Previously: Jason Ziegler and Brandin Bednar flee New Orleans, where Brandin worked as a diver on offshore oil rigs and Jason had a job laying carpet. To catch up on previous episodes, go to www.washingtonpost.com/adventures.

Episode 4

Brandin Bednar clips his safety harness to a crossbar on the steel scaffolding and climbs. This, he says, is the scariest part of his new job: dangling 20 feet in the air while swinging his hammer at a spindle that slowly raises the scaffolding, which will eventually support hundreds of tons of concrete for the ground floor of a new office building on New York Avenue NW.

"Up five," screams Jason Ziegler, who stands a few yards away, measuring the scaffolding's elevation. Over the deafening report of a jackhammer, Brandin cannot hear Jason's measurement. Jason jerks his thumb in the air and flashes five fingers.

Brandin smacks the rotating spindle with his hammer, once, twice. The scaffolding pushes up by fractions of an inch. Then, somehow, the hammer escapes and tumbles into a nearby crane shaft -- clank, clank -- and disappears.

Brandin looks over at Jason and then into the dark pit. He hopes no one was standing at the bottom.

Jason, 26, and Brandin, 20, had never worked in the concrete business before getting these jobs a few weeks ago with Miller & Long. Myles Gladstone, a vice president for the local construction giant, met the two men at the D.C. Armory, which was housing hundreds of Katrina evacuees. Eager to help, Gladstone quickly hired them as assistant engineers rather than laborers because, he says, their math skills seemed fairly sharp. "They're great kids," Gladstone adds. "And they're doing a really good job."

But two days ago, on a Monday, they didn't show up for work. They were waiting for furniture to be delivered to their apartment in Northeast Washington. It never came. And the next day, when they rolled into work, the on-site foreman erupted. "This isn't high school," Brandin says their supervisor yelled. The foreman didn't seem to care about their botched furniture delivery, says Jason, even though they'd already explained the situation to Gladstone, who says they're not in trouble: "It was an excused absence."

Now Brandin stands at the base of a huge crane, looking for his hammer. Beams of sunlight pour down the shaft, faintly illuminating the bottom. Four Latino co-workers walk past. "Have you seen a hammer around?" Brandin asks.

The men look confused, apparently not speaking much English. "Hammer?" Brandin repeats. One man shrugs and offers his own hammer to Brandin. "Naw, that's okay," Brandin says.

Near the end of the workday, Jason and Brandin are watching one of their supervisors secure a steel plate to a reinforcing bar. As rookies, they spend lots of time watching and learning. The foreman walks by. "Aren't you guys doing anything?" he snaps.

"We're helping him," Jason points to the rebar man. But the foreman has already moved on.

Soon they take off their hard hats and withdraw their time cards from slots near the office. "You see that?" Jason says to Brandin, pointing to writing on the bottom of their cards. It says, "Unexcused Monday."

-- Tyler Currie