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“Sandhogs,” Cold Case. The hands that built America…

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March 24, 1947.

We open underground, as men are carrying boxes marked “Dynamite.” Our soundtrack this time is “Sixteen Tons” courtesy of Big Bill Broonzy. Anyway, a man who talks like he has a carton-a-day habit coughs that the other shift dug five feet so this shift is going to dig six. Some blond guy tells someone he calls “Nate” that his helmet is right pretty but it would have been a lot cooler if Nate’s wife had purchased the flashlight option. Nate, a man with a West Indian accent, says that his wife wouldn’t let him go down without protection. Hey, I just recaps ’em like I sees ’em. Anyway, Blond makes a throwaway comment about Nate’s wife caring and some other dude immediately gets assed up, asking if “[his] sister” is treating Blond “that bad these days.” His reaction leads me to predict that underneath his workclothes, he’s wearing Tommy’s “I will be walked away by a detective in the final montage” t-shirt from last week. Blond gives a noncommital “These days?” and Nate changes the subject, back to his wife’s cooking and how she won’t give him “no quarter.” Is that what the kids are calling it fifty-nine years ago? The boss continues to hack up both of his lungs and Nate remarks that if traditional miner death doesn’t find the boss, whom we learn is Blond’s father-in-law, that his cough will. Blond says he ought to retire and let someone else deal with the stress of being foreman and Nate says the next foreman will be Blond, whom he calls “Donnie.” Even Nate’s wife Alice thinks so! Donnie says that he’d like to meet Alice but Nate says, “Not in this here world.” Donnie tries to protest that in the mine, “every Joe’s blood runs brown” like the dirt but Nate gently points out that Alice isn’t in the mine, she’s in 1947 United States. Boss’s hacking attracts concern from other crewmembers but the boss assures them that he’s fine, telling them to get back to work. All of this focus on the boss distracts the men from the runaway minecart speeding toward an oblivious Nate. Donnie spots it, though, and pushes Nate out of the way at the last minute. “Eight million ways to die,” Nate says but Donnie confidently asserts, “Not today.” We call that retirony.

I owe my soul to the company stoooooooore.

Cut to water dripping, light bulbs flickering and then…an explosion in the mine. After the smoke settles, we see a flashlight lying on the ground and we pan over to Donnie, lying there with his eyes open and a trickle of blood coming from his nose.

Present day. We open on railroad tracks as Scotty voiceovers, wondering how much longer Vera, who’s apparently still thanking the Lord for the night-time, will be wearing the same shirt. Vera asks if Valens would like to check Vera’s shorts, too. Aw, Vera get cranky with no sleep. Scotty ignores this witty repartee and exposits that transit workers found a body five stories down during a subway expansion. Vera cranks that he’s “not going down there” and Scotty asks if Vera hates tunnels. What Vera hates are “rats the size of badgers,” but Scotty assures him that even the rats hate it down that deep.

As the detectives reach the body, which obviously is now just a collection of bones, we see that Jeffries is again suited up in the Magical Exposition Fairy leotard. Man, that’s handy! Anyway, bulldozer broke through blahblahblah, found body blahblahblah. That’s not important. What is important is cause of death, which Stillman gets to wear the leotard for. And the winner is…blunt force head trauma! The body was found behind a tunnel that was sealed in 1948. Vera balks, saying that the guy needs a “paleontologist” and not the fine work of Detectives Enabler and Drowns His Sorrows. Scotty suggests that the body could be that of “one of those mole people,” to which Stillman replies that he wasn’t a mole, he “was a sandhog,” as he hands Scotty something. Vera asks for more exposition and Stillman obliges. Sandhogs were urban miners, ya see! Scotty reads the thingy Stillman gave him. “Compressed Air Worker, number 505. If found sick or unsconscious return to medical decompression lock at Bertleman Construction site.” Stillman tells us that sandhogs were required to carry those badges at all times, in case they got the bends. In case you’re wondering, miners get the bends from working in compressed air. Jeffries remarks that “they say that if it’s deeper than a grave, a sandhog dug it.” Scotty is reminded of more recent tragedies and mentions that when miners are trapped, their fellow miners will “move heaven and earth” to rescue them. Jeffries agrees, saying that miners try to recover the body at least. Stillman concludes that the body wasn’t left behind accidentally. “He got buried on purpose.”


Iiiiiiiiiiiick. Just to sum up, my notes for this scene read, “Get your doughnut-eatin’ face off my screen, Whatshisface. I hate you both.” Anyway, if you can’t tell already, it’s a Lilly and Fugitive Whatshisface scene. There are doughnuts and Whatshisface tells Lilly he loves her and she says, “I don’t know what to say to that.” Then thankfully, it’s over.

The House. Scotty found the OSHA record for Compressed Air Worker number 505 and thus, now knows that the dead man is John Donovan. “John ‘Boomer’ Donovan,” Stillman says and Scotty clamors for storytime as Lilly tells us that Donovan disappeared in 1948. Stillman informs us that Boomer became a hero after becoming head of Local 37 and taking on their management. After that, he “mysteriously disappeared.” Lilly sucks up to Stillman, complimenting on his sandhog knowledge, and Stillman says that thanks goes to his childhood neighborhood, where little boys grew up to be cops, firemen or sandhogs. Stillman didn’t like the thought of fire or being buried alive, so… Lilly asks how we know that Donovan wasn’t just crushed in an accident. I thought that we settled that back at the scene. Stillman settles it more by saying that Donovan disappeared on a Sunday, so he obviously wasn’t working. The Lt. says that the theory at the time was that Donovan’s disappearance was due to his labor dispute with management, but as Lilly points out, the theory couldn’t be proven without a body. Scotty mentions that Donovan’s only surviving relative is his brother-in-law, a former sandhog who was also head of the union at one point. Stillman says that if the inlaw, Robert MacAllister, isn’t at home, the detectives should check a bar called Mulrooney’s. Scotty asks if that’s a sandhog bar. “We got Jones Tavern, they got Mulrooney’s,” the Lt replies.

Mulrooney’s. Old pictures of sandhogs, including one of Donovan, hang on the wall. MacAllister, who we see is the same brother-in-law at the beginning, says that “they” keep Donovan’s photo with the top-shelf whiskey and that sandhogs still buy Donovan shots. MacAllister mentions that he introduced Donovan to his sister and Scotty remarks that MacAllister comes from a sandhoggin’ family. MacAllister agrees, saying that he is third-generation and he points out a photo of Hacky McCoughsalot, or Big Mac, on the wall. MacAllister lights a cigar and Scotty compliments on his albatro–er, lighter. It was a gift from Big Mac on MacAllister’s wedding day, says the old sandhog to the detective. Scotty asks about management having it out for Donovan and Smaller Mac says that Sam Bertleman–yes, Scotty, head of Bertleman Construction–did and “everyone knew it.” Mac says that the many injuries the miners were suffering didn’t matter to the big boss, that greedy so-and-so. When Donovan became foreman, he was the first guy with the stones to stand up to Bertleman. Vera finally speaks up and asks when Donovan started organizing. Mac says that after “Nate died in the hole, there was no stopping” Donovan.

And we flashback, floating on the stern voice of Son House singing about “John the Revelator.” We’re outside the hole and it’s obvious something has gone wrong, as firemen are swarming the area, carrying out miners. Big Mac is running toward the hole, calling out for Smaller Mac. Smaller Mac runs to his father, thinking he wants assurance of his son’s wellness, but Big Mac is mostly concerned with Donovan and practically shoves his son out of the way when he sees his son-in-law exiting the mine. A well-dressed man walks down the steps toward the exterior of the hole and when Donovan sees him, he calls him a son-of-a-bitch and lunges toward him. He screams at the man that there were no masks in the hole and that the man knew it. “We didn’t have a chance!” Donovan’s father-in-law urges him to “leave it be.” They’re distracted by a woman running up who’s calling out for Nate. So this is Alice. Donovan approaches her and asks if she’s indeed Alice. He tries to tell her that “it happened so fast” and that they could barely see through the smoke. She doesn’t care, asking if he “left him down there.” As the pair are talking, we see men dragging Nate’s body out. Alice finally sees them too and shouts “No!” Alice runs to her husband’s body and kneels by it, crying no. She tells him that he promised her. Donovan pulls her off Nate, hugs her and tries to tell her that he’s sorry. She pulls away and slaps Donovan, telling him that he was supposed to watch over her husband.

Back to present. Mac is saying that no one could blame Alice for her anger but it was “misdirected,” as in, it should have been directed at Bertleman who lit the fuse with his lack of regard for worker safety. Donovan started organizing and it was only a few months after that incident that he disappeared. Scotty asks if Mac thinks Bertleman had Donovan killed, to which Mac says that Donovan was about to lead a walkout. “You tell me,” he says.

Construction site. Miller and Lilly can’t talk to Bertleman but they can talk to the next best thing–his son Sam. He protests that the Donovan case has nothing to do with him and when the ladies say that it has to do with his “old man,” he gets prickly, telling them that his father “built this city,” but sadly not on rock and roll. When he dismisses the number of bodies that could be found underground, Lilly points out that the body in question is that of one of Bertleman’s workers and more specifically, a union leader. Sam says that the “last thing” Daddy Bertleman wanted to do was turn Donovan into a martyr and furthermore, blaming his father was easier to do than “looking at one of their own.” Lilly asks the obvious question–“You saying another sandhog did it?” Sam says the “band of brothers” union stuff was total hogwash and names Zaccardo, another sandhog, who’s “always causing trouble.”

Now is the time on Cold Case when we flashback and this time, it’s to Hank Williams’s “Move It On Over.” We open on wee Sam, who’s playing airplane within hearing distance of Donovan and Zaccardo. Donovan is still upset over Nathan’s death but Zaccardo doesn’t want to hear it, telling him that if he wants to “walk off the job over some dead spade,” he can go ahead. Donovan is offended and starts to get into it over that, but Zaccardo grabs Donnie’s shirt and tells him that he “crossed the line” by comforting Alice. Donovan tells him to shut his mouth and then gives him a delicious knuckle sandwich. Wee Sam looks on, as do other sandhogs. Zaccardo knocks him back and then goes to pick up a scaling bar, but the fight is broken up by Big Mac.

Back to present. Miller mentions that a scaling bar would be handy for busting a skull. Sam says that while Donovan was brave, Zaccardo was mean. Lilly asks him if he thinks Zaccardo killed Donovan and he replies that down in the hole, anything can happen. Oh and whatever happened to Zaccardo? Well, last time Sam heard tell, Zaccardo was in the joint for busting a skull in a barfight. Hmm.

The joint. Scotty is asking Zaccardo, who’s now totally old, about his conviction. Zaccardo says simply, “Guy had it coming.” Jeffries asks if John Donovan did too, and as soon as he mentions the name, Zaccardo grins. “He work for you?” he asks Scotty and we see that the old loon hasn’t changed a single one of his ignorant ways. Jeffries tries to mention that because of the loon’s age, he’ll get a deal with the DA but Zaccardo wants to talk only to Valens. “Or you can rot in prison for all I care,” Jeffries says on his way out the door. Once he’s gone Racist and Scotty continue their talk. Zaccardo says that he wasn’t going to strike but that didn’t mean that he’d killed Donovan. He maintains that it was the West Indians who killed him, because they blamed him for Nate’s death. Scotty asks him how he knew this and Zaccardo mentions a coffeeshop near the dig that gave refills that Zaccardo deigned to go to even though it was a nonwhite establishment. Refills are refills, man.

Flashback, to Louis Jordan’s “Buzz Me.” We are at the coffeeshop in question and Zaccardo is waiting for his thermos to be refilled when Donovan walks in for the same thing. Donovan sits at the counter to wait and a man near Zaccardo stares daggers at the foreman. The waitress, who happens to be Alice, asks Donovan if he wants cream or sugar and when he answers, “Just black,” she says, “Like this place used to be.” Oh snap. He passes her an envelope, a collection that some of the crew donated to. Presumably not Zaccardo, though. Alice doesn’t fall all over herself in gratitude so Donovan says that Nate was right–Alice does give no quarter. He tries to tell her that he misses Nate, too, but it’s not like she misses him. The dagger-staring man wants to know when Alice will get what she’s due. Donovan says that the union is trying to work out a settlement but the man doesn’t swallow this. He and Nate paid their union dues–and now I have “Cumberland Blues” stuck in my head–so the man doesn’t see what the problem is. He does suggest that it has something to do with skin color, though. The man, Bishop, suggests that “maybe a white man” will have to die before the union takes notice.

Present. Scotty asks Zaccardo if he thinks Bishop made good on the threat. The Sweetest Sandhog says to put it simply, he wasn’t the only sandhog with a record. Bishop was in the club, too.

The House. Miller and Lilly are interviewing Alice, who never did get her settlement. Her accent is so mellifluous. Anyway, she exposits that Bishop, who she sums up as “all bark and no bite,” is dead and they didn’t keep in touch. Lilly asks her about being upset with Donovan and she clarifies that she was upset at her situation, not at Donovan, who was trying to help her. Apparently, Donovan was visiting regularly. Lilly picks up what Alice is putting down and suggests that she liked talking to Donovan. Alice says that they mostly talked about Nate and that Donovan was the first person to make her laugh again after Nate’s death. She began to look forward to Donovan’s visits. Miller suggests that it sounds like the visits were frequent and Alice says that he “didn’t have much to go home to.” Lilly’s like, his wife? Apparently, after Mrs. Donovan couldn’t get pregnant, she “crawled up inside a bottle.” Anyway, he didn’t talk about it much and Alice didn’t ask. Miller starts going on about how back then, people stuck it out. Alice says that that didn’t really matter–“He was still married and white and I was neither.” She mentions one day where they ran out of things to talk about. Do you feel that weird sensation? We must be…

Flashing back, as Louis Armstrong croons “I Wonder.” Alice is in love with the blues because they make her feel less alone. Preach it, lady. Donovan says that it’s good to see her smile again and mentions that Nate used to say that her smile could light every tunnel in the city. She laughs it off but her hand, which is allegedly cleaning the countertop, is inching closer to his. He gently, very gently places his hand atop hers. She’s startled and says that she has to get home. They tell each other goodnight, although it’s so bright outside that you can barely make out their features, and he walks out. She’s cleaning a table when we hear the shop bell jingle again and of course, it’s him, wanting to know the name of the song playing. See first sentence of paragraph. She asks if he likes “it” and he says that he “like[s] everything about it” and they are totally not talking about the song. She walks over to where he is standing now, in front of the jukebox, and he puts his hands up in the universal “Would you like to dance?” gesture. She accepts and they dance. He tells her that she’s not alone and they kiss while Satchmo plays.

Present. Miller is saying, “White married man, black woman. That could get you into trouble today.” Alice says that she knew that their relationship couldn’t last and that it didn’t. Miller asks if anyone else knew about the relationship and both detectives are surprised to hear that Smaller Mac knew.

Exterior of the House. Lilly is walking out as we hear the rumble of a motorcycle and of course, it’s douchebag Ray. They have a bullshit chat about their nonexistent relationship and I don’t care. You don’t care. Does anyone care? She won’t take a ride with him. He wants to “talk” so she tells him to talk there. Not surprisingly, he’s only there to talk to her because he needs help with a favor. Seems he got into trouble with some stolen motorcycles. She apologizes and says, “Not this time.” She says she’ll see him around and then she walks off, like someone with a spine.

The House. Stillman and Scotty are talking to Smaller Mac. He admits being angry over Donovan cheating on his sister but he says that his brother-in-law was “out of control.” Stillman asks him what he means and he says that Donnie was going ahead with the walkout, “but he had no idea what he was walking into.”

Flashback. Donovan walks into the ‘hog locker room, where Smaller Mac and some other workers are. Donovan tells him that there’s been a change of plans, because he thinks Bertleman knows about the walkout. Smaller Mac isn’t thrilled, because he heard that Bertleman has hired goons. The goons are only good “cracking skulls,” but the scabs Bertleman is sure to hire will take money Smaller Mac needs. Donovan asks if he is backing out and Mac says that Bertleman knows everything. Donovan is confused and wonders how Bertleman can know. Mac’s silence speaks volumes. “Aw, no,” Donovan says. Mac felt like he didn’t have a choice, because Bertleman threatened his job and Big Mac’s as well. He apologizes to Donovan, but Donnie just walks out.

Back to present. Mac admits to shame over being a stooge and asks if they have any idea what it’s like wondering if he were the one he got Donovan killed.

Outside. Lilly is walking down the street and the Fugitive Whatshisface is running up behind her. She greets him happily and he asks her if she’d like to have lunch. She declines, saying that she already ate. She mentions the previous night, when he called while she was talking to Ray and she didn’t answer, but she doesn’t mention Ray. Whatshisface is cool with all of it. They make tentative plans for that night and he starts to leave but she pulls him back to tell him that she loves him too, looking terrified as she does. He tells her that she doesn’t have to say it back and she says that she wants to. Vera and Jeffries approach and it’s totally awkward. Lilly says that the gang had “better go” and the detectives split from Whatshisface.

Walking back into the House. Vera is wondering why he can’t meet a nice girl at a halfway house. Lilly tells him to stifle. He tries to continue but she changes the subject by asking about Bertleman. Jeffries says that the story Mac gave them was true–Bertleman was going to squash the strike and he totally was going to hire Pinkertons, who just love to bash skulls.

Interrogation room with Sam Bertleman. Vera is telling him that his father was a “real interesting guy.” Miller asks if his father ever told him about the Pinkertons. Sam is cocky, saying that he “heard about that.” He then says that his father didn’t need Pinkertons for Donovan, because he already had Donovan caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

Flashback to Bertleman’s office as young Sam plays inside. Donovan walks in. Bertleman tells him that he knows what Donovan is planning and that he should drop the strike idea, if he wants to avoid having his life become “a whole lot bumpier.” Donovan says that he’ll only end the planned strike if Bertleman sits down to hear the union’s demands. Bertleman says that he knows that Donovan isn’t for sale and isn’t afraid of being hurt. However, he says, “if another poor colored woman disappears on her way home from work,” Donovan would be the only one to miss her. Bertleman tells him to think about it. Donovan warns him to leave Alice alone but Bertleman just tells him to get back to work.

Present. Sam is saying that he learned from his father that it isn’t what you do, it’s what people think you’re capable of. Miller mentions that no harm ever came to Alice and Sam says that he heard she left town around the time Donovan disappeared.

Meeting with Jeffries, Lilly, and Stillman. Jeffries is saying that in fact, Alice left the day Donovan disappeared. They didn’t find any relatives in the town to which she went but they did find a hospital record from later that year. Alice was pregnant when she left town and Nate had been dead eleven months so he couldn’t have been the father.

Interrogation room with Alice. Lilly asks her about the pregnancy. Alice says that she should have known better. Lilly produces the birth certificate, which shows that Alice named the boy Donovan. Alice says that she wanted to remember Donovan telling her that she was never alone. Lilly asks about the night he disappeared.

Flashback. Donovan and Alice are at the diner and Louis Armstrong is on the jukebox, singing “That Lucky Old Sun.” Alice is telling a pacing Donovan to relax. He lights a cigarette with the lighter we saw Smaller Mac using at Mulrooney’s. Alice asks if it’s the one Big Mac gave him and Donovan affirms, saying it was a gift for when he made foreman. He says that being foreman means making tough choices. She tells him that she has “something special to tell” him but he’s too antsy to pay attention. She asks him what’s wrong and he tells her that they have to stop seeing each other. She protests and he tells her that she knew it would have to end eventually. She asks if he loves her and he says that he doesn’t. He tells her to go someplace she can start over and he’ll send her money, but she tells him to get out. He tells her that he’s sorry, to which she replies, “Not like I am.” He walks out. She unplugs the jukebox and watches him walk away.

Back to present, where Alice is saying that she never listened to the song again. Lilly asks if she ever told her son about him but Alice did not. Then Lilly asks about the lighter, confirming that Big Mac gave it to Donovan. She tells Alice that Donovan was trying to protect her and that he broke up with her so she would leave and be safe.

Mulrooney’s, where Mac is lighting his cigar with the telltale lighter. Stillman and Scotty approach and Stillman makes small talk about the lighter. The Lt. says that the lighters are built to last a long time but nothing lasts forever, “except the statute of limitations on murder.” Mac looks guilty. Stillman indicates that he knows the lighter was a gift to Donovan but Mac says that the lighter belongs to him. The Lt. says that the only way Mac could have it is if he saw Donovan the night he went missing. Mac says that he spent twenty years as a sandhog, only to be passed over for foreman by his own father. Big Mac treated Smaller Mac like “a mope with a muck stick,” while treating Donovan like a prince. Mac says, “Damned if I was going to sit back and watch him become the big hero.” Stillman says that with Donovan gone, Mac became the president of Local 37 and got to achieve what Donovan never got the chance to do. “I did what I had to do,” Mac says. Stillman says that Mac got rid of Donovan, to which Mac agrees. Mac says that the worst part, though, is that “they went and turned him into a damn saint.” He looks up at the picture of our saint Donovan on the wall.

Flashback. Mac and Donovan are in the tunnel, checking the scabs’ work. Donovan says that he’s glad that Mac is with him re: the planned strike and Mac says that he couldn’t live with himself if he let Donovan go it alone. They split up to inspect and Donovan finds a wired explosive. As he’s checking it, Mac asks if he has a light and Donovan gives him the lighter of infamy. Donovan turns his back again to check the wires. As he gets deeper into the cave, he calls for Mac, who is now backed up. “Always gotta be the hero,” Mac says and Donovan asks what he’s talking about. Mac doesn’t answer and Donovan asks what he’s doing. “Not this time,” Mac says and he turns the switch, igniting the dynamite. The wall caves in. As the smoke clears, Donovan is calling for Mac. Mac listens to Donovan fading away. Donovan’s last words are “Alice, you’re not alone. Alice…”

Present day. “I Wonder” plays again for our final montage. Scotty and Stillman take Mac into custody and walk him out. GhostNate watches as they leave and nods. Cut to the House, where Lilly is giving Alice a photo of Donovan. She shows it to the young man with her who is presumably her son. Cut to Jeffries, who is storing Donovan’s now-closed evidence box. Cut to Jones Tavern, where the detectives are all having a drink. Lilly gets a call from Whatshisface and doesn’t answer. Cut to the diner, where Alice walks in and goes immediately to the jukebox. We see a flashback of Alice and Donovan dancing. They dance us to the close.


About Salome G

Raised by werewolves.

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