Inspector 13 by LB Sedlacek
Ransom E. Olds created the assembly line in 1901 to keep up with the demand for horseless carriages. His invention enabled his factory to go from producing 425 cars in 1901 to 2500 cars in 1902. Henry Ford is presumed to be the inventor of the assembly line. Ford improved upon Olds’ process by installing conveyor belts. This shortened the time to manufacture a Model T from a day and a half to ninety minutes.
Baylee Elliott looked up at the clock, whistled for a moment, sighed and chewed fast on her gum and chewed some more. Her gum was flavorless, the sugar and sweet grape flavoring absorbed by her jawing and saliva. She’d popped it in right after the last break. There were two fifteen minute breaks a day, a half hour for lunch. Most of her coworkers used their breaks for smoking or the bathroom. She didn’t smoke, had tried it once, stopped when her grandmother shriveled up from one too many sun baths and skin cancer. She had worked on the assembly line, too. Baylee had taken her place as Inspector No. 13, right in the middle.
Inspector No. 13 was responsible for inspecting unfinished metal articles of furniture for defects in metal or poor work. Anything unacceptable was marked with a crayon or chalk and returned for repairs or scraped. She also had to feel the welds and look for burrs and if she found any, remove them with a file or emery paper. Baylee inspected hospital beds. They were only halfway assembled when they reached her. Sometimes she got overtime at the end of the line, inspecting assembled beds in their entirety.
She had never been called to the front of the line or to the Supervisor’s office except when they handed out paychecks, or there was a problem with the time clock or some general thing, but she was walking there now her feet moving slowly in front of her, she stepped slow and evenly almost tip toeing. A couple of her friends from the front end of the line looked up and smiled, it was a grim smile they gave her. She figured they were thinking she was in trouble or getting the axe or some other such bad luck.
She smiled back, her smile had been plastered on her face since she’d received the note marked #13.
“Baylee. Thanks for coming down. Have a seat.”
She continued giving out the same smile, sat and smiled some more. “Thank you, Mr. Barry.”
Mr. Barry was tall, thin, had a greasy swatch of black hair along the backside of his head, the rest of it bald. He was pale, as pale as she was, both of them pale from working days inside the windowless factories, in the shadows, human ghosts.
“It’s close to break time so I’ll get right to it Baylee. Your work here is good; I want you to know that. We don’t have a problem with it. We just need to reschedule you for a few days. Have you work nights.”
“Nights? Mr. Barry, I don’t know if I can do that, see I take care of my Momma at night, during the day we have a nurse with her, but–.”
“It’s just for a few days, Baylee. It’s about your adjacent.”
“We’ll move 14 to nights, too. For a few days. And then you should be able to get back to your regular slot.”
“I guess so.”
“There’s been some discrepancies in his work. You just have to tell us what you see. Simple, right?”
Baylee nodded. Pulled back on her ponytail, brushed the hair from her eyes.
Going to nights wasn’t as hard as she’d thought it’d be. There were some perks, too. Mr. Barry said she could keep anything she found that didn’t involve Inspector 14, and as long as it wasn’t cash or jewelry. She didn’t know what she was going to do with golf clubs, or contraband software because she didn’t play golf and she didn’t own a computer but she’d found them strapped up inside the bed frames, some strapped up to the underside of the mattresses or inside the mattresses. There was clothing, too. Silk scarves, t-shirts, socks, any number of cheaply made overseas goods.
She hadn’t known 14 long. He was short, shorter than she was, was tan or spent the better part of his weekends in the sun or a tanning booth, his hair was blonde, almost white, his face a ruddy red from sunburns or tanning booth burns. He was young, too, younger than she was by almost a decade. She guessed he was in his early twenties. Not married. At least there was no ring, no white line where a ring should be. He was always smacking on some gum and drinking soda. She didn’t know how he dodged the bathroom with only two fifteen minute breaks a shift. He was local, and he spoke with a southern accent. He’d moved back here from somewhere else, was living with his Mother. His Mother had worked here but was retired, that’s why he’d hired him, Mr. Barry had told her.
“Baylee. Come on in. Shut the door.”
Baylee wiped her hands on her smock. Pulled tight on her ponytail.
“Have a seat.”
“Uh, I don’t–.”
“I know you’ve been out on the floor. It’s okay. Don’t worry about getting the seat dirty.”
Baylee nodded and sat. The chair was dark wood with a light veneer finish. A polished plastic cushion was attached to the seat and the back.
“Have you made any progress?” Mr. Barry poured himself a cup of water. Offered her a cup, too.
She smiled, took the cup with both hands, taking a long draw of the cold water.
“With 14? No. I mean I ain’t. Scuse me. I haven’t seen him doing anything but his job. He isn’t that fast, but he don’t get behind. I know you’ve heard that story bout him. Bout the time he was working the night shift on the front desk at the Blue Ridge Motor Court and got caught smoking weed on the job. Cursed that woman out, the manager. Told her she deserved all the names everybody called her behind her back. That was years ago. I think he’s been straight since he moved back.” She took another sip of water. “Is that what you wanted to know?”
Mr. Barry shook his head. “Just keep looking, Baylee. I know you found some stuff. Golf clubs. Software. Keep looking. It can’t be drugs. You’d smell that on him, but it’s something.”
She tried bringing coffee to 14, he would just take it, nod, gulp it down, grin as if she was trying to get a date out of him and she wasn’t. Even if it wasn’t on her watch, her assigned watch from Mr. Barry, he was way too young for her and she hated his sideburns, too long almost to his chin’s edge and the soul patch. It was all too much. The nights were getting to her; she wasn’t sleeping, and she wanted to tell Mr. Barry to shove his third shift and go somewhere else but jobs were scarce so she stayed and spied and looked for nothing and took home bootleg that Mr. Barry didn’t want or didn’t tell her to give to him for the higher ups who’d paid to have them snuck in in the first place.
It was five weeks in and she had upped her coffee ante to five cups a day instead of two when she found something. It didn’t seem like much to her, but maybe it would be enough to get whatever Mr. Barry wanted to get on Inspector 14 so she could get back to the days move around in the daylight again.
The idea was clever and simple. The best ones always were. She knew someone had said that, or she had read it somewhere. Inside the sides of the frame, the long sides that connected to the bedposts or the square headboards, that’s where it was from a staffing shortage at the plant up the street and they’d moved some inspecting to her plant, to Baylee’s line.
At first, she didn’t know what it was. It didn’t look like anything to her, maybe a child’s drawing or a secret map, or some kind of foreign language smut, but that wasn’t it at all. It was pictures. Expensive photos. Stolen art.
She didn’t know what they were worth or where they were coming from or how 14 was involved and she debated warning him or at least his Mother but she didn’t know her either and sometimes trying to do a good deed would backfire at the very least costing her her job if Mr. Barry found out and he always seemed to find out, had his finger on the pulse of everything in the factory and that was even before there were cameras, computers and security punch codes.
She ratted out 14 on a Monday night, early about 6 am an hour before her shift ended without a break. She was looking forward to sleep. Maybe eating something, a biscuit or an egg sandwich, she hadn’t decided.
“You did good work, Baylee. You’re a loyal employee. You’ve worked hard.”
“Thanks, Mr. Barry. Does this mean I can go back to days now? I’m tired of this night shift.”
Mr. Barry stared straight ahead and sighed. He scratched his chin. Baylee looked out through the Plexiglas to the floor below. A couple of policemen were escorting Inspector 14 out of the building. He never looked up, never looked at her once and while she was watching him hunching over and ducking and trying to hide his face from the others and being dragged out of the building, she realized that she didn’t even know his name, didn’t even know his last name, didn’t know a thing about him except what Mr. Barry had told her and what little she knew of 14’s Mom.
“Yes, Baylee about that. You won’t have to be on the night shift anymore.”
“Oh, that’s great, Mr. Barry. I’m so glad, I–.”
“Wait a minute. Wait a minute. This is the part I hate.”
Baylee sat up straight, tensed her shoulders, bit her lips. “Mr. Barry?”
“Baylee, I’m sorry. I don’t have a choice in this. They handed it down from the top. It was inevitable anyway. I mean, you did the company a favor finding out about the art theft ring 14 was running, but it’s just that–.”
“Just what?” Baylee’s face was flushed, sweat pouring from her forehead, her hands balled into fists. She had never interrupted Mr. Barry at any other time.
“Your work fell behind on the night shift. Up until then–.”
“But I was doing what you asked, and I–.”
“I’m sorry, Baylee. That’s just how it is. I’m sorry. You’ll get severance pay. And three more months on your health insurance. I’ll be glad to write you a letter of recommendation anywhere you want to go. This didn’t come from me. I did what I could. You know how it is with manufacturing jobs. Not one of us is safe anymore.”
Baylee nodded and smiled thinly, but it was still a genuine smile. “You’ve always been good to me, Mr. Barry, so I believe you. I’ll walk out of here without any trouble, and I’ll be calling you sometime about that recommendation. You’ll take my call?”
Baylee stood, held out her hand, shook Mr. Barry’s hand, light at first and then harder with a couple of squeezes as if she was throttling his neck. She made it to the parking lot before the first tears fell, and she sat in the front seat of her Pontiac in the parking lot an extra fifteen minutes after her shift would’ve normally ended. She wiped her eyes, started up the car and drove home.
It wasn’t until she was sitting under the carport with the car turned off, sunrise almost in full swing, that she opened her smock and pulled it out. She didn’t know who had made it, where it came from or what she could sell it for. She just knew it was worth a lot.
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