I looked back at the sea of tanks in disbelief.
“Are you perhaps an oil trader?” I asked. “A speculator who does-- what’s it called --physical trading? You’re a physical trader of physical oil?”
“No,” she said. “I don’t deal with the markets at all. This oil has been here for years. And it’s here to stay.”
“For what?” I looked back at her again.
“To heat my house in the winter,” she said. “And to run the diesel generators which supply my electricity.”
“Unless your house is the size of the Taj Mahal, this oil will last over a hundred years! Are you … are you and your husband some kind of survivalists? I’ve heard other plumbers talk about people stockpiling oil on their estates … maybe ten or twenty thousand gallons at the most … but never anything on this scale. My God! Who built this place? It looks like military.”
At this point I was blatantly disregarding her don’t-ask-don’t-ask policy. I had totally forgotten myself. She stood in silence a moment then changed the subject: “Mr. Walczak, are you ready to repair my leaking tank?”
And instead of catching the hint, I blindly pushed forward in my quest for information: “Where are we, exactly?”
“Um, well, you’re in my house. And I would like to show you the tank, and then the equipment you’ll be working with …. Is that all right with you?”
At that point I knew I was taxing her patience. Rich people never SERIOUSLY ask the hired help if anything as basic as mere procedure is “all right” with them. Her words snapped me out of my astonishment and helped me recall the terms if the contract. My ego was now stung, so I was tempted to dethrone her in my mind from my previous level of respect and demote her to the rank of typical rich bitch. But in all honesty, she was being more than patient with me.
“Yeah, sure,” I nodded.
She smiled then reached up with both hands and tightened her hat down around her ears. Then she re-shouldered her purse and gestured leftward for me to accompany her.
With the wall to our left and the pipe railing to our right, I walked with her beneath the straight-as-an-arrow trail of overhead florescent bulbs. We passed just one blank door to our left. As we walked I kept glancing sideways at the spectacle of tanks on the “football field” below. I assessed our height on the catwalk to be fifty feet up.
We traveled barely thirty paces past the elevators. And even though the overhead line of florescent bulbs continued onward and totally unbroken for a very long stretch, it was here that the pipe railing at our right ended. In its place stood the glass wall of an elevated control room that thrust outward into the “stadium” from our catwalk, overseeing the tanks like a TV news press box. I estimated that the all-glass control room hovered directly above where the 50-yard line should have been. The control room sat dark and totally unmanned. The only signs of life were the dim glow of computer monitors all in sleep mode. Within the control room, mounted on the wall above the far windows which overlooked the array of oil tanks, I faintly discerned a military wall clock. The time was nineteen-hundred-and-fifty hours. I checked it against my own watch: seven-thirty PM.
We did not enter this control room. Instead Mystery Lady paused at its entry door and draped the long strap of her purse over its doorknob. When satisfied that it wouldn't fall, she smiled at me and gestured for us to continue walking past it and resume following the trail of overheaad floresent lights.
When we passed the far end of the glass walled control room, the pipe railing resumed for only another dozen yards, then it ended at a blank wall in front of us while the football field full of tanks continued onward at our right past this wall. There at the end of the catwalk we hovered above the sidelines of the 20-yard line, then we turned a corner to our left heading down a hallway that pierced the wall of the cavernous football stadium, leading away from the playing field. The metal grating beneath our feet was then replaced by normal tile flooring.
The hallway was reasonably wide and its walls presented several closed fire-proof metal doors on both sides. A sole drinking fountain hung against the wall mid-way down. As we approached that fountain, my plumber’s training told me that the presence of a public water fountain usually signaled the adjacent presence of a set of public restrooms. And sure enough, as I looked again, I could see that the water fountain sat wedged between two doors which were plainly marked “MEN” and “LADIES” respectively. The word “LADIES” jumped out at me and struck me as very odd. In that instance I vaguely recalled from my teen years back during the 1980’s that the more than 100-year practice of using the word “LADIES” for public restroom doors in the United States had come under sharp attack from feminist groups during that decade. The politically-correct word “WOMEN” eventually became standard for such signage by the 1990’s. So in all my years of installing, remodeling, and fixing bathrooms, I don’t think I had seen the word “LADIES” on any bathroom door except for one job I did at a very old and exclusive social club. In that club, not only did the membership prefer traditional decorum, but the door itself hailed all the way back to the 1920’s and had simply never been replaced.
“Rest rooms are here,” she gestured to them. “And so far as I know the plumbing still works. But if it doesn’t work, let me know and I’ll see about fixing it.”
“Certainly, Mr. Jones,” I laughed, wondering if she was perhaps hinting at additional contract work for me for the future.
She then pushed open a different door, marked “BREAK ROOM.” As soon as we entered, the scent of oil in the air was noticeably less. She flicked on the lights revealing a typical break room set up: a coat rack (full of hangars but not one coat), several rows of cafeteria-style tables and chairs, an older-model ice machine (silent and empty), two older-model vending machines (unplugged, unlit and barren of any product), and lockers (all closed and lacking padlocks). The near-perfect and unspoiled sense of the room indicated the place had simply never been used. It was definitely old, easily twenty years or more judging by the out-of-date color choices and taste in furniture. But in spite of the whole place screaming “NINETEEN-EIGHTY’S!” at me, the lack of any scratches, scuffs or wear marks likewise screamed a lack of people traffic --it still had “new car smell” to it.
-------------------End of Chapter 6-a--------------------