Six months earlier…….
“Johnas, what tha hell are ya doin’,” the voice demanded.
Oh great, it’s Hal, Johnas thought.
Hal Law was a mercurial Scotsman who had a legendary temper. He was also Johnas McCurdy’s immediate supervisor. Although their relationship was always of a positive nature Hal never let this interfere with his temper. Not with anybody. Not even with Johnas.
“Your suppose to be a designer, not a structural engineer!” he screamed causing Johnas to move the cell phone further away from his ear.
“Hal, the pipeway was moving off the survey line. What the hell am I suppose to do?”
“You call up the office ya sod and get advice!” he again screamed.
“I’m alone out here Hal. I need help. Every time I’ve called the structural department all I get is ‘we’ll get back to you later’ and they never do.
“You’re off the job, McCurdy. Get back to the office. Report to me.”
This time Hal’s voice had tempered. He had been aware of the structural department ineptness in handling field problems.
Johnas sat on a wall eyeing his chili dogs he had planned on eating for lunch. In the glaring heat of midday they looked disgusting. His mood lifted with the realization he wouldn’t have to eat them. The trip from the field in Coalinga back to Bakersfield was a two hour drive with plenty of fine eating establishments on the way. He planned on taking his time getting back.
“Johnas, you out there?” crackled the cell phone two way radio.
“Yea Nick, what’s up?”
“Johnas, lunchtimes almost over and the crew chief wants to know what to do.”
“I’ll be right there.”
Nick was a coworker and an excellent buffer between Johnas and the crew chief who Johnas considered an ass. It was a five minute drive from the field trailer to the jobsite.
“So, what the hell are we gonna do, mister designer?” the crew chief sarcastically asked.
Looking down the length of the construction parade Johnas became increasingly agitated to see all the workers had stopped working and were either sunning themselves or throwing a Frisbee around like a day at the beach.
The construction effort was both impressive and expensive, costing maybe twenty five dollars a minute. Downtime was not an option. The first heavy piece of equipment was the drilling rig drilling holes for the caisson tubes that formed sixty foot deep concrete pillars underground. This was followed by the ironworkers and their flatbed truck holding the miles of sectional rebar that were formed and placed in the caisson holes. The five or so cement trucks lined up followed in suit pouring the concrete into the holes. Ironworkers again were called into play installing the structural steel members to hold the pipe and finally pipe fitters and welders brought up the rear with their flatbed trucks carrying miles of sectional pipe which were placed on the steel supports. It was a massive, mobile effort and when the lead drilling rig stopped the entire three hundred foot long industrial parade came to a grinding halt.
After reviewing the plans while standing in the hot midday sun Johnas came to a conclusion.
“Ok mister crew chief, here’s what we’ll do, Johnas finally said, keeping everyone waiting. “There’s an expansion loop commin’ up. Lengthen the far leg to bring the pipeway back into line with the survey point.”
“Your gonna hafta mark the prints before I start the work.”
“Here. Lemmie do it now. Give me your prints. I’ll mark them in red.”
Johnas snatched the rolled up drawings from under the man’s arm and quickly scribbled the change with the thought of Hal in the back of his mind. He was fully cognizant of the fact this was the second time he was making a structural engineering decision but he didn’t care. It had to be done. He was certain this was the appropriate ‘fix’.
Nick stood watching. Noticing, Johnas approached him.
“I’m off the job Nick. Been told to report to Hal Law. This is your baby now.”
Nick smiled broadly. Johnas knew he was up to the challenge. Johnas had always known Nick wanted his job and now was his chance to prove himself.
“Take care Johnas.”
“You too Nick.”
The two parted with a handshake and Johnas left, inwardly smiling remembering a Mexican restaurant on the way back he planned on stopping at.
“Ya did it again, and right after I talked to ya, ya stupid malaka.”
“Hal, the job was stopped. A decision had to be made.”
“Get outta my office. You’re off the job. Go see Dino if ya still want ta work for this company.”
Johnas went directly to the restroom to throw some cold water in his face before seeing Dino, the head of engineering.
“Johnas, how are you,” said Dino upon entering his office. He was offering a handshake as Johnas approached.
“I’ve had better days,” Johnas answered honestly.
“You really upset Hal. Frankly, you made the right decision. Hal is what you would call ‘emotionally challenged’. How would you like to go to Saudi Arabia, bring your lovely wife,” Dino said without skipping a beat.
Johnas was estatic. He couldn’t control his heart. He had always longed for this assignment. In his field of petrochemical pipe design this was the Mecca, so to say, of people like him in this industry.
“For how long?” is all he could muster without swallowing his tongue.
“About six weeks.”
The ‘about’ part worried him, but the ‘bring your lovely wife’ part made it palatable. Professional Services, the company that employed him, sometimes would make an ‘about six weeks’ into six months but this didn’t bother him. His wife would accompany him and she loved to travel. Johnas couldn’t wait to get home and tell her the news.
“Go to the Federal Building downtown. You and your wife’s passports and visa’s will be waiting. We have a fast track agreement with the Saudi’s to get people over as quick as possible. Come back in the morning to pick up your airline tickets.”
Dino stood and extended his handshake. Johnas rose as well and hesitantly accepted his extended hand.
“Damn, Dino, this is moving kinda fast,” Johnas stammered.
“Not a lot of work out there Johnas. Are you in.”
Without thinking he blurted out ‘Sure!”
“You’ll be traveling with three other engineers, Amir Amani, Hermes Collado and Mario Theodorou.”
“Geeze Dino, sounds like the UN,” Johnas said, momentarily forgetting who he was talking to and realizing he still had Dino’s hand.
The two released their handshake and Dino continued speaking.
“Yea, I know. Amir is Pakastani, Hermes is Chinese if you can believe that and Mario is Romanian, I think. Something Baltic. Never could understand his accent.”
“Where will I hook up with these guys.”
“The plan is to meet them at the airport. Go to accounts payable and get some expense money. I’m going to give you five grand. Bring some back, ok?”
“Oh yea, one more thing. Mario is den mother on this trip. Listen to what he says. He’ll be the one sending the reports home. He’ll let you know on the flight over what the scope of work is. And Johnas……..”
“And we don’t want another Copenhagen incident, capice?”
“Take care Johnas.”
See ya in six weeks Dino.”
On the drive home Johnas reminisced about the Copenhagen incident Dino had mentioned. Apparently, on a previous foray into Saudi Arabia two of his coworkers had changed their travel itinerary to include Copenhagen. One of the workers, a close friend named John Quarnstrom, was found the next morning floating face down in the Danube River. It seemed the fare offered in the coffeehouses of Copenhagen were too much for his forty year old body to process.
Pulling into his driveway Johnas sensed something was wrong. None of the house lights were turned on and it was already dark. Entering his home he found his wife on the bedroom floor, an empty bottle of pills nearby.
After calling 911 and unsuccessfully reviving her he knew she was gone. He sat in the darkness holding her head in his lap, void of emotion. After taking her away and giving the police all the details he found himself alone in the darkness of the living room. His neighbors Betty and Frank appeared and after looking into their anguished faces broke down into frantic sobs. For the rest of the evening and into the next day he never left his bed, still wearing his clothes from the previous day. Betty and Frank remained at his side the entire time.
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