“We’ve got to keep better track of our tools today,” Tom said as we pulled up to our jobsite. It was a beautiful brick addition to the community college in Santa Rosa, about an hour north of San Francisco, traffic willing.
I rolled my eyes. “Yes, dear.”
He stepped out of the truck and slapped a hard hat over his red hair. “You can make the next run to the hardware store, then.”
“Tom, someone on this site has sticky fingers. There’s no way I’ve lost this many tape measures, and I’ve given up on chalk lines. Now I just eyeball it.”
I jumped in, hoping to forestall a lecture. “I know—precision is everything when it comes to waterproofing. But Sean says it’s working out just fine. He’s missing stuff, too, by the way.”
Tom nodded. “Even the welders were complaining.”
“Ha. Their discomfort I can bear.”
His laughter was salt in my wounded pride.
“Hey, they caught our waterproofing on fire.” It would be a while before I forgave them that move.
Tom just laughed harder, and I narrowed my eyes.
“Fine. Try not to lose so many tools today. It sets a bad example.”
I left before he could think of a snappy comeback, enjoying my hollow victory. At least eight hours of applying sticky black goop stretched in front of me. It was not an inviting prospect.
Nonetheless, I tucked my long hair into my hard hat and soon got a rhythm going. I was humming as I worked when Sean, our jobsite superintendent, broke in. “Damn. Now my square’s missing.”
“Totally innocent here,” I said. “Don’t use one.”
He gave me a sideways look. “Not sure I’d want it back anyway.”
“Hey.” I wiggled my fingers, encased in a goopy black glove. “Come over here and say that.”
He grinned and pushed onward in his quest for hand tools.
By the end of the day, my husband was adding to the dark cloud of profanity that hovers over jobsites. The welders were complaining, in both Chinese and English, that the masons weren’t moving fast enough. The masons accused us of holding them up, and we were in turn pointing to the metal workers, who’d done the smart thing and left the site early. The carpenters and drywallers were fighting over who would get the first shot at the main entry in the morning. All of this was completely normal. Every jobsite is an organized disaster, with everyone griping at the poor schmuck who had to run this thing.
Sean sat next to me on a pile of two-by-fours, having weathered today’s storm of invective. “Well, it seems like everyone is missing stuff,” he said.
“I blame the welders,” I replied without missing a beat, and he laughed.
“You would. I’d like it to be Brad’s fault. I swear I was ready to drop my tool belt today and start pounding on him.”
This was not an idle threat. Standing at six foot four, with arms encased in tattoos that did nothing to hide the muscles bulging beneath, Sean was like a jobsite guardian angel. Even when Tom was working another site, nobody gave me much grief when Sean was around.
I was tired of Brad’s whining, too, especially since some of it was making my job harder. “I’ll hold your tools if you decide to pound on him. You can’t be too careful on this site.”
He sighed. “That’s the truth.”
Tom returned with phase two of wrap-up for this particular job, a boxed pizza from the pizza place next door. I grabbed it and gave it to Sean. “Here. You look like you need this.”
Sean brightened. “Thanks. I still have to check plans before I leave.”
Tom was a good sport; he didn’t complain until we were back in the truck. “I was looking forward to that.”
“You eat too much pizza already.” I didn’t care if I ate dinner at all tonight. “All I want is to soak today’s grime away in a bathtub.”
“In that case, maybe I’ll go out for dinner while you bathe. You’ll have no idea what I’ll bring back to the motel room.”
“Fine. Have your revenge. Get Chinese food.” I hated the stuff. “As long as you pick up a few boxes of chocolate chip cookies from the bakery, too.”
“Trying to sweeten everyone’s mood?”
“Hey, it could work.” I was a firm believer in the therapeutic value of chocolate.
But the next day the results were mixed. Everybody liked the cookies, the profanity levels decreased slightly, and Brad gave me the rest of the day off from his abrasive presence. But my favorite razor knife disappeared when I only set it down for a moment, and I could’ve sworn I heard someone giggle, which only made me madder. Raul, the drywall foreman, searched high and low for his missing level. Tempers were really getting frayed over the missing tools. There’s nothing quite as maddening as climbing several rows of scaffolding only to discover you had to climb back down again because you lacked the right tool.
“It reminds me of a fairy tale,” I said to Tom that night. “One where someone forgot to put a bowl of milk out for the resident brownie.”
He gave me a long look. “Let’s not spread it around that you think the fairies are responsible, all right?”
“Not really—I mean, it’s got to be someone working there. But it seems like they’ve got something out of the ordinary going for them. You’d think by now the thief would’ve slipped up, but nobody ever sees anything. The stuff is just gone.”
The next morning we all had to sit through a jobsite meeting concerning the missing tools. Sean’s boss rambled on about how important it was to respect everyone else’s property, but the problem was that construction workers are, by and large, the kids in school who tuned out lectures. We’re nearly lecture-proof. The main thing the meeting did was to throw everyone off schedule and put them in a worse mood.
“Don’t steal my knife today or we’ll have to sit through that again,” I told Raul as we walked away.
He spat out a choice epithet, and then added, “I wouldn’t steal your knife, anyway. You brought me cookies.”
Well, at least I was succeeding with somebody. I started waterproofing the south wall before the sun’s heat made me shift back to the north.
But by the end of the day, I was furious. I’d set my keys down carefully in my bag in the back of the truck. I’d closed the door. And now my keys were missing. On top of that, I was working alone today, so Tom and his set of spare keys were at least a hundred miles away.
I made the rounds, asking if anyone had seen them. I received some sympathetic profanity, but nobody had. Raul even translated for the drywallers, but they came up blank, too.
Brad took lack of sympathy to new depths. “How do I know you’re not making this up so nobody will think you’re the one stealing tools?”
“That does it!” I yelled. I marched off to the pizza place, followed by a quick detour into a convenience store. I brought my purchases back and sat next to them in front of the brick entry.
Sean walked by and stopped. “Are you going to eat dinner here? Isn’t your motel within walking distance?”
“Getting to the motel is no problem. I’m leaving this to placate whatever jobsite elves seem to have it in for us.”
Sean gave me a long look. “Really elves?”
I sighed. “I don’t know, Sean. I’m out of ideas for who else it might be, and I need my keys.”
Sean glanced at the pizza. “Then why are you staying?”
“It’s a perfectly good pizza and six-pack of beer, and this is a jobsite full of construction workers. If I turn my back, its life expectancy can be measured in seconds.”
He grinned. “Well, I’ll be around for a while if you need me, checking over plans.”
Great. Now I had to outstay Sean. I wouldn’t put it past him to get all caught up and even work ahead. It was free pizza and beer, after all. Maybe I should’ve bought two pizzas.
So I waited. I don’t carry a book with my tools, and I had nothing to do but sit and smell the siren call of melted cheese and sausage. I folded my arms. I would not eat the fairies’ pizza. If I was going to be foolish, I would be whole-hearted about it.
Sean finally stepped out of the general contractor’s trailer. “Still here, I see.”
I stood and stretched. “That’s right.”
He shrugged. “The pizza’s cold by now anyway.”
I still waited until he drove away before I left. I bought a smaller pizza and ate it on the way back to my room.
In the morning when I arrived back on site, the pizza box was laying on the top landing of the steps to the trailer. Heaped on it and covering the steps were a wide assortment of hand tools, with my keys at the very top.
And since I actually am a waterproofer, I figured I should say I made this one up. Except for the part about Sean being my guardian angel on that jobsite. 🙂
If you enjoyed “Tool Thief,” you can pick up a copy, along with thirteen other short stories, here:
Happy reading! : )