“It’s free, but it’s not cheap”— Unknown
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By Lad Moore
We were a tight group, huddled together by like circumstance. We all worked for a manufacturer of fiberglass canoes at a plant near Austin’s Lake Travis. Our employer made the decision to open a smaller branch manufacturing plant in Carthage, Texas. Four of us were picked to do the start-up, each bringing a particular expertise to the new location. There was Hal, who would run materials supply and the maintenance shop, James the Customer Service and Inside Sales Manager, and Jack the Accountant/Data Manager. I oversaw the forming molds and gel-coat Finishing Operations.
I respected them all, but especially Jack. More than once he displayed his command of the company books, often pulling long hours to close out month-end results. He was classic stereotype accountant; bespectacled, plastic pocket protector, and an annoying practice of using a jumbo paper clip as a necktie clasp. His appearance may have been comedic, but his prowess with numbers was without equal. The crew lovingly referred to his ability to polish financial statements as “Jack’s Magic-Bean Counting.” He could walk the accounting tightrope without a net, knowing exactly how to win without cheating.
In the tradition of the old barn-raisings of the colonial past, all of us showed up to help one another when the moving vans arrived. Like a colony of ants, we unpacked boxes, set up furniture, and put the new household together in a fury of muscle power. It was both a ritual of welcoming and sharing, and a good reason to break out a cooler of beer when the task was over.
Jack’s arrival was no different. All of us were there to greet the van. His was a full load, owing to the fact that Jack’s wife Mollie was an interior decorator. The house was filled with period pieces of museum quality and accessories handpicked from her buying trips. While we unloaded and unpacked, Jack busied himself with handyman chores. It was truly out of character to see Jack with tools in his hand. He didn’t fit the image of someone who knew a bolt from a screw. But there he was, wearing a nail apron filled with the essentials—hammer, screwdrivers, wrenches, and the like.
On a trip through the kitchen, I saw Jack on the floor, half his body hidden under the kitchen sink counter.
“What’s up?” I asked. I could hear some clanking of tools, and Jack uttering some fourletter words.
“Icemaker,” he muttered. “There’s no connection pipe down here. I’m going to have to tap into the cold water line and put in a valve.”
“Maybe you need Hal,” I offered, thinking to myself that this was more of a job for someone with maintenance skills.
“Nope, doing just fine,” he said, “Just save a cold beer for me. We’re gonna be able to freshen that chest with some new ice real soon.”
The crew went on with its work. Several times we passed through the kitchen, noting that Jack’s jeans had slipped down to the point that his rear end was all smile. It was shiny with sweat.
We were finished. Mollie unpacked some Ritz crackers and a jar of cheese spread, and the crew assembled in the den to attack the beer cooler. The early arrivals got the chairs and the rest of us sat on the fireplace hearth. The sofa was piled high with lampshade boxes.
Jack joined us, wiping his brow with his sleeve. “Ice real soon,” he announced.
Hal wanted the technical details. “What sort of valve was that you put on?”
“One of those clamp-on kinds; you know, it has a spike that pierces the pipe as you tighten it up. I tied it in on 3/8-inch copper.”
“3/8-inch copper on a water line?” Hal asked. “That’s odd, water lines are normally halfinch.
“3/8” said Jack, “3/8 valve with a rubber gasket. It’s not leaking a drop.”
One of the guys wanted to watch a NASCAR race, so we connected the TV at the most convenient cable outlet. Maybe an hour and two six-packs passed before IT happened.
In a mighty explosion, the house shuddered on its foundation. A tremendous fireball shot out across the back yard, and dense black smoke poured out of the kitchen into the den. But as abruptly as it blew, it was over. There was no lingering fire or aftershock. Hal and I stuck our heads around the corner of the den. The refrigerator and part of the kitchen wall lay in the back yard, and the freezer door was missing altogether. Inside, the kitchen wallpaper and curtains were crispy black. A gentle breeze from outside rippled through the charred opening.
The rest of the crew came into the kitchen, all wondering what had happened, yet happy that no one was even slightly injured. Molly’s mouth dropped open when she saw her prized Jenn-Air lying warped and crumpled in the azalea bed.
Hal did the investigation. Given the path of destruction, it seemed likely that the explosion came from behind the refrigerator. A dangling icemaker line was all that remained of that section of the wall. Under the sink, Hal was closing a valve with a wrench. In so doing, he made the discovery:
“Jack,” he said, “3/8-inch is usually natural gas, not water. You tapped into the cook-top burner line. The freezer compartment got packed with gas, and the icemaker motor provided the spark.”
Among the crowd in the kitchen, widening grins began to replace concerned frowns. Jack’s face was as red as the remaining azaleas.
Jack made us promise never to tell this story. I said I wouldn’t.
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The author’s three collections of short stories, Tailwind, Odie Dodie, and Riders of the Seven Hills are available at all traditional booksellers. Copies signed by the author may be obtained by contacting him directly via firstname.lastname@example.org
The story featured here holds © Copyright 2010 by the author, Lad Moore. All rights reserved. Image from the Public Domain”
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