“But I won’t,” Junior said. “It’ll be more fun dealing with Brown &
Lambrecht. It’s their boulder.” Junior’s hand took one more swipe at the
boulder, not out of anger, just raising his eyebrows to show his consternation. Junior had a Mediterranean sensibility that perceived threats in
humans, mammals, herbivores, amphibians, and inanimate objects. I
took his gesture to mean that the boulder was a bone of contention between us and Brown & Lambrecht, between us and Ryan, us and the
Tollway, us and anyone who wanted to stick their nose into a quarrel
that now brewed in Junior’s head, because if there was one thing Junior
liked more than roadbuilding, it was quarreling.
But Ryan was not our first stop once we got back in Junior Palumbo’s
dirty Crown Vic. On our way north, passing the half-built 63rd Street
bridge, the tiny plazas at 63rd Street’s off ramps, crossing the triple box
culvert Herlihy had built for us and that O’Malley and I had put Prentiss
Creek through on a frosty November morning, we caught up with the
Tollway’s Resident Engineer, Gilbert, who was charged with managing
the circus of contractors building it. Gilbert was another antagonist we
all looked down on. He read us the job specifications when there was a
misunderstanding or when we deviated from his interpretation of the
spec book so our company could make more money. This was our third
and final year of working on this stretch of road. We were all tired of
each other, but we all had enough fight left in us to quibble about whatever we felt like fighting about. There was actually more fight left in us
because Gilbert had used up most of the Tollway’s budget during the
first two years and now was down to three inspectors instead of the five
he’d had when the job began, and we really hadn’t done much.
Gilbert was near Maple Street, about the center of our job. He and another inspector were watching Lopat put in sewers. Gilbert’s thing was
compaction. He wanted to make sure Lopat compacted all the gravel on
top of the sewers he installed. He was supposedly worried the roadway
might sink one day if Lopat didn’t pound down the gravel enough so
it wouldn’t settle. Junior didn’t seem to mind. Gilbert was just wasting
more and more inspector hours on diddly-squat.
Gilbert watched from above as his inspector squatted in the trench,
reading a nuclear density meter. The inspector gave a thumbs-up, and
Lopat signaled to an operator to bring more gravel into the trench to be
compacted. Gilbert nodded grimly.
“Have you seen that thing?” Junior asked Gilbert.