Monday, March 23, 2009

"Workday" by Brian Haycock

It was Thursday afternoon and I was in a mood. I could feel the tension building inside me. I needed a drink. I needed to go out and run about ten miles in the heat. I needed to break something.

I was unloading pallets of crushed glass off the back of a semi. There was a thick cardboard box on each pallet with about a ton of glass inside. Rodrigo was in the trailer, setting them up for me. I’d pull up, shoot the forks into the pallet, lift, back off, turn around, drive a few hundred feet across the yard and set it down for Briscoe, who’d put the clamps on the box and dump it onto the conveyor that would haul it to the furnace. It was hot work. We were out in the sun, with clouds of exhaust smoke and glass dust in the air, the smell of stale beer and spoiled food hanging on everything. We were wearing long sleeves, jeans, respirators and sound suppressors. Thick gloves. Steel toed boots. We were sweating buckets. I couldn’t imagine why they would put a glass factory in Texas, but that’s where it was.

Gorelick walked across the yard. Mr. Gorelick. He liked to hear that. He was the foreman. He thought he was big stuff, bossing the help around. I pulled up on my way back to the trailer I was unloading and waited.

Gorelick came up to me and pushed his respirator aside. “Malloy, can’t you move it along out here? We’ve got three trucks in the yard and we can’t be paying them to sit around.”

“I’m working as fast as I can. I can’t help it if the trucks all came in at the same time.”

“Well, try to pick it up.”

I wanted to tell him I’d get more done if he’d quit bugging me, but I just nodded.

“And keep an eye on Rodrigo. He looks kind of woozy. I don’t know, the guy’s Mexican, he ought to be able to handle a little heat.”

I looked up at Rodrigo. He was leaning against the trailer wall, sucking air through the respirator.

Gorelick started to walk away, then turned and said over his shoulder. “I know you wanted Tuesday off, but I can’t do it. It's a workday. I don’t have anyone else to do your job, so you’ll have to come in.” He slid his respirator over his mouth, but not fast enough to hide a nasty grin. He turned and walked away, fast, as if that settled it. It didn’t.

My father was on death row in Huntsville, scheduled to be executed on Tuesday night. I wanted to go up there and see him one last time. I wanted to talk to him, but I was having trouble thinking of something to say. I figured something would come to me. I didn’t plan to stay for the execution, but I thought I might if he wanted me to.

I didn’t plan on spending the day driving a forklift.

I got back to it. We finished the trailer we were working on and Rodrigo stumbled out onto the pavement. He didn’t look good. It was hotter in the trailer than it was in the lot, and it was plenty hot there. Plus, there was no breeze in the truck. Rodrigo walked over to the spool table we had set up out there and hit the ice water jug while I unloaded the pallet jack from the trailer and set it up in the next one. I watched him pour some of the water on his head and push his hair back with his hand.

The horn sounded for coffee break. Rodrigo climbed on the side of the forklift and we headed across the yard to the picnic table in the shade of the overhang. Briscoe and the other guys from the yard joined us. Mulgrew, J.D. and Bubba. Every yard in Texas has someone named Bubba. We pulled off our respirators and gloves and sat there with our cigarettes and our dollar Cokes. Everyone was hot, tired and bored. Mulgrew started talking about his softball team, but no one was interested and he gave it up.

Then J.D. asked, “How’s your old man doing?”

I took a few seconds. They all knew how he was doing. “He’s all right, I guess. He’s had time to prepare himself.”

“Any chance of a reprieve?”

“There’s always a chance. He’s gotten two of them already. You know, there were problems with the trial, evidence that was thrown out, lost. His lawyer was a waste of skin. The guy was drunk half the time in court.”

I’d said all this a thousand times, but I knew the truth. The old man was guilty. He’d been a deadbeat who’d never done a thing for my mother except smack her around. He’d been a violent, abusive drug addict who never cared about much past his next fix. Including me. There were a dozen witnesses who’d seen him shoot that clerk in the Quickie Pickie up in Dallas. He shot the poor son of a bitch six times, then couldn’t shoot anyone else because he was out of bullets. He’d gotten a couple reprieves on technical grounds, but there wouldn’t be any more of those. Even the lawyers who were filing appeals for him knew the world would be better off with him not in it.

And if he got out, he do it all again. No question there. He’d told me that himself.

Even with all that, I wanted a miracle. I wanted him to live. I wanted him to go free.

“He didn’t do it,” I said. “It was all mistaken identity. Prosecutors know it, too.”

Everyone sat and thought about my old man. What he was going through. What it would be like to know that on Tuesday you would be strapped to a gurney and shot up with chemicals that would grab your heart and squeeze the life out of it. What it would be like to lie there listening for the sound of a phone ringing while your chest exploded. I’d been thinking about it, too. For a long time.

The horn sounded and everyone looked at their watches. We were supposed to get a fifteen minute break, but Gorelick had fixed it so the horn would sound a minute early. That was so we’d actually be back at work when the break really ended. Everyone got up and started heading across the yard.

I told Rodrigo I had to hit the men’s room and went inside. It was a warehouse facility with overhead doors into a large bay, storage rooms, no air conditioning. It had to be a hundred ten in there. I went in and splashed water on my face, just killing time. I came out and ran into Gorelick.

“You’re supposed to be working,” he told me.

“I had to use the facilities.”

“You do that on your break. You don’t sit around the whole break, then come in here when you hear the horn. Tell, you what, the world’s full of people who can drive a forklift. It’s not that hard.”

“I won’t be in Tuesday. You know why. Deal with it.”

“I’ll deal with it right now. You don’t come in Tuesday, you don’t have a job. How’s that?”

“I’ll take it up with Mr. Ravenow. He’ll tell you to lay off.” He was the general manager. Gorelick’s boss.

He didn’t like that. “You better watch yourself, Malloy. You’re going to blow this job like you blow everything you try. You’ll wind up right where your father is. Or worse. I could see you going into a conveniece store with a gun, coming out in a box. Fuckup like you, I could see that real easy. Tell you what. Get your ass back to work, and I’ll start thinking about whether you still have a job. Right now.”

I went out in the yard and started in on the next trailer. Rodrigo was fading, but he kept setting the boxes up and I kept moving them around. I thought about what I would do about Gorelick. If he wanted to push it, I’d be out of a job, and I couldn’t afford that. There weren’t that many of them around. But I’d have to see my old man, and the way they had it set up, I’d have to do that during visiting hours. I couldn’t go up there after work and get in, unless it was to see him die at midnight. I didn’t want to talk to Ravenow. I knew I wouldn’t get anywhere with him. He wasn’t big on helping out the workers. I thought maybe I could offer to come in, work the morning and leave at noon. Maybe put in a couple hours off the books to help catch up. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t think I had much choice.

We worked our way through one trailer, started in on another. Three-forty, Rodrigo had to go to the men’s room. He walked across the yard like a dying man in the desert. I climbed up on the trailer, set up a pallet at the back, climbed down and hauled it away. I did that a couple more times, but it was taking too long. I wondered what had happened to Rodrigo. The way he’d looked I was worried. And I didn’t want more trouble with Gorelick. I did a couple more boxes, went to look for Rodrigo.

I found him in the men’s room, sitting on the floor with his back against the tile wall. His head was rolled off to the side and his eyes were closed. He was soaked. He’d been pouring water on himself to cool down, but it hadn’t helped. I shook him, but he barely responded. I thought Rodrigo would need an ambulance. I thought maybe heat stroke. That can be fatal. I went out to find Gorelick.

I found him coming out of the offices. That was where he spent most of his time in the afternoon. With the air conditioning. I told him about Rodrigo.

He thought for a few seconds. “I can’t do anything about that. The guy’s a wetback. We can’t call him an ambulance. He isn’t even supposed to be working here. Besides, what’s the big deal? He’s hot, he’ll cool off. Simple as that. I’ll just dock him until he gets back to work. You’ll just have to get out there and set the pallets up yourself. I don’t have anyone to help you. Get on it.”

“Rodrigo looks really bad. He’s barely awake.”

“He’s screwing around. Tell you what, you get back to work and I’ll go over and check on him. Right now.”

I went back out in the yard. Briscoe was leaning on the forklift, having a smoke. He’d pull the respirator aside, suck the smoke down and blow it out, then put the respirator back until the next hit. When I got there I told him about Rodrigo.

“Yeah, this is one mother of a hot day and he’s been in the trailers all afternoon. He going to be all right?”

“I don’t know. He looked bad, and it doesn’t look like Gorelick is too interested. He’s just pissed off at Rodrigo for slacking off. He said he’d check up on him, but I don’t know.”

“He won’t.”

“No. Probably not. How about, you give it ten minutes, then go in and check on him.”

“Yeah, I’ll do that. Well, we ought to get something done out here. At least Rodrigo is out of the heat. He’ll probably be all right.”

I got back into the trailer and set up a pallet, then climbed down and moved it over to Briscoe with the forklift. At this rate it would take the rest of the day to do this one trailer. I didn’t care. I was worried about Rodrigo and I was worried about how I would get to see my old man the day of his execution. And I was pissed at Gorelick. I could feel the anger building. Every time I set a pallet down I dropped it hard enough to watch it jump. I kind of wanted a pallet to crumple under the weight of the glass, just to see it happen. Fifteen, twenty minutes went by, I was lightheaded and dripping sweat.

Gorelick came out and walked across the yard as I was climbing down from the trailer. He walked up and pulled his respirator around to the side. “You haven’t got this trailer done yet? What’s wrong with you?”

“It’s hard out here. You see me, I’m working on it. How’s Rodrigo?”

He paused. He’d forgotten all about Rodrigo. All he cared about was that the trailers weren’t being emptied. “He’s fine. I’ll tell him to get his ass back out here, get to work.”

I knew better, but there wasn’t much I could do. I said, “One other thing. About Tuesday. You know, I really have to be there to see my old man. What I was thinking, I could work the morning, then put in a little extra time, you know, Wednesday evening. A couple hours off the books to make it up. How about it?”

“You don’t get it, do you, Malloy? No one cares about your shitheel old man. He’s a scumsucker. He killed one guy he got caught for, who knows how many others. He’s getting what he deserves, except it ought to hurt a lot more than it will. No one cares about him and no one cares about you. I talked to Mr. Ravenow. He doesn’t care about either of you or your lowlife problems. It’s simple. You come in Tuesday and do your job or you go home and stay there.”

He grinned at me.

I went white-hot with rage. Everything around me went red. I knew I couldn’t keep the anger down any more. I had to break something. Gorelick. I fought to stop myself but I knew I couldn’t. I could hear someone yelling. I thought they were yelling at me to hold myself back but I didn’t care.

The other men in the yard were running toward the warehouse. I forced myself to look over there. Just for a second. J.D. and Mulgrew were standing by the doors with Briscoe and a couple of the suits from the office. Bubba was lumbering toward them. Something was very wrong. They all went inside.

I knew it had to be Rodrigo. I started running. I ran into the warehouse. The men’s room door was propped open. They were all standing there, inside, staring down. I got there and pushed my way through.

Rodrigo was lying sideways on the floor where I had left him. He looked like he had settled onto the linoleum and tipped over. He looked like he’d melted. One hand was drawn up to his mouth, one knee bent. His skin was loose and gray. His eyes stared across the linoleum at the bottom of the stalls. He looked like he’d fallen asleep before he’d died.

I hoped he had.

“We called an ambulance,” Briscoe told me. “I don’t think it’s going to matter.”

“No, it won’t.”

I backed away. I walked into the yard and stood in the shade of the overhang. I‘d only known Rodrigo for a few months, but he was all right. He’d come up from Mexico and worked, tried to make it in a strange world. It was my fault he was dead. I should have tried harder to get help for him, but I’d let Gorelick push me around. I’d known Gorelick wouldn’t help him, but I let it go. I felt beaten. Hopeless. My life felt as mean and hard as the crushed glass that lay across the yard in boxes.

I opened my eyes and Gorelick was standing there.

“Listen,” he said. “We need to talk. You can have Tuesday off. Go up and see your old man. Do what you need to do. I was going to let you have it off anyway. I was just screwing with you, you know, pushing your buttons. Thing is, I need you to do something for me. Don’t tell anyone about what happened. You never saw Rodrigo in the men’s room. You never told me about him. It won’t help anyone to bring that up. We’ll both look bad. And I’ll just deny it anyway. Are we clear on this? You help me. I’ll help you. Right?”

My right fist felt like it would go right through his face to the back of his skull. It took him on the side of his mouth and drove him back into the tin warehouse wall. He bounced toward me and I hit him again. Then I threw a couple of left-rights into his ribs and followed that with another right to the face. I lost track. I was just going to keep hitting him until something stopped me, and there wasn’t anyone around. I stopped when he was lying on the asphalt in a pool of blood. I looked around. The yard crew was standing in the doorway with the suits, staring out at me. No one moved. I looked down at Gorelick again. He wouldn’t be getting up. Then I turned and walked away.

I didn’t hurry. I walked out to the parking lot. I thought I had a couple hours before the police got serious about picking me up. They’d spend some time at the scene, getting the details. They’d talk to the witnesses. They’d run me, put out an alert. It would take a while.

It was a two-hour drive to Huntsville. I could still make it during visiting hours. I could get in to see my old man one time before they took me in. It was the best I could do. I didn’t think I’d tell him about killing Gorelick. I wouldn’t want him to worry about me. I wouldn’t want him to think it was his fault the way I ended up. He had enough to deal with. Enough to carry with him.

I thought I’d tell him I had to work Tuesday. That would be enough.

BIO: Brian Haycock lives in Austin, Texas, where he has worked mainly for nonprofit organizations. He enjoys running (especially in the summer heat), hiking and reading stories of all kinds. His stories have appeared in Thuglit, Nefarious, Yellow Mama, Crime and Suspense, Blazing Adventures and other publications. Unlike the people he writes about, he is law-abiding and reasonably sane. Really.


  1. Wow. This was really something. Extremely well written. You really let the reader get to know every one of the characters and to get inside their heads. There's always the hope it won't end like you know it will, but in real life, it more than likely would end that way. That's what makes this such a great story. Joyce

  2. You're very talented ..interesting choices.