Later, Colin knew their six hours were up when Lindsey Lee Wells stood up and said, “Well we gotta get going, Starnes. ”
“All right,” he said. “Good to have you. And Lindsey, you just look perfect. ”
“You need an air conditioner, bud? It’s awful hot in here, and Hollis could get you one no problem,” Lindsey said.
“I get by all right. She’s done good by me. ” Starnes stood up and walked them to the door. Colin shook the old man’s shaky hand.
In the Hearse Colin drove as fast as the roads would permit, with the windows down to try to cool off.
Hassan said, “I think I just lost sixty pounds in sweat. ”
“Then you could stand to stay out in the heat a while longer,” Lindsey said. “That was the easiest hundred dollars anyone ever made in Gutshot. Hey, no, don’t turn. I need you to take me to the store. ”
“So we can all hang out with The Other Colin in the sweet, sweet air-conditioning?”
Lindsey shook her head. “Uh-uh. You get to drop me off and then you make yourselves scarce till you pick me up in two hours and then we tell Hollis that we spent the afternoon running around the country. ”
“Well,” said Hassan, sounding somewhat annoyed, “we will certainly miss your abundant charm and bubbly personality. ”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m just kidding around. Anyway, I like you, Hassan; it’s the Smartypants I find unbearable. ” Colin glanced through the rearview into the backseat. She was smiling at him with her lips closed. He knew she was kidding, or thought she was, but he still felt anger rise up in his throat, and he knew the hurt was betrayed in his eyes. “Jesus, Singleton, I’m just kidding. ”
“You’ve got to remember that usually when he hears a girl call him unbearable, it’s the last words of a Katherine,” explained Hassan, talking like Colin wasn’t behind the wheel. “He’s pretty touchy on the whole subject of his being unbearable. ”
“Dingleberries,” said Colin.
After dropping off Lindsey, they ended up back at Hardee’s, eating a mid-afternoon snack of double cheeseburgers and fries limp with the weight of their own grease. Colin read from Byron for the first thirty minutes while Hassan repeatedly sighed and said, “God, you’re boring,” until finally Colin put the book down.
They still had an hour to kill when the meal was over. Standing in the parking lot with the heat radiating in waves off the pavement, Hassan wiped his forehead and said, “I think we should stop by the Gutshot General Store. ”
They pulled into the store’s dirt parking lot fifty minutes early and strode up the staircase and into a blast of air-conditioning. Behind the counter, Lindsey Lee Wells was sitting on what appeared to be a boy, who had an arm draped across her lap.
“Hello,” said Colin. TOC peeked out from behind Lindsey. He nodded at Colin without smiling or blinking or in any way moving any of the muscles in his strong, round face.
“What’s up,” said TOC.
“Not much,” said Colin.
“You’re a lucky couple a guys, to get to live with Lindsey. ” Lindsey let loose a chirpy laugh and contorted herself to kiss her boyfriend sweetly on the neck. “Oh, we’ll live together one day,” she said.
“If you touch her,” TOC said out of the blue, “I’ll kill you. ”
“That’s a little clichéd,” Hassan called out from the candy aisle. “And if we touch her? I mean, what if I brush up against her as we walk through a hallway?”
TOC glowered. “Well,” he said, “this has been fun. But Lindsey and I were in the middle of a very important talk, so if you wouldn’t mind . . . ”
To defuse the tension, Colin said, “Oh, sorry. Yeah, we’ll just, uh, take a walk or something. ”
“Here,” Lindsey said, and tossed them a set of keys. “Colin’s truck has AC. ”
“Don’t take that truck out of park,” TOC said gruffly.
As they walked out the door, Colin heard TOC ask Lindsey, “Who’s the genius—the fat one or the skinny one?” But he didn’t hang around to hear Lindsey’s response. As they walked across the dirt parking lot toward TOC’s SUV, Hassan said, “God, he’s built like a brick shithouse, isn’t he? Listen, The Fat One’s gonna take a piss in the field. ”
“The Skinny One will wait for The Fat One in the truck,” Colin said. Colin climbed in, turned the key, and put the AC on full-blast, although at first it only pumped out hot air.
Hassan opened the passenger door and immediately started talking. “She’s so bubbly around him, but then around us she’s just one of the guys, just slinging shit, and then around Starnes she was all y’allin’ it up and talking Southern. ”