Liftmaster Recruitment

Just before a bridge over a dry stream, I glanced at the small fenced-in area with what looked like a winch for lifting. I had passed it countless times and never quite figured it out. My father was a professor, and one of his research projects had a similar place, a bit larger with a few flat bottom boats and a winch for lifting them from a river, but this didn’t have any boats, and at best this winch could only lift something from the back of a truck.

Glancing over as I drove by, I noticed it had a weatherproof panel with an alarm light on it and a sign. After years of just driving by, my curiosity got the best of me. I slowed down a bit. The sign read: Lift Station number 4. A phone number was printed on the sign.

I drove on, vowing to myself I would look it up. But, as usual, I never remembered when I was on a computer.

On a day when I had no care in the world, I decided to satisfy my curiosity. I pulled off the road, got out, and read the sign. The number listed in large print was for emergencies. Under a bit more text that told me to stay out of the enclosure and listed various authorities was a smaller number labeled: For information.

I took out my phone and called.

A woman answered, “We are sorry, but this number—”

From background sounds, I could tell she was a real person who was driving and not a message, so I interrupted, “I’m at lift station number 4. I was just curious.”

She asked, “Is the warning light on?”

I said, “No, it just seems like an odd thing. I have driven by this a couple of times a week, but this time—”

She interrupted me, “I’m nearby. I’ll be there in less than two minutes unless I get stopped by a train.”

I said, “I just wanted to know—”

She said, “Driving.” The line went dead.

She pulled up in an official-looking truck with a serious tool box on the back and a tarp. My impression of her was that she had been military. One of those women that had to compete in an unfair environment and had been hardened by the experience. She was a handsome woman and well-shaped. I can imagine that she could have modeled when she was a bit younger.

She ignored me as she unlocked the gate and went to the panel and unlocked it. She took a padlock off a metal plate set into the cement below and opened it. She let it drop and took out her cell phone.

“Peters. Lift station number 4 is in the red and the alarm malfunctioned. A man driving by noticed and called it in.”

She put her phone back in it’s holster and looked at me. “You aren’t going to want to hang around for this.”

I had driven most of the way home before I realized I had no answers, and I had just instinctively submitted to the authority of a woman who had the manner of authority, but no authority over me. As I mused over it, my phone rang. I was at a stop so I checked. It was a callback from the information number on the sign.

“Can it wait? I’m driving.”

“Someone here wants to meet and thank you.”

At the lift station, there were several more trucks and workmen gathered. From body language, there was a man beside the woman that she respected. I drove past and found a place to turn around. With all the vehicles gathered, I decided to park on the other side of the road so I wouldn’t get parked in.

When I got to the other side of the road, the woman and the man were waiting for me.

She took off a rubber glove and held her hand out to me. I shook a moist but strong hand.

The man said, “This is Jessica Ribbon. Call me Peters.”

I said, “I’m Bob.”

I shook both of their hands, and the man gestured me over to his truck and unfolded a topographical map. It was an old map likely to fall apart soon from the folding and refolding of it. There were small neat circles in places by streams and rivers.

He spread and flattened the map. I winced. The map wasn’t going to hold up long if he kept treating it so roughly.

He looked at my expression. “Where’s the problem?”

I pointed to where the double crease was coming apart and one of the neat circles was soon going to be obscured soon. “You can’t just keep treating it like this. It’s going to fall apart. I expect that you can’t just get a replacement instantly so—”

Peters turned and walked away. He took his phone out and made a call. I couldn’t hear any of the conversation except when he shouted into the phone. “Damn it, I don’t care how far out it is. Check it.”

The woman had already walked off. Everyone seemed busy or in conversation, and Peters was clearly in a mood so I went back to my car and started driving home.

I was almost home when I got another call. I didn’t answer since I didn’t know the number. I got a text message:

“We need you back at the lift station.”

Annoyed this time, I turned around. Curious, but annoyed.

At the lift station, Jessica and Peters were waiting for me as I crossed the street.

Peters asked, “Do you dowse?”

It was an odd question. I had done a bit for my grandfather and father. Never made a career of it. My father had me go out and find pipes for him once. That was about all I knew. At one time, my father introduced me to a pair of professional dowsers. They looked at the stick I was using and the watch I had dug out of a drawer so I wouldn’t be late for an appointment. They both declared me as not being a dowser.

“A real dowser wouldn’t be wearing a watch, and the stick you are using is dead and useless.”

The dowsing sticks they used turned and twisted in my hand painfully. The watch I wore made my wrist ache even more than usual, so I put it in a pocket and ended up late for my appointment.

I nodded as Peters shook my hand. “It looks like you’re the real thing. You have spotted two stations as being in trouble, and we have confirmed it. Pretty amazing coming right out of the blue and saving us.”

Jessica shook my hand again. “I am looking forward to working with you. We have been needing a new liftmaster.”

I shook her hand and my head. “I’m not looking for a job. I’m retired.”

Peters said, “Sometimes, we don’t have a choice. You, sir, are a liftmaster. The laws go way, way back. When a liftmaster feels the call, he must answer or answer the consequences.”

Thus the Liftmaster Saga began…

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