Paying the Night Differential
by Paul Weidknecht
The East River’s dark surface rippled in blurry color from the reflections of the anonymous apartment towers and the light-crowned Chrysler Building straight ahead, its spire bright under the chilly spring night. Though no tourist, Pasquale thought Midtown looked just fine. What wasn’t fine was standing on this pier waiting for Johnny, late as usual, panicking about something he wouldn’t discuss over the phone. But Johnny was right about not talking on the phone; friends of theirs were doing decades for that sin.
Pasquale heard footsteps down the pier and saw Johnny’s thin form moving briskly toward him, hands buried in his front jeans pockets, shoulders up around his ears in mystery. His tough guy strut was exaggerated, almost fierce; a sure cover for his anxiety.
“Whatcha got?” Pasquale asked.
“A problem. On the new construction site. Remember how we set up a no-show job there a while back?”
“Yeah. What about it?”
“The guy is showing up to work.”
A flicker of confusion passed through Pasquale. “Huh?”
“He is on-site for his midnight shift.”
“Not possible, Johnny. You know that.”
“Of course. I forget, was it Pelham Bay or the Meadowlands?”
“We dumped him over in Jersey.”
“I’m telling you, Pas, workers are seeing him wandering around the main building, wearing a hardhat and work belt, and then he’ll just disappear through a wall. The foreman’s complaining he’s starting to get call-offs on midnights.”
“Kinda gives new meaning to the phrase ‘ghost worker.’”
“Tell me about it. There’s more. I went there the other night, you know, to check out the place. Afterwards, while I’m sittin’ in my car ready to leave, I look into the rearview and he’s in the backseat,” Johnny said.
Pas knew Johnny was a street guy, certainly no fool, and he wasn’t a junkie or fall-down drunk, so this story didn’t materialize out of some meth-clouded hallucination or Saturday night bender.
“Did he have piano wire in his hands?” Pas asked.
“No, but a length of insulated copper #10 will do the same.”
“Was it an electrician’s job we set up?”
Johnny nodded solemnly.
“What happened then?”
“He just faded away. I think he was trying to scare me. And guess what? It worked.”
Again Pas looked over at Manhattan. If every lighted window represented a person, or sort of, then that was a whole lot of people. He couldn’t imagine that any of them were thinking of how to get rid of a potentially profit-wrecking, revenge-seeking ghost. But this was New York, and anything was possible.
“Okay,” said Pasquale. “I’ll speak to someone tomorrow about changing that no-show from electrical to something clerical. Maybe this will keep him on day shift. No ghost is gonna make a move on anybody with a paperclip.”
“And if that doesn’t work?”
“I got a nephew who’s a priest. We can all take a daytrip to Jersey.”