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The company van rolled by him. Yet Bastien Thibeadaux hardly recognized it. When his cousin Remy took it out of the garage yesterday, it looked nothing like it was looking now.
Remy, what in the world have you done now?
All Remy had to do was take the van out for a simple detailing job to prep it for a magazine ad photo shoot they'd scheduled. Wash and wax. Vacuum out the inside. Maybe touch up the plain white paint and the black stenciled letters bearing the company name and logo—CT Inspectorate. A simple job. Two hours tops. Now, nearly a day later, Remy was just getting back to the office. Just in time for quitting time. Typical Remy.
For maximum effect, Remy coasted by as if to make certain all eyes were on him. Bastien couldn't actually see his cousin behind the smoky, reflective tinted windows, but he could imagine Remy's I'm all that expression. Bastien caught his own scowling reflection in the window as Remy passed by him. He felt the vibrating thrum of the van's radio cranked high through the thick soles of his work boots as he stood out in the parking lot along with some of his employees. He simmered as Remy tried to maneuver the van into its parking spot. Hard to make those tight turns, Bastien observed, now that Remy had replaced the standard rims and tires with custom chrome rims and high-profile tires.
"Are those twenty-twos?" Alonzo Benavidez, Bastien's first shift crew chief, slid his sunglasses down onto the tip of his nose and peered over the edge in admiration of Remy's new chrome hubcaps. "Dang! That boy's rolling large."
"Those aren't twenty-twos. Those are thirty-inch rims… Gio-vannas," Jayden Jeffers, Bastien's summer hire corrected.
"How would you know that?" Bastien asked. He knew the boy was all about cars. His locker was jam-packed with trade magazines.
"I saw my brother searching on a rims Web site. My brother's been saving up for three months for a set to put on his Hummer H2."
"Here, let me get that for you." Melvin Weldon, the oldest employee on Bastien's crew, peeled his sweat-drenched bandanna off his head and made a motion as if to wipe the drool from Jayden's mouth.
Jayden jerked his head back, distracted from Remy's grand entrance by the sour smell of Melvin's sweat band. "Man, get that funky rag out of my face." He turned back when Remy revved the van's engine and stomped on the brakes to make the van surge forward several times.
"Look at this fool here," Bastien muttered.
He immediately regretted that he'd said that out loud. He should have kept his mouth shut. Remy wasn't only his cousin. Like it or not, he was also his boss. And it just wasn't cool to talk about your boss in front of the other employees.
Alonzo, Melvin and Jayden had all gathered in the parking lot to firm up plans for hooking up later. Once a month Bastien took his team away so they could talk openly, honestly—sometimes brutally honest—about what was going on around CT Inspectorate. Just as Remy pulled up, they'd decided to meet up at Solly's Fast Lanz bowling alley and come up with solutions to their problems over a couple games and appetizers.
Bastien lifted his hand to call Remy over to them, but Remy ignored him and remained seated in the van with his eyes trained forward. One arm was draped across the steering wheel that he drummed while his head bobbed to the music. Remy looked over at Bastien's crew, acknowledging them with a lift of his chin and an implied "what's up?"
Bastien turned back to the group. "You guys go on ahead. I'll meet up with you at Solly's as soon as I finish up with Remy."
"You sure you don't want us to wait for you, boss? Maybe Remy will give us a ride to the bowling alley?" Jayden suggested.
Alonzo made a rude sound of dismissal. "You volunteering to ride in the company van? You were never that hot on riding in the van before."
"I think maybe Jayden is hoping that showing up at Fast Lanz in that will get him some action from the ladies," Melvin added. It was Monday night. Ladies' league night at Solly's.
"Nobody's riding in that clown car," Bastien said in disgust, gesturing at the newly applied vinyl decals. Trendy or not, Bastien thought the new decals were a hot mess. The tackiest custom detail job he'd ever seen. Orange flames shooting out of what was supposed to be a greenish-gray navy destroyer slicing through a swaying ocean of psychedelic purple wheat. A navy destroyer instead of a cargo vessel. What in the world was that supposed to convey in the magazine ad? That CT Inspectorate blew up its products and was color blind?
When Remy didn't get out right away, Bastien strode over to the van, planted his hands on the door and leaned in.
"Remy," he ground out his greeting through clenched teeth.
"I already know what you're going to say." Remy cut him off.
"No, I don't think you do. What is this supposed to be?"
"What? You don't like it?" Remy lifted an eyebrow in genuine surprise.
"Are you kidding me?"
"What are you so pissed off about?"
"Because G-Paw told me to prep the van for the magazine ad. Not pimp it."
Bastien wasn't looking forward to confessing to the owner of the company that he'd blown their entire advertising budget for the year with Remy's stunt. One magazine ad. That's all they were getting because of the money he must have put down for this. No more sixty-second television spots that Bastien had already lined up with a local basketball fan favorite to be their pitchman. No more traveling for trade shows where Bastien could get out and press the flesh of potential contracts. And they could forget sponsoring the local high school sports teams. Bastien would just have to call the athletic director and tell her that Inspectorate couldn't do it this year.
In his mind's eye, Bastien watched in frustration as the future growth of his division dried up and blew away on the wind like ashes from deliberately torched grain fields. All scorched by the withering glare of Charles Harrison Thibeadaux—the power behind CT Inspectorate. Everyone in the family called him G-Paw. Grandpa. In a normal family, that would have been a term of endearment. Nothing normal about his family, Bastien would be the first to admit. And nothing normal about the way that old man treated them either. The G might as well have stood for godforsaken. G-Paw was a tough old man—spawned, suckled and saved by Satan himself. G-Paw didn't have much love for his family. It was all poured into his grain inspection business. He knew how to handle his business and had not a whit of patience for those working with him who didn't have the same level of good business sense. A sentiment that he shared and pushed Remy, the number two man in the company, to enforce.
Too bad Remy didn't understand the spirit of what G-Paw was trying to do, Bastien commiserated.
Remy reminded Bastien of his perceived incompetence every day for the four years since Bastien transferred here from their Louisiana office. From the time he walked through the doors in the morning until the time Bastien clocked out, Remy was on his back. As far as Remy was concerned, Bastien was there at his indulgence, and either he would shape up to be a good little company man or he could ship out. Literally. Ship out with the next load of company-inspected grain heading for China, South America, Italy or any of the other international ports with which they did business.
"I told you that I'd take care of it." Remy's insistence brought Bastien out of his mental downward spiral of dejection.
"Take care of it, huh? You want to tell me how you got all of this accomplished on the shoestring budget I've been given."
"Don't you worry about it. I handled it."
"Remy," Bastien repeated.
"I said I handled it, okay? Now back up, Bastien!"
Bastien yanked on the door handle of the van, flinging it open, thinking that he was going to grab Remy by the scruff of his neck, toss him in the back of the van and beat the smug look off his face. "Get out of there, Remy," he ordered.
"Who do you think you're talking to?" Remy bristled.
Bastien modulated his tone. "Give me the keys. I'll put the van back into the garage."
Bastien thought if he could just get this monstrosity out of sight before anyone else saw it, he still might have time to clean up Remy's mess. Maybe he could call in a favor from a friend of his who owned a dealership. Borrow a similar looking van, rush to an overnight print shop and get a banner made with the company name and logo. Whatever he did, it would have to be fast and cheap.
So I can see what I can do to fix this hot, steaming mess you dropped in my lap, Bastien wanted to say. "Because it's going to rain," Bastien said reasonably. "You don't want your new detail job to be ruined by the rain, do you? Give me the keys and let me handle this."
He kept his voice low and looked back over his shoulder. His crew hadn't gone yet. They weren't exactly eavesdropping but they weren't making any moves to disperse, either. When Bastien looked back at them, Melvin shoved his hands in his coverall pockets and bent his head to examine his shoes, Jayden pretended to be scraping dirt from his fingernails with his pocketknife, and Alonzo suddenly seemed to be more interested in the clouds sailing overhead than in the brewing confrontation between Remy and Bastien.
"You don't have to handle anything," Remy said, stepping out of the van. He slapped at his chest with his open palm. "I told you. I've got this. The only thing you need to do is get me that work rotation schedule."
Bastien blinked, caught off guard by Remy's request. Bastien knew by Remy's tone that it wasn't a request. He was serious.
"The rotation schedule?"
"The new rotation schedule for the month. I need it on my desk before you leave tonight."
"It's due Fridays," Bastien reminded him. "By close of business." Bastien never failed to provide the shift schedule to Remy on time. It had been due every Friday since before he started working at CT Inspectorate. Why was Remy sweating him now for it?
"I'll be too busy to review it Friday. I need it now, Bastien, before you leave."
Bastien considered telling Remy what he could do with that rotation schedule. It was only Monday. Remy didn't need it now.
"Fine," Bastien conceded. "You'll have it on your desk when you get into the office in the morning."
"I don't think you heard me," Remy said. "I want it tonight. And I want it done right." Remy paused, giving Bastien a humorless smile by forcing up the corners of his mouth. "Whatcha eyeballing me for, cuz? It's not my fault we're a couple men short and have to jump through hoops to make up for lost time. Your screwup. You fix it."
Bastien couldn't argue with that. One of the reasons he was taking his crew off-site was to discuss a rash of accidents that had put one of his employees in the hospital, another on administrative leave. But he didn't need Remy throwing that fact in his face. Bastien was all too aware of the problems his workers had.
"Fine," Bastien repeated, turning his back on Remy. He called out to the group, still waiting for him, and waved them on.
"You boys go on and get the party started without me," he said. "I won't be long." He hustled inside and wondered if all his extra efforts could truly turn his accident-plagued division around.
By the time Bastien pulled into the parking lot at the Fast Lanz bowling alley four hours later than he'd planned, it was almost closing time. The parking lot was close to empty with a scattering of vehicles that he didn't recognize. None of the cars that remained belonged to his employees. So he pulled into a spot near the side entrance, waving at Solly's son Samuel, who was hauling trash out to the Dumpster.
"They're all gone, Mr. T," Samuel said in greeting as he struggled to lift the heavy plastic lid on the huge, industrial Dumpster and toss in two overstuffed garbage bags.
"I figured that," Bastien said, grabbing a couple bags himself and flinging them into the bin. One by one, as each of his employees had left the bowling alley, they'd called while he was still in his office finishing Remy's schedule or left messages on his cell phone.
"Dad is still inside," Samuel said, pointing with his thumb back over his shoulder.
Bastien went inside and found his friend sitting at one of the tables across from the snack bar.
Solomon Greenwood looked up and pulled out a chair.
"You're late," he said in greeting. "The others waited as long as they could then had to cut out."
Bastien flopped down in a chair, a sudden weariness dragging his shoulders in a slump. "I know. I saw Samuel outside and he told me." Bastien paused and asked, "What did he do that you've got him on trash detail?"
Samuel was only five feet tall, small for a fifteen year old. He suffered from asthma and looked as though one of those trash bags would crush him if they fell on him. Solly usually kept him on light cleanup detail: straightening the shoe rack, wiping down the lane keypads with disinfectant wipes, restocking the restrooms.
"Sammy brought home a D in algebra," Solly growled. "Got his head twisted around by some little gal in his English class so he's lost his focus."
"Give him a break, Solly. Samuel's a good kid."
"And he needs good grades to get into a good college. I ain't playin' with that boy, Bastien. He's got two weeks to bring that D up or I swear I'm gonna kill him."
"You're not gonna hurt your only son," Bastien contradicted. He rose from his seat, walked around to the snack bar and started to help himself to whatever wasn't put away. He made himself a heaping tray of corn chips and drowned it with two ladles of melted cheese and chili sauce.
He pulled a bottled soda out of the cooler for himself and a beer for Solly, then rejoined him at the table.
"You missed out," Solly told Bastien. "Without you at the table tonight, it was all ragging and no resolutions. What are you going to do about the gripe this month?" Solly initiated the conversation. "The crew said no raises this year. Salaries are frozen. Is that right?"