I gather from your maunderings that you must be in Newark now, pulling some little ruse on Maude. You walk down the an exit ramp until she disappears, then double back and catch a ride on the same route you were on. A gleaming, glamorized 18-wheeler, “Darlene” airbrushed on the door, stops to pick you up. You climb aboard and find yourself in a real posh setup; leather seats and door panels, and wood veneer on a dashboard arrayed with electronics. It seems more like a Rolls Royce than a working woman’s cargo hauler, and the lady in the driver’s seat introduces herself as Darlene. She has a face that suits a woman for her soul’s screen and long luxuriant hair like yours. She’s dressed in camo coveralls from the Army Navy store, you write, and then you show what a snob you are, saying she seems more out of place ensconced in Connolly leather seats than behind the wheel of a Mack Truck.
“This is quite a rig,” you say, once you’ve gotten acquainted.
“Keeps me comfy on the road.”
You look at the stuff on the dashboard. “That a scanner?” you ask.
“Yep. Sure is.”
“That pick up the police band?”
“Why would you want to know that?” she demands.
“There was a bust, up on the Skyway, helicopters, police convoy. Seemed like it was a big deal.”
“I think I did hear some of that chatter. Wasn’t much to it though, just a lot of positioning data.”
“I was caught in the middle of it and I’d like to know more about it.”
“You don’t say. Have a look at my laptop, then,” Darlene says.
You look around for the laptop.
“Just push that blue button there,” Darlene says, “it’ll slide out of the dock for you.”
“Lady who picked me up at the tunnel seemed to know a lot about it. You should have seen her watching them take that guy away.”
“You think she had something to with it?”
“Hard to tell,” you say, “but she raised my downy hairs.”
You push the button. The computer slides out on a robot arm that holds it solidly in front of you. You turn it on and wait for it to boot.
“Fucking A! What a setup. Do all the drivers get this treatment?”
“No, just me and my dad. We run the business from the road.”
“There you go,” Darlene says, “Just google in ‘police blotter’ and take your pick of jurisdictions.”
“Damn, nothing on it yet. Seems they’re several days behind.”
“Tell you what, I’ve got an even better idea, you think she’s all that suspicious, send a note to crime stoppers. They keep informants confidential.”
You find the website and start writing. I hitched a ride out of… said her name was Maude Barker… Alabama plate number… seemed like it added up to no good.
You finish typing and hit send.
“There, that does it. Thanks, Darlene.”
“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Darlene says, “if you need some cash for the road, I’d be glad to have your help today.”
“What kind of help are we talking about?”
“You know how to use a pneumatic wrench?” she asks.
“No, but I’m pretty handy with tools.”
“Nothing to it, then,” she says. “You’ll do fine. All you do is loosen the bolts. The forklifts will do the rest.”
“Telephone, call Dad,” she says. It seems to be voice activated, maybe through the computer.
“Hi, it’s me, Darlene, you there yet? I’m about an hour away. Listen, no need to go by the labor pool, I’ve got someone who can give us a hand. See you when you get there.”
A picket line is outside the gates when you get to the shut-down plant. The signs the picketers carry say: Don’t take our jobs! The people are peaceful but the mood is tense and it’s clear they won’t let anyone past the plant gate.
“Telephone, call Dad,” Darlene says once more. “Hi, it’s me again, we’re at the plant but the gates are blocked. Someone tipped the workers off. I’ll call Jeff and have him call the Sheriff’s office.”
Darlene turns to you and says, “You’re not from a union family, are you?”
“No, but I can see why some people are.”
“Yeah, well, you may be right, looking at things from their perspective. But we don’t see it that way. Do you?”
“How do you see it?” you ask.
“To us it’s creative destruction. We’re clearing the arteries, so to speak, of whatever slows the circulation. Keeps the body healthy, you know.”
“So we’re here to tear up the plant. Is that what you’re talking about?”
“You got a problem with that?” she asks.
“I might if didn’t need the work. But a body’s got to eat.”
“That’s the spirit, girl. Cuz once the Sheriff’s Department comes things are gonna get real dicey.”
“We’re not gonna stick around for that, are we?”
“No way, we’re outta here,” she says. “Just as soon as I call Jeff. Then, I’ll take you to lunch. Sound good?”
The truck stop lunch is nothing special, but Darlene seems to relish it like comfort food from childhood. Her talk is a revelation, you write, just like your diary, in ways you didn’t suspect, I guess. She’s proud of her accomplishments and seems to like having her brains picked. You’re on them like a zombie, too. It seems what Maude was talking about — gutting the economy for profit — is exactly what Darlene does. Hearing her talk about how it’s done, it’s clear why she asked about union ties.
“How did a famous brand like that end up going bankrupt?” You ask.
“I don’t know the ins and outs of this particular case, but the way it usually works… The firm that buys the company sees it has a lot of cash, a large pension fund, and a bargain basement stock. You with me?”
“Yeah. Sounds like a good investment.”
“Exactly. But the company’s not going anywhere. That’s why the stock is cheap. So, they borrow the money to buy it out. They get control of the cash and the fund. Then they cut expenses, and use the increased cash flow to pay off the debt. Once they’ve gotten their desired return they can either resell it, or liquidate the assets.”
“So they’re taking loans from one group of people,” you say, “and labor from another group to get their hands on some easy money – ”
“You got a problem with that?”
“I would if they weren’t paying taxes, and talking about how hard they work, and all the jobs that they create. So where do you come in?”
“We buy up all the machinery, and sell it overseas at a tidy profit.”
“How do you get to bid on that?” you ask.
“My brother and I have the inside track. He works in private equity, and I was at Lehman before it folded.”
“And the people who work there?”
“At Lehman?” she says. “They -”
“No, the ones at the plant. What about them?”
“My dad was just a teamster before we got into this business. Had nothing but his tractor and his work ethic. Now, two years later, he’s a millionaire. If he can do it, so can they. Anyway it’s time to go. We have to meet him at the plant.”
Blood, stones, and broken pickets are all that remain of the protest. The gates are open and a fleet of trucks can be seen inside. Josie’s rig rolls over the litter as she makes her way to the plant. You wonder why people’s heads were broken to allow some Wall Street bandits to strip a community asset, but you go with her anyway because you need the money.
The plant is huge. A lot of work, but nothing to it, really. You apply the pneumatic wrench to the bolts and let it do the work for you. You build a good lead on the forklifts before you run to take a break.
You’re washing up when you hear the sounds. The racket of a million birds abruptly taking flight. The muffled cries and shouts. Some in English. Some in another tongue. Occasional plunks of lead on steel. Silent guns in massacre raging. Cries and groans of men dying. There’s nothing you can do about it. Knowing you can’t make noise, you back into the toilet stall and crouch atop the seat. You hear footsteps coming closer, slow steps, painful steps, one foot dragging behind the other. The light. They’ll come. They’ll see the light. You pull out your knife, step down, step out. You douse the light. Foreign voices. Ugly voices. Ugly laughter. Coming closer. Another shout. A heavy thud. Dead weight striking against a door you had to pull to open. Maybe that will keep them out. Small shocks one after another. One just outside the door. Just for good measure. Footsteps running. Engines revving. Wheels spinning. Then dead silence. Gone.
You set your back against the wall and push the door with all the strength a woman’s legs can muster. The dead weight slides away. You look about. Machinery. You listen. Not a sound. You step past the body, careful to avoid the blood. You wonder if he knew you were there. You wonder if he ran for the door, thinking it might save your life were he to fall in front of it. You keep low, moving among the machines. Among the dead, but around the blood, like you must have seen such scenes before but you say not a word about it. You find Darlene’s torso. Headless. They came for Darlene’s head? Why would they do that? Or was it mine they wanted? Was it Maude that wanted it? How did she find me out so soon? How did she send them in so fast? How far does this go? Will she know it wasn’t me? Will she come for me again? You do your best to keep a cool head as the paranoid questions multiply. You need an explanation. You tell yourself, no need to panic. They’re gone. They won’t be back. Should I find a phone and call it in? What if Maude finds out again? You decide it’s better to walk away. But your stuff is still in Darlene’s truck and you need to get it out.
You rifle the torso’s pockets for keys, then head out to the loading dock, take what’s yours plus most of the cash, leaving some behind, so it doesn’t look like a robbery. To make doubly sure, you put the wallet back in her purse, put the purse under the seat, lock the door and return inside. You put the keys to the torso’s pocket, wash your hands in the men’s room, check your coveralls for stains, and only then do you lift your pack, shoulder it, and go.