Scott noticed a new guy riding around in the water truck. "Looks like Mitch has a trainee," he said to Juan.
"Yup, I saw him when he came in this morning. He smells pretty, like a girl."
Scott wasn't sure if he was serious or if it was just one of those random things that came out of his mouth. He wondered if Mitch would be eating lunch in the break room today.
It had been nearly three weeks since he'd had a chance to talk to Mitch, which was a little odd because Mitch rarely worked through lunch. In fact, the last time he talked to him was the day when twenty-one conveyor overloaded and they talked about… Then Mitch was in Base 8 after he'd walked out. What if…nah, he was thinking crazy.
Scott checked his watch; it was 11:45. As he drove out of the hole up to the break room, he couldn't help thinking what might have happened between George and Mitch in Base 8 after he'd left. What if he told George what we were talking about? What if George decided to hire him instead? Scott felt a cold sweat form on the back of his neck. That would explain why he's been avoiding me. We've worked together for nearly ten years, but what do I really know about him?
He pulled the truck to a stop in front of the break room and heard the familiar sound of the water truck approaching. Scott and Juan walked into the building and sat down. Minutes later Mitch walked into the room with the new guy right behind him.
"What's happenin' fellas?" Mitch said. "Have you guys met Jeff yet?"
Scott and Juan shook their heads. Scott extended his hand and said, "This is Juan, I'm Scott. Nice to meetcha." He took a deep breath and realized Juan was right, the new guy did smell pretty.
Jeff shook his hand firmly and smiled. "Mitch and I were just talkin' about you."
Scott felt his stomach knot up. "Nothin' good I hope," he tried to joke.
Everyone sat down and ate their lunch. The talk was pretty much normal; "Man the Redskins suck again this year." "I wish spring would hurry up and get here." "Did you see that blonde on Fear Factor the other day?"
Juan stayed pretty quiet. He only spoke up once to say that he thought his dog had hemorrhoids.
After talking nearly half an hour, Scott couldn't shake the feeling that something was up with these two guys. He already didn't like Jeff. His paranoid side was saying, 'Maybe he's Mitch's friend of a friend.'
A few minutes before their break was over, Scott's radio crackled to life. "Mobile 3, Scott." It was Joe, the primary crusher operator.
"Dammit," Scott mumbled. He keyed up his mic. "Go ahead Joe."
"I got a pretty big rip in 1a conveyor. Can you come take a look at it?"
"Ten-four, make sure everything's shut off and locked out. We'll be down in a minute." He looked over at Juan who was already gathering his things. "Let's get down there." As Scott pulled on his jacket, he noticed Mitch give Jeff an odd look.
"We'll give you a hand," Mitch said.
The knot reappeared in Scott's stomach. "Alright, we'll meet you down there." He walked out of the building with Juan following close behind him. They got into the truck and headed down into the hole.
Halfway down the main ramp, Scott looked over at Juan who seemed to be deep in thought. "Something wrong buddy?" he asked.
"I don't like the new guy," Juan said. "He smells pretty, but he has mean eyes."
Tell me about it, Scott thought and nodded his head at Juan.
They pulled up to the job, got out, and gathered up some tools. Joe walked up to them. In his mouth he had a burned out cigarette butt with two inches of ash hanging off the end. Scott shifted slightly to the side, aware that it was only a matter of time before the buttons of the older man's uniform shirt would explode under the pressure of the enormous gut that the shirt tried to cover. "I bumped the belt around and put the rip in a good spot to work on, but I didn't see what might've caused it."
Scott thanked him and Joe disappeared.
The water truck pulled up and the engine stopped. Jeff stepped out onto the deck of the truck. Mitch climbed out onto the catwalk and pulled his hardhat on over his backward Steelers cap. "How bad is it?" he yelled down.
"Don't know, haven't seen it yet." Scott watched as the two men climbed down to the ground.
"Does Joe know what caused it?"
Scott shook his head and set some tools on the rear bumper of the truck. "No, but you know him. He probably didn't make it twenty feet up the belt before he had to go back and get another cigarette."
Mitch smiled and nodded. He grabbed an extension cord and a bucket of belt lacers. "Jeff and I'll walk up and see if we can find the problem while you guys get started on the rip." Everyone else picked up some tools and headed up the belt. Mitch came to the rip first. It was just to the right of the center of the belt and about three feet long.
"How long will it take to fix something like that," Jeff asked.
"About fifteen minutes or so," Scott replied, looking at the belt. The thing he noticed immediately was how clean the cut was. With a normal rip, he would have seen a wear spot in front of the cut. He'd worked at the quarry long enough to know, this belt had been cut with a knife.
"We're gonna head up, I'll yell if we find anything," Mitch said. They turned and started up the catwalk. Mitch even took the time to look at every roller.
Scott jumped up on the belt and started cutting holes for Juan to shove the lacers through. "It's a pretty clean cut," Juan said, putting the first lacer in the holes.
Scott could only grunt and nod. The whole time he was working, he was trying to figure out what they were gonna do to him. Then it hit him like a high fastball. They're gonna throw me off the belt.
"Hey! We found it!" Mitch yelled. He was standing near the head pulley, pointing at a roller.
Scott waved at him and turned to Juan. "I'll finish up here," he said. "Take those tools and put 'em away and bring me two ¾ inch wrenches. Then, I want you to take the truck on the hill and bring back a new roller. Got it?"
Juan nodded, picked up the tools, and walked to the truck. Scott broke off the last lacer bolt as Juan returned with the wrenches. He hopped off the belt onto the catwalk and took the wrenches. "Thanks. Don't forget we're gonna need four new bolts for that roller."
"Maybe you should come with me," Juan said with a look of concern on his face.
Scott tried not to show his own worries. "We hafta get this belt running. Just go get the roller, everything's gonna be fine."
Juan nodded and walked down the catwalk. Scott took a deep breath and headed up to where Mitch and Jeff were waiting for him.
During the first half of the journey up the belt, Scott thought about his family. Would they be alright? Was his life insurance enough? How soon would his wife remarry?
Then he realized the mistake his would-be killers had made. The bad roller was near the head pulley and since he'd been working on the secondary crusher most of the morning, the primary surge pile was up close to the pulley. He knew if they tried anything, and if he could jump off the belt in the right place, it would be less than a ten foot drop to the stone pile below. He had hope, and that was all he could ask for.
When he got up to where Mitch and Jeff were waiting, he noticed that the drop would be shorter if he jumped off the left side of the belt. He handed the wrenches to Mitch and said, "Go ahead and take those bolts out, I'll get the other side." He climbed over the belt and stood on the frame opposite Mitch.
While Mitch loosened the bolts, Jeff shook his head at Scott. "You'd never catch me out there like that. Shouldn't you have a harness on or something?"
Yes, he should and he wished he would've thought to get one out of the truck. "I'd usually wear one," Scott said. "Sometimes things like that just slip your mind."
Mitch finished what he was doing and handed the wrenches to Scott, Mitch grabbed his wrist with his free hand. Scott looked up and met Mitch's eyes. His heart was playing a drum solo in his chest.
"I'm glad you sent Juan after the roller. I would've hated trying to explain this to him. He's a nice guy, but dumb as a rock." Mitch looked over at Jeff, who nodded back at him, then back to Scott. "We have to make this look like an accident…"
That was all Scott needed to hear. He jerked his hand free of Mitch's grasp, turned, and lunged toward the highest part of the pile.
"What the…" Mitch mumbled.
Scott landed safely on the left side of the peak. A sharp pain shot up through his leg as his ankle twisted into an odd angle. He felt a shift in the rocks beneath his feet and the material began to slide. He was able to ride the pile only a short way before he fell. His head slammed into a rock on the way down. Darkness overtook him even before his body stopped rolling down the pile.
Scott woke up in a semi-private room at Shady Springs Hospital. He was groggy, disoriented, and had one hell of a headache. A stead rhythm of high pitched beeps seemed to be keeping harmony with the pounding of his head.
As his vision came into focus, he saw Mitch and Jeff standing at the foot of his bed. His heart slammed against his ribs. The pounding and beeping dramatically picked up the pace. He tried to yell, but his mouth and throat were so dry, he was only able to manage a few raspy squeaks.
"Easy buddy," Mitch said walking around to the side of the bed. "We just came to see how you were doin'. What the hell happened? Why'd you jump like that?"
Scott was confused. He looked back and forth between Mitch and Jeff. He managed to work up a mouthful of saliva and swallow enough to moisten his throat. "You…" he said, still sounding a little gruff, "you guys were gonna try to kill me."
Mitch chuckled a little. "I told you we should've told him sooner," Jeff said.
"We weren't gonna kill you, dumbass. We needed you to have an accident so we could set George up," Mitch explained.
"What? I don't get it. I thought George hired you to kill me," Scott said looking at Jeff.
"So did George, but we needed proof that he tried to hire me," Jeff said reaching into his pocket. "By the way, I don't think we've been properly introduced. I'm Detective Jeffery Williams." He opened a black, leather bifold to reveal a gold badge.
"He's my cousin," Mitch said.
"You're shittin' me!" Scott sat up quickly causing his head to pound even harder.
"Nope," Mitch said. "After your accident, we went into Base 8 and told George we wanted more money for another attempt. George went off; saying that he paid us to kill you not just hurt you…"
"Which we got on tape," Jeff added.
"Now old George is sitting in a cell lookin' at about twenty years for conspiracy."
"So you weren't really gonna kill me?" Scott asked.
"Hell no," Mitch said. "You can be a little weird about some things, but you're generally a good guy."
Scott noticed that he didn't say that he wouldn't kill anyone. He forced a smile and said, "So we're finally rid of George." Mitch nodded at him and smiled back. "How much do I owe you?"
"I don't think I wanna hear anymore of this," Jeff said. He turned and walked out of the room.
Mitch shook his head and waited for the door to close. "You don't owe me anything. Actually, I'm gonna pay you for whatever time you miss."
"You're losing me."
Mitch gave him a strange little wink. "You're not the only one at the plant that wanted George gone. I've made a good deal of money off this already. And besides, who do you think is next in line for that job?"
Thanks for the kind reviews and to answer some questions; A four pack a day voice is the gruff scratchy voice of someone who smokes a lot. The Base 8 and Mobile 3 stuff, however confusing, is just how we talk on our radios at the plant. It's like a call number.