Chapter 23

by Orrin C. Rush

Copyright ©2000 by Orrin C. Rush. All rights reserved.


Disclaimer: The following is a work of fiction. If you are offended by graphic descriptions of homosexual acts, go somewhere else.

Neither this story nor any parts of it may be distributed electronically or in any other manner without the express, written consent of the author.

This is a work of fiction, any resemblance of the characters to anyone living or dead is pure coincidence and not intended. They are all products of the author's imagination.

There was no point waiting around New York over the weekend, and we were both anxious to get things started on our new project.

We got home in the early afternoon and were no sooner in the door than Tina, looking awful, rushed into my arms. "Daddy, I slipped."

The Lifeguard

Chapter 23

"Did you hurt yourself?" I asked.

"No, Daddy, you don't understand, I used."

"Used what?" I asked, getting confused.

"Drugs, Daddy, and I'm so ashamed."

I held her tighter. She was sobbing and her whole body was shaking. "Shall we talk about it," I suggested, leading her to the den.

For the first time ever, someone besides Eric sat with me on "our" sofa. I held her until her sobbing slowed down.

"I thought I was stronger than that, Daddy. I just gave in so easily."

"Tell me what happened," I said gently, pushing the hair away from her tear stained face.

"You know I've been going out with Robbie, you've met him. Lately he's been a complete shit. Last night we went to a party, and he made me furious. There was a scene, and I lost it completely. I was crying and screaming as bad as Mom.

"The girl who had the party dragged me off to her room. I was ruining the party and, I guess, she wanted to get me away from Robbie.

I hugged her and listened.

"When we got to her room," she continued, "she told me she had something that'd make me feel better. The next thing I knew she had several lines of coke all laid out. I KNEW what they were, but I went ahead and snorted them anyway. That stuff hit me hard, and I did feel better for a while, then I realized what I'd done, and I felt rotten all over again, but for a different reason.

"I couldn't handle it, and she got somebody to bring me home. I felt so awful for what I'd done."

She was sobbing again, so I got the Kleenex for her and held her while she "blew".

"I feel so terrible, Daddy. I feel so guilty, and you'll probably never trust me again."

"Why not?" I asked.

"You won't be sure whether I'm using or not."

"You're being honest with me now, aren't you? I'd never doubt you."

"But you won't be able to trust me."

"Tell me Tina," I asked. "How many people are successful on their first try to get off that stuff?"

"Not very many, I've heard."

"Then consider this a setback, not a failure."

"I'll have to tell all my friends in the program, and I don't know if I can do that," she said, sobbing again.

"Haven't most of them been through this same experience?" I reasoned.

"I guess so."

"Then they'll understand. But why do you have to tell them?"

"Daddy, the whole program is based on honesty, to myself, to everybody. I just couldn't keep it a secret, the guilt would kill me."

"Is the program that important?"

"It's the only chance I have."

"Then maybe you'd better 'fess up and get on with your life. We can't let a little setback keep us down. Know one thing though, my girl, I'm right here behind you every minute and always will be."

"How will I tell Dr. Ingrid? She's been so wonderful to me."

"The same way you just told me. I didn't bite, did I? I don't think she will either. Just remember, we're all here to support you, not judge you."

She just sat in my arms, thinking. The sobbing gradually subsiding. "You're right, you know, Dad. My biggest fear was how you'd react. I feel I've let you down, and never, never in my wildest dreams expected you to react the way you have."

"I've made my share of mistakes, too," I chuckled. "Only thing is - the ones I've made, I've been able to get away with. I have an idea how you feel, but I want you to know that my love for you two brats is unconditional."

"I'll try."

"I couldn't ask for more."

"Yes you could, like me getting myself together. I'm a mess!"

She gave me a peck on the cheek and headed for her room, seeming to feel a whole lot better.

Eric had disappeared the minute all this started. I found him in his study working out. He dropped the weights and jumped up, taking me in his arms. He just held me, not saying a word.

I needed that.

At dinner, Tina turned to Eric "Did Dad tell you about my slipping?"

"No, but I heard when we walked in."

"I feel so bad, like I let everybody down."

Without a word, Eric got up, walked around the table and gave her a big hug. "Don't ever worry. We're all behind you."

"I think I'll go face the music," Tina announced after dinner. "Think I'll go to a meeting."

"Would you like me to go along for moral support?" Eric offered.

"No, I have to do this myself. Your offer means a lot to me, Eric, but I think I'd rather do it by myself."

When she got home, she looked a lot better, relieved.

"How'd it go?" Eric asked.

"Much better than I expected, I was welcomed 'back'. Everybody said that the most important thing was that I hadn't run away from the program. I think I have a chance."

- - - - -

Eric and I spent Sunday lazing by the pool. Business was the main topic of conversation. For someone who had screamed that I was "forcing" part of the new company on him, Eric had become even more enthusiastic than I was.

He insisted that whatever capitalization we decided on, he would pay his fair share. He also suggested that Metalco get a percentage since they were bankrolling us.

That idea was shot down when I pointed out that it would be redundant. Annie, Tina and I owned Metalco.

The name "Lundborg Rush, Inc." was agreed upon. At first, he wanted Rush Lundborg, but I argued that the other way sounded better, and that we should capitalize on his name. He was probably a helluva lot better known that I was in business circles.

Two other, to me, important points were agreed on. We both had primary jobs, him with Micron, mine at Metalco, and we wouldn't allow this new project to get in the way of them. Delegation was the name of the game. Understandably, he wanted to be "in on" as much as possible.

The other was a promise to each other that we wouldn't let this venture become the focal point of our lives together. It would take effort, but we would both work on it.

- - - - -

Since the Aegean cruise, Jack and Wayne had started coming over on Sunday afternoons to use our pool. At first it was just the four of us, then Jack has asked to bring some of the other gay lifeguards, then other gay friends. Before we knew it, it had become a Sunday institution, and was rapidly reaching the proportions of Annie's Sunday parties for the so-called "straight" guys. These didn't happen every Sunday, only those when we knew ahead of time that we'd be home.

Before the group had reached its present size, Eric had laid down ground rules. This was to be a social gathering, not an orgy. Kissing, hugging and touching were OK. The occasional stiff dick that developed would be tolerated but not encouraged and all "equipment" had it's place - covered with a swim suit. If anyone wanted to go "further", they were asked to go elsewhere, not to one of our bedrooms or the bushes on the "back 40". He enforced his rules, too.

Like Annie's lifeguards, they brought food and drinks. At first burgers and hot dogs, then, you know how gay men love to cook, so an elaborate potluck developed.

This was one of those Sundays.

I remembered the days when I had sat, lonely, up in my den, trying not to watch the beautiful boys at play. What a difference a year made. Now, I was right in the middle of them, one of them, the most beautiful one of the bunch at my side.

We horsed around in the pool, stretched out in the sun, and had great chats in between. Some were paired-off, others single, some "out" others still closeted. Most were handsome with sculpted bodies, but quite a few were just average guys. It didn't seem to matter, and "attitude" was pleasantly absent.

Dan and Ted and some of our other non-lifeguard friends had been invited and become regulars. Dan couldn't cook, but the concoctions that Ted whipped up were Cordon Bleu level cuisine.

We ate until we couldn't move, then the group left early. After a full day in the sun, Eric and I were hornier than usual, and got the week off to a roaring, explosive start.

- - - - -

Monday, Annie showed up for dinner. It was a rare occurrence when all of us were together. I filled the girls in on our trip. I mentioned Eric's flat and let him tell them about it. He finished up by saying that it was a "family" home for all of us, and that they didn't even have to ask if they wanted to use it.

I'd wondered how Annie would react to Tina's "slip", but I needn't have worried. Always brusque, she was a little less so toward Tina. I guessed that they'd talked, and Annie was in there pitching, doing what she could, in her own way to give her support.

I worked on the PC project, Eric worked on Micron business, Annie bought more hotels, Tina was still working on the office project and going to meetings. Eric and I spent a couple of extra hours at the office every day on Lundborg Rush. We didn't see much of one another, but I did my best to be available for Tina whenever she showed an interest in talking.

There had been enough positive feedback that we felt pilot production of the new CPU cases was justified. One of our larger customers wanted to introduce them, and, of course, have exclusive rights on some of the designs if they sold well.

A high-end keyboard manufacturer was on board. This left only the monitors.

I knew that our people had done their best, even begging and cajoling, but nobody would go along with us.

Bill's staff hadn't been idle. They came up with a list of more than 40 monitor manufacturers that might be potential acquisitions. "Narrow it down," I requested. "No more than five, please."

They came back with four. The recaps were short, only 3 pages each. I went over them as soon as I got them. They followed a formula. First was a history of the business, then whatever financial information that was available, then market data, then a conclusion.

On the second one, I hadn't finished the history before I knew that this was the one I wanted. It wasn't so much the company as the man who was running it.

It was a "one man show" run by Joel Peterson, an MIT graduate who'd left an executive position at one of the large companies to start his own business. In just a few years his high quality but low priced monitors were being sold by most of the discount chains. This was the low end of the market, but he couldn't produce them fast enough.

When our people had contacted him about using our finishes, he'd indicated interest, but had turned us down, explaining that he had another project that was killing him financially and he couldn't afford the re-tooling necessary.

Financial information was scarce, consisting only of a credit report that indicated that he was somewhat slow in paying his bills.

I decided to quit screwing around and go for it. Impetuously, I grabbed the phone and called him. I was put through to him immediately without any screening. That impressed me.

I introduced myself, and asked if we could sit down and talk.

"If you still want me to make those monitors, I'm afraid you're wasting your time," he said.

"Yes," I admitted, "but there are a couple of other things I'd like to talk about, too."

"Sure, why not, when?"

"How about tomorrow morning. I could be there whenever you want."

"Fine, 10:00 OK?" he asked.

"I'll be there."

I didn't say a word to anyone at Metalco about what I was doing. I did, however, tell Eric all about it and the gut feeling I had but couldn't explain.

"If we have to buy somebody in order to get what we need, and if the new designs don't sell and we have to drop the whole thing, I don't want to be stuck with a loser. I don't think this guy is."

"What makes you think he'll sell out?" Eric wanted to know.

"I'm not totally sure I want to buy him. Maybe a joint venture or something. I won't know until I meet the guy and get a reading."

"Wish I could go with you, but I can't."

"I won't be gone long, he's in Tucson."

Instead of a limo, I just grabbed a taxi at the airport. His office was connected to a pretty good sized factory, and was waiting for me.

He looked like an entrepreneur. Tired, his sleeves rolled up, and his hair tousled. Very friendly with an engaging smile.

"I think your ideas for the new CPU unit are fantastic," he said. "It's about time somebody did something about that ugly old box. I just wish we could help you out."

"What would it take to change your mind?" I asked.

He grinned, "Oh a couple of million for setup and another couple for materials, but I can't even consider it. I'm working on something else right now.

"Tell you what it is," he continued. "You're not one of our competitors, yet. We just signed a deal to build monitors around the new flat plasma screens. Every nickel I can beg, borrow or steal is going into that."

"Would you be interested in a little help?"

"Hell yes, but what's the price I'd have to pay?"

"I'd like to buy you outright," I threw at him. "Give you 4 times what the business's worth, and turn you loose to run it - the way you'd really like to, even give you a percentage of the net."

"Tempting," he said slowly, "I know you can do it, but would you really turn me loose, no strings? I hear you threw out all the top guys at Milton when you bought them."

"That's another story, not a pretty one. I think you'd be surprised at how much autonomy our managers have."

Our discussion covered a broad range. He was easy to talk to, and knew a lot about me and Metalco. He insisted on taking me out to lunch.

"I hear that you're still working with Eric Lundborg," he commented.

"He works for Micron, now, but we still work together. In fact we're in the process of taking over the production of Micron's software together."

Hmmmmmm," he said, smiling. "Are you two an item?"

"What do you mean," I sputtered.

"The look on your face when I mentioned his name gave you away."

I smiled. "Am I that obvious?"

"Takes one to know one...." he said. "How long you guys been together?"

"About a year and a half."

"I'm happy for both of you. Maybe it might be fun to work with you guys."

"We have a lot of gay people at Metalco, but that isn't a hiring prerequisite, talent is."

"Gimme some time to think it over. Can I give you an answer in a few days?"

He drove me back to the airport.

He made me wait. Eight agonizing days. He didn't make rash decisions, that's for sure.

"I'd like to talk," he said quite simply, and said he was faxing his financials so we'd have something to talk about.

I insisted on sending a plane for him and he reluctantly agreed.

The financials weren't a big surprise. He'd made around 2 million the year before, but was buried in debt and had definite cash flow problems. He was doing OK, but it obviously was a struggle. Getting into the new flat screens would be a stretch.

It was simple arithmetic. Two million times a market multiple of 25 times 4. $200 million. I was also willing to give him a fat salary plus 10% of the aftertax net. (I'd noticed that he wasn't even taking a salary at the moment, plowing every penny back into his business.)

Money wasn't everything, though. I could tell that ego, pride, and a feeling of accomplishment were important to Joel. He'd have those too. It would remain Robinson Electronics, and he'd call the shots. We'd put that in writing. I had a lot of confidence in him, and not just because he was gay.

Joel looked a lot more rested and relaxed when he arrived.

"The more I think about this, the better it sounds," he said. "I feel like Cinderella and you're the Fairy Godmother."

"Bite your tongue!" I told him, laughing.

Now, I needed to do a sales job. I outlined the terms, everything but price. He nodded agreement as I talked. When I finally got to price, I explained how I'd arrived at the figure.

"Very fair," he said. "It seems awfully high based on our current earnings, but would be a bargain if we're able to realize our real potential."

"I feel the same way," I told him.

"But, it's not for sale," he said quietly.

"But, but, but," I stammered. "I thought...."

"I've done a lot of thinking," he said. "That's why I took so long. I sent you my financial statements so you'd see where I'm coming from, that I'm struggling. I knew you'd make me an offer I 'couldn't refuse', and you have. It's tempting. Man, you have no idea just how tempting it is! One stroke of the pen and all my troubles would be over, and I'd be rich, too.

"But is that what I really want? I don't think so. I believe you when you tell me that I'd still be able to run the business the way I wanted to, but it just wouldn't be the same. Ultimately, I'd be responsible to you.

"I've also given a lot of thought to your position. You obviously NEED what I can produce for you, or you wouldn't have come to me and made this fabulous offer, and you probably have billions riding on it. Why me? There are at least 40 other monitor makers out there that you could have approached, but for some reason, you chose to come after us. I'm very flattered, and maybe someday you'll tell me why."

He paused to take a breath, then continued. "Here's something you may not know. I'm not IBM or Hewlett-Packard, so when I need components, I have to pay for the tooling - Up Front. That's why our flat screens aren't on the market yet, and it's going to be a few months before I can come up with the couple of million I need to go ahead with that product.

"Now, if I add the cost of setting up for the finishes that you want, that will set me back even longer, and I don't think that would fit in with your deadlines. Don't get me wrong, I think you have a helluva idea, and I think you'll take over the market with them, and I'd love nothing more than to be a part of it. It's just that I can't swing it."

"Are your flat screen components metal or plastic?" I asked.

"Both. The molds for the plastic are the least expensive, the dies for the metal are where the big money comes in."

"I'm in the 'metal' business," I said smiling.

"I know," he said grinning. "We're getting there..."

I knew where he was going, and I knew that he knew that I knew.

"I also own all the dies for our CRT monitors," he threw in.

"I see," I said, getting his drift.

"I'd rather be a customer than an employee."

Joel was one sharp cookie! He'd come up with a solution to both our problems. It was a win-win situation. I really didn't want to get into the monitor business, but it had seemed like the only alternative at the time. His solution was much better and a helluva lot cheaper for us.

"See if I've read you correctly," I said. "You want us to provide the tooling for your flat screen components, put the finishes on them, and then sell them to you. Also, assuming we're competitive, you're also willing to throw your other component business our way. Am I right?"

"That's about it," he answered. "I don't think you really wanted to get into the monitor business anyway."

"Not really," I admitted. "We're mainly interested in selling the CPU cases."

"But now, you're also giving us a foot in the door on monitor cases, too," I added.

"Only the old gray ones," he said, his eyes sparkling. "I'd want an exclusive on all the ones with different finishes."

Shrewd little fucker! "What happens if this concept really takes off? Could you handle the volume?"

"If that happens, we'll have to talk some more."

"When can we get your component drawings?" I asked.

"I've got them on disk, right here," he said, reaching into his pocket.

"Give us an order, and we'll go to work," I said, taking the disks.

"Here it is," he said, taking some papers out of his briefcase. "I'm requesting 90 day terms. Is that OK?"

"We'll give you 180 for the first 6 months, then 90," I said. "We'll also need some kind of agreement. Why don't you outline it, and we'll have it drawn up?"

"Will you go ahead before it's signed?" he asked.

"These'll be in the shop this afternoon," I told him, holding the disks. "We work fast, so you'd better get your ass in gear."

We talked about the potential of monitors that matched our CPU units, I told him about the computer company that was going to introduce them, and how his big flat screens would fit in with that high-end market. His excitement was very obvious. It would be a joint effort with one of the largest, most prestigious companies in the business.

We had a deal. The remaining details would be worked out. It was time to let somebody at Metalco know what I'd done, so I asked Bill to come in.

I introduced Joel, then explained "He's President of Robinson Electronics. They're going to make monitors for us."

- - - - -

Lundborg Rush was moving right along. Micron's Attorneys hadn't found any conflict of interest problems, so the agreements were signed without major changes. A transfer timetable was set up, and they insisted on giving us three weeks instead of two to move everything.

Here on the West Coast, new equipment was starting to arrive. Lighting was being installed, and electrical prepared so that when the rest of the equipment arrived it could be "plugged in".

A lot of people in New Hampshire would be losing their jobs. We had offered to transfer many, all expenses paid, but few accepted because of their booming local economy. All would be receiving generous severance packages from Micron plus career counseling and re-employment assistance.

With the addition of the new equipment, the production process would be substantially more automated than before, requiring, it was estimated, 45 fewer people. Except for the copy machine operators, jobs were mostly non-skilled. This was something needed in our area, high paying low-skill jobs, and employment applications flooded in as soon as we announced our hiring plans. Copier operators had already been hired and sent to New Hampshire for training.

The actual move wouldn't take place for several more weeks, and both of us were getting antsy. We'd done just about all we could, personally, and now it was up to "our" people.

I think a lot of people got pissed with my meddling in the PC Project. I tried not to ruffle too many feathers or step on too many toes, but I got totally involved. With Christmas coming up in a few months, everyone concerned wanted the product on store shelves by November first. The cases were coming off production lines in Ohio. Keyboards were coming in from Taiwan, and Joel was ready to start pumping out monitors.

A major advertising campaign would start in October, first with teasers, then go into full gear. It was a cooperative effort between the three component makers and Metalco. Since we were now making the components for both the CPU units and the monitors, we had a big stake in the success of the project.

I worked closely with Joel, making several trips to Tucson to coordinate our efforts. He didn't waste any time, and had his assembly lines ready before we could get components to him. At no time did the gay issue enter our conversation beyond his asking "How's Eric?"

The more I worked with him, the more I respected his business abilities. He showed the ability to see the "big picture" and still be meticulous about details. He took calculated risks, not gambles. In a lot of ways, he reminded me of Bill.

- - - - -

Over the past year or so, I had taken a lot of things - and people - for granted. Mary made me realize this by asking if she and Sam could have a word with me.

Sam was the quiet one, Mary spoke for both of them. She was almost apologetic when we sat down around the kitchen table.

"It's been more than a year since we took a vacation," she said. "We just didn't feel we could leave all you guys to 'fend for yourselves'."

"My God, you're right!" I agreed. "Why didn't you say something?"

"Well, you're so busy... We've all been pretty busy, so it just didn't come up."

"Let's do something about it," I suggested.

"We just wouldn't feel right about taking off without giving you some warning," she said apologetically. "We'd need to get somebody to take care of things while we're gone."

Mother hen Mary. She treated us like her own children, felt responsible for all of us. Also, when I thought of it, did a lot more work and put in a lot more hours than she should have. I knew that she had several "girls" that came in on a part time basis to help out with the laundry and cleaning, but she insisted on doing most of the work herself. She needed more help, and Sam could probably use some too.

"We could get somebody to come in for a few weeks while we're gone," she timidly suggested. "That is, if you're not planning any parties."

"The kid I've got helping me could handle the yard for a couple of weeks," Sam ventured.

"No," I said, "I have another idea. Will you listen to me?" They both nodded.

"You two have taken care of me for the past twelve years. First it was just me, then Tommy and me, but he wasn't around much. In the past year or so, we've grown to a family of four, and just the two of you are still taking care of us! That's just too damn much work for you, and we're entertaining a lot too. Now that I think about it, I don't know how you've managed it all. It's way overdue that we got you some help!"

Mary started to protest, but I held up my hand.

"When I was here alone, I only used a few rooms. Now every room in the house gets used, and you keep the place spotless. I know you have your girls to do the cleaning, Mary, but I see you at it too. That's gotta stop. This is a big house, so hire those girls full time, and if you need more, get them. I don't want to see you cleaning again. From now on, you're the Supervisor. Let them do the work!

"Now we get down to the cooking. You're in here at the crack of dawn making breakfast, and here half the night with dinner. That's just too many hours! Maybe we need a full-time cook, or a chef. The food won't be anywhere near as good, but I know you can train him or her to do a passable job."

Cooking was her pride. In no way did I want to minimize that. Not only that, but she was better at it than most trained chefs.

"What do you think, so far?" I asked.

"I don't know... What else do you have in mind?" Mary asked.

"I'd like you to RUN this household, and not try to do all the work yourself. You take wonderful care of each and every one of us, you know our little foibles, and put up with them because you care about us. I think I can speak for the rest of the tribe when I say that we appreciate that. We may not say so as often as we should, but I think you know how we all feel. We just couldn't get along without you."

"I just don't want a prima donna in my kitchen!"

"You'll do all the hiring, and firing, if necessary," I assured her. "It won't be easy, but I'm sure you can find someone who you can work with, and will do things your way."

"Now, how about you, Sam?" I asked.

"There's a lot of things I'd like to do, but I can't ever seem to find the time," he answered.

"Then hire some help so you can do those things," I told him. "Is there any equipment that you want?"

"I could use another mower and one of those little garden tractors," he said.

"Pick 'em out, and we'll get them."

"I'd also like to build a small greenhouse out by the tennis courts, but I don't know if we can do that here."

"I'll find out, and if we can, we'll do it. If they say we can't, we'll get a variance or whatever it takes," I assured him. "We'll build you anything you want."

"I just don't think this is right," Mary spoke up. "You're already paying us so much money that I wouldn't feel like we're earning our keep."

"In all of our plants, we pay our supervisors more than we do our workers," I told her. "They have a lot more responsibility."

"We'll do it," Sam spoke up. "She's stubborn as a mule."

"Then get busy," I kidded them. "As soon as you're comfortable with your new staff, I'm sending you on a cruise, on me."

Mary brightened up.

That night during dinner I asked Mary and Sam to come in so I could tell the troops what was going on. "I've got an announcement to make," I started out ponderously and seriously. "Mary is retiring as our housekeeper."

There were moans and groans.

"But, she's accepted the job of Manager of this Household. She's the boss and none of you had better ever forget it. I won't.

"Sam has also accepted the job of Manager of Landscaping," I added.

"What does this mean?" Annie asked.

"It means that Mary's in charge of the house and Sam's in charge of the grounds, but somebody else's going to be doing the work."

"About damned time," Annie added. "Dad, you're a slave driver!"

"No he's not," Mary piped up. "Personally, I think he's too generous."

Annie got up and gave Mary a hug. "Don't know what I'd do without you," she told her.

"Me either," Eric added.

"There'll be some new faces around," Mary said, "but we'll whip 'em into shape."

After Mary and Sam left, I had another announcement. "Tina, I'm afraid I'm going to need the car back."

She tried not to show her disappointment, but not very successfully.

"That means we're going to have to get one for you. Look around and see what you want, and you and I'll go shopping this weekend."

- - - - -

The Micron equipment move was approaching. Eric was getting really antsy. We both had watched the preparations at this end, but were both curious about what was going on in New Hampshire, so decided to go see for ourselves.

The actual move was scheduled to start Friday morning. We wanted to be there when it got underway so arrived Thursday afternoon and drove directly to the plant. The only evidence that anything was about to happen was a line of forklifts and other mobile equipment in the parking lot.

Inside, the final shift was about to end. A small army of Metalco people were standing around waiting for the final whistle to blow. Mike had insisted on running the job himself, and was giving final instructions to his troops.

"Couldn't stay away, I see," he chuckled when he saw us.

"First time I've ever been involved in something like this," Eric admitted. "It's pretty exciting."

"We're going to do our best to make this as UN-exciting as possible," Mike told him. "Everybody knows what they're supposed to do, so it should go pretty smoothly."

I just smiled. I knew how Mike operated. Meticulous planning coupled with careful instruction made things happen quickly and without unexpected snags.

"As soon as the shift's over, we move in to disconnect the machinery," Mike explained to Eric. "We'll kill the power at the breakers, then at the main. We're taking all the electrical gear, so that'll be the first priority. We want that first, out West, so we can get it hooked up there by the time the rest of the stuff arrives, so it'll go on a truck and leave later tonight. Everything's marked so we'll know where it goes when it gets there."

"How about the machinery?" Eric asked.

"That's next. We'll disconnect the wiring, then, unbolt anything that's bolted to the floor. We'll also unbolt the conveyors and other equipment that's bolted together so it'll be easier to move.

"In the morning, we'll take out one production line at a time, put the whole unit on a truck, then go on to the next one. We'll start at both ends, so we can work on two at a time. That's what all the forklifts are for. Even though everything is marked, I've got one guy assigned to each line to make sure all the pieces stay together."

"How many lines are there?"


"That means sixty trucks?"

"Altogether, just for the equipment, we'll use about 70 flatbeds. But that's only the beginning. Next week, we have a crew coming in to move the inventory," Mike said, pointing at the warehouse full of supplies and raw materials.

"This is a lot more of a job than I realized," Eric commented. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

Mike smiled, I jumped in. "These guys all know what they're doing, all you and I'd do is get in the way," I told him.

The whistle blew and the machinery was shut down. Most workers bolted for the door, but several seemed to leave reluctantly.

Our crew went to work. Mike left us to join in the action.

Switches were thrown, and when the "all clear" was given, the main panel shut off and the enormous fuses removed. There wasn't a frenzy of activity, the guys just went to work. They knew what they were doing and had the tools with them to get the job done.

Eric watched open-mouthed. "I can't believe that they'll get this all done in the next two days," he commented.

"They'll even get time to sleep," I told him.

With almost military precision, the panels were disassembled and put into crates that had been brought in. We wandered around, but were careful to stay out of the way. Eric was fascinated by the way things were going and was full of questions.

"Why're we taking all this electrical stuff?"

"It's much cheaper to move it than replace it," I told him. I had spent a whole afternoon going over all this with Mike, so I was able to answer most of his questions.

"Will everything be set up just like it is here?"

"No, it'll look a lot different. Here they've got 60 separate lines, we'll only have 15. The copiers are the slowest part of the process. One packaging line can handle 4 copiers so we're going to combine them. That's where the new equipment comes in. Instead of manually loading each component into the package, that'll be automated too."

We watched for another hour, then decided to go get something to eat.

"This beach bum is in way over his head," Eric admitted, grinning. "How'd you learn all that stuff?"

"I started at the bottom," I told him. "Dad insisted on it, and I worked in our plants right alongside everyone else every summer through high school, then had to go back after college for a year or two."

"I didn't know that!"

"I hated it at the time, but it's helped me ever since. There's a LOT you don't know about me."

"That's what I'm finding out," he said smiling. "Just give me time."

After dinner, Eric insisted that we go back to the plant to check on progress. I was really surprised at his interest in the "nuts and bolts" aspect. There was a lot I didn't know about him either!

All the electrical was already gone, no doubt already on the road West. We hung around for another hour or two, then decided to pack it in for the night.

When we drove back in the morning, there were empty trucks lining both sides of the road leading up to the plant. At each end of the building, trucks were being loaded, the forklifts ferrying load after load of equipment out of the building and positioning it on the flatbeds. As soon as it was loaded, the truck was pulled out of the way, and another was loaded. When the equipment on the loaded trucks had been tarped and tied down with cables and straps, the drivers picked up their documents and took off. We watched as several trucks left down the road, headed West.

We found Mike, who appeared to be real happy with himself. "We're running about an hour ahead of schedule, and we just got started," he said. "We may even finish today!"

While we were standing there, an official looking sedan pulled into the staging area, parking right in the way of the forklifts. A wiry older guy in uniform got out and nonchalantly looked around at all the activity.

Mike hurried over to him, Eric and I followed. "Excuse me sir, you'll have to move your car," Mike told him politely.

"Don't believe so," he drawled. "You got a permit to move all this stuff?"

"Permits aren't required to move equipment out," Mike explained.

"Well, they are in this County," he drawled some more, "I'm the Sheriff of this County and I guess I'm gonna have to shut you boys down."

"If we need permits, where do we get them?" Mike asked, smiling, still being very polite.

"At the Courthouse," he drawled, "but I wouldn't be in a hurry. We got us a local holiday, and it's all closed up til Monday noon."

"Can't you get somebody to come in and take care of it?" Mike pleaded.

"Couldn't be grantin' no special favors, now could we," he answered in his agonizingly slow drawl.

"Excuse me," I jumped in. "I'm one of the owners of this equipment. Can we work something out? Could you let us go ahead and load this up and get the permits on Monday? If there's a fine because of our oversight, we'd be happy to pay it."

"Don't think so," he said. "Gonna have to keep everything right here until this is all settled up. That may take a while."

Eric was standing there with his mouth open, disbelieving what he was hearing. Mike looked like he was getting pissed off.

"Can you excuse us for a few minutes?" I asked the uniformed gnome.

"Shore, take all the time you want, I ain't goin nowhere."

I motioned to Mike and Eric to follow me. We alked across the parking lot for a little privacy.

"Why don't we go ahead and load up," I suggested. "Keep the trucks here in the parking lot, then Monday, we go in and get the goddamed permit, pay our fine and go on our merry way. It'll set us back a few days, but we'll deal with that later."

They both nodded in agreement.

"At least, that way we wouldn't lose any more time," Mike said.

"Hell, even if the fine is $10,000 or so, it'd be worth it," Eric added. "It couldn't be more than that."

"Mike, why don't you go make a deal with the Sheriff," I suggested. "In the meantime, Eric can get hold of Micron and get their legal department busy, and I'll do the same with our boys at home. Maybe we can settle this thing before Monday."

Mike nodded and took off. I noticed that more official looking cars had arrived.

Eric grabbed his cell phone and so did I.

I got through to our head of legal when I noticed Mike heading back toward us. He looked dazed, and motioned to get our attention.

"You're not gonna believe this!" he said. "The permits cost five percent of the value, and the fine is 10% on anything that's moved more than a foot on top of that."

"What?" I yelled, "That's fucking outrageous. They can't get away with that!"

"They're convinced that they can," Mike said.

To be continued.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The State of New Hampshire was chosen at random as the setting for this part of the story and is not meant, in any way, to denigrate the citizens of that fine State. It could have been anywhere!

I enjoy your comments and USE your suggestions and criticism, and am not trolling for praise. I'm having as much fun writing this as I hope you are reading it. I answer all Email.

Please let me know if you'd like to be on the "alert list" to be notified of new postings.