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Caution: Men At Work
About the Author: The crime/mystery fiction of former TV comedy writer and producer April Kelly has been published in Down & Out, Tough Crime, Shotgun Honey, Mystery Magazine (formerly Mystery Weekly), Mysterical-E and several other online and paper publications. Her literary and humor pieces have appeared in numerous regional or university magazines, and her Hell-based story "Oh, Here!" won medium bucks in the Mark Twain House Royal Nonesuch humor contest.

Anonymity. Invisibility. The lot of women over sixty and any man who works in coveralls. The first name embroidered on a faded, breast-pocket panel is less likely to be Remington, Bryce or Sterling than Ed, Ace or Buddy. If a passerby notices anything at all about this particular work site, it is probably the big, yellow digger, rather than the four workers in gray coveralls and hard hats.

The man controlling the joystick in the open-air cab of the Bobcat Tuff-Lift excavator drops the bucket down for another fifteen-inch wide chomp into the grass of the suburban park. The trench must accommodate pipes with an outside diameter of thirty-six inches, so forward momentum is slow, giving ample time for the two guys setting up the flexible fencing panels on either side of the dig track to stay ahead of the Bobcat’s progress.

The mesh tape sections are flimsy enough to be supported by slender, bamboo rods at eight-foot intervals, and could easily be breached by a determined Yorkie-Poo, but their day-glow orange color and attached DANGER signs deter nosy-parkers from stepping too close to the trench.

By lunchtime, the crew has dug out three-quarters of the needed hundred-foot length, leaving more than enough daylight to complete the excavating, drop in the pipes, and backfill with the removed dirt by quitting time. The two fencers cross the street to a little mom and pop café for their break, while the foreman and the Bobcat operator tote manly metal lunch pails to a nearby park bench where they can eat their sandwiches and keep an eye on the site.

An hour into the afternoon’s work, the digger reaches the terminus of the excavation: a sidewalk that rings the park. A quick swap of the bucket for a chain-rig that will hoist the lengths of stacked, corrugated pipe, and three of the men start on phase two of the day’s job. The foreman remains on the sidewalk at the open end of the trench.

A uniformed cop, one of three young officers assigned by the city to do neighborhood public relations and community outreach, wanders over to the foreman on his once-a-day perambulation around the park’s perimeter. For Officer Sanderson, the leisurely stroll normally involves only waves to joggers, and friendly hellos to nannies and young moms exposing their tiny charges to a dose of vitamin D. He carries lollipops in his pocket, the round ones with looped handles that ensure no tot pokes out his or her eye while enjoying a hit of straight sugar.

“What we got going on here,” Sanderson asks amiably, while sucking on a cherry-flavored Safety Pop.

“Natural gas line extension,” the foreman responds.

Sanderson notes the size of the pipe section being lowered into the freshly dug trench with the manual assistance of the two men not sitting in the Bobcat’s cab.

“Damn. I never knew those things were so huge.”

“Oh, that’s just the protective housing. Gas pipe itself is only about yay big,” the foreman responds, using both hands to form a roundish opening approximately seven inches wide.

“Huh. I learn something new every day.”

“That’s because you’re so young. Old guy like me, I forget something every day.”

Officer Sanderson chuckles and says, “Then I guess we balance each other out, don’t we?” He glances at the sewn-on name tag to personalize the interaction, as he has been trained to do. “Well, Joe, you have a productive day.”

Once the policeman strolls away, the foreman’s tense shoulder muscles relax. He makes brief eye contact with the man operating the Bobcat, giving a subtle nod to assure him everything is copacetic.

By 4:30, the pipe is buried, the trench is backfilled, and the site is ready for a turf crew to lay sod the next morning.

So ends Monday of the work week.

This story appears in our APR 2023 Issue
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