Rounds on Midnight Shift
Akron Thermal, a chemical delivery truck pulls in the drive.
I give the driver my dollar tour. Its different than
the million dollar tour the bosses give to investors. Instead
of just showing him the front, the spit shined aluminum panels
that veil rotten and unstable chemical tanks, the good side
of the building with trailer offices and new computers, I
take him into the plant. I pull back the twenty foot curtains
and tell him, Heres the dungeon.
walk through the curtains and I can see the surprise on his
face. He looks up at the holes in the ceiling. We snake through
piles of rusted scraps and cross a platform with no handrail
past the boiler. I tell the driver not to look down. The windows
are broken, and airborne coal dust glistens like snow in the
fading beams of light. Those tarps, I say, pointing
to a corner of the plant, they cover the asbestos. Try
not to kick them around. The driver doesnt speak.
take him to the back where cockroaches roam on great plains
of pigeon feathers. The back door opens up to a panorama of
desolation. Corroded doors frame the sunset, purple and yellow
like a bruise over cracked, weed laden concrete. Rusty barrels
rot next to prehistoric equipment we havent used in
years, and the cold muscles in past steam pipes like an unwanted
relative. This is how Akron Thermal heats the city and surrounding
can leave through here when youre done.
walk into the panel room and Paul, the kid who got the job
because his dad runs the place, is smiling. Today is his twenty-first
birthday. Ken, the guy I call ol timer whos
younger than me, asks where I came in from. I tell him, the
south end, from the boiler room. He says, Did you hear
is smiling. He gets up and runs out to his truck. He comes
back in with a big, I mean big, Smith & Wesson gun case.
Inside is a brand new Smith & Wesson 500 Magnum revolver.
Eight and a third inch barrel. The shells as wide as my finger
and smells like oil. Thirteen-hundred dollar gun. Paul makes
eight bucks an hour.
were shooting out back, behind the boiler, Paul says.
boom youll ever hear, Ken says.
didnt hear it, I say.
have to go downtown to the new fun park and check
on the pump house. On Main Street theres a zoo of college
kids escaping from the bars into the streets and cops arresting
some here and there. Cop cars are parked all along the street.
College kids wearing shorts and hoodies hang off of light
posts. I think about how nice it would be to have somebody
pay for me to do that.
takes a half hour to wade through them.
the fun park theres a new pile of human shit in front
of the gauge. There is an AIDS pamphlet stuck in it. I wonder
if the mayor knows this guys been shitting on his fun
park. Hes got a right, I suppose. Hes been shitting
here a whole year now.
calls me on the radio. Hey Georgie, where are you?
hate it when people call me Georgie. Does it matter?
I respond, because I know it doesnt.
have a ladder around you?
look around. Theres a ten foot ladder propped up against
the pump house. Yep.
Do me a favor and bring that back to the control room.
do. I dont bother to tell him that Im downtown.
load the ladder into the company truck, drive to Taco Bell,
and order two burritos. A man taps on my passenger window.
Hey, man. Got a quarter?
it, I say.
knocks again. Hey, man.
said, beat it. The man leaves.
calls me again on the radio, Hey Georgie, whats
the ETA on that ladder?
on my way.
I get back, Paul is up on the belt poking the chute with a
metal rod. They didnt need the ladder after all. I take
a seat by Ken in the control room next to the space heater.
Everything is covered in dust, and the water cooler is crusted
at the tap. A pigeon lands on the window sill. I hate
those fucking birds, I say.
says that rich people call them squab. Theyre
considered a delicacy. Rich people will eat anything,
I say. Ken says he wouldnt know. He tells me hes
on his third marriage. His first wife left him with two kids.
The oldest was six. His second wife had two kids then died
of cancer. His third wife hates kids.
is back, still holding on to his gun like his first girlfriend.
I wonder, if he wasnt, would I take it? He walks over
with his new gun and shows it off. Want to shoot it?
He says. The shiny steel of the gun looks fake in here, out
of place, too shiny. I decline. Shoot yourself,
mean suit yourself, I say.
what I said, Paul says, then walks out of the control
room and fires off six rounds into the rusty barrels.
the sound of a ricochet and then intense hissing followed
by screams. A pressure alarm lets out hurried piercing beeps
and my heart mimics the tempo. Ken and I get out of our chairs
and go outside. What the hell was that?
says, I dont know. Were here, theres
nobody back there.
remember the driver and start off for the boiler. I hear Ken
ask, Which way were you shooting? but I just keep
going. I know it doesnt matter which way.
I get near the boiler, I hear the intensity of sound and feel
a rapid release of heat. Below an orange lamp is a pipe of
leaking superheated steam. I see the truck driver on the ground,
his pants melted through to the bone of his legs. His top
half claws wildly at the dirt, hands bloody and straining.
He reaches for his legs and the skin liquefies off of his
fingers like a burning marshmallow. Without really thinking
about it, I rush for the driver, but Ken tackles me and says
its not safe, we cant see the steam.
hell with safe, I tell him. The whole goddamn
place isnt safe.
gather myself and reach for the unburned parts of the driver.
Hes in shock now, and though his eyes are wide open,
hes not saying anything. I drag his body out from under
the pipe, leaving a trail of melted blue jeans. His legs are
as black as night.
putting all of his weight into shutting the valve to the pipe.
When he finally gets it closed, he kneels down next to the
driver and me. Ken says Paul is calling an ambulance. The
driver seems to have forgotten his hands and legs are burned
off and wants to know whats going on. I tell him it
doesnt matter, just relax. He wants to know why he cant
feel his legs.
comes running over and stops ten feet from us. I can see the
dumb look on his face. I stand up, walk over to him, and punch
him square in the nose harder than I ever hit anybody in my
life. I feel the whole weight of the place behind it. The
gravity of the situation, the thickness of burned skin, pigeon
feathers and coal, all balled up into one punch.
of a bitch, Ken says, the boy didnt do it
on purpose, Georgie.
driver shuts his eyes. Ken takes me and Paul aside, Pauls
nose bleeding all over the place and his eyes are turning
black. Hes crying. Goddamn it, you two. We need
to start thinking straight. Paul, you got to gather yourself
up and get the hell out of here. Say you got in a bar fight
or something. Well say you went to lunch and werent
here. Ken turns to me, tells me were all in this
together. If anyone finds out we were letting Paul shoot that
gun well all be through. Say it was a freak accident.
The pipe burst because it was put together with bubble gum
and bobby pins.
looks at me for approval. Shoot yourself, I say.
Paul does as hes told and leaves. The ambulance shows
up. The paramedics take over and rush the driver away, sirens
sun is starting to show on the horizon. Therere incident
reports to fill out. I tell Ken Im taking my break,
well let the morning shift deal with the mess. I sit
on top of the plant and smoke a cigarette. The company was
having a guy come in at noon to roast a pig in celebration
of our safety record. Probably wont now. It doesnt
matter. I have no appetite for a pig glazed in coal dust.