Even by nine a.m., the heat’s settled in like a blanket, calories by the zillions, welling out from laboring bodies and machines under the desert sun, trapped under layers of atmosphere and cloud and smog. Damp handkerchief in one clenched fist, Dale Brenner mops brow and crown. He aims his lips at the reporter—Gina? Tina?—and bellows against a cacophony of straddle carriers and trucks, of containers crashing into place: This freight’s all dead tires. Once it makes port, it’s on its way to ’Nam. A sideloader grinds by. As G(T)ina checks her phone, its driver gives Dale the bird. It’s a great deal. We don’t want this shit in our landfills, but Asia can’t get enough of it. G(T)ina interrupts, asks how many he employs. Our op? Forty-two, full-time. See, tires are mostly oil, yeah? So they burn ’em for fuel. Power cement factories with them— Annual revenue? Oh. Look, I’d rather not disclose that. I’m sure you understand. But, see, it turns out tires have some great byproducts, too, once you’ve pyrolized them. Crumb rubber and shredded rubber as construction additives. Carbon black— G(T)ina glances at her phone, again, and blood pressure swells as Dale squeezes his handkerchief behind his back. Hot date? Gonna write any of this down? She frowns up at him from behind wisps of gusted hair. A scribble goes into the notebook. Unclear whether it’s shorthand or doodle. Sweat builds on his face; in his pits; between folds of belly; in the crack of his ass. Far side of the yard, a truck engine roars to life. Dale leans forward, raising his voice to match, trying to smile at the same time, and looks as a result like he’s trying to eat her. It’s a win-win, see? Rare success story for recycling. Both entrepreneurs and environmentalists happy. Scribble. Gonna take pictures? With frown and furrow, she shakes her head. Dale pulls his collar away from his neck to unstick it, let it breathe. Back in his office, a sheaf of legal paperwork rustles under the AC; he envies the document its location, loathes its existence. Now, China’s cracked down on imported used tires, which, I won’t kid, cuts off a big market. But Asia’s bigger than the Middle Kingdom, and we’re making new deals every day in other parts of that world. Exciting, yeah? She performs an oh-look-at-the-time, tucks notebook away, extends a hand. Wait, is that it? So few questions. In particular, none about his recent EPA suit, which at first he took as a positive, a sign she’s not one of those reporters. But she hasn’t asked much else. It’s just, I thought this would be a nice story for your readers. And, he doesn’t say (because it’s understood, isn’t it?), also for his vendors and investors, show he’s back in the game, shit squared away, so they don’t fucking bolt. But G(T)ina gives him that puzzled look again. Dale feels words tripping out of his mouth faster than he can edit them, as his face looms closer to hers. I mean, is this going to be a nice profile? Not a hit piece? ’Cuz I thought maybe this would be forward-looking, optimistic. We got a bright future here. Now I’m worried you only called because you wanted to write shit about that settlement deal. Regina—he remembers her name now, out of nowhere—retrieves her notebook. Her hand is smooth, without callous; her face, without wrinkle. Only now it dawns on Dale, maybe he’s misread how much she prepped for this visit.
Settlement? she asks, and clicks her pen.