Freddy walked out of the summer heat and into the refreshing cool of the front office of Dry Goods, Inc. The young woman sitting behind the desk looked up and smiled. He was surprised, considering his holey pants and tee shirt, as he was very self-conscious about his appearance. He had no clothing more appropriate for a job interview – with a useless wife and a small child, money was tight.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“Um, yeah, I have an appointment with Mr. Jarvis. My name’s Freddy Lynch,” he said, avoiding too much eye contact with her.
She punched a few keys on her computer. “Ok, I’ll let him know you’re here. Just have a seat, and he’ll be right with you.”
He sat down in a plastic chair and eyed the tattered magazines scattered across the small table next to him. The hard plastic was uncomfortable on Freddy’s ass, and he shifted around, hoping the wait would not be too long. The receptionist glanced up at him and then went back to whatever she had been doing.
Behind her desk, a door opened, and a man walked through, carrying with him the sounds of work in progress. He was a short man in jeans and a tank top, sporting salt and pepper hair – he had a hurried air about him as he looked around and discovered Freddy.
Freddy stood. “Yes, I’m Freddy.”
“I’m Burt Jarvis, warehouse supervisor. Nice to meet you, Freddy,” he said, automatically shaking his hand and heading for the door. “Let’s go to my office.”
He followed Jarvis from the quiet of the office to the noisy busyness of the warehouse. There were conveyers running in all directions it seemed, manned by people on both sides who were working and talking over the din.
They entered a small, dingy office, and Jarvis swung the door shut and abruptly sat behind the scarred desk. It reminded Freddy of something you would pull out of the city dump. “Sit down,” Jarvis said, motioning to the two plastic chairs positioned haphazardly in front of his desk. He studied Freddy’s application for only a short time before setting it back down on his desk.
“Looks like you’ve had a lot of forklift experience. That’s just what we need.” He stood and made for the door, giving Freddy an odd look. “Don’t you want to see the rest of your work place?”
Freddy jumped up, saying, “Thank you, sir.”
“Wait a minute Freddy. There no reason to call me sir. Call me Burt,” he said, opening the office door and leading Freddy toward the different production areas. Jarvis moved along at such a pace, Freddy began to wonder how this short man with the graying hair and beard got around so well.
Jarvis led him through the different departments, leaving Freddy self-conscious, for everywhere they went the workers gave him odd stares. He was new blood.
Jarvis pointed out to him the different areas where pallets loaded with product were ready to go back to the warehouse. Jarvis pointed to a large opening in the cinderblock wall, the other side dimmer and quieter. “Back there is where you’re going to work. You’ll like it…the quiet – the trucks can be a little noisy, but other than that, you are fine. All you have to do is look up the location that’s on the paper – and should be on all lifts, including walkies.”
“I’ve done it before, I think I can catch on quick,” Freddy said.
“Good!” Jarvis said. “But before we go and sign papers – tax forms and such, I feel I should tell you about one other thing.”
“Oh, and what would that be?”
“Since we deal with food products, that kind of thing, we have a rat problem in the back warehouse. They especially like the protein pellets in the large plastic jars. We’re not sure how they get in, but they do. If you run into one of them, do your best to smash the hell out of it with anything you can find. And like I said, the bastards are really fond of this particular product. Oh, they eat other shit, but this they seem to love. Just don’t get near ‘em, we’ve had a few employees get bitten. Anyway, it’s only you and Brandon back here, and I’m sure you’ll get along.” Jarvis took a deep breath. “Freddy, all I have opened is the late shift. During the day, the pallets can pile up. At night, the production crew isn’t working, and it’s all warehouse work. Hauling pallets from the production floor, helping unload trucks, that kind of thing. Would that be good for you?”
“That would be fine. When do I start?” Freddy asked.
“Tonight. I’ll introduce you to Brandon and the others back there, and I don’t think there’ll be any problems.” Jarvis smiled. Freddy had seen that smile before; it was the alligator smile that was meant to say glad to have you, but really meant business. It was all about business. Freddy had known men like this before, but a job was a job.
Driving the forklift was no problem, but finding all the locations was another. Freddy found himself down an alley searching for the right location, which he eventually found; he also found a dingy window that revealed the back of the building. In the darkness, he noticed a backhoe and several large mounds of earth.
He mentioned it to Brandon, whose response was, “Oh, they’re planning on expanding the building, so you’ll see some stuff going on out there.” Freddy shrugged and mounted the lift. When he returned to the back warehouse, he immediately saw several large rats scatter and vanish.
They had burrowed into a bottom pallet, and protein pellets were spread out on the cement floor. Shit! Freddy thought, and began removing the two top pallets. Brandon showed him where they stored the damaged products, which was basically a large empty room near the back docks, with a conveyer running down the middle of it.
“Isn’t there anyway to stop those disgusting things?” Freddy asked. If there were two things that he hated most, it was rats and roaches.
Brandon said, “We cannot, by law, spray poisons anywhere near the food products. They can spray outside, and they look for the holes the sneaking little bastards use, but they always find a way.”
Freddy shook his head. “What happens to the contaminated stuff?”
“We toss it, the company takes the loss.”
“Well, that just fucking sucks – excuse my French.”
“You think we don’t like it, you should see the look on the warehouse manager’s face. I swear to God, the guy turns red!” They both laughed at this last comment. “By the way, my friend, grab a broom from the janitor’s closet and sweep it up.” The smile left Freddy’s face.
Twice more the same evening, Freddy saw the vile creatures, and the holes in some of the bottom boxes. But it was not until later that he got the real surprise…
Freddy discovered a fourth pallet that been ravaged, and cursing under his breath, he removed the top pallets; he lifted the bottom pallet and took it to the back store room. To his surprise, he saw that the conveyer was running, with people in lab coats unloading the pallets and sending the damaged boxes down the conveyer. Freddy’s eyes widened.
People were removing the large plastic jugs that the rats had chewed into and emptying them into clean, new jugs. At the end of the conveyer was a small oven through which they were running the plastic bottles to seal the small plastic sleeves tightly onto the lids.
Some of the men and women looked up at Freddy, and he returned a weak grin and drove off toward the production floor. He returned with another pallet, thinking, I can’t believe that shit! He decided that after putting one more pallet away, he would leave, and maybe even talking to someone about what was going on there at night.
Freddy jumped off the lift and looked around for any holes or cracks in the walls the damnable things might have been using to enter the building, but found nothing. He put his hands on his hips and shook his head.
As he was about to climb back onto the lift, something bit into his ankle. “Ah, shit!” he exclaimed. Several large, gray rats were attached to his right leg; as he tried to shake them off, more poured in from behind a stack of pallets against the cinderblock wall. “Brandon!” he cried, right before a river of the vermin scurried up his body, into his clothes.
From behind his desk, Brandon said, “Not again!” before rushing down the main isle, where the tail end of the forklift was still jutting out. He had a small club with him, and when he reached Freddy, he saw a blood-soaked body lying on the floor in a growing pool of blood. He swung the bat, knocking a few away, and the rest scurried into their secret hiding places.
Brandon walked to the back room and called out to one of the men. “Joey, get over here, fast!”
One of the men in a white lab coat rushed over to him. “The new guy –aisle twenty-one,” Brandon said. Joey took off down the aisle and returned with another man carrying a sheet of clear plastic under one arm. Brandon was still waiting when they arrived.
“You know what to do,” Brandon said. He returned to his desk on the dock and called Jarvis.
“Get it done fast,” Jarvis said.
Joey and the other man threw Freddy’s chewed up corpse onto the plastic and dragged it to the production floor. They switched on the overhead lights and turned on the extruder. The other man hauled several bags of dried ingredients up the stairs and dumped them into the large metal cone hanging over a conveyer, while Joey stripped the bloody clothing off of Freddy. His body had large chunks of skin torn and bitten away, and there was a large hole in the side of his neck.
He tossed the torn, blood-soaked clothing onto the plastic, and then helped the other lift the body up and into the cone. After they poured more of the dried powders into the large cone, Joey switched on the power and the extruder roared to life. Its contents were ground up, mixed with the sound of bone crunching through the sharp, circular blades. Soon, the greenish pellets were dropping onto the belt as it worked its way toward the end.
At the other end of the building, Brandon opened one of the bay doors and jumped onto the soil below him. He rushed over to the backhoe, took a devious look around and fired up the machine. He dug a hole into the gravel about the usual four feet or so, turned off the machine, and waited.
Soon, Joey appeared at the open bay door and handed the twisted up ball of plastic down to Brandon. “Get your helper, whatever his name is, and clean things up. I’ll take it from here.”
Joey vanished and Brandon fired up the backhoe…
Several days later, a man walked into the office of Dry Goods, Inc., and approached the receptionist. “Hi, I’m Frank Layton. I have an appointment to see Burt Jarvis about the warehouse position.” She smiled and picked up the phone. “Mr. Jarvis, there’s a Mr. Frank Layton here to see you. Yes sir.” She hung up and said, “He’ll be right with you. Have a seat, please.”
The man sat down and browsed through a magazine for a few minutes until a door opened, bringing with it the noise of machinery. A short man in a tank top, with salt and pepper hair and neatly trimmed beard appeared.
“Mr. Layton? I’m Burt Jarvis. Nice to meet you.” They shook hands, and he followed Jarvis into the warehouse….