Grubbs Catches Up

Tom marked the pillar with a pencil, then unrolled the steel tape and measured the distance from the floor to the pencil mark.

“What're you doin' that for, Tom?” Anderson, one of his helpers, asked. “You already measured it once.”

“A rule I learned when I was an apprentice. 'Measure twice, cut once.'”

“But you ain't cuttin', you're drillin'.”

“Same idea. No point in goin' to all this work, then havin' that OSHA guy tell me to move 'em again.”

The assistant foreman, Sven Gunderson, nodded in approval. “Okay, Tom. Drill those holes, and we'll hang this fire extinguisher. Only one more extinguisher to go. Then we can get back to the work that brings in the money.

“Damn stupid jerk. Those fire extinguishers've been hangin' at that height for twenty years now and nobody ever had any problem with 'em. Now this inspector comes in and says we got to raise 'em by three inches. That's what the OSHA regs say. Occupational Safety and Health Administration? Hah! Official Stupidity and Harassment Administration, if you ask me.”

Tom finished hanging the last extinguisher, then folded the stepladder and took it back to the tool crib.

“Okay, Tom,” Sven said. “Honda needs those parts, and their truck'll be here at five-thirty. Can you make up for the time we lost movin' those damn' fire extinguishers?”

Tom glanced at the wall clock. “Yeah, we can make it, so long as the foundry gets the castings to me right away.”

“Here they come now,” Gunderson said. He pointed at a forklift bringing a pallet loaded with castings into the machine shop.

“Okay, let's get started.” Tom got his helpers busy loading castings on the conveyor while he completed the setup on the first machine in the cell.

This is going to be tricky. Wish I could have finished the setups on the machines before I started on the fire extinguishers. The parts could've been running through while I was moving fire extinguishers. But that guy from OSHA said it had to be done right away or he'd fine the company. After all, he says, it's for my safety. Don't want anybody bumping those fire extinguishers if we have to evacuate this place in a hurry. Wish that was my biggest worry. If the government'd do its job of keeping Judy and me safe from Harry Grubbs and people like him, I'd be willing to take my chances on bumping a fire extinguisher.

Finally the parts were through all the machines in the cell. Tom called out “Pete! Get your lift over here. We’re ready to go!”

Pete wheeled his forklift to the cell, loaded up the pallet of parts, and took them off to the loading dock. The wall clock showed it was just past five.

The express truck showed up a few minutes later. Tom, two of his helpers, and the regular packing crew got the last pallet on the truck just before the five-thirty deadline.

Tom grabbed his lunch pail and headed for the parking lot. He stopped at the plant entrance and scanned the lot carefully. The shift was over. Most of the lot was empty. The entire lot was clearly visible. The only people in sight were a couple of workers getting into their cars. There didn't seem to be any threats visible.

It's summer. There's still plenty of light when I get off work. Come winter, though, it'll be dark even at regular quitting time. I'll have to be even more careful then.

Once in his car, he had to decide on a route. I'm late getting off work. If I take the longer route down South Street, I'll be even later getting home. But I took the direct route on Market yesterday. I've got to avoid following a pattern. Especially a pattern that says I'll take the short route on days I'm late. Okay, South Street it is.

He turned onto the street that led to his subdivision, then entered the cul-de-sac on which his house was located.

This business of changing routes is silly. I live on a dead-end street with only one entrance. If anyone wants to ambush me, they can do it here at the entrance, no matter what route I take. They could even park in the 7-11 lot and I'd never know they were laying for me until it was too late.

He slowed as he approached his house, and turned into the drive. Something's wrong. Judy's car is in the drive, but King's not in the back yard.

He hastened to the front door, stuck his key in the lock, and was about to open it when he noticed the alarm light was on.

Why's the alarm set at this hour, and with Judy home?

He pulled the barrel-shaped alarm key from his pocket, disarmed the alarm, unlocked the door, and entered.

“Judy! I'm home! What's going on?”

King bounded into the hallway, followed by Judith, who was holding her gun at chest-ready position.

“Oh, thank God you're home, Tom,” she burst out. “Lock the door and set the alarm.”

“What is it, Judy?”

For answer, she handed him a sheet of paper. On it were letters evidently cut and pasted from newspaper headlines, ransom-note style.

i KnOw whEre yOu ArE

“I found this in the mailbox when I got home. It has to be from Harry Grubbs. He's taunting us!”

“Okay, this is the last straw. We take this to the police. Let's go!”


Tom parked in a visitors' space at the police station, and entered.

The desk sergeant asked, “What can I do for you?”

“We've received a threatening note.” He handed over the message.

The sergeant examined the message briefly. “Lieutenant Callahan is the only detective on duty this shift. He'll be with you in a couple of minutes. Just have a seat.” He pointed to a row of chairs.

“Thank you.”

Shortly a man in civilian clothes approached them. “I'm Detective Lieutenant Dave Callahan, folks. Sergeant Black tells me you have a threatening note. Come back to my desk and let me hear your story.”

He led them to a battered wooden desk near the wall, grabbed a couple of chairs from nearby desks, and pulled them over.

“Sit down, folks. What's the problem.”

Judith spoke up. “I'll give it to you quickly, and then you can ask for details about any part you want. We were attacked by a criminal who was then put in jail because of our testimony. He threatened to get revenge on us when he got out. He was released a little over a month ago. I know he's been stalking us because I’ve seen him. Just last week I spotted him watching me in the grocery store where I often stop on the way home from work. Today when I got home I found this note in the mailbox.”

Callahan examined the message. “Who was the criminal?”

“A man named Harry Grubbs.”

Callahan seemed to recognize the name, but didn't comment on it. He finally asked, “How do you know this is from him? It's not signed.”

“It doesn't need to be signed,” Tom said. “I know who's after my wife.”

“Did anyone else see him when you say he was in the grocery store? Did you point him out to anyone who might identify him from a mug shot?”

“No. All I could think of was getting out of there.” She then recounted the incident in detail. “He was gone when we got back.”

“I see. All we have, then, is your word that you saw him.

“Now,” Callahan continued, “about your problem. I'm not disputing the truth of what you've told me, Mrs. Borden. You have to realize, though, that you haven't given me much to go on.

“You may actually have seen Harry Grubbs in the grocery store. Even if you did, he has a perfect right to be there. He's served his sentence and been freed under court order. And in any case, it'd be your word against his. You don't have any other witnesses.

“As for this message, Mrs. Borden,” he pointed at the paper, “I have only your word that you found it in your mailbox. I'll have it checked for fingerprints just in case. But Grubbs isn't stupid. If he actually prepared it, he probably wore gloves. Only your prints will show on it. His lawyer would say you made it up to try to get him, and you'd have the expense of fighting a lawsuit claiming you fabricated evidence against him. Even if you won, could you afford it? And if you lost, could you afford that?”

Wordlessly, she nodded in the negative.

“Okay then,” Callahan went on, “the best advice I can give you is to watch very carefully. If you see him again, try to get witnesses. Then go to court and request a restraining order and a peace bond, for him to stay away from you.” He stood up. “And I'll let you know if the fingerprint lab finds anything. We'll need your prints, Mrs. Borden, and yours as well, Mr. Borden. If it's convenient for you, they can take your prints right now.”

Judith remained silent through the fingerprinting, the walk to the car, the drive home, and the walk to the house.

Once inside the house, she finally spoke.

“Tom, I can't take any more of this. He's stalking me. He's playing cat-and-mouse. I can't live with this house becoming a bunker, where I carry a gun around all the time I'm home. I can't go on watching behind every tree and jumping at every shadow when I go out. I just can't take it.” She put her hands over her face and started to sob.

Tom stood silently for a moment, then said, “You got any red ribbon in your sewing basket?”

She swallowed, then said in a small voice, “Yes. And some green ribbon, too.”

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Copyright © 2004, Joseph P. Martino
Revised: 04:03:12