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Before we exited the bar, I discreetly reached into my pocket and speed-dialed Claire Turner on my cell phone, then immediately disconnected the call. This was Claire’s signal to call me in thirty minutes—more than enough time to get the job done with Kevin.
There was a wooded area behind the Backstop Bar & Grill that was shielded from view by trees and a pair of dumpsters. Needless to say, I had already staked the area out in advance. I didn’t believe that we would be interrupted here, and I hadn’t noticed any police cars in the vicinity. This was a working-class, but relatively low-crime area of Cleveland. Even if someone happened to see us walking back into the woods, our presence by itself was unlikely to trigger any red flags. And from a distance, it would look like we were sharing an ordinary cigarette.
I led him back to a clearing, where the lights of the bar were barely visible through the sparse mid-November foliage. Only the pines were green this late in the season. It had rained the previous night, and the ground was still damp and muddy.
I removed the joint from my pocket and held it up for him. “Damn good stuff,” I said.
“It looks good,” he replied. “So what did you say your name was?”
“I’m not sure I did. My name’s Ben.”
“My name’s Kevin.”
“Good to meet you, Kevin.”
I placed the joint between my lips and pulled a lighter from my pants pocket. Drugs never were my thing—I’m not even much of a drinker. However, the occasional hit on a joint is an occupational requirement for my line of work. Pot is as far as I go, though. And I don’t do any more of it than is absolutely necessary to establish my credibility when I’m undercover.
“So you’re a welder?” Kevin asked, though we had already covered this point in the bar.
“That’s right. I’m a welder.” Then I gave him my pre-rehearsed biographical sketch: “I’m from Toledo. My wife and I moved here about a month ago after I got laid off. We’re staying with her brother on a temporary basis. I’m looking for work in the area.”
“Ah, so you’re married,” he said.
“Yep.” I couldn’t really tell if his face registered disappointment or not. The exact nature of Kevin Lang’s sexual orientation was no longer even relevant. Right now, I only wanted him to smoke as much of that joint as possible. I handed it to him. “How’s the local job market?”
“Sucks,” he said, taking a hit. “Places closing everyday. Places that aren’t closing are downsizing.”
He handed the burning stick of leaves and paper wrapper to me and I took a very shallow hit before handing it right back.
“Say,” I said. I decided that I had established enough rapport with him to allow me to broach the subject of his job at Great Lakes Fuels Systems. And for some reason, I was curious. “Why do you think that your employer has it out for you?”
“I know they do,” Kevin said.
“Think you could be a little more specific?”
“Well,” Kevin paused and took an extra puff on the joint. I didn’t hold my hand out for it. He was lost in his own thoughts, so he kept smoking it. Maybe he was already a little buzzed by this time, too. As I had promised him, the Citral was pretty strong stuff.
“I’m what you’d call an agitator,” he finally said. “At least that’s the way my employer sees it.”
“You mean a union agitator? I couldn’t help noticing that you’re wearing a UAW tee shirt.”
“Naw, not really. I mean, if the union can get us better working conditions, fine. But I realize that the union has drawbacks, too. Three years ago you’d have asked me, and I would have told you that I’d never support a union in a million years. I was happy at my job.”
“So what changed?” I asked. I was keeping him talking and keeping him smoking.
* * *
Serial to be continued. Visit the Serials page for links to more of Termination Man, or purchase the entire book from Amazon.com.