“No, he’s not. He’s not the CEO of anything. He’s dead. ” Hassan unfolded the paper, and Colin leaned in to read the caption: FORTISCOM CEO DIES IN PLANE CRASH.
“KranialKidz!” Hollis shouted triumphantly.
Colin looked up at her, wide-eyed. He sighed. No one watched that show. Its Nielsen share was 0. 0. The show had been on for one season and not a single soul among Chicago’s three million residents had ever recognized him. And yet, here in Gutshot, Tennessee . . .
“Oh my God!” Hollis shouted. “What are you doing here?”
Colin, flushed for a moment with a feeling of famousness, thought about it. “I cracked up; then we went on a road trip; then we saw the sign for the Archduke; then I cut my head; then I had a Eureka moment; then we met her friends; now we’re going back to the car, but we haven’t left yet. ”
Hollis stepped forward and examined his bandage. She smiled, and with one hand reached up for his Jew-fro and mussed his hair like she was his aunt and he was a seven-year-old who’d just done something exceedingly cute. “You’re not leaving yet, either,” she said, “because I’m going to cook you dinner. ”
Hassan clapped his hands together. “I am hungry. ”
“Close her down, Linds. ” Lindsey rolled her eyes and walked slowly out from behind the register. “You drive with Colin in case he gets lost,” Hollis told Lindsey. “I’ll take—what did you say your name was?”
“I’m not a terrorist,” Hassan said by way of answering.
“Well. That’s a relief. ” Hollis smiled.
Hollis drove a new and impressively pink pickup truck, and Colin followed in the Hearse with Lindsey riding shotgun. “Nice car,” she said sarcastically.
Colin didn’t respond. He liked Lindsey Lee Wells, but sometimes it felt like she was trying to get his goat. 28 He had the same problem with Hassan. “Thanks for not saying anything when I was Pierre and Hassan was Salinger. ”
“Yeah, well. It was pretty funny. And plus Colin was being sort of a dick and needed to be taken down a peg. ”
“I see,” said Colin, which is what he had learned to say when he had nothing to say.
“So,” she said. “You’re a genius?”
“I’m a washed-up child prodigy,” Colin said.
“What are you good at, other than just already knowing everything?”
“Um, languages. Word games. Trivia. Nothing useful. ”
He felt her glance at him. “Languages are useful. What do you speak?” “I’m pretty good in eleven. German, French, Latin, Greek, Dutch, Arabic, Spanish, Russian—”
“I get the picture,” she said, cutting him off. “I think that meine Mutter denkt, daß sie gut für mich sind”29 she said. “That’s why we’re in this car together. ”
“Warum denkt sie das?”30
“Okay, we’ve both proven we speak German. She’s been on my ass like crazy to go to college and become, I don’t know, a doctor or something. Only I’m not going. I’m staying here. I already made up my mind about that. So I’m thinking maybe she wants you to inspire me or something. ”
“Doctors make more money than paramedics-in-training,” Colin pointed out.
“Right, but I don’t need money. ” She paused, and the car rumbled beneath them. Finally, he glanced over at her. “I need my life,” she explained, “which is good and which is here. Anyway, I might go to the community college in Bradford to shut Hollis up, but that’s it. ” The road took a sharp, banked turn to the right and past a stand of trees, a town emerged. Small but well-kept houses lined the road. They all had porches, it seemed, and a lot of people were sitting out on them, even though it was hotter than hell in summertime. On the main road, Colin noted a newish combination gas station and Taco Bell, a hair salon, and the Gutshot, TN, Post Office, which appeared from the road to be the size of a spacious walk-in closet. Lindsey pointed out Colin’s window. “Out there’s the factory,” she said, and in the middle distance Colin saw a complex of low-lying buildings. It didn’t look much like a factory—no towering steel silos or smokestacks billowing carbon monoxide, just a few buildings that vaguely reminded him of airplane hangars.
“What does it make?” Colin asked.
“It makes jobs. It makes all the good jobs this town has. My great-grandfather started the plant in 1917. ” Colin slowed down, pulling to the shoulder so that a speeding SUV could pass him while he looked out at the factory with Lindsey.
“Right, but what gets made there?” he asked.
“You’ll laugh. ”
“I won’t laugh. ”
“Swear not to laugh,” she said.