The young man has been working for Troy for three weeks now. He gets $6 an hour to sand walls, mix adhesive, and roll it onto long strips of wallpaper, so Troy can hang more and work faster. Troy is blond, probably 5’9″, married to a tall red-head, and he drives an F150 and always has a can of tobacco on him. He has moved down here from the Houston area because of a boom in construction on the southeast side of Corpus Christi. He pays the young man in cash each Friday afternoon.
They’ve spent the morning at a new construction site, and the young man is soaked in sweat and covered in drywall dust from sanding walls on a twelve-foot ladder. They both have large foam cups of watermelon juice because some latino guys with a juice truck had rolled up and sold to everyone at the construction site.
“Hey,” Troy says, as they sip their drinks, “we’ll come back to this one tomorrow morning. We’re gonna run home to my place for lunch, clean up a bit, and get ready for an afternoon job on Ocean Drive. Little ole lady. She ain’t gonna wanna see you all a mess like that.”
“Ok,” says the young man.
“You didn’t pack a lunch or nothin did you?”
“Nah. Thought we were goin out.”
“It’s cool,” says Troy putting on his Troy-bilt cap. Yes, he owns a Troy-bilt cap. “We’ll stop at . . . whaddaya want? Whataburger?”
The young man uses the bottom of his Carroll Tiger football workout shirt to wipe sweat from face. “Yup. Good by me.”
They get in the truck, and Troy says, “Tell you the truth, we gotta go home cuz I gotta catch up on my soap.”
“Your soap?” says the young man, taking a sip of his drink.
“Yup. Fuckin Michelle. She got me into it. Young and the Restless.“
“Hope that’s okay.”
The young man hates soap operas. “You’re the boss.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll pay you for it.”
“I wasn’t worried about it,” says the young man.
They swing through Whataburger and get Double Whataburgers with cheese, all the way, add ketchup.
As they’re pulling away, Troy says, “Your stomach okay? I think that juice those Mexicans sold us is turning mine over a bit.”
The young man’s stomach is gurgling also. “My stomach’s a little rocky.”
“All right,” says Troy. “When we get to my place, you can trash the main bathroom. I’ll use mine and Michelle’s.”
Troy grabs a Dr. Pepper bottle and spits tobacco juice into it. “That one Mexican guy, the one who handed out the drinks, not the one taking the money. He reminded me of this dude I busted up when I was back in Houston.”
“Just how he was built. Not anything else.”
“What happened with the dude in Houston?”
Troy spits again and slows for a red light. “Well, I was actually outside of Houston, kind of a country area, but this dude is ridin my tail like a crazy ass, so I pull over to the side of the road and he pulls up, and we have words, and finally I’m like, ‘All right, let’s settle it.'”
“Just a random dude out on the road?” the young man says, and his stomach tightens from the effect of the watermelon juice. He eats a couple of fries, hoping the starch will settle him a bit.
Troy pulls the chaw of tobacco from his lip, puts it in the Dr. Pepper bottle, then grabs some fries. “Yup. Just a random dude. So I get out, and he gets out, and his friend gets out, and they both got knives. And so I reach back behind my seat, grab my rifle, and say, ‘Listen, fuckers. You wanna fight with knives, I’ll blow your fuckin faces off. I don’t wanna, but I will.'”
The young man laughs. “You got a gun?”
Troy nods. “Yup. .308. Motherfucker kicks like a mule, but it’ll blow a hole the size of a grapefruit through you. So I tole him, ‘We can still fight. It just has to be fair.'”
“Come on. They have to have walked off then.”
Troy shakes his head and takes a big swig of his milkshake. “Nope. We fought. I kicked the first guy’s ass. Then I kicked his friend’s ass. Then I got back in my truck and kept goin and they didn’t follow me no more.”
The young man laughs.
“Not sure why I thought of all that except for that guy at the juice truck.”
A few minutes later, they walk through the apartment complex, and as they get to Troy’s door, it opens. A tall, slim red-head is emerging.
“Oh hey, babe,” she says. “Didn’t expect you home. This your helper?”
“Yup,” he says. “Gordon, this is Michelle. Michelle, Gordon.”
“I’d shake your hand, ma’am,” says Gordon, “but I’m a mess.”
“Don’t sweat it,” she says. She looks at Troy. “I didn’t know y’all were comin home for lunch. I’d have fixed you up somethin. But I’m headin out to lunch with Gina.”
“We got Whataburger anyway. I wanted to catch up on the show.”
“Oh, right,” she says. “I’m tapin it for later, but y’all have fun.”
She passes by them, and they head into the apartment. They are instantly bathed in air conditioning, which is a relief.
“Imma bust it to my restroom. And I’m gonna clean up some too for the ole lady. Grab you some paper towels. There’s some soap under the sink you can use in that other bathroom, so you can clean up too.”
Once he has purged the watermelon juice, he cleans up his face, neck, arms, and legs, then comes back out to eat his lunch. Troy is already on the couch with the TV on, and the young man takes stock of him for a moment. He’s propped his legs and work boots on the coffee table in front of him. His chocolate shake is sitting on the blue cloth couch next to him, he has his burger in his right hand and his fries propped next to his left thigh.
“Here, come sit,” he says.
The young man sits a space away and grabs his burger.
“You watch any of this shit?” Troy says.
“Nah,” says the young man.
“Okay. Well, see the blonde chick? She’s the cousin of that latin-looking guy, but no one knows it and they all think she’s having an affair with him. But actually, she’s fucking that guy in the corner over there. And the cousin doesn’t know that, and they’re business partners. But she’s working for the father of their rival. And neither of them knows that.“
“Oh, okay,” says the young man as he opens the foil-wrapped burger and takes his first bite.
He only pays half-attention to what’s going on and instead keeps an eye on Troy, who watches the show with intensity, periodically dropping his feet and exclaiming something. Near the end, as they are each down to their last fries, the blonde is alone with a different man, about to double-cross both her cousin and her lover. There’s a tense moment where the music builds, and Troy suddenly exclaims, “Goddammit, do it, dude! You’d best hit that now or that piece of ass is gonna get away!”
The young man lowers his head and stifles the urge to laugh.
The couple on screen start to make out.
“Now that’s what I’m talkin about!”
Troy wads up his burger wrapper and empty fries box. He tucks them in the bag.
“All right, man. You ready?”
The young man hops up. “Yes, sir.”
Troy clicks off the TV. “See, you gotta hit that shit while it’s hot,” he says as they start toward the door. “Now look at me. I’m all tied down with Michelle, and now she want’s a goddam baby. You gotta enjoy it while it lasts, you know?”
“Yeah. Yeah, of course,” says the young man.