This is one of a collection of stories that are like “Final Destination” meets “The Monkey’s Paw” (W. W. Jacobs, 1902). As such, they are tragedies more than either mysteries or horror, and would appeal most to readers who enjoy the inexorable pull of a story arc that leads to doom. In each story, a protagonist makes a wish that comes true with fatal results for someone, often the person making the wish. Nothing supernatural, but just how things work out. (Or is it?) The technical details surrounding the fatal (or near-fatal) event are drawn from real cases in the US OSHA incident report database or similar sources and are therefore entirely realistic, even if seemingly outlandish. The plots draw lightly from cultural beliefs around actions such as pointing at someone with a stick or knife, wishing in front of a mirror, or stepping on a crack.
The day Aida Peterson quit was memorable to all concerned. She had been the service and maintenance manager at an aircraft service center that maintained many of the region’s air ambulances and she had put her foot down. “The day that you turn a blind eye to substandard parts is the day you sign your own death certificate!” she had yelled at the procurement director. Voices were raised, tempers flared, and in the end, there was an ultimatum. Either Guy canceled orders for refurbished and gray market parts or she quit.
The problem facing the CEO was that profit margins were paper thin, and Guy had found ways to trim 17% off the cost of aircraft parts by sourcing from the gray market. He understood and sympathized with Aida, he truly did, but if the cheaper parts satisfied the national aeronautics specifications, then why not use them? Aida had argued strenuously that parts from alternative manufacturers were likely substandard, or might carry risks that the specifications didn’t mention, but he wondered where the proof was. The parts looked the same, the specifications were the same, and as far as he could see, they performed the same. Guy, on the other hand, had argued that the manufacturers simply padded their profit margins more, and that all the talk about “assumed specs” was just a scare tactic. He challenged anyone, as he gave Aida the side eye, to even tell which parts were from the original equipment manufacturer and which were sourced alternatively.
Ultimately, the CEO sided with Guy, and Aida packed up her personal belongings and left. He felt bad, but as Guy and the CFO argued on their approach to the 18th hole, Aida belonged in a previous era when foreign manufacturers produced low-quality parts and were not dependable. By the time they were sipping drinks in the clubhouse, the CEO was comfortable with the outcome and felt like they had turned a corner toward improved profitability and success. They all toasted Guy as the man who was making this happen.
Another one of Guy’s projects to generate revenue was taking on the service of three Dash 8 medevac and patient transport planes. It started with a crisis, a round of golf, and a wager. The CEO of the firm with the Dash 8s was off his game, and by the start of the second nine, he was so over handicap that he was clearly going to be buying the drinks when they got to the clubhouse. He apologized after he sliced so badly on the tenth that the ball curved off the fairway and into the river. There had been an accident that week and it had rattled him. A young. newly qualified ground crew member had stepped into a spinning prop, and besides all the tragedy that it entailed, the aircraft was now grounded. Replacing the prop and checking the drive train and shaft required a team from the service center in the next state to schedule a trip, and that might take months. Even a few weeks was a crisis and would probably cost them their contract with many regional hospital systems. Always ready to take a chance, Guy had offered a wager: His service team would invest in the necessary jigs and special tools and do the repairs in under two weeks, if all further service and maintenance was shifted to Guy’s outfit.
Although the praise all went to Guy for bringing in this new business, it was Aida and her team that made it work. Through weekend crash training on the unfamiliar aircraft, and late nights doing the work, they turned Guy’s boast into a reality. At the end of 10 days, Aida had pulled off a miracle, and her team was exhausted but proud.
That was a year ago, and Aida’s team were now doing all the A and B checks on the Dash-8s and some of the C checks. The A service episodes gave her team around 60 labor hours per aircraft every 500 flight hours and the B services pulled in around 170 hours of work every 7 months for each aircraft. She had to admit that it was good business, and her team felt they were playing an important role in getting patients to the right point of care. The contract also allowed her to add another apprentice and expand her team’s experience. However, she was less thrilled with the parts that Guy was sourcing recently, and the deals he was making with suppliers that to her mind, looked pretty shady. At first, she thought that he was just putting a squeeze on the original equipment manufacturer suppliers to cut on packaging costs and might sometimes source refurbished parts in a pinch. More recently, though, she had come to realize that many of the new parts were manufactured by someone else. The specifications were the same as far as she could see, but subtle differences in the castings or machining of some parts made her think that these were not original parts at all. That nagging doubt turned into a real fear when the new apprentice came to her looking sheepish and said that he had accidentally sheared a bolt off on an engine mounting. Aida had rolled her eyes inwardly, but after looking at the setting on his torque wrench, she was puzzled. The wrench settings were correct and the bolt had sheared under normal tightening strain. When she drilled into the shank to use an extractor, the bolt metal seemed softer and more brittle than expected.
Somewhat suspicious, Aida filed off some of the anti-corrosion coating, and after dimming the lights in her office, she used a small acetylene torch to burn the filings. Expecting to see the brick-red flame color typical of the cadmium plating for National Aerospace Standard bolts, she instead saw a pale blue-green flame: zinc. This was more typical of cheap hardware store bolts and certainly not up to National Aerospace standards. Aida spent several hours after work writing up a report that listed all the anomalies that had recently cropped up: odd machining marks, slight variations in weight of some fasteners, and now this case of what was obviously a counterfeit part.
The next morning, Aida confronted the CEO and Guy, and by lunchtime, her career there had ended.
Her team was devastated, but as professionals, they kept on working and trying to maintain the same high standards that Aida had instilled in them. As a conciliatory gesture, the CEO instructed the team leads to immediately alert Guy if they had any further issues or defective parts. He figured that if Guy was going to get the congratulations for sourcing lower-cost parts, he could also put up with some of the hassle until they found a manager to take Aida’s vacant position. Plus, safety really was a priority.
It didn’t take long before Guy was summoned to look at a hydraulic fluid leak in the tailplane of one of the Dash 8s in for a B service. Muttering to himself, Guy clambered up the stairs of the gantry and was feeling slightly woozy standing on the platform 25 feet above the concrete hangar floor. He had never been up one of these things and was a bit unnerved at how wobbly it felt. The top of the guard rails seemed so low and flimsy, and the ground looked so far away. Slightly agitated by being summoned like this in the first place, and put off by the experience of being on this swaying platform, Guy snapped at the technician who was explaining that fluid was leaking from the new pipes.
The technician was trying to explain that aircraft hydraulics ran at about 3,000-4,000 PSI and could be up to 70 degrees Celsius during operation, so they were very careful about making sure the couplings were fitted perfectly. Guy cut him short and essentially accused him of botching the job of the couplings. The technician argued that he’d checked the couplings and the slow drip was not showing up on the tissue paper he had wrapped around them to spot a leak. “It’s the new pipes,” he said adamantly. Guy insisted he show him, so the technician shrugged and descended to the floor to fire up a big blue hydraulic pump rig connected to the aircraft, cranking it up to test pressure. They yelled at each other over the din of the rig and the technician walked off to fetch his team lead to continue the argument with Guy. Frustrated, Guy ran his fingers under the coupling inside the open panel. When he found no oily residue or drips, he peered inside the cavity and tugged mercilessly on the hydraulic pipes. Feeling a warm slipperiness on his fingers, Guy got even closer, his mouth a grimace. With his eyebrows raised as he stretched his eyes wide in the dark recess, he scrutinized the nearest coupling and gave the pipe another yank.
The pinhole crack in the substandard pipe from his cost-saving source opened slightly wider under his insistent tugging and a thin jet of hot fluid at 5,000 PSI sliced straight through the cornea of his right eye. By the time Guy’s nervous system reacted to the intense pain being signaled from nerve bundles that were 300 times more sensitive than skin, about 0.5 ml of hydraulic fluid was injected into his eyeball. Shrieking in pain, blinded in the right eye from nerve damage and instant glaucoma, Guy retched and performed a spontaneous pantomime on the wobbling platform. He vomited, lurched, spun, and, slipping on the vomit, slid under the railing and off the platform.
Guy hit the concrete with a reverberating thud that could be heard above the cacophony of the hydraulic rig. He lay on his back, one leg folded beneath him, his right eye bulging from the retrobulbar hemorrhage that was pushing it forward in the socket. His blind eye seemingly staring at the substandard pipe way up above him, Guy gasped once and was gone.