The Devil and Joe Daily
by Tim D. Smith
If Joe Daily had known what was going to happen that night, he might not have gone to work.
He didn’t mind going into the plant early on Sunday nights. Not anymore. There was a time when he had, but over the years he had submitted to the grind of work and grown accustomed to the realization that this was where he would labor until he retired. Maybe even until the end of his days. His younger dreams never involved working in a factory, and by no stretch of the imagination would he have pictured himself where he was today. In his younger days he always saw himself accomplishing grand things; he always thought his life would be somehow more meaningful. The last straw in his submission came three years ago when he lost Michelle. Now, he no longer minded going to the plant.
Joe’s vacation during the Fourth of July shutdown had come and gone, and now August, which had only perched on the horizon briefly, had almost slipped by as well. The heat of middle Tennessee pervades and the manufacturing space of the main building, Plant 1, would be even hotter when all the presses began running. In fact, for the uninitiated the floor would seem unbearable. After all, the machines had to be hot enough to melt plastic, and with only fans pulling the air out the temperature inside rose all week until the weekend shutdown provided relief. During the week, Plastics International’s work area was hot as hell.
Glenn, who is always the first of Joe’s employees on Sunday night, arrived looking especially dapper because he had shaved, all but his moustache of course which hung from each corner of his mouth like a small vine. His faithful St. Louis Cardinals cap, soiled and stained with the remnants of two perfectly round marble-sized drops of dried plastic from when one of the presses erupted and burned the former boss Ross, sat atop his red hair. He carried a bulging Wal Mart plastic bag containing what Joe thought was probably Glenn’s lunch.
“I got the two presses in the last bay,” Glenn said. He grinned and his moustache rose and fell in an uneven way.
“That was nice of you.” Joe flipped the switches on what was now the last press to begin heating.
“Fall football practice starts this week,” Glenn said. Joe still needed to make out the duty roster, and Glenn often followed along as he did now. “Tennessee’s gonna be good this year.”
“Well, they usually are.”
“What about your Commodores?”
“We need a quarterback. At least the one we have needs to do better. Anyway, we’ll see how far they came in the offseason.”
“You know, I don’t give you as hard a time as everyone else. Why you keep pulling for that team?”
“I grew up here in Nashville, Glenn. Vandy has class. Now, I need to think and work on the list.”
But now the only thing Joe could think about was the upcoming football season. Why did he keep pulling for Vanderbilt? Football in the south is a way of life, and Vandy was a longtime member of the Southeastern Conference, college football’s version of the big leagues. The school’s admission standards and rigorous academic offerings caused them to miss out on many blue chip recruits. Not too many players convinced of their chances at NFL careers wanted to spend thirty hours a week studying, not even for the assurance of skills and future job security.
By the time work at the plant had begun in full force and the presses were whirring, it seemed that Glenn had made certain every worker knew football was in the air. Even Old Man Moore, who was in a surprisingly good mood for a Sunday night, got in on the act. Several years earlier, a grinder cut off Moore’s middle finger two joints down, and his favorite greeting was to yell “Hey!” and flip a bird, which was of course non-existent. Tonight though, he was giving everyone, including Joe, an index finger, a toothless smile, and a gruff “Number one, baby!”
By 4:30 with the presses running well, Joe was in no mood to even have supper in the break room. A fog of depression had settled over his countenance as clouds from the impending storm of football season approached. Carrying a Styrofoam cup of black coffee he dragged his fifty-year-old body out the back doors and slumped heavily on a seldom used wooden bench, the sounds of the machines fading replaced by the sound of the summer cicadas from the woods across the road behind the plant. Staring at the swirls of steam in the black liquid he wondered what life had in store for him as he fought a tidal wave of depression.
“Nice night for a stroll,” a stranger standing in front of Joe said.
Joe, who had been deep in thought, jumped, startled, and the coffee sloshed onto his fingers and the ground.
“Is that taking the Lord’s name in vain? I’ve always wondered,” the man said smiling. Standing above Joe, the man seemed tall, accentuated by what appeared to be tailored slacks, a black short sleeve shirt that hugged his neck even without a collar, and a crop of stout salt and pepper hair that stood no more than a half- inch high on his head. His smile, sitting beneath his thin, dark moustache, would have been the envy of any movie star.
“I didn’t notice you.”
“Just out for an evening walk. Mind if I sit?”
“No. Not at all.” Joe still hadn’t recovered his wits enough to ask what the man was doing walking up to the back of the factory in the middle of the night to make conversation, but for some reason he wasn’t suspicious of the stranger.
“You okay, friend?”
“It’s Sunday night. To tell you the truth, I’m tired,” Joe said, and that was the truth.
“Sunday. The Lord’s day. I suppose one should tell the truth on a Sunday.” He was smiling once more. “Of course, it’s Monday by now.”
“Then again, isn’t every day the Lord’s day?” The statement didn’t sound or seem like a question, and it wasn’t. The tall man continued. “If you could have anything you wanted in life,” the man said and paused before continuing, “most anything, well let’s just say anything, you know, to make the funk go away, what would it be?” He leaned back and stretched his long legs out straight. Joe noticed the man’s slightly pointy, possibly Italian, boots with silver at the very end of the toes.
The first thing that popped to mind was Michelle, and rather than baring his soul to a complete stranger he rethought the question. The night had started so well, it seemed. Then Glenn had begun football talk. Every year at this time, it was football.
“Vandy would win the SEC,” Joe said.
“Ah, Vanderbilt. They’ve broken some hearts over the years. Just the SEC? Why not win it all?”
“Sure. We’ll have Vandy win it all,” Joe said. His team. The Vanderbilt Commodores, perennial cellar dwellers in the conference. They had sure broken his heart his entire life.
“What would you give?”
Joe thought about Glenn’s smirk. Sure, he was an innocent, good natured fan, but it sure would be nice to rub THAT in his face. Joe smiled.
“I’d give about anything,” Joe said. “Name’s Joe.” He extended his hand and the stranger took it. Strong grip. Warm but dry. Something about that handshake, like a salesman, and Joe figured the man was a salesman. He had a strong intuition.
“My name is Appel. Allistair Appel.”
The name had a nice ring to it.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Appel.”
“You can call me Al. Like the song.”
“Okay, nice to meet you Al. So, you said you were out for a walk? What brings you up by here?”
“I hope I’m not intruding at the plant,” Al said.
“No, it’s okay. Right by the road and all. I’m surprised more people don’t wander up, it’s so close. It’s my break time.”
“I thought so,” Al said. He looked to the sky and breathed deep, inhaling a long breath of fresh air. “So, you’d give anything for Vandy to win? Really win?”
Joe stared at the man. Speechless.
“Be careful what you wish for,” Al said turning his attention fully on Joe. “You might just get it all.”
The only thing Joe could do was laugh. This was Vandy they were talking about. And laugh Joe did, so hard he had to look down and rub the tears from his eyes. When he looked up once more, he was alone. Utterly alone.