Thursday, September 17, 2015

Eighty-seven Minutes (fiction)

Jimmi glided along the assembly line in his three wheeled, electric scooter.  Scooters were a mark of prestige and Jimmi having one was a bit of a mystery.

He killed the power and coasted to a stop outside the AGV Team room.  AGV was the section of line where 600 pound powertrain “packages” were horsed out of the backs of trucks and placed on Automatic Guided Vehicles which then carried them to the line.

The supervisor looked up from his computer and grunted, “Whaddya want?”  The supervisor was surprised to see Jimmi because Jimmi spent most of his time on first shift and it was almost midnight.

Jimmi said, “I need to see Monster.  Canya get him off the line?”  The question was a formality.  People did not mess with Jimmi.

Jimmi poured himself a cup of coffee so he would have something to do with his hands.  It would take the supervisor a few minutes to shuffle his people around to get Monster off the line.  The coffee was burnt and bitter.  There were not many coffee drinkers in AGV on second shift.

Jimmi was a “Document 46 appointee.”  Contractually, Document 46 appointees were selected by a team of management and union officials.  In Jimmi’s case, the union drove the selection.  Management was willing to let the union pick 'their guy' as long as the union guys played ball on other issues.  Ostensibly, Jimmi was the Plant librarian.

Jimmi was in his mid-forties.  His skin was the color of café au lait. He had softly curled black hair and incredibly long eye lashes. He had a gift for gab. He did well with the ladies.

He had played college ball but had been a half step too slow and three inches too short to start.  Players like him had other uses, though.  He was the defender the wide receivers ran patterns against in offensive practice.  He carried bags, wrote papers, took tests and peed in the cup for the starters.  And he made some friends along the way.

The plant library consisted of a hundred old, paperback books and fifty VHS tapes.  Jimmi’s real job?  He was the Plant bookie.

Management was blind to this function.  The blindness may have been real or it may have been willful blindness.  The point was that the Plant ran more smoothly when one person coordinated the tournament betting pools and the fantasy football league.  Knowing that everybody was betting the same line kept workers from wandering away from their work area looking for a better spread.  With Jimmi running the show winners were paid promptly.  There was no drama.

It is possible that Jimmi benefited from the arrangement.  Nobody asked.  Nobody messed with Jimmi.

Jimmi was sitting at a picnic table when Monster walked up.  Six feet, eight inches, three-hundred twenty pounds of muscle and mean.  “What the fuck do you want?” Monster challenged.

Jimmi did not twitch. He had played six minutes against Wisconsin after both of the starters had their bells rung.  He was not scared of big.   “Eighty-seven minutes.” was all he said.

Part of Jimmi’s magic was that he could mirror whoever he was talking to.  He could speak like he was a graduate of a Big Ten University, which he was.  He could talk like he had been raised on the mean streets of Flint…which he had been.  He always talked like he was just a little bit smarter and a whole lot more in control.

“What the fuck?” Monster said.  Witty conversation was not Monster’s forte.

Jimmi said, “A renta-cop saw you gut out one of the candy machines with a piece of pipe last night.  She saw you take the candy.  She reported it to her boss.  The boss called the owner of the vending machines. 

“Seems like they have been losing three or four machines a week.  Always happens at the end of second shift.  Somebody has been smashing them just like the one you smashed.  It is getting expensive for the owners.  Those machines cost a lot of money to fix.”

“So, what does that have to do with ‘Eight-seven minutes’?” Monster asked.  “And I ain’t sayin it was me.”

Jimmi shook his head sadly, “Monster, who else is as big as you, shaves their head and wears white, wife beater shirts?  The plant has everybody’s ID photo on the computer.  This is not a time to be stupid.”  Jimmi did not mention the bad teeth.  It did not seem like the time.

Monster said, “Ok, but you still ain’t explained ‘Eighty-seven minutes’”

Jimmi said, “Its like this.  The owner of those machines is mobbed-up with one of the Detroit families.  He handed out a dozen phones to a bunch of druggies.  The next candy machine that gets hit….well, a text message goes out on those phones.  The first druggy that uploads video of you taking a bullet or of your dead body gets ten grand.”

“A house on Woodward is making book.  Eighty-seven minutes is the ‘line’ on how long it will take for the video upload once the message goes out.”

Monster relaxed, leaned back and folded his arms.  “I think your blowin’ smoke up my ass.” 

Jimmi calmly looked at Monster for the count of three.  Then he asked.  “When was the last time you saw an AMC Gremlin?”

“What the hell kind of question is that?” asked Monster.

“There is a Gremlin in the back corner of the parking lot.  You can see it from the window.  Coupla twenty year old punks in it smoking cigarettes.”

Monster grinned.  “I ain’t got time for this shit.”  He did not walk over to look out the window.  He had already decided Jimmi was lying.

“Hey, Monster, another thing.” Jimmi added, “The owner of those machines is kind of fond of that renta-cop.  He would hate to have her fall and bump her head.  Anything happens to her, it’s the same as if it was one of his machines.”

Monster was enjoying his time off the line and wanted to stretch it out. “Just sayin it wasn’t me.  What if another one of them machines gets busted and it ain’t me that did it?”

Jimmi said, “Folks in Detroit don’t care.  If you know who is doing it you might want to drop them the word that you feel kind of protective about those machines and that cop.  Let them know that it will be healthier for all of ya if nothing gets broke.”

Monster said, “So I still don’t get why people is betting on this?  Why?  It don’t make no sense.”

Jimmi explained, “You don’t think the man in Detroit is paying for this hit out of his own pocket, do you?  He is turning it into a self-funding proposition.  He is calling this bet his ‘derivatives contract.’”

Jimmi nodded to the supervisor who was hovering out of earshot.  “I’m done.” was all he said.

Jimmi made a call as he got on his scooter, flagrantly ignoring the plant rule about talking on the phone while driving. 

“I told him.”  He listened a little bit, then asked “What odds will you give me for twenty minutes or less.”  Jimmi bet $200 at 110-to-1. 

Jimmi didn’t see how he could lose.  Monster would either get smart and protect those machines with his life or Jimmi stood to make $22k. Regardless of what happened, the plant would run more smoothly next week than it had run the week before.

Jimmi just hoped the punks in the Gremlin would not get so excited that they forget to shoot the video.