EIGHTEEN – SAME OLD BYRDSHIT
“I can’t believe you called us all out here just to lay this line of bull on us—again,” said Bobbi Weis. She scowled at Randolph Byrd, hoping to turn him to stone. It didn’t work.
Byrd kept talking. “You didn’t have to come if you weren’t interested,” he said, kicking his toe into the mud at the edge of the Green Hills development.
“I thought for my own protection that I should hear what you had to say,” Bobbi shot back. “We’re not even supposed to be out here.”
“You got anything else to on your mind, Randy, you better say it quick,” said Tyrone Williams. “I’m freezing my ass off out here.” He wrapped his long wool coat more tightly around himself.
“What I’m trying to say is this: what happened today is going to happen again tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that,” said Byrd.
“Winslow doesn’t know what he’s doing,” he continued. “His hare-brained schemes are going to run this company into the ground. He doesn’t know shit about construction.
“If all of you want to stick with him while he slowly sinks this ship, that’s your business. But I intend to do something about it.”
“Are you suggesting we all quit?” asked Phil Cosczinski. “Where would we find work? You know the economy up here sucks right now.”
“Yeah,” agreed Rob Keiser, “maybe if it were summer….”
“And don’t tell us you’ve got some scheme to fund a new company,” put in Bobbi. “We all know you’ve tried for loans before and been turned down. That dog don’t hunt, Byrd.”
“Bobbi’s right,” added Vince Connors. “What are you offering that Winslow isn’t?”
“I’m offering you respect,” said Byrd. “Self-respect. I’m not saying we quit, but if we stick together, confront Winslow as a group, we can make him see the light.
“If we tell him we want to go back to what we were doing before—the kind of housing that was making Winslow Construction one of the most profitable companies in the area—he’s got to listen to us.”
“Before Grant came along, we were putting together a lot of pretty marginal houses,” commented Rob Keiser. “Sure, we made good money, but most of us know the kind of repairs those houses and condos and apartments are going to need ten years down the line.”
Many of the workers nodded their heads in agreement.
“I’d rather build a good house than make a quick buck,” Rob concluded.
“The problem with seeing the light at the end of your tunnel, Byrd, is that it’s probably an oncoming train,” Bobbi quipped.
“Look,” said José, “I’ve talked with the boss. He assured me that all of us have jobs for the foreseeable future. It’s his money, and the work we’re doing is good. I don’t think we have any right to complain at this point.”
“I’d rather complain now than after I lose my job,” put in Jeb Smith.
“Jeb’s right,” said Byrd. “We all know Winslow has deep pockets, but so did his uncle—and we all know what his word meant. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m not going to be strung along again.”
Rumblings and nods from the group.
“In case you haven’t noticed, Byrd, Grant Winslow is nothing like his uncle,” said Bobbi.
“Time will tell what’s in the blood,” replied Byrd. “With the old man, at least we had the business to fall back on. Even though he screwed me, he left us with a place to work. But once this kid gets through with all his crazy green-engineering crap, who knows what will be left? I’d bet you that Winslow Construction’s business and reputation will be shot to hell by the time that tow-headed hippie is done. Anyone who trusts Grant Winslow is crazy.”
“Okay, I’ve heard enough,” said Joe Rathburn. “Randy, when you talked to me, I agreed to let the group meet at this site—even though I’m supposed to be protecting it from intruders. We’ve known each other for a long time, and some of us are almost like family. But I think everyone here has just about worn out his or her welcome here tonight. It’s time for all of you to go home.”
“Unless someone else has something to say, I think we just about got things settled here anyway,” said José.
The rest of the crew nodded in agreement and started to wander back down the dirt road, away from the construction site and to their cars.
“Anybody who wants to talk more about it with me, I’ll be at BJ’s in a half hour,” said Byrd. “Maybe the rest of you are pussy-whipped by this character, but not me. See you there. If you’ve got the guts.”
Two hours later Byrd found himself drinking alone at a small table in the back of BJ’s Bar.
“Fuckin’ dyke bitch!” he muttered into his beer. “She’d kept her yap shut, I could have won them over.”
He took a shot of whiskey and then chased it back with a beer. He couldn’t believe that none of the others had seen fit to join him. Not even Jeb and Farrah.
“Fuckin’ dyke bitch!” he said again.
Suddenly, he felt the weight of a large hand on his shoulder and looked up. Stroika loomed over him like a malevolent shadow.
“Talking to yourself, Randy?” he asked. “You must have money in the bank.”
Byrd spat. “Fuck! I wish!”
Stroika pulled up the seat at the table next to him and sat down. “Things not going well?” he asked, his deep voice almost purring out of his ink-black coat.
“That’s putting it mildly,” Byrd said, tossing back the rest of his beer and signaling for another glass with a shot. “That fucking Bobbi Weis cunt! She turned the others against me. Sure, she’s Grant’s pet lesbian, but the rest of them should have more sense. But noooo! They’re so busy kowtowing and kissing Grant’s ass that they can’t see they’re headed for a fuckin’ train wreck.”
The waitress dropped off Byrd’s drinks and glanced briefly as Stroika. When he didn’t return the look, she shrugged and left.
“You know,” Stroika said, leaning forward so Byrd could almost see his eyes under his wide hat, “it doesn’t take too many men to derail a train. Sometimes just one or two.”
“Whatchoo mean?” Byrd asked around a mouthful of beer.
“What I’m saying is, one determined man can cause a train to jump the tracks. He just has to know which switch to throw.
“People’d be stupid to stay on a train after that.
“Take the business with this Green Hills development, for instance. Only one man looking after the place at night. If that man were to be… distracted. No telling what kind of damage might happen, or how much it might set a company back.
“A long enough delay might force a man—even a man like Grant—to change his thinking, change direction. Might even let another, smarter man take charge. A man like say, maybe, you.”
Stroika smiled, his mouth full of polished, white teeth.
Byrd’s eyes narrowed, but through the haze of beer and the darkness, he still couldn’t make out Stroika’s face.
“You got any ideas on that front? The taking charge part, I mean,” Byrd asked.
Stroika smiled again. “I was hoping you’d ask.”