For LOST IN LOS ALAMOS Beta Readers Only - Please Do Not Share.
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Art Bell. Even Scott had heard of him.
Anyone who’s ever longed to be listened to and not ridiculed for their story of UFO’s, government conspiracies, Bigfoot, all things Paranormal, and of course, alien abductions, will have heard his name.
Recently Departed is how Lee Stubel referred to him, rather than deceased. Lee spoke to Scott with a special reverence of the fact that he got onto Art’s late night call-in show, Coast to Coast, at least two dozen times.
Something had traumatized the String Bean. He thoroughly believed the strange stories he alluded to while they worked together taking construction trash out of the house to the green bins out behind the carport. Lee was thrilled to have someone to listen to his theories on what he believed had happened to him, as well as so many others. And millions listened. Art Bell gave voice to Lee’s need to be connected when he felt so, alienated. Scott chuckled at the pun.
Scott latched onto that tag and used it when ever he thought of Lee and then expanded beyond the common use of the word. In fact, that was about the only way Scott could respond to this obsession of Lee’s, as he chose not to retain any of the particular details the String Bean had related, they were so fantastical.
The picture and mental image of Lee being spirited away onto an interstellar spaceship and subjected to experiments and humiliating examination seemed to Scott to be a hindrance, rather than a coming out, as Lee saw it. How could Lee move on if the basis for his... condition, was a cause that could not be rationally investigated or looked at by an objective party or professional?
It wasn’t that Lee was a bad guy or anything. He certainly was eccentric, though, Scott thought. He couldn’t see what Todd saw in him as a worker. Lee plodded through activity, and Scott had a definite sense that Lee’s mind was skirting the outer reaches of the atmosphere most of the time.
“Not enough oxygen,” Scott thought. He really wanted to ask Lee why he’d been let go by the Security detail at the Lab.
Lee was very cryptic when it came to the subject of his time at the Lab. He only made the one mention of it when he said that there were other forces at work in both his getting hired and then getting fired after fifteen years.
“They were threatened by me, Scott,” Lee said in his scratchy drawl. “They thought I would expose them.”
The two had taken a break for lunch at McDonald’s, which Lee did not like the idea of as he had particular “dietary concerns”which he didn't expound upon. He had ordered only French Fries and a chocolate milkshake. They sat in the Jeep to eat, the crowd inside too much for Lee. Scott didn’t get fries and regretted it, the smell making him go through his Angus burger too quickly.
“Expose them for what?” Scott asked after he’d gotten down half of his mouthful.
“Well, Scott,” Lee began, “You have to see the National Laboratory for what it really is.”
“And what’s that?” Scott belched and that brought him a bit of relief. The smell of fast food, cooking grease, and their sweat made Scott crank his window down.
“A front for the Pentagon’s research into weapons to be used on extraterrestrial life,” he said, as serious as a car crash. Then his head backed up and his googly eyes looked skeptical. “Don’t try to tell me that you didn’t know that?” He waited for Scott’s answer and reseated his skinny rear in the Jeep’s seat to get blood flowing again and turn toward Scott.
Scott was in the middle of sucking on the straw of his Diet Coke. He tried, but couldn’t keep from laughing and instead, it came back out his nose, onto the dash and the lower part of the windshield because he had put up his hand underneath his nose and it all deflected forward.
“Hey, Scott! Are you okay? Need me to do Heimlich?” Lee asked.
“No!” Scott said, breathing through his mouth. “I’m okay.” He began wiping soda off of his nose and hand with a napkin. “Don’t talk!” he said, trying to get control.
“I didn’t say anything that was funny,” Lee said, affronted. “I’ve got tons of documentation in the trunk of my car.”
Scott wiped tears in his eyes from both the soda through the nose and from laughing. He looked over at Lee, still trying to stop laughing. But Lee was just looking back at Scott with a dead serious face, his eyes enlarged by the thick lenses, the crease on the bridge of his nose red from his glasses slipping down so often. Somehow, Scott had a sense that Lee might either cry or launch at him across the Jeep. He couldn’t tell which, but he fell on the side of empathy and took in a breath and took in the odd man across from him.
Lee had unshaven stubble that was going white on his pale chin and face. Not like Scott’s dark, cultivated growth. Lee’s was the stubble of a man who could only look into the mirror once in a while, much less to do something to change or improve his appearance. He might look at his reflection and see images from his imagination or a manufactured remembrance of an alien experience or maybe even a trauma that was lodged deep in his soul and showed in gray eyes, red-rimmed from the effort of being forced to watch scenes that his mind projected deep behind them.
He wore a yellow-checked, insulated jacket that had dandruff speckling the black squares on his shoulders. The collar was frayed all along his neckline and the jacket could never be zipped up because the zipper head was missing. His loose, speckled and worn-thin Painter’s pants could never shrink enough to be tight on his spidery legs and he had one of them tucked up underneath the other on the seat, so long and lanky that Lee’s knee was almost in Scott’s seat. They were work clothes, but Scott suspected that was the way he dressed most of the time.
It was all only a momentary perception, but surprisingly, it telegraphed to Scott’s heart, filled it, and he saw Lee as a human being worthy of Scott’s compassion and kind consideration. He chose to postpone an inspection of his use of the word, ‘worthy’ in this moral context.
“No. It was snorting Coke that made me laugh,” Scott said. Because he, himself, could believe what he said, he allowed that lie. He told himself it served a good purpose. He lied well enough for Lee to buy it and Lee visibly relaxed, his arachnoid appendages slumping in submission.
“Okay. Yeah, that was pretty good.” Lee let out one laugh, then sucked at the bottom of his milkshake for something to do and wanting to believe it, also.
He was a single man, living in one of the two trailer parks in Los Alamos, as he had told Scott, and he had all the attributes of an older unmarried man living on the outside of the mainstream. Maybe way outside. To be taken seriously was a quest that really mattered to Lee.
“I’m not a whole helluva lot different,” Scott thought, the image of him in his modular home in Malibu, alone. Except when he had been with Sienna, but ever since then.
There was more to Lee’s story, Scott knew. Much more.
“Is there more to my story?” Scott wondered, getting set to leave the McDonalds parking lot, storing the mound of trash and wet napkins as Lee handed Scott his cup with the straw and French fry bag wadded up in it.
“Well,” as Lee habitually began, “Let’s get some more work done, whadaya think?” He smiled at Scott and buckled himself in, then checked the sky outside his window before he settled back in his seat, hunched over because he was close to the headliner.
“And thanks for the lunch, Scott. That was nice of you,” Lee said sincerely.
“Huh,” Scott thought. “Sure thing, Lee.”
The two worked in the house together through the day. Lee was a good one to give the drudgery work to as his mind was fully occupied while still completing the tasks. Sanding drywall joints, wearing a dust mask didn’t change his appearance one bit. It was as though the big, magnified alien eyes were all there was to him.
Lee stopped a lot to pull his mask down and throw random thoughts into the air about conspiracy theories and working with Todd and all the things that filled his thoughts. He seemed quite happy to have someone to share them with. Scott tuned them out, mostly. Every time he was about to counter Lee and educate him with what he knew, he thought better of it and eventually made it the standard for dealing with Lee’s nuttiness.
The house was. Moving forward, Scott wearily observed. There was still so much to do. He tried not to think about it very often, just put his head down and plowed forward, YAM. Yet Another Meme, as Scott coined the phrase. If he could get Todd to come by and begin building the kitchen island, it would look like even more like progress.
Just then, Scott was feeling the morning’s effort. The Mickey D’s gut bomb he had delivered at lunch had exploded into his digestive tract and it required his body’s attention. It sapped him of a good deal of consciousness. He found himself standing at the end of the kitchen counter mesmerized by that other guy over there.
In the back hallway, Lee stood, drywall trowel in his hand, staring at his work. Scott watched him touch it up, a swipe down here, a flick there. This was going to take too long, he thought. Lee looked up to see Scott staring at him and broke out into a big grin. It was accented by the dust mask down around his neck and those Mr. Magoo glasses. Scott chuckled.
“What?” the tall, skinny man asked.
“Nothing,” Scott said, smiling at the oddity of the guy. Then, what felt like a rare moment of magnanimity, he said, “Thank you for helping me out, Lee.”
“Oh, sure, Scott!” Lee’s grin lingered. He waved the trowel toward his work and with a head nod, turned back to it.
Scott’s vision contracted and suddenly, his view of himself and Lee became very weird, his view like he was hovering near the ceiling, watching. He wanted to get out of it. He wanted to turn around back to the tiling in the kitchen. It was not right.
“Jesus,” he thought, “am I being sucked up into a spaceship?” The idea of autosuggestion surfaced and he wondered if just by Lee talking about all that stuff it would have caused this out of body thing.
The daydream or vision or hallucination drifted into a scene of the whole house. It appeared as a brittle stick skeleton of perpendicular supports, all ninety-degrees with paper-thin walls at which the slightest touch of Scott’s fingers brought the section to shambles, creating yet another project to fix.
The List in Scott’s phone grew in his mind, repeated itself as Scott kept going back to the top of the list and went down again, unable to comprehend it the further down the list he went.
How long he stood there, he could not have recounted. What happened with Lee at the end of the day, he did not know.