stomps to his car. He is hissing curses even after he slams the door. He does his best to peel out of the parking lot.
Martin smiles. He turns back to the jack hammer. He will wait patiently for his turn to storm out of the office. It is what it is. He rides the jack hammer for another forty minutes. When he looks to his watch, it tells him it is 3:57pm, Pacific Standard Time. He looks back to the trailers. The door is closed and the site is quiet. He looks around for Bruce and Jerry. Bruce is on a ladder handing tools to a man inside the building. He can't find Jerry. He considers the possibility that the three of them could make it out of the day, or even the week, with their jobs intact. He considers their value to the company. Maybe the owners want to hold on to the older, more experienced workers. Maybe this is a slight restructuring meant to trim the workforce back, keep it lean and efficient. It is possible they would all be chosen as veterans who work consistently well. He is happy for Jerry and Bruce. He is not as happy as they will be, but as he puts his gloves into his hat and makes the walk toward his truck, he doesn't mind the thought of coming back to the site with the guys tomorrow.
His gear goes in the truck's back seat and as he closes the door, his phone vibrates in his pocket.
He doesn't recognize the number.
“Hello, this is Martin,” he says.
A woman's voice chirps into the phone.
“Hi, I'm calling about a craigslist ad for a space heater, did I call the right number?”
Martin pinches the phone between his ear and shoulder and settles into the truck's driver seat. He was about to toss his wallet into the center console's cup holder, but he opens it and counts the bills. The count doesn't take long. His wallet is holding two one-dollar bills.
“Yes you did, that is my ad,” he says, starting the truck.
“Oh great, well I'm very interested in seeing it, is it still available?”
A dog, small and yippy, the kind of dog Martin never enjoyed being around, is barking in the background. The woman tells the dog to stop, to settle down, right into the phone. When she yells for the dog to sit, Martin jerks the phone from his ear.
“It is,” he says.
“I'm sorry,” she says, shifting the phone, “Brutus, stop it! Stop it! I'm so sorry, what was that? Do you still have it?”
“I do, it is still available,” Martin says again, turning up the truck's air conditioner.
“Brutus!” she screams.
“Can I bring it to you sometime this evening?” Martin asks.
“Yes, yes, again, I'm so sorry. Yes, this evening, that would be great.”
“How about 5:30?” Martin asks, turning the air vent directly toward his closed eyes.
“Perfect, yes that's perfect, right after Brutus has his dinner. Here, let me give you my address.”
Martin listens to the woman scold her dog and rifle through drawers and cabinets while she tells him her address. She starts to give him directions from Highway twenty-six and he stops listening. He writes the address down on a napkin from the glove compartment and trusts that google maps will get him there much more quickly and easily than distracted dog lady.
When Martin finally hears silence on the other end of the phone, he jumps back into the conversation.
“Okay, great, thank you, I'll see you at 5:30.”
Martin hangs up while the woman begins her next tirade against Brutus. He looks down at his wallet, then to the truck's gas gauge. He has a little more than a quarter of a tank.
He pulls out of the lot and heads home.