Bill checked his rota and with a sigh he got into his van and drove off towards the old warehouse district. He’d read in the paper that gentrification was supposed to turn the area into a hotspot of desirability, but as he pulled up to his first job of the day, he wished someone had told the rats and gutter trash about the imminent influx. He wondered if the area would just get a better class of vermin or whether the police and pest control would get the housekeeping memo.
He slowly extricated himself from the driver’s seat and turned towards the old Rearden Steel Works. The white paint was flaking from the walls and the iron work around the sills was rusting badly, the orange bleeding into the paintwork around the frame. The irony of a rusting steel mill made him smile, nature always reclaimed the best that man can make. Even though the building had been constructed with the solidness of a bomb shelter, the city still needed to check every few months to make sure it hadn’t collapsed or was riddled with corpses.
He checked his watch, wrote down the time on his work schedule and then took his lunch and sat down on a large upturned cable reel. The council could pay for the time it took to eat his breakfast since they laid off half the department, if they wanted to maximize his efficiency then he’d maximize screwing them over. Short cuts, bribes, and generally slacking were the rules of the game these days. If nothing collapsed and killed anyone then what was the harm. They were saving money and he was saving the stress of giving a shit. He threw the foil wrapper on the floor, wiped the breadcrumbs from his five-day growth and strolled towards the entrance of the steel works.
The dark corridors and smell of decay was part of him after all these years, every building had these warrens of administration rooms and corridors. He longed for the tranquillity and oasis of the lofty abandoned industrial cathedrals as these small spaces still made him uncomfortable. The intense claustrophobia had entered his nightmares, hooded figures and creatures had pursued him down darkened stairwells and trapped him in rooms since he was little boy. He’d tried to break the phobia by deliberately putting himself in small spaces over and over, but no matter what he always panicked and either fainted or ran. He’d learnt to live with what he perceived as a weakness in character. It helped that these areas were not structurally significant and that the bodies were always found on the factory floors. Gangsters, it transpired, liked the theatre of high ceilings when they killed. Checking the ground floor quickly by flashing a torch around the ceiling and in the corners, he then began to move up the stairs to tackle the usually more complicated upper levels and roof.
After the first flight he stopped clutching at his stomach and grabbing the railing, his abdominal muscles throbbed from where the surgeon had carved him up. Slowly lowering himself onto the stairs he bent over double until the pain went, as he was about to pull himself up, his phone rang. Digging it out of his pocket he made up his mind that if it was the office he wouldn’t answer, he wasn’t in the mood to get questioned about time frames, paperwork and all the administration crap that bored him to death. It was his wife Dolores, he paused, unsure, then answered.
‘Hi, darling’ he said brightly, the old-world term darling originally being used to express their ageless love, now he smiled faintly as he said it with post-ironic contempt.
‘Are you alright, don’t strain yourself, remember to rest, eat, are you sure you’re alright’ all said in a loving deluge of concern before he’d managed to answer her first question. Dolores had been nothing but loving and kind to him over the years, the perfect partner, but it didn’t matter, he’d felt constrained, suffocated, tortured because of her. As he fell in love with her, a part of himself had died, over the years the resentment had grown, hiding in plain sight under a thinly masked veil of happiness and love.
‘I’m fine, don’t worry, I’ve eaten, I’ll be back later, I love you, I’ve got to go’ fighting fire with fire, a list of questions should be met with a list of platitudes and he hung up without the opportunity for her to continue. He shouldn’t have answered the phone to her, but he knew that if he hadn’t, she would have tried repeatedly and then called the office. The phone rang again. Dolores, again.
‘Hi darling, I really can’t talk now, I’m in the middle of’ he pinched his forehead.
‘I know. I know. The foster agency. They have another one. Tomorrow.’ she interrupted; over the years he’d gotten used to a list being her default method of communication.
‘That’s great, you’ll have to tell me about it later though as I’ve got a list as long as your arm to get done and as you said, I need to take it slowly, so I may be back late’. There was logic there, the work needed to get done, so the variable in that equation was how long it would take him. She didn’t need to know that he’d cut corners and get it completed in half the time, he liked to call that extra time ‘sanity time’.
Bill dragged himself onto his feet and ascended to the second floor. The upper floors of these buildings were always lighter as the boarding rarely reached above the ground floor. There was something serene about the way the light dappled in front of him through the doorways in the corridor and usually he’d enjoy these little pleasures, but not today. He walked through a doorway leading to a covered gangplank which dissected the foundry below. Turning left when the gangplank reached giant sot covered windows, he reached the finance office, small, ransacked, and with a giant walk in safe.
Heaving the door open there was always that blissful moment of anticipation, the excitement building until he could see inside, there she was, just as he’d left her. As he looked in at the small confines of the safe, the Rolling Stones song popped into his head You can’t always, get what you want, But if you try sometime you find, You get what you need. He began to hum it to himself as he stepped inside the safe.