The dawn followed me to work. Oranges and reds pushed out from the horizon, chasing the night to the west. With the sun brought the start to the first Friday in June. Fridays were usually my favorite day. It being the last day of the work week, people were less inclined to be stupid on the job as other days. No one wanted to ruin their own weekend with trips to the emergency room or having to show up on Saturday to fix what got fucked up the day before. Some days, I thought being a construction superintendent was a fancy way of saying I babysat grown adults. On this job, it felt a lot like that.
Which wasn’t fair.
Of fifteen laborers and carpenters on my crew, fourteen were true craftsmen. Well, craftspeople, because a few of the boots were filled by female feet, but the point is they had the skills, work ethic, and personal commitment to quality that made me proud each and every day.
But it was the fifteenth person I couldn’t get out of my mind as I turned onto the road leading to the construction site. Dexter Green. The carpenter foreman had skills, there was no denying it. There didn’t seem to be a structure he couldn’t build, a design he couldn’t improve. There was just one problem.
Dexter Green was an asshole.
Dex rode people hard, just because he could. He saw it as a right earned with twenty years of sweat equity. He seemed to get off on frustrating people. The more miserable his team was, the happier he was.
The project was on the verge on losing good team members because no one with any sense wanted to work with an asshole and, with the way the labor market was, they didn’t have to. Even the salaried staff avoided the man. The project engineer, a young kid who still only needed to shave once a week, would walk the long way around the construction site to avoid being seen by Dex, who would inevitably make a comment.
It wouldn’t be the witty kind that built a group of individuals into a team.
It would be the derisive kind that bifurcated, separated, and all together tore teams apart.
Yesterday, I was checking on the latest concrete pour when I heard Green dismantling the ego of a carpenter. Dexter’s target was out of his apprenticeship, but just barely. He had a ready smile, good instincts, and a strong work ethic. People welcomed him on their team.
That is, all people except Dexter.
I stepped in front of the kid and gave Dexter the tongue lashing I should have given him a month ago. I hadn’t thought about Dex being twenty-some years younger than my sixty-four. I hadn’t thought about what could have happened if the asshole decided to act like an asshole and take it to blows.
Nope. I called the man out because it was the right thing to do.
Lots of people talk about being a leader these days, but few are willing to stand up when an man like Dexter decided the only way he could stand taller was by cutting other people off at the knees. Or the balls if he was really feeling mean.
I didn’t regret what I’d done yesterday. Not one word. But I wasn’t looking forward to finishing the discussion this morning. Hell, there were a lot more things I’d rather do than go another round with Dexter.
It took too much energy.
Fridays were supposed to be easy.
That was a rule. If it wasn’t written down somewhere, well, it is now. Only good things happen on Friday.
I pulled into the construction drive and up to the gate. It was open. Most days, I was the first on site. I liked the quiet that came before the controlled chaos. I wasn’t the only one and I hoped whoever beat me in had the civility to put a pot of coffee on.
That would be a good start to a Friday.
Maybe even another rule.
First in, start the damn coffee. Whether you drink it or not.
A pick-up truck was rolling toward me, someone was ending their day while I hadn’t gotten started. The driver’s window was down, a man’s arm hung out, enjoying the morning air. It raised in a friendly wave as we started to pass. I did the same.
Civility. That’s what I’ve been talking about. It doesn’t take much. A wave. A how-ya-doing. That’s all it takes to make any day a good day.
The gravel of the construction laydown area had been tamped down by months of pickups trucks and heavy equipment running over it. The stone was quiet under my tires as I wound my way back to the trailers. A triple-wide in the company colors was the home office for the twenty-four month project. The double-wide next door was for the engineers and inspectors who worked the job. Like most places, people fell into a habit of parking in the same spot. On this site, there weren’t parking spaces, let alone assignments, but everyone had their favorites, and I was no exception. My spot was on the edge of the laydown area, where I backed in under the long reach of the trees. It helped keep my truck cool and made for a nice place to take a break.
There were two cars backed in already. The project manager, Tim, another early birder, was in his spot. I grinned, knowing coffee would be brewing.
The other car belonged to Dexter Green.
Well, best to get the bad out of the way early.
I swung the truck around, preparing to back in. In my head, I could hear Green’s rants.
“I have every right to decide how to manage my crew…discipline is what gets results…none of your business…undermined my authority…I quit.”
Well, that made me smile as I put the truck in reverse.
Yeah, I’d listen to the blimp let out all that hot air if it ended with resignation.
There wouldn’t be no unemployment check rewarding the man for treating people poorly.
There would be a little note added to his employment record: Do Not Rehire.
Why, that would be the epitome of Rule #1, because with Dexter Green gone, everyone was going to have a good Friday, even if we were a man down.
The pickup rocked as I drove over a tree branch. I hadn’t seen it when he swung the truck around, but it wasn’t the first time. It’s a consequence of parking on the edge of a grove. Newton had his apple. I have branches.
I’d rather have them than not, so it’s all good.
I got out and went around to get my lunch cooler and gear from the passenger side. The branch I’d run over stuck out by a foot, that is by two feet, and those feet were wearing boots.
“What the hell?” My knees aren’t as flexible as they used to be. I pulled my phone out and called Tim while I slid down the truck.
“Hey, Hippy, what’s going on.”
“Need you outside,” I said. “Looks like I ran over someone.”
“You what?!? Hold on, I’m on my way.” Tim must have run because I heard him through the phone and across the yard at the same time.
On the ground now, I peered under my truck. Well, you can probably guess who it was.
So much for Rule #1.
“Dex? You all right under there?” The man was rolling his head side to side. He wasn’t dead, at least that was something.
“Who is it?” Tim asked.
“Dexter,” I said, kneeling back. “I have no idea how this happened.”
Tim had his phone on speaker and was dialing. “How are we going to get him out? I guess we can—”
“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”
While Tim gave the woman the details, I bent back down to the ground. “We have help coming, Dex.”
He was on his stomach, the undercarriage of the truck cleared the back of his head by a few inches. He didn’t seem to notice as he pulled himself to his elbows. He hit his head and dropped back down.
“Just stay put, Dex. Seriously, there’s a truck over you.”
He didn’t listen. The stubborn man was trying to army crawl out from under the truck. I was afraid to grab onto his legs, seeing how I’d just run over them. An inch at a time, he pulled them under the truck.
“What’s going on,” Tim asked.
“He’s trying to crawl his way out,” I told him.
“Well, tell him to stop. We got help on the way.”
“I did tell him to stop, but he’s not listening.” I used the quarterpanel to help climb to my feet. Then Tim and I went to the other side. Dexter was breaking the line of the truck.
“Dexter, stop moving,” Tim told him. “Help is only minutes away.”
Dexter still didn’t listen. He kept coming forward, his elbows and forearms gripping the stone covered ground. His eyes looked straight ahead. Blood was coming to the surface in the cuts on the left side of his face. Small rocks were stuck in the same.
Tim and I kept telling him to stay still but we were wasting breath.
At this point, I’m not sure he was hearing us.
Dexter pulled his hips clear, his thighs, then his knees. He rolled to his back. Tim and I were on our knees already. Tim put his hand on his chest, keeping him from sitting up.
“You listen this time, Dex. Stay still,” Tim told him.
“I’m right here Dex.” I caught the hand he waved around. His eyes had a wild look about them and his breathing was too hard, too fast.
A siren sounded in the distance.
“Just a few more minutes. Don’t move,” Tim ordered.
“Hippy…” Dex rolled his head toward Tim. “Couldn’t stop him…killed me. He…killed me.”
I looked at Tim. Tim looked at me.
Neither of us said anything because what was there to say? My truck was sitting on top of the man.
Tim shook his head. “You aren’t dead, Dex. You hear that? The ambulance will be here in a minute. Sixty seconds.”
Dexter gasped, his entire body going board stiff.
“He’s seizing,” I said, stripping off my hi-vis vest and rolling it into a pillow. I shoved it under his head, trying to give some cushion to the rock.
The sirens were loud enough to be next door. Tim was on his feet, hustling off toward entrance. Dexter’s arms were off the ground, locked straight, his hands balled into fists. His legs were doing the same, from his hips to the middle of his shins. His feet and ankles were still on the ground, thanks to the unnatural break.
The paramedics ran in. I stood up and stepped back, giving them room to work.
They worked and they worked, but Dexter didn’t get any better.
I called Teresa, my wife. She answered on the second ring. “This is unusual,” she said. “Is it good news or bad news.”
It was hard to talk with the lump in my throat, but she was my wife of over forty years. She deserved to hear the truth from me. “Teresa, I killed a man.”
She gasped. “That can’t be right. What happened?”
I told her. It felt like days ago, not minutes.
“Where did he come from?” she asked. “If he was standing there, you would have seen him. There has to be more to it.”
I wished there was. I really did. “There isn’t it. Do you remember what I said I would do, if I ever killed a man?”
“That was all talk,” she said quickly. “You aren’t thinking straight. How could you right now. You need to just sit down and let things work through.”
She made it sound so easy.
And maybe it was. But I wasn’t ready for it.
“I killed a man. There’s no way out. I might not have intended to, but I did it. They’re going to put me away for a long time. A man can only get one life sentence, so before I go, I’m going to do a little cleaning up.”
“Hippy, no. Just, just stop and think.”
“I love you,” I said, meaning it. I felt it so much, my chest ached. “I’ll call you when I can.”
“Hippy, you stubborn—”
Merry Christmas, Josh. Godspeed.
If you aren’t Josh, leave a comment for the deployed Sergeant to wish him and all of C Company 1 a Merry Christmas. Even if it isn’t Christmas when you read this.
No trees were harmed in the telling of this episode. Only Dexter, and that’s okay, ’cause he’s an asshole.
Cover image: Copyright: anko