Jim sent Trish home in a taxi at the hospital entrance. Then he sat for a long time in his car on the parking lot. His mind was heavy with thought. Mike had finally made the decision to sell. His mild heart attack had pushed him over the edge to call it quits. The once family enterprise was now the sole responsibility of the final heir. He grappled with what he had to do to set things right for Mike. The doctor said he had been lucky, but maybe not the next time unless he made his life less complicated. Mike had heeded his warning. He was prepared to go the next step and had given Jim the sole responsibility to act on his behalf.
Finally, he started the car and drove to the foundry. He already had rehearsed what he would say to the men. They were like a band of brothers. What would hurt one, would hurt them all. They had already felt the sting of Mike’s heart attack. He hated to have to give them more bad news. Maybe it could be okay…if the right people bid. There was already the prospect of selling but Jim was sure some of those just wanted the valuable land, without the consideration of the loss of men’s wages.
When he entered the main building work seemed suspended as one by one the workers came to stand before him. He broke into a smile and felt the group relax. He held up his hands, “Good news. I’m happy to tell you that Mike’s heart attack was on the mild side. Doc says a few weeks of no work, no stress, and no chasing women and he’ll be as good as new.
The laughter and relief that followed that announcement was a joy to hear. Now came the bad news. “I’m sure you are all aware that our production has been suffering, for whatever reasons, we’re not sure. Maybe it has something to do with competition, which has been on a larger scale.” At that point he saw Rawley join the group and stand there defiantly, with his arms crossed and a near grin on his face.
“I want all of you to know we will work until the time of sale, and it is our goal to find someone who will bid to keep the place running. I am hopeful and I want all of you to be. Please go back to work and I will share your thoughts and prayers with Mike on my next visit.” The men returned to their stations, except for one of the molders, and Rawley who hung out at some distance.
The man in black chambray, and skin as darkened from his job, leaned forward slightly. “I don’t know if I should say anything or not “
“I’d be glad to listen to any thing you have to say, Joe. Come into my office.” Rawley followed them in and made a pretense of looking for something in the out-going basket on his desk.
‘”This is a private conversation, Rawley. Get lost.” Jim offered Joe a chair sat down tiredly aside of him.
“I’m dirty,” Joe declared,
“Sit down, Joe. You look as tired as I feel.”
“Okay, but I don’t want you to think I’m complaining……”
“But……….” Jim prompted.
“On that job that went bad…I didn’t think the sand mixture looked right when I set it up. I always mix the quickset in just before we ram the pattern. This time everything looked a little different.” He rubbed his balding head as though remembering. “We couldn’t figure it out.”
“Yet you went ahead with it? A coremaker like you should smell a bad mold before you sent it out,” Jim tried to keep accusation from his words,
Joe bristled at the insinuation. “I know for a long time that the materials was short, Jim. How was I to know that you wasn’t trying something else, what with all the rumors going round?”
“I don’t know what you’ve been hearing, Joe, but Mike never short-changed a single customer in all the yeas I know him. It’s okay,” He spread his hands in front of him, “I’m glad you told me.” He patted Joe on the shoulder. “If you think of anything else, please come and tell me, no one else.”
Later that night Jim had fallen into a restless sleep when his family was aroused by a fire siren. By habit, when he heard the alarm, he always went to the window to see if he could tell where the fire was, The direction of the red hot flames was south. It could be the foundry. He had a cold gut feeling as he pulled pants over his pajamas and held up his hand to the panicked women. “I’ll go. Stay here.”
The pattern shop had gone up quickly, fueled by the solvents kept there. The firefighters had worked courageously to save the other buildings. In the cold, grey dawn. Jim stared at the charred remains of the shop. Most of the foundry was intact. Jim breathed a sigh of relief. The flames had devoured the piles of core boxes, leaving only charcoal clumps across the desolate land. The air was still filled with the acrid smell of smoke. The cold barren sky added to the look of desolation. The firemen were still checking the area for sparks. Several of them stood around a man in a dark slicker as he poked through some ashes near the burned out building. Curiously, Jim got out of the car and walked toward them. Recognizing the local fire chief, he approached hm.
“Find anything, Vince?”
‘”Too early to say, Martin. My report will be confidential anyway.” He looked steadily at Jim and returned to the task at hand.
“Just wanted you to know, you will be dealing with me on this. I’m representing Mike Farrell. He’s in the hospital with a heart attack.”
Jim hadn’t really expected anything from Vincent. He had a reputation for being very closed mouthed, but sooner or later he would have to deal with him. Not that it mattered, He had seen what looked like a rag. There was no doubt in his mind what the report would say.