Chapter 5: INTERLUDE
Joe Armad Ferguson was just a simple New York civil engineer who couldn’t keep a job in his chosen field of work. All through college, he worked odd jobs. Landscaping in the spring, mowing in the summer, kept his hours and his grade point average down because he always spent the extra time needed for putting the finishing touches on a project that the boss had made promises on to get the bid. Joe knew that he could do a better job. He knew the plants, enjoyed gardening and cooking with different spices, but playing with flowers had never been part of his plans. Wood, he knew and building decks and laying sidewalks of various kinds was sort of an easy add-on to the landscaping. His abilities kept his boss in business and his pay for all the overtime kept him flush with toys and extra cash for the games that young men play.
After two years of working landscaping, decks, lawn -care and running errands for the boss, he still made very little more per hour than when he started. Most of the time, he ran the crews while the boss took care of personal business. That man had problems. He borrowed from one job to pay off other debts just in time to start another tab and then turned around to make a low ball bid that cost him supplies just so he could get a job to keep his guys busy and cash coming in. Profits were low and pay was unsteady. This was the central reason that Joe went into the fencing business.
After one summer, the fencing business led to working on a state project putting up flagpoles. That job led to putting up corporate antennas. Finally, his education was paying off. Joseph was becoming a well-rounded construction engineer and he was the only one in his class that had already entered a career path, even if he was also the only one taking seven years to finish his degree. Perhaps that is where his life began to turn around.
Joe was tall; over six feet in height and well-muscled. Although he didn’t count the extra weight on his girth to be much, it still detracted from his appearance in his mind and he didn’t try to date very much. Between work and his studies, he didn’t have the time, so he stayed home and cooked his meals. He also was becoming quite a gourmet cook.
Finally after seven years, when graduation came and everybody was looking for a job, Joe was able to move on into an engineering position with the company he was already employed with. The thing was; they needed him in the department that mounted the electronic repeaters that the antennas were built to support. Of all the things to influence a career path the most, it was not his education or his appearance but his apparent lack of a fear of heights. Joe was afraid of heights and in order to get the job, he fought his fear every time he climbed a tower. He was sorely needed; he allowed none of his fear of heights to affect his work. Nobody knew of his fear and it was based on a dream in which he would leave this world in a fall. He knew from the depths of his mind and soul that because his dream would not let him see past the fall, that the darkness was death.
The business grew and his responsibilities increased to the point that he was the ‘go to’ guy for anything concerning the towers. His degree helped him correct design flaws on the fly and these changes became part of his reputation.
Joe woke to a frigid morning and the gentle rocking of his boat sitting in its’ slip. The light banging of the boat from the gentle morning breeze each time it came up against the dock cushions had woken him. The rhythm changed. He now wished that he had drunk many fewer drinks last night.
They had won their baseball game last night and the celebration had lasted well into the night. He had pitched a rare no hitter. His ex of only two years always hated the games, never showed up. She had always been jealous of the fact that he had friends and took offense every time he stayed out late.
The boat and his cycle were the only things left of his aborted marriage. At least they had no children. His mortgage on the boat was bigger than the one on the house, but the judge said that since she was working and living with the father of her child to be from another man, she could afford her credit debt and her mortgage on the house. Damn right! The divorce was well worth it for that statement.
The clock! Shit! Armad panicked. If he didn’t make it in reasonable time today, he wouldn’t be able to buy dinner tonight, much less pay off any of the bills. The life insurance bill, although it was late, would just have to wait. He didn’t have anyone he wanted to leave it to anyway.
Getting dressed, he grabbed a banana from the bowl of fresh mixed fruits, took a quick drink of spoiled milk, held back the reflex from spraying it all over the boat and sped himself as quickly across the highway as he could.
This job had been good to them, it had given him the money to set up a nice big house and send her back to school. Of course, school was where she met the friends who ruined their marriage. It probably didn’t help that the job also enabled him to buy his toys. His boat was filled with navigational toys, the same toys that she didn’t understand and hated. He still had that bill and it was the biggest one. Without alimony, it was worth it. The Judge probably thought so as well.
Ah! Yes! Some of his friends had warned him. The Navy had given him his love for sailing, education in navigation and the introduction to his wife. Two out of three wasn’t so bad.
This week he was assigned to the newest tower nearest his slip. In his hands, Joe held a plastic coated map, which contained the whole region with its waterways, hills, dales and other notable landmarks, and a dot for every tower that would be built after this first one. It was good to have a construction site near his boat slip. It was chilly out so he put the map into his inside coat pocket with the decree that he didn’t wish to read, and drew on the coat.
“Gentlemen, you don’t have to understand Science to build these towers.” He spoke to his crew. “All it takes is a little common sense; after all, it’s not magic. I do advise a bit of caution when you are at the top of the towers, the fall is kind of easy but the landing, well you know how that is. Use your leases or you are off the job.”
The job was going smoothly and he had once again managed a few nights of going sober. Maybe things would work out and he’d be able to take that cruise after all.
Days later, Joe found himself, still sober, at the top of the tower finishing up on the final attachment of the electronic transfer device.
Leaning against the rail, he could see his boat and his slip. Why was his boat not in the slip? His boat was being towed away. Why? He remembered the decree. It was still in his coat pocket with the map.
Opening the letter, he found that his wife was moving to impound his boat. It didn’t matter that he had paid his bills and the divorce was over. The letter from his lawyer said that she had a claim and that if he didn’t show in court by Friday, then he would lose possession by default of the boat and all of its contents. She would gain full possession of all property and debts, to discharge as she saw fit. The boat was to be impounded, until the claim was settled. That wasn’t fair!
Joe had had enough! Assessing his worth, he knew that all his ship insurance was unpaid; if he burned the boat or committed suicide, the money would go to the people designated. With a wry grin, he realized that he had never transferred any of the insurance policies to her name, just to his wife under his name. Well that was a bright note, no wife, no claim.
Suicide!? No way! This was his life not hers. Murder? That was a dead loss. No pun intended. The nature of his hard working Boy Scout attitude was what lost him most of his share of the marriage, that and his toys.
In any event, he knew that the settlement on the boat would work its’ self out, in given time. All he had to do is find a place to sleep and eat. Wouldn’t it be funny if she won the case and had to keep the boat? She knew nothing about buying, selling or maintaining the boat nor did any of her associates or friends. There was enough debt on the boat and its contents that nobody at the docks would touch it or recommend it. She would have to mortgage the house a second time in order to paint it in order to sell the boat and pay off the note in clear. What a joke! Nobody here could win and she didn’t know enough about it, nor did her fancy boyfriend lawyer. He played golf and couldn’t even swim. After finding a place to sleep tonight, he would have to find out what boats cost these days. They were easy enough to find.
Joe looked around. His men were in place and the job would be finished in two more days. His assistant would be able to manage one of the next towers while he took another one and trained another assistant. This job of building towers was going to take a long time and they would need several teams.
Joe began his supervisory checkpoints that he made on a regular basis. Were all safety harnesses on, his and his men? He looked at his anchor point and each of his men. Check! Weather conditions? Shit! There were low clouds with dark behind them. There was probably only forty minutes before they would have to call the day off. OK, it would be yet another day before completion. At least they would still be able to finish a few days early. He knew that even his young assistant could bring in the job on time.
He gave the time sign to his men and went up to the top of the tower to tie off and ground the last unit mounted. With all safety checks done, he slid out of the way and re-hooked his safety. A rumble nearby caused him to check his men again. All was clear. He grabbed a second safety line as the winds picked up. This was going to be a fun trip down the two hundred feet but well within safety regulations. This storm was coming up much more suddenly than most.
As he made a connection to his second safety, he unhooked his primary safety. A quick check showed that his crew was down and that he only had five stories to go. Regulations were clear, safety lines from the second story up. Safety was his watchword and his paranoia about heights made it even more necessary.
Lightning struck! It threw him off his feet and over the low rail at the second level. Crash, Snap! The light blinded him and he lost all sense of what was happening except that as in his dream he was in the air and falling!