The early June air was thick with the smell of mown grass, sweat and bad breath as Andrew trudged along the dirt track that led to his portacabin. His shirt felt too itchy as his feet scuffed along the crumbling gravel underfoot. His neck felt raw, rubbed the wrong way by his collar. He’d take the tie off as soon as he was able to. He only ever wore it in case an executive came along to view the progress they’d been making.
Taking his key out he slipped it into the lock of the door and let it creak loudly on its hinges. The musty smell of paper, printer ink and old coffee rushed out and hit his nose like a hammer. It was the same way every morning and yet he still couldn’t get used to it. Blinking tiredly, he stepped up into the portacabin, the floor seeming to sag under his weight, before he dragged the door closed and went around the cheap desk to sink into his leather chair. It squeaked and groaned as he settled down into it and then proceeded to organize the mess, he’d left on his desk the previous evening. Half an hour later he was just filing away a couple of emails from his employer –it was always better to keep a hard copy just in case –when the phone rang out. He grimaced as he let it ring out for a little while, silently hoping that the caller would simply disengage and try again later, perhaps after lunch.
The phone kept ringing and eventually, Andrew sighed and snatched at the receiver. “Hello?”
“Is this Andrew Evans?” came the hushed female voice.
“You know it is, otherwise, you wouldn’t have called this number.”
“I just needed to confirm that it was you and not one of your associates,” came the clipped reply, “Now are you alone?”
Andrew exhaled loudly, “Yes I’m alone.”
“Well to put it bluntly, there has been another incident.”
“Another one?” he asked nonchalantly. He’d grown accustomed to those words.
“Yes, he was retiling the roof and … Well he seems to have fallen. He’s in the hospital now with a dislocated shoulder and a bruised pelvis.”
“The most minor of the recent injuries,” he was mildly impressed. Most of the calls he’d gotten had been to report cases of lacerations, gaping wounds, head trauma and even a shattered shin bone.
“Yes,” she murmured slowly. “We need to discuss his replacement.”
“There’s not going to be a replacement. I don’t have anyone else interested enough to head up there,” he pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Surely there must be someone?”
“Unfortunately, there’s no one,” he stated again. He plucked some lint from his trousers. It was far too warm in the portacabin, despite the AC unit.
“We need someone, Andrew. There’s been a sudden –complication –and we need the place looking more secure.”
“So, hire someone in town to do the jobs for you.”.
“You know there’s no way we can do that. You signed the contract and it’s up to you to hold up your end of the bargain. You’re down at least four men, I’m sure there are agencies where you can recruit to fill in the gaps,” she snapped, her voice hardening.
“On one condition; you need to tell me what, exactly, is the sudden urgency? None of you have sat their demanding things of me before.”
There was a pause where he heard the rustling of fabric. “Do you remember when we explained how some of our funding came from an interested party that lives in America?”
“How could I forget?” he grunted dryly. That discussion had happened when he’d been personally requested to attend a meeting in Middlesbrough hospital to decide on how to to incorporate the medical equipment required into the house. It had been a long, arduous journey and the cost had come directly out of his personal account. It had not been reimbursed.
“Well, our investor isn’t convinced that the data we’ve been sending him is accurate. He wants to be sure that his money is being used wisely on the numerous tests we’ve been running,” she sighed wearily. “However, we were unable to convince him that soon we would be conducting another couple of trials that could ensure the make or break of our research.”
“What does he plan to do about that, then?”
“He plans to send over some people to keep an eye on us and make sure that we’re using his money the way we claim to be.”
“And are you?”
“Of course,” her tone was clipped, “We’re not stupid, Andrew. We know he checks everything twice over, so there’s no way we could have a shopping spree even if we wanted to.” Closing his eyes, Andrew to relax. The phone felt wet against his ear. “We can’t let that happen, Andrew. We need it to appear that some of the work he wants done to the place, has been done. We need the help.”
“Did he give a time estimate as to when these two inspectors will be coming to check up on you?”
“He said that it would be sometime before Christmas. That gives us far too much time to play with. Everyone else is already becoming paranoid and we only heard of this last week.”
“And what if I send another young man up there and he comes back with a broken spine, or in a wheelchair? How do you think that’s going to look on you in court?”
“We’re hoping it doesn’t come to that. We’ve taken extra precautions with this month’s pay instalment. We’re not going to let any more accidents happen if they can be avoided,” she yawned lightly.
“Why wasn’t that the priority before?” he ground out.
“It was, it was!” she insisted, panic breaking her voice, “It’s just … We’ve only just received enough money for the extra safeguards we needed. It should be easy for the next person you send up. Honestly, everything will be installed here within the next two weeks. Your men will be safe.”
He rubbed his temples. His workers were arriving, toying with their hard-hats as they made their way across the site. Luminous vests drifted by accompanied by the low murmur of voices. No one knocked on the office door. His stomach knotted as he glanced at his computer monitor, the cursor blinking waiting for him to enter his password. He typed it in and waited as the home-screen loaded.
“Can you guarantee it?” he asked as he opened an internet browser. He started tapping away at the keys with the phone lodged between his cheek and shoulder. “Can you absolutely guarantee that the next man I send up there will be safe?”
There was a long pause. He held his breath as he waited, his eyes skim-reading the already perfected advert he’d drafted. “No,” she finally said, “You know I can’t promise that.”
“I don’t really have much of a choice here, do I?” he bit out.
“No, you don’t. I’m sorry,” she added as an afterthought.
“I’m sorry too. Tell Mary that I will call as soon as some new people are employed and available.”
“Thank you, Andrew. It’s appreciated.”
“I’m sure it is.”
The line went dead. He stared at the phone in his hand for a few minutes before hunching over his desk with his head in his hands. After a sip from the cold, sour dregs of coffee, he quickly clicked ‘SUBMIT’ and leaned back from the monitor, as though it would burst into flames. He sat there, wiping the sweat from his moustache and chewed his tongue. There was no going back now.