Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2287154-Davids-Obsession
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Crime/Gangster · #2287154
A man who cannot let go of an issue when he thinks he is in the right. Will it cost him?
David's Obsession

by Damon Nomad

David reviewed his flow charts and the equations he had programmed into the spreadsheets. He sighed mumbling to himself, "Doesn't balance." He opened the thick book, Chemical Engineer's Handbook, double-checking to make sure he had used the correct formulas.

Debbie shouted from the kitchen. "I asked you to set the table twenty minutes ago."

"Okay coming." He couldn't find any mistakes. He got up from the desk in the den and headed to the kitchen.

Debbie brought a casserole dish to the table, "Macaroni Lasagna." She sat down. "You have been at the desk since we got back from church." She shook her head with a crooked grin, "Chasing something for weeks now. What is it this time?"

"Something from work doesn't make sense. Flow balance of the waste streams." He gave Debbie a quick summary of what he found.

She shrugged, "Okay, what's the point?"

"That water is filled with heavy metals, lead, nickel, and cadmium. If I'm right, those toxins are going into the river and everyone's wells and drinking water."

"You said the big bosses at the plant are chemical engineers, they would know better."

"I may not be an engineer but I'm not stupid." He huffed as he pushed his plate away. "I'll clean the dishes up later." He headed back to the desk.

Late that night David crept into the bedroom, slipped into his pajamas, and quietly got under the covers. Debbie was still awake, she spoke quietly. "You were one of the smartest kids in our high school class. I know college was your dream." She sighed, "You were dealt a difficult hand. That is life, our life." She paused for a few moments. "Half the school board was ready to kill you over your crusade about the lead pipes in the old elementary school. Persistence is a virtue, obsession is not. Don't get like that about this, please." She exhaled slowly. "Love you."

He whispered. "They admitted I was right about the pipes." He paused, "Sorry I snapped earlier, love you." He turned on his side thinking about the hand he had been dealt. His mother was struck with cancer only months before the start of his freshman year in engineering at a state college. His father had abandoned them years earlier. Instead of going away to school, he got a job at the rechargeable battery factory to support his mother. He married Debbie three years after graduation and his mother passed away four years after that. His chance for college gone. He bought second-hand textbooks that he studied for years. Debbie was right about getting obsessed, but he could not turn it off. He drifted off trying to figure out if he had made an error.


Monday at lunch, David saw the manager of logistics eating alone. One of the few people who had also been at the plant when it first started up. They had started work weeks apart nearly fifteen years ago. "Hey Fred, mind if I sit here?"

"Course not, how you doing?"

After some small talk, he steered the conversation toward the waste streams. "You remember when we first started here? Used to be weekly hazardous waste tankers. Every week for maybe the first five years, right?"

"Yeah sure, I processed the invoices. Paying them to haul away that waste was getting more expensive every year. That's why corporate brought in Spencer and Flanders to take over. Top-notch engineers and tough-minded managers. Their process cut it down to one tanker a month. Good thing, the company probably would have shut down the plant. Why?"

Fred had a scowl on his face as he stood up before David finished his explanation. "You're just a chemistry technician. Don't talk to me about this again, you must be wrong."


David was called into Mr. Spencer's office at the end of the day on Tuesday. The director of operations was a serious and intimidating man. "Have a seat, Mr. Duncan." David felt like he was being examined under a microscope as Spencer stared at him. "I hear you are spreading rumors about our waste streams. Diverting heavy metals to the river. Is that true?"

David shifted in his chair, "Well, no not rumors. I did some estimates of the heavy metal transport and the flow balance. I mentioned it to a co-worker, someone I have known for years."

"You have a high school education. The company hired you and trained you to be a chemistry technician. You're not an engineer or industrial chemist, how could you possibly estimate the transport of these different chemical species and reaction rates in resin and ion filter beds?"

David explained what he did during his breaks and when he got into work early, looking at the valve alignments, and recording flow rates from local gauges. He described the flow diagrams and computer spreadsheets he developed at home and the chemical engineering reference books he used.

Spencer's eyes narrowed as he clenched his jaws. "I have a masters degree in chemical engineering. I don't have time to explain the extensive errors in your methodology. Mr. Flanders has a doctorate in chemical engineering. The two of us developed this advanced treatment process. You think you understand this better than us? How could we so grossly underestimate the necessary flow rates and filter saturation times?" His eyes burned like cinders.

"No of course not, I'm not saying . . ."

Spencer cut him off raising his voice. "So, you think we would intentionally contaminate the river with heavy metals."

"Well, uh no. I didn't say that." David went quiet.

Spencer stood up. "Forget this idiotic theory and leave the engineering and chemistry to trained professionals." He pointed a finger at David. "If you want to keep your job, stop spreading rumors about our waste processing."


David spent every available moment the next few weeks, reviewing his formulas, data, and the calculations in his spreadsheets. He could not find an error or mistake and he could not let it go. He knew Debbie was getting more and more frustrated with him. He skipped church, he had not repaired the garage door and the yard was in a sad state. He found a note on the kitchen table after work on a Friday. Debbie had left to stay with her sister out of town. She wanted time away from him and did not want him to call. Saturday morning, David called a friend from high school, a reporter for the local newspaper.


Tuesday morning David was called into the plant manager's office, Mr. Flanders and Mr. Spencer were waiting for him at a conference room table. Flanders gestured to a seat across from them. "Mr. Duncan, this will not take long. Your position has been eliminated. You and a few others. You will get an official two weeks' notice today by email, there will be a generous severance payment."

Flanders continued in a calm tone, staring at David over the top of his glasses. "By the way, I had a call yesterday evening from the editor of the newspaper, I am on the board of directors. Some crazy story about our waste processing and heavy metals. I set him straight. He said he would shut down the reporter, sounded like an unreliable source." He gestured to Spencer. "Sounded like the same rumors Mr. Spencer discussed with you a few weeks back."

Flanders focused his glare on David. "I was handpicked to save this plant by the president of Goliath industries. Spencer and I devised this waste process to save this place and the four hundred jobs it provides. I'm a fellow of the society of chemical engineers and one of the most respected managers in this industry. My wife and I support several charities in town. I am a pillar of this community and a trusted and respected corporate leader. Do you know what you are?"

David sat quietly as his face flushed red.

Flanders stood up with a smirk. "You are nobody, absolutely nobody." He paused, "You will forfeit the severance payment if you disclose anything about plant operations to anyone. If you go to anyone else with your crackpot theory of this plant polluting the river with heavy metals, you will find yourself in court. Goliath industries will crush you like a bug." He waved to the door. "Get to work."


On Friday afternoon after his last day of work, David contacted the Environmental Protection Agency hotline. He told them he had data about environmental concerns caused by the plant. He made an appointment to meet experts at the regional headquarters the following Monday morning. He found a fire truck at his home after church the following Sunday. Firemen said the stove top was left on with a pan of cooking oil. The kitchen was a total loss and the fire spread to the den destroying his books, papers, and computer. David had eaten cereal that morning, he never turned on the stove. He didn't think anyone would believe him.

Before sunrise Monday he pulled out of the driveway for the long drive to the regional EPA HQ. He did not notice a dark sedan following him. Debbie got a call at her sister's house several hours later. David had been in a terrible car accident.


Nearly a week later David was asleep and heavily sedated, one day out of intensive care. Debbie was sitting next to his bed, reading the bible. She looked up to see a stranger come into the room. "I'm Ronald Spencer I worked with David at the plant. We heard the news of his accident."

"Ah yes . . . Mr. Spencer." She closed her Bible and reached into her purse. She held up a USB. "You know what this is?"

Spencer shrugged shaking his head.

"You familiar with the Book of Samuel?" She saw his look of confusion. "This is the stone my David will use to slay Goliath. They found it in his shoe in the emergency room. They also gave me his mobile phone. There were several text messages from the regional HQ of the EPA about a meeting he missed. I figured he must have copies of his data and spreadsheets on this for them. His backup if someone stole the one in his briefcase. He always has that case for work, I'm sure he had it. Police say it was not in the car."

Spencer glanced at his mobile phone, a text message from Flanders. EPA CID and FBI on site.

She saw the look of terror in his eyes, she glanced at the clock as she stood up. "I had a copy of this express mailed to the EPA. The regional director called me yesterday evening. They finished going through David's calculations, said his work was spot on. He told me the EPA criminal investigation division would be at the plant first thing this morning." She smirked, "Just got there, right? The EPA asked the FBI to dig into the fire at the house and David's supposed car accident. You wanted to get a look at him for yourself, hoping he might not make it. He will fully recover. The regional director gave me the name of a lawyer. The government will pay David's legal fees as a whistleblower. We can sue culpable managers personally and Goliath industries. But jail sounds . . ."

Spencer scurried from the room before she finished. David was muttering as she sat down. "Who was that? The USB?"

"That was nobody." She squeezed his hand. "The EPA has the USB. They say you were right. The regional director says you are a hero, I agree." She paused with tears in her eyes. "Why didn't you just stop? I think they tried to kill you."

David sighed with a frown. "They were poisoning us and our town." He smirked as he caressed her hand. "Maybe a little obsession is a virtue."

Word Count 1992
Prompt: David versus Goliath

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