“Just wanted to give you a chance to use it. Okay, let’s go eat. I’m hungrier than a kid on his third day of fat camp. ” As they made their way down a hall to a spiral staircase that led to the living room, Colin asked—as close to a whisper as he could muster—“So why do you think Hollis wants to give us jobs, really?”
Hassan stopped on the staircase, and Colin with him. “She wants to make me happy. We fatties have a bond, dude. It’s like a Secret Society. We’ve got all kinds of shit you don’t know about. Handshakes, special fat people dances—we got these secret fugging lairs in the center of the earth and we go down there in the middle of the night when all the skinny kids are sleeping and eat cake and fried chicken and shit. Why d’you think Hollis is still sleeping, kafir? Because we were up all night in the secret lair injecting butter frosting into our veins. She’s giving us jobs because a fatty always trusts another fatty. ”
“You’re not fat. You’re pudgy. ”
“Dude, you just saw my man-tits when I got out of the shower. ”
“They’re not that bad,” said Colin.
“Oh, that’s it! You asked for it!” Hassan pulled his T-shirt up to his collarbone and Colin glanced over at Hass’s hairy chest, which featured—okay, there’s no denying it—minor breasts. An A cup, but still. Hassan smiled with great satisfaction, pulled down his shirt, and headed down the stairs.
It took an hour for Hollis to get ready, during which time Hassan and Lindsey chatted and watched The Today Show while Colin sat at the far edge of the couch and read one of the books he’d stuffed in his backpack—a Lord Byron anthology including the poems Lara and Don Juan. He liked it pretty well. When Lindsey interrupted him, he’d just come to a line in Lara he liked quite a lot: “Eternity bids thee to forget. ”
“Whatcha reading there, smartypants?” asked Lindsey. Colin held up the cover. “Don Juan,” she said, pronouncing the Juan like Wan. “Trying to learn how to avoid getting dumped?”
“Jew -un,” Colin corrected. “It’s pronounced Don Jew -un,” he said. 39
“Not interesting,” Hassan pointed out. But Lindsey seemed to find it more aggravating than not-interesting. She rolled her eyes and picked up the breakfast plates from the coffee table. Hollis Wells came downstairs, wrapped in what looked, for all the world, like a flowery toga.
“What we’re doing,” she spoke quickly, “is we’re putting together an oral history of Gutshot, for future generations. I’ve been pulling people off the line to do interviews for a couple of weeks, but I ain’t gotta now that you’re here. Anyway, the downfall of this whole operation so far has been gossip—everybody chattering ’bout what everyone else says or doesn’t say. But y’all don’t have a reason in the world to talk about whether or not Ellie Mae liked her husband when she married him in 1937. So—it’s you two. And Linds, who everybody trusts—”
“I’m very honest,” Lindsey explained, cutting off her mom.
“To a fault, dear. But yes. So, you get these people talking and they won’t shut up, I assure you. I want six hours of new tape turned in to me every day. But steer them toward real history, if you can. I’m doing this for my grandkids, not for a gossip fest. ”
Lindsey coughed, mumbled, “Bullshit,” and then coughed again.
Hollis’s eyes grew wide. “Lindsey Lee Wells, you put a quarter in the swear jar right this minute!”
“Shit,” Lindsey said. “Dick. Craptastic. ” She glided over to the fireplace mantel, and placed a dollar bill in a glass Mason jar. “Don’t have any change, Hollis,” she said. Colin couldn’t help but laugh; Hollis glowered.
“Well,” she said, “y’all should head out. Six hours of tape, and be back by supper. ”
“Wait, who’s gonna open up the store?” asked Lindsey.
“I’ll just send Colin out there for a while. ”
“I’m supposed to be tape recording strangers,” Colin pointed out.
“The other Colin,” Hollis said. “Lindsey’s,” and then she sighed, “boyfriend. He hasn’t been showing up at work half the time, anyway. Now, y’all git. ”
In the Hearse, with Hassan driving down the exceedingly long driveway away from the Pink Mansion, Lindsey said, “Lindsey’s, sigh, boyfriend. It’s always Lindsey’s, sigh, boyfriend. Jesus Christ. Anyway, listen, just drop me off at the store. ”
Hassan looked up and spoke to Lindsey through the rearview mirror. “No fugging way. That’s how horror movies start. We drop you off, walk into some stranger’s house, and five minutes later some psycho’s lobbing off my nuts with a machete while his schizophrenic wife makes Colin do push-ups on a bed of hot coals. You’re coming with us. ”
“No offense to y’all, but I haven’t seen Colin since yesterday. ”
“No offense to that fugger,” Hassan responded, “but Colin is sitting in the passenger seat reading Don JEW-UN. You’re dating The Other Colin, aka TOC. ”
Colin wasn’t reading anymore; he was listening to Hassan defend him. Or at least he thought Hassan was defending him. You could never quite tell with Hassan. “I mean, my boy over here is clearly the Primary Colin. There’s no one like him. Colin, say ‘unique’ in as many languages as you can. ”
Colin brought them forth quickly. This was a word he knew. “Um, único,40 unico,41 einzigartig,42 unique,43 ????á???i?,44 µo?a???,45 singularis, 46 farid. ”47
Hassan was good at his job, no doubt—Colin felt a rush of affection toward him, and the recitation of the words caused something to wash over the omnipresent hole in his gut. It felt, just for a moment, like medicine.
Lindsey smiled at Colin through the rearview mirror. “Lord, my cup of Colins runneth over. ” She smiled. “One to teach me French, one to French me. ” She laughed at her own joke, then said, “Well, okay. I’ll go. I wouldn’t want to see Colin get his nuts chopped off, after all. Either Colin, really. But you gotta take me to the store after. ” Hassan agreed, and then Lindsey led them down past what she called the “Taco Hell” to a little side street lined with small, single-story houses. They pulled into a driveway. “Most people’re at work,” she explained. “But Starnes should be home. ”
He greeted them at the door. Starnes’s lower jaw was missing; he appeared to have a kind of duck bill covered in skin instead of a chin or jaw or teeth. And yet he still tried to smile for Lindsey. “Sugar,” he said, “how are you?”