Okay, short stories seemed to work. Let's try a novel, my first one out. Expect updates on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday until it's done.
Heavy raindrops rattled the metal roof of the storage building like spent shotgun pellets. The approaching thunderstorm had turned the sky to the north black, traced with branching lightning. Shaking like a drum head, the walls of the twelve by twenty foot building vibrated from a close thunderstrike—a ker-crack! that came from the inside. Seconds later, mellowed by distance, that very same ker-crack echoed from two miles away.
And then, gushing from every crack and seam, a flood of chocolate brown water spilled out. Hundreds of gallons of dirty river water knocked the door open, showing the computers inside.
A man backed his way through the door, wading through the flow.
Bob Hill, his eyes wide with panic, dragged the limp, soaked body of his son James out into the yard. Setting him down in the mud, he felt for a pulse. It was there, but very weak. Blood was oozing from a laceration on the boy’s head.
He’s bleeding. That’s a good sign. In the daylight, his skin was pale. Extreme blood loss. Bob face was twisted, barely able to contain a cry of pain. I’ve got to get him to a hospital.
Ignoring the flickering from the shed as the power shorted out, he lifted the boy—a young man—and stumbled around the house to the driveway. He strapped James into the back seat of the Jeep Cherokee and as lightning struck the ridge just above the fence line of their five-acre home, he grabbed the cell phone.
The wheels spit gravel as he raced out the driveway.
“Williamson County 9-1-1 Emergency Services. What is the emergency?”
Bob fishtailed around the corner onto the county road, belatedly flipping the four-wheel drive lever into play. The road was wet and getting slippery.
“My son’s been in an automobile accident.”
Bob’s mind raced, giving the operator a story just good enough. Not the real one of course. That one began several weeks before.
It was a sunny day, early in the school year. James Hill worried about keeping his starter position on the football team. Coach had warned everyone that he’d be taking a close look at their weight-room scores each week, in choosing the starting line-up. Some of his buddies lived right there in town, and could walk to the weight-room. He had to talk his parents into driving him.
Through the open window of the pickup, he heard the tires squeal around the corner a quarter-mile away. When his dad’s car started bouncing down the 300-foot gravel driveway towards their rural farmhouse, he frowned, distracted from his own problems. What’s wrong with Dad?
He killed the engine on the pickup, and by the time the silver Cherokee pulled to a stop beside him in the driveway, James had gotten out.
“Hi, Dad. You home from work early?”
Bob Hill didn’t look up for a moment.
Finally, he noticed his son. “You’re not at school?
“Teacher work day. Mom’s gonna take me to football practice in a minute. Is something wrong?”
His dad got out. “Bring in that cardboard box for me, will you?” He stalked towards the house.
James pulled it out. His spirit sagged.
There was no mystery here. Sticking out of the box was the translucent plastic slab lettered with “Robert Hill” that’d been on the wall next to his office at work for years. Piled like trash in the bottom among file-folders were a dozen little knickknacks he’d seen on his father’s desk. James had visited his father’s office a couple of times when the company opened the doors for Family Day. He recognized nametags from conferences Dad had attended, several company appreciation awards, even the plastic fish-shaped cozy to keep his drinks cool.
They fired him? How could they fire Dad?
Diana, his mother, was hugging her husband when he brought the box into the kitchen.
Bob straightened. He glanced at James. “I got laid off.”
“Oh, Bob. I’m so sorry,” Diana said. “I heard on the news that they were letting off another nine hundred workers.”
He pulled out a chair and sat down, taking her hand. “It’s not like it was a surprise or anything. I haven’t done anything useful for the company since Dennert took over the department.” His voice was bitter.
James said, “You’re not the only one that got laid off, Dad. I know a dozen kids at school who’ve had the same thing happen in the last few months.”
He pointed at all the framed certificates in the cardboard box. “You got all those awards. People are always telling me how smart you are. You’ll get a new job soon. I’m sure of it.” James tried to be upbeat. Now was certainly not the time to try to talk his parents into letting him drive himself to school.
“Maybe.” His father sounded down, unsure of himself.
Diana said, “Betty said there were openings at Franklin’s. I’ve worked retail before. I should call her.”
Bob unpacked the cardboard box. He was glad when Diana took James off to practice. His family was a comfort, but he needed to settle his brain. In spite of all the warnings, he hadn’t expected it to happen to him.
He thumbed through worn and irregular folders loosely packed in the cardboard box. Most were his personnel records, old copies of presentations given, even a few letters of commendation—from the days before his last boss.
A large brown accordion folder caught his eyes, and Bob’s expression grew a little colder. ‘Dennert’s Damned’—that was what he’d begin to call them in his own mind—good ideas, officially ignored. They were totally new project ideas. With a little work and a little funding they could become profitable. The company’s official history had made the point that several times, the company had re-invented itself, turning to new businesses as the technology changed.
But times had changed, especially in the mind of his boss. Dennert had tossed them back to him, unopened, unread.
That meeting in his office was burned into Bob’s brain. They’d been arguing about the new direction Dennert was taking his department.
“This company has been rooted in innovation.” Bob had been trying to be reasonable, persuasive. “We need new ideas, new products, new technologies, to keep us out in front.”
Dennert shook his head. “Not any more. We’re in a commodity marketplace. The company can’t afford innovation. We need to document what we do, and refine that process so we can compete. In our business the profit margins are getting narrower by the quarter. We can’t afford to waste our resources.”
Bob had come away from that meeting stunned. For fifteen years he had worked for a technology company, where ideas were the fuel that drove it to ever-new markets and ever-new products. The innovator was valued.
Not any more.
Bob’s job had been developing contacts in the universities, reading all those scientific papers that often never left the library shelves. That was what he was good at, taking blue-sky theory and seeing commercial possibilities within.
But for nearly a year, under explicit orders from Dennert, and supposedly, the higher-ups who supported him, he was told to toss the new concepts and concentrate on documenting in elaborate detail the step-by-step processes of his job.
Two hundred pages of details, contact numbers, and methods—all of them obsolete the day I wrote them. I’d bet money no one will ever read it. He hadn’t bothered to make a copy for himself.
It’s my job to provide for this family. But I’m worthless now.
Diana had taken it well, anxious to get a job for herself. She’s mentioned this before. Maybe with James nearly grown, she needs to get a job. It’d certainly help until I can find a new place.
It just hurt.
He sighed, and plucked the accordion folder out of the junk and slipped off the band.
Half a dozen finely crafted proposals stared at him. With his track record, at least one could be forged into a multi-million dollar business, given starting capital and a dedicated crew.
Of course, all of the others were just money sinks, traps for the unwary. No one could tell the difference without making the effort.
I’d love to turn one of these into a success. I’d love to show them what one good innovation is worth!