For LOST IN LOS ALAMOS Beta Readers Only - Please Do Not Share.
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That night he was beat. He had chiseled out all five tiles, scraping up all the old Thinset mortar, then applying ample fresh Thinset and laying down the new tiles, doing his best to match the patterns and then mixing and applying the grout to the seams. There were a few other small things he accomplished from The List.
He followed the nighttime ritual. But that night he felt like someone had put the tile mortar in his socks and shoes. Getting the boots off was work as was pulling his sweaty t-shirt over his head. The heater was buzzing, he had water nearby and it was all he could do to flip the top side of the sleeping bag away so he could slide in.
Underestimating what he had left in him, he cracked the sleeping bag like a sheet and his black phone that had blended in with the dark blue of the cover went flying off the end of the bed. He heard it hit the floor or whatever was down there.
He crawled on hands and knees to the end of The Pyre to peer over. The phone was face down on the white FedEx box.
“Shit,” he said aloud. Scott reached down and grabbed hold of the box to bring up along with his phone and The Pyre swayed precariously, then dumped him and the box and phone off the side at the end and he fell over on the floor with an elbow right into the middle of the box.
He got mad and cussed more and slammed his left fist onto The Pyre like a sledgehammer and grunted. Not only had he forgotten the goodies so lovingly packed and sent to him, but now he’d smashed it all to mush.
He almost cried. Just coming close to it pissed him off even more. “Stop it, ya wimp!” he said.
But the box was only slightly dented. That was curious. He moved to sit cross-legged on the dirty and cold linoleum and pulled the box onto his lap, prepared for the carnage inside. He ripped the zip pull and opened the end.
This was supposed to be a Christmas present so he replaced his anger with that kind of expectant Christmas morning attitude before reaching into the box, leaving it on its side. His hand felt something solid inside, beyond what felt like newsprint paper. He was confused. He grasped the thing that felt like it was wrapped in plastic.
“Ah! A container within a container. So smart!” he thought.
He slid the heavy object out and immediately realized it was not a box of baked goods, intact or smashed. Not a heavy fruitcake. No box of chocolate covered cherries.
He could tell from the gold leaf along the sides and the gold embossed words on the black front through the bubble wrap that it was a bible.
“A holy fucking bible,” he thought. And just like a kid at Christmas getting underwear, he was disappointed. Majorly.
Sleep finally came. Then the morning came with its routine. The cold shower and enormous coffee mug and rushing to get dried off, hopping around out of the shower on the cold tiles. That was all the same.
Scott changed up his breakfast, though. He had to get a handle on his carbs and sugars. He felt Sonically heavier. So it was back to two slices of Swiss cheese with Miracle Whip and some turkey slices for a couple of bread-less sandwiches. Quick, easy, and it did the trick. Not having the goodies he had looked forward to helped and there was still the problem of leftover fruitcake and cherries. The sting of getting the Bible instead was still there, even though Scott had shoved that to the back, figuratively and literally.
He worked on cleaning up from the day before until the late morning when Todd actually did come back. While he appreciated the work that Todd helped with in cutting moulding for around the kitchen and hallway ceiling, Scott wasn’t quite prepared for the Todd-sized wrench the guy was about to throw into the works.
Todd’s flashlight showed cobwebs and leftover two-by-fours and pvc piping along the underside of the house. The ground was dry dirt and hard-packed and dust poofed up as their arms and legs crawled inside through the tin opening in the back yard.
“The bank said Betty had to have footings under this place to be able to give a clear title in any sale,” Todd huffed out in the shallow space. Scott thought that he would have to call Betty to verify this.
The height of the crawl space was as much as thirty-six inches at one end and down to an even more claustrophobic two feet at the other. The white tin skirting all around the house allowed almost no light and no light meant no air flow.
Since Todd took up most of the space lying on his stomach, he couldn’t move around much. Scott didn’t bother to ask him why he hadn’t done the work. After the day before’s argument, he didn’t want things to heat up there in the dark. That could go badly. Neither one of them had spoken of it. Scott was happy to just let it go.
“So, I have to dig footings under here?!” Scott asked, afraid to hear the answer.
“Si. Well, you or Lee, or I would think both of you. There, and there, and there...” Todd moved the flashlight around to the corners and middle of the crawl space.
“How many do we have to dig?”
“I would say, twelve to fifteen of them should be enough for the bank.”
“What?!” Scott asked. In his mind, he decided only twelve.
“Yeah. Should only take you a day or so. I’ll get a baby jackhammer for you. Digging will go fast. I’ll show you where to put them. Crawl further in and I’ll light up the places.” Todd reached down along to a side pants pocket and brought something out.
“Here, mark above on the joists with this.” He handed Scott the piece of yellow chalk.
“Well, yeah, I could help with that. Let me think about it,” Lee’s voice came through the speakerphone. “I’ll be back on Friday. Can I let you know then?”
“Great. Not going to have Lee to help,” Scott thought. “Sure,” he said.
The specter and enormity of the Black Holes job made Scott feel like he had shrunken in size and strength. He felt puny in mind and body. No wonder Todd had left that until now. No way could the giant fit and be able to maneuver down there. It was worse than doing drywall. Way worse.
When the two had backed out of the crawl space, Todd suggested they go to the lumber yard and get the concrete mix and footing brackets.
Scott’s first time at the small town lumber yard was exactly as he’d expected. It was no Home Depot. But better in many ways. He could wander around the place just like in Home Depot but would find different stuff, a more eclectic collection of things people didn’t know they needed.
Scott frequented the Busy Bee hardware store back in Santa Monica because they still had the wood floors that ordained them as authentic and supplied personal service by men and women who knew where everything was and what it was used for.
The Jeep’s back end sagged from the many bags of concrete and Scott was wishing they’d taken Todd’s beater Ford.
“You will mix the concrete with the gravel you moved off of the driveway,” Todd began. “I will get a mixer when we are...”
“Hold it. I had Lee use all that gravel to fill the holes your dog dug in the back yard,” Scott interrupted.
“What did you do that for?” Todd had turned to Scott with a look of scorn. “I didn’t tell you to do that!”
“You didn’t tell me shit, Todd.”
Todd paused, then relaxed as he proclaimed the solution with an air of superiority. Scott was concerned about how quickly they seemed to be getting at each other.
“You will just have to dig it back up, Ejo.” That Todd called him son bugged the hell out of him. “I can save Betty money if we don’t have to have her buy more gravel.”
Scott felt stuck. He felt pinned to the Jeep’s seat back and constricted in his throat. He wanted nothing more than to blast Todd into tomorrow with the fact that Todd had stolen - yeah, he would use that word - money from Betty for supplies that he had lost, taken to use for his own work, or had just used the money for himself. He held his tongue and he held his anger in check. He kept his eyes forward out toward the canyon bridge they were crossing. He breathed in deeply.
If he just pulled alongside the railing, he thought, he’d find a way to dump Todd over the side. Scott let his breath out, and instead looked forward to the day when he could unleash it all. And he would, too. The Black Holes would ensure it.