A Job in Colorado

June, 2017 — Denver, Colorado

You don’t want to appear too eager, but you also don’t want to look bored or uninterested. Mike Ross shifts around in the chair to get a view out the window at the blue Denver sky. He’s come a long way fleeing the collapse of the housing market, looking for a way to get work in one of the few parts of the country that still has some construction going on. He’s used his savings to buy gas, keep himself dressed like a man who’s still successful. And of course to keep sending checks back to Indy, so that Brenda can continue in the manner that she thought a successful builder would be able to provide.

His mouth tightens. It’s easy to have expectations, easy to live the high life for a few years, and easy to lay blame when it comes apart. What should he have done? Predicted the damn housing crisis? It’s easy now to see how the boom that followed the War was just financed by torrents of easy money from the government. Easy now to say that it was doomed to go off the rails sooner of later. So what should he have done instead? What kind of business is doing well in America now? Pawn shops?

The image brings bitter smile to his face. Fuck it. A man does what he can, and when that’s not good enough anymore for those who depend on him—well, then, they can just find themselves a new man if they think it’s that goddamn easy.

He’s heard that there’s some good stuff going on in Seattle if Denver doesn’t work out. At this point, though, it’s looking like he doesn’t have the gas money to get there.

“Mister, uh, Ross?” the secretary says, and Mike feels a chill. Damn it, he was so wrapped up he didn’t even hear the door open!

“Yes, ma’am!” he says, doing his best to look instantly businesslike.

“The director will see you now,” the woman says, frowning slightly.

Ter-fucking-rific.

~

The “director”—director of what, exactly, is not completely clear—is a nondescript little man in a nondescript little office with crappy light green paint on the walls that smells new but looks like it was slopped on the walls by trained monkeys. It does not seem like the most promising place for hooking up with a serious construction contract.

“So you have experience with commercial concrete repair?” the man says without looking up from the thick resume.

“Yes,” Ross lies. The advertisement mentioned that as one of the requirements, so it’s there in this version of the resume, hot off the printer. Besides, how different can commercial work be? “Including pumping to upper stories.”

“That won’t be an issue in this case,” the man’s mouth quirks momentarily as if it’s his own little private joke. “But you have experience with repair? For example cracks in basements?” The man looks up at him piercingly.

“Oh yeah,” Mike answers him seriously. That’s certainly not something he has to fib about, but it seems like an odd question. “Mostly epoxies, but I’ve had my crews use polyurethane as well on smaller jobs.”

“This will be on a larger scale than you’re used to,” the Director mutters, looking down at Mike’s stack of paper. I’m getting the gig! he realizes, and tries hard not to let the knowledge show.

“I just want to point out,” Mike says instead, in his most businesslike voice, that I’ve always put together top-quality teams. With experienced men who know what they’re doing I’ve always been able to offer very competitive rates, as I think you’ll see there.”

“Yes, well,” the little man drops the pages and looks up at him again, his small nondescript eyes holding Ross at their precise focus. “The rates won’t present a problem.” Mike blinks but otherwise prevents himself from reacting. “The working conditions may be.” The man leans back in his chair and steeples his fingers.

“This is a DHS project, Mister Ross. For obvious reasons we did not mention that in the solicitation for bids, but that’s just what it is. Your men are going to see some unusual things. A short time ago you would all have needed security clearances for this work, but scheduling concerns—and some unfortunately shoddy workmanship—have trumped all that now. But you say they’re experienced? Good. Let’s hope they can get the job done and still keep their mouths shut, shall we?”

“You can definitely depend on my men to be discrete on a government project, sir,” Mike Ross says in his best frosty-professional voice. But what he’s thinking is I’m getting the gig!

“Yes, well, that would be wise,” the Director says. “And it would be wise to see that they do top quality work.” The man looks away for a moment, and something flickers in his eyes a little too quickly for Mike to quite identify. “The officials in charge are—not in the best of moods at this point.”

“I trust,” the man looks at him, “that you can have your crew assembled quickly?”

“Yes sir,” Mike nods. “Shall we say one week from today?”

“We shall say absolutely no later than the end of this week,” the Director replies.

“But—they’re out on jobs all over the country right now,” Mike can’t stop a frown from crossing his face. “I mean, sir, well,” he can’t think of a better way to say it, “frankly, we really don’t have the cash right now to get them here any faster. And they’re on contracts.”

“Break the contracts,” the man says simply, “and fly them here. Be ready to start no later than Friday. And you will work seven days a week until further notice. Time and a half for Saturdays, double time for Sundays. You may tell my secretary on the way out if you need an advance for airplane tickets and to settle your other contract obligations. That will not be a problem. But have them ready,” the man focuses on him again, “to start Friday. And you will start tomorrow, seeing the site.”

Mike blinks at the man. Eight and a half days’ pay per week.

“Okay,” he says. “Where do I show up at the airport?”

“The site—entry,” there’s that flicker again, “is not at Denver airport. There’s a small regional airport called Front Range seven miles to the southeast of Denver International. Please report to the terminal there tomorrow at eight.”

“Front Range?” What the hell kind of project can they possibly be running at a regional airport? “Uh, okay. And who do I ask for?”

The man stands up, causing Mike to rise as well. Mike puts out his hand and the man takes it for the briefest of deal-sealing handshakes.

“Oh, they’ll find you,” he says.

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