Authors: Todd Tucker
ALSO BY TODD TUCKER
The Great Starvation Experiment:
The Heroic Men Who Starved
So That Others Could Live
Notre Dame Vs. the Klan:
How the Fighting Irish Defeated
the Ku Klux Klan
Thomas Dunne Books
St. Martin’s Press
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
THOMAS DUNNE BOOKS
An imprint of St. Martin’s Press.
OVER AND UNDER
2008 by Todd Tucker. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Tucker, Todd, 1968-
Over and under/Todd Tucker.
ISBN-13: 978-0-312-37990-2 (alk. paper)
ISBN-10: 0-312-37990-0 (alk. paper)
Fiction. 2. Male friendship
Fiction. 3. City and town life
Fiction 4. Labor disputes
Fiction. 5. Indiana
PS3620.U33 O94 2008
First Edition: July 2008
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For my son
Andrew Jackson Tucker
The trigger pull of the M6 Scout is a bit stiff for the smallest youngsters, but using four fingers at first, and later two on the unique squeeze bar trigger works well. The gun’s accuracy is quite good, too—a helpful trait in preventing discouragement in a young shooter.
, “The Best Guns for Kids,” Fall 1977
I was eight years old when Mack Sanders lost a nut in the mill room of the Borden Casket Company. Dad told me a vague version of the story the night it happened, but along with the rest of the town, I soon knew every gory detail. It was 1973, the day before the Kentucky Derby, and Sanders had tickets to the big race.
Sanders was right out of high school, so new at the plant that maybe he hadn’t yet developed a proper respect for the horrible things that can happen to a man in a building full of industrial woodworking machinery. Maybe if he’d made it even one more week, he would have started to notice the large number of men around him with fewer than ten fingers, or ragged purple scars across their cheeks. Vern Schumacher in payroll, for example, cheerfully delivered Mack his paycheck every two weeks with an empty sleeve safety-pinned to his shoulder; he was waiting out retirement in a desk job he’d gratefully accepted after a run-in with a band saw. Who knows what Sanders might have learned given a little more time. I just know that what did happen to Sanders made even Vern Schumacher count his blessings.
Sanders had been assigned to a noisy green Torwegge ripsaw, a machine powered by a five-horsepower motor
bolted to the concrete floor. The motor was old, but like every piece of rotating machinery in the plant, it was lovingly maintained by a cadre of meticulous German mechanics who believed with moral certainty that all machines could last a century or more with proper care. Just days before the accident, responding to a barely audible rattle, maintenance man Oscar Schmidt had checked the speed of that very motor using a strobe light designed for the purpose. Waiting until after sundown so that the ambient light would be low, he pointed the light at the chain and adjusted its speed until the rapidly moving links appeared frozen in space, their speed synchronized perfectly with the blinking of the strobe. Oscar thus verified the speed of the motor: 1,600 revolutions per minute, exactly as designed. He concluded that the noise he’d heard was caused by the metal chain that connected motor to saw in a rapidly moving, well-oiled loop. Some of the links had become worn and barbed with age, causing noise as the malformed links meshed and unmeshed with the sprockets of the saw and motor. Oscar made a note to order a replacement chain from Louisville Mill Supply as he returned to the shop.
Sanders worked the day shift in the mill room, where he was pulling down the highest wages a new guy could anywhere in the plant. As shitty as the work could be—hot, dusty, and loud—Sanders knew he was lucky to have it. Especially as his unemployed, pot-smoking buddies from the class of ’72 proved irresistible to the local draft board. With his pride, six dollars an hour, and a free yearlong vacation in Southeast Asia at stake, Sanders threw himself into the job every day, attacking his pile of wood in a sweaty frenzy. The day before the Derby was no exception
as he fed the ravenous saw, sweated through his Neil Young T-shirt, and tried to avoid looking at the clock.
Late that afternoon, a small forklift delivered to Sanders the day’s last load of wood. Eager to begin his big weekend, Sanders grabbed the biggest board off the top of the stack, and, in an attempt to keep up with the men on either side of him who had been doing the work for decades, Sanders fed too much lumber into the saw at once. The large maple board got cockeyed and jammed itself with a squeal between the saw blade and the housing. The powerful motor groaned with displeasure but kept running. Sanders tried to muscle the board out, but couldn’t. From where he stood, he had a hard time getting a good angle; the big motor on the floor was right where he needed to stand.
Sanders should have just turned the saw off and asked for help at that point, but he didn’t. He’d gotten wood stuck before, and had always managed to get it out by himself. Turning the saw off would cause a bell over his machine to ring, an alert designed to get maintenance men or the foreman over to see what was wrong: everybody called it the “idiot alarm.” A new guy took enough crap in the plant already without inviting it on himself like that. He also didn’t want to give anyone an excuse to move him to a lower paying, less demanding job in the finish room or the trim line. As the outside of the saw blade spun against it, the board started to heat up, and Sanders knew that soon the smell of wood smoke would draw more unwanted attention than a clanging bell.
Knowing he had just a few minutes left before the foreman made his way over to see what was impeding the flow of lumber through the plant, Sanders decided to try
something different. To reach a better position, he stepped atop the motor housing, about two feet off the ground, with one foot on each side of the rapidly moving drive chain. Now the offending board was sticking out right at his navel, and he was able at last to get a good, solid grip on the thing, and pull.
He had positioned himself so well that the wood popped right out, surprising him. Holding on to the big heavy plank, Sanders tried to keep his balance, but he overcompensated when shifting his weight forward. His feet slipped on the motor housing, which was made slick by a coating of sawdust as fine as talcum powder. He fell hard, landing with his full weight on the rapidly moving metal chain, a leg on each side.
It all happened in an instant. With a buzzing sound, the jagged metal links ripped through the denim crotch of his jeans like a chain saw. Sanders instinctively put his hands down, gashing them badly on the chain. Events were now unfolding at 1,600 revolutions per minute, and even in his panic, he had no hope of reacting in time. The chain chewed through his jockey shorts as easily as the denim, and then moved on to the tender flesh of his scrotum. With those three scant layers of protection removed, one of the lightning-fast metal links, its outer edge worn into a hook-shaped barb, snagged his left nut, ripped it off his body, and flung it twenty yards through the air.
They say there wasn’t a place in the plant where you couldn’t hear the screaming. Guthrie Kruer, another new employee who was working nearby, was one of the few men present to act fast. He sprinted over and hit the big red emergency stop button, but by then the nut was flying
across the mill room, never again to be a part of Mack Sanders. It hit the far wall with a splat, left a bright red starburst of blood, and fell straight down into a pile of wood shavings.
From his hospital bed the next morning, Sanders told his brother to go on to the Derby without him. He also gave him a week’s wages and strict instructions: bet it all on Secretariat to win. Danny Sanders, however, convinced that he had received a heavenly sign, bet every dime on Forego, the only gelding in the field. Forego finished just out of the money. We all know what Secretariat did. Six years later, when Tom Kruer and I went into the woods searching for Mack Sanders, he was still pissed off.
The strikers cheered as the tractor dragged the ancient Chrysler Newport in front of the main gate. Virgil Stemler, his long skinny arms straining with the effort, sloshed gasoline all over the car from a dented metal can. Mack Sanders followed closely behind him, jittery and playing to the crowd as he tossed a lit match onto the hood, then another, then another, jumping backward with each attempt, until
, the rusty car burst reluctantly into flames. Sanders threw the matchbook to the ground and whipped around to accept our applause as the fire swelled behind him. There was something scary about his enthusiasm, and I wondered how many were like me, clapping only because I didn’t want Sanders to pick me out of the crowd. Tom and I watched, along with half the population of Borden, Indiana, as a streak of greasy black smoke climbed straight into the sky, almost high enough to be seen beyond the heavily wooded walls of the valley that surrounded us.