For LOST IN LOS ALAMOS Beta Readers Only - Please Do Not Share.
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The second night in the house went just a bit better. The Pyre was no better to sleep on, but Scott learned to manage the heater so that he didn’t go from hot lava to Icee, the sweat soaking the flannel in the sleeping bag quickly chilling Scott’s exposed body parts.
They had worked a little longer, Todd instructing Scott on how they would finish out around the kitchen windows and showing him how to prep for the Formica.
It was an opportunity for Scott to pull The List up on his phone. This time, Todd only rolled his eyes. Before he read the list to Todd, Scott wondered if Todd was cooperating because of the Formica and missing supplies deal.
“Dude,” Todd said, wide-eyed concern apparent. “You’re going to bankrupt Betty with all that shit! We don’t need half of that. I can come up with a lot of it, just give me a few days.” His fat lips flapped with the accent a bit. Scott felt like he wanted to shove a pacifier into Todd’s mouth.
“Well, let’s get the Formica then, and the moulding and these other things that I need to keep moving,” Scott offered.
By the end of the night, Scott had accomplished even more. The big thing, the thing he really didn’t want to do, was clean the refrigerator. He’d put some things in from Price Cut like creamer and milk and water and Diet Coke, but he cringed every time he had to open the door to get something out or put it back.
He used a lot of hot water and two rolls of paper towels on it before he had hope of it being clean enough to hold food. There was untold crap in it. Scott imagined the Wilde family having a food fight inside the refrigerator, and the years-later result was what he was cleaning up. It was grotesque and disgusting and Scott could barely deal with it. It took him past midnight.
So the ritual was established. He’d come to The Pyre after washing his hands and face in the kitchen sink, since there still was no water to what Scott had determined was the young boys’ twin sinks. He wasn’t going to wait for Todd to find the plumbing parts for the job. He would just buy it in Albuquerque the next day.
After toggling the switch to make the little heater begin glowing orange, he stood there in the little room, contemplating The Pyre. The way it was built up. If he piled firewood all around it, he could just lie down, strike a match, and send his soul or whatever off to who knows where. There was no high waterfall to go over, a flaming ball of flesh contradicting the elements about to swallow him. Could his body become consumed by the fire by the time he hit the bottom? Scott wondered if Niagara’s Falls was high enough to allow time for that. “I’d have to score some major drugs for it, first,” he thought. But he’d been out of that scene for quite a while and was definitely not up to doing a Jeanne d’Arc without being majorly anesthetized.
He was learning how to sit himself onto The Pyre without it all careening over sideways or him and the sleeping bag sliding off the slippery carpet onto the floor. But he got his rear set down after he’d taken his coat off, thrown into the corner on the rest of his gear.
The boots would always be first and then his stinky socks. When he’d gotten down to his skivvies, he reached to take a big drink of water from the bottle at the side of The Pyre. Scott noticed that he hadn’t thought of what was under his sleeping bag and the scuzzy carpet this time. “Man, we adapt to crappy circumstances quickly,” he thought. “Too quickly. That’s scary.”
As Scott tried to get comfortable in the dark, the now-comforting light of the heater glowed for a shorter period before shutting off, then coming on again a few minutes later. He wondered how long it would take for him to get used to the routine sound of it. He wondered about many things. He didn’t wonder about Sienna. He might even be over her, he thought.
He wished he was going by himself tomorrow. Scott picked up his phone and looked up the distance to Albuquerque. Two hours. Then he looked up the address of the Home Depot there and was surprised to see there was a Home Depot in Santa Fe. It was only one hour to Santa Fe. Why were they going to drive two hours plus to go to Albuquerque?
When he had finally laid back and over to go to sleep, Scott felt he would be able to sleep well, given that things had gone a bit better. Instead, he fell asleep gnawing on the bone of all the things that were bothering Scott about this whole project.
The early start Scott wanted to get got sidelined by Todd’s need for a Thai breakfast burrito from CookieSheet’s. At least Scott was able get some good coffee and he ordered two burritos for them to go in the Jeep. CookieSheet threw in some hash brown circles for them both no charge as she leaned over the counter and whispered to Scott when he held out his credit card.
“You need lots strength to drove with that guy,” she said with a quick glance to Todd who was talking up another gray-bearded patron in red flannel at a table. The guy had kept his raccoon hat on despite the warmth of the cafe.
Scott looked that way too. Todd was speaking conspiratorially to the guy, his coffee hand waving around and Todd’s big rear almost knocking over the woman at the table behind him.
“He no probem for me. But you? You too skinny and nice. Crayfu.”
“Careful. No problem,” Scott said, confident.
“Don’t to let him take you to cardera,” she said, serious.
“Cardera?” Scott asked, confused.
“Cardera, in mountains,” she said emphatically, tilting her head toward the west. She made an angry face. “Weeches!”
“Huh?” Scott asked. Then caught up. “Witches? Where in the mountains?”
“Scott!” Todd called from the door. “Quit hitting on CookieSheet! She’s spoken for.” That got a few chuckles from the morning crowd. Scott had checked her hand for a ring the first morning there. She didn’t wear one.
Scott thanked the proprietor, grabbed the bag ‘o burritos and his coffee and made his way out the door.
Those Thai burritos were beyond description. Sure, Scott could get stuffed with a huge Chipotle burrito back in LA, but nothing could compare to the taste of CookieSheet’s. Neither of the two spoke until the food was consumed. Todd had easily reached over and held the wheel for Scott as he got started on his, preparing it to not spill all over his lap.
When the wrappers were stuffed into the bag and stowed behind the seat, they settled into their seats as they reached the turnoff to state highway 84 toward Santa Fe. Todd belched. Scott returned the favor. They both sipped their coffees.
The issue of their going all the way to Albuquerque instead of Santa Fe had come up when Scott picked Todd up that morning, bringing it up right away.
“I need to stay away from SantaFe,” Todd said flatly. “Besides, the Home Depot in ABQ is way bigger than the one in SF.” And that’s all he said, turning to give Scott a look that it was not up for discussion. Of course, Scott wanted to get into that little bit of information Todd led with. But he figured it was going to be a long two hours together and stowed it away to pursue later.
“He needs to stay away?” he wondered. “What the hell had he done there?’
Scott learned a bit of of Todd’s story after they’d been silent for a while. It was the G-rated version, he could tell. This and that, met his wife, had kids, learned his trade, blah blah blah. Scott pretended the interested listener. He’d learned about Active Listening and while it was rare for him to remember to use it, he had pulled it out for this road time.
When it came to his remodeling and construction business, Todd tended to speak of himself very highly, and Betty became merely an adoring customer of his.
“She let me direct the whole thing,” he said of Betty’s remodel. Todd had to move the bulk of his body to bring his Cricket phone up from his pants pocket. His fat fingers struggled to fit onto its large keypad as he wound his way through the icons to his photo gallery, tapping too fast for accuracy.
“Whoap! Not that album,” he exclaimed with a laugh as a nude image flashed through the gallery. “This is it.”
Scott deleted the memory of the other image as he switched between the road and the photos Todd was trying to show him. They were interior photos of the remodeling job Todd had done on Betty’s house she had lived in. From what Scott could tell, the place was stunning and included ‘before’ shots as well.
“And this was with a tiny budget,” Todd said proudly. Scott looked on through a few more photos and then queried Todd.
“So, you designed some of that?”
“Yeah, Dude. I did most of it.”
“Wow,” Scott played along. “You did an amazing job.” Todd leaned back in the seat, a smug smile stretched his mouth. Scott knew the truth of it.
A minute of broken white lines under the Jeep later, Todd spoke again, more serious.
“That’s why you gotta get this job done fast. And don’t do nothing that it doesn’t need or buy a lot of shit. Or you’re gonna cost Betty more money. That is what I’m worried about, Gringo.”
Scott pulled his upper lip in with his lower teeth to keep from angrily calling Todd on his delusion. He knew Todd’s drain on Betty and her finances was the reason for her troubles. He only responded to what he could.
“I want to get back home as soon as I can anyway.”
Todd did not make small talk. Scott could not even guess at what was going through his brain at any given moment and he usually could read people pretty well when he wasn’t in his head about himself. It must’ve been just too thick. He chuckled and Todd looked sideways at him.
They finally arrived at Albuquerque and the Home Depot. Scott had taken in as much as he could of the sights and sections of ABQ, as Todd called it, that they had driven through on the way. It was a thriving business, as usual and the parking lot was busy with all manner of pickups and beater cars and trade vans.
Scott was surprised to see an absence of illegal and itinerant day labor sitting and standing along the curbs into Home Depot. In Los Angeles, that would be the standard scene. He wondered if Todd had any women in this place that he was going to try and hook him up with.
They split up again once they were inside the voluminous structure, just like at the hardware store in Los Alamos.
“Text me when you’re ready to meet up front,” Scott said. Todd just kind of grunted and nodded his head once, turning away.
Sometimes you enter a place like Home Depot, or Costco, or even a Whole Foods or Gelsons, an upscale grocery chain where Scott could only buy the red-tagged sale items, and you just want to aisle-walk to see what exists in those worlds. Scott wished he could have time to do that, but wanted to get back to work as soon as he could. While the place and the town and the state and the region held a lot of interest of the unknown for him, he just wanted to get Betty’s house finished. Maybe his recent past back in LA would have dimmed and receded enough by then.
But, Plumbing Supplies. The assortment of fittings and types and materials available for one job, such as running water from the floor to the faucet, are mind-boggling. Scott didn’t know enough to make a decision. He knew that increasing his options for what might work once he was under the sink also increased the cost, or at the minimum, another trip to return items. Then it hit him - he would probably be making many runs for supplies. He wondered if he should be buying as many supplies as he could at the hardware store back in town.
“I got the Formica up front,” Todd said, coming down the aisle, almost filling it with his bulk. When he stopped in front of Scott and saw his bucket was empty, he was taken aback.
“Dude, come on! It’s not nuclear fusion,” Todd said, his eyebrows raised high and eyes wide, looking from the bucket to Scott and then to the parts shelving. Scott felt a bit lost.
“Can’t decide on plastic or copper,” he said, a bit too timidly. Todd sensed his uncertainty and pounced on it. Todd stared at Scott.
“I told you you weren’t cut out for this, Gringo. Come on, we gotta get this done and get back.” Todd squared off in front of Scott, boring in.
“Have you done a lot of sweat-soldering? ‘Cause if you haven’t, do not try now. Just get the plastic. The rest of the house is in PVC anyway.” Scott broke from his brain freeze at this challenge.
“Okay, I got it!” he shot back. He set the bucket down so he could look at his phone list and grab parts.
Todd shook his head and turned to go off. He left Scott with “Meet you at checkout in ten.”
Scott replied to him in his mind, “Ten minutes? I got a lot of stuff to get,” as he watched Todd stride back down the aisle and around the corner.
When Scott made it to the self-checkout registers a half hour later, his orange bucket filled and his other arm full of odds and ends, Todd was in line down the row at a human checkout with items of his own. They looked at each other across the lines, both of them taller than most of the other mostly Hispanic customers. Todd’s face became red and his eyebrows collided together. Scott just shrugged, indifferent to Todd’s reaction, and turned to wait in line.
As he made it to the register, Todd was at his side, leaning down close to the side of Scott’s face.
“What the fuck are you doing?!” he hissed, trying not to get loud. Scott just began scanning his items.
“You’re going to bankrupt Betty! I told you...”
“It’s on my credit card. Chill, Todd,” Scott said without looking at Todd. The big man straightened up and looked around. He switched gears and became agreeable.
“Well, as long as you’re not going to put it on her, here’s some other stuff we need.”
Scott continued to run the sandpaper, sponge blocks, silicone caulk, PVC cement, and then the plumbing parts over the scanner, the loud beep sounding with each swipe. He looked at Todd and the “supplies” he held in his arms. He was holding belt sander belts, new cabinet hinges, polyurethane varnish, and grasped by only his index finger and thumb, a big, steel shafted framing hammer. Scott glanced back at the line behind him and kept scanning the smallest pieces.
“What’s the framing hammer for?”
Todd looked down at the hammer and then back at Scott, surprised that Scott knew that particular hammer. He said, “I have to frame the island.”
“We already have hammers.”
“They’re about to fall apart. We need this one, Dude,” Todd pleaded. Scott finished his scanning and stepped aside for Todd to put his load down. When Todd did, Scott looked around, concerned.
“Where’s the Formica?”
Todd nodded in the direction of the exit. “It’s at the door. Just have to scan this ticket.” He held up a white piece of paper before running the barcode on it past the scanner. Scott noticed the sun-darkened men behind them in the line had faces of growing impatience with the two of them, but they refrained from saying anything.
“Stick your card in,” Todd said.
“Pull down your pants, Dude,” Scott said, a smile on his face.
The few men in line who understood this in English laughed. Todd thought to be angry, but then lightened up.
“Step right up, darling,” Todd crooned, and stepped aside. Scott eyed the total on the screen and his jaw dropped.
“Holy Shit, Todd!” Scott exclaimed, turning to Todd. “Three-hundred, thirty-six dollars?!”
Todd, unruffled, just shrugged and said, “Construction is not cheap.” He turned to the other men in line. “Es Verdad, hombres?”
He received a chorus of “Si, Si, Si’s!” and an, “Es Verdad!”
Scott knew better than to continue, and just said, “Fine. Help me bag this up, will you?”
“Si, mamacita,” Todd said to another bout of chuckles behind them. Scott knew the term but ignored it, hurrying to get out of there with his shirt still on.