The Machinist by Dennis Stein



Just a couple more steps and he would be in the perfect spot. The spotlights on the machine shone through the rain, illuminating the site with their brilliant white. Justin sat tight, every nerve alive, listening to the conversations on the two-way radio. His eyes remained fixed on his target. The man's white hard hat stood out even against his 'high-vis' construction vest. It would be easy. And he had already thought out everything, every word he would say in the post-accident melee.

The supervisors would be all over this. They would have to finally do their jobs. He hadn’t made complaints to either the Union or the Health and Safety Committee with good reason. They were weak and wouldn’t have been any help to him anyway. It would have also established motive.

This was the way he had decided to solve the problem. The continued harassment and poor job performance reports would end tonight. He was a damn good machine operator, and the others on the crew knew it.

The rain beat down on the cab. He only had to wait a short while longer. Soon Salinsky and Anderson on the other two large shovels would go for a break, and he would be alone on the site with the foreman.

Just last night, before shift, the goddamn guy had brought him into the portable office to ream him out again. For whatever reason, he thought that Justin’s complaint about a lurch in the machine's movement to the right was an excuse to sideline the unit for the shift and do nothing for the whole night as a result. He had documented the issue with the shovel twice now in his machine report, but it had gone without being serviced just the same.

The foreman's name was Perrin. He was hired right off the street, and the guy was a micro-managing idiot. He knew little about the kind of heavy equipment that Justin and the others on the crew operated on a nightly basis, and even less about how to treat people.

The dam project that the company had been working on had stalled several months ago while the energy firm creating it scrambled to find more funding. Everyone had been worried about their jobs, and several of the seasonal laborers had been laid off. Justin had been bumped to a night shift, but because of his qualification on the shovel, he’d kept his job, and was getting almost normal hours.

He watched Perrin through the streams of rain running down the windshield of his machine, heavy metal playing from the stereo inside. Justin gritted his teeth, barely able to contain his hatred, and flexed his hands on the control sticks of the shovel. The boss man was standing close to the edge of the dam, checking his laminated plans in the light of one of those stupid LED headlamps, as the rain continued to pour down. He glanced to his left, as the door of one of the other shovels opened, and Salinsky, a fat fellow in an orange reflective vest, stepped out. He couldn’t hear the words between the operator and the foreman, but it was obvious that it was break time. Salinsky shuffled off as quickly as he could, throwing a yellow rain poncho over top of his wide body as he went.

Anderson climbed out of the other machine to Justin’s right side, already donning his rain jacket. He didn’t even bother with anything more than a quick wave as Perrin looked up from the plans. Anderson was the old dog on the crew, having worked almost half a lifetime for the company, and could do things with the big machines that bordered on the impossible. He didn’t need anyone to tell him when it was time for his break. He had always been very friendly to Justin, and when he’d finally qualified for one of the larger shovels, Anderson had been able to give the young operator many tips to help on the job.

Justin’s gaze drifted back to Perrin, who flicked water off the plastic covered sheets detailing the job he was supposed to be accomplishing. He had already finished his break and now, as the activity died off on the two-way, the young operator knew that most of the crew were taking theirs. He looked around. In the dark, with the heavy rain, there was no one to see. He moved his right hand to the throttle control, raising the idle a little on the big machine to indicate to his foreman that he was ready to work. He thought about the investigation that he knew would follow his actions tonight. He thought about how good it would feel to teach Perrin the error of his ways. Every part of his plan was perfect, with no room for mistakes. He had managed to keep the foreman between his machine and the sheer cliff of manmade concrete that was the dam for almost the entire shift.

Hearing the massive diesel engine on the shovel come to life, Perrin finally looked up from his plans, motioning Justin and his machine to come forward towards him.

Justin grinned evilly, turning the volume up on the sinister metal music on his stereo. That asshole probably doesn’t even know how to read those plans, he thought. He pushed forward on the floor pedals, and the huge machine’s tracks let out the screech of steel rolling slowly forward.

“Right here! Take it down another foot right here for the spillway!” shouted Perrin into the radio.

Motioning to where he wanted the machine to dig, the young operator knew that the foreman couldn’t see the cruel smile on Justin’s face through the shovel’s bright work lights. It made him feel almost invisible, a predator ready to strike.

He intentionally made a move with his boom to the left, the wrong direction to what Perrin was signaling as he continued forward. He was no more than a few meters from his foreman now, still inching forward.

Perrin took a step backward, realizing that the machine was getting uncomfortably close. Its lights were blinding. Frustrated, he tucked the plan sheet under his arm so he could signal with one hand while he used the radio.

“Stop!! Stop there!” he screamed into the radio.

The machine halted, and even though Perrin couldn’t see Justin, he gave him a burning look in the bright white of the lights. The smell of diesel exhaust was thick in the air.

There it was, thought Justin. “Gettin’ kinda mad, ain’t cha?” he said under his breath.

Perrin threw his hard hat onto the ground in anger. Pointing to the right side of Justin’s position, he spoke angrily into his handset.

“Here, stupid! Right here is where you need to be!” he yelled.

That was what Justin had waited for all night. It opened the floodgates of rage in his young mind, mad emotion flowing out like the death metal from his stereo. He jerked on the control stick in his right hand, and the machine lurched suddenly right by several feet. It came so close to Perrin that he could almost taste steel, and he staggered back a step too far.

The foreman’s eyes widened as he slipped backwards out of control, the rain-soaked mud covering the edge of the concrete wall like an oil slick. He fell, letting out a horrible scream that Justin could clearly hear over his music, and disappeared over the edge of the abyss into the darkness and out of the lights of the machine.

Justin dropped the throttle to idle and turned the volume knob down all the way on the stereo. The rain was the only other sound aside from the purr of the engine, pelting down heavily on the roof of his cab. The boom hung still in the night air, and the young operator watched in satisfaction as the white hard hat on the ground finally stopped spinning in the mud.

“Justin!” said a voice beside him.

Justin opened his eyes, looking around in bewilderment. The voice belonged to Anderson. Justin had fallen asleep at the lunch table in the portable office after finishing some hot stew that the work camp cooks had prepared during the day shift.

“It’s time to rock and roll, gotta dig some mud tonight!” Anderson nudged the young operator with a smile as he rose from the table. Justin nodded with a yawn. “And try not to get yourself in more shit with Perrin tonight, eh?” Anderson advised as he put on his rain jacket and hard hat.

Justin grinned at the older man and stood up. “Don’t worry. That will never happen again....”

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