“I’m coming to church this Sunday, if that’s all right with you,” I told my uncle on Friday night.

            He nodded.  “Be glad to have you.”

            “Good.”  I grinned.

            “You’ll have to get your own ride to work on Saturday night.  An old friend is visiting so I took the night off.”

            “Cool.  About time you took even a little vacation.  Anyone I know?”

            “I don’t think so.  Just a friend from when I was a soldier.”

            I had forgotten about that.  After high school my uncle had enlisted.  My mother always thought it was to get away from the town, since he couldn’t afford college.

            “Have a good time.”

            “I will.  Come by Sunday morning, we’ll all go to church together.”

            “Thanks.”

***

Saturday night I was in the tankage area, dumping metal carts of meat down a chute.  We called the wheelbarrow shaped carts “bone buggies” as they were for cleaning up whatever meat and assorted animal oddments had hit the floor.  The chute led to bins in the basement that were taken away by trucks for processing and rendering.

            The room was old and carried a musty smell.  It used to be a pig-kill, with rusty metal rails on the ceiling that used to drag carcasses around.  It always felt a little creepy.  I was hosing water around the chute, cleaning up refuse before it rotted.  Steam heated the water, shooting up a fog around me.

            I suddenly realized that I wasn’t alone as goose bumps ran up my neck.  I turned and saw a figure approaching through the mist.  Like me, he wore a yellow hardhat and a white smock. 

            “Hey, what’s up?” I smiled, assuming he was a co-worker.  Then I noticed he was wearing street shoes instead of regulation rubber boots.  I glanced up at his face once it became clearer through the fog and recognized his gaunt visage. 

            I was already moving when he raised his arm and fired a gun.  I turned the steam hose on him, sending his shot wide and forcing him back with the burning heat.  His shout seemed more surprised than pained, but I didn’t think on it too long.  I reacted more quickly than I would have believed, had I not done it myself, jumping straight down the tankage chute, holding my arms tight to my chest.  It was a tight squeeze, but I fit.  Swiftly, I dropped down to the basement, landing in a wet pile of meat.

            I shook my head as I climbed out of the plastic bin, feeling disgusting.  I wondered what on earth that man was doing here, and why he was trying to kill me.  I recognized him:  he was the drug dealer from that night I went to the club with Daniel.  My pants were soaked, my white coat sticking to my legs.  I hurried out of the room as fast as I could, realizing my assailant could easily follow me down the chute.

            I pulled off the white coat and threw it away.  I passed quickly through the back area, with storage for boots, helmets and other equipment.  I entered the main hall, running for security at the entrance gate.  The hall was shaped like an L, and as I approached the corner I could hear the distinct static of a walkie-talkie. 

            “He may be headed your way, over.”

            “Roger that,” said a voice that was much clearer.  “I’m watching.”

            Someone was waiting for me around the bend. 

            I ran forward, coming around the corner and letting him glimpse me before skidding and running back the way I came.  He gave a shout, and then I heard his footsteps behind me.  Instead of running pell-mell back the way I came, I ducked up against the wall.  As the second man came around the bend, I dashed forward, getting my hands on his head, and slammed him into one of the many food coolers on the wall, smashing his head through the glass of the door.

            The corner of the hallway was the employees’ market, where they could buy discounted products.  The walls were lined with glass cabinets like at the grocery store.  I never would have thought that I’d be using them as weapons, but it worked.

            I didn’t even stop to look to see if he was unconscious, I just ran.  I went back the way I had come, assuming they would have someone watching the front door.  I had only one advantage over my mysterious assailants, and that was my knowledge of the factory.  I knew its twists and turns as well as anyone, having worked the sanitation crew.  As a part-time employee I had been trained to work in most areas of the plant, as I usually covered for people on vacation or those who didn’t want to work overtime.  While regular employees had specific positions, I was a fill-in.  I could work anywhere.

            I passed the door to tankage as my first attacker came through it.  He growled at me incoherently, wet and messy from the drop.  His face looked scalded from the steam, but it wasn’t slowing him down any.  I sprinted up the stairwell by the door, effectively daring him to follow.  I ran to the second floor and pulled open the door, dashing into the next room.

            I had entered the rack wash:  meat going into the smokehouses rested on metal racks that ran on wheels, and this was where they were cleaned.  There was a room on my right for dirty racks, and directly in front of me was the cleaning machine.  It was like a long metal tunnel with doors, the walls were lined with nozzles.  In operation, they would spray a mixture of boiling water and caustic, sterilizing the metal racking. 

            I had been warned to never get caught inside, as the water and caustic could severely burn skin.  I also knew that between pushing the “on” button and the actual operation of the machine, there was a short delay.  I hoped to use that to my advantage.

            I ran through the rack washer, hearing my hunter behind me.  I ran as fast as I could, feeling my lungs burn, trying not to smell the acrid odour of caustic.  My booted feet clattered on the metal floor.  I sprinted to the end of the tunnel and turned.  He was coming fast, and was nearing the halfway mark.  I smiled and waved as I hit the button to turn the machine on.  He actually roared at me, running faster.  The doors closed just before he reached them, and the water started a moment later.

            I could hear bellows of rage from within, but didn’t waste any time.  I ran to the nearby rack elevator, which allowed us to send clean racks down to the first floor where there was a long storage room.  I closed the elevator doors and went down.  I hoped that I had out-flanked my attacker’s friend, and any others that might be in the building.  No one could have anticipated the twisted route I had taken to get right back where I started.  The storage room for the racks was just off the maintenance section next to tankage, so a moment later I was back in the main hallway. 

            I noticed that the man I had crashed into the cabinet was no longer there.  I didn’t want to risk it, however.  Instead of heading down the hallway, I took a path through the maintenance area into some cold storage rooms, with a side door.  I went through this and ended up in one of the men’s change-rooms.  I marvelled at how convoluted the old factory was, with new uses for old rooms creating an interconnected labyrinth. 

            I left the locker room, having successfully bypassed most of the main hallway.  I exited near the security gate, and sprinted, hoping to raise an alarm.  Instead, I found the guard lying on the floor, killed by gunfire.  Without hesitating, I grabbed his winter coat and ran back the way I had come.  I felt fairly certain that the gunmen would have a car waiting for them outside, and I had no intention of just blithely running into them.

            I went back to tankage, and opened the big sliding doors that were normally used for forklifts to come and pick up the full bins to load them onto trucks.  I exited the building into a cold winter night, and ran across the back parking lot.  Trailers came here to be unloaded so orders could be received.  I hurried across the lot, running as fast as my rubber boots would allow.  I reached the fence at the edge of the yard, hauling myself up and over.  I climbed a hill and reached the street after struggling through trees.

            I crossed the street and jogged down to the corner where there was a gas station.  Outside, there was a telephone booth.  I rushed to it, feeling the winter wind slashing at my ears.  I got inside and dialled 911.

            “911.  What is the nature of your emergency?”  The disembodied voice of the dispatcher said.

            “Someone killed the security guard at the plant!”  I said anxiously, my pulse pounding as I fought to catch my breath.  “There were men with guns.  Send help, hurry!”

            “Sir, I need you to calm down.  You said there’s been a murder?”

            “Yes, yes.  You need to get the police here right away.”

            “What is your location?”

            “I’m at the telephone booth at the corner of Main and Stirling.  Hurry!”
            I waited in the cold, wearing wet pants, rubber boots, a borrowed coat and only the thin cotton gloves we wore in the plant.  The chill wind bit at my face and ears, so I sought shelter in the telephone booth, cramped as it might be.

            A patrol car pulled up about five minutes later with two officers.  They got out and approached.

            “What seems to be the trouble, son?”  One of them said.

            “Back at the plant, there are two men.  They had guns.”  I was shivering.  “One of them had a leather coat, the other one was wearing a white smock and hard hat.  They killed the guard.”

            “Can you describe these men?”

            I opened my mouth to speak and then heard an engine approaching.  It was loud, as if the driver was in a hurry.  I looked up and saw a big red truck come around the corner, headed straight for us.  I ducked and rolled as the truck smashed right over one of the police officers, knocking him down with a scream.  Someone was firing a gun out the window, several loud bangs echoing across the parking lot.  I was running, and didn’t look back.

            My only hope of evading their vehicle was to avoid the roads.  I hopped fences, breathing hard, my breath leaving a plume in the air.  My feet crunched through snow as I cut across backyards, moving from street to street, hoping that I was moving too fast for them to figure out where I could be.  I doubted that they knew their way around town well enough to predict anything.

            I wondered what they were doing here.  They seemed hell-bent on killing me specifically, since they had tracked me to tankage and then followed me outside.  Presumably, they had come all the way from Toronto for something, after all.  But what?

            I crossed two streets and then started running down the block.  I was only a few blocks away from my uncle’s house.  Hopefully I could find shelter there, and call the police again.  I pushed myself to run faster despite the stitch in my side.  I came within sight of his place, feeling triumphant.

            Then I was covering my face with one arm and diving for the ground as it exploded.  A huge fireball erupted against the dark sky and his house was blown to splinters.

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