Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Five
“Everything you see and hear that seems funny. Write it all down,”
The first thing that I wrote down that seemed funny was: Why in the world did he hire me? I have no real experience. I’ve never been in charge of a unit as large as the one I have now. The Boss, Van Swearingin, has men with thirty years of experience and he is dumping them like yesterdays coffee grounds and bringing in a collection of new people who look like they either worked for Al Capone or Herr Shicklegruber. And I’m supposed to be their “Captain.”
I figured that I had better keep this journal to myself. Me and “Pops” Mulroy were the only two I felt I could trust. I had to hide it somewhere in my office. Something I remembered from a radio detective show was that the best place to hide something is in the open, the last place anyone would expect, so I slipped the journal onto a bookshelf between two other books the same color.
For the first three weeks on the job I went around to meet all of the men who were my new “troops.” I broke them down into eight hour shifts. Midnight to 8 AM – The Red Shift, 8AM to 4 PM – White Shift, and the 4 PM to Midnight the Blue Shift. I expected there to be some grousing about the assignments, but there was none. Not a word complaining about being put on the Red Shift. Whatever unit I’ve been in there has always been some complaining and whining about working Graveyard, but not from these guys.
At Van Swearingin’s request, which is as good as a direct order, each man working security was to carry a sidearm and a billy club. A shipment of brand new Smith and Wesson .45 caliber 1911 Model semi-automatic pistols was delivered to my office a week later.
I picked out a few men who had some MP or Shore Patrol experience and made them my Sergeants. I needed a level in between me and the men. I couldn’t be everyplace all of the time. These NCOs set up and ran training schedules for each Shift Unit. They kept them busy until everything was up and ready to go. As a Unit came online, able to function, the old Security men were “retired.” To be honest – most of them were going to have trouble finding any jobs other than Night Watchmen or School Crossing Guards. They were either too old, too fat, or 4-F rejects who were turned down even by a world at war. A bunch of girl scouts would have been an improvement.
As I traveled between San Francisco and the facilities in Utah, South Texas, and about California, taking that DC-3 too often, I felt like I was living in a different world. What was going on in the factories, what they were making, was a mystery to me. The Plant Managers tried to explain it, but it was all too Buck Rogers for me. It sure wasn’t washing machines.
Each plant was out in the “Sticks,” away from main roads and big cities. There was a perimeter around each facility that had to be patrolled. I nixed the suggestion that we buy dogs to help guard the site. That would have made every plant look like a POW Camp.
I made some notations in my journal every so often. There were some unusual things that didn’t look or smell right. In each plant I overheard some of my “new” men huddled in a corner and talking in some foreign language. As soon as they saw me they’d switch to English. And again, no complaints – about anything.
They are suspicious of me and I can’t blame them because as more time passed I became more suspicious of them. That’s the kind of situation that makes my sleep somewhat restless.
When I was away from my San Francisco office my hours were from about 9 AM until the middle of the Blue Shift at 8 PM. That gave me a look at only part of the picture. I needed to see what things were like overnight.
I checked the Main Gate activity reports and I could see that there was more traffic in and out after midnight than at any other time. I didn’t know if that was unusual or not. I asked my Boss, Mr. Van Swearingin, during one of our weekly meetings.
“Oh, that’s not at all unusual, Tim. We have raw materials and parts coming in almost every night and finished product going out the same way. There is less road traffic that time of night and fewer curious eyes. Don’t worry about it.”
But I did worry about it. It’s in my nature. Nothing good happens at three in the morning. I was going to have to see for myself.
Surprise visits by the Brass were not at all unusual in the Army, even in the middle of a combat action. I figured it might be good for me to do the same.
It was a little after 2 AM when I drove up to the Main Gate at the plant outside of Fresno in the Central Valley of California – an area almost exclusively agricultural. Surrounded by Walnut groves and fields of Asparagus the Van Swearingin Ball Bearing Production Plant sat there looking like an abandoned Elementary School with all of the windows blacked out.
A large unmarked truck was pulling out as I pulled up to the barrier by the Guard Shack. I had my I.D. badge ready.
“This is private property, Bub. Turn it around and scram.” Not exactly a professional way to deal with visitors.
“Here is my I.D. Maybe you don’t recognize me, but I’m your Boss. And where is your name tag? You’re supposed to be wearing that at all times while on duty. Now – lift the barrier.”
The anonymous guard squinted at my badge like he’d never seen one before. Then he backed away from my car and consulted with the other guard in the shack before lifting the barrier so I could drive up to the building. As I drove off I saw in the mirror the guard picking up a telephone. He was letting someone know that I was coming.
I pulled up by the building. My headlights showed me that there were three security guards waiting for me. A reception committee in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. I got out and walked up to the Ritz Brothers by the door.
“Good evening, Gentlemen. I figured I’d just pay you all a little visit.”
“Well, I wish you’d let us know you were coming.” None of them looked very pleased to see me.
“If I had this wouldn’t be much of a surprise visit, now, would it?”
– To Be Continued –