By the time Bump came back from the office, I had filled three of the tubs with wedges and was working on the fourth. When I glanced at him, he gave me a friendly smile like he had just now met me.
He said, “So. You’ve been away at County, huh?”
What had happened, obviously, was that Barb had called him into the office to tell him about me. Well, good. It saved me from having to explain myself again. And now he was smiling at me.
He said, “I know a guy who’s in County now.”
“Louie something. You know Louie?”
I laughed. “You know Louie? That poor dumb fuck.”
Everybody in County knew Louie. He was a seriously deranged, skinny little pothead burnout who couldn’t seem to do anything right. I’d never been able to make up my mind whether he was stupid or just had bad judgment.
Not to get too sidetracked from the story I’m trying to tell here, but Louie was in jail this latest time because he’d tried to rob an all-night gas station right there in Spencer just as a cop pulled into the parking lot. He got caught trying to run away across a field.
See, he’d decided it’d be better if he did the job on foot, and then he wouldn’t have to worry that his car would be recognized. But trying to get away in a hurry put him in kind of a bind because he was on crutches at the time. He had a broken leg.
Bump got busy filling the finished potato wedge tubs with water, putting lids on them, and carrying them into the walk-in cooler, getting down more empty tubs, and so on, and we made fast work of the rest of the potatoes. Then we went into the back hall to smoke and wait for the deliveries to be ready.
I said, “There was a guy here a few minutes ago. Weird-looking little . . . ”
Bump laughed. “Flute. He’s the other day driver.”
I took a drag on my smoke. “He mentioned Carrie.”
He gave me a sideways look. “Yeah. Carrie Hall. Used to be a night driver.”
I said, “Yeah. What happened to her, exactly?”
“She ran car three into a ditch night before last.”
I nodded. “Yeah. I got that. But was it an accident, or wasn’t it? Flute seems to think it wasn’t.”
Bump snorted. “Listen, do yourself a favor and don’t pay any attention to anything Flute tells you. He likes to make a problem where there isn’t one. That’s how he entertains himself.”
I said, “Oh.”
“Here’s the straight shit on Carrie and her accident. She’s ditsy to begin with, plus she keeps her cell phone glued to her ear. I warned her a couple times not to use her cell phone when she’s driving for us. So did Barb. Customers were even calling to complain that she went to their door talking on her fucking phone.”
I started to get the idea.
“So, she’s out night before last, prolly gabbing away, and drives car three into that ditch. Now she’s got a prom. Carlo’s insurance won’t cover her with points on her license. So she comes up with the story that someone ran her off the road. Thinking, if it’s not her fault, she won’t get fired.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Yeah. She tells her story to the cops, only the cops investigate and there’s no evidence there was another car involved. No skid marks, even. I know one of the cops who was out there. Alan Bushnell. He says they don’t buy her story at all. Neither do I.”
As he stubbed out his cigarette, a good-looking girl appeared. Her sand-colored hair was pinned up in back, but little blond curls had worked their way out here and there around her pretty face and, oh yeah, she had a great body.
Bump introduced me and told me her name was Lauren King, but to call her Jackson. She smiled and nodded. When she turned around and pulled the metal door of the walk-in cooler open, Bump said pleasantly, “Nice ass,” and she said pleasantly, “Fuck off.”
The tone of voice they used was the same as they would’ve used to say, How ya doin’? Fine.
This was when I realized that working at Carlo’s was going to be different from being a carpenter. I’d been a carpenter since I was fifteen and my brother brought me into his crew as a gofer. There generally aren’t any girls around the job when you’re a carpenter.
Jackson came back out of the cooler carrying a tub of grated provolone cheese and hurried around to the front. A few minutes later a female voice from the front yelled, “Driver.”
I followed Bump out to the little green Hyundai that was parked just outside the back door. There were big white number twos on the right front fender and on both sides, just under the Carlo’s logo, and on the left rear bumper.
There are no front passenger seats in Carlo’s delivery cars. They take them out so drivers can stack deliveries on the floor where the front seat used to be. Bump had the driver’s seat pushed back as far as it would go for legroom and also had the seat back laid down about halfway for headroom. From outside the car, it looked like he was driving from the backseat, which he practically was. I climbed into the backseat on the passenger side.
While we rode around to the front of the store, he started explaining things. “Remind me to show you where the car logs are when we get back in. You have to write down your starting and ending mileage. You full-time?”
I shrugged and nodded.
He said, “Full-timers get three Carlo’s shirts and one baseball cap. Plus a fanny pack like this to put the money in. Park in back, pick up in front.”
I said to myself, Fanny pack? and thought I might have a serious problem with wearing a fanny pack. But as I followed him inside I decided, okay, it’s sorta like a tool belt. I watched him pick up the three deliveries that were stacked on the counter and then followed him back to the car.
Once we were out of the big parking lot, he said, “I’ll warn you right now, people in this town love narcing on Carlo’s drivers. If anyone sees you do anything—hell, they don’t even need a reason. They love to call and complain about us.”
“Course, when someone does call, the managers just fuck with ’em. But they keep track of who’s getting called about. If they get a couple of calls on you, they’ll talk to you.”
“The managers fuck with ’em?”
“Yeah. Like last week, this real old dude called about me.”
He chuckled. “I was heading out on a run, along the front of the shopping center, heading down toward Brewsters’. I saw him come out of the hardware store.”
He flipped on his turn signal and started to brake.
“You gotta watch out for people coming out of those stores. Sometimes they’ll step off the curb without looking. Anyway, I saw him come out of the True Value and I started braking because I knew he was gonna walk right out in front of me. He did, and then he looked and saw me coming and jumped back up on the curb, shaking his fist. Like it was my fault he walked right out in front of me. It made me laugh.”
“Laughing like that, you probably made him mad.”
“No shit. By the time I got in from the run, he’d called Barb and given her an earful. Barb goes, ‘I’m sorry you were annoyed, sir. I hate to fire him, because he’s raising those three little kids all by himself since his poor wife died, but that’s company policy. He’ll be terminated.’ ”
He chuckled warmly. “They say shit like that. Then the same person usually doesn’t call back again.”
I said, “You don’t have three little kids.”
He snorted. “Fuck no.” He pulled up to a red light, stopped, and looked back at me.
“I do all the minor maintenance on the cars. I got a rule. Don’t abuse the cars. The managers may go easy on the drivers, but I don’t. I can tell when a car’s been abused, and I only have to check the log to see who did it. I get irate when someone abuses a car.”
“Gotcha.” I liked irate. I decided to use it myself first time I got the chance.
He lit a cigarette and was taking his first draw on it when the light turned green. “Not allowed to smoke in the cars.”
I nodded and tapped out a cigarette from my pack.
“When these cars were delivered, they took all the radios out and put them on the shelves in the office. Yeah, right. Like the drivers are really gonna ride in these cars all day or all night without a radio. That same day, me and Gruf put them all back in. Gruf’s the night manager now. You’ll meet him later.”
He said, “I scare housewives the first time they see me. Like the last delivery on this run? She’s a first timer. They’ll be scared of you, too. So you gotta be smiling when they open the door. Then right away you gotta say something friendly. Usually they tip pretty good after that, because they’re so relieved you’re not gonna go nuts and kill them, or something.”
“They tip?” It hadn’t occurred to me yet that I’d be getting tips.
Bump looked around at me. “Fuck yeah. That’s where you make your money.”
We made our first delivery and then we headed north out of town. At the End Speed Zone sign, Bump stepped on it. He said, “Hey, this is Spencer-Ladonia Road. I’ll show you where little Carrie totaled car three.”
After a few miles, he slowed to a stop. Right in the middle of the road. Nothing was coming, but still. He opened his door, climbed out, and, leaving his door hanging wide open, began to walk along the middle of the road.
He turned back. “Come on. Have a look.”
I climbed out over the stack of stay-warm bags and caught up with him. He pointed. Off to the right I could see the deep parallel gashes of raw black earth car three had plowed along the inner edges of the deep ditch. The gashes were a good fifteen feet long. I pointed that out.
He nodded. “Fuckin’ Carrie. And you can see, no skid marks whatsoever.”
We climbed back into car two and continued on our way. I noticed that the first cement driveway culvert came up less than fifty feet past the end of the tracks. I pointed that out and said, “She was lucky.”
Bump said, “No shit. She was lucky the car hit the ditch square, too. If she’d gone in crooked, it coulda flipped. Fuck, for that matter, the front bumper coulda stuck and she coulda gone end-over-end. But, anyway, car three is totaled and Carrie’s ass is fired. End of story.”
We made the Spencer-Ladonia delivery. Then Bump drove on down to the next intersection and turned left on 89. After a mile or so, we came into an area of new, widely spaced McMansions with a lot of woods in between, built on winding cul-de-sacs. Bump turned onto one of the cul-de-sacs, and halfway along it, into the driveway of a big new colonial.
This was the home of the first-timer he’d mentioned, and he was right. The woman who opened the door got wide-eyed when she saw us standing there like two scruffy miscreants.
But we smiled, and Bump said quickly, “Hi. We’re from Carlo’s. Dude, your yard looks great. Who’s your landscaper?”
“I . . . ah . . . ” she stammered. I saw that the hand holding the wallet was a little unsteady.
He pulled the pizza box out of the stay-warm bag. “What’re those little blue flowers? I gotta get some of those for my yard.”
She took the box from him and set it on a table by the door. “They’re, uh, lobelia. They’re pretty, aren’t they?”
He looked at the ticket. “It’s ten ninety-nine.”
She pulled a ten and a five from the wallet and handed them to him.
He said, “Ya want change?”
She smiled. “No. You can keep it.”
He said, “Lobelia, huh? Gotta get me some of those. Hey, thanks a lot. Have a nice day.”
We climbed back into the car.
I said, “You called her dude.”
He was backing out of the long driveway by looking in his side mirror. “Huh?”
“That lady. You called her dude.”