I left St. Francisville, Louisiana with a full belly thanks to Anne Butler and the Butler Greenwood Plantation B&B. I didn’t stick around for the fallout from the night before. Those children in adult clothes were someone else’s problem. I had my own occupying my mind. I headed north and east, avoiding the interstates for the back roads that were a hell of a lot more interesting and safer. The hills and valleys, curves and turns were the reason I would always pick a bike over a cage.
But I digress.
If you’ve been with me for a while, you know that this solo run began with me ending the life of an asshole. Like I said, it’s not a judgement, it’s a fact. Dexter Green made himself bigger by stepping on people, grinding them down until they saw themselves as the gum stuck to his shoe. I’d been thinking on tactics to get him to adjust his style, how to get it through his head that you don’t build a team by knocking heads together when I pulled onto the job site. Our company, like most good construction companies, required us to back in.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Board crash data for 2018 showed there were 200,000 accidents where the vehicle at fault was backing up. Another 44,000 accidents were from leaving a parking space and 22,000 from entering a parking space. Easy to see why insurance companies and others who have to pay for the accidents like the first motion to be forward. For parking in a perpendicular space, that means pulling through or backing in.
In the spirit of full disclosure, the #1 crash vehicle maneuver was going straight. Nearly 5.4 million accidents with over 27,000 fatalities happened when people weren’t doing anything fancy.
Why aren’t the money people addressing that? Well, they are. What do you think all of the PSAs for driving sober and not texting and driving are for?
Beyond that? Well, you can’t fix stupid.
That’s why when I’m riding, I have to watch everywhere.
Where am I going with all this?
You’re an impatient fucker, aren’t you? I’m telling this story and I’ll get to the point in my own time.
Okay, now’s the time.
If Dexter Green was standing in the parking space when I pulled in, I would have seen him when I turned the truck around.
There were two vehicles. Tim’s fancy new Honda and Dexter’s fancier Chevy Silverado. Nobody was around. Not in the parking area, not anywhere I saw.
So, where the hell did he come from?
Not the trailer. It was across the driving path from where I parked. If he’da come out of there, he would have crossed in front of me.
Not the work site. We were working at a couple different places in the plant, but they were all behind me. Dexter would have had to either cross in front of me, which he didn’t, or behind me. If he did that, no way he would have gotten to the parking area faster than me. Dexter didn’t move at ten miles an hour if there was free barbecue for lunch.
It’s starting to rain. Which means, I’m gonna get wet.
Teresa and the kids bought me rain gear a few years back. Good stuff, too. Legit Harley Davidson.
But I don’t wear them.
The temperature was warm enough when you’re standing still. At seventy miles an hour, rain soaked through denim, eventually it got in and under my leathers. Next thing you know, the windchill turned June back into March. I took a break around Birmingham, Alabama, for the first time thinking about where I was headed.
With a hot cup of coffee and a brisket sandwich in front of me, I scrolled through my phone contacts to see who was in the area.
I didn’t have to go too far. In the alphabet, I mean.
Remember that snake in preacher’s clothing back in Nashville? Well, my buddy Ron was his opposite. I may have mentioned him. He started his own construction company some years back, in addition to his preaching. It took all of three seconds to decide Chattanooga, Tennessee was my next stop. I called. He called back and I had a place to sleep.
The way the GPS takes you, it’s a solid eight hours between St. Francesville and Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. The way I went it was closer to ten hours.
I was more than happy when I pulled into Ron’s driveway. He lived in a bungalow, on the high side of the street. Before I cut the engine, the garage door was going up and my friend walked out.
“Pull her in,” he said, pointing to the empty spot in his double wide garage.
He didn’t have to tell me twice.
Ron didn’t ride but he knew plenty who did. He had a shower, dry towels, and a hot meal waiting. By the time I washed the road and rain off, my legs remembered how this walking thing went. I sat at Ron’s table, reminiscing about the projects we’d done together, the people we knew.
“Everything going good with the business?” I asked.
He nodded. “Real good. I’m havin’ trouble keepin’ up it’s so good.” Ron went on, telling me about the projects and his crew. He talked a good game, but I could tell something was bothering him. He kept toeing up to it, and then retreated, asking me instead if I wanted more to drink, then to eat.
I was curious and amused at the same time. I let it go for a while and then it felt kinda wrong. “Ron, it seems like there something you’re trying not to tell me.”
He was shocked, guess he thought he was hiding it, then he grinned. “I forgot just how perceptive you were.”
“No using ten letter words against me,” I said, giving him my dead pan stare. “I’m just an idiot, you know that.”
Laughter burst out. “You are not, and everybody knows that.” Then he sobered up. “I have a problem, one you could help me with. One of my superintendents is out for a few days unexpectantly. Now I have two jobs tomorrow and one guy to run it. Me. Both crews are good but raw. They can’t do the work without a strong superintendent.”
I raised an eyebrow.
Ron studied his scarred hands. “I was dreddin’ havin’ to call either client to back out and tellin’ one of the crews they weren’t goin’ to have a pay day tomorrow. I prayed on it, tryin’ to make a decision I didn’t want to make.” He looked up. “Then you called.”
I thought about it. This felt right. “Call me Mr. Serendipity.”
He barked out another laugh. “What happened to despisin’ ten letter words?”
“Still stands. Serendipity has eleven.”
The next morning, I set up for a day under a blue sky with just enough clouds to keep it comfortable. The crews got going, finishing grading the site and setting the footers for a future day’s concrete pour. Some of the guys were rough, but I’d seen rougher. They needed coaching here and there, but all in all, it was an easy day.
Leaning on the handle of a shovel, waiting for the excavator to finish, a laborer named Sully started filling the time. “How’s your wife doing at the bank, Max?”
“She keeps flippin’ between pissed and depressed. Last night, Michelle was so mad, the dog spent the night sitting on my lap. This morning, I thought she was gonna burst into tears.”
“It’s just not right,” Sully said, then he looked at me. “His wife’s been working at that bank for like ten years—”
“Eight,” Max corrected.
“Eight is like ten,” Sully argued. “Anyway, she goes into work one day and there’s this kid sitting in the empty office. Turns out, they hired this guy two years out of college, gave him the fancy office with the glass door, and the title of assistant vice president.”
“Whatever the fuck that means,” Max muttered.
“It means more money, is what it means.”
Alright. They got me. “What does your wife do at the bank?”
“She does financial analysis and modeling.” He snorted. “I know, don’t know what she sees in me. She’s smart and she’s good at what she does. Nobody else does what she can and that includes the new assistant vice president. She’s pretty sure, when he reads her results, he doesn’t know what he’s looking at.”
Sully stepped forward and put the shovel to good use, talking as he did. “They never even told her there was a job open, did they Max? Nosiree. They just went on the hunt for a college boy. Totally ignored the hard-working employee they already had.” He kept on talking, but I have to say he worked as fast as he talked. “It’s bull shit. Everyone’s talking about how no one can find any good people and then this bank goes and fucks her up the ass—no offense, Max —I mean why would you toss over a good woman when you know, you absolutely know, you couldn’t replace her? She should go to another bank.”
Max didn’t talk as much as Sully, but he worked just as hard. “She’s considering it.”
“Well, she should,” Sully went on. “Another bank would prolly snap her up. And give her a raise. And a fancy title.”
“Maybe,” Max said. “Thing is, she likes her bank. It’s close to home. She knows everyone there and most of the customers. Going somewhere else would be like leaving her friends.”
“There’s something to that,” I said. “A lot of people stay with a job for their co-workers, not for the company.”
“Especially when that company’s bein’ stupid.” Sully punctuated it by spitting instead of using an exclamation point.
I listened while they worked and wondered if it was more than rain that brought me to Chattanooga. It seemed to me that there might be a wrong here in need of righting.
When we broke for lunch, I went over to that bank with Max. He said he needed to bring his wife something, but I think he was just checking on her. The bank wasn’t but a couple miles up the road. The building was small, sitting on a corner. The front was glass windows and the rest brick.
We stepped inside and the air conditioning slapped me in the face. The set up was pretty standard for a bank. There was the long, wood grain counter with room for four tellers. Only two were open and both had customers. The corner office was plain by anyone’s standards. It had a desk that faced the wall of windows with two chairs in front of it. A bookcase sat against the solid wall. It had a few framed things, one might have been a diploma, and some books. It was mostly empty shelf.
“That’s the new guy,” Max said with some salt on his words. “His name’s Brandon Marlow.
Behind the desk was a man. He leaned back in the chair, his desk phone pinned between his ear and shoulder. He tossed a pint-sized basketball into the air.
The office next door was skinnier by a quarter and had no windows. The woman at that desk looked intently at her monitor, her fingers moving over the keyboard. She must have liked what she saw because she grinned. She turned her head, saw Max, and that grin turned into a smile.
Or maybe the smile turned into a grin. Not sure which is bigger.
“That’s my wife,” he said as she rose. “Michelle.”
Her phone musta rang because she gave us the international symbol to wait and pick up the handset. For everything Max and Sully said, Michelle looked happy. She sat back in her chair, those fast fingers working like lightning over her keyboard, laughing at whatever she heard.
“Angie,” Brandon Marlow said, leaning out of his office. “Come in here and show me where we keep the loan reports for last year.”
A woman sitting at a desk not in an office rolled her eyes, stood, and turned toward the office. “Maybe if you wrote it down this time.”
“It’s not my fault the filing system is so complicated.”
Max snorted. “Typical.”
Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t. There are times I’d sooner throw a computer out the window than use it and I don’t consider it an issue on my side.
Michelle came out of her office, her face bright enough to read by. “Well, what a nice surprise. What did do to deserve this?”
Max waited for her to cross the open floor, then kissed her temple. “Just wanted you to meet Hippy. He’s out here helping us and Ron for a few days. He’s from Indiana.”
Just like I thought. He didn’t need to bring her nothing. “Nice to meet you, Michelle.”
“Nice to meet you, too,” she said. “How long are you going to be in Chattanooga?”
“Two days. Maybe three. That’s the most my bike tolerates being in one place.”
She laughed and put her hand on mine. “Why don’t you come to dinner tonight? It’s nothing fancy, just chicken and whatever I decide to put with it.”
“Michelle.” Her name was said by Brandon Marlow.
You know when you’re reading a book and it says a person’s face fell and you’re like, faces don’t fall. Well, Michelle’s did. One minute, she was a bright, joyful woman and the next it was like a shadow came over her and sucked away all that light.
She shifted and looked his way. “Yes, Brandon?”
“Can you come in here? There’s something I don’t understand about these projections.”
“Of course, he doesn’t.” She turned back to us on a long, quiet sigh. “Dinner will be ready about six.”
Dinner with Max and his family was a nice way to end a productive day. The weather was kind to us and Ron’s crews had gotten farther than we hoped, thanks to a trick or two of mine. We would be pouring concrete tomorrow. I had it ordered for seven.
I had twelve whole hours until I had to worry about that.
Over chicken smothered in a sauce, I dug in on Michelle’s problem. “What do you do?” I asked, acting dumb. “It must be impressive to have an office.”
She rolled her eyes. “Financial forecasting and analysis.” She giggled at my reaction. “It guess it does sound boring, but I love numbers.”
“You must have some fancy title, I’m guessing. Let me guess. . .” I drew it out. “Vice president of forecasts.”
This time, she outright laughed. “I wish. I have the very beige title of Data Analyst.” She shrugged, glanced at Max. “I guess I don’t have the right equipment to have VP after my name.”
He covered her hand. “That’s bullshit and you know it.”
“The man in the corner office? He’s new,” she said, then filled me in on the story and the details Sully didn’t know.
“Who gave him the job?” I asked. “Somebody must have hired him.”
“Our illustrious Assistant VP was hired by our uninspiring VP. Wilson Maddox.” She played with her food, her fork chasing the rice around the plate. “He works out of the main office, downtown.” The fork started stabbing at the rice. “He comes to our branch like once a month, his nose up in the air like it smells bad. He never gets Angie’s name right. Alice. Agnes. Anna.” She threw the fork down, metal slapping against porcelain. “I mean, how hard is it to remember someone’s name?”
“It isn’t hard,” I said. “And it is important. That’s how you show people you see them.”
“That is exactly his problem, Hippy. Maddox doesn’t see anyone who isn’t a White male with a degree from a school that’s been in the Men’s Final Four in the last decade. I worked damn hard for my degree and I’m damn good at my job. But does he see it?”
“Nope,” Max said, realizing it wasn’t a rhetorical question.
Michelle picked up the fork again. I leaned back. Just in case.
“No, he does not. Because he doesn’t want to. He comes into our branch and looks at us like we’re Mayberry and he’s Charlotte. Well, he is not. And I would put my forecast up against anyone’s.”
Max rested his hand on Michelle’s forearm. “Take it easy, honey. Getting riled doesn’t help.”
I made an appointment with Wilson Maddox for later the next day. I wanted to put eyes on him myself. The day’s work had been another good one, and I still wore a good portion of it on my clothes. I coulda cleaned up some, but I wanted to see his reaction.
Disturbed was the best word I could come up with. He wasn’t disgusted, like dirt and dust appalled him. He just didn’t want it in his world. He definitely didn’t want it in his office.
“Me and my crew are building a bank,” I said, thinking as fast as I was talking. “There’s something not right about the layout but I build banks, not work in them. One of the crew, his wife Michelle works up in your Lookout Mountain branch. She gave me the idea of talking to you.”
“Michelle? In our Lookout branch?” His eyebrows did that knitting thing, then he put two and two together and came up with four. “The analyst. She suggested you talk to me?”
“It didn’t go like that,” I said. “It was my idea.” I went into asking him a whole bunch of questions about banks that didn’t matter. I snuck in a few that did. I’ll give him credit, he talked to me for a full thirty minutes, only shuttling me out when his computer sounded with his 15-minute warning.
You know that sound, Outlook users.
I drove to Ruby Falls, finding a spot of beauty to do my thinking. Here’s where I was. Wilson Maddox was not a total asshole. He wasn’t mean or cruel, but he was blind. He had these ideas of perfect and anyone who didn’t fit the mold, he didn’t see. Unlike some others, he wasn’t emotional about it. He didn’t hate anyone. He just overlooked and went on.
I suspected, if I had asked the question, he would even had said it was for the benefit of the bank.
The question was. . . how to help him see the light in Michelle and everyone else he looked over?
The next day was slow while the concrete came up to strength. Ron was so thrilled, he only balked a little when I asked if I could borrow a few things from his yard.
“No trouble, Hippy.” Ron knew me.
I lit a cigarette. “Ron, would I ever do anything that could blow back on you?”
He lowered his head and nearly growled. “That is not the same thing as no trouble.”
“We are going to have to agree to disagree, brother.”
Ron left then, because, like I said, he was a smart man. A few minutes later, Max and Sully pulled up. We put what we needed in the bed of Max’s truck and stopped at a hardware store for everything else.
We arrived at Wilson Maddox’s house in a nice Chattanooga suburb. How did I get his address? I didn’t. Max’s teenage son did. Apparently, you really can find anything on the internet these days.
We parked in his driveway, middle of the day. Rang the doorbell to make sure no one was home. No one was, but they had one of those doorbells with the camera. I waved. The way the house was laid out, the camera couldn’t see around the big three car garage. We left, drove around the block, and parked back in the driveway on the far side.
We climbed out of the truck. I nodded to a runner going by and we got to work.
Max and I were sitting in his truck at five the next morning in the driveway of a house under construction. With the stagger of the houses, we had a full view of the one Wilson Maddox owned. We sipped coffee, glancing at the dark windows, waiting for Maddox’s alarm to go off.
At 6:10, an annoying beeping came through the speaker that had Max and I both jumping.
Maddox was awake.
There was still some twenty minutes until dawn. The sky was dark, but color tinted the eastern horizon. It wouldn’t be enough.
The windows in the master bedroom remained dark. A light came on three windows down, the last we could see. The master bathroom.
We listened to the man take his morning piss.
We heard the rush of pressurized water when the shower turned on. More water with the sink. The sink turned off. Then came the sound of bearings rolling.
Singing came over the speaker.
“He’s in the shower,” Max said, pulling a control box into his lap. “You ready?”
He was singing America the Beautiful and not doing a bad job of it. “Let’s give him a few seconds. I like this song.”
Max did a double take. “You serious?”
“Well, yeah. You ever listen to the words,” I asked. “They’re true.”
I waited patiently for Maddox to reach from sea to shining sea. Max waited, but not patiently.
“All right,” I said. “Now.”
Max hit the first button. “The door is locked. And,” second button, “lights are out.”
“What the…what the fuck?!” Surprise was Maddox’s first reaction, but it quickly turned to panic. “I can’t see. I’m blind. I’M BLIND!”
Maddox was experiencing the result of the film we installed over his windows that, this time of day, let no light into the room. With the power cut, he was in the pitch of dark.
“You are blind,” I said slowly into the microphone.
“Oh my God!” he shouted over the water.
“Yes?” I used my best God voice, like I was Charlton Heston or something. Don’t know who he is? Look it up?
“Who. . . who are you?”
“You know who the fuck I am.”
“You. . . but. . . God, you just said fuck?!?”
“’Cause I’m pissed Wilson Maddox and I’m pissed at you.”
“Me?” He squeaked. “No, I’ve been good. I go to church. I know I missed a few but—”
“You really think putting a check mark in the church column fixes what you did?”
“What I did?” There was a pause. He was thinking. “I haven’t done anything wrong. I’ve been working a lot lately. I haven’t had time to get in trouble.”
“That Wilson Maddox is where you are wrong.” I let silence ring out because it’s scary shit.
“Wh-what have I done?” He asked slowly, afraid, then picked up his speed. “Whatever it is, I’ll make it better. I promise. I’ll fix whatever I did.”
“What you did was overlook the potential of my children.” That seemed like a God-thing to say. “In this bank of yours, I have given you the power to lead and instead of doing it with insight and strength, you do it with fear.”
“Fear?” he croaked. “I don’t understand.”
“Think back over those you have hired, those you have promoted. Tell me what you see.” I didn’t know who the hell he’d hired, but I could guess.
“Oh,” he said humbly, then found his spine. “But each of those—”
“What is the name of the customer service lady at the Lookout branch?”
That threw him. “Who? Wait….wait, I know this. Amy!”
“Angie,” I snapped. “Say it with me. Angie!”
“Angie,” he shouted.
“Angie,” I roared.
“Angie,” he whimpered. “Angie. Angie. Angie. I won’t forget again.”
“I know you won’t.” I sighed. “What am I going to do with you, Wilson? You’ve allowed yourself to become blind. The world is a beautiful place because I have made each person different. But you, you want there to be only one kind of donut in the box.”
Max looked at me like I was crazy.
He wasn’t wrong, but I was on a roll.
Or a donut.
“Donuts?” Maddox’s voice was laced with confusion. “God, I don’t know what you’re saying.”
“Think about if all the donuts were jelly filled. There’d be strawberry stains on every other shirt. Except for the people who are allergic to strawberry, they’d be dead. Same with diabetics. All because of you Maddox.”
“No,” he wailed. “God. No.”
“That is uncool, brother.”
“How do I fix things?” he cried. “Tell me what I need to do. I want more donuts in the box. I swear I do.”
Max elbowed me.
I flipped the microphone off.
“Tell him to give Michelle a promotion.”
I shook my head. “Can’t. He’ll get suspicious. He’ll know. She needs to call him. Today. She needs to stand up for herself. Now, stay quiet.” I slid the switch back on. “You committed the crime, Wilson. You have to rebalance the scales. And however you do it, know. . . I’ll be watching.”
“I’ll do it God. You’ll see. I’ll have a box of a dozen mixed. Glazed and chocolate. A long john. Bavarian, blueberry. Plain and with nuts. You’ll see. I’ll have so many nuts, you’ll think we’re in Georgia instead of Tennessee.
I turned the microphone off. “Alright, turn his lights back on.”
Max did. Immediately, we heard Maddox’s relief. It was a happy, crying that attracted his wife’s attention. Kinda reminded me of that scene in Scrooge, after he comes back from that visit with the ghost of Christmas future, which by the way is fucked up. Why is Christmas future the grim reaper?
A truck pulled up next to us. A guy looking like us lifted his hand. Max went to talk to him, I followed. Bunch a minutes later, we left, playing off like we were at the wrong job. We’d come back later to remove the film over the windows and the other shit we wired up.
I called Teresa from the privacy of Ron’s guest room. I’d just finished off a maple donut for dessert. “What kind of trouble did you cause today,” she asked.
“Only the good kind,” I said. “Hey, Teresa, the more I think about running over Dexter Green, the less it makes sense.”
“What do you mean?”
“I should have seen him. If he was standing there, in the middle of my usual parking spot, I would have seen him when I pulled in. I would have seen him when I turned the truck around. I would have seen him in the backup camera.”
Teresa took her time, thinking about it. “It was early, wasn’t it? Dark?”
“No more than any other day.”
“I’m going to call my cousin,” she said. “He’s with the Sheriff here in Blackford County. Maybe he can make a call. Don’t do anything that will get you in a newspaper for the next few days. Got it?”
“Yes, ma’am. Teresa? I love you.”
“I love you, too, you old hippy.”
Lots of donuts were harmed in the making of this episode. It was necessary. Research and all of that crap.
This is fiction, but some was inspired by things that really happened. Most of them to Hippy. Thank you to Adrian for the story that inspired Maddox’s lesson.
Hey to Josh. Keeping your seat warm. See you soon. Godspeed.