Robin Redding checked his watch and laid his copy of Hustler on his cluttered desk. Greased stained papers, several three ring binders and assorted paper piles of one depth or another littered it. It made the desk virtually unusable. Redding stretched and rose from the old swivel chair. A familiar squeak told him for the thousandth time that he’d better get out the oil can and lubricate the thing, but it could wait for tomorrow. There was always tomorrow.
He laughed to an empty room and wondered if he could be any happier. He had a job, an important one. Caring for the largely automated Herbert Stanton Sewage Plant required constant attention. After all, the place had been operating for thirty years and he couldn’t remember when the town had voted to update or upgrade anything at the facility.
The old records didn’t show any changes. He knew that pipes and equipment got old, especially from the acidic content of chemicals used to break down sewage. They constantly wore away at the innards of the hundreds of pipes and huge cement-lined tanks required by the engineer who built the station, Herbert Stanton.
Must be why they named it for him, he thought idly. When he came on the job, John Bright, the old fellow who’d had enough and decided to retire told him the smell would get him eventually. Robin pretended concern, but didn’t let on his secret. Bright told him the station had a fifty-year life and he’d have no troubles.
“I don’t guess yuh’re gonna work here forever, anyways,” he cackled.
Robin nodded politely, but said nothing.
When he was finally alone, he smiled at his real luck. First, he didn’t cotton to people nosing around. His magazines got him excited and often he did personal things the mayor and others would not like if they knew. Next, the place almost guaranteed his privacy, so no one would be the wiser. Most important, six years ago he’d lost his sense of smell. The car accident had broken his nose and did deeper damage. Hospital doctors worked over him for three hours and patched him up. He looked pretty much together, but smell; that disappeared completely.
It tickled him when his superiors, usually a bevy of newly elected officials of Benning who felt duty bound to “catch the flavor” of their territory-so to speak-came to look over part of what they now thought of as their responsibility. They’d wrinkle their noses and didn’t stay long.
On the outside, people looked at him strangely. Five-nine, dark complexioned and bulky, his repaired nose skewed slightly to the left. The paunch over which he often laced his hands together spoke of overeating. He wore baggy pants with brown grease smears on them. His shirts were never ironed. That and bad breath and his appearance built a visual picture of his character. Who cared how he dressed? For that matter, who cared what he did? It was none of their stinking business.
He had no use for people. If they smelled some workplace residual on his clothes when he went to a mall as he rarely did, he got a kick out of it, watching them get a whiff and move away.
He glanced at the wall clock. Time for rounds. He grabbed his clipboard off the key hanger and headed out into the facility. First, inspect the holding tanks. He’d noted a crack in the cement liner last week on Tank #1. Didn’t look too bad and the paddles that kept the liquid effluent moving were operating as they should. No leaks, but he’d keep an eye on it. He checked the chemical tanks. They were all low, but would last the week. The chemical delivery on Friday would work. He scrawled a notation.
Robin’s weekly inspection of the piping found two flow valves stuck open. Since he’d never seen them shut off, he wondered why the engineer wanted shutoffs on them at all, but noted it diligently in his small scribble. No one asked him about anything. So long as it ran without problems, they were happy to stay away.
Returning to his office Robin grunted as he sat, put his feet up and picked up Hustler. He studied the centerfold in depth. As usual his thoughts about the voluptuous woman pictured there made him horny. He’d just unzipped when the alarm went off.
His feet hit the ground. He ran to the control center, checking all the dials in the aging facility and gave a hard rap to the three he knew stuck on occasion. Two came back but number three didn’t.
It could only mean a breech on Tank #1. It could only mean high pressure input from the aerator impeller was now pushing all kinds of messy liquid through the breech. Robin could shut it down, but not before a lot of effluent surged into the common ways and saturated everything. Cleanup would be a bitch.
As a town owned the facility, a telltale connected to Town Hall. The phone started to ring off the hook. At least the night guy wasn’t sleeping. Robin began the shutdown process and then grabbed the phone.
“This is the engineering department. What’s going on?”
“Number one, breech. Get your ass down here and bring a cleanup crew.”
“I don’t have time to talk.”
“Wait…” but Robin had already hung up. He had his hands full. They could figure it out. He went back to shutdown, releasing valves on the one hand and closing others. Gradually the flow stopped and Robin could get a breath. His nose didn’t work, but his throat felt raw, so a lot of chemical had gone into his lungs and his eyes stung. He checked a last time. Auto shutdown was a joke, too slow, so he’d used emergency manual. His gauges and dials read the right numbers now. He needed to get the hell out and breathe some clean air.
He made his way to the outer doors and left the building. He gulped air for a while and soon felt better. Robin relaxed and lit a cigarette. In a few minutes flashing red lights made their way down the long slope to the plant next to Big River.
What a story he’d have to tell them, but he’d have to put some spin on it. After all, he had seen the crack and discounted the danger. If they found out he’d get fired. He turned abruptly and went back in. He’d have to scratch out his notation on the crack. Oh, maybe he’d better put away his magazines, and speaking of that, he reached down and zipped up. Wouldn’t it be a laugh if somebody saw that?