"Good afternoon, Blockbuster Music, Hulen. How can I help you?"
"Howdy, Pardner. This is Rutherford a callin'. Makin' sure ya'll's bathrooms is working proper."
"I'm fixin' to shop at yer location, but I'm takin' some powerful medications right now." I spoke thick, with a deep country, Texas drawl. "Them side effects are unpredictable and downright embarrassing."
"Oh, well, I don't know. We ... " The voice was male, bewildered. I didn't recognize who it was.
"I shouldn't be a tellin' you this, but ... " Then I grabbed him by his Blockbuster collar and began dragging him aboard the crazy train express.
I had phoned Hulen a year, maybe two years earlier. Simple question. I don't know what happened. No, it was me. All me.
"Hello, Blockbuster, Hulen."
"Ohhh, hello, man ... Uhhh ... Is Robbb there." I worked my voice high and shaky, so I sounded like I was high and shaky.
"Hmmm ... Rob ... I'm not sure if he's here today." I knew that voice, it was Lisa. Rob's right hand.
"Ohhh, man, could you look to be sure? Tell him Jimmy's calling."
Stacey, sitting next to me, began laughing. "You bastard."
I covered the phone. "I know. It's Lisa, and I bet a nickel Rob's sitting next to her."
"Uh, Jimmy? Rob's not here. He ... uh -- "
"Yeah! There's a new Doors set out. I was gonna swing by. Talk to Rob. I already went to Camp Bowie. Charles wasn't there, Worthy wasn't there. Nobody to talk to. I'm at Borders right now, looking for Dan, but he's off. I'm just a couple of blocks away. I'll be right there."
"Uh, Jimmy? Rob's ... His mother is ill! He's out for ... Indefinitely," Lisa lied. I knew she was lying.
Lisa had worked at our store for a period. Actually, Stacey and I had gotten her hired. We liked her look and attitude. She took too many college credits or partied too much, however. The Boss let her go because she was always lethargic or hungover during her shift. Rob hired her, and for him she worked like a freight train.
Hulen was already Rob's second or third store as manager. He was becoming the District Axe. He was shipped to troubled locations. Fired assistants, fired non-working workers, reorganized inventory systems, made loser stores profitable. Never bothered to turn people around, much easier to hire new employees. For slackers, Rob's arrival meant terror.
Like I cared.
Rob could be a bastard, but so could I. We'd worked together four years. I knew some of his weaknesses.
Jimmy was a classic 60's burnout. Obsessed over the Byrds, Doors, Airplane, Steppenwolf, on into 70's heavy metal. Some 80's, nothing beyond that. He could ramble endlessly, burning down memory lane. Drugs, drinks, groups he saw. Jimmy was my age, maybe younger. I was in Appalachia, in junior high, when the 60's - and most of those groups - ended. How had Jimmy, a Texas farmboy, managed to attend all those clubs and concerts on the west coast? Magic? Magic weed, maybe?
The absolute last thing Rob wanted was Jimmy dropping in, shooting the breeze for an hour. Worse, becoming a Regular at his store.
"Okaaaaay," I jittered. "I'm leaving. See you guys in about a minute. I got ... oh, yeah ... see ya."
"Uh, Jimmy? Rob -- "
I hung up. I could hear Rob now, swearing. Scrambling to take a quick lunch somewhere.
That was, what did I say, two years ago. Rob since wandered all over the District, righting sinking ships, giving malcontents the plank. Lisa went with him from store to store. His right hand.
I couldn't call and impersonate Jimmy again. Rob's current assignment was too far for Jimmy to drive. Plus, Rob was wise to me. He figured the call out, phoned me, cursed and laughed. So I went back to messing with some faceless person at Hulen.
"See, Pilgrim, I sorta got this here explosive problem with my digestive tract."
The other line was silent. Their imagination was now tugging them places they did not want to go.
"I need a functioning restroom. I got no warning. When I gotta go, there's like seconds."
A throat cleared. Michael Jackson played in the background.
"I mean, there's been times I was too slow. Didn't get seated properly. Felt mighty bad for those folks who had to clean up afterward."
"Wouldn't it be better -- "
"Takes me half an hour to get there from Joshua," I cut him off. "By the time I hurry in, I most likely will be primed for bear."
"All I'm suggesting -- "
"Reckon I'm comin'. Watch for me, fella. And thanks for keepin' that outhouse door open. I'm gonna need it."
I hung up.
Can't imagine how the guy prepared his coworkers.