Eminent Domain: 12, The PennDOT Engineers, 3

February 11, 1988
Part 3, Coworkers On Board and the Work Begins

Alex walked in the office at 7:55 with a bag of doughnuts. Phyllis was just starting the coffee.

“You’re here early,” he said.

“Wouldn’t do to have Ross call and no one be here,” she said. “Are you ready for the day?”

“As much as I can be,” he said. “I’m going into my office to prepare. Tell the guys when they come in that there’s a conference at 9:00. In the meantime, I’m going to call Dana Pellari from District 14. Ross gave us permission to bring in another engineer for three months, and I’m going to ask her if she’ll consider it.”

Phyllis nodded. “9:00 it is. Do you want me to take minutes?”

Alex looked flummoxed. “Uh… I don’t know. Do you think we need to document our meetings? We never have in the past. But then, we’ve never had to do anything like this, either. Yes. Please. We don’t want any hint of deceit.”

At five minutes till nine, Alex was sitting in the conference room waiting. His office was on the other side of the kitchen and the conference room; he could access both without going into the main reception area. Phyllis had arranged the doughnuts on a plate, so he had grabbed them and put them on the table. He was a great proponent of food at meetings, especially if the meeting was likely to be contentious. Too bad he had brought just doughnuts, he thought, but his lemon-glazed banana-walnut bread probably would be wasted on these guys anyway…

Phyllis walked in with her legal tablet; behind her was Henry Purcell, the draftsman and Keith Sharpneck, the other engineer, both carrying coffee cups. They looked puzzled — formal meetings like this were uncommon in their informal office. They usually just gathered around someone’s desk and talked.

“Okay, thanks for getting here on time. Grab a doughnut and listen up.” Alex paused as they pulled out chairs and reached for the doughnuts. “We are tasked with a confidential project that we have to do quickly. Probably faster than is humanly possible. We will be working days and nights and weekends until the project is finished, which could be up to three months, maybe more. We will get paid overtime — though I don’t know how much — and an extra two weeks vacation to be used whenever, just not at the same time as anyone else in the office. If there is a leak, and I find out who leaked it, and I will, I have the authority to fire you on the spot.”

Alex paused and looked around the table. Keith said, “Did we just join the CIA?”

Phyllis bit her lip to keep from smiling.

“Holy crap,” Henry said. “This is some weird–”

Alex cut him off. “Henry. Just tell me — Are you in? Both of you have the option of taking a leave of absence until this project is finished. You’ll be sent to other districts to fill in for vacations. I can’t say where, because I don’t know. That would be up to Harrisburg.”

“I’m intrigued, and I’m in,” Keith agreed immediately.

They turned to Henry. “Sign me up,” he grinned. “I’m going to the Bahamas when this is over.”

Alex’s anxiety vanished, and only then did he realize how much he had needed his coworkers to sign on with him. “Okay, great,” he said. “That’s all good news.”  And then he reviewed the whole plan, telling them everything he knew or had gathered from Ross, Conrad DeBolt, and Phyllis. He ended by telling them that Dana Pellari had agreed to come and fill in for three months, starting on Monday. Today was Thursday; they would spend the next couple of days gathering their thoughts and talking and planning. On Monday, when Dana arrived, they would begin in earnest. Sometime today, they each needed to drive the road. At least once. Maybe twice. And then sometime soon when they needed a break, they would all four drive it together.

“I call the back seat with Dana,” Henry said.

Keith glared at him. “Be professional, Henry.”

“Hey, she’s a babe,” Henry said. “Maybe she’ll go to the Bahamas with me.”

For the second time in twelve hours, Alex burst out laughing. Henry was a pain and had a foul mouth, but he was a great draftsman. He might lighten the atmosphere too, if Dana could tolerate him. “Okay, Henry. Keith’s right. There’s no time for romance on this project. And no talking to Pat the photographer either. Remember, you took a vow of silence.”

“Yeah, maybe we should get it signed in blood,” Keith agreed.

Henry stood up. “Okay then, let’s get started, you workaholics. I think you’ll find that I can outlast both of you. We should start with maps — every map we can find.”

“I think we need an addition to the office,” Keith said.

“We can start by making this our work room. Any conferences, we’ll have in here while we’re working. We can move this small table out in to the kitchen and pull a big table in. The extra front office I was going to give to Dana, but maybe we could bring in a couch and use that as a napping office? I don’t know. Phyllis, any ideas?” Alex asked.

“I’m the gofer and the cook,” she said. “You can redecorate as much as you want. Just leave my desk where it is. Actually, I can move it more into the corner at an angle and give everyone more room to move around.”

The phone rang and everyone stopped. “And I’m still the secretary,” she said. “That’s probably Ross checking in on us all.”

“I’ll take it in my office,” Alex said. “You guys get to it, and I’ll be out in a few minutes.”




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