For LOST IN LOS ALAMOS Beta Readers Only - Please Do Not Share.
Speak of the devil
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The left side of Scott’s brain kicked in as he walked through the other end of the house. After Scott started writing things down on the paper he’d brought in, he remembered that he owned a phone. He abandoned his pen and paper and pulled out his phone and in just a few minutes he already had over forty things on his list in the Notes app that needed attention and a growing list of supplies and items that needed to be purchased. This list caused him a good amount of consternation because it ultimately meant that Betty had to shell out more money that she didn’t have. Scott could front it with his credit cards, but with missing out on a couple weeks of freelance work meant he’d still have to hit Betty up at some point.
Even more than that, it meant more days before he’d get to go home.
There was one thing that he had a good supply of. He’d thought to bring them along in the black Junk Tub in the back of the Jeep. Scott had about thirty N95 masks leftover from the Wuhan Corona Virus pandemic. Like everyone else in the Los Angeles area, he had stocked up on them, expecting to use them into 2021. But then, all of a sudden, there was no need. On the phone, Todd had mentioned some drywall work and he knew they were in the tub already.
In the South bathroom, Scott was trying to figure out just what Todd had intended with the sink that was about a foot lower than a standard thirty-inch countertop. And actually, it was a double sink - one on each side facing each other - which made it too tight in the small bathroom. Was it for kids? It was the only thing Scott could figure.
As he walked out of the bathroom looking down at his phone, he was confronted by the familiar low and menacing growl of Big Dog. He froze. Big Dog stood in the hallway morning light, its huge square and powerful body blocking almost the entire width, blocking Scott’s passage as well, with its teeth bared and drooling.
Scott’s mind went into overdrive. The ground beef was buried out front in one of the deeper piles of snow. He could throw his phone at Big Dog and barricade himself in the bathroom if he was quick enough and did it right now before the dog’s attack mode kicked in. Just like the night before, it hopped forward with two staccato barks, deep and throaty and its eyes bugged out. Definitely not a friendly or cuddly sound.
Scott was just about to toss the phone up in the air high over the head of Big Dog and sprint into the bathroom when he felt the thundering vibration of footsteps that could have been those of a giant.
“Mikey!” a Latino voice boomed sharply.
Big Dog turned its head sideways toward the voice, then back at Scott, advancing on him aggressively. Then the hallway was blocked vertically as well as Todd Wilde appeared, calling to Big Dog with a face that would have scared a wolf.
“Mikey! Cool it!”
Big Dog, named Mikey it seems, looked back at Todd and then sat down, looking between Todd and Scott.
Todd broke out into a big grin when he looked from Mikey to Scott.
“Compadre! You must be Scott!” Todd said jovially. The Mexican accent was sweet and low, coming from out of his smile. “I thought I recognized you this morning.”
Scott, still concerned that the big dog might still want to eat him, gave Todd only a glance.
“Uh, y-yeah... Todd,” he stammered.
Todd stepped to Mikey and gave him a little kick in the rear. “Go to the truck, Ejo!” The dog took a longing last look at Scott, then turned and squeezed around Todd to trot out the front door. Through the hallway window, Scott saw Mikey jump up into the bed of a big Ford F-250 pickup that was more rust than steel at this point and with the bed of it piled too high with junk. Mikey perched atop the pile and stood guard over it, looking straight at Scott through the window.
“Come out to the kitchen. I got something for you,” Todd said.
Scott followed Todd, his Defcon indicator up to the color orange. In the kitchen, Todd was taking an eight-pack of beer out of a grocery sack along with some chips and salsa. He set them in the top drawer of the lower cabinets since there was no countertop.
“I got you a welcome gift, chollo!” he exclaimed, separating a can from the plastic rings of beer and handed it to Scott. “There you go, Dude!” He picked off a can for himself, popped the tab and chugged half of it.
“Drink!” he commanded, still smiling, nodding to the can in Scott’s hand. Scott pulled his phone out of his pocket to wake it up and see what time it was. It read 11:14 am.
“It’s just a little early for me...” Scott started.
“Hey, Amigo,” Todd smiled. “We’re celebrating. Let’s kick this thing off right. We don’t wanna go getting off on the wrong foot, right?”
Scott didn’t want to get off of any foot with this guy. He quickly weighed his options. He could refuse and piss Todd off, maybe make him leave so Scott didn’t have to worry about having him around, or he could drink the beer, try to counter it at lunch with a Coke and some food in his stomach and maybe get enough help from this Yahoo to finish the place. He pulled the ring.
“That’s what I’m sayin’, Chupa!” Todd extended his can to Scott as they were leaning against the cabinets where there should have been a counter. Scott bumped cans with him and saw that the black eye and scrapes were beginning to fade. He wanted to know how Todd got them, but he didn’t want to know even more.
“To a very enjoyable and productive three weeks!”, Todd proposed.
Scott’s eyebrows shot up as he sipped some beer. He almost spit it out, but managed to swallow before he asked, “Three weeks? You said ten days on the phone.” Scott stood there, non-plussed.
Todd laughed. “Bro! Chill. I’ll get crazy Stanley working on it with you. Probably be only ten days, maybe just a week. I saw you making that big list and thought maybe you had more in mind than just getting the place done.” Todd tilted his head when he said this and his expression morphed from good ol’ boy to that of someone who knew more than anyone else did and wasn’t telling. It was a foreshadowing of the multiple expressions of Todd’s composite personality Scott was to discover. Amorphous, and in a state of constant flux.
“I wanted to check with you about a bunch of these things...” Scott began to pull his phone out again to show Todd the list but Todd interrupted.
“Hey. Finish your beer and we’ll go get some stuff from the hardware store. Or just bring it.”
“Yeah, but I have a list of supplies...” Scott began again.
Todd was already headed toward the door. He crushed his empty beer can with one of his massive hands and dropped it into the floor register on his way out. Scott was going to say something, but he was still swallowing beer. Then Scott ran back and grabbed his coat from the living room where it was draped over a sawhorse and ran out after Todd, leaving the beer in the cabinet drawer.
Out at the truck, the sun was shining brilliantly, the cold edge of the morning was beginning to thaw in the sun. Just from jogging out the front door and to the truck, Scott was winded. The self-admonishment to drink lots of water had gone unheeded, Scott quickly realized. He headed for the passenger side, breathing heavily and trying not to show it, but Todd was on that side and caught him.
“Chollo! You drive,” he commanded, and flipped him the keys as he got into the truck.
Scott managed to catch the keys, avoiding that embarrassment, but was taken quite off guard as he went to the drivers side. The door opened with a massive squeal and effort and Scott climbed up onto the extensively cracked and duct-taped bench seat and settled in, only to find most of the floorboard on either side of the transmission hump was missing.
“You drive a stick, right?” Todd asked, rolling his window down. “And roll that window down more, amigo.”
Scott looked over at Todd, questioningly. “Yeah, I drive stick, but it’s what, maybe thirty-six degrees out?”
Todd looked at Scott and smiled, then with a school teacher’s patience, he said, “Yes, that’s true, but trust me. You will want the window wide open. Just start the engine - give it three pumps of gas first. Where’s you beer?”
Chagrined, Scott slipped the worn key into the worn ignition and pumped the gas pedal down three times. Then he turned the engine over. It cranked and cranked and then backfired, a loud report that was clear and reverberating in the cold air of the quiet street. Todd smiled condescendingly and tilted his head.
“Compadre. Is this the way to begin the day? Just give it one more pump, okay?” Todd said.
Scott pushed the pedal once more then turned the key. The old Ford fired up, rough at first, then smoothed out to only less rough. But the engine running rough wasn’t a problem. The lack of a floor board to rest his left foot on, was. Blue smoke began to billow up through the floor on both sides of the tranny.
“Dude!” Todd yelled above the roar of the hole-bypassed muffler. “Drive!”
Todd suddenly became Scott’s father sitting in the passenger seat and it freaked Scott. But he instinctively shoved the shifter into drive and gunned it.
“Gotta keep it moving to keep the exhaust out!” Todd yelled, laughing.
“Hey! Nice ride ya got here!” Scott said, sarcastically.
Todd laughed again. “It does the job it’s needed to do, man! No mas, no menos!”
Scott could see Mikey atop the mound in the back in the rear view mirror, all four legs defiantly braced against the wind and tongue flying backwards out of its mouth.
“The dog okay like that?!” Scott asked.
“Mikey?! He’s solid!” Todd replied, glancing backward. The Ford pulled out of the neighborhood and onto the highway. An empty beer can and a fast food wrapper took flight out of the pickup bed.
“We gonna get stopped for the muffler?!” Scott asked with no answer offered. A few minutes later Scott asked, “Todd! Why am I driving?!”
“Don’t have no license!”
Scott glanced in and across at Todd. “What do you mean, you don’t have a license?! You didn’t bring it with you?!”
“Man, do you worry about everything?!” Todd asked in return, a grin of challenge on his face and pausing, then, “It got suspended! That’s all!”
There was still a lot of exhaust coming into the cab and as they approached the turn into town, Scott signaled and stuck his head out of the window for fresh air. The was no response from the turn indicator, so he stuck his left arm out.
“Dude, go straight!” Todd said.
Scott looked over at Todd. “I thought we were going to the hardware store?!”
“Gotta make a detour! Go straight!”
Scott pulled his arm in and went straight instead of turning left into town, wondering where they were headed and whether he’d make it back from this trip. Then he thought, “Yeah, make it back from which trip - this one today or in general?”
After the intersection, the road started to climb and turn right, pine trees lining the sides of road now and Scott had to punch it just keep going up this slight incline.
The wind was cold on his face and Scott had put on a pair of cheap and scratched sunglasses Todd handed to him. Todd donned a pair of his own and settled back, popping another beer that he had conjured from thin air.
“You’re doing great, Dude!” he said staring ahead, a placid look on his face despite the exhaust, the noise, and the wind streaming in the windows.
Scott glanced over at Todd. In the bright light, Todd’s red hair, stubble, and freckles lit up to a bright pink. Todd had kind of a cute pug nose and since it was proportionate on his humongous face, did not appear large in profile. His lips were full and his ginger eyebrows were thick. The fat lines in his neck belied the massive muscles beneath. Todd’s light blue eyes and lighter orange-brown eyelashes in the sunlight through the open passenger window brightened his face even further.
Then Todd swung around to give Scott a knowing, Cheshire Cat grin. That grin would become both a trademark and a brand for the duration of Scott’s adventure. It would also be a distinct counterpoint as well as harbinger to Todd’s other natures.