Twelfth in a series of Flash Fiction shorts that I’m writing while in Thailand. I’m allowing myself a maximum of two hours per story so please forgive the rough edges. Cheers!
“There’s work.” That’s what Grady said on the phone. Driving three thousand miles for work was nuts, but it was better than sticking around in Denver.
Better than school. Better than all those disappointed looks from teachers and concerned answering machine messages from classmates.
Drop out. Loser. Wasted potential.
School ain’t for everybody and when you turn eighteen you get to make the call. It’s a man’s choice how he wants to live his life. That’s what Sam told his mom while she stood in the doorway pretending not to cry.
Sam slung his duffle bag into the trunk of the hatchback and tore ass out of town. Good riddance.
Deep in the southern tip of Texas. The sign for the Motel De La Cruz glowed over the parking lot. There was a crowd out front of the rooms. Two men around a grill, beers in hand.
Grady was hard to miss. Six foot something, built like two bulls standing on top of one another.
“Goddamn! Sammy, you son of a bitch. You made it!” He rushed the car beer first.
Sam took it through his open window. The air was thick and hotter than anywhere he’d ever been. He laughed with Grady and talked some shit about back home.
Grady introduced him to the guys. Deadeye, Carl Kane, Crystal who used to fuck Billy but now was fucking Jimmy and her mom named her for crystal meth how fucking wild is that bitch is crazy probably stay away oh and that’s Big Rob Hossman the Boss Man.
The days started at six just before the sun came up. Gas up buy beer eat some breakfast tacos. Sam usually got paired up with Carl or Grady.
They hit the ranches. The rattlers were still laid across the trails that time of morning. One time Grady knocked one out and put it in Carl’s lunch box as a joke.
There were three radio stations: country, spanish, christian.
Sam’d never sweat as much in his life. Buckets. Nobody seemed to care. Soon he stopped caring as much. The beer helped.
The white motel towels turned ruddy brown when he washed at the end of the day. Texas dirt. And those fucking mesquite thorns. You never felt ‘em going in.
This was the life.
Twelve hour days. Seven work days a week, hundred bucks a day. Fifty buck per diem for the room.
They finished up and were fixing to drive to Carrizo Springs for the next job. They’d get a day off even. Sam threw his duffle back in the car and sped off behind the road train. George Jones came on the AM. Sam thumped his hands on the steering wheel. He knew the words to this one now.
The taillights of Grady’s truck reminded him of a photo he had from back home. Shit.
He’d left his keepsake box in the drawer back at the motel. All his personal shit was in the motel room. Diary, old photos.
They’d turned off like three different highways. There was no way of knowing what motel the guys were going to. Later, when they pulled into town, he’d kick himself. There were like two motels in Carrizo Springs.
Sam gripped the steering wheel and focused on the road.
Later he’d learn that his old high school girlfriend died in a car accident. It would be another fifteen years before social media was invented and he’d see a photo of her again.
The crew was surveying ranch land for natural gas, “seismographing”. The doghouse was a trailer at the center of the operation. Big Rob and his son holed up inside and took readings. Sam and the rest of the guys laid out geophones. When that was done they drove thumper tractors across the grid of bulldozed trails.
“How’s the doghouse work?” He asked Carl.
“Fucked if I know.” Carl turned up the radio. He scrunched his face up. “You want a beer?”
“Good. Get me one too.” Carl guffawed, showing off a row of missing teeth.
One time Sam asked Big Rob about the doghouse, if he could look around.
“Nah son. You uh,” Big Rob stared up like he was trying to figure out a cloud, “Shit, it’s computers and stuff you wouldn’t be interested. Leave that to me and Junior.”
Carl and Grady giggled through the smoke. Their motel room smelled like burnt plastic. When the pipe came around Sam was careful not to burn his fingers. He’d been watching. The little blowtorch lighter roared to life in his hand.
Like your heart’s in a wind tunnel.
His laughter came from outside himself. They talked about so many things about how there was a crew hiring in Louisiana that paid a better per diem and how Grady was going out there and how Deadeye was a total piece of shit and fuck it all because you know what you guys are fucking family and that’s what matters you’re all my fucking brothers.
The three of ‘em got the water truck the next day. There wasn’t any sleep. Grady killed a rattlesnake.
Sam couldn’t bring himself to get out of bed. He’d never wanted to cry so hard in his life but what the hell was he sad about?
He rolled on his side. There was puke all down his arm. Dried. Clothes still on from when, last night? How long had he been sleeping?
Someone pounded on the door.
“Big Rob wants to talk to you!” Sounded like Deadeye.
No, he didn’t know where Carl and Grady got off to in the middle of the night. With one of the work trucks. With the lockbox. Drugs? Wouldn’t even think of it. Of course he understood. Guilt by association.
“Wish I could keep ya on, son.”
Sam picked at his arm and got a dry patch of vomit. He shuffled in his chair, trying to hide it.
“Here’s your per diem and your last check. The gas station’ll cash it for you. They only take a few percent off the top.”
The crew pulled out of the motel parking lot, headed up to Beeville. Sam leaned on his hatchback. He waved at Big Rob in his F350.
The night before Grady told Sam that they’d be outside Lake Kinder for the night. Motel Bon Chance off the 190. The lockbox had three thousand dollars in it.
”Three grand will keep our asses up for weeks, man.”
Sam got his car onto the highway and drove north. The road split at Nacogadoches. Lake Kinder wasn’t more than a few more hours from the fork.
He pulled off on the shoulder and turned up the AM. George Jones came back on. He sung along until it was over. Enough hemming and hawing. A man’s gotta make a choice about how he lives his life.
If he stepped on it he’d be back in Denver by tomorrow evening.