The Last Teamster
by Bob Sojka
The bobble headed Jesus on the dashboard of Terry Kozlowski’s grav-lift truck stared at him as he parked it for the last time. It seemed to be asking the ten-minutes-from-unemployed Terry what comes next. Jumpin’ Jesus H was a relic from Dziadzia Kozlowski, his grandpa, another teamster from back when scabs were met with tire irons. Back when trucks had tires.
Terry belched garlic from the kiełbasa and sauerkraut sandwich he had at lunch and popped the suction cup to pull off the fetish. He remembered when Dziadzia gave it to him, his seventh Christmas. It had a micro chip for tunes, and the suction cup had a spring in it. If you set the plastic trigger one way it just stuck to a smooth surface; if you set it in the other direction, after a few minutes it popped several feet into the air, blaring music, scaring the crap out of anyone not expecting it. It was Terry’s favorite toy for nearly two weeks, until he caused Busia to drop a platter of pierogi on the floor at Trzech Króli, the Three Kings feast.
He stared at its face; it was Jimmy Hoffa. At least that’s what Dziadzia told him when Terry turned eighteen and joined the union. It had come to his Dziadzia as a joke souvenir at a union rally. Hoffa was supposed to be some big teamster organizer from back in the day. Whatever.
He snapped Jesus H inside his lunch box, grabbed his trip log, and touched the thumb-print identipad to enable the download from his implant. He’d hauled spent fuel rods from Chi-town’s recently decommissioned nuke to Yucca Flats and trucked back photovoltaic roofing tiles. They’d built the big desert factory in Nevada twenty years earlier to take advantage of the desert sun-power and new grav-lift truck route.
Tire irons. But when there’s only one scab--a hundred trillion credit scab, and it’s a giant machine up on the Moon, striking and scab-rousting are a little harder than beating heads in the depot yard. No more tires, no more tire irons. No more trucking, no more truckers. Badabim badaboom.
He grabbed his duffle bag, stuffed in the Jesus-H-toting lunch bucket, slid his former Morton High defensive guard bulk down from the cab, and handed the trip log to Sam, the shift foreman. They were both a little teary-eyed. It ain’t often that management and labor get bit in the ass by the same dog. Politicians, scientists, environmentalists, big business. Screw ‘em all. No one looks out for the working man. You drive seventeen years for an outfit without so much as a parking ticket and this is what you get.
Terry and Sam fist-bumped, did a quick one-armed guy-hug, then pushed each other apart like they had set off the loading dock’s gaydar alarm. Sam wiped some snot from his bulbous Armenian nose, making some lame excuse about allergies. Then he thumb-pointed over his shoulder to the dispatcher’s office-- Terry’s outgoing face-to-face with Jules, the depot manager. Probably a severance holo to thumbprint. At least Sheila gets some grocery credits for a few weeks.
Terry survived a lot of speed bumps just thinking about how lucky he’d got with Sheila. He loved her mischievous black eyes, dark hair, broad Italian ass and freckled Irish tits. And she could cook; oh-my-god.
Sheila was the only person that ever talked to Terry like he had a brain. And more than that, when he talked to her, she listened, and asked questions about things he didn’t even know he had feelings about until he met her. At breakfast, while he read the sports section, she read the front half of the e-paper to him-- the stuff that touched on their life together and what they cared about. When they first got married, the practice annoyed him. He mentioned it to her one morning. She walked around the table and whispered in his ear.
“I learned about it at night school. It’s called multi-tasking. Only motivated bright creative people can do it. That sounded like it had Terry Kozlowski written all over it.” He’d been multi-tasking at breakfast ever since.
Lately, before the layoffs were announced, she’d been telling him that OTTO (Object Transmission and Transport Organizer) was good for the world (the universe!), even if they had to make personal sacrifices. “Every innovation brings change. Obsolete old ways always give way to the new. The old has to change or die so the new can thrive.” That kind of stuff.
Assuming you could work things out for the good, it wasn’t the final change that he was having trouble with. It was the journey from the what-is-now to the what-would-eventually-be that troubled him. Change how? Sheila said her business psych teacher called that transition-stress. For the moment it looked like transition-stress meant hocking the new wall to wall holovid.
At the dispatcher’s office his 1029 credit severance allowance only netted him a 589 credit payout after taxes insurance, and, insult upon insults, a 120 credit dues payment to the Teamster Local 714. Of course Wally, the fat headed shop steward, was there with Jules, the depot manager. Terry put up a stink about the dues deduction.
“Chrise sakes, Wally, I’m getting laid off here. Doncha think I need that 120 credits more than the union? What good are dues if the Teamsters won’t even exist any more?”
Wally explained that Teamsters represented more than just truckers. “We even cover some government workers, now, Kozlowski,” he rasped in his gravelly smoke-cured east side accent. “Gotta look out for number one, amigo. Diversify or die.”
Well, jumpin’ Jesus H. Don’t that make me feel better already? “Jules, wha’ happen paison? Acme trucking fall asleep at the wheel? I bet OTTO’s takin’ down you and the boys in the big office too, huh? How’s it feel to be just another grunt like me?”
“Actually, we’ll be OK, Terry. Acme’s in the OTTO Consortium,” said Julius Walsh, shift manager at the Bridgeport depot. “But I understand your frustration. I wish there was more we could do for you. Acme bent over backwards to protect jobs, but it’s just one small part of the OTTO Consortium. Management is merging into the district ops center out in Berwyn. We’ll be closing the Bridgeport depot in a couple weeks. I’ve already started training for my new position.
“You could apply for one of the new jobs over there, Terry. I’d put in a good word for you. They’re looking for package acquisition tachyon signal installers.”
“Packy staller eeyon, wah?”
“Technician jobs. Kinda like holovid cable guys. They’re projecting about 11% labor retention in that job series.”
“Oh, great. Eleven percent. That’s what, maybe one in five teamsters, huh? So they’ll be like the handpicked skirt drivers the boss bones in the back room, and the ass-kissing knuckleheads who mow his old lady’s lawn on weekends?”
“It isn’t that way, Terry. It’s only one job in nine, but it’s a totally new job series. Completely competitive. Open hires. Non-union.”
“Ooo, non-union. That figures.” He looked at the union steward. “No, union? Eh, maybe the bosses and us drivers, we finally both got a way to cut you out, too, Wally.” Terry laughed a harpoon into Wally’s face. “No union, no dues. No dues, no stewards. Badabim badaboom. You might have to actually work for a living again, Wally. Give me my fricken 589 credits and let me outa here.”
“I love you, Koz.” Sheila stroked Terry’s marsmop as she sat on his lap. It had taken her all four weeks since the layoff to talk him into the new ‘do for the job interview.
“This haircut ain’t gettin’ me a new job,” said Terry.
“You’ve studied hard. I know you’ll do great.”
“Yeah. But what in flaming frick are tachyons? I wanna be a technician and I don’t even know what a tachyon looks like? Or where they come from?”
“It’s like radio waves, Koz. You don’t look at them. You just use them.” She grabbed his face between her hands. “Just like when you got satellite radio for our huv-car. You read the instructions. Install the antenna. Turn on the power. Push the buttons. Out pops atomic country rockablues.”
“I hate ACR.”
“You can do this.”
“Package acquisition tachyon signal installer,” he said haltingly. “You know how that’s spelled on the job application? PATSI. I’m applying to become a patsy. Helping to kill my own union and screw the little guy one more time for good old capitalism.”
“Stop that,” Sheila said. She slid off Terry’s lap and wagged a finger. “My husband is no kind of patsy. It’s not even spelled that way. You’re my hard working hero man. And in six or eight weeks you’re going to be Zeno slash Zena’s hard working hero daddio. Got that?”
“Got it,” he said, not really believing a word, but brightening his face and playing his role. “You got a hero’s breakfast to send me off to this interview with? Or do I gotta smash down the barriers to my new job on a empty stomach?”
“There were several parts to the test, as you recall, Mr. Kozlowski.” The interviewer was a tall four-hundred-year-old-looking skinny Black lady with one of the old style implants that you could actually see just in front of her ear. Her face had more wrinkles than an old shirt that had been on the bottom of the wash basket for six days. But she wore a prim blue business suit with a white silk blouse and a red, white and blue cravat bearing hundreds of the star-spangled OTTO logos. Her polished chrome name badge read De Etta Dorestead. Despite her looks, her voice was silky and warm, and her perfume was one of those new synthetic pheromone scents. Terry couldn’t believe how attractive his nose and ears were arguing with his eyes to believe she was.
“Yeah. I thought it was going to be all science. Was I glad to see the shapes and colors part.” Terry wiped his forehead.
“So, Mam, can we just do the last page? Did I get the job?”
“Mr. Kozlowski. May I call you Terrance?”
“Oh, Jeez. Koz or Terry. ‘Hey-You’ works if I got the job.”
“Terry, then. There’s good news and bad news.”
Here it comes. No lawn mowing merit badge, no job. Badabim badaboom.
“The math and science parts,” the lady said smiling, “they didn’t turn out so well.”
“Is that the good news or the bad news?” Terry said with a silly grin.
“I’m glad you have a sense of humor, Mr. Kozlowski.”
“Terry. Yes, well the good news is that the Consortium tries to provide special opportunities to veterans. I see you were in the Syrian war?”
“Yes, Mam. That’s where I perfected my trucking skills. I hauled nuke contamination from the Temple Mount after the Union of Islam hit Jerusalem. It was a real learning experience.”
“I’m sure it was. At any rate, your other aptitude tests scored well for a different job series that we’re also filling. Given your veteran’s status, and decontamination experience, I checked with management whether I could offer you one of those opportunities, despite your PATSI application.”
Opportunities? Other opportunities. Knock knock knock yourself out, De Etta. He nodded, cracked his knuckles and straightened in his chair.
“I hope that was okay with you, Terry? I’m sympathetic to your situation. My husband is a veteran too--the Alaskan Separatist Uprising.”
“That was a mess. Tough conditions.”
“Yes. He would agree. After coming home he was also a trucker for a few years before the layoffs, when the huge grav-lifts came in.
“I remember that. Dad lost his ride then too.” This lady seemed like a real person. Terry eased a little further back in his chair. He inhaled the cozy leather fragrance and noticed the contractor endorsement on De Etta’s ID tag. She’s a temp. That probably explains her attitude. She understands what a person goes through. She been tossed. I been tossed. Someone helped her. She helps me. Badabim badaboom.
“Yes, well. That layoff cost us our house. But Orvind went to night school and worked three part time jobs. He got a law degree and has worked in community action ever since. He and I do everything we can to help you folks laid off by OTTO.”
“Opportunity is what I’m here for. I need a job. I got a kid coming.”
“Wonderful. Well, here’s the position description.” She handed him a single printed page. Terry’s smile flattened.
“The Consortium calls it Facility Readiness Steward.”
“Yeah. I see that.”
“Mr. Kozlowski, we try to fashion all our positions as fully functional team...”
“I’ll take it.”
“You understand it has a probationary period,” she said. Terry watched her weigh his expression. She looked deeper into his eyes than he would have expected, as though she were trying to match every color and shape from his test scores to the palette of emotions that had splattered his face.
“And it’s the midnight to eight AM shift,” she finally said in a tone that sounded almost like a challenge.
“I’ll take it,” Terry said through his teeth.
“Note, the wage scale is less.”
Terry read the sheet again. It was half the technician wage, which was half his teamster pay. Then he saw some fine print that squeezed his spleen.
“What’s this special union fee? They said these were non-union jobs. Besides, I’m still a Teamster.” He fished his union card from his wallet.
“It’s confusing isn’t it. It’s how the Consortium arranged things with the government. The unions had to take what little they could get; they weren’t allowed in at the talks. Luckily a few sympathetic politicians kept the unions from being completely cut out. Since the janitorial, that is, readiness steward duties are similar to existing Teamster positions in other industries, that job series remained union.”
“Then why the fee? I’m still in the Union.”
“Yes. Well, these jobs are in a completely new industry. There are significant start up costs to structure representation. So they...”
“Never mind. When can I start?”
His third day on the job Terry was mopping the PATSI crew’s ladies room. It seemed silly, since so far they hadn’t hired a woman tech. The joke on the floor was that the Irish had dibs on these new PATSI technician slots and they were letting in Micks and Paddy’s but no Patsies. Ha ha, so funny I forgot to laugh.
Some male workers apparently used the ladies room to hang out. Every night there were candy wrappers and lunch bags to clean up, plus the usual male toilet grunge. He chalked it up as part of the never ending blue collar male rutting rituals he’d seen all his life at factories and loading docks-- guys marking territory. The stags were leaving valentines of urine stains, crotch hair, chewing gum and cigarette burns in anticipation of the does.
There were no urinals to clog with cigarette butts--they used the sinks instead. Smoking was making a comeback now that cigarettes delivered heart medicine and cancer preventatives with the smoke. More cigarettes; more grunge. More grunge; more janitors. Badabim badaboom.
Terry ducked into the utility closet at the back of the ladies room to organize his mop and bucket. He heard voices.
“You’ve seen how it all works,” said a gravelly middle aged neighborhood-voice.
“I know how my part works,” said a young southerner. “The vendors, they have these here round Teflon pads in their factories with them base reflectors and whatcha call ems?”
“Right. Field eliminators. So, they load stuff on the pads and our PATSI techs make the rounds every couple hours to program the TSEAs, the tachyon signal emitter arrays (we call ‘em teasers). They’s the little radio-sized gizmos stuck onto each load sittin’ on the pads. They clear the area around the pads fifteen minutes ahead of beam-out. That’s an OSHA safety rule. The stuff beams up to the moon and waits in one of the transition warehouses for the computer to beam back to the right earth coordinates when the rotation lines up.”
“That’s right,” the gravelly voice filled in. “And of course we have this central facility to train our technicians, and to provide the needs of transient shippers or the small time operators who don’t maintain warehousing suitable to the OTTO process.”
“They bring stuff here and use our Teflon pads and field eliminators,” said the southern kid. “’Course some stuff sits here a few extra days, since the ops managers like to consolidate loads to common beam-down points, and to have a full floor before scheduling beam-out time. And there’s a schedule for all the floor space down here to handle beam down into this warehouse too.”
“It’s too risky for us to try diverting a special package from one of the outlying factory warehouses,” the gravelly neighborhood-voice chimed in, “Transmission areas are empty for too little time to do anything there. But we got plenty time to tweak one of the teasers from here.”
An erudite sounding black man’s voice picked up the thread. He repeated parts of what he’d heard, making sure he understood. “The moon station locks Otto onto the signals from the TSEAs. Goods get beamed up and sit in Luna Station’s mega-warehouses. I’m told those warehouses are bigger than Soldier Field.” The group made a chorus of wows. “The packages sit on the moon,” the Black voice continued “until earth rotation optimizes transmission back down to each palette’s delivery coordinates.”
“Yup. It’s all line of sight. That’s why they built OTTO on the moon,” said the gravelly voice.
“You know, they’re supposed to be Mars-enabled next month,” said the Black man.
“We sure want to ring their tails before then,” said the Southerner.
“Exactly,” said the black gentleman. “At any rate, yesterday you said they do a quick inspection on arrival on the moon to insure nothing went wrong during beam up. That worried the strike team. They changed the original plan.” Concern crept onto the face of the listeners. “We have a new idea. All we really care about now is the beam-up itself. Our special package won’t beam into the moon warehouse. We want to blink in at the transmitter itself.”
“Do we have those coordinates?” asked the neighborhood voice. “What are we gonna use, C4 or something stronger? Who’s gonna get that stuff through security down here?”
Terry nearly fell out of the closet. Jumpin’ Jesus H., someone wants to sabotage OTTO.
“That’s covered,” said the black voice. “It’s the beauty of the new plan. We just alter the teaser coordinates so the package gets beamed into the Luna transmitter itself. When re-materialization occurs... well, two sets of matter can’t occupy the same space without an argument.”
“How y’all gonna change the beam-up coordinates?”
“Let’s just say we’ve got an in,” said the black voice again. “We’ve identified a couple sympathizers that can help us pull this off. It’ll have to happen on the midnight shift. Lots fewer people here. And it has to be an insider. If we weren’t supposedly meeting on union business tonight for the handful of jobs we kept, we couldn’t have gotten in here. We were supposed to meet one of them here tonight, but something must have gotten fouled up. We better get back to the office or folks are going to wonder where we disappeared to. I’ll check with my contact later and see what happened.”
“I didn’t know who else to talk to about this, Ms. Dorestead.”
“Mr. Kozlowski, I’m curious, why didn’t you take this to your shift supervisor?”
“I thought about that. But, these guys said they had insiders working with them. Since my shift foreman’s the only management I have contact with, I was worried. I mean he’s got lots of control over what comes and goes, who does what and all that. I thought... well, who knows. He might be the insider; you know what I mean? He’d have more chances to do stuff than a janitor, right?”
“The OTTO Consortium doesn’t have janitors, Mr. Kozlowski. Remember?” Ms. Dorestead said, tapping a stylus on her notepad.
“Sorry, Ms. Dorestead. Errr, stewardesses. I mean...”
“Facility Readiness Stewards?” As she asked the question one eyebrow raised itself slowly while the other eye was pinching half shut. As Terry continued, a wry twist gradually tugged at her lips.
“Facility Readiness Stewards,” said Terry, stammering, one word at a time. A long silence built as the burly ex-trucker peered into DeEtta Dorestead’s eyes. He adjusted his posture in the familiar leather chair and slid his gaze slowly from her eyes. First to the objects on her desk, then down to his shoes.
“How did you feel about what you overheard, Terry? May I call you Terry? You volunteered first name basis at your interview a few weeks ago. Call me Dee if you like.”
“Yes, Terry. Please, call me Dee.”
“OK. Well, Ms. Dee, I guess I was scared mostly. I didn’t know what they would do if they found me.”
“Didn’t you think it a little strange, Terry, that they met in one of your restrooms to conspire?”
“So to speak. I mean, they’d know that you make rounds at about that time. Wouldn’t you think?”
“I never thought about it that way.”
“Terry, how do you like being a janitor after,” she glanced at his file “after seventeen years as a long haul trucker?”
“But you just said we don’t call them...”
“Names aside, Terry, do you like what you do here? Do you feel energized at the beginning of your shift?” She did a little shoulder swagger to emphasize the question as she asked it.
“Well, I try to show a good attitude, if that’s what you mean.”
“And when you leave at night, aren’t you just bursting with pride to know that you’re part of something historic? Something that’s changing the world? Helping heal the planet? Reaching out to the solar system?”
“My wife, Sheila. She gives me encouragement.”
“Yes. You’re part of the team that’s opening the universe to space exploration in a way never anticipated, right? Think about it, Terry,” she said as she circled behind his chair sliding her hand gently over his shoulder. “So much less air pollution. No more need for rocket ships. Terra-forming other planets by just zapping air and water from comets or the moons of the gas giants. And pretty soon we’ll be moving to the stars, and other solar systems.
“All because of what we can do with OTTO. And we don’t need truckers or deck hands or pilots or... well, you see it, don’t you? You can tell your kids what you did to make it all happen.”
Terry watched her say this, as much as listened. She made expansive gestures with her hands as she talked, and almost seemed to be drawing with an eraser instead of the chalk. And her last statement was like the screech of fingernails on the black board.
“Tell my kids I’m a janitor?”
“Ah, ah, ah.” She wagged her finger at him as she stepped in front of his chair.
“Facilities Readiness--but wait. You were the one who just said janitor.”
“So, you are proud of what you do?”
“Proud?” Confusion and rage squeezed his heart.
“Yes. Your contribution to the advancement of humanity.”
“I hate it!” He startled himself even as he said it. “I’m sorry to shout. But I never understood why they didn’t plan it better. Why did they have to put so many of us out of work?”
“Why do you suppose those men were meeting in your ladies room, Terry?”
“Because they knew it would be empty, I suppose.”
“But they knew you would be there. Or at least that a janitor might be there.”
Terry’s eyes widened.“They were looking for me?” Then it hit him. “No. No. You. You sent them to look for me.”
“I knew the shapes and colors would fall into place for you, Terry. You have quite the aptitude for seeing patterns. Did I ever tell you that you were the only applicant who made a perfect score on the PATSI programming protocols?”
“What? But you said...”
“Well, the test also has a time component. You took a few minutes longer than the hiring criteria. But you have an exceptional ability to learn and follow instructions. You gave the right answers to even the most difficult programming scenarios. When I told Orvind about you and your scores, family connection to the Teamsters and all, he became very hopeful.”
“The black gentleman’s voice. That was your husband, wasn’t it?”
“And the putzy sounding guy. I thought I recognized that voice. That’s Wally.”
“Terry, you’re every bit as perceptive as I thought you’d be. That’s a nice trait in a man whose beautiful wife is expecting.”
Terry wasn’t sure what to do with that compliment.
“We want you to help us, Terry. Help us to help labor everywhere. And, of course that will mean helping Sheila and Zeno in the long run.”
“How did you know that name?”
“You have health insurance, Terry. They use computers. Zeno’s name came off the ultrasound. But Terry, what we really want is people who want to help, not ones we have to coerce.”
“You want me to help sabotage OTTO?”
“Terry, we want you to man the picket line and rough up a scab. This scab took away a million US jobs last month. This time the scab’s a machine. The biggest, most expensive machine ever built.”
“But this is terrorism.”
“One man’s terrorism is another’s Concorde Bridge.”
“How about the Battle of the Viaduct or the Haymarket Riot, right here in Chicago, back in the 1800s?”
“1800s? I never heard of them.”
“Riots, vandalism, civil disobedience, bombings, war. A lot of tough things have been done to bring justice to this world.”
“Violence? Serious violence?”
“When you’re powerless, you do what it takes to get the attention of the powerful. To protect yourself. To make the workplace less dangerous. To keep hard working guys like you and Wally in safe good jobs. To embrace the worker’s side of capitalism without surrendering to slavery.”
“Did you ever hear of Joe Hill or the Molly MaGuires?”
Terry shook his head.
“They knew what murder really meant, and how it differed from self defense. When the other side doesn’t play straight, sometimes you’ve got to bend some rules too. Point is, Terry, we weren’t even given a place at the table when OTTO was negotiated. We’re just applying the proverbial two by four to the side of the head to restart the process.”
“Listen, this is too big,” Terry got up from his chair and walked around the imposing dark woman, waving his hands in confused strokes. “I’ve knucklebusted once or twice for the union, but this is different. I’m no killer.”
“Killing? Murder? Is that what you’re thinking? Listen, Terry, that’s the beauty of this whole thing. This is all about a big machine. It’s isolated, and its operation is almost completely remote control. We can do this without hurting a living soul. Just scorch some pocket books and dent the timetables of a few financial empires.”
“The Genie’s out of the bottle,” Terry said. “You know they’ll just fix it, or build a new one.”
“We expect that. But it will take time. And they won’t want to risk a second incident once they’ve been sensitized. Once they’ve been reminded about fairness. You’re a third generation Teamster, Terry. You think your father and grandfather never did a little property damage to keep food on the table and give you a good life?”
“Fourth generation,” said Terry. “Dziadzia’s pa was a driver, too. He came here right after the old Russian thing failed.”
“Will you help us, Terry?”
“Do you know what you’re asking? Do you know how big the Feds are gonna jump on this when it goes down? What you gonna do if I don’t help?”
“If you keep this to yourself we won’t do anything.”
“But if you hurt someone. Kill someone.” He paused, turned in a circle. “No, I can’t. I go to church, Ms. Dee. I can’t kill nobody.”
“Then help us, so no one gets hurt. No one.”
“You’re mixing me up. I gotta think.”
“Three days, Terry. Or we’ll have to find someone less capable. One flub and maybe someone will get hurt.”
“It’s not just homicide, Koz. People’s livelihoods will be smashed if OTTO is sabotaged,” said Sheila.
“What the hell do you think happened to people’s livelihoods when they built OTTO?” said Terry, slapping his hand hard enough on the table to spill coffee from his cup. Sheila grabbed her abdomen. Terry’s voice had reached into Zeno’s universe too; he started kicking.
“You’re our hero man, Koz.” Said Sheila. “There’s big good and big wrong. A hero man might do some little wrong for a big good. But a big wrong only brings more wrong. You need to tell someone. You tell someone or I will.”
“No!” Terry sprang out of his chair like Jumpin’ Jesus H. “You can’t do that. These union guys aren’t playing around, Sheila. They told me. If we don’t want harm comin’ our way, we gotta keep our traps shut.”
Sheila’s twisted face melted into tears. She raked her hair with her hands and sobbed. Terry, put his arms around her and leaned back against the kitchen sink. His tears joined hers.
“Trust me,” he said, finally. “I’ll think of something.”
When Terry opened the door to his janitor’s closet in the ladies restroom, there was a sticky note on the flat face of his dust pan. Thirty two numbers in four rows, each row followed by a color, followed by a fifth line of nine letters and numbers. That was it. The last row was the package ID, the four color-coded rows were the new teaser coordinates.
This night’s beam-out was scheduled to happen just before the end of his shift. He grabbed a couple things from the shelf of his closet and stuffed them into his coveralls, along with his sticky note.
Terry, played janitor all night--doing the best he could to keep his stomach from turning inside out. If you weren’t properly positioned on a field de-limiter and wrapped in OTTO’s high tech packing material when they powered up the beam, you’d materialize on the moon looking like wilted bacon on a grease smeared paper towel after microwaving.
When the time came, the warehouse high intensity beacons began flashing their warnings, and the robot voice counted down to the beam-out event. Terry’s heart rate doubled. Did the cleaning team plant the coffee cup up in the rafters as planned? Would the trick work? Was there enough time?
At minus-three minutes Terry walked to the door frame of his janitor’s hut overlooking the shipping floor. He searched for the nearly invisible bit of black thread dangling from the heights above. Where is it? Seconds passed. The security guard on his perch high above the warehouse floor was looking at him. No one was supposed to walk onto the shipping floor during a beam out.
The thread wafted like a spider web responding to the flap of a butterfly wing. It was just enough movement to catch Terry’s eye. The security guard had turned away. Terry reached for the thread, making the movement look like an adjustment to his cap. He tried to avoid looking at the security cameras that recorded the movement of every fly speck inside the warehouse.
The delicate tension was transferred high above to a girder over the warehouse floor. A paper coffee cup fell from the girder, splashing on the heavy plastic wrapping of the designated package and the floor around it. Terry sighed in relief at the same time that his skin rippled with apprehension. A two sided coin of terror clinked into the tinny space inside his head. Before he even realized it was happening, his feet had begun to move.
Terry got into character and began his dumb janitor act, walking to the package with a rag and a small cloth bag--to clean up the package. I was just cleaning up soze nothin’ would go wrong. That would be his story, and he was sticking with it. He told Orvind that if an investigation took place they could suggest that coffee must have leaked into the teaser unit, shorted the electronics, altered the beam-up coordinates. Coffee left by one of the structure maintenance guys-- one of the girder monkeys. An accident.
Terry sashayed to the package, making sure he swept the dangling bit of thread along with his foot as he walked. A second security guard had already stepped from his observation cage high in the rafters to yell at him. Terry waved stupidly up at the man.
“It’s okay. I’ll just wipe it down. Won’t take more than a few seconds.”
He walked to the package and tripped on the edge of the field delimiter pad, nearly twisting his ankle. He looked back up at the guard, waving another okay, wanting to cry, but instead forcing an inane chuckle. He picked up the paper coffee cup and loop of thread in a single motion then stuffed them into the trash bag on his belt. He pulled a clean shop rag from his rear pocket and swabbed the smooth heavy plastic cover, walking in a slow arc around the package, wiping as he went, like a windshield panhandler at a stop light on Lakeshore Drive. Why did the dumb girder monkey put so much coffee in the cup? The strobes accelerated and the robot voice said two minutes. He waved again at the security guy who was gesturing wildly with his arms to get the eff outa there.
Terry smiled and nodded as he passed to the side of the package out of the guard’s view. He leaned his back against the huge object and took a deep breath to steady his nerves, inhaling the staticky plastic smell of the high tech stretch wrap that held together the pile of boxes. He slid a sticky note from his pocket and set it on the plastic with his other gear next to the teaser unit and went to work, doing what he had taken this risk to do. Hero man work, he thought to himself. His hands shook, fumbling with the important setting mechanism. No big wrong.
The klaxon sounded again. The strobe became a red, white, and blue tri-color and the robot voice said one minute. As Terry came back out from behind the package the apoplectic security guard had just started heading for the master shut down panel.
“It’s OK,” Terry yelled up to him, waving cordially. “I got her all cleaned up.”
“Get the fuck away, you dumb ass!” the guard yelled down.
“No worries,” said Terry, stupidly, as he sauntered back to his shielded work hut, just off the warehouse floor. Once inside, his knees nearly collapsed. Dark patches of sweat had soaked through to his coveralls. He mopped his face with his sleeve as he stood at his window and watched a hundred and eighty three palettes of materiel fuzz into transparency then vanish. He didn’t know whether to smile or scream as he thought of the surprise awaiting the scant moon crew.
The eight AM buzzer sounded. Terry grabbed his lunch box, walked to his locker, quickly shed his coveralls and sprinted to the parking lot. In the huv-car he shook his head as he looked at the satellite radio tuner. He punched the button and cringed as tinny ACR came twanging out of the eight tuned speakers.
It was a Friday, the last day of his shift, so he would stay awake this morning with Sheila until it was time for her first class just before noon. This was her last semester. It was a race to see if she got her diploma or Zeno’s birth certificate first. When he walked in the door he was met by the aroma of fresh coffee, eggs, toast and bacon.
“How’s my hero man?” Sheila purred tentatively, not willing to risk a look at his face.
“Everything go OK?”
“Everything went fine.”
Terry didn’t answer her. Instead he walked to the counter where she was pulling the pot from the coffee maker. He wrapped his arms around her, holding her enormous belly and nuzzling her cheek with his end-of-the-shift sandpaper face. He was rewarded with a little twiddle under the skin as Zeno said hello with his feet.
“No great wrong,” he said. “In fact, no wrong at all.”
They had a leisurely breakfast. Sheila was just donning her shoulder pack to head out for class, when several hard knocks rapped the front door. Insistently, the knocks came again in close order.
Terry looked at Sheila. They didn’t speak a word. They walked toward one another with knowing resignation draped across their faces. They hugged. Terry opened the door. Three Homeland Security agents asked for his ID. He gave it to them and they handcuffed him escorted him away in a dark grey Huv-Suburban.
A week later to the hour, Terry appeared at the front door of their apartment. His face was gaunt and he walked slumped forward like a man who had just crossed a desert on foot without water. He wore the same clothes he had left in, wreaking of perspiration and fear. He needed a bath, a shave and sleep.
Information leaks had raised speculation all week across all the major news outlets. There were fleeting vid feeds of people being escorted to the various offices of the Justice Department, the FBI and Homeland Security. Sheila had seen Terry, Wally, and a half dozen other “persons of interest” identified only as union sympathizers who had been involved in previous demonstrations against the OTTO Consortium.
From the minute Terry stepped from the shower after his long nap Sheila was all questions. But Terry had stayed tight lipped whenever her questions touched on anything substantive. He just kept telling her to hold him. To be patient, to be hopeful things would sort themselves out. To enjoy the time they had together while they had it, in case worse came to worse. It wasn’t the most satisfying set of answers, but they got them through the drizzling weekend, watching sitcom re-runs and Bears football and postgame analysis. Terry commanded the remote, jumping past news channels as they surfed for distraction from their anxiety.
Sunday night Terry and Sheila were lounging on their vat-leather grav-buffer sofa, glued to the holo-screen, watching a documentary on Alaskan Reunification followed ironically by the holo-vid remake of Gone With the Wind. Scarlet had just begun flirting with Ashley Wilkes when the program was interrupted for a newsflash. The local reporter who was giving the set up for the national news feed explained there had been rumors all week about some major incident on the moon. It had just been announced that the President would address the nation shortly. The holo cut away abruptly from the reporter, replacing his simulacrum with that of the President’s; he sat behind his ornate desk in the Oval Office, and after a few seconds he spoke.
“As you no doubt have been hearing in the news this week,” the President said “we are dealing with the ramifications of an incident that occurred about a week ago at the OTTO facility on Luna Base.”
“I thought you said...”
“Shhh.” Terry cut off Sheila’s question, nearly laughing. “I want to hear this.”
“I am happy to report to you,” The President continued “that the story is as much about what did not happen as it is about what did happen. And what did not happen is a story of phenomenal, and I must say, unusual heroics.”
“An object, that was not supposed to be transported, was beamed up during a standard OTTO uplifting a week ago Friday. More importantly, it was beamed up, along with a large palette of material that had been intended for use as a weapon against OTTO’s Luna facility. After an exhaustive investigation this past week, OTTO and government agents have determined what we believe are the essential facts surrounding this incident. Because of the courageous intervention of one person, no harm was done. That unauthorized object, and a rather long explanatory note that came with it, are sitting here now on my desk--beamed back to earth this morning and brought to me at the White House.”
As the camera slowly panned back from The President’s face, the object came into view. Sheila burst out laughing. She turned to Terry and slapped his chest as her hilarity went into overdrive. Sitting on the President’s desk was Jumpin Jesus H, head bobbling at the camera.
“The note accompanying this messenger...” At this point The President himself gave in to a short wave of laughter. He resumed. “The note accompanying this messenger made it clear that disaster had been averted, by a lone citizen, keeping his promise to his wife in order to be, and I quote, “her hero man.” The note contained coordinates that would have beamed the package directly into the transmitter itself, destroying...”
“Terry. Terry!” Sheila had stopped laughing and was screaming now. She was holding her belly as a warm damp pool spread across the seat of the couch.
At the same time the doorbell rang. Sheila shrieked and then waved to Terry frantically to get the door, but made a face that could only be interpreted as saying hurry, get rid of them, and get me to the hospital. When Terry opened the door he could not believe his eyes or ears.
“Mr. Terrance Kozlowski?”
“Secret Service,” said a dark suited iron scaffolding of a man as he held an identi-badge toward Terry.
“Am I in trouble?” asked Terry.
“I suppose that depends on with whom,” said the Fed. “Not with us. At least not so far. But we’ve been asked to bring you to the White House.”
“The White House?”
“The President wants to ask a favor of you.”
“Favor... of me?” Terry heard another shriek from Sheila.
Another, older, gentleman stepped from behind the iron suits. Terry recognized him immediately: Stanley LaFollett, the Secretary of Labor. “It seems he wants you to sit on a negotiation panel,” said LaFollett.
“Me?” said Terry.
“Yes, with representatives of the OTTO Consortium and several labor unions. It seems the President was impressed with your initiative, heroism and what he called your unvarnished honesty, all of which he wishes to put to use for the best interest of the nation.”
Sheila shrieked again, walking awkwardly toward a closet where she began yanking out a pre-packed roller suitcase.
Understanding washed across Terry’s face. “I tell you what,” Terry said. “Have you got a car with sirens and lights?”
“Sure,” the Secret Service man said with a puzzled look.
“Good. Here’s the deal,” said Terry. “The President wants a favor from me. I want a favor from you. You want me to go to DC. Sheila wants to go to the Hospital. You help Sheila and me. I help the President. Badabim Badaboom.”