Hospital waiting was the worst kind. Jim tried to still his hands and feet. The minutes ticked into hours. He made himself go over the events of the morning, forcing himself to relive the chain of events which led him to cold vinyl chairs and impersonal figures in white uniforms, who held his best friend’s life in their hands.
The new casting had sat on the floor in Mike Farrell’s office. He had leaned back in his swivel chair and chewed his cigar with more than thought. Rawley had perched on the end of the desk and looked at neither Mike nor Jim, but focused his attention to the casting. His face held the usual snarl. He knelt down and inspected the blades with his fine white hands.
Jim slammed the desk with his fist. “How could this have happened? I checked every step of the way. It was fine when I sent it to the molders yesterday. Yet here it is, poor molding, poor casting. It isn’t nearly the caliber of work that comes out of this shop. The big question is, is the Navy going to accept another two weeks of waiting until we run the parts again? Why in God’s name is it shoddy work? There’s only one explanation. Sabotage!”
Mike nodded. “All the Navy has to do is send it to Bethlehem Steel and they will have it back in 5 days if they have to work till they drop. You know how that place grabs at a job. They’ll do anything to eliminate the competition.” Mike sat back and looked at the ceiling. “I’d sure like to know how the hell the sand washed into the metal.” He looked helplessly at Jim, totally ignoring Rawley. “In all my years I’ve never seen such a waste of time and energy.” He rubbed his stockinged foot and carefully put his shoe on. “We’ll just have to renege on this contract, if they won’t give us more time. We were late as it is.” He reached into his desk and took out a vial of pills and popped two into his mouth. At the water cooler he downed them with three cups of water. “Damn, never could swallow these things.”
“Mike, you’ve got to call and stall them. If we lose this contract we’ll never get another from the Navy. Tell them the furnace has to be repaired, the crane broke, anything, only stall for a few more days. Tell them next week. I’m going to get that job out if I have to do every step myself. I’ll talk to the molders. I’ll get to the bottom of this.”
Rawley sat quietly, not offering any of his small talk to the boss.
Mike studied him.” What do you have to say? You’re always mouthing off. I may have to furlough you, you know.”
“I haven’t seen such a lousy piece of work since I came here.” Rawley was playing it cool, his bleached skin seemed to stand out in the austere office. ”What do you expect me to say. I bust my ass to get jobs, especially this one and you screw up. And you want me to make conversation? So furlough me. It’s only a matter of time anyway.”
Mike stood and pointed a finger at Rawley. “You should be out of there right now, finding work, that’s what I want to talk to you about. You talk about getting two lousy bids a week, doing your job. When I was doing your job. I hardly ever came back to base. So help me, Rawley, if I had someone else who knew the territory, I’d send you packing. I think you get pleasure out of seeing us welch on a bid,” Mike rubbed his arm as he sat down tiredly.
Rawley was on his feet, towering above the hunched man behind the desk. “Listen, old man, you’re living in another generation. Get off your duff if you think it’s so easy to find work with the big companies out there. Another thing, you think this place is going to run forever on antiquated machinery and old ways. It’s a wonder you can even get insurance to keep the place running.”
“Jim, I…” Mike sat back and grabbed his chest, “It’s my heart,” He reached in the drawer for the bottle of pills, and when the cap came off in his hand, the tiny tablets rolled across the floor and he slumped over the arm of the chair.” Jim called out to the secretary who was talking to Rawley. “Miss Carson, call an ambulance. Mike’s having a heart attack.” He loosened Mike’s tie and tried to make him comfortable.
When Rawley came to the door he stood there quietly assessing the situation. His face was unreadable.
Jim cradled Mike in his arms and wiped the sweat from his face. The impression of Rawley standing there was stamped on his mind. He was flooded with memory now as he sat waiting in strange sterile surroundings. A hand touched his shoulder. The crowded waiting room and the smell of disinfectant came back into focus.
Jenny leaned over and kissed Jim’s cheek. “How is he? Any news?”
“He’s holding his own was all they would say a few minutes ago.”
She sighed and sat beside him. “How did it happen?”
“It happened,” he snapped.
“Had he been upset? Was there something that worked him into it?” She was trying, couldn’t he?
“Jenny, you know there have been problems I don’t want to go into it,” he said, crossing his arms firmly.
“Why don’t you go home and change so you don’t smell like the foundry. I’ll stay here and call home if there’s any change. There’s a pay phone in the hall.”
His voice was barely audible, “No, I’m not moving, Mike might need me.”
“What do you really think you could do for a man who might be dying of a heart attack?”
He looked at her with loathing, “Even a dying man might have something to say. At this point we don’t know how bad it is. So don’t even talk about it. Leave. I want to think.”
He closed his eyes and for a moment she saw the wetness on his cheek. When he opened his eyes again, she was gone.