(Chapter 12 cont.)
After that, everything seemed to flow more easily. True, Toliver thought, sometimes they would find the equipment room locked. Then he would have to complain loudly and threaten to go find Sawyer before the key mysteriously appeared. They were provided extension ladders when they needed stepladders, but he could work around that. Despite such petty annoyances, which Toliver suspected Jacobi was behind, the work proceeded more quickly than he would have believed possible. The final fine-grit sanding of the central bearing beam remained the only part still to complete. Toliver had sent Val and Wil away after they had steadied the ladder, so he could finish this task himself. He didn’t so much sand the wood as caress it, stroking gently to bring out the grain. It glowed in his eyes. He could see its beauty, just the raw wood, without carving, without varnish, with the rich grain exposed.
Toliver heard something behind him and glanced carefully over his shoulder. Joad had entered the hall and stood a view feet inside the door. Toliver focused on his work. He hoped that Joad might go away if he ignored him long enough. He didn’t think it would happen, but nothing said Toliver couldn’t dream. Their animosity toward each other far from secret, only Toliver did his best to pretend that wasn’t the case. Though he found the pretense nearly impossible at times and found small ways to annoy Joad. He continued sanding. He took great pleasure from it and he knew it would piss off JW, as he’d started calling Joad.
Joad walked to the bottom of the ladder.
“Val and Wil are outside, wondering around unsupervised,” Joad called up. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m sanding,” Toliver called down as if it weren’t obvious. “What can I do for you?”
“You can come down here where we can talk face to face. I have more important work than watching you polish your beam.”
“All right,” Toliver said, smiling. He wasn’t sure that Joad even noticed what he’d implied.” I’ll be right down, JW. With that, Toliver casually hopped out from the rung he stood on, caught the sides of his shoes on the rails and slid rapidly to the floor. Joad scrambled back, tripped on his own feet and landed on his ass. He rapidly regained his feet, his face red and fire in his eyes. Toliver turned as if he would take the ladder down. Joad grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around.
“What the hell are you playing at?” he asked through gritted teeth. Toliver looked at him as if he wasn’t sure what he’d been asked. He did a very credible job of sounding genuinely confused.
“You asked me to come down. I came down. What’s the problem?”
Joad stepped closer until they stood toe to toe, nose to nose. He stabbed his finger into Toliver’s chest. “That’s it. I’ve had all the crap I’m going to take from you.”
“Seriously,” Toliver asked, his eyes opening wider, “what’s wrong?” The look in Joad’s eyes told Toliver he had pushed the man to the brink.
“Shut it,” Joad screamed. “Just shut it.”
Toliver knew he shouldn’t say anything more, but this had gone way too far. He stared at Joad, his eyes hard, unflinching. “Or what, JW,” he said, “or what?”
Joad reared back and pushed him, knocking Toliver into the ladder. Toliver didn’t think then. His fist had connected with Joad’s jaw before Toliver even realized his arm was moving. Joad staggered back, falling again. Toliver knew he had gone too far; he just couldn’t be bothered to care. He turned and walked away. He heard Joad screaming behind him, telling him to come back, but Toliver just kept walking. He went back to his Domi®, drank a cup of water and stretched out to wait. When he heard the sounds of his captive partners outside, he rose to go to dinner. His door was locked. He should have expected that. A few days alone, without food, would bring you in line, they thought. Toliver lay back on the hard cot, placed his hat over his face and went back to sleep. Whatever was going to happen would happen. Nothing he could do would change that, so why worry about it.