A self-contained chapter from my industrial construction murder mystery Reduction of Forces...coming in 2018.
Reduction of Forces
One day, Renee started a new project, and quickly became intrigued by a hand, for the first time ever. She had only watched him from afar at first, but now found herself interested. He was all over the place. On the first day, she watched him work with QC and the client, make a fit, expedite materials, and generally cheerlead and mentor the crew and newbies. Over the course of a week, he never seemed to notice her, much to her consternation.
Suddenly he did.
She was trying to drill bolt holes in a piece of circular plate and it was kicking her ass. Sweat streamed down her face, her goggles and faceshield kept fogging up, and she was getting frustrated. Then he walked by and casually said, “You’re working too hard.”
Great. She didn’t need this shit. Another asshole.
“Yeah, well, I gotta get it done. Hot job. We need to hang this by the end of the day.”
“But you’re working yourself too hard.”
“Thanks,” she said, miffed, and put her head back down and started drilling again.
He bent down close to her and put his gloved hand over hers, and said, “Slow down.”
Renee had had enough. Violation of her personal space aside, no matter how tingly it made her feel, she had a job to do. Nothing was going to slow her down.
She jerked her hand away said, “Why don’t you fucking do it then?”
Unperturbed, he picked up the drill and began to work where she had left off, but drilling at a quarter of the speed she had been. At first it was infuriating, and she almost snatched the drill out of his hand, or screamed at him to hurry the fuck up. But then, despite his pace, the first hole popped through. He didn’t look up, but just continued patiently along the same rate. Renee was too in awe to stop him. Thirty minutes later, hardly breaking a sweat, the task was done. Her task. Early.
“That’s a good layout,” he complimented her.
“How did you…”
“You were annealing it.”
“A whatting it?”
“When you apply heat to stainless like that, it makes it harder. So the faster you drilled…”
“The harder I worked.”
Renee looked him dead in the eyes.
“Why didn’t my piece of shit foreman tell me that?” Renee wondered aloud, as much as to herself as to him.
“Probably doesn’t know himself. We take a lot of half-assed fitters and make them foreman. It’s a sickness. Plus, when they get a white hat, they lose their minds.”
“Well, thank you. I like learning things.”
She glanced at his hat. “Jason. What’s your real name?”
“Psycho. Pipe detective.”
“Thanks… Psycho. I guess the least I could do is let you take me out to dinner.”
He smiled, but it was vaguely… derisive?
“No thanks necessary. It’s… what I do. Have a good day, Ms. Hollander.”
With that, he turned and walked away. She was entranced.
“It’s Renee!” she called out after him, but he only raised his hand and waved behind to her, going on to whatever it was he did.
Renee loaded the manway cover into a wheelbarrow by laying it on its side, sliding it in, and then righting it. She wheeled it over to the vessel, rolled the plate up, and stuck a bolt. An hour later, her hot project was completed. She walked back to the foreman’s print-shack whistling, no longer even sweating.
“What are you doing here?” he asked her. “I told you I needed that done today.”
“Done,” she said. “Call QC. I’m going to lunch. Early.”
Days later, Renee continued to observe the activities of the only construction worker to ever pique her interest. He had started to occupy her thoughts, competing with her focus on work, and she decided she needed to know more. While she was standing around bullshitting with several other fitters and foremen, waiting on a crane, she decided to inquire about him.
“What’s that guy do?” she asked when she saw him pass by, holding prints, looking up and shaking his head.
“Psycho? He’s QC,” one said.
“Naw. Hell no. He’s a general foreman,” said another.
“I thought he was a fitter,” offered a third.
“He’s a fuckin’ field engineer.”
“He acts like he works for safety.”
Renee decided to find out for herself. Later that day, she cornered him by the tank farm. He was crouched down, seemingly oblivious to his approach. Without looking up he said, “Good morning, Ms. Hollander.”
“Hello, Psycho… How do you know I’m Ms. And not Mrs.?”
“It’s my job to know.”
“Oh? How’s that?”
“You’d be surprised at the amount of information needed to build a plant, even discounting the prints and specs. I need all the help I can get.”
“Well, to put it another way, what’s your classification?”
He stopped what he was doing and looked at her.
“I heard you. But, really? I know you’re better than that.”
He shrugged. “I guess. But they let me do what I want, this way. Or what they need, as opposed to what they say they want.”
Renee just stared in disbelief, so he elaborated.
“The higher up the chain you get, the more bullshit you have to deal with. This way, I can focus on building the plant. Sure, I could fit, but then that’s about all I’m allowed to do. I tend to get in trouble then, because I have my fingers in too many pies. So to speak.
“Foreman? Meh. Too many dummies, too many rules. By the time you make superintendant, you’re so out of touch with the work that you become counter productive.”
“But the pay…”
“I’m single. I’m frugal. I have a few patents I’m working on, some software. In the meantime, I build plants. My other projects could only have happened as an outgrowth of that.”
“From what I can tell, you’ll go far here.”
“Honesty is my biggest vice, Ms. Hollander. Construction work is honesty. Remember that.”
“Thanks. I will.”
Renee was in a tizzy for weeks after her last encounter with Psycho. She masturbated far more furiously and frequently than ever, but it no longer was enough for her. She wanted him. Badly. So badly that she decided to force the issue and ask him out, breaking her own rule about dating construction workers. Then again, having spent so much time around them, she began to realize that they were the only men she could date, realistically. Everyone else seemed like shitpukes to her, parodies of real men.
Damned if she did, and damned if she didn’t. So she did it.
The next Monday, after she had thought about it all weekend, Renee worked up the nerve to approach him. It’s so silly, she thought. All of her usual confidence seemed to have evaporated. What if he shot her down? Would he? Why would he? She spent part of each day spurning the advances of everyone from superintendents to waterboys. Getting anything she wanted from them would be no problem. But all she wanted was to be left alone. Now the situation was reversed, and she feared rejection.
That day at lunch, instead of eating at the printshack like she normally did, Renee went to the lunchtent and found him sitting alone, reading some technical manual and distractedly eating peanut butter sandwiches.
She sat down across from him and said, “Hello, Psycho…”
He looked up, smiled, and said, “Hey, Renee,” then closed the book he had been studying.
All her fears dissipated in an instant. She felt she was where she belonged – with him. They talked all through lunch, about everything under the sun. The conversation was so engrossing, Renee forgot to ask him out. But as they rose to go, he said, “See you tomorrow…,” and she knew he meant at lunch. So all week they sat together, alone, and the chemistry was electric. In his own subtle way, he began to let her know he was interested as well. On Thursday, she popped the question.
“Dinner tomorrow night?”
“I’d like that…” he said.
She was elated. So elated, her mother looked at her strangely when she got home that night. Renee almost told her. Almost.
Friday at lunch they made plans. Well, he made plans, and she agreed. It was a relief to Renee to not have to be in charge for a change. It was also a turn-on. He gave her the name and address of a restaurant she’d never heard of, but sounded fancy.
“I made reservations for nine,” he told her.
“Why so late?”
“Meh. I might have to stay over an hour or two. Hot tap – So that’ll give you time to get ready, and me, as well, if everything goes okay.”
Renee didn’t even ask what a hot tap was.
She spent the day in a daze. Could she be in love? How was that even possible? She had nothing to compare it to. The joy of working and achieving didn’t come close to what Renee was experiencing. Not even what she felt for her own mother compared to the feeling she was having. It was frightening. And thrilling.
That evening she left work not even thinking about the project – another first. At home, her mom seemed to notice her unusual level of distraction, but said nothing. Renee half expected her to ask if she was on drugs. She took a long luxurious bath, washed, then shaved her legs and patch for the first time since puberty. Perhaps she was getting ahead of herself, but if he wanted to make love to her, it was a done deal. She had already made up her mind.
She took her time doing her hair and put on makeup – both things she hadn’t done since she quit school. Finally, she put on… a dress. One of the few she owned, usually reserved for special occasions like Christmas. Renee surveyed the results, and actually felt good about the way she looked out of her construction gear. She hoped he felt the same way, and was pretty sure he would.
On the way out, twenty minutes before the reservation, her mom stopped her.
“Renee! Where are you going?”
“Got a date, ma.”
“A date? With a boy?”
“With a duck, ma.”
“Not a boy, ma. A man. Someone I work with.”
“Is that a good idea?”
“It is in this case, ma. He’s cute, smart, works hard, and is a gentleman. I really like him a lot.”
“What does he do?”
“Pipe. A helper.”
“Renee! You need to date a foreman or something.”
“I don’t care about money, ma. He’s better than any foreman I’ve ever met.”
“I suppose. If he makes you happy.”
“Love you, ma. Gotta go.”
“Don’t be too late…”
“I might not be home tonight.”
She walked out the door.
She arrived at the restaurant right on time, due to some intense driving. He wasn’t there yet, so she was seated. After fifteen minutes, she started eating bread and had a coke out of nervousness. After thirty minutes, she grew irritated. By the forty-five minute mark, she was mad. After an hour, Renee got up to leave. He was just another asshole like the rest.
On her way out, though, someone in a safety vest walked up to her and handed her two envelopes. She didn’t recognize the helper at first, because he didn’t have his hard hat and glasses on.
“Mr. Psycho sends his regards,” he told her, and turned to leave.
“Wait! What? Where is he?”
“You know how he is…”
And she did, because she knew herself. In her hands were two envelopes, one marked ‘Renee’ and the other ‘open in the event of my death’.
“Gotta run,” the helper, Mikey, said. “I snuck out to bring you these. He’s really sorry. Looked like he wanted to cry. Never saw him like that before.”
He waved as he walked off, on his way back to the jobsite. Renee’s feelings had done a one-eighty in seconds. She felt dizzy, and that was before she looked at the envelopes. Her name written on the first was an obvious attempt at penmanship by someone with sloppy handwriting. She smiled broadly. It was so cute as to be heartwarming. Then she looked at the second and felt a chill deep within her. What the fuck? With shaking hands, she opened the one with her name on it.
I say that not as a standard, clichéd opening, but in the most forgotten sense of the word. You are dear to me, already.
Believe it or not, but I’ve known about you since two projects ago. People had started telling me about you then, saying you were like a female me: hardworking, project-oriented, and fanatical about piping. How could I not be intrigued? In fact, if you check, you’ll find that I had someone put a bug in your ear about this job, and then made sure you had a req if you ever called.
I took a chance, and it paid off. I’m sorry I didn’t give you more attention, but it had to be your choice, not mine. I know how those hardlegs must hound you, and how annoying it must be. Not only that, but I’m not one for casual flings.
I’m only interested in a lifetime commitment.
Plus, talking to women on a job site can off as sketchy, especially if you’re a weirdo like me. So, thank you for making the first move. I’m pretty stoic, but I was secretly overjoyed.
I still am.
So, what happened was, we’re doing a hot tap on a live natural gas line. That’s when you drill a hole and weld on an o-let with valve without shutting the line down and purging it. I’ve done them before, but only on low pressure water lines. This is the big league.
My old GF, my first in industrial, told me to always be sure of wall thickness if you have to do something like that, for obvious reasons. He had a heart attack and died, but the evil little fucker’s voice is still in my head. There was no one else who knew how to do one available, and it is my job. In a sense.
I’m relatively sure you’d do the same.
Anyway, I’d be done, but I got into it with my foreman, GF, Area GF, and superintendant about the pipe schedule. They say it’s extra strong, and I maintain it’s standard wall. I don’t want to say I’m usually right, because I know how that sounds. But I’m usually right.
It’s an old line, and we don’t have proper drawings for it. Everyone here is pissed off since I called safety to shut them down until they could prove the pipe wall is what they say it is.
So, I apologize for standing you up. The way I look at it, we have the rest of our lives. Maybe we could make some little pipefitter babies some day. I’m thinking ‘James’ and ‘Charlotte’. Twins would be awesome.
Anyway, call me superstitious, but the other envelope contains all of my patent and software concepts, among other things. Understand that they’re – in some cases – ten to twenty years away from being feasible, but they will all eventually be possible. When that time comes, I hope you and I can be well-poised to take advantage of them, and retire. Hawaii, maybe?
Anyway, I should see you in the morning, and I’ll be really embarrassed for being so nervous.
But since I have that excuse, Renee, would you allow me the honor of courting you for a year, and then proposing marriage? Nothing would make me happier, and my life more complete, than that.
All My Love,
Tears streamed down Renee’s face as she carefully refolded his letter and put it back in the envelope. She would show it to their children someday, she decided. Because she knew he was the one. She rushed home, ready to tell her mother that she would be getting married in a year, no matter what she thought about it.
When she walked in the door, her mother shouted her name, and rushed to embrace her. Over her shoulder, she saw a huge fire on the news.
“To repeat our top story, the Yokohama tire plant expansion project has suffered a massive explosion. Sixteen people are still unaccounted for…”
Renee pushed her mother aside, knocking her to the floor. Once at the TV, she paused for a moment. The sight of the flames seared her very soul, blackening her heart to romance forever.
She knew he was dead.
She picked up the TV, ran to the window, and heaved it through the glass. Crying so hard she couldn’t see, she locked herself in her room, and didn’t emerge for three days, despite her mother’s repeated attempts to talk to her. She was done with industrial work forever.
A week later, she reapplied to work the burn-out, cutting out the existing pipe – now charred and twisted – and started to rebuild.
Psycho would’ve wanted it that way.