If I hated anything more than begging my temporary agency for an assignment every day, it had to be training videos. Normally, my jobs involve skills I’d acquired as a P.I., but occasionally those special jobs weren't available, leaving me with the same assignments as any part-time pariah.|
Like paddleboard operator.
Before your perverted imagination runs wild, I won't be "First Spanker" in the BDSM Orchestra. I'll be that person flipping the sign from SLOW to STOP on the road they've been rebuilding since Christ left Chicago. Paddleboarders are the bane of commuters, even if the delay is a minute. A perfect job for a guy already despised by many.
The training video provided important information like "don't sit down" and "don't turn the sign around until messaged by the foreman" and six hours of similar lessons. After five minutes, I got the gist. I protected everyone's lives, crew and driver alike.
The next day I arrived at Kelso-Thomas Construction's mobile home office at the far edge of the work zone. I hopped onto the open bed of a pickup, legs dangling over the bumper. As we drove through traffic, the large guy next to me confidently dropped orange cones to mark the next lane to be shut down. That took five lanes down to three and made no one happy. I felt no less annoyed. With no seatbelt, I hung less than twenty feet from a semi's grill. One sneeze, and I became road pizza.
Finally, we pulled over onto a partially completed bridge. The foreman directed me to my spot. I was given a headset and the handle "North End". He added not to flip the sign until instructed.
Hell, why'd I need the video?
"North End. Clear to proceed."
"North End. Hold."
And so the day went. I overheard others through the headset.
"Barriers? Remove sections 8A to 10A for lift access."
"Beam Welders? Take an early thirty."
My eyes reflexively locked onto the man in the car I'd held at bay for fifteen minutes. He stared daggers--no, more like laser pointers--at me. I personally ruined his whole day.
Like I had anything to do with his haircut.
"North end. Proceed."
I flipped my paddle over to SLOW, but the man took off with a squeal of tires.
"North End! HOLD!"
Hand up, only one car made it past by me. What happened? Had the voice that commanded me to flip actually been the foreman's?
I dropped my sign and ran into the middle of the road, waving, hoping catch the rushing man's rear view mirror. He swerved into what looked like an open lane to his left, where the recently removed barriers left a blank spot. In impotent horror, I watched his car drop out of sight.
Night came and ambulances, helicopters and film crew added to the bridge's illumination. The victim, an Assistant District Attorney, had been in a hurry because of a high-profile racketeering case he was running late for. Lots of confusion surrounded who had radioed me to flip the paddle. No one took responsibility, which made me paranoid. Was it actually an accident? I hadn't been blamed ... verbally. I was, after all, just the temp.
I was grilled by the city's construction planner, Jackson Parkay. "Like the butter," he said. He spoke in a comforting tone. "We'll protect you, if we can."
I raised an eyebrow. "I'm sorry. What?"
Jackson smiled apologetically. "Well, y'know how it is. Media wants a scapegoat. Company, too. They won't be kind." He turned, waving a hand over his shoulder. "At least you signed off on that safety video."
That video taught me other things. Like an hour spent on how a road construction site is born. It detailed the steps from identifying a problem road to planning and designing the blocked routes, and who decided those things.
I considered the implausible.
If I wanted to cap an ADA, and I knew his route, I could arrange an accident. All I'd have to do was stop traffic so that the lawyer was first in line. Hold him there until he was nervous, ready to punch it. Using an inexperienced temp as an unwitting accomplice, I'd give instructions to open an unsafe spot in the bridge's protection system and then let him go.
I couldn't prove anything, but I knew the bloodhound who could.
Homicide's Inspector Garcia wasn't there, as the D.A.'s death was considered an accident. I had no cell and no one above suspicion. The cone dropping man and foreman waved from the truck. We'd been released to go home.
The big drop man avoided my eye as we returned to the office. The foreman drove too fast, despite the late hour leaving few drivers behind us. A sports car raced up the freeway from an on-ramp.
The sudden arm across my shoulders felt like a hug, at first. I don't like being touched, so it was my reflexive recoil that blunted the force of his push. I didn't propel off the back as he'd planned, slipping instead to the reinforced bumper. I held on while my legs dragged on the road. The drop man made for my hands. If I let go, I'd tumble right in front of the rapidly approaching car.
If I fell alone.
I grabbed my would-be assassin's leg as he went to crush my hand again. Holding tight, I took us both to the asphalt. The extra weight slowed me enough that I controlled my roll into an empty lane. The drop man, having no such plan, bugged on the hood of the speeding car.
The heavily-in-debt Parkay had made one mistake, Garcia explained later. The bridge wasn't on the ADA's normal route. The planner had arranged for specific streets to be blocked off, placing the victim there.
As usual, Garcia wanted to hang something on me, but the foreman broke under questioning.
"How do you stay unscathed in these things, Walker?" Garcia asked.
I grinned. "Hey, you know me. Safety first."
[Acknowledgment: I would like to thank Jason Tarket ("like Target with a K") of the Tarrant County Transportation Services for helping me out with this story. Beer's on me, dude!]