As a reminder from my last post Bloodshot (Coming Soon), I am posting pre-release Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) versions of each chapter of my book. For this who are unfamiliar with the term, an ARC is the finished manuscript, but may contain errors. In this instance, the publishers have not yet done their own editing for the version you are reading below. So, without further delay.
January 30, 1994
Machinery is buzzing with life, and Emmitt Wasson is still beaming with pride at his daughter Lindsay Jane’s baptism early that morning. He would’ve stayed for the pot lock afterward, but work called in need of volunteers for overtime. The Sunday evening shift is reserved for two types of workers: a seasoned worker and new workers learning the job under the guidance of those seasoned workers. Emmitt is a novice, so the Sunday shift gives him on-the-job training. During overtime this evening, Emmitt works alongside Leo Andreadis, an amiable fellow, at the conveyor belt. For the past several months, the two gentlemen have been working together. Tonight, the job is no different than any other night. The two men are tasked to monitor cases of soda boxed and tied upon shipping pallets.
“Congratulations, my friend, on your daughter’s baptism!” cheers Leo as he observes the pallets safely packed and tied. “I was looking around, but I didn’t catch you at church this morning.”
“Thanks, Leo,” Emmitt says. “I didn’t know you went to St. Andrews.”
Leo leans over the rails. “Sometimes. When my son’s in town.”
“Oh, okay.” Emmitt turns his attention to Leo instead of the conveyor belt. “How old is your son?”
Leo’s eyes appear hooded. “Troy, my son, is three.”
Emmitt swallows. “How are you and his mother?”
Leo pauses. “Divorced.” His voice is barely a whisper.
Emmitt looks at his co-worker. He wouldn’t consider Leo a friend, but the man has been instrumental in his ability to help Emmitt learn the job. During three months of work together, Emmitt has never known anything more about Leo than his enjoyment of drinking and good humor. Now, Emmitt has an overwhelming desire to press Leo for further detail. Before he can question Leo more, a sudden crash comes from the conveyor belt followed by Leo, slamming the emergency button. Both warehouse production and the conversation are brought to a halt.
“Looks like we’ll have to hold this conversation for another day,” Leo says as he removes his hand from the emergency button. “We better get that mess cleaned up before we start the machinery again.”
Together, the two men step off the platform and head beneath the conveyor where they find exploded bottles and pools of soda by the pallet lift.
“Let’s start here,” Leo says. “I’ll get some trash cans while you wipe up the soda.”
They both return to the upper floor. Emmitt finds cleaning supplies, including a pail and a mop. While he’s beneath the pallet lift, the conveyor buzzes to life.
“Hey!” Emmitt calls. “I’m working down here!”
In the tight space, he pivots because he knows he needs to leave before the pallet lift drops and closes him between the lift and the moving machinery parts. While the lift is up, Emmitt decides to make a run to safety. But as he goes under, he slips on the soda and falls the same time the lift drops. Though he attempts to pull away, Emmitt can feel his legs, crushing beneath the weight.
Scenes from the morning’s baptismal service flash before his eyes. Emmitt’s wife Maggie is holding baby Lindsay Jane in her arms. He’s making the sign of the cross on the baby’s forehead. The priest Father Klein is claiming Lindsay Jane for Christ, and Emmitt is vowing to raise her in the faith.
Emmitt grits his teeth. The pain of the conveyor belt is unbearable.
“Get this fucking thing off me!” he yells.
Footsteps clamor down the metal planks. Leo reaches the bottom of the steps and stares wide-eyed at Emmitt.
“Holy shit, Em!” Leo calls. “Hold tight, my friend. I’ll get help.” He runs up the steps in a hurry. “Joe, get down here!”
“Hey, the machine sounded like it was off, so I turned it back on,” says Joe as he comes down the steps. “Why was it off?”
“Forget about that,” Emmitt blurts. “I’m stuck under here. The lift caught my legs.”
“This is bad,” Joe says. “This is really bad.”
Immersed in soda, Emmitt tries to twist his torso to see what Joe sees, but he gives up due to the pain.
“I’ll go call an ambulance,” Leo says. He leaves.
“I’m really sorry, Emmitt,” Joe says with his eyes downcast. “But you guys didn’t have the safety lock on the button. How was I to know?”
“Well, right now we need to stop acting like the fucking Three Stooges,” Emmitt says. He gasps. “Haul ass and get some help!”
When the paramedics arrive, they remove the lift and gingerly place Emmitt upon a gurney to wheel him into an ambulance. Once at the hospital, Emmitt is seen immediately by the doctor, who orders an X-Ray and an MRI. When Maggie and family friends Frank and Daniella arrive, they wait to hear Emmitt’s condition. The doctor assures them that Emmitt will indeed walk again. But, he will always limp and experience some pain, which he will be able to manage through medication.
When the doctor leaves, Maggie gives Emmitt a weak smile. She cradles baby Lindsay Jane, who sleeps soundly, in her arms.
“We’re going to be okay,” Maggie whispers.
Emmitt nods and refuses to voice his dismay and anger at his coworkers’ carelessness.
“Emmitt, we’re here for you,” says Frank, placing an arm around Daniella. “We’re here for you, Maggie, and Lindsay, just like we were here for you through A.A.”
“Thanks, Frank,” Emmitt says. Before he can recall those dark painful years before his marriage, Emmitt squelches the thoughts.
Though he is thankful for the support of family and friends, Emmitt can’t help but think about his predicament. Over the years, he has never sustained any severe injuries, not even during his active duty overseas in combat zones. Not once has he been shot or suffered from paralysis. But now, with both legs crushed, and moments before surgery, Emmitt lies silent in his hospital bed. He holds a stoic expression as he casts a shadowy accusation upon the only man who could have screwed this up. Leo Andreadis.