About the Author
Julie Whan, 39, is a purchasing manager at a glass company, and her husband Al drives for Great Lakes Window out of Toledo, Ohio. He has been a driver for his entire adult life. They live together in Erie, Pa. Julie’s hobbies are writing and distance running.
It’s a cold wind today, pushing past the trailers and screaming up through the wells; the kind of wind big Bill would make a song about. He’s not here, though, and Holliday is hungry. Her moon-grey feline eyes pry my face for an answer, her black tail a question mark. She still looks for him, but deep down inside, she knows where he is. So do I.
What do I know about money? Nothing. Neither did big Bill. He could drive, and I knew I would hire him before we had a formal interview. It was a day like today with the unfriendly blade of a Toledo wind, and Droopy couldn’t work a straight line and dock things right. He was out there grinding and shifting, trying to blindside the tall sleepers into place, but the snow drifts were winning, and I had racks of vinyl windows needing to be loaded. The door to my office was five steps from Well No. 2, and I stood in it with the feeling that, I know, puts a red streak down my cheek. That streak is what the rest of the boys say makes me look like the devil himself when I’m sitting at my desk. I’ve got a good rack of steer horns on the wall above my chair, so maybe they have a point. I need to relocate those horns.
That day I needed to get out there and show Droopy how to do it, but that wasn’t my job anymore. I had 20 years of driving behind me before I traded the keys in for this job, and Droopy was going to hear it. I grabbed my flannel coat and started to head for the outside when Bill appeared. I had recently placed an ad for a new driver, and the thought of a 1 p.m. interview had completely slipped my mind. He filled the doorway, a very African-looking man in dress pants and tie. The tie was a refreshing sight. His frame stopped the noise in the wells.
“William B. Fletcher, sir.” He glanced down at me a bit when he spoke. “I can help here, if you don’t mind.”
I haven’t met too many men who have to glance down to address me, and I nodded quickly as I pushed past him. The windows were waiting, and I did remember that he had a good, long driving record with no violations. There was no time to worry about whether his clothes would get dirty. They got dirty, all right, and so did mine. We swung into the wells and waved Droopy to a stop. He was more than happy to give up the wheel and climbed up onto the dock to watch us, rubbing his shoulders unabashedly. Bill climbed into the tractor and tempered the engine to a putt as he eased into Well No. 2 without a problem. I took the next one and within 30 minutes we had docked all 12 rigs and pushed the coal out of the loading area.
Droopy had gone into the shop, as usual, to avoid the lecture, and would hide until we moved into my office. He was in charge of the loading crews, and, unfortunately, moving the rigs around. I could see the tattoo on his neck jiggling as he bellyached to one of the shop foremen, one eyeball urging me toward my office. It was a partial tattoo of a lightning bolt, because he had stopped the artist when he found that the process actually hurt. It was a running joke and personified his character well. Droopy’s ego had already been bruised. This would not be the first time Bill bruised his ego.
I entered my office, and William B. Fletcher was standing there looking at a book from my magazine rack.
“Where you from, William?” I asked, shaking his calloused hand.
“South Carolina, originally. Oh, you may call me Bill, if you like,” he answered.
“You read Byron? I saw you checking out that book,” I asked.
“No. My middle name is Byron,” he said, laughing, “but I have heard of him.”
“That’s a good name, because you have to be sort of a tyrant around here. You know you do all of your own unloading at each drop. If someone’s there to help you, that’s good too, but it doesn’t happen often. Can you start Monday? You could take the New Jersey run.”
“I’ll be here. Sir? I have a cat, if you don’t mind. She’s -”
I was surprised. “I don’t really care for them, but as long as my bunk stays clean, it won’t be a problem. Jerry has a Jack Russell.”
He looked relieved. “Thank you. She’s the only woman who ever cared to stay in my life.”
“The quieter, the better, right?” I laughed. “See you Monday, Bill.”
Bill was on time every day. We didn’t talk that much, because the window industry was a busy one. A good deal of the Jersey Distributors actually phoned to comment on his polite character, but I did receive a phone call asking that only white items be delivered to a particular store. I politely asked the owner how many miles away he would like to have his white windows dropped, and I heard a dial tone after that. Business didn’t drop any from that store, so I think I got my message across.
It was Christmas Eve, and I had the drivers in my office for their bonuses. There were still loads to be taken out, and things were sort of rushed. Droopy was out on the dock, yelling at his guys to get things loaded. Droopy liked to yell.