He knew the coffee was cold when the creamer clotted around the stir-stick like clabbered milk instead of dissolving into the muddy brown liquid. Despite its tepidness, it was not bitter and actually had a smooth, rich taste once the clumps disappeared. Had he been in a four star restaurant instead of an dense rain forest, he would have complained, but after four days without sleep he needed all the caffeine he could get to clear the fog that enveloped his tired brain.
The rain had been relentless, coming down in pelting pellets since they had arrived. Better the rain than the sweltering heat and humidity that would come once the rain ceased.
The job was nearing completion. It had taken them two days to dismantle the rig, find the problem, and order the needed replacement parts. Reassembly was proceeding smoothly, considering the weather. He was catching a five minute breather while his gopher went to get another part out of the storage bin.
He thought about the warm bed and cold beer that would be waiting at the hotel when he was done with the job. And the money. Ah! The money! He was paid from the time he clocked in on Monday morning until he returned to the states and clocked out. Travel time alone was fourteen hours each way. He would be well into triple time by then.
He’d been on the crew for almost two years. He was practically an “old timer” at that rate. Most people didn’t last six months at this hectic pace. Those who did usually coped by partying hardy during their down time, running through their hard earned money in less time than it took to make it.
He’d aged ten years already. He didn’t plan on burning himself out, though. He was spending enough dough to enjoy his time off, but saving enough make a good down payment on nice boat. He would open a charter service in the Bahamas, carrying rich tourists on snorkeling/beach party excursions. The hours would be short, the work light, and the weather pleasant. That was his plan. Another year – maybe two.
Jorge was back with the part. So much for idle time. Day dreams could wait; back to the grindstone.
As he was about to finish bolting in the part, he clipped the edge of frame with his hand and dropped the bolt. Clang, bang, thwop. It bounce from the grating floor to the metal step, and rolled of to land in the ooze at the base of the tower. He turned to motion to Jorge, but he had gone to the tool bin for another wrench. He sat his wrench on the railing and began the trek down the heavily serrated metal steps to the muddy jungle floor thirty feet below.
Despite the sharp raised diamond cuts in the steps he almost took the express route to ground when the rain cascade off his safety glasses obscured his vision and caused him to set his boot down on the edge of the step instead of the center. Grabbing the hand rail quickly, he regained his balance and looked sheepishly around to make certain no one had seen his clumsy misstep.
Reaching the ground, he found the bolt had landed in the area directly between the gray steel locker housing the safety lockout equipment and the electrical disconnect box/emergency generator panel. He could see the bolt head protruding from the mud in the shadows. He reached into the dark area to grasp the bolt and another glint caught his eye. He instinctively moved his hand back with a quick jerk. He could feel the brush of air as the striking mamba’s head missed connecting with his hand by millimeters.
He stepped back with a start, and the charcoal black snake slithered out from between the boxes and into the thick jungle. He let out a sigh of relief and looked carefully into the space again before putting his hand back into the shadows to retrieve the bolt.
As he bent down to retrieve errant bolt from the muck, the brim of his hard hat clipped the corner of the electrical box, slipping form his head and landing with wet thunk on the ground beside bolt. At that exact instance, there was a loud crack like a rifle shot and a tree split not twenty feet from him as a bolt of lightning made contact with it. Man! It’s my day for close calls, he thought.
The reverberations from the lightning strike shook the tower. Not enough so one would notice, but it was enough to shake the heavy wrench he’d placed on the railing above. The wrench, now off balance, fell from its precarious perch like the A-bomb from the Enola Gay, striking him squarely in the back of the head. His scull fractured like a three minute egg, a splinter of bone knifing into his medulla oblongata, shattering his lucky streak and voiding his dreams of an early retirement.
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