For LOST IN LOS ALAMOS Beta Readers Only - Please Do Not Share.
With a Little Help
Quick Chapter Menu
“He is pretty damn good!” Scott thought, a ray of relief shining through his mind. Maybe a first.
It wasn’t until mid-afternoon, but Todd had finally shown up, no Mikey to threaten Scott. It was a good thing that the big man really couldn’t sneak into the house, because Scott was, well, indisposed, with the door wide open when the footsteps of a giant reverberated through the front porch flooring. Scott scrambled to push the south bathroom door shut.
“Scott!” Todd’s voice thundered. “Let’s get to work!”
“Out in a minute!” Scott yelled through the closed door, unprepared for this.
Todd immediately walked over to look at the plywood counter tops Scott had finished the night before.
“Not too bad, Gringo...” he whispered to himself.
Scott came down the hallway and into the kitchen. Todd turned to Scott with a questioning face.
Scott couldn’t quite grasp that this guy would ask such an overly familiar question. He screwed up his face.
“Did you have a good bowel movement, Dear?” Todd asked, his head swaying but his expression deadpan. Scott decided to play along.
“Yes I did, as a matter of fact. I’m very sorry I didn’t think to share it with you.”
“Well, mi hermano, there is no need to worry. We will have many more opportunities to share those intimacies. You will have to take the plywood off and do this countertop over again.”
“What?!” Scott asked, suddenly angry.
Todd ran his first two fingers from the wall to the front of the counter.
“This is not level.”
Scott couldn’t believe it. He had checked it with the level before screwing and gluing it down.
“It is level!”, he countered.
“I can see it,” Todd said, coming back at Scott. “And feel it.” He ran his fingers from front to wall this time. “You’re going to have water collecting at the back and soaking the grout seam.”
“That’s what you want if it’s going to be slightly off. I looked it up,” Scott said. “But it’s spot on level. I’ll show you!”
Scott went into the living room to the box of tools he’d collected near the saw and grabbed the level. Back in the kitchen, Todd watched Scott with a slight smile and raised orange eyebrows. Scott slid the level to various positions along the length of the countertop, looking up at Todd each time. It was level.
Todd broke out his hundred watt smile. “Just checking, Dude.” He chuckled.
They had worked fast. Scott was buoyed by their progress getting the backsplash tiling up along the wall behind the counter. They didn’t talk a lot as Todd really wanted to get through the work as fast as he could. Scott watched Todd closely. He was fascinated by this Spanish-accented behemoth.
Two things. As long as he was here, doing this kind of work, he wanted to learn these skills. Todd was not shy about sharing his expertise as long as it didn’t slow things down too much. Scott knew he would use these skills down the road - who knows, maybe if and when he had his own family home? That was a stretch, though. How could he see that as a future with the way his past had gone off the rails?
The second thing that Scott was keenly aware of was the physicality of Todd. The movement of his thick arms laying on the mastic with a toothed trowel were both powerful and graceful. His big hands held the tool with skill even though the fingers were like thick sausages wrapped around the handle, his forefinger stretched out up along the broad of the blade.
He made short and breathy grunting sounds, as if he had a small obstruction in his throat and it was involuntarily constricting to then expel the object. It was almost inaudible.
Todd didn’t look to Scott, even while he was instructing him. But Scott kept his eye on the man. Todd was obviously working hard and sweat beaded on his forehead, his temples, and up through his hairline. Scott thought that with his size and power, it must have been demanding and even difficult to constrain his motions to a small space. Todd would be much more suited to swinging an axe through the air over his head to come driving down to split a sturdy log in half.
He had an odor. Scott racked his brain to come up with how he could characterize it. It was a mixture. There was the smell of the sweat, not overpowering, not offensive - yet. Alcohol, or more specifically, beer, was definitely an ingredient. But there was something else. It was like some sort of solvent, like he had picked up the smell of a mechanic’s shop. Maybe it was the electrical solder that was used to repair wiring. Scott had done his share of it repairing the musical instruments and amplifiers he had owned. Or it was the flux that was used to clean a soldered connection and facilitate the flow of the solder to the pieces being connected. When the red hot soldering iron hit the waxy flux spread on the wires, it smoked and clotted the nostrils. It stayed with you, on your clothes and hair and skin. This smell was on Todd.
“You know how to glue the Formica on?” Todd asked, when they had finished grouting the tiles. Scott wished that was all there was to installing the tiling, but added to that was the moulding to cut, apply, and finish around the tiles at the window and ends of the counter. Then the grout had to be sealed and silicone caulking run down the seams after the Formica had been laid.
“Uh, yeah,” Scott said, hesitantly.
“Well, is that a Yes?” Todd pointedly asked, eyebrows raised. Scott could not admit that this was an area he had no experience in.
“Yeah, I can manage.”
“Okay,” Todd said, skeptical. “Let me show you where it is.”
Out back of the house, in the dog crap-scattered slushy snow, the grass was more like a poor field of scrappy winter wheat, the golden shafts poking through the snow in tufts around the yard.
Scott had the keys that Betty had given him in his hands, ready to unlock the small shed in the back. He’d completely forgotten about it since arriving. But Todd stepped up to the door and just opened the lock hasp and swung the door open.
“Todd...” Scott started, confused.
“Yeah, I stowed the Formica in here,” Todd said, peering into the dark space.
“Where’s the lock? Betty gave me the key for it.”
Todd continued into the shed, moving items around, looking. “No, Dude, that lock rusted shut a long time ago. I had to take a crowbar to it.”
Scott was dumbstruck. “Was there nothing this guy has not fucked up?” he thought. He didn’t know how to respond. Should he let loose the anger he was feeling? He took a breath in and let it slip from his lips in a long release.
“What?” Todd asked, sticking his head out into the light. “What the fuck is up with you, Dude?”
“Nothing,” Scott lied, reeling his rage back in. “Where’s the Formica?”
“I don’t see it...” Todd said, turned back into the shed, looking for what Scott could feel Todd knew was not there.
Scott shoved part way into the shed, crowding Todd’s bulk inside. It was a deliberate move. He couldn’t point any one thing out, but his impression of what should have been in the shed was not matching what he saw.
“Where’s all the supplies? Where’s the Formica, Todd?!”
“Let me out,” Todd said, not liking the feeling of confinement and the challenge coming from Scott.
Scott moved aside and took another look around inside the shed, seeing that there were only odds and ends of remodeling supplies, but mostly the leftovers like empty paint cans, broken tools, and moldy clothes. Scott turned to Todd who was walking back to the house.
“Where’s the Formica?!” he called after Todd. “Where’s all the supplies that are supposed to be in there?!”
Todd, for a huge man, managed a pirouette, spinning around while still moving toward the back stairs.
“Looks like somebody broke in and took it.”
“You’re shitting me!” Scott said, walking fast to catch up with Todd, who had completed his turn around and had continued up the stairs. Up on the outside stair landing, Todd stopped, his hands placed around the railing, and leaned over it a bit. The railing creaked with his weight and swung out slightly.
“We’re gonna have to go to Home Depot tomorrow to get more,” Todd said, looking down at Scott with a seriousness that gave no room for argument.
Scott just stared up at Todd, working through this breach in normal rationality, his mind racing, chewing through the competing thoughts and emotions, ending at the only calculation that worked. Betty’s supplies. They were essential to this whole thing working out. And they were gone.
“Oh, watch out for any leaks if it gets warmer,” Todd said, out of nowhere. He raised his chin and face to just above his head where Scott noticed the roof in the back of the house had a half foot of solid ice covered in a few more inches of frozen snow.
“So we go tomorrow. Si, Gringo?”
“Roof leaks?!” Scott asked.
“Yeah, maybe. Just keep an eye on it.”
Todd just waited for Scott’s assumed acknowledgement of the trip the next day, cocking his head to the side, still challenging. Scott swallowed his anger and his questions about the roof situation. He’d figure this out. He knew he could negotiate around the felled tree trunk that was across this road. He drove a Jeep, for shit’s sake.
He laughed in his mind and just said, “Let’s go early, okay?”
Todd smiled and said, “You drive your Jeep, okay?”
“Sure,” Scott replied and chuckled, thinking, “I’m gonna drive that Jeep right up that big ass of yours and you won’t even know, it’s so big.”