No Accident: A Truly Ugly Story
Dust & Din
The man had quickness in his step when he exited the machine shop. His sledgehammer shoulders scrunched up and a grimace clenched his face as the cold hit him. He had a nasty toothache—his jaw throbbed with an ache that surged behind his eyes.
The February sky was heavy—low, gray, thick, forbidding. In its gloom, huge trucks and tractor-scrapers crawled around the floor of the quarry like giant army ants busily patrolling their domain.
Incessant noise permeated the dust-blanketed air. Conveyor belts hummed and squeaked as gears grinded and engines rumbled steadily, pitching to a roar now and again—all of which was mere background for the clash of steel and rock.
The pounding of stone-crushers bounced off the rough-hewn walls and echoed around the bowl of the open-pit mine. The maelstrom was normal and mostly ignored—above the industrial din, men barked at each other in shouted conversations.
The man moved with straight-line determination. There were a few more hours left in the work-day—his drill had broke down, but the mechanics had affected repairs, and it now awaited him to put it to its task.
If all went by routine he’d finish the dynamite hole already started, punch-out at five o’clock and be at the kitchen table with his family by five-thirty. He didn’t know what was on the menu for supper, but was sure that whatever it was, it’d be great—his wife was a helluva cook.
Though he was carrying some extra middle-age weight, it was clear that he was nimble on his feet. In years gone-by he’d displayed his athletic skill in boxing rings. His large hands were calloused and covered by a film of grease and grime. He’d spent the last while tinkering with a cantankerous driveshaft.
The sun was a dull glow behind a leaden curtain of clouds. Big, fluffy snowflakes were beginning to fall in a sporadic pattern. The man paused for a moment to watch nature invade the gritty realm—it was the last bit of wonder before death staked its claim on him.
Twenty Ticks Of A Clock
A massive Euclid was situated beneath the loading hopper. A torrent of crushed stone filled the truck’s box accompanied by a mighty rush of hazy fog—the dust was exceptionally concentrated in this area.
Just as the man started to pass in front of the parked Euclid he heard someone call his name. In the split-second instant that he turned in the direction of that voice, the off-road hauler lurched forward, its deeply grooved tires grabbing at the bedrock like an angry grizzly clawing to escape its confinement.
The whistle signifying that the box was loaded got swallowed whole by the booming bedlam. There was no system of lights or flagman to warn or hold up foot traffic, which was strange in the extreme since this turf was a well-trod route to and from the maintenance buildings and also, the lunchroom facilities.
What happened next was pandemonium. The man reacted instinctively—he bolted to get out of its way. His legs churned and he moved in a blur. For a fleeting moment it appeared that he’d succeed, but he wasn’t quite fast enough—in reality he didn’t have a chance.
The bumper struck him at shoulder level with a force that knocked him off balance. He clutched hold of the cold steel and hugged it fiercely. He was a strong man—his powerful arms grappled with the protruding fender, his hands reaching for something, anything to grasp.
Desperation raged inside him, scratching and spitting with a frightening intensity. His throat was burning—a scorch of a scream was tearing out of his lungs.
Other miners were yelling and waving to get the Euclid driver’s attention—a whistle was screeching in short, urgent, commanding blasts. From his high perch, the man behind the steering wheel couldn’t see the life and death drama happening below him.
The Euclid’s monstrous wheels kept turning, turning, turning. The man struggled violently, valiantly. In the squared-circle with gloves on, spectators had always bellowed their approval of his unrelenting style. He’d been an unholy terror, always boring in and never backpedaling except as a decoying tactic. He hadn’t lost many bouts, but in this fracas he was completely outmatched.
Hands that had regularly dispatched opponents to the canvas were failing him now as he fought for his life. His fingers gripped the back edge of the bumper, slipped because of the slick sheen covering them, and then caught hold again—the tiniest of grins pursed his lips.
Fragile hope fluttered in broken-winged craziness through his brain. He was being dragged along like a stuntman in the movies, but this horrific scene was the real thing. It was furious and sudden-like when the end came. Grease and grime triumphed over muscle and sheer will.
The man tumbled under a front tire—his world became a swirling, somersaulting madness. Bones shattered and internal organs exploded as the treads mauled him mercilessly. Finally the Euclid scudded to a stop. Twenty ticks of a clock had passed since it had pulled away from the loading hopper—twenty seconds of unfettered, unadulterated, unrepentant horror.
The man’s broken body was twisted grotesquely beneath the enormous machine’s carriage. There’d be no evening meal with his family on this night. Instead, in that ordinary kitchen there’d be awful, angry loneliness—a wife and five children would sort through the emotional wreckage while clinging to each other. Ferocious questions would be hurled at God or anyone else who had the guts to listen.
The husband and father could not know their sorrow. He was in a peaceful place without tears or heartaches—he’d merely answered the beckon of eternity.
When the call crackled over his radio, Constable Wade Chandler had his cruiser parked in a section of the city locals derogatorily referred to as Lidsville. It was a crumbling neighborhood that had once been thriving and vibrant, but due to a series of economic downturns and loss of jobs, was now emerging as a breeding ground for criminal activity.
The information was sketchy—an accident at the quarry. He dropped the shifter into drive, hit the siren, and stomped on the gas. The open-pit mine was a couple miles away—he had actually worked there several summers in a row back in high school.
There weren’t many other options for employment in the area—flour mill, steel mill, nickel plant, or one could become a sailor and labor away on the boom and bust shipping circuit. This was bluecollar territory populated by hard workers and big dreamers.
It was Chandler’s hometown—he had a nodding acquaintance with most citizens. Everyone knew him—he was a local hero, a veteran cop who’d busted up a motorcycle gang’s clubhouse with an old-school efficiency that got him an official reprimand and many public though unsanctioned high fives.
Nothing much surprised Wade Chandler anymore, but a shock wave was about to go through him. As he raced to the location, more details were offered—a man had been killed. The dispatcher’s voice hitched and briefly wavered as he violated procedure and protocol by reporting the victim’s name over the airwaves.
“My God,” the constable gasped. He knew the man well—knew the family. In fact he lived down the road and around the corner from them.
He’d seen the man fight many times—not only in the ring. It’d been more than a decade since there’d been brawls and back-alley altercations as organizing activity increased amongst the miners.
The man provided leadership to the union movement. He had smarts and moxie, and approached every effort with a boxer’s mindset—he’d galvanized the workers with ruthlessness on the picket line and at the negotiating table.
Thugs were hired out of Buffalo—rumor had it that management was mobbed up. Those types of associations were near impossible to prove in a court of law, but it was easily evident that the owners of the quarry had several shady connections.
After many turbulent clashes, and much hardship and bad blood, a United Steelworkers Local was established. The man’s signature was on the Charter hanging on the wall of the Union Hall.
Throughout the protracted campaign there’d been well-publicized threats and counter-threats—there’d also been the kind of vows made only in the shadows, but those troubles were long ago and faraway, or were they?
In The Stillness
When Constable Chandler arrived at the site he was greeted by an all-consuming silence—oppressive, unnatural, and terrible. All mining operations had been shut-down—the horrific calamity had given the open-pit the aura of a cavernous tomb.
Clusters of hardened men kept a respectable distance. Their gatherings formed a loose circle around the Euclid—to a man their eyes were red, their faces marred by unbelief.
Chandler moved warily. He stepped close to the miner who’d been driving the Euclid—he was just a punk-kid, shaking and sobbing with a blanket draped over his shoulders. There was whiskey on his breath—had that been there before the accident or had some well-meaning fellow slipped him a micky to calm his nerves?
Other cruisers were pulling onto the premises. The police began securing the perimeter by gently nudging bystanders so that the circumference of the circle around the Euclid expanded. Chandler was told that the coroner was in transit—he was expected at any moment, along with next of kin to positively identify the body.
The police officer nodded, and then cautiously went directly to where the remains of the man were crumpled beneath the Euclid. He crouched close and let the details of the brutalized body rake his eyes.
Bile rose up in his stomach—he swallowed it. He stayed squatted for a strained stretch of time. Tears blurred his vision and spilled down his cheeks—he made no effort to disguise his actions as he thumbed them away. He stood up and surveyed the surroundings—his mouth pinched and he spat a shooter of sour saliva.
“This was no accident,” Wade Chandler said quietly. He spoke to no one in particular, but the words hung in the stillness.
He gave some instructions to another constable, and then climbed into the patrol-car. There was a bastard’s job that had to be done. He’d go to the clothing store on Clarence Street where the man’s oldest daughter worked as a bookkeeper—she’d just got married last summer. He’d tell her the tragic news first, and then take her to Reebs Bay to be with her mother and siblings.
he pulled onto the highway, his gut-honest assessment ricocheted around his
skull—it was destined to haunt him until the day he died. This was no accident.
- Wanted Man
Wanted Man a.k.a. Ken R. Abell, seeks to be a blessing to others. He's a rake, a rambler, and a teller of tales who understands that there is strength in a story well told and well lived. To learn more, inquire or schedule him, visit this web site.