by James Beattie Morison
© 2011 James Beattie Morison
After he avoids an automobile collision one morning, Arthur thinks he’s found a new mission in life. However, what seemed to be clear cut has unexpected challenges. He learns that there are other dangers besides those on the roads.
I made a video based on this story. You can watch it at The Barrier
The Drive to Work
Arthur Macdonald drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. He glanced at the clock on his dash board and sighed. He looked up and realized the car in front had moved forward a few feet, so he closed the gap.
He thought back to the day he arrived in town. It was a Sunday afternoon, and he got caught in a traffic jam. He smiled as he remembered how at first he felt the frustration all people have when they get stuck in traffic. Then he had laughed. After all, he had just graduated and hoped to find a job as a traffic engineer. Clearly this town needed help if they had such bad traffic on a Sunday afternoon.
Arthur glanced at the time again. He didn’t want to be late because he was still “The New Guy”. He peered ahead to see if the cars showed any sign of moving. It didn’t look like they were.
The cars shifted ahead another few feet. Arthur noticed he could now turn onto Gladstone Parkway. It didn’t look busy. He tapped a couple of buttons on his GPS and got a new route. It was a bit longer, but he hoped there wasn’t any traffic to hold him up.
A minute later Arthur sped along the Parkway. The road was wide and had a broad median. He thought it was quite pretty and made a mental note to come back sometime.
He had to slow down for a sharp curve and then found that the median ended and the road had narrowed. As he came out of the turn he saw a semi trailer truck directly ahead, in the same lane. He swerved. The truck barely missed him.
Arthur glanced at the truck in the rear-view mirror. He fought to keep his hands from shaking.
Arthur still felt a little shaky as he entered his office. He stopped to take a deep breath and let the tension fade away. He gazed out the window at the mountains in the distance. He found the view calmed him down.
“Finally decided to join us.”
Arthur jumped and swung around to see Brandon Brooks at the door. “Sorry boss. I ran into some bad traffic.”
Brandon snickered and said, “Well kid, I hope you see the irony.”
“What can I do for you?”
Brandon threw his arms out wide. “Surprise surprise! I have work for you.”
Arthur nodded, but said nothing.
“The City just got a grant for some safety improvements.” Brandon smiled. “I want you to come up with a priority list of projects.”
“Isn’t that what Transportation Planning does?”
“Not if I can help it.”
Arthur frowned and swallowed.
Brandon smiled at Arthur’s discomfort. “You do think you can do that for me, don’t you?”
“Yes, I’ll try.”
“There is no try, just do!”
“I’ll get it done.”
“When do you need it?”
“Today by five. Sooner if possible.”
Arthur’s eyes opened a little wider and he took a quick breath.
“Hey kid, this is operations,” Brandon said, “You don’t have forever.” He looked at Arthur. “If you want to sit and daydream, go work for planning.”
“I like it here better.” Arthur replied.
Brandon smiled. “Get used to it.” He turned to leave. “I want an update at twelve. Adios.”
Arthur was still for a moment, and then left his office.
Ling Po walked rapidly down the hall.
She turned her head and saw Arthur jog toward her. “I’ve got a rush job.” She continued to walk. “Can you walk with me?”
“The mayor wants the signal at 7th and 19th reset.” Ling indicated the folder under her arm. “She wants to meet with us right now.”
“Can you give me some advice?” Arthur struggled to keep up with Ling.
Ling passed through a doorway and headed to the elevators. “I’ll do what I can.”
“You used to work in planning, didn’t you?” Ling nodded, and Arthur continued. “Brooks wants a list of safety improvements.” Arthur shrugged. “Apparently we got some extra money.” Arthur rushed to keep up with Ling. “I don’t know why planning doesn’t do this.”
“He doesn’t like transportation planners.” Ling pressed the down button for the elevator. “Among others.”
“Oh.” Arthur watched the floor indicator. “I never did this before.” The elevator bell rang. “He wants it by five today.”
Ling waited for the elevator door to open. “What have you done so far?”
“Not much.” He paused. “I found a list of safety projects.
Ling got on the elevator. “Good.”
“I asked Karen for cost estimates.” Arthur followed Ling into the elevator. “I think the list is too long.”
“You never have the money for everything.”
“I guess not.”
“No.” Arthur leaned his back against the elevator wall. “I hoped you could suggest something.”
“How do you know how effective the projects are?”
“I’m not sure.” His face reddened slightly.
“You won’t have time to do much.” Ling checked her watch. “You want to be objective.” She watched Arthur nod before she continued. “Use the collision rate.”
Arthur frowned. “I was almost in a collision this morning.”
Ling turned her head to look at Arthur. ‘Really?”
“I took a short cut on Gladstone Parkway. A truck drifted across the center line.”
Arthur looked thoughtful. “Maybe I could add a median barrier to the list.”
The elevator opened and they got out. Ling said, “You’re not the first to try.”
“You don’t think I should include it?”
“Include it.” Ling turned and walked rapidly away. Over her shoulder she said, “It just might make it this time.”
The clock said 11:00 and Arthur turned to look out into the hall. No one was there. He turned back to his computer and clenched his teeth. He added the last accident data to the table of projects. He looked over the table again. He stopped at Gladstone Parkway Barrier. There were no collisions reported. Arthur opened up the traffic collision database and checked one more time.
“Hey.” Karen strolled into his office. ‘I sent you the cost estimates you asked for.”
Arthur checked e-mail and opened the note from Karen. He copied the cost estimates to his table. In a few seconds he had his results.
“Do you need anything more from me?”
“Just wait a bit.” Arthur paused in his scrolling. “Some of the projects don’t have cost estimates.”
“I dug out all the ones you asked for.”
“Sorry, I added some more.” He pointed out the projects. “Can you get them done right away?”
“If you say so.”
“The Gladstone barrier seems high to me.” He turned back to Karen. “Are you sure it’ll cost that much?”
“I could do that one in my sleep.” Karen shrugged. “I wished they’d build it so I don’t have to do another estimate.” She fiddled with her sleeve. “The labour and material costs aren’t that bad.” She scrutinized her nails. “The logistics are a real pain though.”
“I didn’t mean to criticise you.”
“I just missed a collision there this morning.” Arthur looked at the table again.
“I avoid that road myself.”
Arthur puffed his cheeks out and exhaled. “It’ll have to do.”
Brandon motioned to Arthur to sit as he talked on his Smartphone.
“Look I told you it has to be done by one at the latest!” Brandon listened to the person on the other end. “I don’t care, just get it done. Adios.” Brandon shut the phone off.
Arthur handed him the project list and Brandon looked it over
“Who did the cost estimates?”
Brandon grunted and scanned further down the page.
“She always gets the signal costs too high.” Brandon looked up at Arthur and then went back to the list. “Why is Gladstone Parkway on the list?”
“I think it’s dangerous.”
“You do?” Brandon raised his eyebrows. “The collision data don’t back you up.”
“A truck almost hit me this morning.”
“Most of the drivers on that road can manage to avoid that problem.”
“It is only a matter of time before someone gets killed.”
“We can’t keep adding projects just because you FEEL they are needed.”
“I’m sure I can demonstrate it’s needed.”
Brandon checked the time on his watch. “The deadline is the deadline.” Brandon glared at Arthur. “Understand?”
Brandon handed the table back to Arthur. “Now, I want you to run this by Dorothy and see what she says.”
“Because I told you to.” Brandon’s Smartphone rang and he answered it. He started to talk as Arthur left.
Arthur watched Dorothy draw another red line on his table. She focused on the next line. She lifted her head and said, “Where did you get these estimates?”
“She’s a nice girl.” Dorothy looked back at the table and shook her head. “You need to change some of them.”
Arthur’s shoulders sagged. “How long will it take?”
“Not long. Most can be factored up.” Dorothy pointed to an item on the table. “Zacharias Way and 12th Street isn’t one of those.” Dorothy turned to the shelf behind her and pulled out a thick report. As she opened it up on her desk she said, “We did an almost identical project last year.” She flipped through the report. She stopped and turned it around to show Arthur. “See, you had $97,500 and last year it was $152,700.”
“I’ll have to cut projects.”
Arthur said, “How much do I need to cut?”
“Let me finish.” Dorothy picked up the table and drew another red line.
Arthur gazed as more red lines appear. His face fell as the costs added up.
Finally Dorothy said, “Looks like $70,000 will do it.”
Dorothy frowned at Arthur. She pointed to the table. “Cut the Gladstone Parkway barrier and you’re done.”
Arthur shook his head vigorously. “No. Somebody will get killed.”
“How many have there been so far?”
“Well, none.” Arthur shifted his weight. “I almost got into one this morning.”
“Personal anecdotes don’t count.”
Arthur sunk down in his seat.
Arthur walked slowly down the hall as he studied all the red marks on his table. When he almost ran into one of the technicians, he decided to wait until he got back to his office. He started to walk a little faster.
Arthur turned to see Brandon as he came up behind him. “Yes”.
“Can I get the table now?”
“It’s only 2:00.”
“I’ve got my own deadline too.”
“There are just a few changes.” Arthur pointed to the table. “Mostly cost estimates.”
“Dorothy does like those cost numbers doesn’t she.” Brandon smiled before he started to talk again. “Make it quick.” Brandon turned to go. “Have it to me by 3:00.”
“Could you make it 4:00?”
“Why? It shouldn’t take that long.”
“I have to run it by Dorothy again.” Arthur shuffled his feet and said, “I want to build a better case for The Gladstone Parkway barrier.”
“Didn’t you drop that?”
“People will die if we don’t do something.”
“You can say the same about all the other projects.” Brandon stepped close to Arthur and looked down on him. “Drop it and move on.”
Arthur and Brandon were silent. They glared at each other. Finally, Arthur looked down. “Um, can you give me to 3:30?”
“Do you really think that will do any good?”
Arthur nodded rapidly. “I do.” Arthur’s voice was shaky. “I have some ideas.”
Brandon studied Arthurs face, and then said. “OK.” He lowered his voice and pointed his finger at Arthur’s face. “You better be at my door at 3:30. 3:31 won’t do.”
“I understand. You can count on me.”
“We’ll see.” Brandon walked away down the hall.
Do This for Me
“Why can’t you do it?” Karen scowled at Arthur.
“I have something else I need to do.”
“Another coffee break no doubt.”
Arthur kept his voice soothing and calm. “No, not at all.” He uncrossed his legs and leaned forward slightly. “I think I have a way to show that we need the Gladstone barrier.”
“I don’t care.” Karen crossed her arms and leaned back.
“You enjoy redoing that cost estimate?”
Karen snorted. She allowed herself a slight smile.
“You’ll do it for me?”
Arthur jumped up to leave. “I’ll make this up to you.”
After Arthur was gone Karen said, “I’ll believe that when I see it.”
Arthur leaned against his car. It was parked on a small hill that overlooked the town. It gave him a good view of Gladstone Parkway. He checked the time again. “Drat.”
He looked down at the parkway. Traffic was light. He looked down at his Smartphone.
The sound of a truck caught his attention and he looked up. He could see it headed to the turn where he almost got hit earlier. He held up his Smartphone and started to record video. The truck went around the turn. The driver slowed down as he made the turn and stayed in his lane.
As the truck drove away, Arthur stopped the recording and deleted the video.
Arthur got up and paced back and forth. He stopped to stretch. All the while he kept his eyes on the parkway. He watched a small car careen around the corner. It stayed in it’s lane too.
Arthur walked over to the crash barrier and put his foot up to rest. He spotted a car as it came toward him on the parkway. He started the video again and this time caught the car as it drifted a little over the centre line. Not far, but it was the best image he had so far.
The Smartphone started to beep. Arthur frowned as he stopped the alarm. Before he left, he gave one last glance at the parkway. He saw another car. He hesitated, then pulled out the Smartphone and started to record.
As he watched the car, a truck came from the other direction. It was moving too fast and as it made its turn it slid into the other lane. Arthur’s view of the car was blocked by the truck. The truck sped down the road. He couldn’t see the car. He held his breath.
The car came into view. As it passed the truck, the driver made an obscene gesture.
Arthur smiled. “I do believe that you just saved someone’s life.” He hopped in his car and drove off.
Dorothy watched the video on Arthur’s Smartphone. She shrugged. “I know it doesn’t look good.” She shifted her attention back to the new table.
“Watch this next one.”
Dorothy reluctantly turned her gaze back to the video. She looked bored and glanced at Arthur, who pointed to the screen. She looked back in time to see the near miss. “Oh My.” After the video was done, Dorothy said, “OK. I’m convinced, add it in.”
Dorothy picked up the table again. “You aren’t out of the woods yet.” She scanned down the page. Occasionally she stopped to check her notes. She stopped and pointed to a project. “You factored this wrong.” She did a quick calculation. “You need to add another $40,000.”
Arthur rubbed his neck. “Sorry.”
“I usually point out under estimates.” Dorothy indicated another item. “But I think this one is too high.”
“Too high?” Arthur peered at the table. “Howard Avenue.” He looked up. “Are you sure?”
Dorothy grinned. “Am I ever wrong?”
Arthur bit his lip. He sat up in his chair. “It’s the same as Rudy Reed Road.”
“It may seem so to you,” she said, “but there is a big difference.” When Arthur didn’t respond, she continued. “The soils are different.”
“Does that matter?”
“Yes. On Rudy Reed you need to put in piles.” She leaned back. “You don’t need those on Howard.”
“Does that help our budget?”
“It looks just fine now.” She smiled. “You’re in luck.”
Arthur checked the time on his Smartphone. It was 3:29.
“I hope you won’t mind if I’m a little early.”
Brandon shook his head as he turned away from his computer. He held out his hand and Arthur gave him the new table. Brandon read the table and then leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “Looks good.”
“But.” Brandon picked up a pen and tapped it on the desk top. “Howard Avenue seems too low to me.”
“Dorothy said to raise it.”
The pen stopped in mid tap. “I don’t doubt she’s right.” He put the pen down. “Councillor Stewart won’t buy it.” He tapped the pen again. “Bump up the cost.”
“We’ll need to cut a project.”
“You still have Gladstone in?” When Arthur nodded, Brandon continued. “Cut that.”
“Before you cut, take a look at this.” Arthur showed Brandon the video.
Brandon leaned back in his chair. He pressed the pen to his lips and gazed out the window. “You don’t make it easy, do you?”
Arthur kept quiet.
Brandon sat up and looked directly at Arthur. “OK, we’ll leave it as it is.” He pointed to Arthur’s Smartphone. “Make sure you don’t lose that.”
Brandon got to his feet. “Get that table blown up and mounted.” Arthur nodded and Brandon said, “You’ll need it for the public meeting.”
“Public meeting? What public meeting?”
“We always do a public meeting before we take the budget to council.”
“No. Tonight.” Brandon checked his watch. “You need to be there to set up in about an hour.”
“Have you done this often?” Arthur pushed the last pin into his table and stepped back to see how it looked on the wall.
“I’ve lost count.” Ling unrolled another chart and took it over to the wall. “Could you put this up for me?”
Arthur pinned the chart to the wall.
“You done many?”
“Very few.” Arthur rubbed his neck and cleared his throat. “Well actually, this is my first time.”
“Yeah.” Arthur nodded.
“Don’t be.” Ling smiled. “They don’t bite too hard.”
“Thanks.” Arthur chuckled. “I feel much better.” Arthur walked back and looked at the project table. “Does this look OK?”
Ling went over. “The graphics people OK’d this?”
“No, I didn’t think to ask.” Arthur coughed. “I didn’t have the time anyway.”
Ling raised an eyebrow as she turned to look at Arthur. “Why’s that?” She indicated the other displays. “This was scheduled for weeks.”
“I only found out an hour ago.”
Ling’s eyes widened. “Sorry. I thought you knew.”
Arthur said, “That’s OK.” He gazed at the table. “I hope this works.”
“Good luck.” Ling walked back to her station.
Arthur stiffened. “Oh no.” Ling rushed over and Arthur pointed at a line near the bottom of the table. “I missed that.”
“Those things happen.”
“I can’t leave it like that.”
Ling pulled out a small bottle and a felt pen. “These are hard to come by now.” She handed the bottle to Arthur. “Paint over the error and then we’ll write in the correction.”
The error quickly vanished. “My hand writing isn’t that neat.”
“Let me do it.” Ling waited for the fluid to dry, then carefully drew in the correction.
“That almost looked like it was typed.”
“Back in the old days everyone could do that.” She took the bottle back. “They don’t teach it anymore.”
Arthur watched as a man peered closely at the table of safety projects. “Can I help you?”
The man glanced at him, but said nothing. Arthur moved closer, but didn’t try to talk to the man again. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, then back again. He looked around the room.
“How do you people come up with this stuff?”
Arthur stepped forward. “We combine cost estimates with the -.” The man glared at him and Arthur stopped.
“Yeah right.” The man sneered and pointed to the table. “Gladstone is as safe as a mill pond.” He spun back to confront Arthur. “Just who bought you off on that one?”
“We have identified some safety issues there.”
“There is danger of a head-on collision.”
“It’ll never happen.”
Arthur took out his Smartphone. “I took this video earlier today.”
The man watched the video. He said, “I don’t see any collision there.”
“It was a near miss.” Arthur put his Smartphone away. “Next time it might not be.”
“Another nanny-state excuse.” The man stepped closer to Arthur and looked down on him. “Why should my taxes go to protect some body that can’t drive?”
“The risk isn’t just to the bad drivers.” Arthur’s voice was calm, but he fiddled nervously with his coat sleeves. “That could be you some day.”
The man’s eyes bulged. “So you think I’m a bad driver eh?” He shook his fist. “You’ll regret that.” The man backed away. “What’s your name?”
“I’ll remember.” The man turned on his heel and started to walk away. He stopped and looked back. “My name is George Foster.” He pointed his finger at Arthur. “When I’m done you could only wish you could forget it.”
The Mayor is not Happy
Arthur had another looked at the clock. He put his hands in his pockets. He took them out again.
Brandon sat behind his desk. He had his Smartphone to his ear. “Yes.” Almost a minute went by. “Yes.” Brandon started to doodle as he continued to listen. “I’ll make it happen.” Brandon sat up straight. “Don’t worry Mayor Taylor.” Brandon listened. “We’ll make him happy.” He put the Smartphone down.
In the silence Arthur’s breathing sounded very loud. At least it did to Arthur.
“Look kid, I know it was your first time.” Brandon pretended to look sympathetic. “You need to clean this up.” He looked more intently at Arthur. “Understand?”
“Yes sir.” Arthur leaned forward, “But all I did was -.”
Brandon held up his hand and shook his head slowly. “No excuses.” He raised both eyebrows.”The tax payer is boss and the boss is always right.”
“He . . .” Brandon looked at his notes. “George Foster that is, has complained about the way you pushed that Gladstone barrier.”
“I just tried to explain -.”
“You don’t explain, you listen.”
“We set up a meeting with Mr. Foster.” He looked at his computer screen. “At 11:00.” He looked back at Arthur. “You will apologize to him.” Brandon raised both his eyebrows. “Give him what he wants.”
Ling wiped off her desk top. “You feel OK?”
“I feel stupid.” Arthur sank further into the chair. “I feel two inches tall.”
“Brandon is good at that.”
Arthur checked the time on his Smartphone again. “I only have a few minutes.” He looked up at Ling. “If I can’t convince him, the Gladstone barrier is toast.”
“I can’t really tell you how to convince him.” She paused while she took a pile of business cards and put them in the recycle box. “Everyone is different.”
“You can’t analyse a person like you can analyse a truss.”
Arthur checked the time again and wiped his hand across his face. “I’m doomed.”
“I have a couple ideas you can try.”
Arthur perked up a little.
“Remember he is angry.” She held her hands together. “As long as he is angry, he won’t open up.” She opened up her hands. “Let him get it out of his system.” She put her hands down. “Then you can talk.”
Arthur nodded. “So I listen.”
“And repeat back what he says.”
“Repeat back what he says.”
“Let him know you’re listening.”
“You make it sound easy.”
“It’s not. Believe me. It’s not.”
What George Wanted
George slammed his fist on the table. This time Arthur didn’t flinch. George sagged back in his chair and rolled his eyes. He looked at Arthur. “Are you even listening?”
Arthur clenched a fist under the table, and then forced it open. “Let me see if I understand.” He held his hands up and held one finger on his right hand with his left hand. “Firstly, you are worried about taxes.” He looked directly at George. “Is that right?”
George glared back at Arthur. He nodded his head and said, “But that isn’t all.”
Arthur moved to his next finger. “Secondly, you don’t feel the City should improve safety.”
George squirmed a little. “That isn’t what I said.” He scowled. “Meant to say.” He pointed a finger at Arthur. “You make it sound like I don’t care.”
Arthur nodded. “OK, I got that wrong.” He unfolded his arms. “How would you express it?”
It was George’s turn to flinch. “Well.” He looked at the map on the wall. “It’s just I don’t think it helps.”
“I see.” Arthur paused. “So secondly, you feel the plan won’t work.”
“Think, not feel.”
“So secondly, you think the plan won’t work.” Arthur paused. “Do I have it right now?’
George shrugged his shoulders. “OK. Sure.”
“I’m less sure I understand the third point.”
George smiled and laughed. “Not so perfect now, are we?”
“I have a lot to learn.” Arthur smiled a lopsided smile. “Could you repeat it again for me?”
“I don’t like the know-it-all attitude you have.” George snorted. “Understand now?”
“Thank you.” Arthur shrugged his shoulders. “I’ll be more humble.”
“Have I covered everything?”
“Of course not.” He glared at Arthur before he continued. “What about my sewer?”
“Yes sewer. Didn’t you hear me?”
“What’s the problem with your sewer?”
“It gets plugged up and won’t drain.” He glared at Arthur. “What are you going to do about it?”
“I don’t see how we can help.” Arthur took a breath. “We’re the transportation department.” He shook his head a little. “We don’t do sewers.”
“You are the City. Right?”
“Yes, but other people take care of sewers.” Arthur hesitated. “If you want I can talk to them.” He leaned back. “That is, if you would like me to.”
“Give the man a prize.”
“Let me see if I understand you now.” He raised his eyebrows. “You want the City to take care of your sewer?” When George nodded, Arthur continued. “Do you still object to the safety program?”
‘How else can you pay for my sewer?”
“It comes out of a different budget.”
George slowly shook his head. “What a mess.”
“Your sewer will have top priority.” Arthur shuffled some papers on the table. “Don’t worry about the safety program.”
George yawned. “No skin off my nose.”
Do You Even Know Anyone in Sewers?
Brandon wasn’t happy. “Do you even know anyone in sewers?”
Brandon picked up the printout of Arthur’s e-mail. “So you say he had no objection.”
“If he gets his sewer done, he doesn’t care.”
Brandon flipped through some papers on his desk. He found the paper he wanted and picked it up. ‘Councillor Stewart isn’t happy.”
“I don’t know.” Brandon handed the paper to Arthur. “Go find out.”
Arthur read the paper. “Does it have to do with the safety program?”
“I just asked you to talk to him.” Brandon sneered. “Why else would I do that?”
“You live up in the northeast?” Councillor Stewart had a broad smile on his face.
“Not in my ward then?”
Stewart’s broad smile faded away. “Good.” He pointed to the computer screen. “I want some changes to your safety report.”
He pointed to a wall map. “I want you to add signals at Quinn and Ruby.”
Arthur made a quick note on his pad, and then studied the map. “I don’t know if we can do that.” He turned back to Stewart. “It isn’t a safety project.”
Councillor Stewart was silent. He stared at Arthur a long time. Arthur shifted in his chair and studied the walls. Finally Stewart said, “Make it happen.”
Arthur opened his mouth to reply, but closed it quickly. Then he said, “Yes Sir.” Councillor Stewart said nothing, so Arthur said, “The project list OK otherwise?”
“What’s on it?” Stewart picked up the table and looked at it. “Can’t we reduce those costs more?”
“Those are our best guesses for now.” Arthur’s voice was strained. “We don’t want to underestimate either.”
“It would cost us more in the long run.”
“No it won’t.” Stewart looked down his nose at Arthur. “When the money runs out, we cancel the rest.”
Karen sat across from Arthur. Her arms and legs both crossed in front of her. “You can’t do that!”
“Councillor Steward told me -”
“I don’t care.” Karen pressed her lips together. “I won’t do it.”
“OK, OK.” Arthur threw his hands up. “I’ll do it myself.”
“If you want to, you can.” Karen unfolded her arms. “But I wouldn’t if I were you.”
“This isn’t your problem now.” Arthur turned back to the computer.
Karen stood up. She looked down on Arthur. “Arthur. I’m sorry.”
Arthur turned away from the computer to look at Karen. His face was taut and ashen.
Karen hesitated to take a deep breath. “You’re taking a big risk.” She watched Arthur. “Think it over.”
Arthur sat motionless. He stared at Karen. He looked down at his desk. He sighed and his body relaxed. He took another deep breath and looked back at Karen. “I’m sorry.” He looked away.
“You aren’t that kind of guy.”
Arthur tapped his fingers on the desk as he gazed at the papers on his desk. “We’ll need to cut another project.” He lifted his head so he could see Karen. “Any ideas?”
“The Green Grove upgrade.”
“That won’t go over well.”
“It’s in Councillor Yates ward.” When Arthur gave her a quizzical look, she continued. “After what he did last week, none of the rest will support him.”
Arthur shook his head. “I don’t like doing this.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Lets do it.”
I Have Some Openings
Arthur stopped and looked at Ling Po’s office. “What happened?” He walked into the office.
Ling looked up from the box she was packing. “I’m the new head of transportation planning.”
“Oh.” Arthur folded his arms, unfolded them, leaned against the door jamb, and then stood away from it. “Congratulations.”
“Thanks.” Ling inspected a stapler, and then put it back in the drawer. “I’m looking forward to it.” She shut the box and put it on the floor.
“I thought you liked it here.”
“I do.” She looked up at Arthur. “I like it there better.”
“It won’t be the same here without you.”
“It’s never the same. There are changes every day.” She started to fill another box. “How is that safety list?”
“Councillor Stewart added a project.” He shook his head slowly.
“Did you keep the Gladstone barrier?”
“Yes, so far.” Arthur looked down at the floor. “Karen and I did a little juggling and managed to do Stewart’s project and mine.”
“Well, I guess it isn’t really mine.”
“Don’t fall in love with your own ideas.”
Arthur nodded. “I’ll remember that.” He started to say something, but stopped.
“Have I done the right thing?” He crossed his arms. “It seems too political.”
“It’s hard to know when you’ve crossed the line.” Ling looked closely at Arthur. “Is the barrier needed?”
“Then you did the right thing.”
As Arthur turned to leave Ling said, “I have some openings I need to fill.” She watched Arthur. “That is, if you are interested.”
He shook his head. “It isn’t really my thing.”
Arthur pointed to the last line of the table. “The total comes in just under the budget.” He looked up at Brandon.
Brandon shook his head slowly. “Good.” Brandon frowned, and then shifted his eyes from the table to Arthur. “Only that isn’t what the budget is.”
“That’s what you told me, didn’t you?”
“Yes, but it’s changed.” He snorted. “Got a call from the mayor’s office.” Brandon leaned forward and pointed at the table. “We need to cut out $250,000.”
“Why? The mayor said so.” He pulled out a red pen and looked closer at the table. “OK kid, what can we cut?”
Arthur covered his face with his hands as he studied the table. “We can’t cut Stewart’s pet project can we.”
“Not if you want to keep your job.”
Arthur reached over and ran his finger down the list. He stopped. “This one can go.” His finger moved down a little further. “and this one.” His finger paused at a third project, but then he moved further down. “I think we can do without the Unwin crossing.”
Brandon shook his head. “Unwin has to stay in.”
“Norris and Heather?”
“Where does that put us?”
Arthur did a quick calculation. “We need another $80,000.”
“OK, the Gladstone barrier is out.”
Arthur was silent. His head moved slowly back and forth.
“Come on, you know it has to go.”
“It’s just . . .” Arthur sighed. “It’s a real problem.”
“They’re all real problems kid.” He looked at Arthur. “We can’t do them all.”
“I guess not.” Arthur sighed again.
Brandon was silent.
Arthur stared at the table and then shrugged. “There hasn’t been any serious accidents there.” He turned away from the table. “It isn’t urgent.”
“You agree then?”
“Yes. It can come off.”
Brandon smiled. “Send me a presentation file.” He started to usher Arthur out of his office. “I need it for the council meeting.”
The Morning News
Arthur looked back and forth from the screen to his notes. He made a few changes to the file. He put his head on his hand and studied the revised image.
Arthur turned to see Brandon stop at his door.
“Did you hear the news?”
Arthur shook his head.
“A crash on Gladstone Parkway.” Brandon’s face was tight. “A young mother and her two kids dead.”
“A truck hit them. Head on.” Brandon frowned. “Right where I wanted to put that barrier.”
“What do we do?”
“What you have to do is explain it.” He took a deep breath and glared down at Arthur. “Councillor Stewart will have questions.” Brandon lowered his voice. “Like, why you never proposed anything to prevent it.”
“But I did.”
“Did you?” Brandon sneered. “Who was that said ‘there hasn’t been any accidents there’.” He looked away from Arthur. “and didn’t you say ‘it wasn’t urgent’ ?”
“Yes, but – “
“You said it. Take responsibility kid.”
“Don’t try to place the blame on me.” Brandon studied his shoes. “It was your project.”
Arthur sagged in his seat.
“Now get to work kid.” Brandon spun on his heel and was gone.
Arthur was quiet. He rubbed his mouth with his hand and stared at the floor. He looked slowly around his office. Finally his stood up. He took a step toward the door, but went no further. He moved over to look out the window. He leaned on the window and gazed at the ground far below. People moved about like ants, oblivious to the larger world around them. They stopped and moved in time to the change of the lights. Arthur shook his head and went back to his chair and plopped down. He pulled out his Smartphone and looked at the card Ling gave him. He hesitated and then put his Smartphone away.
He contemplated the view out the window. He didn’t see the bright skies, just darkness.