17
Dec
16

Safety Nation Chapter 8

We’re getting into the home stretch now. The book’s release date is less than a month away. I only have a few more chapters left to preview for you, and after that you’ll have to buy the book to read the rest.

This chapter is an interesting one because it represents a shift in the story. Smith is still his same old sarcastic self, but now he’s working in a different department with a different crazy adversary. Now, getting out of work becomes harder for Smith and Lowry. I hope you enjoy this chapter, because it was a lot of fun to write.

In case you have missed the chapters so far, here are links to them:

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4

Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7

Announcement/Blurb

Cover Art

As always, the chapter below, and entire novel, are copyrighted.

— — —

Safety Nation by Logan Riley

8

Daylight.

I woke up giddy like it was Christmas morning. I felt light, free. As I dressed, my suit seemed airy, the black fabric silky. Everything I touched felt improved.

On my way out of the house, I saw the demon-dog passed out on the couch. A wad of cotton, ripped from one of the cushions, was in its mouth. My troll-wife was asleep beside it. I didn’t mind. I was headed to work, and I wasn’t going to Sex Detail.

The morning routine was quicker and less annoying than usual. Before I knew it, I had my equipment. I entered the high-ceilinged main room. I looked around until I saw the sign labeled, “Healthcare.” The area it comprised was quite larger than Sex Detail’s.

Lowry was already there with a dozen other agents. The department head, a woman, lectured them while pointing at a large electronic map. It stood proudly on a rolling easel, brand new and state of the art.

When I approached the group, the woman stopped mid-sentence. A perturbed expression crossed her face. “Can I help you?” she asked.

“I’m reporting in.”

“And who are you?”

“Smith.”

“Inspector Smith, it would behoove you to show up on time.”

“Uh, okay.”

“You wouldn’t want a demotion to Sex Detail, would you?”

I stared at her. When she realized she wasn’t going to get a response, the perturbed look flattened, leaving a blank affect. She looked familiar, but I couldn’t place her. I racked my brain trying to remember who she was.

Her dirty blonde hair was woven into a tight bun. The skin of her wide face was pulled back, making it look like a pancake. She was tall and underweight. Her complexion was pasty, like she never spent any time in the sun.

She resumed doling out assignments. Her movements were stiff, her voice monotone. She lacked the spark seen in normal people. At long last, I conjured her name: Atwood, the Icequeen.

Atwood focused her gaze on me again. “That leaves us with our two newcomers. I highly disapprove of two rookies to Healthcare working together. I’d partner each of you with a veteran if I had my way, but the higher-ups requested you work together. So be it. But I’m in charge, so I choose the assignments. And until I know I can trust you two, you are getting easy ones. Got it?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Lowry said.

“There’s a factory on the north side that makes hats. Apparently, the mortarboards they’re producing have edges that are too sharp. Go check it out. Shut them down if you have to.”

Atwood dispersed the team, and Lowry and I drove to our destination. The factory, a giant rectangle, was pristine on the outside. Its bland colors were the same as any other building. A sign over the front door read, “Clothing Incorporated.” The name was as original as the building’s design.

The interior was as bland as the exterior. A short entryway branched into two hallways: to the right was the manager’s office, and the other direction was the factory floor.

“Follow my lead,” I said.

I pushed through the manager’s door without knocking. A lean man, with a dome of curly hair, leaped up from behind his desk. “Oh, my!” he exclaimed with a catch in his throat.

I looked around. The entire office was a throwback. A boxy wooden desk stood in the center with a wooden swivel chair behind it. An art deco style lamp was in the corner, spraying a cone of light onto the ceiling. An ancient oscillating fan purred nearby. It was like an antique dealer’s office. Where had he gotten all of this?

“Inspectors Smith and Lowry, here for an official investigation,” I said in the sternest voice I could muster.

The man stumbled around his desk to greet us. He shook Lowry’s hand. He extended his hand to me, but I glared at him. He looked at his hand to see if something was wrong with it. He then looked back at me with an unconvincing smile.

“H-how may I help you?” he asked.

“We’ve received several complaints about your products.”

“C-complaints? What kind of complaints?”

“That they aren’t safe.”

“Oh, no!” he gulped.

“Take us to the factory.”

“Yes, yes, of course.”

He grabbed a set of keys from a drawer. He snatched at an array of papers that was scattered across the desktop. He gathered them up, pressing them against his chest. Chattering nervously, he led us into the factory.

As we walked, Lowry gave me a perplexed look. I winked, hoping she would realize this was all in good fun.

The factory was loud. Machines chugged, lining up fabric, cutting it, and packaging it. Presses, gears, and hydraulics rhythmically pressed, turned, and slid. The various organs of these mechanical beasts created a deafening cacophony.

The room had machines on either side with a pathway in between. A few people walked about with clipboards, checking instruments and making calibrations. Everyone wore safety goggles, hard hats, and ear plugs. The volume in here was a safety violation, but no reasonable agent would cite them on account of the precautions they were taking.

“Where do you make the graduation hats?!” I shouted.

“Right this way!” the manager shouted back, escorting us down the long room.

We reached the rear of the factory. The machine before us was spitting completed mortarboards onto a conveyor belt. After they fell onto the conveyor belt, they traveled a few short feet until they dropped into a large plastic box. The hats were mostly black, but a few were a smattering of other colors.

I picked one up, making a real show of it. I held it aloft, turned it over several times, and scrutinized each corner with a press of my finger. I could feel the cardboard on the other side, but it felt soft enough.

I tossed the hat onto the conveyor belt. I turned to the manager and shouted, “What’s the meaning of this?!”

“Of what?!”

“These hats!”

“I don’t understand, sir!”

“Why do they have so many sharp edges?!”

“What do you mean?!”

“Why did you make hats with four corners?!”

“They’ve always been made that way!”

“Since when?!”

He shrugged. “Since always!”

“And if people always drank mercury to treat headaches, would you do that, too?!”

“I suppose!”

I pivoted to Lowry and shouted, “I think we’ve seen enough!”

With a smirk, she shouted, “Are you sure?! I bet there’s plenty more safety violations around here! We should probably look!”

I turned back to the manager and shouted, “She’s right! What other safety violations are you hiding?!”

“None! None at all!” His body shuddered, and the papers he clutched spilled to the floor. “You’re right, the hats are too sharp! Please write me up for that! That’s the only thing wrong!”

Lowry raised an eyebrow. She wanted to know more. If I was a decade younger, I might have torn this place apart after hearing such a suspicious statement. But I didn’t have the energy for that kind of thing anymore.

I threw my thumb toward the door and shouted, “Come on, let’s get out of here!”

The three of us retreated to the entryway. Once off the factory floor, my ears rang loudly. Voices were muffled under a high-pitched whine.

The manager was wringing his hands nervously. “S-so, what happens next?”

“Those pointed hats are a serious safety violation. They’re liable to kill someone. Don’t you know people throw those things?”

“Yes, of course, I’m very sorry about that. I’ll get them fixed.”

“I expect them to be corrected in a timely fashion.”

“Yes, sir, right away.”

“In that case, I’ll let you off with a warning,” I said magnanimously.

“Oh, thank you!”

“But if we come back and nothing’s changed, we’ll arrest you on the spot,” Lowry said.

“Everything will be taken care of, I promise,” he said, his tense muscles slackening with relief.

Lowry and I exited. This wasn’t bad for a first day. I never had this much fun with Huxley.

We strolled outside. The sun shone brilliantly above. The short brim of my hat didn’t block the glare, so I threw my hand up to shade my eyes. As I did, I noticed a figure standing at the curb. It was Atwood.

“What did you find?” she asked.

“Everything’s fine,” I said.

“That’s not what I asked.”

“There weren’t any safety violations,” Lowry said.

Atwood slowly rotated her head toward Lowry. “I did not address you.”

“The place looks good,” I said.

Her head rotated back to me. “Are you certain?”

“Well, there were a couple of minor things, but everyone was using proper safety equipment. And the hats seemed safe enough. It was no big deal.”

“We’ll see about that.”

Atwood walked through the front door. She didn’t swing her arms when she walked. She moved quickly, with purpose, and didn’t make any extraneous movements. We followed her.

She had already dragged the manager back into the factory. He cowered on the floor, his hands sunken into his dome of hair. The machines had been shut down. The factory was oddly quiet without their noise. Atwood paced up and down the long room, inspecting every inch of the machines. The employees froze when her gaze passed over them. She scrutinized every aspect of them, as well.

She returned, looking down at the manager, her eyes empty. “These ear plugs aren’t a regulation size. Where did you purchase them?” she asked.

“I-I’m not sure, I’d have to look–”

“The noise level was several decibels too high. Why haven’t you serviced the machines properly?”

“I don’t, I don’t–”

“Those mortarboards should have one additional millimeter of fabric. Why are you skimping on materials?”

“Well, I-I-I–”

“It’s a miracle no one has died in this deathtrap, or was killed by one of your deadly products. It’s a good thing I intervened. What do you have to say for yourself?”

“Ma’am, I’m sorry. If you give me a chance–”

“I’ve seen enough. Inspector Smith, arrest this man.”

“This is all correctable stuff. I don’t think an arrest is necessary,” I said.

She jerked at the waist, aligning herself so both the manager and I were in view. “What you think is irrelevant,” she said in her usual monotone. “Violation of any safety statute is an arrestable offense. The law must be enforced.”

“I’m not going to play along.”

The perturbed look returned to her face. A vein swelled in the middle of her forehead. She struggled to keep her stony edifice from crumbling. “Inspector Lowry, you will obey my orders,” she said.

Lowry’s eyes shifted from Atwood to me to the collapsed manager and back again. She reluctantly pulled out her handcuffs and snapped them over the manger’s wrists. “Sorry, pal,” she said.

The other employees watched silently as we left the building. They would all need to find new jobs. The place was officially shut down.

At the Central Office, I helped Lowry with the paperwork. She looked rattled ever since we got back. There was something about Atwood she found unsettling.

The paperwork took about two hours to complete. Atwood instructed me to have her inspect it before I submitted it. She wanted to be sure to point out my mistakes. She hated the first draft. I had to correct eight items. On the second draft, I was ordered to correct three items. And on the third draft, I was commanded to correct five items, two of which were returned to how they were in the first draft. Finally, Atwood approved it.

I got up to leave. Atwood stopped me. She corralled Lowry and I behind one of the desks. A half-dozen other agents sat nearby, typing on their terminals. They didn’t look at us, but their ears perked up.

Atwood spoke, her cold demeanor fully returned, “For disobeying a direct order, I tried to demote you to Sex Detail, Inspector Smith. Unfortunately, Chief Wyndham wouldn’t approve it, so you’re stuck here for now.”

“Lucky me.”

“You should be ashamed of your behavior. I knew you were a trouble-maker. As a senior Inspector, I had hoped you would teach Inspector Lowry the value of our safety regulations. Since you clearly have no desire to do so, I will have to do it myself. Inspector Lowry, from now on, you’ll be partnered with me.”

“I believe Smith and I were required to work together,” she said.

“I went along with that because it was a request. However, as head of the department, I need Healthcare to run smoothly. I have the final decision when it comes to staffing issues. Therefore, I’m splitting you up.”

Lowry became a sculpture. I yawned.

“Inspector Smith, starting tomorrow, you’ll be with Inspector Zamyatan. You’re dismissed.”

I walked Lowry back to her car. I tried to console her, but she wouldn’t speak. She took it harder than I expected. Atwood was bad, but she wasn’t Huxley. Perhaps Healthcare Detail had been the wrong decision. Karma was laughing at us.

— — —

To be continued!

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