They laid me off again.
Fuck 'em and their games. Lay me off after eighty-nine days so they don't have to let me into the union and then call me back in a week.
I slammed my locker closed and headed out, ice scraper in hand.
Bastards paid me just enough that I couldn't find a steady job that wouldn't net me less. Course the money was good because the work sucked, unloading trailers in the middle of the night.
Especially in the dead of winter. Trailers weren't heated. Unloading bays weren't heated. Sometimes, the wind screaming in through the door would threaten to blow the packages right off the conveyor belt.
I nodded at the union stiffs sitting behind the glass in the heated control room.
Enjoy your week. See if I care.
The bitter night took my breath away and then turned it into a thick white cloud.
Hunching over to make myself as small a target as possible, I stamped towards my car which was parked over by the chain-link fence.
The feet were the first thing to go numb working this shift. Last week I dropped a box that must have been filled with rocks onto my right foot. Didn't feel a thing. It wasn't until I was home and trying to peel off my sock that I saw the blood.
What? You didn't file an injury report before you left the building? It didn't happen at work then.
My car was a single sheet of ice.
Knowing better than to even bother trying to open my door, I pawed at the edge of the windshield, trying to break the surface. My last car, I could start the engine and blast the heat while I scraped but this piece of junk wouldn't run less I kept giving it gas. Not to mention, the defroster didn't do shit.
The wind changed from a whistle to a wail. Barbed wire might keep out vandals but provided nothing in the way of protection from the elements.
When you were hired, they emphasized the hourly rate and the dangled the possibility of a union job. They neglected to mention that they sent you home early more often than not and the minor detail that a union employee would have to quit or die for a slot to open.
But make sure you're here on time and that you work your ass off because we're always watching. Impress us.
Having scraped a jagged crease in the ice, I now chipped at the edges to make a clear area so I'd be able to drive home.
The union guy who drew the short straw that night supervised us and the rest of them stayed busy killing time until the end of the shift. And if they couldn't kill time fast enough, they stayed late for the double pay.
The parking lot was surrounded by tall buildings. Why did none of them break the wind?
I could finally see my seat through the window. Having solved the visibility problem, I transferred my attention to the door.
This fucking winter would never end.
Concentrate on freeing the handle since none of locks even worked. Then crack the seal around the door.
The worst of this weather would be over by morning when the suits came in. They had no idea what it was like for us night guys. Wait a second. What was I thinking? Even if they did know, they wouldn't care.
If I died out here right now, they'd just call the next name on the waiting list to replace me.
I grabbed the handle and yanked hard, my breath coming out like steam. On the third pull, the door finally yielded.
Bobby, one of the union stiffs, was sitting in the passenger seat. He wasn't fogging up the interior of the car. He wasn't bothering to hide the syringe that sat on his lap.
I climbed in next to him and rubbed my hands together before starting the engine.
This wouldn't look good, illegal drug use on company property, on company time. Local, state, and federal law would be all over this place once the news broke and that was going to affect productivity.
If the news broke.
The suits would be here in two or three hours. Until then I could try to thaw my fingers around a cup of coffee at that diner a couple blocks up.
Bobby wasn't going anywhere.
First thing I was going to do after joining the union was buy me a new set of wheels.
The security guard didn't even look at me as he pushed the button to open the gate. He probably didn't have heat in there either.
I bumped over the curb and slid into my lane.
Get some new wheels. Move into a better apartment. Save up some money and maybe pay a visit to the farm, show them how I made something of myself.
The suit would know what to do about the body. I heard they had ties to people who did stuff like that for a living.
Flashing red lights sparkled through the rear window. I pulled to the side of the road and the cruiser stopped behind me.
I pushed the door open.
"Stay in your vehicle."
"I can't roll down the window. It's frozen. What seems to be the problem, officer?" I put my hands on the wheel in plain sight.
"You're driving with obstructed visibility." The cop was standing just behind me now.
"I work only a block or two back and I'll be home in a few minutes. It would take me an hour to clear all these windows."
He stepped forward and shined his light on my face. "Let me see your license and registration."
Then the cop saw Bobby.
As I sat there making smoke, the chance of a better life melted right in front of my eyes.
Bio: Over four hundred of Stephen's stories and poems have been selected to appear in more than a hundred publications. His website, www.stephendrogers.com, includes a list of new and upcoming titles as well as other timely information.