When a middle-aged photogenic black guy said "I have a dream!" he inspired a generation. When an ugly older white guy says, "I had this dream..." you can pretty well figure that you're in for a wild ride. All I can say in my defense is, It's a total fabrication!
I bought a big, expensive MIG welding kit off of Ebay. I'd burned out from teaching high school and got my welding certs a few years before. However, I had my fill of bosses that demanded that I push the jobs so hard that I had no chance of finishing my work with the quality that I deep down needed to create. I saved up all my spare cash until I hit my theoretical budget point. I'd bought a few battery operated drills, three recharging stations and several spare battery packs. I bought a big box full of C clamps and pipe clamps at an auction, then wire brushed everything and oiled them. I found an expensive but high quality MIG welding system on Ebay and paid a premium to get it. I was ready to step out on my own.
When it came in, I was surprised at the size of it. After I tore down the wood shipping crate I found that it held a welder with all the associated kit mounted on a waist-high floor-standing Snap-On tool chest, stuffed to the gills! What was the idea?
I tore it all down, categorized the tools and wiped everything down with light coating of cutting oil. Under a tray of sockets I found a hidden panel. Someone had laid in a thin sheet of wood over a cavity. Inside I found a property deed, a key ring with numbered keys and a typed letter.
"I'm dying of cancer. None of my worthless sons gives a good goddamned about my business. I'm shooting the dice one final time to try to find someone that has the balls to take over the operation. I'll be long dead by the time my lawyer puts this rig on the market, so don't bother trying to track me down.
The title and keys are to a metal fabrication shop near Joliet. There's a lot of secrets built into the place that are yours to discover.
Take the deed to a Harris bank branch to get access to the business account. There should be about seven mil in there. You'll need it for taxes, insurance, utilities and what not until you get your feet under you. The taxes will eat you alive, but you should have enough left over to keep your head above water.
Good luck, son. I wish I'd met you before I push off, but there it is. Give 'em hell.
That was it, short and sweet. What had I fallen into? If it was true my major startup expenses were covered.
The case was pretty heavy. I still managed to get it up into the back of my work van then headed for the address on the property deed. The factory was in New Lenox, a town a bit east of Joliet proper. As I drove up to the gate I got the impression of the damages caused by a depressed economy.
Key #1 opened the gate. The building was faced with grimy brick and the whole place looked sad. Weeds were growing up through cracks in the asphalt paving. I drove around the place, noting the four loading docks and around the corner I found an armored roll-up door sized for a dump truck. At one end of the building I saw a group of three large transformers mounted on concrete pedestals, all enclosed in rusted diamond mesh fence. The place defined the word "industrial". I parked in the employee lot closest to the door.
Key #2 opened the employee entrance. The place must have employed fifty to sixty people when it was a thriving operation. It was cavernous. The open door gave me enough light to locate a switch plate. A long bank of florescent tubes lit the hallway. Several were dead. I was surprised that the power was still on. The first two doorways led off to a couple of offices on the right and a large lunchroom on the left. Both rooms were empty and had been cleaned.
A little further on the hallway emptied out into a huge room with a high ceiling. I found a row of eight switches on the wall. One by one the banks of florescent lights lit the lime-green enameled walls. A row of eight 3'x6' heavy steel welding tables sat in a row closest to the near wall, in front of a huge louvered draft fan. A few beat up steel cabinets sat there, but the bulk of the equipment was gone. All that remained was a sixteen foot long metal lathe, a huge band saw, a multi-speed drill press and a big hooded multi-axis milling machine. They were the only pieces of equipment left. I could see the enormous mounting pedestals for other equipment, but it was all gone--no doubt sold off. The ceiling was high enough to accommodate two hundred and fifty ton rotary punch presses--eighteen to twenty feet high. Huge air handlers and air distribution runs gridded the ceiling. A big chain hoist supported by a railroad rail snaked across the room. In a much smaller room with two doors set up like an air lock I found a rotary tumbler for deburring punched parts. Those things were incredibly loud when working.
Through a large sliding door I found large welded racks of rod, angle iron, pipe and sheet steel of various grades and sizes. The other side of the big bay was empty save for a dilapidated propane fork truck. This was obviously where the loading docks accessed the building. At the end of the empty side was another powered armored door and a large area on the floor was marked off with stripes of OSHA yellow paint. Curious, I walked over to find out what it was. It was an open elevator platform! That meant that the building had a basement. Rather than ride the lift down, I kept exploring.
It wasn't long before I found two big bathrooms, a paint shop bay and a ramp that descended into the dark. Another switch lit up a row of florescent fixtures that illuminated the way down.
The basement had the same industrial lime green enamel paint job and had a fourteen foot ceiling. It was huge! If nothing else I could rent out climate-controlled spaces for boats, cars and campers to pay for the building's rent and insurance. The paint on the floor was worn in patches and ugly. Off in one corner near the elevator shaft I found a beat-up delivery van and a car. And what a car it was! Someone had stashed away a black 1970 Pontiac GTO. I reverently approached it, my holy grail of the muscle cars. I quickly noticed that the hood scoops were too large, and there were louvers within the cowling. Somebody had supercharged the thing. On sticking my head inside the driver's window I saw that the driver's seat had been equipped with a five point harness. I pulled the pins and raised the hood. This wasn't a showpiece. This was a thoroughbred racehorse. I saw what could only be the old big block rocket 455 engine. All the hoses were armored. The battery was in a closed bolted-down box. I was impressed. I lowered and pinned the hood. A quick peek underneath showed a shrouded drive shaft. I sat down in the driver's seat and opened the glove box. Yep, there was a Nitrous tap. This thing was a street legal sleeper that was tricked out for the track. I'd have to get it up on a lift to see if it had a fuel cell instead of a tank. I noticed a folded piece of paper in the glove box. It was the title to the car. It had been signed over for transfer. I pocketed it, along with the keys.
How long had it had sat here in the dark? I doubted that the fuel was still good. I wasn't about to try and start it until the oil, radiator and fuel had been drained, flushed and refilled. All I needed were replacement fluids, some tanks for the old fluids, a couple of gallons of solvent and an air hose. If it had been sitting for more than a couple of years all the spark plug wires, the hoses, the coil wire, the vacuum hoses and the battery had to be checked. I'd just flat out replace the wiper blades as their soft composition wasn't designed for long-term storage. On inspection the tires looked very good. That was a blessing as those big red-stripe racing grade steel-belted radials were expensive!
I decided that my two hundred and fifty dollar MIG welder was the best investment of my life.
There was a sub-basement as well, but it was partially taken over by a sump with a couple pumps in it, a large air compressor with pipes leading up the wall, presumably to the main floor and a pit containing the hydraulics and heavy steel frame for the elevator. The existence of the wet sump explained why the power was left on. The plate on the mechanism said that it was rated for twenty-eight tons. I called for the lift and rode it up to the main floor. It worked perfectly--smooth as silk.
I paid a visit to the bank as the letter had instructed. There I made out a signature card for the account and got a big book of self-carbon checks as well as a debit card. The account statement said there was a bit over six and a quarter million in funds. The bank had been paying the gas, electric, water, insurance and tax bills for just over five years. The phone had been cut off but that was easy to address.
I was informed that there was a safety deposit box in the company's name. Would I care to inspect it? Damned straight, I would. Inside were all the originals of the incorporation papers, insurance agreement and all the other paperwork that a business needs to have. I got a cardboard box out of the van and emptied the bank box. I borrowed a telephone and an empty office to order three POTS phone lines and one digital grade line for their Internet service from the phone company, then looked up ADT's number to get an alarm system installed. Thankfully they'd gone wireless and didn't need a phone line like they used to.
My next stop was at an office supply store. I ordered everything from a desk, filing cabinet, telephone, answering machine and a comfortable chair to office equipment including a computer and Quick Books to the basics of a kitchen for the lunch room. I'd have to latch on to a table and chairs but all in its own time. I got some business cards ordered under the name of New Lenox Fabrication with my new address and phone number. For a modest fee they agreed to deliver and set up. I saved the receipt. I'd be saving all my receipts.
I arranged with an industrial maintenance company to dispatch a crew to inspect and repair the HVAC as well as the sub-basement air compressor, the sump pumps, the big armored overhead doors and the heavy crane. I needed to get the lift inspected and certified as well. Then I called Forklift Repair out of Chicago to give my propane stock mover the business.
I called the local disposal company and ordered a dumpster. On the strength of my debit card I got a weekly service agreement for it.
I called a company out of St. Charles to lease a small black & white Canon fax/copier/printer. They must have been hungry. They promised that it'd be installed by the end of the week.
With my title in hand I paid a visit to the post office to get my mail redirected from my home to the factory and to arrange for a business postal drop. I also bought a UPS business shipping department kit and had us added to the route driver's list. I made a note to set up a shipping and receiving desk just inside the door to the production department.
I had to get out of my current job and get my tools. I couldn't do squat without my tools. I sat down with my boss in his office. When I described the building I'd inherited his eyes bugged out. He wanted to talk to me about sub-leasing some workspace. I smiled and held out my hand to shake. I told him that I'd have to talk to a lawyer about a contract and figure out my expenses to give him some solid numbers, but we agreed in principle. He wanted to get some measurements and to see what shape the machinery was in so I loaded up the van with my stuff. As soon as he picked up a laser rangefinder we headed to New Lenox.
I laid claim to the first heavy steel welding tables and let him know that the fork lift was being rebuilt. We had 440 3-phase, 220/3, 220, 120/3 and 110 service available in monstrous amperages. The old punch presses were thirsty beasts. The relatively recent developments in waterjet tables pretty well cut the legs out from under new sales of a lot of the big punch presses. We had plenty of room for a cutting table and the powered roller conveyor line to move flat stock around.
The phone company came through for me. My office and lunch room order was delivered. I spent a day setting up my office and getting the computer in shape. I set up Quick Books and entered my first receipts. I ordered cable TV and had a flat screen installed in the lunch room along with a phone on the second line. I felt pretty good about things.
ADT made a pass through the building, drilling holes and running cable. They set up a perimeter monitoring system with extra sensors in the office in a separate zone and on a separate schedule. The office also got armored glass windows, a solid steel door and an expensive deadbolt. The walls were masonry so I didn't worry on that front. If someone came through the roof then the motion sensors would trigger anyway. You can't keep everyone out, but you can make it expensive.
Two guys delivered my Canon printer, set it up, hooked it up to my network, loaded the drivers on my computer and tested the fax. Beautiful. They'd pay for all repairs and supplies except for paper as part of the leasing contract.
I contacted a lawyer and put her on commission. I had her inspect the corporation's papers and asked whether it would be better to operate as a holding company or an LLC. I knew that we'd have some issues with single ownership. I also had her draw up a subleasing agreement for most of the factory's production floor.
After looking around I realized that I still had quite a ways to go.
The metal cabinets in the workshop were crap. I rented a bottle of gas, bought spools of wire and hooked up my new welder to build some good solid shelves. While I was at it I constructed 4x8 steel tables--two for the lunch room and one for shipping and recieving. I used construction adhesive to cover the steel tops with plywood. After a coat of urethane they looked pretty good. I bought chairs. I wasn't about to go fooling around with making chairs. Then I called a Lincoln distributor--Grainger-- to bring his catalog and spec sheets over. They carried several other lines including Baileigh waterjet tables. I got a copy of his spec, throughput, prices and requirements sheets on a couple tables to talk over with my old boss.
Looking at the place with a jaundiced eye, the shop floor looked like crap. I had a company come in to true up, polish and seal the concrete floor, then paint everything with a durable gray epoxy paint bearing a little grit for slip resistance. When it was finished it looked like the place was worth the money I was going to charge.
I had the asphalt patched and sealed, then the parking lines were painted on.
Matco had a nice line of locking tool cabinets. I bought a good one as well as a big job box with a drop side that would turn into a ramp for my carts and supplies. It's not like the guys I used to work with were really thieves, but I wanted to remove the temptation to 'borrow' anything.
Thank God I didn't have to hire anyone, so I didn't have to jump through government hoops. I did, however, have a two-room clinic built and supplied at one end of the manufacturing space, through the wall from the lunch room. I also bought a row of lockers with better than usual capacity.
I was oh so tempted to have a third bathroom installed and label it "LGBT" just to pull the chain of all the rednecks I'd worked with that thought Nascar should be an Olympic sport.
I bought the service and operator's manuals for the lathe, the band saw, the drill press and the milling machine. I learned that with the proper attachment the milling machine could be used as a random-orbit polisher. It was capable of CAD/CAM support but it had never been used that way--only under manual control. I bought the interface module and had it installed. The second office became a CAD station operator's home. Using Ethernet, it could easily control both the milling machine and the waterjet table. It had no Internet access on purpose.
I was going crazy. I had to get away from it all for a while. I was also tired of driving forty miles to and from work every day! I spent a month moving out of my apartment then buying, cleaning and furnishing a one-story masonry house about two miles from the factory. Whew! What a trip on the merry-go-round!
I couldn't do any business unless I advertised. It's a necessary expense. I signed an agreement with a hosting site and had a web page designed for me, showing off the building's exterior and interior as well as describing services and our co-hosting with Aurora Metal Fab. Then I had a big plastic banner made to mount across the face of the building. I had an agreement with a guy that leased cherry-pickers to come take it down as soon as it started to get ratty. Then I had a 'permanent' sign made for the building, set in brick and under 24 hour illumination. I took out ads in a local free press paper that most of the local restaurants carried. Then I had the exterior of the building sandblasted and sealed. To finish the look I had the fence spray painted with rust-stop zinc-bearing paint so the place wouldn't look like the set of a disaster movie or a slasher flick. I had the web page pictures updated.
I figured that buying AutoCad and a decent system to run it on would be a cost of doing business, so I didn't cringe too much at the bills. I'd taken a few courses in AutoCad so I wasn't totally inept. I just didn't want to make a living out of doing it.
My welding station was all ready to rock. I had pipe vises hanging from the wall and a row of C-clamps hanging from a bar under my table. I had two Milwaukee cordless drills, two battery charging stations set up and plenty of rotary stones. I'd bought a good starting selection of milling bits and the band saw had a new blade. I even bought a bench, a pair of four inch belt sanders and a crapload of belts. I needed a couple flatbed carts to move stock, so I bought 'em.
I was awfully tired of hanging around the office waiting for the phone to ring. I bought a cell phone that was cloned to the office number. Then I moved the GTO up to the shop floor to work on it. I took up my time to check everything out. I replaced all the high-voltage wires on general principles. If the insulation was cracked I'd get an undiagnosable halo short. Two vacuum hoses and a new battery later I cranked it up. I had to let it crank it a while to fill the gas line, but it caught before the battery died. Then it settled down into that rumble-with-a-hitch that a street rod with a hot cam gives you. I gave it some gas. At about 11K on the tach the turbo opened up. That high whine started that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. Yep, I had a street rod. I very carefully drove it down to the DMV to get antique plates for it, then had it waxed and detailed. I put a locking gas cap on it and a lock on one of the hood pins so some asshat wouldn't mess with hit, then left it in a corner of the production floor. It was too damned pretty to hide in the basement, in a macho sort of way. Its insurance was an eye-opener.
Eventually I had a racing shop add a lockout to the supercharger so that I could drive it in traffic without worrying about smashing someone in the ass-end during a moment's inattention.
My old boss Duke and I finally sat down to sign a contract under which he'd cover rent, the electric and consumables while I covered the rest, like the shop insurance and other support services. If the equipment needed repairs and it was from abuse, he'd be on the hook for the whole bill. Otherwise we'd split it according to the hours of operation. I added an unconditional rider that a manager had to be on site or a delegated manager whenever a shift was working. The next Monday six of his welders showed up with their equipment to set up shop, accompanied by an older guy everyone knew as Joe. If Joe couldn't do it, we didn't want to touch it. He leased eight welding tables while I had reserved the ninth for myself.
We split the cost of a waterjet table capable of handling a 4x4 foot sheet of one inch chrome steel. It cost me eighty thou, and then we bought into the conveyor tables, parts bins and pallets for the used sheets. Duke would cover any shipping materials like crating and banding. Two more workers were assigned to the site to be material handlers and cleanup crew.
I had a hood and vacuum system installed near my grinder station, then bought a four-foot-long precision-controlled electric heat treating oven and a pyrometer. I'd collected a few books on knife making that I'd never put to good use. While business was slack I was going to play.
I started with sheets of O1 tool steel, 14 inches by 3 inches by 1/2 inch. I profiled the blades on the water table, then did some stock reduction. Finally I normalized the blades, brought them up to temperature and did a refrigerated oil quench. They were pretty good choppers, but I could get them to shatter with a 2 pound cross-pein hammer.
When I did the same thing with 14-4CrMO steel I swore that nothing was going to break them short of an armor-piercing shell. I made six of them then brought the surfaces to a matte finish on the milling machine. I then used brass pins to secure brown/tan linen micarta slabs to the handles and profiled them to a broad oval cross-section with a rear bulb for a good grip. I sealed and finished the handles with a thinned clear epoxy. One of them became my favorite go-to kitchen chopper.
I came in on a Friday to pay bills and check on the consumables to report to Duke. There was a check missing from the corporate checkbook. I knew immediately because nothing was written on the auto-carbon. I quickly called the police to report a crime, then the bank to have them watch for that check number and call me without clearing it. Two detectives and a lab guy showed up. I was quizzed as to what happened and when. During that, their tech took careful pictures of the lock face and used a fuming chemical to bring up fingerprints on the check register. Then they took my fingerprints for comparison. They asked if I'd used the computer that day. No I hadn't. The keyboard was dusted and prints were taken, as well as from the door frame, the chair handles, the desk drawer handles and the edges of the desk.
The check came back for payment. It had been used at a high end store for a home theater system worth over five grand. There was no way to track it. There were no fingerprints left but mine and there were no recent scratches on the lock face. I was pissed.
I decided to build a honey trap. I went in the next Sunday very early with a canvas tarp, a box of carefully color-matched bricks and a quarter bag of quick-set Sackrete mortar. I built a half-wall ending at the window ledge and bricked over the top except for the center which was under the window ledge itself. I used a cold chisel and a hammer to break out the big white precast brick that was there originally. Then I cleared out all my mess and carefully measured for the new replacement cement brick, out to cover the new half wall with its six inch hidden chamber.
At eight that night, after over 12 hours of curing time I carefully drilled a hole in a brick, then used a fat laundry marker to darken the hole. The outlet behind the false wall received a wall-mounted transformer that powered a quite expensive covert color camera with excellent resolution. I enlarged the hole with a drill-mounted rotary rasp until the camera fit the hole. Then supports were screwed in and it was connected to a commercial video recorder used in high-security installations. I stood it on end so that it would fit in the hole and plugged it into the outlet as well. Let my damned sneak-thief come in again. I'd have his face recorded in high resolution over both infra-red and visible light. I covered over the top opening with another precast cement brick that I'd cut to fit the space. From a distance it looked like the original wall. As a finishing touch I glued a false power point faceplate to the wall. A little vacuuming and I was done.
I called ADT and gave them my authorization code, then had them reset the office zone for a silent alarm. I thought about installing a spring-loaded door frame lock so that my intruder couldn't get out and a carbon monoxide tank with a time delay valve, but I'd never get away with hiding the body.
It turned out that old Joe had skills we'd never imagined. There he was, captured in glorious living color. He was arrested for trespass, felony breaking and entering, theft and forgery. I doubted that he'd do well. He'd probably die in prison. I wondered how much Duke ended up losing to a guy that slick.
The guys were pretty mad about Joe getting caught. I thought that I'd better send out a warning before they did something stupid. I called 'em all together that same day after lunch.
"Joe got arrested for stealing from the company. It wasn't any petty shit, either. He stole a check from the company check book. Then he tried to do it again. Forgery is a Federal offense with mandatory prison time. So is Breaking and Entering when the value is over five thousand dollars. Then he had the balls to try and get away with it all over again! He earned his punishment."
I looked at each one of them. I had their attention. "Watch this." I picked up a piece of 2x6 that I'd brought from home. Then I walked over to the waterjet table and turned it on. Then I waved the 2x6 under the focused stream of water. It was cleanly cut in half. "If any of you bozos are thinking about doing a little damage around here, like sabotaging my GTO, the mill, the lathe, the band saw or the drill press or doing something as stupid as setting the place on fire I promise before God I will strap your hands to a piece of lumber like this and run your fucking fingers through that water jet. Got me?"
Duke called me up to bitch about two of his welders quitting. I told him the whole story. He was quiet for a while, then I heard him sigh over the phone. All he said was, "Can't fight stupid." and he hung up. I got another manager the next day.
I had the locksmith replace that deadbolt with a more pick-proof model. The keys looked different as well. They had discs ground at different depths on both sides of the keys, and they were longer than usual--more pins.
One of the new guys was quiet. He came to work, did his job and went home. Never said a word he didn't have to. I learned from Duke that he'd been an Army recon trooper. I figured that as long as nothing set him off, we'd be fine.
Ever heard the phrase, "Man make plans and God laughs"? Well, like that. The other new hire welder was a real funny guy. Oh year, he was a barrel of laughs. As a practical joke he spot welded the quiet guy's pliers to his work bench. When he tried to pick up his pliers to trim his MIG wire laughing boy started cackling like a chicken. His victim calmly picked up a cold chisel and a hammer, broke the pliers free, walked over to the joker and belted him across the face with two pounds of articulated metal with a now-frozen joint. The guy slid bonelessly to the floor. He dropped his pliers on the idiot's chest, picked up the fool's good cutter/pliers and went back to his workspace. I whistled and clapped. It was the first time I saw him smile.
The joker went to the hospital with a busted cheekbone. He didn't press any charges.
I gave the quiet guy one of my special 14-4CrMO knives for Christmas.
We finally had a use for our second bathroom. Debby was a five foot tall fireplug. She intimidated the guys but she knew her stuff. Most of them made a pass at her but she shot them all down in flames. Eventually she asked me, "Why haven't you hit on me like the other guys?" I smiled. "I figure either you bat for the other team, you have a low hormone count or you don't dip out of the company punchbowl."
She gave me a nasty grin. "My wife's at home." I said, hopefully, "We can always use someone to drive a CAD desk. You could see her during the day." "Sorry, she's a nurse." I replied, "Too bad the shop isn't bigger. We've got a clinic and nobody to man it, but with so little demand an EMT could do the job." She nodded. "Still, it's an option for if she gets laid off." "True."
She took possession of the last leased station, the one next to mine.
Winter was coming on, and with winter came accidents. A local school district had a couple school busses that got in trouble. Since the frames weren't twisted, they were salvageable. I bid on rebuilding the ass end frames of them and won the bid. With our overhead door and the crane it made working with the crushed steel a lot easier than it could have been. I bought a couple hydraulic pump jacks to hold everything up while I used a box of cutoff wheels on each bus. Then, with the measurements taken from a good bus, I parted together the end of two frames, cut the bare metal ends to match and tacked everything in place. Once the laser sight showed good alignment I finished the welds, cleaned them up to the best of my ability, drilled and tapped the bolt holes to connect the body to the frame then called the body shop to come and pick them up. I damned well took my time and made the welds look like original equipment. That was worth a lot to me. When George, the welding manager, asked why I took so long and took so much care, I told him that's why I quit my original job. I was never given enough time to make it perfect. He sighed and his shoulders sagged. He knew right where I was coming from. That was the first job.
I started to get a reputation for being the go-to guy for high-value restorations. It took a few years, and I had to advertise in a few places like Hemming's auto trader and the Jaguar club magazine. I got to work on some damned strange vehicles. I didn't know what some of those people expected me to do without either a model to go by or a measured schematic. I had to turn some people away until they could come up with what I needed.
When tax day rolled around I learned that I wasn't going to take as big a hit as I thought I would. The account was in the name of the corporation which isolated it from any inheritance or transfer hits. As a matter of fact, I got a tax credit for all the infrastructure reinvestment I'd done. My tax accountant earned his pay.
I definitely didn't want to get into chrome plating because the shit was toxic from beginning to end. Galvanizing was no fun, either. However, we did get into powder coating. I had a long strip added to the building with its own HVAC. We could then hang parts off of big wheeled transfer stands, roll them out the door and into the addition, run them through a hot pickling spray to clean them, powder coat them under high voltage then bake it on. Once we got it debugged and Duke hired some staff smarter than an onion to run it, he started making money hand over fist. Since I paid for the infrastructure upgrade to keep the facility ownership issues simple I received a healthy lease payment for the facility each month.
I built another long building next to the first addition and installed a sputtering line. Don't know what sputtering is? You can sputter carbon into an iron or cobalt bearing surface to embed carbides in the surface. Great for cutting. You can sputter-coat titanium over steel to make it corrosion-proof in seawater. The bolt assemblies for some automatic weapons are coated with titanium nitride for hardening and wear resistance. This can be sputter-coated. It's done at high temperature and at a high voltage differential. It's case hardening with an attitude.
I finally put my foot down and refused to run the damned CAD station any more unless it was for my own projects. Duke had to break down and hire one of those 'goddamned college pansies'. He must have forgotten that I graduated with a degree in programming when he was learning how to use a gas torch. The declasse bastard.
Debby. That beautiful bitch. She came through for me in a way that I never expected. She set me up on a blind date! A curvy little blonde thing named Charlie was man-curious. I treated her like a lady and took her out to dinner and dance. I gave her a gentle little lip-touch kiss at her doorway and watched her float inside.
The next day Debby demanded to know how I corrupted her friend. I smiled and laid the gentlest of kisses on her lips. She looked at me aghast. She croaked out, "That'll do it!" and walked away. I guessed that tenderness was out of style. Sigh. You can learn a lot from the old guys like Casanova. "Gentle as a baby's breath." Never let it be said that I couldn't learn from the masters.
I called Charlie up for another date. She was giddy! I cleaned up the best I could and used a diamond deb nail file to thin down the calluses at my fingertips. I couldn't do it. I had to finally spray my fingertips with Easy Off oven cleaner and let it sit until they started to hurt. After a good rinse and scrub they were soft and sensitive. That night everywhere I kissed and touched her sent her higher and tighter. When I squeezed her butt as I nibbled on her nipple she went off like a skyrocket. Amazing. She fell asleep in my arms. This girl was something special.
The next day Debby looked at me like she'd dug up a live bomb in her back yard. I asked her, "Deb, would you teach me how to eat a woman out properly?" The breath left her in a gasp. "You don't want much, do you?" "I promise to tell you a secret in return." She looked at me for must have been three solid minutes. She wrote something down. "Go down to the porn shop on eleventh and get this DVD. Study it." I nodded. "Thanks, Deb. My secret is to spray your hands with Easy Off oven cleaner and let it work until it hurts, then scrub it off. Use vinegar to stop the reaction. Your hands will be so sensitive you'll be able to catch every quiver and tick of her skin." She swallowed and looked at me. "You're dangerous. You're flat out dangerous. You should come with safety warnings." I smiled. "I'm giving her a massage tonight."
She looked sad. "She's dead to me." I was alarmed. "No, Deb, no! She's overdosing on being Bi right now. She'll balance out sooner or later." She looked so sad that I had to hug her. "Have faith, Deb. Am I a predator? Am I a bully?" She sighed, and hugged me back. No, you're not. No you're not." She straightened up and went home. Jesus, Her relations were so delicate! I wondered about the rest of the community. Were Gays the same way?
It didn't take much convincing to get Charlie down to panties and her bra. Then I went all Swedish Masseuse on her, power-massaging her muscles until she turned to treacle. Then I eased up and just stroked her skin in long, slow runs. She purred until she fell asleep. I covered her with a sheet and fell asleep beside her, one arm across her belly.
I was going through my files when I ran across Gene's original letter that I got when I was dropped into this mess. That phrase "There's a lot of secrets built into the place that are yours to discover" got me to wondering what I'd missed. I headed over to a Lowe's building supply store to pick up a laser-based 'yard stick' or range finder. I carefully measured out the lot and the outside walls of the building. Then I laid it out in AutoCad. Next I measured all the interior dimensions and overlaid that layer. Okay, so far no surprises. The wall that separated the break room from the men's bathroom was a bit thick, and so was the outer wall to the woman's bathroom. I thought they were for the plumbing stack access. Some older buildings had passageways behind the walls to access the runs. The walls around the parts tumbler room were also pretty thick, but I assumed that was for noise abatement.
Next I measured the distance between the ceiling of the first basement and the floor of the shop. twelve feet. There was room for a hidden floor in there, but I accepted that a huge amount of concrete and reinforcing rod was necessary to stabilize a fourteen ton rotary punch press or two. Considering that, I included the punch press pedestals in the first floor layout. Then I set about laying out the first basement. I found a door that concealed the service breakouts, the service meters and the master breaker panel and the high-amperage buss-bar panels. The pedestals continued through to the sub-basement. I keyed the coordinates off of the elevator shaft. I discovered that the basement extended under the parking lot, but was truncated on one side. The office, bathroom and break room space were not continued in the basement.
The combination of the extra space in the first floor wall and the truncated plot in the basement got me thinking. After everyone else went home I carefully examined the wall in the break room. Nothing. Then I did the same in the men's bathroom. Nothing. I found a flush-mounted service door in the woman's bathroom. I was correct--it was a simple run to access the backs of the sinks. All right, where else could a door be? I examined the wall in the shop where the partitioning wall met the shop wall. I found a flush-mounted door painted the same as the wall around it. Key #7 opened both of them. No surprises there. It was another plumber's run with a duckboard floor. Was I on a goose chase? I had one more place to check. The tumbler room.
When I turned on the lights I noticed an extra switch on the panel. It didn't seem to do anything. I unscrewed the face plate and looked. It was wired up. I turned it on. Nothing. I turned it off. Nothing. I quickly flipped it on and off. I heard a click in the wall behind the open door. On taking a close look I found a panel that I could push in. It swung open on hinges to reveal a 36-inch wide, very long steel staircase leading down. I later figured out that the lights had to be on and the inner door had to be open for the switch to operate the relay. Sneaky, Gene.
A light switch at the bottom both closed the door at the top of the staircase and turned on a couple floor lamps. The room was paneled in pine and had a big Persian-style rug covering the floor. A comfortable-looking chair sat in one corner under one of the lamps. An empty book case and a small coffee table sat next to it. A desk faced one wall and at the far end was a bachelor's kitchen, a refrigerator, a small table & chair as well as a twin bed. Beside the bed sat a night stand and a free-standing closet/chest of drawers. (A bachelor's kitchen is a modular thing, having a small counter top, a single sink, a dish drain, two burners and cupboards above and below. The one I saw had a covered tube light mounted over the sink and counter. It was in an apartment upstairs attached to an old bank in eastern Iowa.) A door led to a full bathroom. The way this guy thought I was surprised that the john wasn't an ejection seat.